Keep in mind that these initial rankings are highly speculative as free agency has yet to even start (if it starts at all) and these rookies have yet to even begin practicing. Once/if the pre-season starts, we will start to get a clearer picture of each prospects role, responsibility, and expected opportunity.
I wanted to get these rankings out as soon as possible though as I know a lot of my readers are already starting their Fantasy Football rookie drafts. Hopefully, this will serve as a decent guideline as you attempt to navigate through the treacherous waters of this year's rookie drafts. Good luck to all!
1. Nate Irving, MLB, DEN - Irving wasn't even close to being the top linebacker prospect in this draft. However, as I have said many times before, IDP Fantasy Football is often times more about opportunity than talent. Irving has a good chance to start at MLB for the Broncos from day one and consequently has the best chance of any rookie IDP linebacker to put up significant numbers early in the 2011 season.
2. Mason Foster, MLB, TB - With Barrett Ruud likely on his way out in Tampa Bay, a big void opens up for the Buccaneers at the MLB position. Foster is a likely candidate to fill that void. He was a tackling machine at Washington and, although he doesn't possess great size and struggles sometimes to disengage from blockers, he has great instincts and leadership skills, which are two crucial abilities to have at the Mike position. The Buccaneers added two more solid players to their defensive line in this year's draft and Foster should have pretty good protection upfront to free him up a bit to roam and get after the ballcarrier.
3. Bruce Carter, ILB, DAL - I don't see Carter having a ton of value in 2011. However, I expect him to become one of the higher producing IDPs out of this draft class come 2012. Keith Brooking and Bradie James are on their last leg and as long as Carter can stay healthy, he should have no problem securing an ILB position along fellow youngster Sean Lee.
4. Colin McCarthy, MLB, TEN - It's going to be very interesting to see how the Tennessee MLB position pans out this season. Who will start? Tulloch? Curran? McCarthy? If it's the later, he could end up being the most productive IDP this season. That's a big if, however. The whole situation in Tennessee is clear as mud right now. If you're feeling a bit risky in this season, McCarthy could wind up paying dividends.
5. Robert Quinn, DE, STL - There aren't a ton of really consistent, productive defensive ends in Fantasy Football anymore and Quinn has the ability and skill level to become just that. Like most rookie defensive lineman, Quinn will have to suffer through the learning curve and may take a couple of years to hit is stride. He's worth the risk though as the position is quite thin and there aren't a ton of high ceiling IDPs after him on this list. Plus, he's going to be coached by Steve Spagnoulo who has made superstars out of multiple defensive ends (e.g. Justin Tuck).
6. Greg Jones, LB, NYG - Jones is a lot like Daryl Washington who was drafted out of TCU last year. He is very athletic and has great sideline to sideline pursuit skills. However, he's a bit undersized and consequently has trouble shedding blockers. Until he beefs up a bit, he's better fit for WLB than MLB. But the MLB position has been quite the quagmire (giggity giggity) for the Giants in the past few seasons and they likely drafted Jones to eventually take over that position. I think Jonathan Goff gets the starting nod at the MLB position to star the 2011 season and Jones more than likely ends up on the bench. With this being said, Goff isn't that great and the Giants are quite thin at linebacker so Jones could easily see significant playing time earlier rather than later this season.
7. Martez Wilson, SLB, NO - Wilson has a good chance to start in the big O, however, it's most likely going to be at the typically fantasy wasteland of SLB. He has terrific speed and decent pass-rushing skills. I'm a bit weary though, not only because of the likely position he will end up at, but also the Saints just suck at drafting linebackers. If you're looking for some immediate production from a rookie linebacker, Wilson is one of the better options. I personally just don't see him developing into anything special in the long-run.
8. Jonas Mouton, ILB, SD - Mouton was perhaps the biggest reach of the 2nd round, but that also means that San Diego must have seen something they really like in him. I think Siler has one of the ILB positions locked up, but Mouton may have a chance to start over Donald Butler at the other inside backer position. Good example of mediocre talent in a decent fantasy opportunity situation.
9. Von Miller, SLB, DEN - Miller will likely end up being the most overdrafted IDP in this year's rookie draft. He's an elite talent. However, in most scoring systems his value is limited. He's a going to be a rush linebacker coming from the strong side in a 4-3 (think Julian Peterson). No matter how well he plays, he's just not going to rack up a ton of tackles. Having said this, I would only move Miller up on this league if you play in a big-play defensive scoring system.
10. Jabaal Sheard, DE, CLE - With the Browns switching to a 4-3 defense, Sheard's value rises a bit. However, it's very rare for a rookie DE to produce at even a DL3 and above level in his first season. With this being said, Sheard becomes more of a long-term fantasy prospect.
11. Quan Sturdivant, ILB, ARI - Sturdivant has the range and instinct to put up very nice fantasy numbers in Arizona. The opportunity is obviously there (e.g. Paris Lenon's very nice 2010 season). However, I still think Daryl Washington is Arizona's linebacker of the future and that Sturdivant has a limited ceiling since he will likely be slotted at SILB next to Washington. Additionally, Paris Lenon and Gerald Hayes are still in Arizona as well.
12. Adrian Clayborn, DE, TB - Being a big Hawkeye fan, I had the pleasure of watching Adrian Clayborn and his constant motor on a regular basis. I think he definitely has the specific skills needed to become a solid NFL lineman. As mentioned previously, he has a nonstop motor and a great work ethic. Off-the-field issues and his Erb's Palsy condition aside, he is one of the better lineman prospects taken in the draft and he finds himself in a good fantasy situation.
13. Da'Quan Bowers, DE, TB - It seems like all Tampa Bay does anymore is draft defensive lineman. I'm not completely sold on Bowers due to consistency and injury concerns, but the Bucs have one of the most talented defensive lines on paper and someone is going to emerge from the defensive end position as a viable fantasy starter.
14. Kelvin Sheppard, ILB, BUF - Sheppard is a solid talent who I think can turn into a decent matchup-type SILB linebacker down the road. His upside will obviously be limited by playing next to the beast known as Paul Posluszny. But there's also a lot of tackle opportunities to be had there and if he can eventually overthrow Andra Davis for the two-down linebacker SILB spot, he will have decent LB3 value in many games.
15. Akeem Ayers, OLB, TEN - Much like Von Miller, Ayers will be a victim of circumstance. He will most likely be slotted into the SLB position in Tennessee's 4-3 defense. Gerald McCrath did manage to have some productive games from that position last year, but I would expect the Titans to utilize Ayers in a different fashion than they did with McCrath (more like Seattle uses Aaron Curry).
16. Cameron Jordan, DE, NO - Jordan was perhaps the biggest steal of the 2011 draft. He finds himself is a pretty good situation, but is going to need time to develop. His value is hurt a bit as he most likely projects as a strong side defensive end. Not to say that double digit sacks can't be obtained from that position, it's just less likely.
17. Aldon Smith, OLB, SF - Similar to Miller, Smith's value is a bit limited due to relying on big plays for the majority of his points. Although not as talented as Von, Smith is playing in a more favorable 3-4 OLB position and could put up decent numbers.
18. Jaiquawn Jarrett, SS, PHI - With Quintin Mikell not returning to Philly, Jarrett finds himself in situation to succeed from a fantasy perspective. He has a good chance of starting from very early on in 2011 and the SS position in Philadelphia has proven to be a viable one. My main concern is that Jarrett is not an elite talent at his position which makes projecting his value a bit more difficult in this instance.
19. Ryan Kerrigan, OLB, WAS - The Redskins needed someone to replace the old and decrepit Andre Carter at the outside rush linebacker position opposite Brian Orakpo. Although Kerrigan will likely start right away, I just don't think he's going to be productive enough to warrant consistent starting status.
20. Brooks Reed, OLB, HOU - Reed will be playing the role of Anthony Spencer in Wade Phillips newly-installed 3-4, 1 gap scheme. Reed is a very explosive player off the edge and could flourish opposite of Mario Williams on the strong side if he gets enough opportunity.
21. Patrick Peterson, CB, ARI - If you play in an IDP league that rewards for return yardage, Peterson could be a sneaky selection. In the long run, Peterson probably won't provide a ton of fantasy value (most elite cornerbacks don't). However, rookie cornerbacks, regardless of skill level, tend to get tested early and often. Add in that Peterson will be playing opposite DRC, who is a pretty good cornerback in his own right, and you can expect Peterson to get a decent amount of opportunity this season.
22. Quinton Carter, S, DEN - Some are speculating that Carter could very well end up replacing Brian Dawkins at his safety position. I'm not sure how much I buy into that. Carter is a longer term project than his counterpart Rahim Moore and will probably become more of a third safety than anything.
23. Casey Matthews, LB, PHI - Honestly, Matthews mainly made this list solely because of his bloodline. Casey is not nearly as talented as his brother Clay and will most likely end up playing on the strong side in Philly's 4-3 system. However, he comes from an extremely strong football pedigree and could end up being one of those players that just puts everything together once he reaches the NFL.
24. JJ Watt, DE, HOU - Coming into the draft, I pictured Watt ended up in a 4-3 system; however he is versatile enough to play end in a 3-4 as well. I'm not very high on his value however as Phillips' system tends to diminish the value of ends quite a bit. I foresee Watt becoming a solid NFL player and a big contributor to the Texans defense. However, I don't see him putting up the stats to warrant consideration as a DL3 or higher.
25. Nick Fairley, DT, DET - Admittedly, I was down on Ndamakung Suh's fantasy value entering the 2010 season. I was wrong. However, Fairley is no Suh. I'm just not high on defensive tackle from a fantasy perspective, especially not one's who have only had one good season and have had work ethic issues.
Thanks a bunch for reading and feel free to ask me any specific questions. I want to help you dominate your fantasy leagues!
Until next time, this is The IDP Guru signing off.
Last Updated: May 14, 2011