Adam Levitan: Analyzing NFL draft from fantasy perspective

The fantasy football world has adapted a value-based drafting approach, leading to the top quarterbacks slipping way down boards. NFL general managers are following suit at a different position.

The first running back in last week’s draft didn’t come off the board until the second round. The highest profile college back saw 60 names come off the board before he was called. And a player many draftniks had as their No. 2 runner (Johnathan Franklin) lasted until the fifth round.

However, the loss of real-life value hasn’t affected the fantasy value of rookie running backs. This year has a chance to be a special class:

 

1. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Steelers
The Steelers gave up on Rashard Mendenhall, have identified Isaac Redman as a complementary piece and are trying to trade Jonathan Dwyer. Add it all up and we have a potentially monstrous workload for Bell. The Michigan State product isn’t the most talented rookie, but he projects to play on all three downs and averaged 4.99 YPC in the rugged Big Ten.

 

2. Eddie Lacy, RB, Packers
Lacy fell to No. 61 overall due to medical concerns. He had toe surgery in 2012 and showed up out of shape to his Pro Day thanks to a hamstring pull. Still, Lacy is entering a high-upside situation. At the very least, the powerful 231-pounder will be the clear-cut goal-line in arguably the league’s best offense. At the very best, he’ll get the 14.2 carries per game Cedric Benson was getting last year and be far more productive.

 

3. Montee Ball, RB, Broncos
As of now, both Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno are on the Broncos’ roster. Thanks to a combination of injuries and salary, they are both candidates to be released at some point before the season. So John Elway grabbed Ball with the No. 58 overall pick and clearly expects him to be able to protect Peyton Manning out of the gate. Ronnie Hillman is nothing more than a change-of-pace option.

 

4. Giovani Bernard, RB, Bengals
The man with the most wiggle turned out to be the first running back selected. Bernard is explosive with a 4.53 forty at 202 pounds, but he’ll start off as the speed complement behind BenJarvus Green-Ellis. There’s a ton more Dynasty appeal in Bernard than re-draft value.

 

5. Tavon Austin, WR, Rams
No player generated more buzz than Austin ahead of the draft. By the time Thursday night came around, you would have thought a fair trade would have been Austin for the No. 1 pick and Joe Montana. The Rams certainly bought into the hype, as they traded up to No. 8 overall to select a 5-foot-8 slot receiver. It’s a wise move, however, as Austin is a Percy Harvin/Randall Cobb kind of talent. He’ll make plays right away in the Rams’ revamped offense.

 

6. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans
Andre Johnson has never played across from a legit No. 2 receiver. At long last, the Texans got him some help. Hopkins is a Roddy White clone, one that isn’t the fastest guy but knows how to get open. He’ll step right in as the starting “Z” and benefit from single coverage all day long.

 

Thumbs down: Veteran losers on draft day

 
1. Kenny Britt: The Titans used a second-round pick on Justin Hunter after using a first-round pick on Kendall Wright last year.
2. Kevin Kolb: The Bills shockingly used a first-round pick on E.J. Manuel. You can bet they hope the massive rookie starts Week 1.
3. Brian Quick: Once thought of as an intriguing small-school gem, Quick is getting lost in the shuffle. Tavon Austin and newly-acquired Jared Cook will get more targets.

 

Sleeper alert: Jordan Cameron

 
The Browns run a tight-end centric scheme and they didn’t use any picks on a tight end. Jordan Cameron, a natural pass-catcher, is the man. Coach Rob Chudzinski has squeezed career seasons out of Kellen Winslow, Antonio Gates and Greg Olsen at previous stops.

 

2013 NFL Draft
The Bengals traded up and grabbed Tavon Austin with the No. 8 pick.

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