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Generally we don't place much stock in rookies as far as making an impact at the fantasy football level. It's just too much of a crap shoot to figure out which guys will make an immediate contribution, and generally most guys don't put up good fantasy numbers in their first year. Therefore, we don't advise burning a high draft pick on a first-year player.
Last year, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was an exception, and probably was a big factor in winning many a fantasy league championship for the owners that were willing to take a chance on him. As a warning, however, he's more the exception than the rule. Because of his success many of you might be expecting Oakland Raiders first-round draft pick Darren McFadden to have similar success. If you spend a high draft pick on him yourself, though, I'm afraid you may come away sorely disappointed for a couple of reasons.
First and foremost, he doesn't have the offensive line Peterson has in Minnesota. And while Peterson shared carries with Chester Taylor last season, McFadden will be competing with both Justin Fargas and LaMont Jordan for playing time. Also, last year's fourth-round pick Michael Bush, who was highly regarded before an injury ended his college career, will be looking for some time in the backfield as well. Reports indicate he is back to full strength again and ready to compete.
History also indicates that rookie seasons like Peterson's are rare, so the chances of catching lightning in a bottle two seasons in a row is unlikely. If McFadden happens to slip to the middle rounds of your fantasy draft, he's certainly worth taking a flyer on. But chances are someone in your league will be smitten with him and take him way too early.
Here's a quick look at the rest of the offensive players taken in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft:
Matt Ryan, QB Atlanta: Even with a dearth of talent at the quarterback position for the Atlanta Falcons, rookie quarterbacks are just too risky. Keep him on your watch list to see how he plays early on, assuming he's given the starting job, but until he proves he's capable of running an NFL offense effectively, he's not worth a roster spot.
Jonathan Stewart, RB Carolina: DeShaun Foster is no longer with the team, but Stewart will have to compete with DeAngelo Williams for playing time. Like McFadden, he may be worth taking a risk on later in your draft, but be careful not to take him too early. He will probably end up being a less-risky selection than McFadden simply because he is less likely to be in high demand early on and will probably be available long after McFadden is off the board.
Joe Flacco, QB Baltimore: See Matt Ryan.
Felix Jones, RB Dallas - Rashard Mendenhall, RB Pittsburgh - Chris Johnson, RB Tennessee: Like Stewart, all three of these guys will be competing for playing time, but should be worth risking a pick late in your fantasy draft. Of the three, Johnson has the least competition for the starting job, but is also probably the least talented.
Dustin Keller, TE New York Jets: With plenty of veteran tight ends to choose from, Keller shouldn't even be on your radar at this point.
Other guys to consider:
Matt Forte, RB Chicago: Cedric Benson, who was a bust for the Chicago Bears since being drafted No. 4 overall in 2005, has been cut following two alcohol-related arrest in one month. Unless the Bears pick up a veteran like Travis Henry or Kevin Jones, the job should be Forte's to win. Keep an eye on this situation and take a chance on Forte in the middle rounds if he does emerge at the top of the depth chart.
Kevin Smith, RB Detroit: Smith ran for 2,567 yards and scored 29 touchdowns last season for UCF, and his only competition for the starting job with the Detroit Lions is Tatum Bell, who is best suited for a backup job. Smith could be the workhorse back the Lions need, and as an added bonus he is surprisingly effective as a pass catcher.
Jamaal Charles, RB Kansas City: A real deep sleeper, Charles is a guy you might want to consider handcuffing if you take Larry Johnson as a starter on your fantasy team. Johnson posted the lowest yards-per-carry average of his career last season for the Kansas City Chiefs and missed the last eight games of the season with a foot injury.