1. Darren McFadden:
"You've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?"
This is an applicable question when considering whether or not to draft Darren McFadden. He missed nine games in the past two seasons, and has never played an entire season.
As a matter of fact, he has never played more than 13 games in a season. How confident are you that this is the season he turns it around?
Imagine that this is his lucky season regarding health, and he plays all 16 games. Them, he's a steal in the fourth round, right?
I’ll commit a cardinal sin and answer that question with a question: would any player averaging 3.3 yds/carry (one of worst in NFL in ’12) be a steal in the fourth? I ask that question because it's exactly how many yards McFadden averaged when he was healthy last season.
The one logical reason to have hope for McFadden this season is due to the arrival of Greg Olson as the new Oakland offensive coordinator. Olson will replace the zone-read blocking system with a power scheme, which served McFadden well in the past. Even with that in mind, it’s difficult to imagine that will be enough to increase McFadden’s value to fourth round worthiness.
Lastly, the Raiders may have the NFL's least talented roster. McFadden needs a competent offensive line to create running lanes, a defense that can keep a game close to warrant leaning on the running game, and a competent enough passing attack to keep the defenses honest (not stacking the box). The chance of the Raiders being productive is slim at best.
My projections for McFadden’s ’13 season: 13 games, 850 rushing yards, 250 receiving yards, and 5 total TDs. I have him ranked No. 43 overall and No. 22 for RBs. Running backs with better value that are also going near the fourth round, including Lamar Miller, Darren Sproles, David Wilson, and Reggie Bush.
2. Marques Colston:
Colston is coming off his best NFL season to date: 83 receptions, 1,154 yards, and 10 touchdowns. He also played in all 16 games for the first time since 2009. While last season appeared to be the ceiling of his fantasy potential, playing in a high-powered offense led by future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Drew Brees almost guarantees Colston a top 15 WR finish in fantasy—if he can stay healthy.
Marques has stacked up a variety of season-impeding injuries during his seven years in the NFL: foot, shoulder, knee, hand, rib, thumb, back, and ankle. He has only missed 10 games in his pro career; but has been listed as questionable, probable, or out 21 times in the same time period. The questionable playing statuses muddy the water for knowing how to set fantasy line-ups when New Orleans plays a late game.
Colston has also slowed down due to numerous lower extremity injuries, and hitting the dreaded 30 years of age. While this would be very concerning for most WRs, Colston has never relied on his speed to be a productive WR. He uses his good route running, big body, positioning, and impressive vertical leap to beat defensive backs at the reception point. Because of this, he runs the majority of his routes from the slot position, and runs routes commonly designated for tight ends.
My projections for Colston ’13 season: 15 games, 75 receptions, 950 receiving yards, and 7 receiving TDs. I have him ranked No. 41 overall and No. 15 for WRs. Wide receivers with better value that are also going near the fourth round: Vincent Jackson, Larry Fitzgerald, Roddy White, and Randall Cobb.
3. Matt Ryan:
Matt Ryan is coming off his best season to date: 68.6 competition percentage, 4,719 passing yards (5th in NFL), 32 passing TDs (5th), 14 INT (12th), and a 99.1 NFL passer rating (6th). He also posted the overall 8th highest fantasy score in the league last season (standard scoring format). To say the least, Ryan exceeded all fantasy expectations last season.
Entering into the ’13 season, there should be great optimism that Ryan will exceed his elite ‘12 fantasy numbers. In the past four seasons, Ryan has had year-to-year improvements in passing yards, completion rate, TDs, and QB rating.
In ’12, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter implemented an effective screen game to compliment Atlanta’s well known deep attack, and this screen game should be even more effective with the addition of Steven Jackson (a great receiving RB) in the backfield. It’s undeniable that among all QBs, Matt Ryan now has the most dangerous supporting cast this season.
After considering all of the reasons for Ryan being an elite fantasy quarterback this season, you may be wondering why he should not be drafted in the fourth round (his current ADP). The reason has all to do with the depth of QBs this year.
There are 12 QBs that have the chance to put up elite fantasy numbers, and seven of these QBs can be grabbed in later rounds. There is greater overall value to be had by picking nothing but RBs, WRs, and Jimmy Graham in the first four rounds, and waiting to draft one of the later top-12 QBs.
My projections for Ryan’s ’13 season: 16 games, 4,750 passing yards, 100 rushing yards, 31 passing TDs, 1 rushing TD, and 12 INTs. I have him ranked No. 54 overall and No. 5 for QBs. Quarterbacks for a better value in later rounds: Matthew Stafford (ADP in 6th Rd), Russell Wilson (7th Rd), and Tony Romo (8th Rd).
4. Mike Wallace:
Wallace is notorious for his jaw-dropping downfield speed and his ability to take the ball to the house on any given play.
Because of this perception, the most widely accepted narrative regarding his fantasy potential is it will be limited due to Ryan Tannenhill’s lack of deep ball accuracy (only 15 completions of 20+ yds in ‘12).
However, Wallace’s performance last season contradicts this statistic, as he managed to put up 836 yds and 8 TDs with only 5 receptions of 20+ yds in ’12.
Be careful to not let an analyst that could “sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves" convince you of this fallacy.
With that said, Wallace should still not be drafted as high as the fourth round. This is due to the numerous unknowns about the Miami offense: Tannenhill’s sophomore progression, Lamar Miller’s workload, and Hartline and Bess’ abilities to keep defenses honest. In a vacuum, Wallace is talented enough to be a top-10 fantasy WR. However, in his current situation, he is too risky for a fourth-round investment.
My projections for Wallace’s ’13 season: 16 games, 920 receiving yards, and 6 receiving TDs. I have him ranked No. 52 overall and No. 20 for WRs. Wide receivers with better value that are also going near the fourth round: Vincent Jackson, Larry Fitzgerald, Roddy White, and Randall Cobb.
5. DeMarco Murray
DeMarco Murray has built himself a reputation of being very quick in space, and of having very good hands for a running back. In 2012, he averaged 4.8 yds per carry and 7.2 yds per reception. These numbers could get better in ’13 due to the improvements in the Cowboys' offensive line and new offensive coordinator Bill Callahan’s willingness to call running plays off tackle or out to the edges. Murray has the physical abilities and opportunity to be a top-10 fantasy running back.
However, the primary concern regarding Murray’s fantasy potential is his injury history. Murray developed a reputation in college of being injury prone. His rookie year came to an end by a broken leg, and he dealt with a foot injury throughout the majority of the ’12 season.
All together, Murray has missed nine of the Cowboys' last 32 NFL games due to lower extremity injuries. During this past offseason, Murray has been recovery from a hamstring strain. Despite Murray recently telling the media he was 100 percent healthy heading into training camp, the prevalence of his lower extremity injuries makes him too risky for a fourth-round investment.
My projections for Murray’s ’13 season: 11 games, 805 rushing yards, 300 receiving yards, and 6 total TDs. I have him ranked No. 42 overall and No. 21 for RBs. Running backs with better value that are also going near the fourth round, including Lamar Miller, Darren Sproles, David Wilson, and Reggie Bush.