Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Fantasy owners and fans were likely disappointed with the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft Thursday night. There was little excitement on the offensive side of the ball, which always gets the most notice, except in the trenches.
Coming off last season, with the excitement of quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III at the top of the list, the first-round player draft was catatonic.
The first round of the 2012 NFL draft provided 10 offensive skill position players; three quarterbacks, three running backs and four receivers.
This time around, there were just five: one quarterback (E.J. Manuel), zero running backs, three receivers (Tavon Austin, DeAndre Hopkins and Cordarrelle Patterson) and a tight end (Tyler Eifert).
Below is an analysis of the five 2013 skill position players and a prediction of their fantasy value:
Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis - The Rams continue their quest to provide quarterback Sam Bradford with top receiving threats. They selected Brian Quick and Chris Givens last year and traded up in 2013 to get the most dynamic wideout in this season's draft - Austin. He posted the fastest time of any receiver at the NFL Combine (4.34 seconds in the 40-yard dash). He'll make an ideal slot receiver with excellent vision (he was a running back in high school) and dangerous return ability. In his senior season at West Virginia, he caught 114 balls for 1,289 yards and 12 touchdowns, ran 72 times for 643 yards and three TDs, and returned 13 punts (165 yards, one TD) and 33 kickoffs (813 yards, one TD). All told, that's almost 3,000 yards and 17 touchdowns, and it's just what an ailing Rams' offense needs. It may take some time for Austin to learn a new offense, but he should shine in the second half of his rookie season. And if your league includes return yards, he'll likely be productive enough to start from the opening whistle.
E.J. Manuel, QB, Buffalo - For fantasy owners hoping Manuel will be the "next" RGIII, Luck or Russell Wilson - a quarterback capable of taking over an NFL offense in Game 1 of his rookie season - you will be dissatisfied. Manuel isn't ready. He has plenty of talent, is physically impressive and is a leader, but he has too many weaknesses in his game. A two-year starter at Florida State, Manuel still needs time to learn the position. Although Bills fans and fantasy owners would like him to start in his first year, he's more likely to be a contributor in his second season and therefore only valuable if keeper leagues.
Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati - The Bengals surprised many "experts" by taking a tight end in the first round. They already have Jermaine Gresham on the roster with other needs to fill. Instead they snapped up the No. 1 tight end in the draft in Eifert. He has excellent size at 6-foot-5 and plays like a big receiver. He's particularly adept at winning jump-ball situations. Eifert should be valuable in the red zone, but his fantasy value will be limited as the third or fourth option for quarterback Andy Dalton.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston - The Texans have been getting by for the past few years with Kevin Walter as their No. 2 wideout alongside Andre Johnson. He's mostly been a disappointment to fantasy owners who thought he would shine while defenses keyed on Johnson. Walter signed with Tennessee in the offseason, leaving a big opportunity for Hopkins if he can beat out Lestar Jean and DeVier Posey. Hopkins had a huge season at Clemson, putting up 82 receptions for 1,405 yards and 18 touchdowns. He's not super fast, but a good route runner who can separate from the defender. He's also a solid blocker for a receiver, which Arian Foster will appreciate. Hopkins should end up being a low-end WR3 by the end of his rookie season.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota - He's a bit raw, but has the size (6-3, 216 pounds) and speed (4.42) to become a No. 1 receiver. He played just one season at the FBS level, catching 46 balls for 778 yards and five touchdowns. Patterson set a Tennessee record of 1,858 all-purpose yards. With Percy Harvin gone, Christian Ponder will be looking for a go-to guy. Whether Patterson can be that guy from the start is the question, but the opportunity is there. He'll be a risky pick, but has a huge top end if he quickly develops a rapport with Ponder.
Hopefully, days 2 and 3 of the draft will provide fantasy owners with more offensive options.