It's not even June yet, but on every sports site you'll already find a lot of fantasy football talk. Mock draft boards are drawn up literally minutes after the NFL Draft ends, and OTA's give us our first preliminary looks at draft boards across the league. Mock drafts will be starting in earnest here shortly, and live drafts will open within a month. So now's as good a time as any to talk about the subject and discuss where the Raiders fit in.
Last season there was no clear cut number one player on the board. Some folks stumped for Arian Foster, some for Aaron Rodgers, some said Ray Rice was the safest pick on the board. It turned out that you could have snagged Adrian Peterson in the third or fourth round and ended up with the top player overall, as Peterson was coming off an horrific knee injury only to record one of the greatest RB seasons in living memory.
I'm of the opinion that Darren McFadden could very well be this year's Peterson. All the factors are there- contract year, a system that is well suited to his talents and abilities, and an unproven WR corps. McFadden should be the focus of the Raider offense this year and the offensive line play should be much improved over last year's turd sandwich.
Remember that the one year McFadden has stayed healthy he put up monster numbers and was in consideration for the #1 overall fantasy pick the following year, so it's not like there's no precedent for this. Like Peterson last year, you can snag McFadden in the third or fourth round and hope for the best. There are a lot of safer picks out there at RB (Rice, Foster, Peterson, McCoy, Richardson) but none with the sheer potential value of McFadden, because those guys will likely all be gone in the top 8 picks.
At the WR spot, it's a one man show with Calvin Johnson being his own tier. Below him are guys like Dez Bryant, A.J. Green, Andre Johnson, Julio Jones, Brandon Marshall and Larry Fitzgerald. These are all guys who have proven they can be THE guy, and that they can score a lot of touchdowns. The Raiders have nobody like that.
We don't know if Greg Olson's offense will enable someone to step up that much. The closest thing the Raiders have is Denarius Moore, and he's had injury problems. He is an electric playmaker (as is Jacoby Ford) but if Juron Criner plays to the level he displayed in college and in practice, he will eventually be that guy. To me, he has the highest potential of the Raiders wide receivers. For fantasy this year, Moore should go in the 11th round or so, but he may be overlooked and you could get him later even than that.
The most intriguing spot to me this year is QB. There's a pretty well established hierarchy of guys at the top (Brady, Brees, Rodgers, Manning) and you can win with those guys, but you have to spend an early pick that might otherwise go to a solid RB or WR. You might be better off waiting and taking a less flashy guy like Tony Romo, Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco, or Jay Cutler. Eli Manning is also a guy that always falls way too far in drafts. He's inconsistent but has games where he will put up 500 yards and three touchdowns and win the week for you by himself. Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, and Robert Griffin III are also guys who should be considered early. For much of the season, Griffin was the top-scoring overall fantasy player at any position.
We don't really know which Matt Flynn we'll get -- the one who torched the league in his limited opportunities as a Packer, or the guy who looked lost in Seattle and lost the starting job to a rookie. If the Raiders get the former, he's worth a Round 8 pick. If they get the latter, Tyler Wilson could be worth a Round 8 pick next season.
Jimmy Graham is the only truly safe tight end. Tony Gonzalez is still around, and Aaron Hernandez will probably put up big numbers as will Jason Witten, but Graham can safely be targeted in Round 2. The Raiders have no established TE stars and if you want Ausberry, wait until the last round for him as your backup.
Sebastian Janikowski is the best kicker in the league by far and will likely be taken early for a kicker. You want to be the guy who takes him. Round 13 or 14 is a good time.
The Raider defense is an enigma, and you may want to avoid drafting them this year. Pick a safer bet like San Francisco, Seattle, Baltimore or Denver. Even if the Raiders show signs of being a solid defense, they will likely be available on the waiver wire.
This is a wait-and-see year for the Raider team in many ways. It's probably best not to be a homer this year in your fantasy draft, but if you play your cards right and wait long enough, you can get good value on some Raider players.