Kevin Smith, RB, Lions
I've never been sold on Kevin Smith's professional upside because he simply has no speed and he dominated lesser competition with a great offensive line. Still, he should be the workhorse back in Detroit because they have no talent at this position. Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus are tough run blockers, though the Lions' interior offensive line remains questionable.
Smith isn't my No. 1 because I think he's good, but because he will play a lot. As you'll see in my stats projections, I believe he'll average less than four yards a carry next season.
2008 Fantasy Projection: 307 carries, 24 receptions, 1,336 total yards, 7 TDs.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers
Jonathan Stewart wasn't drafted to be second fiddle to DeAngelo Williams. He should win the job after the preseason as the workhorse back and receive over 70 percent of the carries this season, provided he stays healthy. Stewart should get many goal line carries as well, resulting in high touchdown production.
2008 Fantasy Projection: 241 carries, 33 receptions, 1,283 total yards, 11 TDs.
Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Steelers
Many considered Rashard Mendenhall to be the best running back in this draft, yet he was the third back to come off the draft board. He displays excellent cutting ability and a second gear, and should split many carries with Willie Parker.
2008 Fantasy Projection: 187 carries, 28 receptions, 1,194 total yards, 6 TDs.
James Hardy, WR, Bills
The best looking receiver right now is James Hardy. He has great size, hands, and red-zone ability to be a consistent force for the Bills next season. This team was lacking in height out of the receiving corps, but it definitely got some in the draft with the 6-5 Hardy and 6-2 Steve Johnson (I think he's in the next Marques Colston).
While Hardy doesn't have the better fantasy numbers of people behind him on my list, he gives more value as a WR2 or WR3 option (which are rare in the later rounds of fantasy drafts).
2008 Fantasy Projection: 79 receptions, 925 yards, 5 TDs.
Matt Forte, RB, Bears
Funny how Mike Golic was crying how Chicago had no one to turn to at running back on SportsCenter, acting as if Matt Forte couldn't produce just because he was a second-round pick.
Regardless of what Golic thinks, Forte is going to carry the ball a lot for Chicago next year. Cedric Benson has been a huge bust and this team needs to move on. Forte is a bigger back which always translates to solid touchdown production. He can turn the corner faster than you'd think, but he doesn't have any jets to net a lot of 15-plus yardage carries.
2008 Fantasy Projection: 230 carries, 1,012 yards, 8 TDs.
Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders
People are calling Darren McFadden the next Adrian Peterson. I have news for you: McFadden has scrawny legs and doesn't break tackles consistently (see vs. Auburn & Mississippi State). I wouldn't count on him to be an every-down back, a la Reggie Bush. Still, Bush had a big impact as a rookie because he was a home-run hitter. D-Mac's fumbling concerns me; still I think he should be a solid RB2 option in fantasy leagues.
2008 Fantasy Projection: 148 carries, 54 receptions, 1,108 total yards, 6 TDs.
John Carlson, TE, Seahawks
John Carlson has to be my pick as the best fantasy tight end this year, and I think he has the upside to appear in my top 10 as well because he will be getting a ton of receptions. He should be the safest option in the passing game. He'll be on the field a lot because of his blocking.
2008 Fantasy Projection: 53 receptions, 498 yards, 4 TDs.
Earl Bennett, WR, Bears
I claimed Earl Bennett was the most NFL-ready wideout coming out for the draft, and he couldn't have gone to a team that needed his skills more. Bennett's production at Vanderbilt considering his quarterback for his last two seasons was insane. I'll be shocked if he isn't the No. 1 WR by midseason.
2008 Fantasy Projection: 62 receptions, 874 yards, 5 TDs.
Steve Slaton, RB, Texans
Ahman Green and Chris Brown? I've heard this verse before; Steve Slaton's vision and speed make him a great fit in the zone-blocking scheme the Texans employ. He's not going to be the goal-line target, but he should register a lot of yards in this offense, provided he gets the bulk of the carries.
2008 Fantasy Projection: 142 carries, 33 receptions, 934 total yards, 3 TDs.
John David Booty, QB, Vikings
Tarvaris Jackson sucks. It isn't the production; it's the lack of pure mechanics to play the position. His footwork is horrible. His decision-making is terrible. John David Booty will be starting by mid-season because Minnesota can't afford to go through Jackson's growing pains (only way I could put it; make sure to take out the "growing" part) during a run to win the division.
Booty is in the mold of a Brad Johnson because he is a game manager. Minnesota has all the weapons on offense for a rookie quarterback to succeed. Fantasy projection based on a 16-game season (but impossible to predict exactly what week he'll be starting).
2008 Fantasy Projection: 2,850 passing yards, 17 TDs, 9 INTs.