Just because the NFL playoff picture is now set in stone, the attention on the 2012 NFL draft should not be overlooked—especially from a fantasy football perspective.
Understanding who is who, and why you should pay attention now, often gives the most savvy of fantasy football owners the much needed leg up in their own fantasy football draft.
Today I want to give an early highlight on five players you must keep on your radar; players who are almost certain to have an immediate impact at the pro level, as well as, an immediate impact in the 2012 fantasy football season.
Morris Claiborne - CB - LSU: I'm going to start things off at the IDP level because if there is anyone coming out of this year's draft guaranteed to make an impact, it's this guy.
Claiborne is one of those rare corners who seemingly has every "start-worthy" skill-set desired by an NFL team, which should easily translate into immediate fantasy points for those looking to acquire him, IF, he goes to the right team.
Claiborne is a near natural in all facets of "man"coverage, but is also physical enough to be utilized in zone schemes, and run support.
The early idea is that the Minnesota Vikings could trade down from their number three pick (Washington is the early suitor here) and scoop him up after the carnage that will inevitably be left behind from the six QB needy teams (Miami, Kansas City, Washington, Seattle and Cleveland) complete their battle for a new gunslinger.
If this is the case, Claiborne's initial projected fantasy value would soar through the roof, as the Vikings are inevitably in dire need of a five-tool elite corner.
Michael Floyd - WR - Notre Dame:
Michael Floyd is an interesting receiver in this year's draft that could wind up being a diamond in the rough, especially for fantasy owners in Dynasty leagues looking to "hold-out" for a late-round pick with tremendous fantasy upside.
Floyd isn't exactly know for his explosive speed off the line of scrimmage, but what he is known for is his run-after-catch ability, and his above average size that will make him hard to press in coverage.
Floyd is the type of player who could go two ways: Either he'll wind up being a late-bloomer in Standard leagues as a viable red-zone threat, or an early PPR low-baller, as a possession receiver (think Steve Breaston).
There are many teams in need of a receiver like Floyd such as Minnesota, Chicago, Philadelphia (especially if they let D-Jax go) and Cleveland.
Philadelphia would literally be a dream come true for those thinking on grabbing Floyd. The Eagles utilize more possession type plays than most teams in the NFL, and they could find immediate use for Floyd which could bode well for fantasy owners looking to scoop him up.
Minnesota and Cleveland would be my second guess here, although not as good of a fantasy scenario.
Trent Richardson - RB - Alabama:
Another potential first-rounder (no guarantee, though), Richardson is the type of running back who is almost destined to have an immediate impact on the fantasy landscape.
Richardson (5'11" - 224) is the type of back that has blazing speed, and is an absolute menace to bring down in the open field, but thanks to Saints running Mark Ingram, no one really knew of him until this year.
Richardson also possesses great pass catching ability, and a low-center of gravity making him highly elusive on the field, and easy to lose.
Richardson's potential value, however, will again depend on where he winds up.
Tampa Bay and Denver would be my two early guesses here, as both teams are in need of a RB who can not only run and catch well, but also pick up blocking assignments when asked to do so.
To be honest, I don't think there will be a huge emphasis on RB in the first two rounds collectively, and both the Buccaneers and Broncos are really the only teams I see targeting the RB position this early...and that's a good thing!
Lavonte David - LB - Nebraska:
Adding in yet another IDP consideration, Lavonte David may not be a first-rounder in this year's 2012 NFL draft, but this is one guy you MUST keep on your radar.
David is going to be one of those guys who everyone thinks will hold little value, especially if he gets drafted as a MLB, because of his 5'11" - 224 frame.
The fact is, however, he is a solid candidate for early sleeper consideration.
David is a player who was almost exclusively left alone when covering spread offenses at Nebraska because the boy is just that damn good, but he was also utilized quite a bit against the run inside the box.....so much for the theory of having a smallish frame, eh?
The moral here is that David has a huge ceiling for immediate fantasy impact, and an almost guaranteed long term value for those in Dynasty leagues.
Teams in need of such a linebacker are as follows, going from best fantasy situation to worst: Minnesota, Dallas, New England and Green Bay.
Last year I did a lot of work covering Andy Dalton, and my predictions of him finding early success in the NFL proved to be accurate, and if there is any middle-tier QB in this year's draft that reminds me of Dalton, it's Foles.
Foles is a giant presence under center at 6'5" - 240 pounds which gives him a great vantage point as a QB, ala Andy Dalton, but in addition to his size, Foles is also known for his mobility.
Foles isn't the sort of QB you would consider elite, and he may not even get a starting gig right away, but that is no reason to leave him off your radar.
There are several QB needy teams as earlier mentioned, but there are also a few teams that could scoop him up in the middle rounds such as Tampa Bay, Chicago, Jacksonville, Minnesota and even Green Bay ( a long-shot, but still possible).
Again, Foles isn't projected to have an immediate impact on fantasy NOW, but please remember that it is still January, and the draft landscape undergoes drastic changes in the coming months, so that projection could wind up doing a complete 180.