The 2014 NFL Draft is almost upon us, so die-hard fans and fantasy footballers alike are waiting with baited breath to see who their teams will draft ... and how rookies will affect fantasy values. Until then, there's a lot of chatter about the best and worst draft picks of all time. Our friends at Around the League are even doing a series on the best draft classes per division.
That got me to thinking ... who is the best fantasy player drafted by each of the 32 current NFL franchises?
As a fan of the NFL's historical impact on sports and how it can relate to fantasy football, I did a little research on this topic. Here's the parameter ... each player had to be drafted by and play most of his career with that team. So when you don't see Brett Favre anywhere in the column, that's the reason. (You know the Green Bay Packers didn't draft him, right?)
Some of the results won't surprise you, but a lot of them will.
Larry Fitzgerald, wide receiver (2004): The leading receiver in franchise history, Fitzgerald has long been one of the top fantasy players at his position in the NFL. He's posted a combined six seasons with 1,000-plus receiving yards and has scored eight or more touchdowns seven times.
Matt Ryan, quarterback (2008): This was a close call between Ryan and Roddy White, but I'm going with the former. He's already the franchise's leading passer, throwing for 4,000-plus yards in each of his last three seasons. Ryan has also thrown 20-plus touchdowns in five straight years.
Jamal Lewis, running back (2000): Lewis is one of just seven running backs in the history of the NFL to record 2,000-plus rushing yards in a single season. Overall, he posted 1,000-plus rushing yards seven different times (five with the Ravens) and four seasons with at least seven touchdowns.
Thurman Thomas, running back (1988): This was a tough call, as O.J. Simpson was a statistical star during his time in the NFL. However, I had to side with Thomas. He rushed for 1,000-plus yards in eight straight seasons and posted 1,800-plus scrimmage yards on four different occasions.
Cam Newton, quarterback (2011): I could have gone with DeAngelo Williams or Steve Smith, but Newton is destined to be one of the best fantasy quarterbacks ever. In fact, no player since 1960 has more fantasy points in his first three NFL campaigns than this versatile Auburn product.
Walter Payton, running back (1975): One of the greatest running backs of all time, Payton rushed for 1,000-plus yards 10 times and scored a combined 125 touchdowns during his illustrious career. Had fantasy football been prominent in his time, Payton would have been a first-rounder.
A.J. Green, wide receiver (2011): Ken Anderson and Corey Dillon were in the mix for the Bengals, but I had to side with Green despite the fact that he's played just three seasons. During that time, the Georgia product has racked up over 3,800 yards and has scored a combined 29 touchdowns.
Jim Brown, running back (1957): Brown would have been a major fantasy superstar, rushing for 1,000-plus yards seven different times during his Hall-of-Fame career. Brown, who also rushed for nine or more touchdowns seven times, left the game in 1965 still at the pinnacle of his position.
Emmitt Smith, running back (1990): The NFL's all-time leading rusher, Smith rushed for 1,000-plus yards in 11 consecutive seasons and was a massive fantasy superstar during his pro career. Smith, who also scored 175 combined touchdowns, was a first-rounder in fantasy leagues in his time.
Terrell Davis, running back (1995): How is this not John Elway? Well, the Baltimore Colts drafted him in 1983 before trading him over to the Broncos. Enter Davis, who rushed for 1,000-plus yards in four consecutive seasons including a 2,008-yard, 23-touchdown campaign back in 1998.
Barry Sanders, running back (1989): Calvin Johnson could be the top fantasy player drafted by the Lions when his career is all said and done, but at this point he's not yet on the same level as Sanders. He rushed for 1,000-plus yards in every season of what was a Hall-of-Fame career.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers, quarterback (2005): Remember, Favre (Falcons) and Ahman Green (Seahawks) were not drafted by the Packers, so neither qualifies for this piece. That leaves Rodgers, who has five 4,000-yard seasons and has scored 32 or more total touchdowns four times since 2008.
Andre Johnson, wide receiver (2003): It's hard to argue against Johnson being the top drafted fantasy player in Houston, as he's posted 100-plus receptions five different times in his career. The Miami (FL) product also has seven 1,000-yard seasons on his impressive resume at the NFL level.
Peyton Manning, quarterback (1998): This could also be Marshall Faulk, but most of his statistical success came with the St. Louis Rams. That leaves Manning, who is coming off the greatest season of all time at the quarterback position and has been a fantasy superstar during his amazing career.
Fred Taylor, running back (1998): The franchise's all-time rushing leader, Taylor was a fantasy star when he was on the football field. The Florida product, tabbed "Fragile Fred" due to his proneness to injuries, was still able to rush for 1,000-plus yards seven times during his 11-year career.
Kansas City Chiefs
Tony Gonzalez, tight end (1997): You could argue Larry Johnson deserves to be in this space, but Gonzalez was simply too good for too long. He revolutionized the tight end position, and is the Chiefs' all-time leading receiver. Only one other tight end (Ozzie Newsome) can claim that for a team.
Dan Marino, quarterback (1983): It's hard to believe, but 26 players were picked ahead of Marino in the 1983 NFL Draft (including quarterbacks Todd Blackledge, Tony Eason and Ken O'Brien.) He became one of the biggest statistical superstars the NFL and fantasy football has ever seen.
Adrian Peterson, running back (2007): Fran Tarkenton and Randy Moss were both in the conversation, but how can you go against Peterson? He's rushed for 1,000-plus yards six times, including a huge 2,097-yard campaign in 2012, and will enter next season as one of fantasy's top picks.
New England Patriots
Tom Brady, quarterback (2000): Brady has turned into a statistical beast at the pro level, posting 4,000-plus yards six times since 2005 including a 5,235-yard campaign in 2011. He also recorded one of the best fantasy seasons ever, posting 4,806 yards and 52 total touchdowns in 2007.
New Orleans Saints
Marques Colston, wide receiver (2006): Drew Brees was drafted by the San Diego Chargers and doesn't qualify, so I picked Colston over Deuce McAllister because he has a longer track record. A seventh-round pick out of Hofstra, he's already the all-time franchise leader in receiving yards.
New York Giants
Tiki Barber, running back (1997): The all-time leading rusher in Giants' franchise history, Barber rushed for 1,000-plus yards in six of his last seven seasons. He also recorded 2,000-plus yards from scrimmage in each of his last three years for both Big Blue and fantasy football fans alike.
New York Jets
Joe Namath, quarterback (1965): Curtis Martin was drafted by the Patriots, Don Maynard by the Giants, and John Riggins had most of his success in Washington. That leaves Namath, who was rarely a great fantasy player, but still holds franchise records in passing yards and touchdowns.
Marcus Allen, running back (1982): One of the greatest running backs of all time, Allen recorded three 1,000-yard rushing seasons for the Raiders. He was also a touchdown machine, scoring 144 times (sixth-most in NFL history) during his career between the Silver & Black and Kansas City Chiefs.
Donovan McNabb, quarterback (1999): Eagles fans clamored for their team to draft Ricky Williams, but the team took McNabb instead. It turned out to be a productive move, as he finshed as the top passer in franchise history. McNabb's versatile skill set also made him a solid fantasy starter.
Franco Harris, running back (1972): The Steelers have had a number of great drafted players both on the field and in fantasy land, but Harris is the best of the bunch. Not only did he rush for over 1,000 yards eight times during his Hall-of-Fame career, but Harris also scored 100 touchdowns.
San Diego Chargers
LaDainian Tomlinson, running back (2001): The Bolts have had more than their share of statistical superstars over the years, but Tomlinson is the best of the best. Not only did he put up the single greatest fantasy season of all time (2006), but L.T. was almost always a top-five staple in drafts.
San Francisco 49ers
Jerry Rice, wide receiver (1985): This is the biggest no brainer in this column. Sure, Steve Young and Joe Montana were awesome fantasy options, but Rice was the best wide receiver to ever play in the NFL. He's still the league's all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches.
Shaun Alexander, running back (2000): Even though Steve Largent played his entire career in Seattle, he was actually drafted by the Houston Oilers in 1974, so Alexander gets the nod here. The 2005 NFL MVP had five straight seasons with at least 1,100 rushing yards and 16 total touchdowns.
St. Louis Rams
Eric Dickerson, running back (1983): Steven Jackson is the all-time leading rusher in Rams history, but that's only because Dickerson was dealt to the Colts. During his four-plus years in Los Angeles, the Hall of Famer rushed for 1,800-plus yards three times and scored 58 touchdowns.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
James Wilder, running back (1981): As you can imagine, there haven't been a whole lot of fantasy superstars during the course of Buccaneers history. Wilder, who leads the franchise in rushing yards, put up over 1,000 yards twice before a massive workload ultimately led to his statistical downfall.
Eddie George, running back (1996): Drafted by the Houston Oilers, George went on to become a statistical hero and fantasy superstar during his time with the franchise. He rushed for 1,000-plus yards in seven of his eight seasons between the Oilers and Titans and finished with 78 touchdowns.
Art Monk, wide receiver (1980): As I mentioned earlier, Riggins was drafted by the Jets and doesn't qualify for this column as a member of the Redskins. That leaves Monk, who retired as the franchise leader in both receptions and receiving yards during what was a terrific, Hall-of-Fame career.
Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com and NFL Network and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!