NFL Fantasy Rookies
The NFL Draft is in the rear-view mirror and fantasy drafts are on the horizon. Now that we know where these rookies will play, we can accurately forecast how to approach them. Some are more valuable in re-draft leagues, others in dynasty. This class had a ton of talented skill position players and many found great fits with the team that drafted them. Below, I’ll highlight eight to target right away and five more to keep in mind.
Early Rookie Impact
QB Teddy Bridgewater
Teddy Bridgewater was a draftnik favorite, but poor pre-draft workouts lead to his being picked at the end of the first round. The fall ended up being a big plus for Bridgewater. The Minnesota Vikings traded up and gifted him a perfect situation.
The Louisville product has everything a young quarterback needs for instant success. The Vikings boast a strong offensive line and a system that goes through the best running back in the game, Adrian Peterson. He has a diverse set of pass catchers in veteran Greg Jennings and exciting youngster Cordarrelle Patterson. Tight end Kyle Rudolph is an above average starter and great safety blanket. Minnesota’s new offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, is a known quarterback guru. He also happens to be a big Bridgewater believer.
If you’ve watched a second of Teddy’s play in college, you’d know he has the skills to displace Matt Cassel right away. His pocket movement, accuracy and anticipation in the intermediate areas are very advanced. Bridgewater shouldn’t have much trouble earning the starting job in training camp.
Fantasy owners should look to buy-in on Bridgewater. An instant starter on a solid offense is always a good choice. Dynasty owners should target him with a first round pick. Bridgewater is an appealing option as a safe QB2 with upside in re-draft leagues. If you’re a Teddy Bridgewater true believer, it was great to see him land in an ideal situation.
RB Bishop Sankey
Tennessee is a rookie RB fantasy gold mine for several reasons. It won’t take long for Sankey to be named the starter, if he hasn’t already. Shonn Greene is the only veteran competition and he’s as average as they come. New head coach Ken Whisenehunt loves the running game. With a questionable passing attack, the carries will come. The Titans have invested heavily in their offensive line. The front office went a step further and added nasty Michigan offensive tackle, Taylor Lewan with the 11th pick.
Sankey had a great combine and has some stellar agility scores. Unfortunately, that athleticism didn’t show up in college. He’s not a creative running back; more of a player that can get what’s there and take advantage of good blocking. The good news is that he’ll see plenty of that in Tennessee.
When you think of Bishop Sankey, think of what Knowshon Moreno was last season. Neither is a special player, but they’re reliable and can produce in an ideal situation. The Titans aren’t quite the Broncos, but they have the makings of a solid offense.
Sankey is the best back for re-draft leagues without a doubt. I would advise caution to anyone rushing to grab him in dynasty leagues. He’ll earn the starting job early, but he’s the type of back teams look to replace in a few years.
WR Mike Evans
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In Chicago, Josh McCown played with two big, physical wideouts. He’ll do again in Tampa. The Bucs made Mike Evans the draft’s seventh overall selection and will pair him with Vincent Jackson.
Evans shouldn’t have any trouble seizing the number-two receiver role in Tampa Bay. Players like Chris Owusu and Eric Page won’t stand a chance. The 6’5” Evans is an aggressive player at the catch point and an obvious red zone target. Much like Johnny Manziel did at Texas A&M, Josh McCown will feel comfortable just lobbing it up for his new toy. More often than not, Evans will box-out his man for those jump balls.
Mike Evans has a few flaws, but they won’t be so apparent in Tampa. He might struggle a bit to separate from NFL corners, but he’ll always face the defense’s second best option with Jackson across the field from him. The Bucs also have a strong running game, so teams can’t just focus on stopping the aerial attack.
There are a few concerns here. I’ve already written that I’m worried about McCown as a starting quarterback. If McCown struggles away from Marc Trestman, it will hurt Evans’ fantasy numbers. Tampa Bay will also be a run based offense. This won’t be a high volume passing game and Evans’ targets might vary week to week.
Overall, the positives far outweigh the negatives. Mike Evans is a top two pick in all dynasty formats. In re-draft leagues, don’t go too crazy right off the bat. I’m cool if you want to target him as a high upside WR3 since his red zone ability gives him instant value.
WR Jordan Matthews
The Eagles jettisoned a small speedster in DeSean Jackson. The assumption around the league was, Chip Kelly would replace him with a similar type player. Although, Chip has been quoted on a number of occasions that “big players beat up little players” which plays in perfectly to the selection of Jordan Matthews.
Matthews, 6-foot-4, brings good size and athleticism along with plenty of SEC production to Philadelphia. He’s a smooth route runner, who plays smart and has good awareness after the catch. Matthews is also a hard worker, evidenced by his asking for tape of the cornerbacks he’d face at the Senior Bowl.
Jordan Matthews isn’t without flaws, hence why he went in the second round. Matthews lacks that extra gear and tends to struggle separating from man coverage down the field. Luckily, Chip Kelly’s offense will mask his weaknesses. Teams are forced to play zone coverage against the Eagles, mainly because they are a run based, option-read offense. Although the hurry up offense Philly loves to employ forces teams into man-to-man coverage as it’s the fastest way to line-up. Matthews mastered the subtle art of beating zone at Vanderbilt and can out jump most defenders due to his size and strong frame if he has to. His versatility makes for a seamless transition into the Eagles offense.
The odds favor Matthews emerging as a starter for the Eagles. If Jeremy Maclin struggles in his return from a torn ACL, the rookie will take his place. Riley Cooper had a nice year, but is just an average talent. Matthews can offer exactly what he does, plus a little more. There are a lot of mouths to feed in Philly, but Matthews should be able to get his. He’s the force in the middle of the field Kelly was missing in his first year on the job.
I wouldn’t complain if you wanted to target Jordan Matthews as a pick in the top half of rookie drafts. He should emerge as a longtime starter in the NFL as a high-end number-two type receiver. In re-draft leagues, temper your expectations just a bit. The Eagles are a run first team first and foremost. Yet, Matthews should still be the favorite in the short passing game.
WR Brandin Cooks
New Orleans Saints
Speed, speed and more speed; that’s the first thing you notice about Brandin Cooks. Boasting a 4.3 40-time and great downfield ability, this receiver can flat out fly. The Saints know what to do with fast players, and that’s why they took him in the first round.
While he’s listed as a wide receiver, Cooks will line up all over the place for New Orleans. Trust Sean Payton to find creative ways to use him. The Saints lost a highly targeted player in running back Darren Sproles. Cooks should replace some of his roles. Payton will line him up in the backfield and in the slot to get favorable match-ups. Don’t forget how good of a screen team the Saints are. Cooks’ speed will add an extra dimension in that facet of the offense.
Cooks isn’t quite Steve Smith (a common comparison) but he’ll provide plenty of value. He might not have been so highly recommended on this list had he landed elsewhere. Yet, he is a Saint now and in the perfect offense to show off his skills.
An early role, an elite quarterback and a great offensive coach all add up to fantasy delight. As with all young deep threats, his production might be a bit sporadic. He’s still worth a roster spot and constant consideration as a match-up play.
Cooks falls behind a few of his fellow rookie receivers in dynasty formats. You might even want to consider a few of the quarterbacks before him. In re-draft leagues, I’d preach patience. Consider him as a bench player in your drafts and hope for a big pay-off.
WR Cody Latimer
Denver Broncos[ad id=”Ad1″]
Add another weapon for Peyton Manning? Sure, why not. Late rising draft darling, Cody Latimer joins an already crowded Denver Broncos’ passing game. While it might not seem the ideal situation for early fantasy success, Latimer should provide instant gratification.
Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas are all returning from last year’s record setting offense. Emmanuel Sanders was signed in free agency to add some speed. Yet, none of those players are built to assume Eric Decker’s role. Latimer provides a lot of the same ability Decker did in Denver, plus a bit more. He can make contested catches down the sideline and plays with a more of a physical edge than all the other Broncos’ receivers.
Latimer shouldn’t have much trouble earning a role quickly on this offense. If anything, Sanders and Latimer should quickly push Wes Welker to the backseat. Latimer’s name had so much buzz around it for a reason; he’s a very good wide receiver.
The Broncos make for an intriguing landing spot for any offensive skill position guys. Their high volume passing attack can feed many players. There’s a strong chance Manning will have to throw the ball even more this season, as Knowshon Moreno moved on to Miami. Don’t worry about Latimer; he’ll put up plenty of numbers.
Latimer’s physical upside and great early situation make him a sneaky first round pick in dynasty leagues. I think that he’s already Denver’s best red zone threat. He’ll lose a bit of luster when Manning retires, but will also be the number-two wideout by then. Latimer is an even more attractive late-round pick in re-draft leagues. Place your bets on him.
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs sure seem intent on building the 2013 Bears 2.0 around Josh McCown. That’s a smart move and Lovie Smith got McCown his Martellus Bennett in Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
The Washington product is a more talented version of Bennett, but fell due to a few off the field concerns. If you’re worried about ASJ needing to beat out players like Brandon Myers and Tim Wright, don’t. Wright is a nice role player, but not cut from the same cloth as Seferian-Jenkins. Myers is an overrated player who failed as the Giants’ starter last season. ASJ isn’t perfect, but he’ll dispatch of these two soon enough.
Once Seferian-Jenkins becomes the starter, he should get plenty of targets. McCown can’t just chuck the ball up to Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans on every play. ASJ will get plenty of favorable looks underneath. His frame also suggest he’ll play as an in-line as a blocker. He won’t leave the field very often.
Owners would be lucky to get something close to Bennett’s 2013 production (65 for 759 and five TDs) from ASJ this season. Still, he’s a safe bet for a short-term reward and long-term viability.
If other tight ends are going higher in your rookie drafts, it might not be a bad move to target ASJ. He’s in a prosperous situation and a very talented player. In re-draft leagues, watch his progress in training camp. If he earns the starting job, he’s a nice TE2 with upside.
TE Eric Ebron
The draft’s most talented tight end ended up in a perfect spot. Eric Ebron fills the massive void Detroit had at the position. He’s a fine finishing touch on an already dangerous offense.
If you think Ebron won’t be the opening day starter, think again. Yes, the Lions brought back Brandon Pettigrew on a deal with pretty decent money, but he’s always been a liability as their top tight end. Joseph Fauria showed some skills as a red zone weapon last year. Yet, he isn’t talented enough for full time starter duties. Ebron is a high level athlete and a playmaker in the open field. He’ll pass over his two competitors with ease.
If there’s one problem with Ebron’s fantasy value as a Lion, it’s that there’s a lot mouths to feed here. Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate will demand passes at wide receiver. Reggie Bush and Joique Bell need their carries and both factor into the passing game. Matthew Stafford can only get the ball to so many weapons.
I’d argue this is what makes Detroit such an attractive landing spot for Ebron. Stopping Megatron alone is an impossible task and now defenses have Tate to worry about as well. While Ebron might be the third or fourth option in the passing game, he won’t attract the focus of defenses. Ebron isn’t a complete receiver yet, but is so athletic he gets it done anyways. That athleticism alone will make it impossible for linebackers and safeties to handle him one on one. Ebron will feast on single coverage all day.
Ebron should be regarded as the top tight end in dynasty formats. His upside in Detroit is massive. If you want to spend a premium pick and have a need for a TE1, take him. Ebron still has some work to do on becoming a finished product at tight end. In re-draft leagues don’t expect consistent contributions early, but single match-ups are enticing.
Keep Them in Mind:
RB Devonta Freeman
Mainstreamers underrated the Florida State running back coming into the draft. Yet, Devonta Freeman was regarded as the top back according to some experts. Lucky for him, he fell to a nice landing spot.
Freeman presents an ideal compliment to Steven Jackson in Atlanta. He’s a slashing runner and a willing blocker with soft hands to contribute on third downs. In fact, don’t be so sure he’s the complimentary runner for long. Jackson had trouble staying on the field, or looking very good when he did last year. Don’t rule out that Freeman takes over the Falcons’ starting gig by mid-season.
With opportunity and skill present in this situation, Freeman needs to be on your radar. He could end up being the best back in this class in dynasty formats (yes, even ahead of Bishop Sankey). In re-draft leagues I’d consider spending a later round draft pick on him. At worst, he’s stealing Jaquizz Rodgers’ role. Patience will pay off for Freeman’s fantasy owners.
RB Terrance West
Terrance West is another interesting mid-round running back. He comes from the small school of Towson University, but dominated the competition there. West is a powerful back with light feet and plenty of violence as a runner.
Landing with the Browns was a gift for Terrance West. Cleveland hired Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator this offseason and he’ll bring the famous zone running scheme with him. Many less talented backs have thrived in the system. The trend will continue in Cleveland. Ben Tate is the current starter, but he’s a middling player and very injury prone. West could grab this job sooner rather than later. He will have to stave off a challenge from the troubled, but very talented undrafted Isaiah Crowell.
Whoever the Browns’ running back of the future is, he’s sitting on a gold mine. Johnny Manziel will open up plenty of rushing lanes for his backfield mates in the zone attack. Bet on West being that guy and make him a top-five dynasty target at the position. He isn’t a big re-draft league target, unless he wins the job outright. Do make sure you have a quick trigger finger when picking him up off the waiver wire.
RB James White
New England Patriots
No one was as high on James White as I was during the pre-draft process. I loved White’s deadly cutting ability and intelligence as a runner. He’s a mistake free player who gets into space well and makes people miss.
While on the surface New England doesn’t appear to be an ideal landing spot, there’s opportunity here. The Patriots’ current backs, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, haven’t endeared themselves to the organization. Ridley’s fumbling issues land him in the doghouse pretty often and Vereen isn’t the picture of good health. White can offer a bit of both skillsets and render them irrelevant next season.
White isn’t a candidate for an immediate payoff, but is a name to watch. As soon as this season, Bill Belichick might tire of his current running backs. He liked White enough to take him in the fourth round (a decent investment for the position these days). Do like Belichick and make sure you leave your dynasty drafts with White. Also, be the first to grab him on the waiver wire.
WR Kevin Norwood
The Seahawks drafted two receivers this May and their second choice may be the more productive one. Kevin Norwood went to Seattle in the fourth round after they took Paul Richardson in the second. Norwood is a polished player ready to contribute.
What makes Norwood the more attractive fantasy option is that he’ll climb the depth chart faster. The Seahawks do not have any other receivers like Norwood. He’s a bigger guy, who can climb the ladder and high point passes. He’s also a reliable target down the sidelines. Russell Wilson hasn’t played with anyone like that.
Norwood is more of a sleeper than someone you should sell out to acquire. If you go with a running back or tight end early in your rookie drafts, Norwood becomes an attractive option for down the line. I think due to his different skill set and reliability, he’ll earn an early role. Norwood is not a home run hitter, but a chance for consistent production.
TE Richard Rodgers
Green Bay Packers
Again, physical talent mixed with opportunity is a recipe for fantasy goodness. Richard Rodgers now has both. Rodgers is a nice athlete at tight end and a new member of the Green Bay Packers.
The Packers retained Andrew Quarless, but he’s an underwhelming option. There’s a void at the tight end position and Rodgers is ready to fill it. Ted Thompson thought enough of him to make him a third round pick, so he’ll get a chance. Rodgers can win one-on-one match-ups and threaten the seams.
Don’t discount Rodgers among the many tight end contributors from this class. Catching passes from Aaron Rodgers, the situation is just too good. You can snag him late in dynasty drafts and stock up on other positions. Watch for him in this year’s training camp. If he beats out Quarless, pounce!
Intentionally Left Off:
QB Johnny Manziel
I’m a pretty big Manzealot myself, but I’m playing it safe with Johnny Football in fantasy this season. Head coach Mike Pettine insisted he doesn’t want to start a rookie and will rely on Brian Hoyer. The Browns’ recent media blackout further indicates they view Manziel as a backup for now. There also isn’t a lot of talent in Cleveland’s passing game for him to work with. Josh Gordon is likely suspended indefinitely and Nate Burleson broke his arm, again…
If Manziel begins this season as the number two, he’s not a draftable player in re-draft leagues. However, he is a great option once he sees the field. I endorse Manziel as a tasty target in all dynasty formats.
Essentially, if Manziel is named the starter, take this section and throw it in the trash. Once Cleveland shows confidence in him, you do the same. Even if there are growing pains, he’s too special and unique not to make a viable fantasy impact.
WR Sammy Watkins
Sammy Watkins is an elite wide receiver prospect, so this isn’t slander. The problem is where he ended up going. In Buffalo, Watkins is on a run heavy team with a questionable quarterback situation. E.J. Manuel needs to show he’s a more aggressive and competent player than he was last year. It’s hard to endorse taking Watkins in re-draft leagues relative to where he went.
In dynasty formats, Watkins is still the best player from this class and the favorite for the 1.01 pick. You won’t get an argument from me there. If you’re worried about where he landed, maybe you try and trade out, or go with Mike Evans. If your dynasty team is ready to win now, that’s a wise course of action. How you handle Watkins is going to come down to your own judgment of your team and current status.
Long-term, I don’t have any concerns about this player’s talent or production, but I’d stay away in re-draft leagues for now. There are too many questions and talented players in better situations on this list.
Matt is an NFL writer and analyst. A lover of all things music, sociology, and television shows, and love to talk about those in addition to football. I also own a number of stupid theories about life you probably will not be interested in, but I will trick you into listening to.