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.
This class had a ton of talented skill position players and many went to great landing spots. Here I’ll highlight the names of players who weren’t listed in part one of this breakdown.
Don’t Forget Them:
WR Odell Beckham Jr.
LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. started the draft process widely regarded as a late first round selection. By the time May rolled around, he was the 12th overall pick in the draft. This was no false pre-draft hype train, the world just got wise to ODB’s incredible skill set.
Beckham has the ability to play well above his listed size of 5’11. He’s catch radius is outstanding for a smaller receiver. ODB regularly climbed the ladder and snagged off target Zach Mettenberger throws at LSU. He has the potential to develop into a decent red zone threat even though he lacks a monstrous frame. Yet, he’s still a safer bet for an eight-touchdown season, rather than double digits.
The new Giants’ wide receiver also is a great player between the twenties. Beckham is a smooth route runner and very good after the catch. He’s the type of player who will quickly earn a quarterback’s trust. His reliable hands and playmaking ability are very appealing.
As a fantasy option, Odell Beckham has the look of a low-end WR1 in the long run. He’s the type of player that will rack up plenty of yards and receptions, but may not score a ton of touchdowns. ODB will be a better real life NFL player than a fantasy producer. His long-term ceiling is higher in PPR formats; especially as he rises up the depth chart.
In New York, Beckham faces a few obstacles in climbing up the receiver pecking order. Victor Cruz will remain Eli Manning’s preferred target. Cruz and Beckham have some similarities in their skill sets and should rotate playing outside and in the slot. Former second round pick, Rueben Randle is still around and is developing. The organization has been non-committal in their endorsement of Randle. He had a lot of issues with his timing and route running last year. Beckham’s reliability should vault him ahead of Randle for the production Hakeem Nicks left behind.
You can bet on ODB starting early in his rookie season, but there are still questions. Manning has to play better for the Giants’ offensive weapons to reach their statistical ceilings. Tom Coughlin always wants to run the ball first and the volume might not be there for a top-tier passing attack.
In dynasty leagues, Beckham should come off the board in the second half of the first round. At his best, he can be a Chad Johnson type of playmaker. In re-draft leagues, he’s well worth a late round flier. It’s wiser to take a chance on ODB’s upside later than a middling veteran in the 11th round or so.
WR Kelvin Benjamin
The Panthers made a surprising first round pick with Kelvin Benjamin 28th overall. Personally, I wasn’t high on Benjamin as a draft prospect and discussed at length why this was a very risky pick for Carolina. Benjamin has an appealing ceiling if it all clicks, but could come crashing down to a very low floor.
The opportunity is there for Benjamin to establish himself as the number one target in Carolina’s passing game. The Panthers remade their receiving corps with a cast of aging veterans and unproven youngsters. The hope is that Benjamin develops into Cam Newton’s long-term running mate. General Manager Dave Gettleman insists he sees him as a young Plaxico Burress. The size and quickness are there, but there is a ton of work to be done.
Kelvin Benjamin’s fantasy value will lie in what kind of work he does in the red zone. Carolina has been an efficient short yardage scoring team with Newton and Mike Tolbert. The formula is rather predictable. The 49ers shut down the Panthers’ red zone offense in the playoffs. Benjamin’s 6’5, 240 frame should finally bring a realistic alternative.
The popular assumption is Carolina’s barren receiver roster will net Benjamin an early starting job. Be skeptical of that notion. The more likely scenario is that the rookie rotates in at every receiving spot. This strategy will actually help The Panthers better find match-ups to exploit for Benjamin. He can play outside against weaker cornerbacks on early down and try to get deep. He can play in the slot for multiple receiver sets. In that position, Benjamin can best use his size to earn yards after the catch.
How you decide to approach Kelvin Benjamin in fantasy leagues comes down to your risk management strategies. Can you stomach investing in a player who might be more sizzle than substance and has a dangerous downside?
In your dynasty drafts, try to gauge how your league-mates feel about him. If it looks like they’re liable to overdraft him high in the first round based off reputation and athleticism, steer clear. He’s a fine pick in the late first, but don’t go too crazy. If you have a steady receiver situation, you can risk bringing him in as an upside bet. Remember, there’s little to no chance you can wait and draft him in the mid-second round.
With re-draft leagues, be patient. You should monitor the news around him very closely throughout the summer. If the training camp reports are glowing and Benjamin is thriving in the preseason, take notice. He will get reps in the Panthers’ passing game, unless he’s an abject disaster. Benjamin is worth rostering as one of your backup receivers.
WR Davante Adams
The Packers love to spread the field with a ton of wide receivers. They lost James Jones this offseason and selected a worthy successor in Davante Adams.
Adams can be a plus replacement for Jones, in the short-term. He’s very similar to the veteran as player who wins at the catch point and excels down the sideline. The rookie also offers more juice and awareness after the catch. If he shines early, Adams can quickly assume the role and production Jones left behind; which isn’t bad at all. Adams is a bit mistake prone as a player and will have some work to do in earning the coaches’ trust.
Davante Adams’ biggest hurdle to jump is the stacked nature of Green Bay’s depth chart. Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are strong and established starters. Jarrett Boykin emerged when given playing time last season. Aaron Rodgers knows and trusts these players. A rookie with some development needed in his game won’t surpass them right away.
The good news for Adams’ long-term value is that Nelson and Cobb’s contracts are up after the season. Green Bay will try to retain both players, but may not be able to. Adding Adams, as well as fellow rookies Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis, provides insurance. Adams’ upside might allow the Packers to feel comfortable letting one of the two veterans walk. If that situation comes to fruition, he becomes very appealing.
There’s no denying Adams landed in a perfect situation for fantasy relevance. He’ll catch passes from the best quarterback in the NFL in a high volume passing attack. As long as Adams works on correcting his issues, he should emerge as a nice player for Green Bay.
There are plenty of other options at his position to value over Adams in dynasty leagues. It’s hard to argue if you prefer a Cody Latimer, Beckham or Benjamin to him. However, no one should bat an eye if you make Adams a late first round pick in your rookie drafts. His situation is too appealing.
In re-draft leagues, it’s all about judging how the summer goes for Adams. I think he’s more talented than Boykin. Adams could surpass the former undrafted player if he shines in camp. If he earns the Packers third receiver job, Adams will fast become fantasy relevant this season. James Jones was a productive WR3 and Adams could assume that value.
TE Jace Amaro
The Jets continued their quest for playmakers by adding Jace Amaro to the passing game. Amaro immediately has the inside track for the starting tight end job. The Jets like Jeff Cumberland, but he pales in comparison to their new addition. Getting the Texas Tech tight end in the second round was a real steal for New York.
Amaro can split-out wide or line up in-line. While he wasn’t asked to do so much in college, he’s an underrated blocker. He’s also a physical player with the ball in his hands. Amaro looks to barrel over defenders and break through smaller player’s arm tackles. The Jets need a reliable middle of the field presence that can do something after the catch.
Both Geno Smith and Michael Vick lack a true deep threat. While that’s not traditionally a tight end’s job, Amaro has that ability. We’ve seen Jimmy Graham assume that role for the Saints. Amaro can do some of those same things. He could have a high yards-per-catch figure in his rookie season.
Amaro offers a healthy alternative to the two higher ranked rookie tight ends. He doesn’t have the outrageous athletic ceiling of Eric Ebron, but will be fed more. He isn’t quite the red zone nightmare Austin Sefarian-Jenkins is, but offers more in the open field. In fact, Amaro might be the best of the three for PPR formats. He’ll inherit the role of the primary middle of the field receiver for the Jets.
If ASJ and Ebron are going early in your dynasty drafts, sit back and wait for Amaro. Your league-mates are probably underrating him. If you can get another player in the first and target him in the second, do it. For re-draft leagues, Amaro is nice TE2 with upside. He should start right away and will see a high volume of targets.
A Few to Monitor:
QB Logan Thomas
Size, speed and undeniable arm talent; what more do you want in a developmental quarterback? Logan Thomas provides the best of each attribute in this quarterback class. Of course, he also has a long way to go in developing his anticipation and passing instincts.
Fortunately for him and those in his corner, Logan Thomas went to a perfect landing spot. Bruce Arians has had a hand in developing Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck. As the head coach in Arizona, he helped the declining Carson Palmer put together a respectable season in 2013. Arians knows quarterbacks. He also employs a downfield passing game and prefers big, physical, strong-armed throwers. Thomas fits the Arians mold, with plenty of additional athletic upside.
If anyone can get Logan Thomas to reach his out-of-this-world ceiling, it’s Bruce Arians. Thomas will also have the added benefit of time. Palmer showed he’s still a viable starting option. The rookie can sit and learn for a few years before emerging from the shadows down the road. The supporting cast might not look exactly the same for Thomas, but there are plenty of nice targets in Arizona. Michael Floyd looks like a staple and Larry Fitzgerald is tied to this organization for life.
Should he earn the starting job down the line, Thomas has enormous fantasy potential. Not only can he sling the ball down the field, but also he has a running ability that mirrors Cam Newton. Thomas is a 6’5 230-plus pounder with 4.6 speed. His future rushing numbers alone make him an appealing stash.
For now, Thomas is a dynasty option only. He is the next in line behind Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel. If you have a choice between drafting Derek Carr in the second round, or Thomas in the late third (or even early fourth) go with Thomas. If it doesn’t work out for him at quarterback, you might have a nice tight end project on your hands. The risk is minimal and the reward could be great.
RB Jeremy Hill
I wasn’t a fan of the big LSU back pre-draft and thought he was over drafted in the second round. Yet, Jeremy Hill is in position to succeed in Cincinnati.
Hill won’t start for the Bengals. Giovanni Bernard looks like a real threat to become a top-ten running back in the NFL and fantasy leagues. He should see the bulk of the touches out of the backfield for the foreseeable future; however, there is room for two in Cincy. New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, loves the power running game. Hill is an aggressive downhill runner and should earn Jackson’s favor right from the start. He’ll easily push the average BenJarvus Green-Ellis to the backseat (and possibly off the roster).
Jeremy Hill’s weaknesses won’t be so apparent in Cincinnati’s offense. Hill looked better than he really is running behind a great offensive line in college. Luckily, he’ll find the same privilege in the pros. The Bengals have a big, bruising group that excels at blasting open rushing lanes.
If Jackson can teach Hill to use his frame properly to maximize his power, then all the better. Hill is a fine second round pick in dynasty leagues, based purely on his landing spot. He even has some value for this season as he should get majority of the goal-line work. Hill will be quite the thorn in the side for all those invested in Gio Bernard.
RB Charles Sims
It’s fair to wonder whether fantasy owner will ever see the Doug Martin of 2012 again. Martin is a nice player, but several big outings inflated his end of season stats. He really struggled to get going last season, before getting hurt.
The Buccaneers have a very crowded backfield with Martin, Mike James and Bobby Rainey, who have all flashed at times. The organization still chose to sink a third round pick into Charles Sims. In the age of the devaluing of running backs, a third round pick is a premium selection. This regime clearly likes Sims’ potential.
Sims isn’t a perfect player. He leaves a bit to be desired as a runner and isn’t overly powerful or fast. Still, he does have quickness and can break a few tackles.
What Sims does offer is a near elite skill-set in the passing game. He’s a former wide receiver and it shows in his body control and understanding of routes. Sims has soft hands and is adept at getting open in the flat. He can take over as the Bucs’ primary third-down back and might see a few reps in the slot.
This means Sims’ greatest value will come in PPR leagues. Danny Woodhead and Darren Sproles have been tremendous assets in this format and Sims could very well be next in line. If you’re in a PPR league, Sims needs to be on your radar.
There’s no need to get crazy in chasing Sims in dynasty leagues. He can be a nice backup plan for you, if you’re planning to pass on backs early. If you’re in a PPR re-draft league, Sims is a nice end of the draft target.
WR Paul Richardson
Kevin Norwood received the highlight in the first breakdown and now its Paul Richardson’s turn. Richardson was the receiver the Seahawks took first, so he’s worthy of the attention. After hearing how highly the Seattle staff thought of him, its fair to wonder if we’re all underrating him.
What Richardson does best is easy to see; get deep. The former Colorado star is an absolute burner. He’s very similar to a Mike Wallace type of speed receiver. Even when he isn’t making plays, his presence will always dictate match-ups and how defenses line up. For that reason, he might have a tactical value for the Seahawks.
You can’t rule out Richardson amassing stats similar to Wallace’s Pittsburgh days—even if it isn’t likely to happen right away. Much like Wallace, Richardson has the gift of an improvisational quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger is the master of making plays off script and Russell Wilson isn’t far behind. Receivers with great speed can take advantage of the extra second these quarterbacks provide. Richardson and Wilson could make some beautiful music together.
There are concerns with Richardson that should make you consider a few others over him in rookie drafts. He is not well built and sports a lean frame at around 180 pounds. Richardson might struggle to stay on the field, or run routes over the middle. He has also had issues with drops.
For fantasy purposes, Richardson’s landing spot is a bit of a mixed bag. While he fits well with his quarterback’s style, this is still a run heavy team. Percy Harvin and Doug Baldwin are established players ahead of him, but Richardson could still see time. Norwood fits the more immediate need the Seahawks have for a big, sideline receiver. Richardson might need a little more time before he sees the field.
In dynasty drafts, Richardson often slips to the third round. That seems like a more than fair price to pay for a player Seattle seems quite fond of. Because his buzz is so low right now in the fantasy community, he makes for a good backup plan at receiver. We’ll have to wait to see how the summer goes for Richardson before assessing if he has any re-draft value.
WRs Marqise Lee & Allen Robinson
After taking their new franchise quarterback, Blake Bortles, the Jaguars doubled down at wide receiver. Fantasy owners will now have to debate who has more long-term sustainable value. Marqise Lee, or Allen Robinson?
Lee was the more highly regarded player for the entirety of his college career. He received top-ten buzz after a dynamic 2012 season, but slipped after a down year in 2013. The trouble is, last season revealed a lot of flaws in Lee’s game. He isn’t quite a dynamic player in space and really struggles in tight contested situations. Lee also has some of the worst hands technique of all the rookie wide receivers. Lee could be next in a long line of USC receivers who will struggle to live up to their inflated collegiate reputation.
Allen Robinson isn’t a perfect receiver, but he might be a better prospect than Lee. The best part about Robinson’s game is his dynamic workout numbers and youth. While he doesn’t always play to his pro day timed speed, he’s only 20 years old. There’s still plenty of time for him to fully develop into his body. If Robinson stays tough throughout his routes and develops his technique, he will be great. He could certainly steal the top receiver job out from under Lee’s nose.
For fantasy purposes, both players’ futures are tied to how Bortles develops. In the short-term, Lee and Robinson would be better off if the Jags’ plan to start Chad Henne works out. While Henne is a below-average player, these rookies would grow up faster with a veteran than with Bortles learning on-the-job. Both are in a good situation. A close look at the Jags’ offense revealed a competent unit run by a very talented offensive mind in Jedd Fisch.
Robinson should be the preferred target for fantasy owners in all formats. Let someone else overpay for Lee based off the national media proclaiming him a draft day steal. Robinson has the profile as a big time receiver. He could very well be that a few years down the line.
WR Josh Huff
Josh Huff is the rookie receiver everyone forgets about. Even during the pre-draft process, Huff garnered very little buzz at all. He’s a victim of the depth in this class, because he’s a solid player.
Huff mixes in good agility, ability to track the ball and toughness into his game. He isn’t overwhelming in any one aspect, but isn’t too deficient anywhere either. Huff could be quite the threat in the short passing game with his ability to find yards after the catch.
Any player that lands with the Eagles draws fantasy attention and Huff is no exception. He might deserve a little extra notice, as he played with Chip Kelly at Oregon. Kelly must value his skills to take him in the third round, being so familiar with him. Huff is also quite different from the current Eagles’ receivers. Neither Riley Cooper nor Jeremy Maclin can match his reliability and toughness. Huff could take some of their snaps soon, or at least be a nuisance to their fantasy owners.
If you’re a in a dynasty league, you can steal Josh Huff very late in your rookie draft. As mentioned, his buzz was so quiet that you can even grab him in the sixth rounds in some leagues. For a player in a prolific offense, with a coach who likes him, that’s pennies on the dollar. Keep your eye on Josh Huff.
TE Crockett Gilmore
Postseason games such as the East West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl help many prospects. This year Crockett Gilmore was one of the players who made his bones on the All-Star circuit.
Gilmore is a small school player, but carries several intriguing attributes for the pro game. He is a big target and a nimble athlete for someone his size. Gilmore profiles as someone who could play split outside of the formation, but he wouldn’t be a liability as an in-line tight end.
Taking Gilmore in the third round was a bit surprising, but it made sense for the Ravens. Gary Kubiak came aboard as the new offensive coordinator this offseason. Kubiak loves two tight ends sets and bases much of his offense around that formation. Baltimore has Dennis Pitta entrenched as the starter and signed Owen Daniels this offseason. Gilmore’s impact during his rookie season will be minimal, but patience will pay off.
Gilmore is a very good fantasy prospect in the long run. He can spend this season learning the pro game from Daniels and assume his role in 2015. Gilmore will get overlooked because he won’t be a starter, but don’t make that mistake. In Kubiak’s offense, he’ll receive enough reps for fantasy relevance. His size might make him a better red zone target than Pitta.
If you’re a tight end needy dynasty team, Gilmore makes for a fine acquisition. He’ll get valuable reps in a system that suits his strengths, come 2015. Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens liked him enough to take him higher than expected in the draft. Just don’t make plans involving Gilmore in 2014. He’s not a factor in seasonal leagues, barring injuries.
Potential Undrafted Studs:
RB Isaiah Crowell
Terrance West was one of the players I wanted to bang the table for in part one of the preview. His outlook is still very good, but Isaiah Crowell’s presence complicates things. The Browns signed the troubled, but ultra-talented former Georgia back as an undrafted free agent.
As much as West is a good runner, Crowell has the potential to be a great one. Crowell’s tape from his Georgia days is outstanding; there’s a reason he was the 2011 SEC freshman of the year. He has an ideal size to speed combination and runs with a violence reminiscent of Marshawn Lynch. Crowell can do it all as a running back and is very advanced in his patience and balance.
If Crowell is still the player he was in his early collegiate days, he’ll bypass West and Ben Tate with ease. He’s too talented to ignore, but it’d be foolish to bet the farm on him. West’s breakdown in part one covered just how good of a situation the Cleveland running back job is. Should Crowell emerge as that player, we’ll have a fantasy oasis.
For now, West is the safer bet. If you’re taking a Browns’ rookie runner in re-draft leagues, it should be him. Yet, as long as Crowell is on this roster, West’s owners cannot sit comfortably. The ideal scenario would be they work out into a prosperous dual backfield. You should consider taking a chance on Crowell in the second round of rookie drafts, just to see if the talent catches on.
TE Colt Lyerla
Just like Terrance West, Richard Rodgers was a third round pick highlighted in part one. Good talent and a phenomenal landing spot made him an attractive sleeper. Just like West, Rodgers’ new team signed a first round talent who fell out of the draft.
Colt Lyerla has some serious and deep seeded character concerns that scared off NFL teams. Those issues might keep him from ever reaching his NFL ceiling. The upside he comes with is undeniable as he might have been the most talented tight end in the draft.
Green Bay might have hit the jackpot, or stepped on a landmine by signing Lyerla. If he stays clean off the field, he’ll pass Richard Rodgers and all the other tight ends in a hurry. He’s so talented and an ideal fit in the Packers’ spread offense. Although, Lyerla could just as easily be off the roster before the season even begins.
Fantasy owners should approach the Packers’ tight end situation just like the Browns’ running back conundrum. Richard Rodgers is still the safer bet to make an impact in the short and long-term. The organization spent a high pick on him and must view him as a part of their future. With Lyerla lurking in the background, you can’t feel too comfortable buying into Rodgers.
As for Lyerla, you’re best not to rush into anything. If you want to spend a third round rookie pick on him for the upside alone, that’s fine. Just remember, this might be his one and only shot. Should the Packers cut him, he might struggle to catch on with another team. You have to recognize you are and be okay with spending a high rookie pick on a player who might never return any value. Of course, in fantasy football… fortune favors the bold.
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.