Rookie Breakdown: Time Needed to Ease into the Pros
Drafting NFL rookies onto a fantasy football team can sometimes be a must for several owners in any given league, as their former college stardom and relatively low ADP can draw a substantial amount of interest, but it is important to understand the difference between rookies that are ready to make an impact right away and rookies that will need time to develop in the NFL.
A developmental prospect will have a relatively high-ceiling due to their above-average athletic ability or an ideal NFL frame for their position, but he will also have some “bust” potential due to his lack of polished technique. A rookie without consistent production at a high-level, whether it be due to injury or his presence in a smaller conference, will also have trouble transitioning into the NFL early in his career.
When determining which rookies should make this list I favored prospects with a lot of potential to produce in the NFL down the road, while also considering the level of production they had at the college level.
Rookies on the defensive side of the ball have been left off this list in order to prioritize prospects that will have a stronger opportunity to affect an owner’s fantasy football draft strategy.
Here are seven offensive rookies that will need to time to develop into their roles before they can become relevant fantasy producers in the NFL:
Current ADP: 13.12
Speed is a characteristic that can drive a wide receiver prospect up draft boards, and as a result, drive up expectations for a young receiver who isn’t prepared to produce consistently at an NFL level.
First-round pick and former University of Miami (Fla.) wideout Phillip Dorsett is a raw prospect with elite NFL speed, as he was clocked 4.33 seconds in his forty-yard dash at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine.
“Takes the top off the defense and throws it in the trash,” said Lance Zierlein, NFL draft analyst for NFL.com. “Elite explosiveness. Gets to top speed quickly and is a seamless glider on crossing routes, leaving man-to-man defenses in his wake.”
While Zierlein mentioned Dorsett’s impressive ability to blow by defensive backs, he also touched on how he remains a raw route runner and can sometimes rely on his speed to get himself open rather than his technique.
Dorsett also has the potential to struggle as a high-volume pass catcher early in his career, as he had just 36 receptions in his final year with Miami.
At 5’10”, 185 pounds Dorsett’s opportunities in 2015 will be limited, as he will have to learn to develop his technique rather than rely on solely his speed to create separation.
I expect Dorsett to bring in nearly 30 receptions for under 500 yards and four touchdowns as he learns behind T.Y. Hilton, Andre Johnson, and Donte Moncreif in his first year, but his production could be too inconsistent for him to be a viable option in 2015. Barring an injury to one of Colt’s top receivers, I wouldn’t value Dorsett higher than a late-round bench player.
St. Louis Rams | RB
Current ADP: 4.11
Although former University of Georgia running back Todd Gurley might seem like he has all of the NFL tools to produce Week 1 in the NFL, his injury situation is holding him back from taking the NFL by storm in 2015.
After serving a four-game suspension for receiving money for his own signatures, Gurley tore the ACL in his left knee on his final run in his first game back against Auburn University on November 15. Georgia soon announced that Gurley would require surgery and miss the rest of his junior season.
Gurley earned 3,285 yards and 36 touchdowns in his three-year career at Georgia.
After being selected by the St. Louis Rams with the 10th pick overall, Gurley has embarked on his journey to recover in time for the regular season.
According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, Gurley is expected to be ready for Week 2 of Rams training camp, but it is still uncertain whether or not Gurley will be full strength come Week 1 of the regular season.
Timeline I was told on Todd Gurley (ACL) involves him being ready for week 2 of training camp. Candidate to start camp on PUP list
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) May 1, 2015
I expect head coach Jeff Fisher to ease Gurley into his NFL career, as he is more concerned with him being a productive starter in the future. Even if he is believed to be full strength early in the season the Rams should still give second-year back Tre Mason a healthy amount of touches while Gurley is getting up to speed.
Fantasy Projection: Of all the players on this list that could build momentum, and become fantasy relevant, Gurley is hands down the top dog. Yet with an ADP of 4.11, he’s far too risky to invest in at that current price tag. Gurley is a serious boom or bust candidate for 2015.
Tennessee Titans | WR
Current ADP: 12.05
At 6’5″, 237 pounds Dorial Green-Beckham is an NFL rookie with a lot of potential to develop into an elite receiving weapon for the Tennessee Titans and fellow rookie Marcus Mariota, but character concerns and off-the-field issues have kept him from reaching his high-ceiling.
The former University of Missouri wide receiver had just finished a sophomore season in which he brought in 59 receptions for 883 yards and 12 touchdowns when he was then dismissed from the team in April 2014 after being the subject of an investigation earlier that month.
Green-Beckham then decided to take his talents elsewhere, as he transferred to the University of Oklahoma where he was forced to sit out the entire 2014 season.
After not playing in a game since 2013, it is expected that Green-Beckham is eased into role as an NFL receiver.
Fantasy Projection: Just as our fantasy projections state, I expect Dorial Green-Beckham to have less than 40 receptions in 2015. Personally, I believe he’ll show flashes here and there which could create a lot of buzz in the fantasy world, but will have rollercoaster games where he doesn’t show up. I think he’ll find the endzone more often than he will be a reliable target to rack up yardage, as my prediction (which is similar to our WR Projection) is 525 yards and five touchdowns in 2015.
Carolina Panthers | WR
Current ADP: 13.12
The Carolina Panthers have had a need at the wide receiver position for quite some time now, and after choosing to not efficiently address the situation during free agency the team looked to the 2015 NFL draft as a solution.
With the ninth selection in the second-round of the NFL draft Carolina selected former University of Michigan receiver Devin Funchess.
According to ESPN Staff Writer David Newton, Funchess has already made a solid first impression throughout Panthers’ rookie minicamp, but it will be interesting to see if he can keep performing well throughout training camp and the preseason.
At 6’4″, 232 pounds Funchess is a matchup nightmare when he lines up in the slot and can prove to be a lethal weapon in the red zone, but he still has a lot of work to do before he becomes a reliable receiver in the NFL. Funchess has struggled with drops over the course of his collegiate career (recorded 20 drops over the last three seasons), and he still has yet to prove that he can create separation out of his cuts.
Funchess should receive a high-volume of targets in comparison to other rookies due to the lack of depth Carolina has at the receiver position, but expect him to have some balls bounce off his hands and struggle to get open early in the season. In 2015 Funchess will have roughly 50 receptions for 450 yards and four touchdowns in his rookie campaign.
Chicago Bears | WR
Current ADP: 8.04
Although I believe former West Virginia University receiver Kevin White will have a relatively productive rookie season, the expectations for him in 2015 may be slightly inflated.
White has just one highly productive season within the Big 12, as he transferred to West Virginia from Lackawanna Community College before the 2013 season. After earning just 35 receptions for 507 yards and five touchdowns in his first year at West Virginia, White exploded in 2014 with 109 receptions for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns.
At 6’3″, 215 pounds White continued to raise his draft stock, as he ran an official 4.35 second forty-yard dash time at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine.
With an ideal NFL frame and elite wide receiver speed White has a ton of upside when it comes to his development in the NFL, but his confidence will be in question in the NFL, as he will be expected to mirror his production at an NFL level.
White also opened Bears’ training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list due to an apparent shin injury. With his return still unclear, White could miss a majority of training camp, and in turn, not be 100 percent come Week 1 of the regular season.
#Bears Kevin White still remains sidelined and on the active/PUP
— Anthony DiMoro (@AnthonyDiMoro) August 3, 2015
Even if he can rebound from injury, White still should experience some growing pains as he enters the regular season as the Bears’ No. 2 wide receiver. I expect White to have approximately 55 receptions for less than 700 yards and five touchdowns in 2015.
Kansas City Chiefs | WR
Current ADP: Undrafted
Although there aren’t usually high expectations for a third-round wide receiver in his first year, Chris Conley has still found a way to impress early in his NFL career.
According to Pete Sweeney of KCChiefs.com, the former University of Georgia prospect has already had an impressive offseason and is currently competing for first-team reps with veteran receiver Jason Avant.
Before being drafted by Kansas City with the 12th pick of the third-round in the draft, Conley significantly raised his draft stock at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine. The 6’2″, 213 pound receiver posted a 4.35 second forty-yard dash time, put up 18 reps at bench press, and practically leaped out of Lucas Oil Stadium with his 45 inch vertical jump.
“Tall receiver who showed off blazing speed and explosiveness in the combine,” said Zierlein. “Conley displays a natural feel for the position and has hand strength and body control to make tough, contested catches.”
Despite his elite athleticism and “natural feel for the position”, Conley is another receiver that struggles with drops. His inconsistent hands should serve as a concern for fantasy owners expecting him to bring a high-volume of receptions in 2015.
Conley had 36 receptions for 657 yards and eight touchdowns in his senior year at Georgia.
If Conley is able to claim the No. 2 wide receiver spot for the Chiefs, he will probably peak at about 35 receptions for 450 yards and two touchdowns.
San Francisco 49ers | RB
Current ADP: Undrafted
Former University of South Carolina running back Mike Davis is a compact, downhill runner that has proven he can be a workhouse back who can thrive as an every-down back, but his overall effort is in question.
In 2014 Davis still managed to 982 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground, but he often times looked sluggish on certain plays and sometimes to stay on the field on long drives. His conditioning is a major limiting factor when it comes to his impact in 2015, for he will need to be working on all cylinders to produce at an NFL level.
Davis also needs a lot of touches before he gets going in any given game, as it often takes him several plays before he starts breaking off big runs.
With the committee of second-year back Carlos Hyde and veteran Reggie Bush expected to receive a majority of the touches, Davis’ production will already be limited, but I still expect him to have roughly 20 carries for 80 yards and one touchdown.
Austin Gayle is currently pursuing both his Liberal Studies and Journalism degree at San Diego State University. He began his writing career as the lead editor/writer for the website he created thedraftpulse.com. He is an Oakland, California native who has a strong passion for football at both the collegiate and professional level. He has been studying the NFL draft for over four years now and has started publishing his analysis of college level prospects since the year 2014.
He is now a featured writer for theunitedgrind.com, an NFL draft columnist for football.com, a featured writer for justblogbaby.com, and a featured columnist for Gridiron Experts. He is also a member of the Football Writers of America Association.
Due to his Bay Area roots, Austin is an avid fan of the Oakland Raiders.