With our fantasy football drafts approaching, it is time to look at the rookies who have a chance to make an impact on the fantasy football landscape in 2015. These are the relevant rookies at the core skill positions and their projected draft round in standard 12-team fantasy football leagues. There was a time that we would avoid all rookie QBs and WRs that came into the league. However, the game has changed at the collegiate and professional level in ways that allow talented QBs to step under center and talented WRs to line up and be productive immediately. Now, it is still very hit-and-miss so do not reach and grab rookies too high or you could be looking up at the rest of the league quickly.
2014 was a BANNER year for rookie wide receivers and a mediocre year for rookie quarterbacks and running backs. This season, the crop of running backs is the deepest it has been in years and the crop of wide receivers is bountiful once again, though I can’t imagine them collectively exceeding last year’s bumper crop. Who from this year’s draft class will be the key players on your run to your fantasy league championship? Below is the consensus review from Maximum Fantasy Sports for the new crop of NFL rookies.
1. Jameis Winston (TB). Famous Jameis is scheduled to take the field as the starting QB for Tampa this season and has the potential to post good numbers in his weaker matchups. Oh, he is going to make a lot of mistakes, but is startable in Bye weeks or a few matchups this season making him a decent QB2 or QB3. With big targets like WR Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, feel free to spend a 12th or 13th round big on the rookie.
2. Marcus Mariota (TENN). Unlike Winston, Mariota will be competing for the starting QB position in Tennessee and has far inferior weapons at wideout. He will post better running numbers that Winston but will be a longshot to match his passing yards and TDs. If I draft Mariota, I do so as my last non-kicker selection.
3. Bryce Petty (NYJ). While current QB, Geno Smith, has made a mockery of the QB position in New York, the Jets will go with veteran, Ryan Fitzpatrick, long before giving Petty a shot. Petty had a nice career at Baylor, but will only see the playing field in mop-up time at best this season.
4. Garrett Grayson (NO). Grayson seemed to be a reach in the 3rd round for New Orleans this year, especially since he only takes the field after a Drew Brees injury, and will not get drafted in anything but the deepest of leagues or those that are hosted near the Colorado St campus. Grayson’s trajectory will be to study under Brees for 2-3 years before getting a legitimate chance to get much playing time.
5. Sean Mannion (STL). Even though St. Louis will be starting fragile Nick Foles this season, Mannion has backups Austin Davis and Case Keenum in front of him so the odds of him getting any playing time this year is pretty much nil. He had a nice career at Oregon St so he can easily move up the depth chart this season in advance of 2016, but he should not be considered in any format this season.
1. Melvin Gordon (SD). Todd Gurley was the first running back selected this year but Gordon will easily be the most productive. He was a beast in college and arrives to a Chargers team that needs a workhorse back. Gordon is just that back, though he will not be a factor in the receiving game as RB Danny Woodhead will dominate backfield receptions, so you can downgrade Gordon in PPR leagues. However, there is no reason to expect him to last past the 3rd round in standard leagues.
2. Tevin Coleman (ATL). Like Gordon, Coleman arrives in an ideal situation. Atlanta has a solid aerial assault, which opens up the run game, they have a desire to be a better balanced team and they need a franchise running back. Coleman has been overlooked since he played at Indiana, but he is a game-breaker. He joins the team after they released Steven Jackson and his primary competition is last year’s heir apparent, Devonta Freeman, who did little with his opportunity. I believe that the Falcons will break camp with a shared backfield and commit to Coleman more and more as the season wears on. So, I believe his ideal draft position should be in the 6th round.
3. T.J. Yeldon (JAX). Yeldo is another player coming into a great situation. The Jags pictured Toby Gerhart being their savior last season and he was an unmitigated Bust. They did catch a surprise with QB-turned-WR-turned RB Denard Robinson but they don’t believe that he would last long in the NFL as a full-time back. So, Yeldon has a low bar to surpass to get on the field productively. He just came up short of three consecutive 1000-yard seasons at Alabama so the Jags like his production. The question is whether or not the Jags start off with a committee approach before committing a full load to Yeldon or not. I would grab him as the next running back after Coleman.
4. Todd Gurley (STL). Todd Gurley is projected to be the best running back over the course of his career from this draft. However, unless you are in a Keeper League, that is of no immediate concern to redraft players. Gurley is coming off a torn ACL and there is no guarantee that he will avoid the PUP list. At the very least, it is expected that RB Tre Mason will begin the season as the Rams lead back. The Rams liked what they saw in Mason but expect Gurley’s overall size and power to provide them with a franchise back. It is a mystery on when his NFL career will start and how involved he will be when he does get on the field. Don’t reach for Gurley with so many new backs coming into the league. I won’t jump before the 9th round unless it is one of my last drafts and the reports out of the Rams’ training camp are ravening about Gurley.
5. Ameer Abdullah (DET). Abdullah joins a full backfield in Detroit, but one that has injury tendencies. Also, the incumbent running backs have not had a long history of success. RB Joique Bell assumed the RB1 position for the first time last year. He did deliver over 1200 total yards but Detroit was still high enough on Abdullah to bring him aboard. Notre Dame graduate, Theo Riddick, did his best Reggie Bush impression last season and figured to keep that position this season. Abdullah fits between these two styles. He is solid enough to run between the tackles and a good enough route-runner to snag his share of passes. He will get limited playing time initially, but I am certain that his load will increase as the season wears on. This is another back that I will be looking at around the 9th round.
6. David Cobb (TENN). The Titans 2014 running back savior, Bishop Sankey, underwhelmed enough that Shonn Greene was extremely active in the Titans gameplan, which is not a vote of confidence for Sankey. I expect him to get another shot at showing his collegiate skills before involving Cobb more. It will be difficult for either back to be overly productive this season as the Titans’ offensive line is not stellar and they are guaranteed to have youth under center and an inability to stretch the field with the passing game so many teams will stack the box. I would have no problem taking a shot on Cobb in the 12th round and sticking him on the bench.
7. David Johnson (AZ). Much like Cobb, David Johnson fell into a nice situation. The Cardinals have not been able to keep a solid running back healthy for quite some time, much like their QB. RB1 Andre Ellington was having a nice campaign in 2014 before succumbing to injury. After him, the depth chart is unimpressive so the 6’1” 224lb Northern Iowa graduate will see some workload this season. The question for him will be “when” and “why”. He will be useful if as an injury replacement. If not, he won’t see more than 10 Touches per game. Personally, I skip over Taylor and grab Johnson as my Ellington handcuff in the 12th round.
8. Jay Ajayi (MIA). Ajayi’s draft stock took a major hit due to his surgically repaired knee and fell all the way to the 5th round. It was unexpected for Ajayi since he was coming off a season where he rushed for over 1800 yards and added 500 receiving yards as whipped cream. Needless to say, the 6'0" 221lb Boise St grad arrives to the NFL was a considerable chip on his shoulder. The Dolphins finally witnessed RB1 Lamar Miller have a season like they expected, rushing for over 1000 yards and average over 5ypc. So, Miller is the undisputed workhorse for the Dolphins, but Ajayi is a Must-draft handcuff in the 12th round.
1. Amari Cooper (OAK). Cooper was a flat-out stud for Alabama and had a Heisman-worthy year in 2014 with 124 catches for 1727 yards. His selection put a smile on second-year QB Derek Carr’s face as the Raiders has very little talent at wide receiver last season. The Raiders did add WR Michael Crabtree via free agency but Cooper is the horse that Carr will ride since he knows that he is his meal ticket. This could be a formidable combination for years to come, folks. There are many talented, established receivers in the league, but Cooper will fly off the board before many of them. I would be shocked if he was still available in the 6th round.
2. Kevin White (CHI). I fully expected Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery to roam the hallowed sidelines of Soldier Field for many years. However, Marshall found it impossible to keep quiet about the ineptitude of the Chicago front office and the extremely poor play of QB Jay Cutler and found himself shipped off to the Jets. The Bears front office is still inept and Cutler will still be slinging the ball carelessly all over the field this season, but someone has to replace Marshall and Kevin White was selected to do just that. No doubt that Jeffery is The Go-To receiver for the Bears, but he will see an awful lot of double coverage. White displayed great speed while playing for West Virginia and will find himself in Cutler’s good graces as long as he doesn’t suffer from the rookie yips and drop too many passes. If so, all he will see is The Smirk. White has the talent to exceed in Chicago, but they will also be implementing a new offense so I would not grab White before the 8th round.
3. Breshad Perriman (BAL). Perriman was drafted to replace Torrey Smith. After Smith stole a huge contract after a mediocre 49 catches for 767 yards last season, I would expect Perriman to equal that total for far less cash and be positioned as a much better long-term investment. He does have a bad case of the Drops, so any owner hopes that he corrects that at the pro level, which is a big reach. However, Flacco’s other options are limited; aging WR Steve Smith, underwhelming WR Malcom Brown (double-check***) and fellow rookie TE Maxx Williams so they opportunity is there for Perriman to top Smith’s numbers in his inaugural season. I can see snagging Perriman in the 9th round.
4. Nelson Agholor (PHL). Agholor may not be in a position like Perriman (positioned to be the new WR1), but he may end up scoring more points due to the Chip Kelly offense. Agholor will step in as Jeremy Maclin’s replacement, but Jordan Matthews in the new WR1. However, the Eagles will have a new QB under center so it is unknown who Sam Bradford will bond with best. Agholor is a skilled kick returner as well so the possibility of adding return TD points is there if your scoring system awards the player as well as the ST position. I can certainly see Agholor going just after Perriman in the 9th round.
5. DeVante Parker (MIA). Parker provides an interesting conundrum for the drafting community, which has been demonstrated by the wild swings in his ADP. Parker is coming off foot surgery. The word is that he will be ready for week 1 but will miss training camp and pre-season, which is far from good for a rookie. The Miami receiving corps strike no fear into opposing defensive coordinators and Parker is too talented to sit for too long, but expect him to start behind WRs Greg Jennings, Kenny Stills and Jarvis Landry, not to mention TE Jordan Cameron. Stills was the deep threat at Louisville, but Stills is an established deep threat so Parker’s best shot at real playing time will come at the expense of Jennings. Personally, I wouldn’t draft Jennings in the deepest of leagues as his best days are behind him and Parker will be supplanting in by week 4. That being said, I wouldn’t reach for him before the 10th round.
6. Dorial Green-Beckham (TENN). The Titans have mediocre receivers and a rookie QB. DGB has million dollar talent and a 5-cent head. He was an absolute beast at Missouri before getting bounced out. He definitely could make your season, but he won’t kill you in the 11th round, so you can take him as a WR5.
7. Devin Funchess (CAR). Carolina has had a hard time with the WR2 since their Super Bowl. They scored nicely with 2014 number 1 pick, WR Kelvin Benjamin. He through double-teams, he would bring in passes. So, the Panthers thought, why not try to find lightning-in-a-bottle twice and drafted QB-convert, Devin Funchess. Funchess has a similar speed to Benjamin, but not as much speed. However, with his size, he could find himself getting a fair share of Targets, including in the end zone. He is worth looking at in the 12th round.
8. Jaelen Strong (HOU). If only Houston could put a solid QB under center, they would be Super Bowl contenders. They could have the best defense in the league this year and have one of the game’s best running backs. But, they are very weak at QB and are just OK at WR. I love DeAndre Hopkins, and he is the uncontested WR1, but oft-injured Cecil Shorts is WR2. Strong can help make a bad QB look mediocre with his abilities, but I would not expect much consistency from Houston’s receiving corps this year. Maybe take a flier on him in round 13 if you need another WR.
9. Phillip Dorsett (IND). Dorsett can flat out giddy-up. He may not be a polished receiver, but he can get down the field. Unfortunately, the Colts are well too stocked at the position to count on Dorsett for much outside of the return game. However, it would not be a surprise to see the Colts understand how to better utilize his speed on offense as the season wears on and some of their receivers wear down. Unless you are in a deep league (16+ players per team), I would not recommend drafting him but to be ready to bounce on the waiver wire if he starts taking more offensive snaps.
1. Maxx Williams (BAL). There is nothing to be excited about at the TE position in this rookie class outside of Maxx. Baltimore has always used their tight ends extensively in their offensive gameplan and are building plays around Maxx’s big hands and athleticism. The only other TE on the roster to worry about is Dennis Pitta and he has been waylaid with injuries the past few seasons so expect Williams to start right away. Tight end is a deep position in the NFL so I wouldn’t look his way until the 10th or 11th round.
2. Clive Walford (OAK). Incumbent TE Mychal Rivera has a stronghold on the position going into the position, but keep your eye on Walford. He can block and catch the ball, which gets a TE2 onto the field more often than being one-dimensional. He is not worth drafting, but make note of the number of snaps he is on the field for as each week passes.
3. MyCole Pruitt (MINN). Another TE in the “watch only” category is yourCole, MyCole Pruitt. TE1 Kyle Rudolph has had a helluva time staying healthy so Pruitt is one injury away from the playing field.