Drafting rookies in fantasy football is dicier than running a route across the middle when James Harrison is ready to club you in the head.
You do not know how rookies will perform fantasy-wise, especially early on. They may hold out and miss most of their training camps, may need extra time learning the NFL systems they are in and they may not even start once they suit up.
The owners who drafted Cam Newton and Andy Dalton in last year’s fantasy drafts look like geniuses now, while the people who took flyers on Blaine Gabbert look like they should be demoted to CFL fantasy leagues.
So which rookies coming out of this year’s draft will post the best numbers? Here are the six rookies that will make the biggest fantasy impact—in 2012 and beyond.
Andrew Luck (QB)
Big shocker here, right? Next I will predict that Tom Brady will throw at least 25 touchdown passes next season and that Warren Sapp will not be handling anybody’s finances.
Now that the NFL has gotten away from its thought that rookie quarterbacks should stand on the sidelines with a clipboard and learn from the starters they back up, fantasy owners do not have to shy away from rookies during Draft Day. Newton and Dalton certainly did fine jobs last season in their first NFL forays, so Luck should thrive as well.
Luck is the most highly-touted prospect in years, if not decades, so unless everyone from Mel Kiper to Todd McShay to “The Bologna Man” from my fantasy league is wrong, Luck should turn out to be a fantasy franchise quarterback.
Luck might not be a fantasy force right away since the Colts have more holes than a pair of Britney Spears’s old jeans, but eventually he will become a superstar and will be a cash cow in dynasty leagues.
Robert Griffin III (QB)
Another surprise, I know, but RG3 is not as sure to start right off the bat as Luck is because Rex Grossman and his interception-happy arm is still in Washington. Grossman could be the No. 1 quarterback early on if Griffin holds out or has Chad Ochocinco-like problems figuring out Mike Shanahan’s complex offensive system.
Griffin seems a much better bet to turn out to be another Newton than another Akili Smith. He has the arm, legs, poise, accuracy and leadership skills to be a superstar. He can throw on the run, throw in the pocket, run outside of the pocket, make pinpoint deep passes, etc. The only thing Griffin cannot seem to do is wear white socks.
And playing under an offensive guru like Shanahan and having a revamped receiving corps to work with (headed by newly-signed Pierre Garcon and underrated tight end Fred Davis) should do wonders for Griffin’s fantasy value. He will be a serious fantasy double threat racking up passing and rushing yards and making his owners happier than a New England Patriots fan clubbing a Rex Ryan pinata.
Which rookie will have the biggest fantasy impact?
Trent Richardson (RB)
Richardson is the top running back in the draft by a wide margin. He will surely be a top-10 pick and possibly a top-5 pick while no other running back is guaranteed to be taken in the first round.
Richardson has a lot of Arian Foster in him. He can run between the tackles or outside of them, he can pound the ball into the end zone from the red zone and he does not leave the field on third downs because he has excellent hands for pass catching.
Most rookie running backs will have to share time and split carries with other backs. Richardson probably will not have to. That makes him as attractive to fantasy owners as David Beckham is to horny women.
Which team takes him will affect his early fantasy success, but in the long run, he will be a 1,000-yard per season workhorse that all fantasy owners will cherish because running backs are still so vital to winning league titles.
Justin Blackmon (WR)
Blackmon is the best wide receiver prospect in the draft and is the only receiver definitely destined for fantasy greatness. The Oklahoma State standout reeled in 232 passes over the past two seasons including 38 for touchdowns, so he is more grabby than a kleptomaniac.
Fantasy owners used to stay away from rookie receivers because they normally developed slower than players at other positions, but after the seasons Cincinnati’s A.J. Green and Atlanta’s Julio Jones had in 2011, it is time to rethink the strategy.
We will have to see where Blackmon ends up after Draft Day to really know what his fantasy future is, but he has the talent, size, speed and hands to overcome a conservative offensive system and an inaccurate quarterback if need be. There should be loads of 1,000-yard years in his future.
Lamar Miller (RB)
The Miami, Fla. speed demon is the fastest RB available in the draft and should be selected either late in the first round or early in the second round. His fantasy impact might not be immediate because he is probably not a sure starter, but his speed will force his NFL team to give him ample amounts of touches.
Running backs are not the franchise players they used to be. Most NFL teams nowadays believe a two-back cutting of the carries works better than having one guy get hammered for 20-25 carries. Miller is big enough to handle the hammering, though, once he becomes the top tailback on his squad.
The only thing holding Miller back is his porous pass-catching skills. He only had 28 receptions over his two college seasons, so he needs to watch some tapes of Marshall Faulk and Matt Forte so he can boost his fantasy worth with additional receiving yardage.
Ryan Tannehill (QB)
A few months or weeks ago, Tannehill appeared, at best, to be a mid-first-round pick who would have a 50-50 chance of starting for the team that drafted him. But now the guy is getting talked about more often than Mitt Romney as NFL teams are reportedly jockeying to draft him.
If Tannehill is drafted by the Cleveland Browns, his fantasy worth could be minimal until they acquire some wide receivers he can throw to. Same goes for the Miami Dolphins. But if another team with talent at the skill positions trades up for a top-10 pick in the first round and grabs Tannehill, he could turn in Andy Dalton-type numbers down the road.
Tannehill is not the money-in-the-bank prospect that Luck is, but considering the other question marks among running backs and receivers coming out of college, he has a better shot than them at making a serious fantasy impact.