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Top Rookies to Draft in Fantasy Football Keeper Leagues

Rob TongContributor IIIDecember 26, 2016

Top Rookies to Draft in Fantasy Football Keeper Leagues

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    Keeper league draft strategy is a bit different from redraft league draft strategy.

    The biggest difference is that keeper league owners are more likely to focus on rookies.

    Outside of running back—and Cam Newton not withstanding—rookies typically offer inconsistent and often minor production, making them unwise selections in redraft leagues.

    But in keeper leagues, drafting a rookie can pay dividends if he can blossom into a very productive sophomore or third-year player.

    Of course, some rookies never blossom, no matter how many years you wait. One example is 2008 second-round pick Devin Thomas. Today, he is merely a special-teams player.

    Not every early-round rookie is worth a pick.

    I've got five must-haves to target in the draft, and several others who could be late-round flyers.

    So who are the rookies to target in this year's keeper drafts?

Quarterbacks

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    1. Andrew Luck, IND

    Though the Colts loaded up on offensive skill positions in the draft, those offensive weapons are fellow rookies, learning the pro game at the same time as Luck. Furthermore, Luck will have to perform behind a suspect offensive line.

    Add it all up, and it's not hard to see why Luck is not a highly-regarded player in redraft leagues.

    That said, since the Colts defense is pretty bad, Luck will probably throw more than a typical rookie quarterback. And as the young offense—Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen and T.Y. Hilton—grows together, it will multiply their chemistry year after year.

    Combine that kind of immediate experience and common offensive growth with Luck's elite physical and mental skills, and it's also not hard to see why Luck is a top keeper prospect.

     

    2. Robert Griffin III, WAS

    In redraft leagues, RG3 is always taken ahead of Luck. But in keeper leagues, it's not so clear-cut.

    While many fantasy pundits liken him to Cam Newton in his ability to run, Griffin's body shape (6'2", 217 lbs) and running style is actually closer to that of Michael Vick (6' 0", 215 lbs) than Newton (6' 5", 245 lbs).

    All three will have electrifying runs at times. But we've seen the injuries that can pile up on a body frame like Vick, so expect Mike Shanahan to be more careful in how he uses RG3.

    Griffin is an incredibly talented natural passer and has more upside as a rookie than Luck. But since the Redskins traded away their first- and second-round picks this year and their first-round picks in 2013 and 2014, they won't have an easy path to giving Griffin the impact surrounding cast he needs to be a better long-term keeper than Luck.

     

    Best of the Rest

    No other rookie quarterback stands out, though Cleveland's Brandon Weeden is probably the closest thing to a worthwhile pick. He is an outstanding pure passer, has an elite LT in Joe Thomas watching his back and a versatile RB in Trent Richardson to dump off the ball.

    Miami's Ryan Tannehill has more upside than Weeden, but after the Dolphins traded away Brandon Marshall, Miami's receivers could rival last year's Jaguars cast in terms of ineffectiveness. At least Weeden has Greg Little.

    Denver has excellent receiving talent, but second-round quarterback, Brock Osweiler, won't see the field for at least two years unless Peyton Manning succumbs to injury.

    So outside of Luck and Griffin, I'm not sure I would spend a pick on a rookie quarterback.

Running Backs

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    1. Trent Richardson, CLE

    An every-down back, Richardson can do it all—run you over, make you miss, block on third down and catch passes out of the backfield. He's not in a committee, and with no elite threat in the passing game, Richardson will get fed the ball. A lot.

    Peyton Hillis in 2010 was fed the ball a lot with the Browns, also with no elite threat in the passing game, and finished as the No. 2 fantasy back.

    So there is production to be had here, and Richardson, being much more talented than Hillis, is just the man to get it done.

     

    2. Doug Martin, TB

    Though the ADP separation for Richardson and Martin is fairly wide, the two RBs will both finish in the Top 10 for fantasy.

    Martin, like Richardson, is an every-down back who can do it all. Although Martin may yield a few carries to LeGarrette Blount—something Richardson doesn't have to worry about—make no mistake, there will be no committee here. Martin will be the undisputed starter.

     

    3. Ronnie Hillman, DEN

    Hillman figures to be the backup to Willis McGahee in Denver. But with McGahee turning 31 this season—barring injury—Hillman figures to see the field sooner than any of the remaining rookie running backs. This makes Hillman the third-best keeper RB prospect.

     

    Best of the Rest

    Isaiah Pead is in a situation where Steven Jackson is the entrenched starter in St. Louis. Jeff Fisher does like to run the ball, so Pead will probably get a few touches to spell Jackson this year.

    David Wilson will have to share carries here with Ahmad Bradshaw, so that will kill some of Wilson's fantasy value. What's more, Bradshaw is only 26 and has low mileage, so this figures to be a committee for at least a few years.

    Pead is more likely than David Wilson to become a starter due to Jackson's age, so Pead is a better keeper pick than Wilson.

    Unlike Pead and Wilson, Miami's Lamar Miller has to share touches, not just with one RB, but two RBs in Reggie Bush and former second-round pick Daniel Thomas.

Wide Receivers

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    1. Alshon Jeffery, CHI

    Assuming Jay Cutler signs an extension to stay with the Bears, Jeffery has the greatest keeper value. Catching balls from a top quarterback and a top wide receiver—Brandon Marshall—occupying the defense's No. 1 cornerback, Jeffery can have a very productive career.

    With a wide catch radius and the size to be a force in the red zone, Jeffery can both contribute as a rookie and in the years to come.

     

    2. Justin Blackmon, JAX

    While not an elite prospect like a Calvin Johnson, Blackmon is a very dangerous receiver in the mold of a Hakeem Nicks.

    Blackmon's success hinges on former first-round pick Blaine Gabbert, who was bad as a rookie. Gabbert's play last year could mostly be attributed to a horrific receiving corps, so Blackmon has a chance to bring the best out of Gabbert.

     

    3. Michael Floyd, ARI

    Reports so far are that Floyd is out of shape, which is cause for concern. Questions are also allegedly being raised about his work ethic and quickness.

    That could end up being nothing, or it could signal some red flags.

    Add that to troubling quarterback play in Arizona from Kevin Kolb/John Skelton, and it makes one pause before heartily drafting him as a keeper.

     

    4. Kendall Wright, TEN

    With Kenny Britt's recent DUI arrest, Wright's keeper value bumps up a bit.

    It's unclear what will happen to Britt but a suspension is likely. Wright, in turn, is likely to see the field more often this season, and nothing beats on-field experience.

    Britt becomes a free agent after 2013, and Wright could develop into a major force by then with Jake Locker.

     

    5. Mohamed Sanu, CIN

    Cincinnati suddenly has a lot of mouths to feed.

    Between A.J. Green, Sanu, Jermaine Gresham, rookie tight end Orson Charles and rookie receiver Marvin Jones, emerging quarterback Andy Dalton has a lot of options.

    Rumors have Sanu on track to win the starting job opposite Green.

    He certainly has the skill set to do so and be very productive, especially in PPR keeper leagues.

     

    6. Rueben Randle, NYG

    Randle is a talented player on a strong offense with a top quarterback. He may not produce much this year as a rookie, but I like his keeper prospects long-term. He ranks behind Sanu because Randle is the third option behind studs Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.

     

    Best of the Rest

    A.J. Jenkins has big upside, but is mired in a tough situation in San Francisco with Vernon Davis, Mario Manningham, Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss also demanding the ball. Jenkins' rookie prospects are dim, but perhaps he can rise above the other receivers in a couple years.

    Brian Quick is another talented player, though a bit raw and unpolished. His quarterback, Sam Bradford, is also a bit of an unknown quantity. The Rams offense in general has a long way to go, and if Quick becomes the team's No. 1 receiver, he will be facing opposing defenses' top cornerbacks. It's not an ideal situation and one I'm wary of.

    Stephen Hill has off-the-chart measurables, but that doesn't always translate to fantasy production, especially when Mark Sanchez is your quarterback and the dysfunctional Jets are your team. Hill certainly doesn't project to be relevant for fantasy as a rookie, but the Jets offense just isn't fantasy-friendly enough to remove cynicism about Hill's fantasy relevance as a keeper either.

Tight Ends

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    1. Coby Fleener, IND

    One of the safest rookie keeper prospects this year, Fleener is a natural pass-catcher with some verticality who already has chemistry with his quarterback. He'll be productive as a rookie, though not a stud. But Fleener will be a stud indeed as early as 2013. After Luck, RG3, Trent Richardson and Doug Martin, you absolutely have to target Fleener.

     

    2. Ladarius Green, SD

    A solid pass-catcher, Green will learn from one of the best in Antonio Gates in polishing his route running and learning how to maximize his 6'5" frame and athletic gifts. Gates' presence—if healthy—will minimize Green's output this season, but Green's tremendous upside makes him a great keeper prospect.

     

    3. Dwayne Allen, IND

    Another natural pass-catching tight end for Andrew Luck, Allen will work more of the intermediate part of the field as a possession receiver. Most of the production will go to Fleener for sure, but there should be enough for Allen to make plays. Allen will have some struggles as a rookie, but should have the chance to put up some numbers over the years—even if modest.

     

    Best of the Rest 

    At 6'5", 252 pounds, the Dolphins' Michel Egnew has Gronkowski-like size. And like Gronkowski, Egnew plays like a receiver. However, Egnew is not an elite physical talent like Gronkowski or even a Jermichael Finley, which is what new head coach Joe Philbin was used to in Green Bay. Still, I can see Egnew being a decent producer down the road with quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

    Orson Charles is behind potential breakout tight end Jermaine Gresham, so Charles could find production harder to come by. But if offensive coordinator Jay Gruden can be creative with two-TE sets like New England does with Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, the athletic Charles could be a decent fantasy tight end over time. It obviously won't be this year, though.

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