Drafting rookies in fantasy football is a risky proposition. Every year, someone reaches far too high on a Ryan Mathews or a Sam Bradford looking for fantasy fireworks, and gets burned.
The following rookies are the players whom I expect to be worth the risk that it takes to get them in the 2012 season.
Honorable mentions: Andrew Luck, Trent Richardson and Greg Zuerlein
Mikel Leshoure was drafted in 2011 (hence the asterisk), but he missed the entire season with a torn Achilles tendon. The Lions’ second-round pick also has a strained hamstring and will be suspended for the first two weeks of the season for marijuana possession.
But Detroit has no one else who has proven to stay healthy running the ball.
Jahvid Best and Kevin Smith have both shown the ability to make plays at the NFL level, but have unfortunately been hampered by injuries throughout their respective careers.
That opens the door for another rusher to have his chance to carry the Lions backfield, and Leshoure may get a shot to do that starting in Week 3 of the 2012 season.
He’s currently going 51st among running backs in ESPN leagues and should be available in your league in the 12th or 13th round.
4. Coby Fleener, TE, Indianapolis Colts
Coby Fleener converted ten of his 34 receptions to touchdowns at Stanford last year, with an average of 19.6 yards per catch. At 6’6” tall and almost 250 pounds, he ran a 4.45 second 40-yard dash at his pro day.
Oh, and the quarterback (Andrew Luck) who threw those passes to Fleener at Stanford will also be in the huddle with him in Indianapolis.
The Luck-to-Fleener connection should be fruitful in 2012, and for years to come in the NFL.
Without much proven talent around Luck at the wide receiver and running back positions (aside from Reggie Wayne), Luck should be looking Fleener’s way early and often.
Fleener is being drafted 15th among tight ends, and should also be available in the late rounds. He should finish the season as a fantasy starter.
3. Brian Quick, WR, St. Louis Rams
The Rams’ problems at wide receiver are well-documented, as the returning wideout with the highest number of targets from last year is Brandon Gibson (71).
When the Rams’ selected Brian Quick from Appalachian State with the first pick of the second round in April’s draft, they very likely had that in mind.
A healthy Sam Bradford and improved offensive line should allow Quick some time to get some attention in the NFL passing game.
Quick isn’t A.J. Green (1,057 yards and seven TDs as a rookie), but he does have more talent at quarterback and a backfield bruiser in Steven Jackson that should get him plenty of one-on-one matchups.
He’s going 58th among wide receivers and, like the previous two rookies, should be around right before you look for your kicker and defense.
2. Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded back into the first round to make Boise State’s Doug Martin their second selection of the 2012 NFL Draft.
They’re going to expect him to make plays right away.
Martin scored at least 12 rushing touchdowns in each of the last three years in the collegiate ranks, in addition to collecting 28 receptions and two receiving touchdowns in each of the last two years.
He’s shown the ability to make plays and appears to be in position to start over incumbent LeGarrette Blount, with whom the Bucs appear to have grown disenchanted.
Martin is currently being drafted 28th among running backs, which is far too low for a player who has been regarded as a three-down back. I would be sure to grab Blount if I drafted Martin, but I would expect him to come off the board no later than the sixth round.
1. Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins
Robert Griffin III is the playmaker at the quarterback position that the Washington Redskins have coveted for several years. He tossed 37 touchdowns last season for Baylor University, compared to a mere six interceptions.
The Heisman winner also had a strong showing in his first preseason game, completing four of six passes for 70 yards and a touchdown.
And he looked good doing it.
Griffin III is going 12th among quarterbacks (late 7th or early 8th round), which puts him in fantasy starter territory already.
I would even draft him as a starter in the sixth or early seventh round if the quarterback crop is thinning. If he turns out to be your backup, he could be good trade bait like Cam Newton was last season.