Fantasy Football: Top 11 Rookies Who Will Produce Big in 2012
Since Cam Newton finished third overall in most fantasy football formats due to a record-breaking rookie season a year ago, expectations for the 2012-2013 class are particularly high.
With two stud quarterbacks and the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson headlining the 2012 NFL Draft class, another rookie could crack the top five fantasy players for the second straight year.
Even aside from Newton, 2012 saw other quality contributions from rookies like A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Torrey Smith, Ben Tate, Demarco Murray and Andy Dalton. Though Green, Jones and Murray were the only players drafted in most leagues, all went in the later rounds and provided strong value for their owners.
Though your league would call you crazy to draft only rookies, even in a keeper league, this all rookie team could have made a solid playoff run with some luck.
Green eclipsed the 1,000 yard receiving mark, and Jones and Smith came close. Ben Tate and Demarco Murray turned in near 1,000 yard rushing years as well, so come draft day, do not pass over rookies because of risk.
Here are 11 rookies that should be on your radar on draft day or as early season free-agent pickups.
11. Robert Turbin
The 5’10", 222-pound Utah State graduate was one of the strongest runners in the NCAA a year ago.
Nicknamed "The Incredible Hulk" as reported by Eric D. Williams of the Olympian, Turbin is unstoppable in the open field. His big frame brings to mind Steven Jackson, though he is closer in size to teammate Marshawn Lynch.
Lynch’s offseason legal trouble may open the door for Turbin to get some time as the featured back in the Seattle offense. Under former head coach turned O-line coach Tom Cable, Seattle has been excellent running the football.
Lynch was a dominant fantasy player a year ago, scoring 12 touchdowns including one in six straight games. But the former University of California standout and inventor of “Beast Mode” is known for his inability to put back-to-back great years together.
The chance for Robert Turbin to go “Beast Mode” is now, and he will have one of the best to learn from should Lynch be willing to share his secrets with the rookie.
Though Turbin will probably go undrafted in most leagues, he is worth keeping an eye on especially if Lynch stumbles out of the gate or Roger Goodell sticks Marshawn Lynch with a lengthy suspension.
10. Ryan Broyles
Though he tore his ACL late in his final season at Oklahoma and suffered in the draft because of it, Broyles still had an unbelievably productive college career.
The NCAA record holder for receptions in a season, Broyles is a master at working short and intermediate routes. With an impressive start to camp, Broyles could become one of Matthew Stafford’s favorite targets early on in the year.
Stafford threw for alarming numbers in his first full season, and if healthy, there is no doubt he should repeat his success in this upcoming year. Calvin Johnson must be double-teamed, if not triple-teamed every play and with second year player Titus Young and up-and-coming tight end Brandon Pettigrew continuing their development for the Lions, look for Broyles to push Nate Burleson for the No. 3 receiver job and produce solid numbers against single coverage.
If Broyles earns that spot, he will become a reliable target for a quarterback that threw a career-high 41 touchdowns in 2011-12.
9. Michael Floyd
The No. 2 receiver in Arizona, a productive position thanks entirely to the double coverage Larry Fitzgerald demands, could belong to Michael Floyd if he gets his act together in his rookie year.
After a Pro Football Talk article reported the former Notre Dame receiver getting called out by Larry Fitzgerald for skipping practice, Floyd continued a slow start to the preseason with just one catch for three yards against the Kansas City Chiefs in the Cardinals' Aug. 11 opener.
His primary competition is Andre Roberts, who came out of nowhere with a strong 586 yard 2011-12 campaign, and Early Doucet, the former LSU standout who registered 689 yards and five touchdowns a season ago.
Both Doucet and Roberts are smaller receivers, and thus have earned the label of "slot receiver." This makes room for the 6’3’’ Floyd on the outside, who should do well in the red zone at the very least.
Floyd should go late in drafts and is a solid sleeper candidate, but the shaky quarterback situation in Arizona makes him a less attractive option than the receiver taken a few picks after him.
8. Kendall Wright
One of the most underrated teams going into the season, Tennessee boasts four returning starters on the offensive line along with newcomer Steve Hutchinson, a former Pro-Bowler with the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings.
With a star in the backfield in Chris Johnson as well, this offense could be much more explosive than it has been the past few years.
First round pick Kendall Wright could be a huge part of that. The former Baylor Standout dominated Big 12 competition with elite speed, strong hands, and solid after the catch ability.
Wright lacks the size of Michael Floyd or the highest picked receiver in the draft, Justin Blackmon, but his quickness is far superior to both of theirs despite a disappointing 4.7 40-yard dash time at the combine.
He is also in a much better situation, playing on a better offense with a good running game, offensive line, and two capable quarterbacks.
Furthermore, Wright will not have to be the No. 1 option. Kenny Britt, despite battling knee and disciplinary issues, looked dominant a year ago before tearing his ACL.
Nate Washington, coming off an impressive 1,023 yard season as the team’s No. 1 for most of last year, will also take some pressure of Wright to succeed right away.
Expect good production if you spend a late round pick on Wright come draft day. While Blackmon and the St. Louis Rams’ Brian Quick may go higher than Wright as they are expected to be their teams' No. 1 receivers, such expectations are never the recipe for good fantasy numbers from young wide receivers.
7. Coby Fleener
The tight end position suddenly has players valued at the top of big boards, as the position is no longer viewed as a position to be filled later.
If you miss out on Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski in the first two rounds, or even Vernon Davis a few rounds later, owners can still land difference makers at the position, but not without some risk.
Many have injury concerns, such as Antonio Gates and Jermichael Finley, as tight ends tend to take their fare share of licks.
Coby Fleener is a potential difference maker with relatively low risk. Fleener enters the NFL in storybook fashion, heading to the same team as his college teammate and star quarterback Andrew Luck.
After wowing NFL fans everywhere with a near perfect first preseason game, Andrew Luck looks like the real deal and every bit worthy of his No. 1 overall pick.
There is no doubt now Luck will be able to spread the ball around, and given the recent success of rookie quarterbacks, this could bode well for Coby Fleener. Fleener is a master of the seam route, and scored an impressive 17 touchdowns over his final two years at Stanford.
Consider how late Gronkowski and Graham went in fantasy drafts last year. They were unquestionably the two best at the position in 2011-2012 and neither went before the sixth-round.
While it would be unlikely for Fleener to put up numbers similar to theirs, who knows in today’s NFL, particularly with the hype Luck is already generating. Fleener could be both a security blanket and a downfield threat for his fellow rookie quarterback, and he can be had in the late rounds while owners build depth at receiver, running back, quarterback, and even after picking a defense/special teams unit.
6. Alshon Jeffery
The Chicago Bears must have done back-flips when Alshon Jeffery fell to them in the second round.
Not only did they add elite size at the receiver position that the team lacked seemingly for years, but Chicago also got a player with tremendous ball skills and downfield abilities that mesh well with quarterback Jay Cutler.
Though the offensive line is still a concern in the windy city, the unit improved over last season and Jay Cutler proved he is as good in the pocket as it gets in the NFL. Cutler should benefit tremendously from the additions of Jeffery and his teammate in Denver, Brandon Marshall, as things will also open up over the middle for veteran Bear Earl Bennett. With Devin Hester adding speed to the mix, the Bears will be dangerous through the air in 2012-2013.
This Bear’s passing attack has the chance to set franchise records, and Jeffery should be a part of that.
Why Jeffery fell is puzzling, as he set records for his production at South Carolina against the best collegiate competition, though that all came in his sophomore year. His junior year he suffered from the lack of play of his frequently troubled quarterback Stephen Garcia, and when he entered the draft after his junior season he failed to answer concerns about his weight issues at the combine.
All this aside, his measurable alone made him a safe bet at the top of the first round.
Nevertheless, this was not the case, and though he has big hands and has impressed throughout training camp according to Gene Chamberlain of CBSsports.com, an astounding number of teams passed on his elite talent on draft day.
A motivated Jeffery should play with a chip on his shoulder in 2012-2013, and prove doubters wrong that he is more Calvin Johnson than former Southern California receivers Dwayne Jarrett and Mike Williams.
5. Doug Martin
Many analysts love Doug Martin, an all-purpose back who has drawn comparisons to Ray Rice. These comparisons come mainly because the two are similar heights, though Martin is a bit stockier and may have more expected of him in his rookie year than Rice.
Drafted with the second-to-last pick in the first round, new Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano may fall in love with Martin’s blocking, pass-catching and fairly elusive running style.
Benched last year along with several other underperforming Bucs, LeGarrette Blount failed to live up to preseason draft hype after gaining over 1,000 yards as a rookie. He remains highly talented and durable, and given his size, Blount is a threat to steal touchdowns from Martin around the goalline.
If Blount stays out of Schianno’s doghouse, he will be the more productive of the two backs. Many doubt this will be the case, as Blount has had his share of character issues dating back to his Oregon days.
This could be a promising Buccaneer offense, so Martin is a safe bet as a number three running back. Blount could also serve as a good compliment to Martin, playing the bad boy power runner to Martin’s high effort, competitive style. Though this will decrease Martin's touchdown totals, it will keep the rookie fresh as Tampa Bay tries to make 2012-13 a bounce back year.
Because Martin will go high in fantasy drafts, and is slated around the fifth round, there may be more value in the man that was picked right after Martin in the NFL draft.
4. David Wilson
Though he is not the starter or the third-down back yet in New York, there is no denying David Wilson is the most talented running back on the Giants' roster.
Ahmad Bradshaw, one of the toughest runners in the league and a fantasy rock for the past two years, still has lingering foot problems from a stress fracture a year ago. His 659 rushing yards in 2011 were a huge dip from his strong 2010 season, and though he scored 11 total TDs to keep owners satisfied, he by no means won anyone any championships.
While Bradshaw is the undisputed starter in week one, do not be surprised to see him miss four or more games on the way to a convincing fantasy decline. If that is the case, the Giants will turn to five-year veteran DJ Ware and Wilson to carry the load.
Ware is an excellent blocker, and will still see most of the third down action should Bradshaw go down, but Wilson’s electric play will find its way onto the field regardless.
While Da’Rel Scott has an outside shot to see some touches, but look for most of those to go to Wilson, who will carry on from the 1,709 rushing yards he churned out a year ago while earning ACC player of the year honors.
3. Andrew Luck
The No. 1 overall pick looked incredible in his first NFL action, going 10-16 for 188 yards and two touchdowns.
Luck showed the ability to go downfield, throwing a 23-yard strike that traveled 25 yards in the air on a rope to Austin Collie for his second touchdown pass.
Fittingly, Luck’s first NFL pass went for a touchdown, though Donald Brown was the more impressive part of the play. Brown took a dump off 63 yards to ensure that Andrew Luck long has the tag along phrase of “his first NFL throw was a touchdown” that always sounds good.
Luck should continue the run of quarterbacks turning in impressive rookie years, as expectations are never too high for rookies but 20 touchdown throws should be doable for a player of Luck’s caliber. The biggest concern with Luck is his supporting cast, as concerns on the offensive and defensive line that plagued the Colts a year ago still remain.
There is, however, talent at the skill positions for Luck, and how about Donald Brown after taking that screen the distance? The third year runner will look to take advantage of a backfield all to himself, and should be a dependable third running back for fantasy teams.
2. Robert Griffin III
If the 2011 Fantasy season taught owners anything, it is that effective running quarterbacks can fill up the scoresheet and rack up some points.
Though Robert Griffin III won the Heisman because of his throwing ability, facing the steep NFL learning curve will force him to make plays with his feet several times a game.
It is here where Griffin III will make owners happy, as his track star speed will take away any negative points for fumbles and interceptions. This coupled with a crowded but unspectacular Washington backfield give Griffin the chance to reach pay dirt as a runner as well.
With Cam Newton setting the benchmark for mobile quarterbacks after a god-like 2011-2012 campaign, expectations are high for Griffin III. The Redskins gave up two future first-round picks for their franchise quarterback, and though it is unlikely he will match Newton’s total touchdown count of 35 (21 passing, 14 rushing) many in the Washington D.C. area believe he can.
Even Tim Tebow, despite below-average throwing numbers, was usable for Fantasy owners looking for middle-of-the-road quarterback production.
Either way, the upside of Griffin III, especially for Fantasy purposes, is greater than Luck’s this season because of his running ability and his superior supporting cast.
1. Trent Richardson
The No. 3 overall pick in the NFL draft will finish ahead of the two men picked in front of him, as Trent Richardson will prove to be the most useful rookie in fantasy in 2012.
With a rare blend of size, speed, agility and power, Richardson is a stud at the running back position.
Though he will play on a team many characterize as offensively challenged, the Browns did well in the offseason to try and improve their 30th ranked offense from a year ago. They added Mitchell Schwartz, an offensive tackle out of Cal, in the second round to bolster an already solid unit.
They also drafted Brandon Weeden, a 28-year-old quarterback who should help take some pressure of Richardson to carry the offense, and added receivers Travis Benjamin (Miami, FL) in the fourth round and Josh Gordon (Baylor) in the supplemental draft.
The Browns invested in their offense for 2012-2013, and though the past decade and beyond has brought them significant difficulties at the quarterback position, the running back position has produced some excellent players. Peyton Hillis was the most recent of this group that also produced big years from Jamal Lewis, Reuben Droughns, and historically, the great Jim Brown.
Richardson may not be Jim Brown, but he should gain well over 1,000 yards as a rookie and prove his worth as a late first round or early second round fantasy pick.