Fantasy Football Draft 2012: Which NFL Rookie Will Have the Best Year?

Chet GreshamFeatured ColumnistAugust 20, 2012

Fantasy Football Draft 2012: Which NFL Rookie Will Have the Best Year?

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    Taking a rookie in your fantasy-football draft always has some risk attached. These guys have never played at the speed of the NFL, there is more wear and tear on their bodies than in college over the course of the season, and they have no track record to gauge how they will perform.

    But these are the Pro Bowlers of tomorrow, and possibly today! Rookies perform well every season. Some seasons more than others, but it happens. Cam Newton, A.J. Green and Julio Jones are just a few that burst onto the scene their rookie year.

    This season, we have a plethora of rookies who will start at their respective positions from day one. But when it comes to fantasy football, we need to judge if they will get the ball and if they can be effective.

    Let's take a look at the top-10 fantasy rookies for this season.

Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears

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    Alshon Jeffery is 6'3" of 216-pound receiver. The Chicago Bears have been without a good core of wide receivers since, well, forever. And now, in just one short year, they get Brandon Marshall and Jeffery.

    Jay Cutler has the ability, but while in Chicago he hasn't had any good receivers. That has changed and it should allow the whole offense to open up. The threat of Brandon Marshall on the outside and Matt Forte near the line of scrimmage should give Jeffery plenty of space to work the middle.

    Jeffery has the size, hands and an amazing vertical leap of over 36 inches. Those three things put together in the red zone usually equal touchdowns.

    He's currently coming off fantasy draft boards in the 15th round as the 61st wide receiver taken. There's no doubt that he is worth a flier that late.

Lamar Miller, Miami Dolphins

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    Lamar Miller is not in the best possible situation to put up consistent fantasy numbers this season, but his road to that position isn't as difficult as it might seem.

    First off, Miller was the fastest running back in the 2012 draft and he has validated that in OTAs and training camp. Dolphins beat writer Omar Kelly says that Miller "moves at a different speed than the rest of the players on (the field)."

    He is raw, but Reggie Bush's backup, Daniel Thomas, has done nothing in his short career. He's actually done less than nothing. And the star of last season, Reggie Bush, has only topped 200 carries once in a season while also not finishing many of those seasons due to injury.

    Miller, on average, is not being drafted, but his upside is too high not to take a flier on him. He may be buried on the depth chart today, but his ability—and the players in front of him—should allow him to move on up.

Isaiah Pead, St. Louis Rams

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    Isaiah Pead, like Lamar Miller, needs an injury in front of him on the depth chart to become a relevant fantasy player, but also like Miller, his path to the starting spot isn't difficult.

    Steven Jackson has more carries than any other running back in the league, 2,137 to be exact. He's averaged 286 carries a year over the last seven seasons. Now at 29, his body has taken a beating and he's overdue for a decline.

    His new coach, Jeff Fisher, helped Chris Johnson gain over 2,000 yards in one season, and Pead has been compared to LeSean McCoy by NFL Films' Greg Cosell, and Chris Johnson by NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah.

    If Jackson falters this season, Pead has the ability to become an elite fantasy player who is being drafted in the 13th round.

Justin Blackmon, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Justin Blackmon was the de facto No. 1 wide receiver for the Jacksonville Jaguars before he ever got onto the field. So we don't have to worry about him getting his opportunity this season.

    We do have to worry about his production with second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert under center, but the good news is that Gabbert didn't have anyone with Blackmon's ability to throw to last season.

    Head coach Mike Mularkey plans to use Blackmon much like he used Roddy White in Atlanta. He'll run more intermediate routes which fit his skill set better and should give Gabbert a big target to find when his eyes are on the pass rush more than his receivers.

    Blackmon is currently going in the ninth round as the 41st receiver off the board. That's good value for a No. 1 receiver.

Kendall Wright, Tennessee Titans

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    In his first preseason game, Kendall Wright already showed he fits right in with the NFL when he caught three passes for 47 yards from Jake Locker, the Titans' newly appointed starting quarterback.

    It looked as if Wright would be the third or fourth wide receiver coming into this season, but with the offseason surgeries and run-ins with the authorities, Kenny Britt might not be on the field much, especially to start the season.

    The Titans should open up their offense more with the strong-armed Locker at the helm, which will give Wright plenty of room to run underneath routes. His after-the-catch running ability is excellent and he could easily be the leading receiver for the Titans in his rookie campaign.

    He is currently being drafted in the 12th round, a round I would be happy to snatch him up.

David Wilson, New York Giants

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    Ahmad Bradshaw has played through foot problems most of his career. Last season, he missed four games and rushed for a poor 3.9 yards per carry. His 11 total touchdowns were good, but seven of those came in just three games. These poor numbers and the departure of Brandon Jacobs led to the Giants selecting a David Wilson in the first round of the NFL draft.

    Wilson has all the skills to be an impact player early on. His speed and elusiveness were already on display in the first preseason game, where he had a 48-yard kickoff return and a nifty 26-yard rushing play.

    The knock on him right now is that he isn't picking up the playbook quickly, but there is still time and his ability is too good to keep him off the field.

    Right now, you can get him in the eighth round, and with his skill and Bradshaw's foot, he's a value pick there.

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

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    It was tough putting Andrew Luck as far down this list as fourth. He is a special talent who will be a star in this league for years to come. The problem in fantasy is that he is in a group of extremely talented veterans and plays a position where you need one starter on your fantasy team.

    Luck will have a learning curve, just like any rookie quarterback, but we know he isn't going to lose his job, and we also know the Colts are going to have to throw the ball a lot this season due to a poor defense getting its offense into holes.

    He will throw some interceptions, but he will also throw for a lot of yards. The way this league has gone pass-happy, Cam Newton's rookie record could be in danger. 

    Luck can be had in the 10th round, but if he has a few more games like his first preseason tilt, where he completed 10-of-16 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns, he'll start being taken earlier.

Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins

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    Robert Griffin III is my No. 1 rookie quarterback in fantasy this season because of his legs. Andrew Luck could throw for 4,000 yards and 25-plus touchdowns, but RGIII could still beat him with worse passing stats due to rushing yards and touchdowns.

    If you look at someone like Tim Tebow, who was wildly inaccurate in the passing game, you'll also notice that he was a top fantasy quarterback for many of the games he started last season. And Griffin is a better passer and more elusive runner than Tebow.

    He will be inconsistent, and he might not be able to win many games his rookie season, but he sure will score a lot of fantasy points after you add up his rushing and passing numbers.

    He is going as the 12th quarterback off the board so far this season, which makes him a starter in most leagues. I'd rather have him as my backup, with the ability to become my starter.

Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers used their first round pick on running back Doug Martin for a reason, and that reason wasn't to stand on the sidelines. Right now, the only thing holding fantasy players back from falling madly in love with Martin is that they are afraid LeGarrette Blount might punch them in the face.

    Martin's versatility makes him a perfect fit as an every-down running back. He can run, block and catch the ball. Coach Greg Schiano plans on Martin being the starter and not just the third-down back, and so far, Martin has done nothing to dissuade Schiano from those plans.

    Schiano loves to run the ball and even though his defense might keep him from doing that as much as he wants, Martin has the skill to play in all facets of the game.

    He has been compared to Ray Rice and Schiano was Rice's coach at Rutgers. Martin's 5'9", 230-pound frame also lends credence to that comparison.

    You can still get Martin in the fourth round of drafts. I'd get on that.

Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns

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    Trent Richardson is a monster of a running back. His size and speed are unmatched by any of the rookies coming out this season, and most of the running backs who are already in the league. Of course, right now he is rehabilitating from a knee scope. But all signs point to him playing Week 1, and with one of the strongest offensive lines in the game helping him, a big year is there for the taking.

    If you are worried that the Browns won't be able to move the ball into the red zone enough for Richardson to find the end zone, just remember one Peyton Hillis two years ago. He finished as the third-best fantasy running back, while the 2010 Browns finished 5-11 with a group of "quarterbacks" who threw for 13 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.

    Does the knee worry me? Yes, enough to make me second-guess placing him ahead of Doug Martin. But in the end, I think he'll be okay, and the Browns will use him as a workhorse.

    He has fallen in draft position far enough to where you can get him at the end of the second, beginning of the third round. I'm willing to take the risk on him there.

     

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