After a lockout-shortened offseason in 2011, second-year players, for the first time in their professional careers, have had the opportunity to spend the entire offseason working out around their teammates and coaching staffs.
While many rookies struggled to learn the playbook and adapt to the NFL last year, this season presents the players with the chance to hit it big upon fully immersing themselves in their offensive systems.
Note: Value projections are based on a standard-scoring 12-team fantasy league.
1. Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
Entering his rookie season, many draft experts expected Newton to struggle out of the gate in adjusting to the pros.
Instead, he threw for over 350 yards in three of his first four starts and closed the season with over 4,000 passing yards and 35 total touchdowns.
While it may not be fair to expect Newton to duplicate that production, any quarterback with his athleticism, size and powerful arm has the potential to run or throw for a touchdown on any play. A true red-zone threat, Newton should be viewed as a starting fantasy QB with the potential to finish in the top five in total fantasy points.
2012 Projections: 3,750 yards passing, 22 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 700 yards rushing, 10 rushing touchdowns
Value: No. 1 quarterback, late second to early third-round pick
2. A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
As the fourth overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, A.J. Green entered his rookie year with higher expectations than arguably any first-year player in his draft class. And he did not disappoint.
Though Green had a few down games, he showed the big-play ability that made him the consensus No. 1 receiver in the draft. Green has great size, good speed and a great vertical which leads to red-zone opportunities—even in an offense that isn't built around the passing game.
As he continues to develop chemistry with Andy Dalton, expect his numbers to continue to improve.
2012 Projections: 80 receptions, 1,225 yards, 10 touchdowns
Value: Mid-end No. 1 wide receiver, high-end No. 2, late third to early fourth-round pick
3. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Despite missing some time due to injury, Julio Jones showed what he is capable of throughout his rookie season.
Thus far in training camp and preseason, Jones has impressed media members and appears to be on the same page with Matt Ryan. In an offense that is slowly becoming more and more pass-oriented, Jones' value is always increasing.
Though he will be forced to battle with Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez for receptions, Jones has shown the potential to become a truly elite fantasy option.
2012 Projections: 70 receptions, 1,175 yards, 9 touchdowns
Value: High-end No. 2 WR, fourth-round pick
4. DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys
After coming out of Oklahoma with a fairly significant injury history, Murray entered Dallas as the third running back on the depth chart before working his way into the starting lineup by last season's end and averaging 5.5 yards per carry.
Now locked in as the Cowboys' primary runner, Murray is a risky pick due to his lack of success in the red zone and injury risk.
However, if he stays healthy, he has the potential to produce at a high level and work his way into the No. 1 running back tier.
2012 Projections: 250 carries, 1,200 yards, 40 receptions, 300 yards, 8 total touchdowns
Value: High-end No. 2 running back, third-round pick
5. Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore Ravens
Torrey Smith entered Ravens training camp in 2011 considered one of the biggest "project" players. With good size and elite speed, Smith flashed his ability as a deep threat from day one and put up the third-best numbers of any rookie wide receiver.
As Smith works his way into the starting lineup and develops a chemistry with the strong-armed Joe Flacco, he has the potential to become one of the best big-play receivers in the league.
Though there is always risk involved with taking a player that relies so much on making plays downfield, Smith has a potential to be the Ravens' second-best fantasy player behind Ray Rice.
2012 Projections: 60 receptions, 1,125 yards, 8 touchdowns
Value: High-end No. 3 wideout eighth-round pick
6. Ryan Williams, RB, Arizona Cardinals
After entering the 2011 season as a potential fantasy sleeper, Williams tore his right patella tendon and missed the entire season.
Though there is always risk involved with a running back coming off of a major injury, Williams has shown burst and ability throughout training camp, while last year's starter Beanie Wells continues to battle knee injuries.
Williams should be viewed as a late-round pick with the potential to break into the starting lineup if Wells can't stay healthy, something that has been a struggle throughout his career. The quintessential low-risk, high-reward player, Williams is just the 50th running back off the board right now.
Regardless of Wells' health, Williams is expected to battle for starting reps entering the season.
2012 Projections: 175 carries, 825 yards, 25 receptions, 180 yards, 8 total touchdowns
Value: No. 4 Running Back, 11th-round pick
Similar to Williams, the risk in this pick comes from the fact that he is still locked in a competition for a starting job.
If your draft takes place prior to Titans head coach Mike Munchak announcing his decision, Locker shouldn't be taken before the final few rounds of the draft in the fear that you will be taking a backup quarterback.
Locker has plenty of talent and plays for an offense with an underrated amount of talent, and for a coaching staff that wants to throw the ball deep and often. If Locker wins the starting job, he is a No. 2 quarterback with a high ceiling.
2012 Projections: 320-530, 3,700 yards, 450 rushing yards, 27 total touchdowns
Value: No. 2 quarterback, late-round pick
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