The past two years have given us some of the most productive rookie seasons in fantasy football history.
Some impressive point totals from rookies over the past two years (via NFL.com) include:
- Panthers QB Cam Newton, 2011: 369.3 fantasy points
- Falcons WR Julio Jones, 2011: 147.5 fantasy points
- Redskins QB Robert Griffin III, 2012: 318.6 fantasy points
- Colts QB Andrew Luck, 2012: 276.5 fantasy points
- Buccaneers RB Doug Martin, 2012: 262.5 fantasy points
- Redskins RB Alfred Morris, 2012: 241 fantasy points
- Colts WR T.Y. Hilton, 2012: 131 fantasy points
This year may not produce anything like those totals, but someone could always surprise us.
Whether it's a player landing in a nourishing environment, being drafted by a team lacking a player with his specific skill set or any number of other reasons, plenty of rookies will get an opportunity to show what they're made of.
Here is a list of the rookies most likely to have a fantasy impact in 2013.
Giovani Bernard will probably not be the leading rusher for the Bengals, as the rookie will split time—and thus touches—with BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Each player has his merits. Green-Ellis is ultra-dependable in short-yardage situations and is known for protecting the football better than most—if not all other—backs in the league. He's not, however, going to put on a show with big plays; he averaged less than four yards per carry in the past two years.
Bernard is the more versatile back for his ability to contribute in the passing game. He had more than 45 catches in his first two collegiate years and 47 catches for 490 yards and five touchdowns in 2012. He is also more explosive, with a career 5.9 yards per attempt in college and 6.7 yards per attempt in 2012. He overcame some ball security issues in 2011 after fumbling four times as a freshman and didn't put the ball on the ground once as a sophomore.
The expectation is that Bernard will be the No. 2 back, while Green-Ellis will be the primary guy and top option at the goal line for his dependability. Considering his ability to find the end zone in college, however, it's likely Bernard will get that opportunity sooner than later.
Stat prediction: 160 carries, 830 yards (5.2 YPA), four touchdowns; 40 catches, 310 yards (7.8 YPR), four touchdowns—162 fantasy points
I made DeAndre Hopkins my way-too-early pick for Rookie of the Year, and I'm not backing down yet.
Not only is Hopkins the complement to wide receiver Andre Johnson that the Texans were looking for, he is also unlikely to command double-teams like his pass-catching compatriot in Houston. That will give Hopkins opportunities to work his magic against man coverage.
As is the case with Tavon Austin, I can understand the caution around drafting a wide receiver, but there are enough circumstances working in Hopkins' favor.
The AFC South is home to some bad pass defenses; the Texans' three rivals all ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in passing yards allowed. Also, Hopkins is instantly the second-most talented receiver on the roster, meaning he will likely get a good deal of snaps in two- and three-receiver sets.
The Texans love to run the ball, as evidenced by Arian Foster's league-leading 351 rush attempts in 2012, but Matt Schaub ranked 12th in the league in pass attempts in 2012 and led the league in attempts in 2009. Hopkins is a fringe starter, but will be worth a look as a No. 3 or 4 receiver in drafts.
Stat prediction: 65 catches, 950 yards (14.6 YPR), eight touchdowns—143 fantasy points
A lot of West Virginia's offense last year was just getting the ball into Tavon Austin's hands and watching the back of his jersey.
His versatility makes him an intriguing fantasy option. He can work out of the slot and rack up yards after the catch and take the ball out of the backfield. He also has some value on special teams as a returner.
Only one thing remains uncertain: Will Sam Bradford be good enough throwing the ball to help get the most out of Austin in the passing game? We got an interesting explanation from Ryan Forbes of 2MugsFF.com on why we shouldn't risk drafting a rookie receiver in fantasy:
Let’s assume we have a 2 RB, 3 WR, 12-team league. In this case, there are 24 starting running backs and 36 starting wide receivers each week. Last year the 36th best wide receiver, averaged 12.1 points per game. Since 2000, only nine rookie wide receivers have achieved that feat.
That being said, he'll be given an opportunity to be productive early for the Rams as a starter, and therefore, he has upside as a bench option.
Stat prediction: 50 catches, 720 yards (14.4 YPR), seven touchdowns; 20 carries, 110 yards (5.5 YPA), touchdown—131 fantasy points
Johnathan Franklin ahead of Eddie Lacy?
Despite the fact that Lacy was drafted two rounds prior to Franklin, it wouldn't be the first time this has happened. The Patriots drafted Shane Vereen in the second round of the 2011 draft and Stevan Ridley in the third round the same year; Ridley remains the more productive back in the offense.
Franklin is my choice because of his explosiveness and overall versatility. He may be undersized at 5'10" and 205 pounds, but he can run between the tackles and knows how to get into the open field, averaging 6.1 yards per carry and 9.8 yards per reception as a senior at UCLA. He also knows how to score—his 15 touchdowns in 2012 were the most in a single season at UCLA since Maurice Jones-Drew had 17 in 2005.
Also, let's not forget the recent toe injury that drove Lacy's draft stock down. If it continues to be an issue into training camp or the season, Franklin could see more reps in practices and subsequently, more snaps in games. Lacy has also endured ankle injuries in his career, meaning he could miss time during the season.
Either way, Franklin is likely a late-round bench option with upside in PPR leagues.
Stat prediction: 90 carries, 500 yards (5.6 YPA), three touchdowns; 30 catches, 220 yards (7.3 YPR), two touchdowns — 102 fantasy points
It's easy to have some trepidation about Patriots receiver Aaron Dobson. Rookie receivers often struggle to make an impact, and the Patriots have not been sterling in their development of receivers.
However, it's hard to ignore that he will be catching passes from Tom Brady in an offense that has lacked an outside-the-numbers presence with his size (6'3", 210 pounds) and speed (4.33 40-yard dash) since the departure of another former Marshall receiver, Randy Moss.
Likewise, his advantage may be the Patriots' disadvantage: a lot of injury-prone pass-catchers. With Rob Gronkowski looking at a fourth and possibly fifth forearm surgery (via The Boston Herald), Julian Edelman currently in a walking boot (via The Boston Globe) and the injury track records of Danny Amendola and Aaron Hernandez (who had shoulder surgery this offseason, per The Boston Globe), it's fair to wonder how long before the Marshall pass-catcher sees heavy duty.
He'll probably be overdrafted, but he's a solid bench option at receiver.
Stat prediction: 50 catches, 780 yards (15.6 YPR), six touchdowns—114 fantasy points
Manti Te'o got all the attention leading up to the NFL draft, but Tyler Eifert's impact will be bigger and more sudden than his former Notre Dame teammate.
Eifert started three years for the Golden Domers and was the top weapon in the receiving game with 50 catches for 685 yards and four touchdowns, which ranked No. 1 on the team. As a junior, his 63 catches for 803 yards were tops among NCAA tight ends.
Two-tight end sets have become popular in the NFL, as teams try to copy the success of the Patriots with tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Most of the time, those 2TE sets consist of a blocking tight end and a pass-catching one. The Bengals have two pass-catchers in Eifert and Jermaine Gresham.
Like Gresham, Eifert is not a great blocker, but his experience lining up as a tight end and a wide receiver will help him make a quick impact in fantasy leagues. He may not be a starting fantasy tight end in his rookie year, but he can be a viable No. 2.
Stat prediction: 45 catches, 550 yards, five touchdowns—85 fantasy points
In much the same way as Le'Veon Bell, I have reservations about how long Montee Ball's career will be after he toted the rock a whopping 983 times (924 carries, 59 catches) over the past four years. But there's no reason to be bashful about his potential in the Denver Broncos offense in 2013.
Ball didn't get much experience catching passes out of the backfield at Wisconsin, but the same could have been said about Joseph Addai when he came out of LSU (66 career receptions with a career-high 26 as a junior), and he quickly became a big part of the Colts passing game as a rookie.
How high have the Broncos set the ceiling for Ball? John Elway compared Ball's running style to Terrell Davis' (via The Denver Post), and John Fox said the Broncos aren't concerned about the workload Ball has carried in his career. They won't be bashful about giving him the ball.
That will be especially true if Willis McGahee isn't 100 percent after suffering a season-ending knee injury in 2012. Either way, Ball should warrant consideration as a high-upside bench option, if only for his obvious abilities at the goal line.
Stat prediction: 145 carries, 720 yards (5 YPA), nine touchdowns; 35 catches, 225 yards (6.4 YPR), two touchdowns—160.5 fantasy points
EJ Manuel is a work in progress as a passer; just about every scout and analyst agrees. That being said, it's becoming more normal for teams to adapt their offenses to the strengths of the quarterback, and that could help him be successful as a rookie.
One of the most intriguing elements to Manuel's game is his ability as a runner. He had 310 rushing yards and four touchdowns as a senior, but averaged just three yards per carry in his last season and 2.78 for his career.
His size (6'5", 237 pounds) combined with his speed (4.65 40-yard dash) makes him one of the many dual-threat quarterbacks who have taken the league by storm.
Take, for example, Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III. Newton racked up rookie quarterback records with 706 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns, along with a league-leading 5.6 yards per carry; RGIII shattered Newton's record with 815 yards, adding seven scores on the ground along with a league-leading 6.8 YPA.
Whenever the words "compete for the job" are used with a rookie quarterback, as they were used by Bills president Russ Brandon (via Yahoo! Sports), it should never come as a surprise if that player is given the job, regardless of how prepared or unprepared he may seem. No one should be shocked if the Bills decide that Manuel is closer to a starting quarterback than Kevin Kolb, who has a career 78.9 passer rating.
Even still, Manuel should be drafted in later rounds for a team that has a top quarterback.
Stat prediction: 54.7 percent completions, 3000 yards, 13 touchdowns, 11 interceptions; 110 carries, 500 yards (4.5 YPA), three touchdowns; four fumbles lost—236 fantasy points
I still don't know how I feel about Le'Veon Bell's long-term viability—he comes into the NFL with 671 carries under his belt over the past three years. That's a lot of mileage on those tires. That being said, he could be the second coming of Jerome Bettis in the Steel City, if only for a time.
The Pittsburgh Steelers will never go back to being a true running football team—not with Ben Roethlisberger under center, Todd Haley as offensive coordinator and certainly not with both. Perhaps a lighter workload will allow the Steelers to get more out of Bell.
He has versatility to contribute as a between-the-tackles hard runner, as a pass-catcher (67 receptions over the past two seasons) and as a blocker. That versatility could lead to a lot of opportunities on the field for Bell in his rookie season, which might lead to big numbers early and often.
Jonathan Dwyer is better suited for a complementary role, and it may be a two-way battle for touches. Given the Steelers' lack of a true front-runner at the position, though, Bell has an opportunity to claim that spot in training camp.
Stat prediction: 210 carries, 920 yards (4.4 YPA), six touchdowns; 27 catches, 180 yards (6.7 YPR), one touchdown—152 fantasy points
He may have been drafted in the fifth round, but running back Joseph Randle got a gift when the Cowboys drafted him—and not just because he didn't have to change mascots.
For starters, Jerry Jones has already come out and said he expects Randle to be the No. 2 back. Couple that with the injury history of the No. 1 back, DeMarco Murray (who has missed nine game in his first two years), and Randle could get some opportunities as a rookie.
There are questions about his ceiling and versatility after running a 4.63 in the 40-yard dash and showing poor technique in pass protection, but given his apparent spot on the roster, he could be forced into the starting lineup sooner than later.
If nothing else, he'll make a valuable handcuff for owners who draft Murray.
Stat prediction: 110 carries, 505 yards (4.6 YPA), three touchdowns; 15 catches, 210 yards (14 YPR), one touchdown—95 fantasy points