Of course, more often than not, rookies need time to develop or are faced with limited roles in their first campaign. Building your fantasy strategy around drafting rookies is like building a house on quicksand—it's probably not going to work out too well.
Still, as last year proved, a few rookies can blow up and help win fantasy leagues. Let's break down the top options from the upcoming season's rookie class.
Markus Wheaton, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
He's third on the Pittsburgh Steelers' depth chart for now, but this speedy wideout could soon take on Mike Wallace's previous role on the team. Maybe just not this year.
EJ Manuel, QB, Buffalo Bills
Given his athleticism, he would be an intriguing option if he were to win the starting job. But he has to win the job first.
Zac Stacy, RB, St Louis Rams
Sure, he's third on the depth chart right now. However, the two backs ahead of him are Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead, so Stacy could very well win this job. Monitor this situation closely. If Stacy wins the starting gig, he instantly jumps into the top five of this list—even in the tough NFC West.
Robert Woods already has Kevin Kolb singing his praises, so he's got that going for him. He should probably earn a starting gig opposite of Steve Johnson and he's fresh off of three productive years at USC, so he should adapt well in his rookie season.
So why is he No. 10 on my list?
Because his quarterback will either be Kolb or EJ Manuel. Also, this offense should be built around C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson rather than the passing game.
Woods has a lot of potential and you shouldn't ignore him in the later rounds. He may even be a starter. But given who may be throwing him passes, his upside still seems pretty capped.
Sure, Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have a symbiotic relationship in the passing game. Sure, Mohamed Sanu is likely to take a step forward in his second season, while Jermaine Gresham is still tops on the tight end depth chart.
Sure, Tyler Eifert is just a rookie.
But, man, is he a good player. While often underutilized in a weak Notre Dame passing game, Eifert is big, fast and has soft hands. He looks like a potential menace down the seam and should develop into a red-zone terror, meaning he could steal some touchdowns.
Should you keep an eye on him in the preseason to see how the Cincinnati Bengals utilize him? Sure. As rookies go, he's not a bad play—especially as your TE2.
Suddenly, Aaron Dobson's chances to be a regular contributor in this offense seem pretty high, huh?
According to Nick Underhill of MassLive.com, Dobson has looked good in camp and is mostly working with the first team, so there's a legitimate shot for him to become a trusted weapon in Tom Brady's arsenal. Then again, he is just a rookie and Brady does still have Gronkowski, Amendola, Julian Edelman and Michael Jenkins.
In other words, draft him accordingly. But don't be afraid to draft him.
Cordarrelle Patterson is freakishly athletic, and with a premium on playmakers in Minnesota's passing game outside of Greg Jennings and Kyle Rudolph, the Vikings will surely manufacture a way to get the ball into his hands this season.
But he's also really unpolished and really inexperienced, so there's really no telling if he'll quickly pick up on an NFL offense.
Even in his one year starting for Tennessee, he wasn't the world's most impressive receiver, catching 46 receptions for 778 yards and five touchdowns.
Of course, when you add in 308 rushing yards, three touchdowns and an impact in the return game (two return touchdowns), it's easier to see how he might be effective for Minny this year.
Is he the new Percy Harvin? Probably not. Is he worth a gamble as your WR4, especially in keeper leagues?
I think DeAndre Hopkins could have a big impact with the Houston Texans this season.
The Associated Press (h/t the Boston Herald) writes that he's already impressed at camp and he has the look of the deep threat the Texans have been searching for to pair with Andre Johnson for years now.
Hopkins was a beast last season, catching 82 passes for 1,405 yards 18 touchdowns. He also had 24 catches of 20 or more yards and averaged 17.1 yards per catch, so you know he's a threat down the field.
Rookie wide receivers are always really risky, as it isn't an easy position to adjust to in the NFL, so he logically falls to No. 6 on this list.
Outside of Tavon Austin, though, he looks the likeliest of all rookie wide receivers to establish a role on his team immediately.
Of all the rookie running backs, Giovani Bernard probably has the most well-rounded skill set. Unfortunately, he also has the most experienced incumbent to overcome, BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Still, it's not hard to see Bernard earning a 50-50 split in carries this season. The Law Firm has averaged just 3.8 yards per carry over the past two seasons and is a pure grinder.
His lack of big-play ability—and lack of effectiveness on third down—means Bernard should have an important role in Cincy's offense this year.
Conversely, the Law Firm is guaranteed to earn all of the goal-line work, meaning Bernard probably won't be a good source for touchdowns. He'll have to earn his scores through big plays, and it remains to be seen if he'll get enough touches to cash in as a home run hitter.
He's an intriguing stash as an RB3 or RB4, but he's probably still a year away from being a consistent fantasy performer. Nevertheless, monitor his usage this August carefully.
I can't decide what I think about Montee Ball. On one hand, I think he'll probably win the starting job and the Denver Broncos should really utilize the running game more, if for no other reason than to protect Peyton Manning.
On the other hand, this is still a pass-first offense and Ronnie Hillman is clearly going to be the better weapon out of the backfield in the passing game.
Plus, Hillman has enough juice to potentially make this a 50-50 split given his potential as a home run hitter.
Where Ball really has a chance to shine is down by the goal line, where he could become a regular source of touchdowns for fantasy owners. Ball is worth a look as an RB3—just don't get your hopes too high.
Look, Eddie Lacy isn't fat. I know you saw the picture of him at camp that looks as though he ate the other running backs on the team, but look again.
What he is, however, is the likeliest running back to seize first-team snaps for the Green Bay Packers. Given how powerful he is, he could develop into a major touchdown vulture, which will give him serious value.
And you have to think the Packers would love it if Lacy could develop into a two-down runner that could wear down defenses.
There's risk in Lacy, considering the Packers are a pass-first offense and fellow rookie Johnathan Franklin is lurking, but I like Lacy this year as an RB3.
I'm not about to let a picture on Twitter derail that opinion.
Of all of the running backs on this list, I think Bell combines two attractive features—he has a great chance to win the starting job and could be a workhorse for his team as well as fantasy owners.
Bell's stiffest competition for the starting gig is likely to be Isaac Redman, so it's not as though he can't win the starting job.
He was the main man for Michigan State last year, rushing for 1,793 yards and 13 touchdowns. If he can seize the starting gig and convince Pittsburgh to return to its pound-the-rock past, he could make fantasy owners very happy this year.
There are a few reasons why I have Tavon Austin atop this list despite the fact that I normally steer clear of rookie wide receivers.
- I still have no idea how many carries Bell, Lacy, Ball or Bernard will get in their respective offenses at this point, so none are home run picks.
- I do know that Austin will play some role in the St. Louis Rams offense, as he can contribute in both the passing and running game a la Percy Harvin.
- He should end up returning kicks and punts for the team as well, which could mean a few extra touchdowns.
- Without doubt, he's the most dynamic playmaker in this draft class. He looks like he'll be a home run threat every time he touches the ball.
- Who else is going to get all of the touches, Jared Cook?
Don't be surprised if Austin is this year's Offensive Rookie of the Year.