The 2013 NFL rookie class offers quite a bit of potential firepower in fantasy football, but the crop looks to be very top-heavy at each position.
Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel was the only player at his position selected in the first round of the NFL draft in what was a generally weak class—far inferior to the spectacular one that preceded it.
Wide receiver has the most depth and is headlined by No. 8 overall pick Tavon Austin, but is he the most viable fantasy option among his fellow first-year peers?
Read on to find out as we project numbers for the top rookies at each position, along with a list of the top five to consider if they happen to be free in your fantasy league.
Quarterback: EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills
Geno Smith will be quarterbacking Manuel's AFC East rival, the New York Jets, and offers an intriguing combination of athleticism and arm talent.
However, there is a reason Manuel was drafted ahead of Smith. In his two preseason appearances, he looked far readier for the NFL stage than his rookie adversary.
Manuel boasts superior size and strength as well as a better supporting cast, which is why he gets the nod over Smith here. The Bills wisely surrounded Manuel with players who can grow with him in receivers Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin—both of whom should contribute this season.
Star receiver Stevie Johnson is also present to help the cause, along with T.J. Graham as the No. 2 wideout. Tight end Scott Chandler gives Manuel a big red-zone target too.
It remains to be seen how head coach Doug Marrone's uptempo offense utilizes Manuel's unique speed, but it's safe to say everything is in play for Week 1's showdown with the New England Patriots:
With C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson to provide a solid running game—and possibly run the read-option effectively—the pieces are in place for Manuel to thrive as a rookie.
He is still relatively raw, but Manuel ranks atop the rookie fantasy rankings essentially by default.
Projections: 3500 yards passing, 20 TDs, 14 INTs/300 yards rushing, 3 TDs
Running Back: Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers
The second-round draft choice out of Alabama tops the depth chart on the team's official website, ahead of James Starks and UCLA rookie Johnathan Franklin.
Who will be the top rookie running back?
In his final year with the Crimson Tide, Lacy flashed receiving competence, nabbing 22 receptions as a junior. His size should also allow him to be a better pass-protector than most first-year running backs, which will also enhance his chances of staying on the field.
Packers superstar Aaron Rodgers desperately needs a running game to complement the high-powered passing attack that he triggers.
Defenders won't be able to crowd the box too often because of how dangerous Rodgers is, so Lacy should be running against favorable defensive fronts and establish himself as the featured back.
Projections: 260 carries, 1100 yards, 7 TDs
Wide Receiver: Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams
Austin gives the Rams a prospective go-to target in the passing game. But how will Austin adjust if NFL defenses are game-planning against him as the primary option?
It might not matter, because St. Louis wisely kept Austin almost completely under wraps during the preseason, revealing little if anything at all as to how he would be used.
Head coach Jeff Fisher has admitted as much to CBS Sports. It makes predicting Austin's numbers a bit more difficult, but his talent speaks for itself.
Based on the team's running back situation, though, a reasonable inference would be that Austin could take handoffs from the backfield at times in 2013. As a senior at West Virginia, Austin carried the ball 21 times for 344 yards and two touchdowns against Oklahoma.
That's not even to mention how blindingly quick Austin is in the open field in terms of lateral agility and vision with the ball in his hands. He is the true definition of a home run threat, even though he stands at just 5'8" and weighs 176 pounds.
Austin's durability in college and back-to-back 100-catch seasons to cap off his time in Morgantown are encouraging with regard to his prospects of immediately thriving as a pro.
Between possible carries as a runner and QB Sam Bradford likely looking for him frequently underneath, there is no better rookie option than Austin.
Projections: 65 receptions, 800 yards, 8 TDs/30 carries, 120 yards, 2 TDs
Tight End: Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
Many of the talented, athletic tight ends walk into situations where there is already an established veteran, but it's a stretch to say Jermaine Gresham has been a raging success in Cincinnati.
Therefore, Eifert has a golden opportunity to be a big contributor and security blanket for quarterback Andy Dalton.
The first-round pick out of Notre Dame has phenomenal ball skills and extremely strong hands. According to Paul Dehner Jr. of The Cincinnati Enquirer, Eifert looked "spectacular" in training camp.
Eifert did miss the final two preseason games, but head coach Marvin Lewis told Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times that he can't wait to see the youngster get back on the field:
Marvin Lewis on ex #NotreDame TE Tyler Eifert: "Tyler's an excellent prospect. We're anxious to get him out and get him going again."— Mark Potash (@MarkPotash) September 4, 2013
The injury report on the team's official website indicates Eifert has a forearm ailment of some kind, but he fully participated in practice on Wednesday and Thursday.
Although the absence from the preseason arguably hurts Eifert in terms of adjusting to the pro game, it could mask the plans the Bengals have for him—a situation similar to how Austin was purposely held back by the Rams.
Outside of AJ Green, Cincinnati has a slew of unproven receivers in Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones and Brandon Tate, while dynamic slot receiver Andrew Hawkins is on injured reserve with an ankle injury.
Hawkins does have a designation to return, but someone will have to step up in his absence. Eifert is a great candidate to do that despite being a rookie.
Projections: 50 receptions, 550 yards, 5 TDs
|Rank||Quarterbacks||Running Backs||Wide Receivers||Tight Ends|
|1||EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills||Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers||Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams||Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals|
|2||Geno Smith, New York Jets||Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals||DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans||Vance McDonald, San Francisco 49ers|
|3||Mike Glennon, Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers||Robert Woods, Buffalo Bills||Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs|
|4||Ryan Nassib, New York Giants||Christine Michael, Seattle Seahawks||Aaron Dobson, New England Patriots||Zach Sudfield, New England Patriots|
|5||Matt McGloin, Oakland Raiders||Knile Davis, Kansas City Chiefs||Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings||Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles|
Rankings are strictly opinion