Fantasy Football 2014: Latest Rookie Rankings and Sleeper Predictions

Mike ChiariFeatured ColumnistMay 14, 2014

Boston College running back Andre Williams runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Michael Conroy/Associated Press

It certainly isn't easy for rookies to step right in and be productive in the NFL, but a small handful of them seem to make an impact in both real and fantasy terms on a yearly basis.

There are plenty of things that need to be considered when it comes to whether or not a rookie will excel in the NFL. Draft positioning is a big one, since first-round picks will generally be given a shot ahead of later selections, but a team's personnel situation can allow a fourth-round choice to step right in.

With that in mind, here is an early look at rookie fantasy rankings for every skill position as well as further analysis regarding rookie sleepers to keep tabs on. 

 

Quarterbacks

2014 Rookie QB Fantasy Rankings
RankPlayerTeam
1Johnny ManzielCLE
2Teddy BridgewaterMIN
3Blake BortlesJAC
4Derek CarrOAK
5Tom SavageHOU
Mike Chiari's Rankings

Sleeper to Watch: Derek Carr

Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson bucked the trend of rookie quarterbacks struggling to adjust two seasons ago, but that type of production shouldn't be expected on a yearly basis. Three signal-callers were selected in the first round this year. However, there is no guarantee that Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater will even start.

Manziel certainly has the most upside due to his running ability, but Oakland Raiders second-round selection Derek Carr may prove to be the best rookie quarterback in football. Carr is currently behind Matt Schaub on Oakland's depth chart, but Schaub has an injury history, and he is coming off the worst season of his NFL career.

Because of that, Carr could find himself in position to start quite quickly. According to the Raiders' official Twitter account, he clearly has the right attitude going in:

Carr has all the tools, and he could surprise as a rookie, but he isn't an advisable fantasy pick outside of dynasty leagues. The lack of weaponry on offense means that his ceiling isn't particularly high in 2014, so view Carr and every other rookie quarterback as a more realistic fantasy option starting in 2015.

 

Running Backs

2014 Rookie RB Fantasy Rankings
RankPlayerTeam
1Bishop SankeyTEN
2Andre WilliamsNYG
3Tre MasonSTL
4Carlos HydeSF
5Devonta FreemanATL
6Jeremy HillCIN
7Ka'Deem CareyCHI
8Charles SimsTB
9Terrance WestCLE
10Dri ArcherPIT
Mike Chiari's Rankings

Sleeper to Watch: Andre Williams

There is little doubt that Tennessee Titans running back Bishop Sankey will be the most highly sought-after rookie back in fantasy football this season. Not only was he the first running back off the board in the 2014 draft, but he also doesn't have a ton of competition with Shonn Greene standing between him and the starting job.

Aside from Sankey, though, Andre Williams of the New York Giants is definitely worth monitoring. Although Williams wasn't selected until the fourth round, he had a fantastic collegiate career at Boston College that saw him rush for more than 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2013.

Williams is a tough, punishing runner, and NFL Network's Ian Rapoport views him as a potential steal for the G-Men:

The Giants were plagued by injuries at the running back position last season, as expected starter David Wilson missed the bulk of the season. Although he expects to be ready for training camp, his status is very much up in the air. New York also brought in Rashad Jennings, but he dealt with injuries last season as well.

Williams could be the last man standing in Big Blue's backfield, and a productive rookie season may very well follow.

 

Wide Receivers

2014 Rookie WR Fantasy Rankings
RankPlayerTeam
1Sammy WatkinsBUF
2Mike EvansTB
3Brandin CooksNO
4Odell BeckhamNYG
5Kelvin BenjaminCAR
6Marqise LeeJAC
7Jordan MatthewsPHI
8Davante AdamsGB
9Martavis BryantPIT
10Jarvis LandryMIA
Mike Chiari's Rankings

Sleeper to Watch: Kelvin Benjamin 

Both Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans were top-10 selections in the 2014 NFL draft, and they figure to be immediate starters this season. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, neither player will come at a discounted price. One possible rookie starter who will, though, is Carolina Panthers first-round selection Kelvin Benjamin.

Carolina was roundly criticized for taking Benjamin with USC's Marqise Lee still on the board, but it is easy to see why the Panthers brass viewed Benjamin as an ideal target for quarterback Cam Newton. At 6'5" and 240 pounds, Benjamin is built like a tight end, so he should be a force in the red zone, at the very least.

Benjamin reeled in 15 touchdowns for the national-champion Florida State Seminoles in 2013, so he knows how to find paydirt. Also, the Panthers are remarkably thin at receiver with only Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant possessing ample NFL experience.

That lack of depth leads NFL.com's Michael Fabiano to believe that Benjamin could start right off the bat:

Benjamin is definitely a project guy who needs to improve his route running as well as his ability to create separation. Options are few and far between for Carolina at receiver, though, so he will have to learn on the job.

 

Tight Ends

2014 Rookie TE Fantasy Rankings
RankPlayerTeam
1Jace AmaroNYJ
2Eric EbronDET
3Austin Seferian-JenkinsTB
4C.J. FiedorowiczHOU
5Troy NiklasARI
Mike Chiari's Rankings

Sleeper to Watch: Jace Amaro

Eric Ebron was viewed by most as the consensus top tight end in the 2014 NFL draft, and his draft status reflected that as the Detroit Lions selected him No. 10 overall. Ebron could blossom into a dangerous player for the Lions with quarterback Matthew Stafford throwing him the ball and wide receiver Calvin Johnson attracting most of the defensive attention. Unfortunately for him, he'll have to share playing time with Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria.

Conversely, New York Jets second-round pick Jace Amaro is all but guaranteed a starting job in 2014. Incumbent Jeff Cumberland hasn't proven capable of doing much as a starter, so head coach Rex Ryan would be insane to waste any time by having Amaro sit behind him.

Amaro admittedly played in a gimmicky offense at Texas Tech, but it is impossible to ignore the fact that he set the collegiate receiving yards record for tight ends in 2013, per ESPN's Chris Mortensen:

New York's quarterback situation is unsettled with Geno Smith and Michael Vick vying to start under center, but Amaro figures to be a big-time security blanket for either passer. Don't be surprised if Amaro is a top-15 fantasy tight end as a rookie.

 

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