Projecting the Top 10 Fantasy Football Rookies for 2014 Season

Jeremy Dawson@JDawson_NFLContributor IIIJune 8, 2014

Projecting the Top 10 Fantasy Football Rookies for 2014 Season

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    The key to winning fantasy football is not drafting the biggest names; it’s drafting the names no one yet knows but soon will.

    Any numskull can pick Peyton Manning or Adrian Peterson with his first pick in a draft, but it takes a bit more to select rookie running back Zac Stacy in the last round.

    Based on ESPN’s standard scoring, rookies were major contributors to fantasy football in 2013.

    For running back rankings based on total points scored, Eddie Lacy was No. 6, Le’Veon Bell was No. 15, Zac Stacy was No. 17, and Giovanni Bernard was No. 18.

    For wide receivers, Keenan Allen was No. 17, Kendall Wright was No. 31, and Cordarrelle Patterson was No. 32.

    For tight ends, Timothy Wright was No. 15, Jordan Reed was No. 20, and Zach Ertz was No. 21.

    These are the players who make the difference in fantasy football. Every team will have a couple of star players, but the young guys you have filling the rest of your roster can put your team above the rest.

    The 2014 NFL draft class has some big-time playmakers and a lot of potential. Unlike 2013, there are a few quarterbacks who could make big fantasy impacts in their first years. There are, however, fewer running backs who will likely be getting big playing time.

    Overall, it seems that wide receiver will be the position with the biggest fantasy impact this year.

    Now, let’s get into who the top 10 rookies will be for fantasy football in 2014.

10. Devonta Freeman, Running Back, Atlanta Falcons

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    College Production

    Devonta Freeman helped lead the Florida State Seminoles to a national championship victory over Auburn. In that game, he rushed for 73 yards and a touchdown while maintaining a 6.6 yards-per-carry rushing average. He also added three receptions for 21 yards.

    In 2013, Freeman became the first 1,000-yard rusher at Florida State since Warrick Dunn in 1996. He also scored 14 touchdowns last season.


    NFL Outlook

    Devonta Freeman is a tough football player who plays the game with a lot of tenacity.

    He is not the most athletic player and is relatively small at 5’8” and 206 pounds. This doesn’t stop him from producing, though, because he is a tough runner who can display good burst and follows his blockers very well.

    The biggest reason why he could make a big fantasy impact this year is because of the team he has been drafted by.

    The Atlanta Falcons had a tough time running the ball in 2013, and their top running back is Steven Jackson, who will be 31 by the time the season begins and already has a lot of tread on his tires.

    Freeman will be a situational back to start off, but we could see that role gradually increase as the season progresses.

9. Blake Bortles, Quarterback, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    College Production

    Blake Bortles had a good college career at UCF. Bortles helped UCF go from a five-win team his freshman year to a 12-win team his final year. His final game was against Baylor in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Bortles was responsible for four touchdowns in the 52-42 victory that day and won MVP of the game.

    Last season, Bortles threw for 3,581 yards and 25 touchdowns with only nine interceptions. He did that while maintaining a 67.8 completion percentage.


    NFL Outlook

    Bortles' numbers weren’t the best in college, but his game may translate to the NFL better than that of anyone else. At 6’5” and weighing over 230 pounds, Blake Bortles draws comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger.

    He has good touch on his ball and has tremendous pocket presence. He handles himself well and should be able to translate well to the next level.

    Bortles' production and size made him the top quarterback drafted, but unfortunately he was drafted by a team with a lot of problems in the Jacksonville Jaguars.

    He has the talent to be a solid weapon in fantasy football leagues. The question is not if Borltes is good enough but rather if the weapons he has to throw to will be good enough.

8. Kelvin Benjamin, Wide Receiver, Carolina Panthers

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    College Production

    Kelvin Benjamin scored the go-ahead touchdown in the BCS National Championship for Florida State in its victory over Auburn. Benjamin’s size made him a great target for Jameis Winston.

    He accumulated 1,011 yards during his last season to go along with 15 touchdowns. Benjamin had some of the best numbers in the country last season, and he pulled it off with only 57 receptions. This shows that he is not a high-volume reception guy, but he can be a huge playmaker.


    NFL Outlook

    Benjamin is one of the top red-zone targets of this class, which should mean a lot of touchdowns.

    With the Carolina Panthers losing both Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell this off season, it is evident that Kelvin Benjamin was drafted in the first round to be the Carolina Panthers' top receiver.

    For Benjamin, it will be all risk-reward. The ceiling for his talent is very high, but the floor is very low.

7. Brandin Cooks, Wide Receiver, New Orleans Saints

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    College Production

    There was no better wide receiver in the NCAA in 2013 than Brandin Cooks. He racked up 128 receptions, 1,730 yards and 18 total touchdowns.

    After leading all of college football in receiving yards last season, Cooks took home the prestigious Baletnikoff Award, awarded to the best receiver in the country. The two other finalists for the award were Clemson’s Sammy Watkins and Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, both of whom were taken in the top seven picks of the 2014 NFL draft.

    This was the second year in a row that Cooks amassed 1,000 receiving yards, but his total in catches nearly doubled, and his receiving touchdowns increased by 11.

    On top of his great receiving stats, Cooks rushed for another 217 yards on under 40 attempts and scored two rushing touchdowns.


    NFL Outlook

    Brandin Cooks is a player who will come in and make an immediate impact.

    With the New Orleans Saints not having a legitimate top wide receiver, the team will look toward Cooks to become that, and he has all of the ability to do so.

    Cooks is a good route-runner, and with running the fastest 40-yard dash of all receivers at the NFL combine this year, it is safe to assume that Cooks will be able to gain separation often.

    If the Saints waste no time, there is endless upside to Cooks in fantasy football this season. The one hurdle for him in leagues will be becoming Drew Brees’ go-to receiver over the likes of veteran Marques Colston and Kenny Stills.

6. Johnny Manziel, Quarterback, Cleveland Browns

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    College Production

    Johnny Manziel’s college production was literally as good as it gets.

    He only played two seasons with the Aggies, but after redshirting in 2011, Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy in NCAA history in 2012.

    That same season, Manziel became the first player to gain 5,000 total yards with over 1,000 rushing yards in NCAA history. He has thrown for 300 yards while rushing for 100 in a single game more times than anyone ever as well.

    Last year, Manziel was again a Heisman finalist. He finished in the top 10 in completion percentage, passing yards, passing touchdowns and passing efficiency.

    In his college career, Manziel averaged, per season, 3,910 passing yard, 31.5 passing touchdowns, 1,084.5 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns.


    NFL Outlook

    Manziel is the biggest fantasy wild card this season. He has unmatched raw talent but is such an unorthodox player that no one can be sure how he will transition to professional football.

    Another big issue is that he has not been named the starter of the Cleveland Browns just yet. The team drafted him in the first round, so you would think by the time Week 1 comes around, he will be the starter.

    With a dual-threat quarterback like Manziel, we can expect solid fantasy numbers out of the gate.

5. Eric Ebron, Tight End, Detroit Lions

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    College Production

    Eric Ebron was a huge playmaker at North Carolina last season. He finished second out of all tight ends in both receptions and receiving yards.

    In his college career, Ebron averaged 16.1 yards per reception, showing just how well he can stretch the field.

    Ebron fully displayed his abilities against the Miami Hurricanes. Ebron caught eight passes for 199 yards, including one catch that he brought 71 yards for a touchdown.


    NFL Outlook

    At 6'4", 245 pounds, Ebron is the ideal mold for a top receiving tight end in the NFL.

    He instantly becomes one of the most athletic tight ends in the league, and this will translate big time in fantasy.

    Being drafted by the Detroit Lions with the No. 10 pick in the draft helps his fantasy stock as well because you can presume that he will be used early and often. The Lions' biggest weapons are Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson, so this will leave a lot of room for Ebron to work in between.

    Ebron has the potential to be a top-five fantasy tight end in 2014.

4. Mike Evans, Wide Receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    College Production

    As much credit as Johnny Manziel receives for his accomplishments at Texas A&M, a lot of that needs to be given to his best weapon, Mike Evans.

    In his two seasons with A&M and Manziel, Evans averaged over 75 receptions per season. In 2013, Evans was one of the most productive receivers in the country with 1,394 yards and over 20 yards per reception.


    NFL Outlook

    With Evans entering the league on the same team as Vincent Jackson, it is likely that Evans will be matched against a lot of No. 2 cornerbacks. Because of this, we can expect a lot out of Evans in fantasy this season.

    He, much like Jackson, is a massive player with an incredible catch radius. He needs a bit of work on his route running, but when you are as athletic as Evans, you can get by without it.

    The Buccaneers' new quarterback is Josh McCown, who displayed last year that he can deliver big games to his receivers. When McCown started for the Bears in 2013, Brandon Marshall averaged 6.2 receptions, 82.2 yards and 0.4 touchdowns per game. Alshon Jeffery averaged 6.6 receptions, 103.6 yards and .8 touchdowns per game.

    If McCown can find similar success with Jackson and Evans, it could be a big fantasy year for all three of those players.

3. Sammy Watkins, Wide Receiver, Buffalo Bills

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    College Production

    Sammy Watkins' freshman year at Clemson was one for the ages. With over 1,200 receiving yards and 13 total touchdowns, Watkins instantly became a name to watch for NFL scouts.

    His final year at Clemson was even better. He capped off his college career with 101 receptions for 1,464 yards and another 12 touchdowns.

    Watkins solidified his place as the nation’s top wide receiver during his last game against Ohio State in the Orange Bowl. Watkins had 16 catches that day for 227 yards, both stats being school and Orange Bowl records. On top of that, Watkins had two touchdowns and helped lead the Clemson Tigers to a 40-35 victory.


    NFL Outlook

    The Buffalo Bills traded up to draft Sammy Watkins No. 4 overall in the NFL draft. Not long after, the team traded away its longtime No. 1 receiver Stevie Johnson. This move will put Sammy Watkins in the spotlight as the clear No. 1 receiver in Buffalo now.

    Sammy Watkins is as explosive as they come, and if he and EJ Manuel can flourish together, there will be no stopping the combination.

    Watkins will be one of the early favorites to get rookie of the year, as all eyes will be on him. He may very well get fantasy rookie of the year honors as well, as you can expect a big year from him. If he reaches his potential early, Watkins could be a top-10 fantasy wide receiver in 2014.

2. Teddy Bridgewater, Quarterback, Minnesota Vikings

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    College Production

    Teddy Bridgewater had a phenomenal college career. He gradually improved in just about every important statistic.

    Bridgewater finished last season second in the country with a completion percentage of 71.0. The only person who threw more accurately also threw less than half as much as Bridgewater, so it is safe to say that Bridgewater was the most accurate passer in the country. He finished 12th in touchdown passes with 31 and amazingly only threw four interceptions.

    One of Bridgewater’s best performances came in his final game. It was the Russell Athletic Bowl against the Miami Hurricanes, and Bridgewater was nearly perfect.

    Bridgewater threw for 35 completions, 447 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions, and he held a 77.8 completion percentage. On top of that, he rushed for one touchdown and defeated Miami 36-9.


    NFL Outlook

    Things worked out great for Teddy Bridgewater in the NFL draft. At first, it looked as though he was going to fall out of the first round until the Minnesota Vikings traded into the end of the first round to select him.

    Minnesota is about as good of a situation as any rookie quarterback could ask for. The team is coming off a bad season after making it to the playoffs the year prior, so it is evident that it still has talent.

    Bridgewater has a good offensive line, arguably the best running back in football in Adrian Peterson, a great veteran receiver in Gregg Jennings, a standout second-year receiver in Cordarrelle Patterson and a solid tight end in Kyle Rudolph.

    Everything is in place for Teddy Bridgewater to have a great fantasy football season, and he has the talent to do it. Bridgewater will be available late in drafts and could end up being the best pick you make all year.

1. Bishop Sankey, Running Back, Tennessee Titans

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    College Production

    Bishop Sankey is one of the best running backs to ever come out of the University of Washington.

    He holds the school records in single-season rushing yards with 1,870 his final season, career rushing touchdowns with 37, career 200-yard games with four and numerous others.

    Sankey had the fourth-most yards of any running back in the country in 2013 and had 20 touchdowns to go with it. In fact, there was not a single game in the 2013 season where Sankey did not find the end zone. That includes two touchdowns in his bowl game against Brigham Young.


    NFL Outlook

    Bishop Sankey basically won the NFL running back draft lottery.

    I don’t mean that just because he was the first running back selected but rather because of the team that selected him.

    The Tennessee Titans were essentially the only team in the NFL who clearly still needed a starting running back after the loss of Chris Johnson.

    After Sankey was selected, two of the next three picks in the draft were running backs as well. They went to the San Francisco 49ers and the Cincinnati Bengals, both of which already have clear-cut starters at the position.

    Sankey is not the most talented rookie, but his situation is the best for him to get the most out of his rookie season.

    With running back being the most difficult position on a roster to fill, Sankey should be on all fantasy owners’ minds during their drafts.