2014 Fantasy Football: Rookies Making an Immediate Impact in OTAs
The NFL's organized team activities (OTAs) are no pads and no contact...and a lot of hot air. The lack of real football doesn't stop the hype and hyperbole from flowing, though, as we all get an initial look at this year's rookie class.
Dozens of wide receivers, a handful of running backs, a few quarterbacks and a slew of defensive players are going to make splashes in training camp and the preseason, which is still weeks away. We break down the rookies who are already making an immediate impact in OTAs and are gaining steam in fantasy football minds.
From running back Tre Mason potentially challenging Zac Stacy to start for the St. Louis Rams to Terrance West being a candidate to beat out Cleveland Browns free-agent acquisition Ben Tate, the headlines have been favorable for some rookies right away. This slideshow breaks down fantasy football's most tantalizing first-year newsmakers around rookie minicamps and OTAs.
Running Back Tre Mason, St. Louis Rams
Fantasy owners were skeptical third-round pick Tre Mason would challenge Zac Stacy for playing time right away. I was not.
We understand the love for Stacy. After all, Stacy nearly rushed for 1,000 yards as a fifth-round pick a year ago. But, Mason broke Bo Jackson's single-season rushing record at Auburn. He could be on a whole other level. Mason told AL.com's Mark Inabinett he is not going to be automatically resigned to being Stacy's caddy.
You know, everybody's drafted to make a difference. and I haven't met one person who runs a race trying to lose. I'm there to compete for the starting job, and I hold myself to high standards. ... They want me to be ready as fast as possible. Coach told me he expects me to be ready as fast as possible.
This is exactly the attitude you want Mason to have—albeit not so much if you are a would-be Stacy fantasy owner. Mason's explosive, slashing style complements Stacy's power running, even if the rookie doesn't completely seize the feature back role right away.
"Us playing together, we're going to try to turn that program around," Mason told Inabinett. "I feel like I was overlooked, and now it's time for me to prove why. I feel like I landed in the right spot."
We will see in training camp and the preseason action just how much juice Mason has on the field, because off it, he seems to be in the right mindset to be a fantasy football sleeper and a must-have Stacy handcuff in the middle rounds.
Running Back Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals drafted Giovani Bernard as the first back off the board in 2013 and nearly selected the first back off the board in 2014, LSU's Jeremy Hill, who went one spot after the Tennessee Titans picked Bishop Sankey at No. 54 overall. Clearly, they want to remake their running game.
That is bad news for incumbent starter, plodder BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Hill opened OTAs as the second back behind apparent new starter Bernard, according to the Bengals' official website editor, Geoff Hobson.
The Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Dehner Jr. tweeted the same: "Giovani Bernard ran with the first team and Jeremy Hill the second team. BJGE behind them. #Bengals."
Throw in the fact Green-Ellis is slated to make $2.3 million as a base salary with just $500K in "dead money," according to Spotrac.com, and you can certainly see Hill being the short-yardage and goal-line back behind Bernard.
After OTAs, Hill instantly becomes the handcuff of choice for Bernard, arguably a fantasy second-rounder this summer. If the Bengals truly pound the rock under offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and Green-Ellis stays behind the highly drafted backs, Hill will emerge as a candidate for 10 touchdowns as a rookie.
Bengals training camp is clearly one to watch now.
Running Back Terrance West, Cleveland Browns
We didn't need OTAs for the hype to start on Terrance West of the Cleveland Browns. Former NFL general manager Charley Casserly said on the NFL Network's Path to the Draft he loved the selection of West, per NFL.com's Bryan Fischer.
"This is my favorite player for the round they got him in—2,500 yards last year and a natural in the zone-running scheme that Kyle Shanahan runs. Here's my prediction: This guy is going to beat out Ben Tate to be the starting running back this year."
West has a lot working in his favor, including talent and very little in the way of competition on the Browns depth chart. Heck, undrafted free-agent back Isaiah Crowell is even in the mix to make an impact as a rookie with the Browns. Crowell was Fischer's No. 1-ranked undrafted free agent.
West is undaunted in his bid for playing time right away, particularly since he is coming from small-school competition, telling The Plain Dealer's Tom Reed he doesn't downgrade himself because of the small schools he played against at Towson: "No, it's not a big difference. It's about the same. Football is football ... I feel like I'm getting a good rhythm. I'm getting good feedback from the coaches. So that's what it's all about."
West feels his one-cut style is perfect for offensive coordinator Shanahan's scheme.
"That's where I get my money at," West told Reed. "I was doing that at Towson. I'm pretty good and confident in what we're doing. ...
"It's instinct. That's how I run—one cut and downfield."
West is a confident type who can push the projected starter, free-agent addition Tate, right away—small school or not—telling Reed:
"I started thinking that I would play on the professional level my freshman year in college. I saw that I had the ability. I started as a freshman and performed at an elite level. So that's when it all hit me and told me that I can play on the professional level."
Quarterback Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
We cannot be too running back-oriented in fantasy. After all, this is a passing league. So, the fourth rookie in our slideshow who has made an immediate impact at OTAs is quarterback Derek Carr of the Oakland Raiders.
Insider Albert Breer reported on the NFL Network's NFL Total Access that Carr is showing enough to emerge as a candidate to push veteran Matt Schaub as a starter this season, perhaps right out of training camp. Breer said:
While Matt Schaub has been installed as starter, there is now an internal belief he'll be pushed by rookie Derek Carr, who has displayed the talent and intelligence early on to shed his red shirt and play right away. Schaub will keep taking the first-team's snaps, but Carr's progress bears watching.
Carr won't be a true fantasy draft target right now outside of deep two-quarterback formats, but the fact we could see the Raiders throwing from behind in some lopsided games could make their starter a sleeper in fantasy.
Wide Receiver Paul Richardson, Seattle Seahawks
And we cannot ignore wide receivers either. Rookie wideouts tend to take longer than players at other positions to develop, but this was a very deep draft class at that position—any number of rookies can emerge as viable fantasy options. One under-the-radar guy, Paul Richardson, has shown flashes with the defending champion Seattle Seahawks, who lost Golden Tate to free agency this winter.
The second-rounder out of Colorado is fifth on the Seahawks depth chart behind Percy Harvin, Doug Baldwin, Sidney Rice and Jermaine Kearse, but he has already displayed the speed that made him intriguing to Seattle despite weighing just 175 pounds.
"Paul Richardson can really run: That's not a surprise, but the rookie receiver from Colorado has not disappointed anyone," Blount wrote. "This guy can fly."
The Seahawks figure to be a run-first team, but the play-action pass can certainly leave a burner like Richardson one-on-one deep downfield. Wilson has already proved to be a capable deep-ball thrower, so Richardson might be fifth on the Seahawks depth chart, but he could find his way onto fantasy rosters because of some long touchdowns this season.
Defensive Tackle Timmy Jernigan, Baltimore Ravens
We cannot completely ignore defense, so let's bring up the OTA impact rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan is reportedly making. The Baltimore Ravens beefed up their defense with Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley in Round 1, but they also picked up Jernigan—another projected first-rounder—with their second pick.
Jernigan has worked some with the first team and earned the respect of his teammates right away in OTAs, including offensive guard Kelechi Osemele, who told The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson:
Jernigan, the young guy, he's flashing a lot. He's playing fast, especially for being a young guy, and being thrown in there with the (first-teamers) every now and then, and it being a new system and everything. He's coming along really well. We really need him to contribute this year, and I think he has the ability to do that.
Left tackle Eugene Monroe was equally effusive in his initial praise to Wilson:
"That kid is really quick-twitch, really explosive and strong. When they introduced all of the rookies in our first meeting, they put on a clip of him, and he just bench-pressed a guy, threw him off and made a tackle. Hopefully, we can get a lot of that out of him."
The Ravens are a historically defensive-minded team, so they will get picked as a defensive/special teams unit in fantasy leagues, but they are currently slated to be a late-round selection. FantasyPros' consensus analyst rankings list the Ravens 10th right now.
If Mosley and Jernigan are as good as advertised as immediate rookie starters, you are going to get a lot of value waiting to pick the Ravens until the latter rounds in fantasy drafts.
Wide Receiver Odell Beckham, New York Giants
New York Giants first-round wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. hasn't been 100 percent in OTAs, dealing with a hamstring injury, according to The Star-Ledger's Conor Orr. That hasn't stopped the praise from flowing his way in his early days as a Giant.
Incoming free-agent running back Rashad Jennings spoke to Bleacher Report's Adam Lefkoe in the video above this week, finishing with praise of the rookie wide receiver out of LSU.
"He's got huge hands, strong hands, fast," Jennings said. "He's got flashes like DeSean Jackson-type of player. We're excited to have him aboard."
With the Giants going with three-wide receiver sets in new offensive coordinator's Ben McAdoo's West Coast system often in OTAs, according to Jordan Raanan of NJ.com, Beckham won't even have to start over Rueben Randle or Victor Cruz to make an impact with Eli Manning and the Giants as a rookie. As Raanan reported:
They're installing a spread-'em-out offense that includes three wide receivers on almost every play. They ran a ton of screen passes (most unsuccessfully), quick-timing horizontal pass patterns and three-step drops. It appeared dissimilar to (Tom) Coughlin and former coordinator Kevin Gilbride's vertical attack.
You shouldn't worry too much about Beckham's hamstring issues holding him back in the competition for targets in camp. He has played through them before.
"Coming from a track background, you get these little hammy (issues), it's something that I've dealt with," Beckham told Orr. "I've played in games with it."
Beckham will get picked in the late rounds of drafts on talent alone. He could be an 800-yard, five-plus-touchdown receiver—basically a bye-week replacement—right away as a rookie. Just watch his daily troubles with leg issues in camp.
Quarterback Tom Savage, Houston Texans
And we will finish up with a rookie quarterback, Tom Savage, albeit less on merit of his OTA accomplishments. His inclusion here is related to the comments of head coach Bill O'Brien about the state of the quarterback competition around the fourth-rounder out of Pittsburgh.
Savage is in the mix to start for the quarterback-needy Texans this summer, but that is more of an indictment on projected veteran starter Ryan Fitzpatrick and incumbent backups T.J. Yates and Case Keenum. Savage is currently fourth on the depth chart if one existed right now, according to the Houston Chronicle's Brian T. Smith.
Smith reports the Texans might go with just three quarterbacks in training camp, something that would push the strong-armed Savage closer to starting without having to do a thing to impress. The Texans don't want too many quarterbacks taking snaps in training camp, as O'Brien told Smith:
"Any time you have four ... I don't think it’s easy to divide the reps. I think you can really get three guys reps in practice, which is basically what we've been doing. I know that's probably not the easiest thing for those guys. But three out of four have been getting reps."
Savage is a long shot to start, much less impact fantasy football, but you shouldn't feel good about the prospects of Yates or Keenum at this point. One of them could be on the street with you and me soon. Savage at least has the best physical tools of the Texans' ragtag bunch and could emerge down the stretch of the fantasy season as the Texans' starter.
Watch him in training camp along with the rest of the potential early impact rookies featured in this slideshow.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, was the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this past season. He is now an NFL featured writer here. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.
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