No matter which way it is sliced, NFL rookies are a roll of the dice.
In fantasy football, that dice is more often than not loaded against the owner.
Rookie wideouts may bust outright or be ignored in favor of veterans. Backs may get downright outplayed at a very replaceable position. Quarterbacks struggle no matter what. A tight end's usage can be impossible to predict as the league continues to tinker with the position.
In short, no rookie is a safe bet. The best thing owners can do, in any league really, is gamble on upside based on the player's skill and the aspects of the situation around him.
With this criteria as a defining factor, let's gander at three rookies who have been mostly swept under the rug but are certainly worth an investment.
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants
This year's rookie wideout class might just be the most unpredictable in a decade or more.
Whether it's a downright awful quarterback situation or questions about overall talent and ability to even catch the football at a decent clip, most should be ignored.
With one exception—Odell Beckham Jr. out of LSU.
There's no quarterback problem in New York, as Eli Manning is one of the best when it comes to spreading the wealth. Yes, he threw the most interceptions a season ago, but his struggles were more a direct result of the implosion in front of him.
As far as Beckham goes, he's got great speed (4.43 40-yard dash at the combine), sure hands and a scrappy persona that at 5'11" and 198 pounds makes him a threat on every down. Add in a prowess on kick returns and the versatility to line up in any spot and he's a complete package right off the bat.
Even better, the coaching staff in New York sounds as if it will run with three wideouts at all times next season in Ben McAdoo's West Coast system, meaning Beckham won't have to beat out someone like Victor Cruz for playing time.
Jordan Raanan of NJ.com has the scoop:
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.
Beckham is going to be used to take the top off defenses by going deep, but he'll also get the ball in space with blockers out in front on screen passes—a rather potent emulation of those kick returns he excels at.
Really, the only issue is his health at this point in time, but apparent preseason issues don't sound like they'll bleed into the regular season.
Jace Amaro, TE, New York Jets
It's easy to scoff at any and all members of the New York Jets in terms of fantasy value, but if there is one to take a gamble on, it's rookie tight end Jace Amaro.
Amaro has a rather difficult learning curve to conquer as Texas Tech's system was rather simple, especially in comparison to the Jets' West Coast scheme.
That said, it's hard to downright dismiss him on that reason alone.
As the Jets look to do more to protect sophomore quarterback Geno Smith, there will surely be plenty of two-tight end sets next year, and it's not like Amaro can't beat out Jeff Cumberland—he of 26 catches for 389 yards and four scores last season—outright for the starting gig.
This is especially the case when one takes into account Amaro' jaw-dropping athleticism at 6'5" and 265 pounds:
|Jace Amaro - 2014 NFL Combine Results|
|40-Yd. Dash||Bench Press||Vertical Jump||Broad Jump||20-Yd. Shuttle|
|4.74 sec.||28 reps||33.0 inch||118.0 inch||4.30 sec.|
Tight end coach Steve Hagen has showered praise on Amaro since OTAs, where he was allowed to show off his alarming versatility, as captured by Darryl Slater of NJ.com:
He’s lined up flexed out, hand down, out by himself (on the) single-receiver side, on the three-receiver side, on the two-receiver side. We use him everywhere we can use him. So we have asked him to do a lot, and we expect him to do a lot. He’s asking that of himself, and he’s delivering, too. It’s been fun to watch him.
The No. 49 pick in the 2014 class at first glance seems to have an uphill battle in terms of the mental side of things, but pair his athleticism and the dire state of the set of weapons Smith has to work with, and it appears Amaro is headed for an impressive rookie output worth betting on sooner than most would expect in drafts.
Terrance West, RB, Cleveland Browns
The competition at running back in Cleveland is not all it is cracked up to be on multiple levels.
Really, the battle between third-round pick Terrance West and career-backup to Arian Foster, Ben Tate, is a bit null and void because the Browns plan on running it so much next season.
That said, West getting the starting nod is not all that hard to fathom, even if Tate was one of the crown jewels of Cleveland's free-agency class. Vic Carucci of the Browns' website provides some justification:
West hardly looks as if he’ll have any issues making the transition from a small school, Towson, to the NFL. In fact, it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if he ends up winning the starting job or at least getting a significant number of carries in what is expected to be a run-oriented offense. He’ s more of a glider than a runner, showing remarkable nimbleness despite his powerful, 5-foot-9, 225-pound frame. West seems like a natural in the Browns’ outside-zone-blocking scheme.
Zone-blocking schemes have a tendency to produce gaudy numbers from any and all types of backs. West will be no exception to the rule, especially based on his collegiate film.
Also remember that Tate is strictly known for not being able to withstand the stress of pro football from a physical standpoint. In just three years he has already missed eight games and has yet to breach the 200-carry mark—a number 22 backs surpassed a season ago.
To suggest Tate will remain healthy for a starter's load, and one that figures to be perhaps the heaviest in the league, is a bigger gamble than that of West himself when it comes to fantasy drafts.
Simply put, West is guaranteed solid playing time, with a bonus for weeks as a starter. Remember, in fantasy, volume equals production.