Gambling on a rookie can be the difference between a finish in the playoffs and a finish at the bottom of your division in fantasy football.
It's difficult to trust rookies. All fantasy owners have the same questions regarding first-time pros—should I trust a rookie with high potential in a prominent role on my fantasy team? The answer is yes, but it depends on the rookie.
Not all rookies are created equal. While the ones with the highest potential might be the ones the lesser-informed owner targets on draft day, it's the rookies in favorable situations that need to be scooped up.
Guys in the running for big-time touches are the ones you need to target on draft day. They're the ones that will complement your early-round stars and win you a title.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers have a very weak unit of wideouts. Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood are the top veteran names on the field for quarterback Cam Newton, but the guy who might leap to the top of the pack is rookie Kelvin Benjamin.
The Florida State product will be a rock for Newton in 2014. The big pass-catcher (6'5", 243 lbs) gives Newton a big target on third downs and in the red zone. Yahoo Sports' Greg Cosell highlighted why Benjamin (along with Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie Mike Evans) will be successful at the next level:
The two biggest receivers in this draft most commonly discussed are Mike Evans (Texas A&M) and Kelvin Benjamin (Florida State). At the NFL scouting combine in late February, Evans' measurables were 6-4 7/8 and 231 pounds; Benjamin was 6-5, 240. Each presents physical matchup problems for almost all NFL corners solely due to their big bodies (Richard Sherman is the exception, and he's only 6-3, 195). Their sheer mass allows them to shield defenders, putting them in advantageous position to catch the ball, even if they have not created any meaningful distance from the corner. Separation is not the defining characteristic needed for them to be dangerous receiving threats. What throw has become such a critical part of the NFL game?: the back shoulder fade. The back shoulder throw is almost impossible to defend against big, physical wideouts like Evans and Benjamin; corners cannot defend two routes, and they must play the deep ball first, so a well-executed back shoulder throw to a big-bodied wide receiver is a tactical nightmare for even the best of corners.
If Newton and Benjamin can establish chemistry and iron out the back-shoulder fade during training camp and the preseason, Benjamin will establish himself as a reliable asset in fantasy.
All rookies go through learning curves, and Benjamin's will be no different. He'll have to focus on limiting drops and running crisp routes, but his size and physicality aid him in masking some deficiencies in the finesse areas of being a receiver.
Benjamin is a candidate for double-digit touchdowns and at least 700 receiving yards this year. That's production that would make him a third wide receiver on most fantasy teams.
Bishop Sankey, RB, Tennessee Titans
Counting on a rookie running back as a member of your Week 1 lineup can be risky business. There are benefits, however.
For one, taking a rookie later on in the middle of the draft allows owners to capitalize on more established talent earlier on. It can obviously backfire, though, as a rookie back that doesn't produce now clogs the roster. It also prevents owners from grabbing another established runner.
The risk is still there for Bishop Sankey, the first running back taken in the 2014 NFL draft, but the situation in Tennessee Titans should prime him for success.
Sankey really has no competition on the roster. Shonn Greene has virtually no upside and shouldn't take too many carries away from Sankey. Even if the Titans choose to run the ball a ton, Greene's carries won't impede Sankey's production.
Replacing Chris Johnson is no easy task. The former Titans star was a staple in both the running and passing game. Sankey represents a new era for Tennessee, though, and he should begin his career as a starter well behind this offensive line.
Sankey is a rookie surrounded by high expectations. ESPN's Kyle Bonagura provided early Rookie of the Year odds:
Assuming he gets 200 carries, that should net him the requisite amount of yards to work as a second running back on most teams. Be sure to handcuff him with another back, but that other back might end up being trade bait later on.
Sankey is for real.
Jace Amaro, TE, New York Jets
Jace Amaro has the chops to be the next great tight end in the NFL.
The Texas Tech product posted flashy numbers during his collegiate career, leading to the New York Jets investing a second-round pick on him. While rookie tight ends don't always produce at a high rate, Amaro might be different, reports Marcas Grant of NFL.com:
The Jets drafted Jace Amaro, hoping that the tight end could be a playmaker akin to Vernon Davis. So far the former Texas Tech standout seems excited about filling that role, saying he wants to 'be the tight end that catches 100 balls a year.' While that could be ambitious, New York’s coaching staff seems to be doing all it can to help the rookie reach his goals. According to head coach Rex Ryan, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is looking to feature Amaro in the offense.
Featuring him in an offense that will likely be led by Geno Smith is a good mix for the rookie. Smith struggled during his rookie campaign, mostly because of a lack of weapons. Inconsistencies in his receiving corps led him to press at times, causing overthrows and poor decision-making.
Now with more weapons at his disposal, Smith can relax and continue his progression.
Amaro will be one of the biggest beneficiaries. While 100 catches might be out of the question, 70 catches and eight or so touchdowns is realistic. That would place him just outside the top five or six tight ends in fantasy.
Don't be afraid to invest a pick on him on draft day.
Follow Kenny DeJohn on Twitter: @KennyDeJohn_BR