Everyone in your fantasy football league knows about the players who have come through year after year, so the best way to get an advantage is to draft the rookies before they break out in the NFL.
Last season, Eddie Lacy became the No. 6 running back in standard scoring leagues, though, he was selected in the middle rounds. Few people trusted the rookie despite his obvious skill.
Additionally, fellow rookies like Keenan Allen, Le'Veon Bell and others also came through for fantasy teams throughout the season.
This year's class also has a number of talented skill players capable of coming through right away. While the production depends a lot on the situation, these young competitors should be taken early in fantasy drafts.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills
There might not be a more talented player in the entire 2014 class than Sammy Watkins. The receiver has the size, speed and strength to be a game-changer once he gets the ball in his hands with the ability to score from anywhere on the field.
He also showcased his hands earlier in training camp, as captured by Sal Capaccio of WGR550 Buffalo:
Pat Kirwan of CBS Sports believes Watkins can put up some big numbers this season:
The Bills do not have the best passing attack in the league, ranking just 28th in 2013. However, EJ Manuel should take a step forward in his second year, and Watkins will immediately be his go-to target.
As long as the coaching staff knows how to get him the ball, this receiver will have a huge year.
Bishop Sankey, RB, Tennessee Titans
There are a number of quality rookie running backs this year, but most of them will have a hard time moving up the depth chart. Carlos Hyde will have to share carries with Frank Gore, Marcus Lattimore and LaMichael James, while Terrance West and Tre Mason will have to find their way past Ben Tate and Zac Stacy, respectively.
On the other hand, Bishop Sankey sits only behind Shonn Greene on the depth chart in Tennessee. The former New York Jets running back managed just 295 rushing yards last season on just 3.8 yards per carry through 11 games.
Although he had two 1,000-yard seasons in the past, Greene has never shown the ability to be a dynamic rusher at this level.
As a result, Sankey has the opportunity to take over the starting spot before long. Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean explained on ChicagoLand Sports Radio that this could happen quickly:
Even if he does not become a starter right away, Sankey will get enough carries to show the coaching staff what he can do. The former Washington star has a good combination of strength and agility to break tackles and pick up big chunks of yards every time out.
This combination of ability and opportunity are what make the second-round pick such a quality fantasy option.
Jace Amaro, TE, New York Jets
Whether Michael Vick or Geno Smith starts at quarterback for the New York Jets, they will need somewhere to throw the ball. Eric Decker was a big free-agent signing, but there are not too many other options in the lineup.
Jace Amaro could be the next target in the passing game after being selected in the second round. The 6'5" tight end has great hands and was one of the most productive players in college football last season at any position. He finished with 106 catches and 1,352 receiving yards as he showed the ability to make plays all over the field.
There are some concerns about his struggles early in training camp, but he does not believe this will be a long-term problem. He explained to Brian Costello of the New York Post:
I have big expectations for myself. I know what I can do. I’m making a lot of things a lot more difficult than what they really should be because I’m not completely comfortable yet with this entire organization from the playbook and knowing how the coaches coach. It took me a little while to get [Texas Tech coach Kliff] Kingsbury’s offense down and once I did, I felt like I really took off. We’ll see if it can play the same situation.
Once he learns the playbook, Amaro should be able to make a big contribution for an improving offense. He could be a safety net for either Vick or Smith and be a go-to target in the red zone thanks to his size. If you have a chance to make a late draft pick on a backup tight end, Amaro has plenty of upside.
Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints
After Watkins, there is some debate as to who is the next-best rookie wide receiver. Odell Beckham Jr. can be a playmaker, but he will likely be the third target on the New York Giants. Mike Evans should be the No. 2 option for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the passing attack will not likely support multiple receivers.
On the other hand, Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints have produced numerous fantasy stars from the wide receiver position. With Marques Colston seeing his production drop last season, the team will need someone else to step up alongside Jimmy Graham.
Brandin Cooks can be that player thanks to his game-changing speed. The first-round pick has already impressed in training camp and is clearly becoming a bigger part of the offense. Sean Payton explained to ESPN's Mike Triplett:
He’s explosive and a guy that if you can get the ball to him in space, he has a chance to give you some run after the catch. And he did that. You’ve just got to keep working with him on a lot of the nuances and specifics with the passing game. It was good to see him make a few plays.
Robert Meachem and Kenny Stills will still take away targets, but Cooks is good enough that the coaching staff will find ways to get him the ball. This could turn into a lot of yards and touchdowns this season.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland Browns
There are no rookie quarterbacks you want to trust as your top option this season. Unlike past years, none of them are guaranteed a starting spot in Week 1, which certainly hurts the chances of being productive right away.
However, Johnny Manziel is getting closer to becoming the starter in Cleveland. Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer points out the quarterback has been getting first-team reps:
Bleacher Report's Jason Cole believes the former Heisman winner can start Week 1 by default:
As soon as he sees the field, Manziel could end up being a star in fantasy football. While he makes mistakes and can be overaggressive, he knows how to rack up yards with his arm and his legs, which will get him a lot of points for fantasy owners.
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