If your 2014 fantasy football league cohorts were wise enough to postpone the drafting until the preseason was in the bag, you may be intrigued by some of the top rookie performers getting their first taste of in-game professional football.
It's always good to take a look at how some rookies perform under the bright lights of the NFL for the first time, and indeed, these games can unearth players of potential value for fantasy football owners.
These players should always be treated as deep sleepers, especially if they are at the wide receiver or tight end positions, where it takes time for some nascent pros to get accustomed to complex route trees, blocking schemes (tight ends) and NFL life in general.
It may not be worth the risk for some folks, but there are few feelings sweeter than nabbing the guy who surprises everyone right out of the gate (especially if you're in a keeper league).
Here are three rookies who warrant a draft selection based on their exemplary exhibition performances.
Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints
ADP: 71st, 6.11 (average round)
Brandin Cooks made mincemeat out of college cornerbacks as a member of the Oregon State Beavers, and it looks like he won't have any trouble wreaking havoc downfield as a member of the New Orleans Saints' pass-happy attack.
Rivals.com's Mike Farrell noted that Cooks looked like a slot receiver extraordinaire in preseason:
Cooks has totaled six catches for 71 yards and a touchdown in two games of preseason action. He dressed up for Week 3 but didn't play after battling a stomach virus and missing some practice that week, per Katherine Terrell of The Times-Picayune.
He doesn't need a Week 4 showing to prove that he belongs; his crisp route running and game-breaking speed have been on full display in this preseason. Cooks is the type of player who can make one big catch, run it into the end zone and provide a fantasy football owner with a handful of points in an instant.
ESPN producer Ben Fennell hopes to see him open downfield often this season:
With an elite quarterback in Drew Brees looking for him this season, Cooks is a must-have rookie in any fantasy league.
Andre Williams, RB, New York Giants
ADP: 109th, 9.10
Andre Williams valiantly battled for the Giants' No. 1 running back job, but Rashad Jennings has outclassed the rookie out of Boston College for much of this preseason.
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However, Williams has shown that he is worth getting onto the gridiron in some fashion, which leaves his fate in the hands of head coach Tom Coughlin.
He's also thrown down the gauntlet and declared his current employer the "real New York team," per George Willis of the New York Post. Bold words from a rookie running back, but if he can back up his statements with his play, few fantasy football owners (Jets fans notwithstanding) will be complaining.
"This is my first year and I’m not too sure about what’s going on with the rivalry thing,” Williams said, per Willis. “But there’s definitely a different feeling this week than last week. I’m just trying to buy into it.”
It's clear Williams is working hard to get mentally fired up for what could be an exciting year in the league for him.
With more and more teams utilizing a backfield-by-committee approach, Williams could be a great late-round pick in 12-man leagues and is definitely a handcuff pick should Jennings go down with an injury. Everyone knows he can carry the football; the only question is how often he will get those chances when the games actually count.
Bishop Sankey, RB, Tennessee Titans
ADP: 50th, 5.01
Bishop Sankey has a quick burst to go along with some real NFL-caliber toughness. It's allowed him to rack up 112 yards on 22 carries (5.1 average) and a touchdown in three preseason games.
Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller sees him as an impact rookie running back:
Sankey has been used heavily at Washington, but he has immediate NFL impact talent. He could stand to improve as a receiver, blocker and when using his vision to make big plays on the edge, but he could easily be the best Year 1 back of this class.
One pockmark in Sankey's game is apparently his inability to complete clean handoff exchanges with the quarterback, according to The Tennessean's Jim Wyatt. If anything can quickly kill a running back's fantasy football value, it's a coach yanking him off the field because of a fumbling problem—just ask San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews.
Sankey is getting drafted much higher than he really should be considering the Titans also feature the likes of Dexter McCluster and Shonn Greene. This is a point backed up by Rotoworld's Adam Levitan:
Bishop Sankey is showing improvement, but he has received zero first-team reps this preseason while looking raw. Fifth-round ADP is insane.— Adam Levitan (@adamlevitan) August 25, 2014
Still, the balanced back is definitely worth a look and could produce some big numbers if quarterback Jake Locker makes strides this season and forces defenses to respect the passing attack.
Average draft positions courtesy of FantasyFootballCalculator.com.