Digging Deep: Emerging Fantasy Football Rookies with Upside

Eric ThomasContributor ISeptember 2, 2009

CHARLOTTE, NC - AUGUST 29: Running back Mike Goodson #33 of the Carolina Panthers rushes against the Baltimore Ravens during their preseason game at Bank of America Stadium on August 29, 2009 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Digging Deep…

To me, fantasy football is much like a stock or commodities market, with players constantly losing or gaining value.  The most volatile and unpredictable of these commodities are the young, unproven and unknown chaps in the first three years of their careers, especially those green rookies still trying to wipe the sleep from their tired varsity eyes. But these players still possess the greatest fantasy factor -upside. Where is the next Marques Colston, Priest Holmes, or Kurt Warner – players who rose from obscurity to greatness?

Because I choose to scrutinize these talents as stocks or commodities within a market, I will discuss concepts most relevant to dynasty leaguers, as sometimes these players might not emerge statistically right away.  However, I hope this column may serve dynasty, keeper and redraft leaguers alike by examining promising players coming on strong and giving themselves potential to make a fantasy impact or to increase their value after being acquired for penny-stock prices.

Today, I’ll focus strictly on rookies. I am going to use a recently-completed 36-pick (three rounds, 12 teams) rookie draft from one of my leagues as a reference point, eliminating everyone drafted.  So, even if you’ve already had your draft - depending on the size of your league - most or many of these players may still be available.  We’ll cover five this week and I’ll throw you five more next week in no particular order.  I hope this keeps you fantasy addicts satisfied for the time being.

Running Backs:

  • Mike Goodson, Carolina Panthers – Wow. I can’t believe this guy was sitting there.  When you read “reminds me of Reggie Bush,” this is a positive no matter what you think of Bush’s career production. Remember, we are talking talent, opportunity, and cheap investments!  You would have needed the first pick in a rookie-draft to nail Reggie a couple years back.  Goodson might be had for nothing.  I made a play to get Jonathan Stewart in a dynasty league this offseason, and have a DeAngelo Williams/Stewart combo in a four-player keeper league.  I picked up Goodson in the dynasty and am still considering him in the keeper because 1) Stewart hasn’t been on the field in two weeks and nagging injuries continue to be a concern, 2) Goodson has talent and may be the best pass-catching RB on the team (even when Stewart returns) and 3) Carolina was third in the league in rushing yards last year and No. 1 in rushing scores with 30! 
  • Javon Ringer, Tennessee Titans – Thought to be a first-day if not a first-round pick a year ago, Ringer slipped to the end of the fifth round in this year’s NFL draft.  At first glance, what appears to be an unlucky landing spot on a team with Chris Johnson and LenDale White might not be so bad after all.  White will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year and the call here is he doesn’t re-sign with Tennessee.  This leaves Ringer to share with Johnson in what still projects to be a run-first offense for the foreseeable future. A Johnson injury this year sends him to front of the line on waivers.  Tennessee was No. 2 in rushing TDs and seventh in rushing yards in ’09 and have an established philosophy of running the ball. If you have room or depend on Johnson as your No. 1 RB, give him a serious look.

Wide Receivers:

  • Deon Butler, Seattle Seahawks – I got props from a Penn State observer after nabbing this guy off the wire.  He caught two passes in last week’s preseason tilt, including a TD bomb on the team’s opening possession. Butler only has the frail and underachieving Deon Branch (rumored to possibly not make the team) and Nate Burleson in front of him.  Long-term, Houshmandzadeh is 31 years old and may not really be a true No. 1 WR anyway. Weird factors here: Seattle has historically been passing-friendly but has a run-first regime in town. They have little talent in the backfield, but Hasselbeck is coming off an injury and not getting any younger.  I guess that’s all a wash.
  • Austin Collie, Indianapolis Colts – Early word is he’s a slight favorite to win the third WR spot over the talented Pierre Garcon, a sleeper in his own right.  Anthony Gonzalez has progressed but not displayed dominant skills, and Wayne will turn 31 during the season.  They seemed to be missing something on offense last year.  Perhaps Collie in the slot was that ingredient.  He put up monster numbers in college and has achieved the coveted “gym rat” status from his head coach. Perhaps he also packed his lunch pail.
  • Ramses Barden, NY Giants – Unbelievably to me, Barden didn’t get selected in the rookie draft.  I was able to pick him up on the cheap (minimum bid) right after because I read a report that he was the “breakout player of camp,” which is never a poor sign.  However, that was two weeks ago and he has seen limited preseason production.  He has the same great opportunity Hakeem Nicks does with no established players in front of him having proven they have top-end talent.  He came out of a small school (Cal Poly) so he may take a little time, but he’s big, fast and isn’t scared to sacrifice his body to make the catch.

So meditate on a few of these names this week and see what the cosmos brings back to you.   Maybe one of these penny-stocks turns into a blue chipper.