Sure, it’s a bit premature to start ranking the new crop of rookies for fantasy football purposes. These guys don’t have teams yet, we can only speculate as to where they might go, and team and situation can be the difference between good and great. And, I won’t even mention the “L” word, so instead lets just say that at some point in the future there will be football, there will be rookies, and there will be fantasy football. And, thank goodness for that! So, which rookies will you consider drafting?
Here is my ranking of offensive players, and yes I do realize that this is ridiculous speculation since its highly likely that someone drafted in the seventh or eighth round, or possibly not drafted at all, could easily surprise everyone and end up being the top rookie scorer in fantasy football leagues. See Blount, LeGarrette, Tampa Bay.
1) Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois
I’m convinced that Mikel Leshoure will be the best running back taken in the 2011 draft. This is partly a hunch, but mostly, the guy has the track record, the skills and abilities and the right attitude to be a very good NFL running back. He runs angry, with a wonderful combination of speed and power, and the comparison to Steven Jackson sounds about right. Plus, he is solid as a pass-catching running back, which makes him an ideal candidate for your fantasy football team. The only thing really left to consider is what team he will be drafted to, and what kind of opportunities he will have his rookie season.
Maybe he goes as high as 15 to Miami, or maybe he gets drafted even higher. However, there is a strong possibility that both he and Mark Ingram fall to the end of the first, or even top of the second round. Thanks to a glut of great running backs that have emerged in recent years, there are very few teams that are making running back high priority.
Still, teams usually rely on a tandem of running backs, so couldn’t Cleveland use a guy like Mikel to complement Peyton Hills, or how about Mikel to Denver, especially when you consider that Knowshon Moreno is firmly on the bubble this year? In any of these situations, Leshoure can emerge as the more dominant back, and because he is a solid receiver and blocker, he may have more than his fair share of touches in 2011. I see him scoring in bunches for fantasy football teams.
2) Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
On the field this guy enjoys torturing his opposition. At the combine all the talk was about speed, speed, speed, and in relation to the other top wide receiver, A.J. Green, but lets not forget that Jones is not known for outrunning guys, but for just beating them up on the field and then running past them with the ball in hands. Not that he doesn’t have enough speed for the NFL. He does. The guy is a warrior on the field, and again going partly on hunch, I think Jones will be the best rookie wide receiver in 2011.
Some draft experts have Julio Jones going to the Rams with the 14th overall pick. Perfect! Let’s hope he goes there. Fantasy football geeks, like myself, would love to have Jones as the prime target in a Josh McDaniels offense, with Sam Bradford throwing the ball. That is, if you are clever enough to pick up this rookie when your draft rolls around.
3) A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
I’m sure many of you are by now crying foul. A.J. Green may be the best overall athlete in the 2011 draft, well, possibly the second best if you think Patrick Peterson is slightly ahead of him. He may be the best athlete, but that doesn’t always translate into immediate success. Green does seem to have the best overall set of tools to be an effective wide-receiver. He’s strong enough to quickly get off the line, he’s a good route runner, and he has more than enough speed. He is apparently of the Fitzgerald-Randy Moss mold, but like Moss, he could use some bulking up. There are also questions about his run-blocking.
But this is fantasy football, what do we care about run-blocking! (Well, aside from the trickle-down effect, if there is any.) The point is that he is a very solid player, but because he is projected to go as the first overall wide receiver taken, he could end up with a team like Cincinnati. And because of that situation, plus the lockout, Jordan Palmer could be throwing him the ball. Okay, not really, but still. Maybe he falls to Cleveland, and although a better team at this point, that would still not be an ideal situation for Green, at least not initially. Having said all of this, and depending on the format of your fantasy football league, you better draft this guy. I can see Green emerging down the stretch of the season.
4) Ryan Williams, RB, Virginia Tech
Ryan Williams looks to be a fine addition to any team needing a running back. In fact, because of skill set, he may end up surprising everyone and being the best running back of the crop of rookies. It’s a possibility. The reason why I am listing Williams ahead of others is because of the team that will likely take him in a later round. New England. This has been ongoing speculation out of the Boston Globe, so its not just me speculating, but I can definitely see Williams falling and the Patriots patiently waiting. Sure, the Patriots backfield wasn’t too shabby last season, especially towards the latter part of the season when the combination of Woodhead and Green-Ellis seemed to be quite effective. Still, I don’t see this being a long-term solution.
The upside with Williams on a Patriots team is terrifying, especially for those fans not so fond of the Pats. The downside for fantasy football players? Equally terrifying. Anyone who knows anything about fantasy football knows that trusting a Patriot running back from one week to the next is a proposition that can lead you to sheer madness. Just when Williams breaks out for his first big game, expect the other running back to have all the carries the next week.
Yet, I am still endorsing Williams as a member of your next fantasy football squad. If nothing else, he would be great trade material.
5) Mark Ingram / Jacquizz Rodgers / DeMarco Murray
I’m sorry but I just don’t believe that Ingram will be the best running back taken from this draft, at least not for fantasy football purposes. Last year C.J. Spiller was considered the clear favorite, but Ryan Matthews and a host of other running backs taken much later than Spiller would have been better speculative picks for your fantasy team. The year before that Knowshon Moreno was the first running back taken, although draft experts, to their credit, were not as high on Moreno as they are on Ingram. Moreno has not performed up to expectations, thus far, and has had some injury concerns over two seasons. There were serious questions about Moreno when he was drafted, as there are now with Ingram, including concerns about Ingram’s durability. I hope Ingram proves me wrong, and I hope he falls to an ideal team, because he would be more than worthy of a spot on your fantasy squad. With the right situation.
Otherwise, drafting running backs will be very tricky this season. Many teams are already set at this position, and not just with one back but with multiple quality backs. Yet, I also suspect that there will be opportunities for guys like Jacquizz Rodgers and Demarco Murray to emerge as rookies that put up respectable numbers, both in terms of receptions and rushing yards. One of these guys could surprise us all as the LeGarrette Blount of 2011. Teams will have to deal with injuries, players who were once reliable will start to show immediate decline, and Rodgers and Murray could get their chance. Maybe the Redskins? Maybe the Bengals? Certainly the Broncos could use another back.
At this point, I would rather lump a few guys in at the five spot than take a wild guess, but I will say this, no quarterback or tight end is listed above. Do you agree with that? Should Cam Newton make the list?