The hair pulling is about to begin. The 2011 NFL season is just around the corner, and so the madness is about to begin for the tens of millions of wannabee football general managers. Most worldwide fantasy football drafts are happening in the last two weeks of August, so it is time to take a closer look at some young players that will make a major impact.
Mark Ingram, 2009 Heisman Trophy winner and phenomenal college running back, took a lot of criticism from people who are concerned with his ability to run in the NFL. I believe that when Mark Ingram is honored to the Pro Bowl game either this season or next season, the naysayers will finally learn to wait-and-see.
These 10 offensive production players, quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends only, are the guys you can steal in the later rounds of your fantasy draft and then laugh all the way to the championship this season. But most importantly, you will have built a foundation of future Pro Bowlers and superstars that will be leading the NFL for the next decade.
Of course there is always a risk to picking rookies for your team, but hey, you only live once and you can only make a splash in so many aspects of life.
Let's take a look at some of the potential rookies who are poised to make some noise this season, and are set to become stars in the coming years.
Kyle Rudolph, pictured here, was a stud tight-end for Notre Dame, but wait until 2012 to pull the trigger on him. The Minnesota Vikings, who drafted Rudolph, have Visanthe Shiancoe and Jim Kleinsasser. With Kleinsasser aging and Shiancoe probably demanding a larger contract in 2012, Rudolph will spend 2011 learning before potentially taking over the starting spot next year.
Torrey Smith, the Baltimore Ravens second round pick out of Maryland, was originally a safe pick to be a contributor before the Ravens brought in free agent wide out Lee Evans. Evans will give Smith some time to develop in the Ravens' conservative system. Torrey will be the secondary target of Joe Flacco in the future, grabbing balls alongside Anquain Boldin for many years.
Stanford wideout Ryan Whalen is someone that really impressed many in the Cincinnati Bengals camp so far, but being a sixth round pick and behind fellow 2011 draftee A.J. Green (fourth overall pick out of Georgia), will significantly cut his chances to make an impact. Looking at Whalen, I am reminded of Wes Welker, shifty and excellent hands.
The 2009 Heisman Trophy winner out of Alabama is walking into a phenomenal opportunity in New Orleans. New Orleans, who watched Reggie Bush walk this offseason and brought in Darren Sproles to fill the void, is the perfect situation for Ingram to come in and dominate.
New Orleans has a solid offensive line behind Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz, and with the fragile Pierre Thomas and Christopher Ivory coming off major offseason surgery, Ingram has the ability to plow through even the biggest of NFL defenders.
Ingram, the 28th overall pick, is currently working with the second-team offense but will definitely be a big-time asset to your fantasy team. Ingram is the power force that the Saints will use a lot in the red zone, balancing a strong offense led by Drew Brees.
Expect Ingram to have over 800 yards, with at least eight touchdowns if not more this season. Going forward, he is the type of running back that the Saints wish to build their future around.
Ingram is the smartest pick of rookie running backs for keeper leagues, and could be one of the best players in the NFL for the next decade.
Titus Young, who became one of the more well-known and hyped up players in Boise State football history, is an absolute speedster that will bring unbelievable skills to a much improved Lions team. His incredible statistics and phenomenal highlight reel coming out of Boise impressed Detroit enough to go with him in the second round, selecting him 44th overall.
Young had 71 receptions for 1,215 yards and nine touchdowns in 2010, which garnered him an All-American nod to go along with his third straight All Western Athletic Conference selection.
Many people are skeptical of Young because he has not played against the top-tier of competition in the WAC. However, when I watch Titus I see another Percy Harvin-type contributor, one that has incredible speed and very good hands.
Young’s pure athleticism, along with solid skill set, makes him out to be a sleeper for 2011. Many think it will take him a year to adjust, but I think Young is a safe bet to pull off some big plays this season before becoming a force on the outside for the Lions as the continue on their upward swing towards contenders.
Expect Young to pull down at least 500 yards and five touchdowns this year, with quarterback Matthew Stafford building a bond with him that will last many years.
Thomas, the 2nd round selection of the Dolphins this past April, is a talented back out of Kansas State. Originally from Florida, it has been good for the six feet, 230 pound Thomas to come back to the Sunshine state and walk into a great situation to “shine.”
Even though the Dolphins signed Reggie Bush this offseason and he will be the featured back, Thomas is going to see immediate time and lots of quality touches.
With very little depth and no true “third-down” running back, Thomas will be the big bruiser to contrast from Bush’s “shifty” style of running. Thomas had two phenomenal years at Kansas State in a traditional running system, so it might take Thomas a little bit of time to adjust to the NFL system.
However, Thomas is an excellent flyer pick for a running back. In case of an injury to Bush, which has plagued him four of his five seasons, Thomas has the ability to take over behind a solid offensive line and rush for 1,000 yards.
In the worst case, look for Thomas to gain about 40 yards a game, giving him about 600 for the season, and at least six touchdowns. If Bush proves to be ineffective in the red zone, Thomas could be looking at a 10 or 12 touchdown season.
An excellent addition to your fantasy team this season, and a potential fantasy superstar in the future, Daniel Thomas is a name you should keep in mind before you draft.
Dalton, the big redhead out of TCU, has walked into a difficult rebuilding process in Cincinnati. However, his game is NFL ready and he is ready to burst on to the scene very similarly to Atlanta Falcons’ QB Matt Ryan’s unbelievable rookie season.
Dalton is an accurate passer, with good athleticism and a high football IQ. He is mature and very physically gifted, which will help with a mediocre offensive line. Dalton will not be running, but he will have to get out of some sticky situations with the blitzing defenses of the AFC North.
Dalton has a young receiving corps which will not work to his advantage, but if he can stay healthy he will have a solid 2011 year. The only sure rookie lock at quarterback to be starting opening day, Dalton is in for a year of growth and development that will serve him well in the years to come.
For 2012, Dalton will be a highly coveted QB so by picking him this year, you get a good backup with the potential for a Pro Bowler in 2012.
Expect Dalton to go for 2,700 yards and 16 touchdowns this season, as long as he can stay healthy and not lose confidence in himself through the trying parts of the season.
Even as a fourth round selection with relative obscurity coming out of Oklahoma State, Hunter has walked into a very appealing situation. Starting running back Frank Gore is maybe the best back in the league, and he demands a lot of touches.
However, Hunter might be a smart pick because there is little depth behind Gore. Gore has been known to get banged up over the course of a season, and second year backup Anthony Dixon did very little to prove any worth last season. Hunter is a solid running back overall, with good blocking skills serviceable receiving skills.
Hunter might get the shot over Dixon if Gore goes down at all during the season. In fact, Hunter might even be brought in to spell Gore more often, now that 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is bringing in new ways of doing things from his college position at Stanford.
Gore owners do not have to worry yet though, as Hunter poses no threat to taking too many touches away in the early part of the season. In the end though, Kendall has the ability to prove his worth quickly and to earn quality minutes.
The 6th overall pick in the 2011 Draft, no third-best receiving option is as good as Jones and no one will see as many passes go their way. Jones walks into an offensive unit that is very dominant, led by Pro Bowler Matt Ryan and his main targets Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Jones, however, has won over everyone in Falcons camp. He has proven himself to be one of the best physical talents on the team, and perhaps in the whole league. Jones’ strength and speed is a combination few wideouts have and Julio has the ability to become the best receiver in the league.
That being said, even if Julio’s production is lackluster this season, he is worth an early-round or mid-level pick in your fantasy draft because of his potential. I’m not saying he is going to be Randy Moss immediately, but this guy has the ability to save your fantasy team with just a few touches.
Julio has the skills to take a seven yard slant route and turn it into a 70 yard touchdown, even at the high level of the NFC South.
Expect Julio Jones to have 900 receiving yards this season and eight touchdowns for the explosive Falcons offense.
A.J. Green, the phenomenal athlete from Georgia, comes into Cincinnati with big shoes to fill after being selected with the fourth overall pick. Green, a wonderful talent who had moments of brilliance marred by bad luck and questionable decisions, is the Bengals’ go to receiver in his first year.
With rookie Andy Dalton taking the reins behind center, Green is making the big jump from the college ranks to taking on the best NFL defenders in the league. A.J. has lightning speed and excellent hands, but still needs time to develop.
With no Chad Ochocinco to deflect attention, Green is going to attract only the best. Darrelle Revis of the New York Jets was looking forward to seeing what the SEC was producing before their preseason matchup.
Green is going to have some big numbers this season, but his standout games might be more few and far between because of the inexperience of Andy Dalton and the entire offensive unit. If other quarterback Bruce Gradkowski takes over the offense, Green could be looking at a 1,000 yard season.
More realistically, A.J. Green is a smart and savvy pick for the future, going to be a top wide receiver in the NFL for years to come. Just like how Green draws similarities to Detroit Lions’ wideout Calvin Johnson, Green could see some deflated numbers in his first year.
Look for Green to grab seven touchdowns and rack in about 800 yards. His explosiveness will compensate with the fact he will only get a few good balls thrown his way each Sunday.
Kendricks, a big burly former Wisconsin Badger was selected with the 47th pick in the second round this year. Kendricks has been a surprise thus far this preseason, running better routes and improving his already above-average blocking ability.
Expect Kendricks to be utilized much more than other rookie tight ends this season, especially because other Rams’ tight ends Billy Bajema and Michael Hoomanawanui are mere stopgaps. Bajema is currently the starter, but has very little to offer and is not much of a pass catcher.
Kendricks has huge upside, and at 6’3” and 243 pounds, is turning heads at training camp. Some people are thinking Kendricks might win the starting job for Week 1, in which the Rams play the Philadelphia Eagles, but reasonably expect Kendricks to take over mid-season.
Kendricks is going to develop into a favorite target of Sam Bradford and become a standout in the Rams offense. With the skill level that he possesses, he will become a top NFL tight end along the lines of a Heath Miller or Todd Heap in the future.
Kendricks is a safe bet for 500 receiving yards and three touchdowns, already putting him amongst the top half of NFL tight ends. He’s definitely worth a late-round selection, especially in keeper leagues in which you will see a lot of returns in the years to come.
When Vincent Brown was selected by the Chargers in the third round, with the 82nd selection, Brown did not have to travel far. Brown attended San Diego State University, where he starred at the same stadium that the Chargers inhabited on Sundays.
Brown was a star for the Aztecs, leading them to their first bowl game last season in over a decade. He finished his career with over 3,000 receiving yards in his four seasons, reeling in 23 career touchdowns and carrying the program into the next level out of mediocrity.
Vincent is already comfortable in his new digs, and I am positive that will only make his play better this season as he adjusts to a bigger, faster game everywhere else. This season, Vincent Brown has another Vincent to learn from, Vincent Jackson, Pro Bowl wideout, along with Malcolm Floyd.
Brown will learn and make his skills useful. Quarterback Phillip Rivers likes to through, and with the usual targets Jackson, Floyd and tight end Antonio Gates drawing lots of attention, Brown will be able to create some mismatches.
The Chargers are looking to Brown to be the wide receiver of the future, which is exactly what you should do too. Brown will be a phenomenal pass catcher for many years, and because he is so quick and strong, will be successful in some respects immediately.
Expect Brown to pull down 500 yards and six touchdown grabs in his rookie campaign, where he will know all the good places to go out to eat afterwards already.
Perhaps the riskiest of picks for 2011, Colin Kaepernick is embattled in a struggle for the 49ers starting QB role. With the disappointing Alex Smith getting one final shot to prove himself, Colin is attempting to overcome a player with five years of experience over him.
Many skeptics were concerned when the 49ers picked Kaepernick, who starred at Nevada, breaking practically every school record and taking down the 2010 Boise State club on the path to the BCS title game.
Kaepernick will be a NFL starting quarterback and has the ability to be a very good one, but his impact this season all depends on whether he can win the job. He has impressed thus far, not so much that new coach Jim Harbaugh has switched his mind, but enough to make him reconsider.
I believer Kaepernick will take over the 49ers when they show signs of struggle, and will rejuvenate the team to making a run at the very weak NFC West. If he can do that, Kaepernick might be Rookie of the Year along with the savior of San Francisco.
Best case, Kaepernick throws for 2,200 yards and 13 touchdowns, along with running for 250 yards and 3 more touchdowns. That’d be a phenomenal rookie season and a springboard for a career like fellow NFC West QB Sam Bradford.
Worst case, Smith holds the job all season and Kaepernick finishes 2011 with 300 passing yards in mop-up duty with one touchdown. Smith’s athleticism doesn’t even make Kaepernick special because he can run and escape the pocket.
Going forward however, Kaepernick is going to be a very good quarterback in the NFL and might be worth a flyer pick with your last selection in your fantasy league.