NFL Fantasy Football 2011: The Keys to Drafting Rookies

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NFL Fantasy Football 2011: The Keys to Drafting Rookies
NEW ORLEANS, LA - AUGUST 12: Mark Ingram #28 of the New Orleans Saints celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers during a preseason game at Louisiana Superdome on August 12, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

The art of picking a rookie who can pay his fantasy rent all season is on par with finding a toothless crack-addicted hooker who can pay her rent all season: tricky. So, here are a few tips when you’re thinking about rolling the draft-day dice on a rookie.

Wait longer than you think you should

This is rule No. 1 and of pinnacle importance. Rookies almost always go too early, quite simply because they are fun and exciting. Everybody wants to be the guy who snags the hidden gem, because fantasy football is all about making people think you know your stuff.

Still, even the safest bets should probably go two rounds later than their average draft position, because of this phenomenon.

Think about your rookies in the context of the other players on the board

This is an extension of the above point, but it merits its own heading. Noob drafters almost always go in knowing they want to pick certain rookie sleepers—often with a predetermined round in mind. Thus, fantasy owners jump on them in the third or fourth round.

For example, how many people drafted Michael Crabtree two years ago in the third or fourth a couple years back year while guys like Boldin, Burress, or Welker were still on the board? Keep your rookies in the back of your mind, but don’t sacrifice taking a better player just to ensure you get your little project draftee.

Set diminished expectations for rookie WRs

Aside from select instances like Randy Moss and/or Anquan Boldin (to an extent), very seldom do rookie receivers have a huge impact. If they do, it’s probably going to be a fluke like Marques Colston. An inconsistent wide receiver is a worthless wide receiver. Trust us, you are better off starting the season with Jordy Nelson or Santana Moss than a Limas Sweed or Early Doucet.

Again, just be quick on your toes and grab the breakout guys off waivers if and when they begin to emerge (i.e., Dwayne Bowe rookie season). This year the wide receiver rookie crop is especially frothy with Julio Jones, Greg Little and A.J. Green all in the top 50. They might pay dividends, but select them at the right price—not at the expense of a more reliable player like Johnny Knox or Chad Ochocinco.

Look for the backup/split RB that happens to be in the perfect situation and could very well star down the stretch for a real NFL contender

The real value in rookie picks comes from injuries to the starters. Look at Joe Addai for Indy in 2006 or Laurence Maroney for the Patriots in 2006. These guys wouldn’t have much of an impact if the starter stayed healthy, but if the main starter gets hurt or plays poorly, there is some real potential. This year’s ideal candidates look like Mark Ingram in New Orleans, Daniel Thomas in Miami and Ryan Williams in Arizona.

CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 25: A.J. Green #18 of the Cincinnati Bengals keeps his balance to score a touchdown on a 40-yard reception during an NFL preseason game against the Carolina Panthers at Paul Brown Stadium on August 25, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Bengals won 24-13. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Wait to see if they are expected to start

Know the depth chart going in to the season. If your rookie prospect is not starting or at least splitting time as of your draft day; don’t bother. There is no room on a fantasy roster for a player who isn’t getting snaps. They will be available on the waiver wire if they ever do start playing.

Beware of your own homerism

Believe me, the Michigan fan in me wanted to draft Mike Hart when he signed with Indy with Addai’s proneness for injury, and I wanted to draft Mario Mannigham too early when he signed with New York. It’s easy to tell yourself “he has better separation than anyone on the deep ball, so he’ll be a big play guy in New York.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told people Chad Henne has unmatched poise and patience in the pocket. Yeah, that played out well last year.

The point is, you’re perceptions are skewed and you’re drafting with emotions. Wisconsin and Green Bay fans have the worst case of this. If you insist on picking up rookies based on your fanaticism with them from their college days, so it at the right time. Believe me, nobody else in your league even gives a shit about them. You don’t need to pay up just because you’re a fan.

If you’re going to gamble on the “big dog,” make sure you are intimately familiar with the handcuff scenario

CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 25: Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers looks to pass in the first half of an NFL preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on August 25, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Let’s get this straight: I hate the handcuff theory. Nevertheless, in the instance of a rookie running back, it is very important to know the situation and often times carry both guys on the roster. See examples Reggie Bush/Deuce McCallister ’06 and Adrian Peterson/Chester Taylor '07.

This season, if you plan to take McFadden, be damn sure you keep tabs on Michael Bush. On the other hand, if your handcuff is not a guy that will get drafted by anybody else (Brandon Jackson last season), just be nimble and ready to pull the trigger if your horse goes down. You don’t need to carry extra safety guys if you are on the ball and you’re prepared to make moves in the event of an injury.

Don’t fall in love the rookie TE who has a breakout game here or there

See Greg Olsen ’07. Just because a rookie tight end shows a flash in the pan game, it doesn’t mean they are going to get a lot of looks. Rookie tight ends tend to have a hard time working their way past the old stalwart tight ends on the depth chart. When they do, it tends to take a while before they get a lot of balls thrown their way. Last season, Jimmy Graham showed a few flashes of brilliance at the end of the season, but was nonexistent otherwise.

Avoid rookie QBs like the plague

There really is no point. The serviceable guys who fall down in the draft like the Favres and Hasselbecks of the world. Believe Sam Bradford and Matt Stafford are far superior choices to  Cam Newton. At least you can get someone you know is going to start and fill in when your main QB has a bye or gets injured.

The list here is endless but count on either having a non-starter for most of the season (i.e., Brady Quinn, Phillip Rivers, JaMarcus Russell) or a real piece of shit with a QB rating in the 40s or 50s (i.e., Alex Smith or David Carr). Even Peyton Manning threw 28 interceptions in his rookie season.

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