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The 10 Best NFL Rookies in Fantasy Football

Mike NelsonCorrespondent ISeptember 27, 2011

The 10 Best NFL Rookies in Fantasy Football

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    Projecting how rookies will do in professional sports, before they've played a minute of their respective sport, is one of the most difficult things to do.

    It's much easier after they've strutted their stuff for a few games. Even then, nothing is a given.

    We've already finished three weeks of the NFL season and enter Week 4 with many impressive rookie performances, and many impressive performances to come.

    This slideshow will address the top 10 NFL rookies in fantasy football, taking into account the first three weeks of the season and future opportunities.

10. Christian Ponder, QB, Minnesota Vikings

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    This man was selected 12th overall this spring to become Minnesota’s franchise quarterback. Donovan McNabb was brought in to lead the Minnesota offense in 2011 but that hasn’t turned out well thus far—McNabb threw for 39 passing yards in Week 1 and hasn’t thrown over 230 yards passing in any game this year.

    If the Vikings fall to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4 or start the year 1-4, then the calls from fans for Ponder to get his shot in 2011 will grow louder and louder. Some have already started calling for him three games into the season.

    Ponder doesn't have any guarantees for playing time nor have we seen him in a regular season game so if he gets a shot to start then be cautious in your expectations of him.

9. Blaine Gabbert, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Jacksonville gave Gabbert the keys to its offense in Week 3 after Luke McCown struggled through his first two starts with the Jaguars.

    The Jaguars aren’t going anywhere in 2011, so they should give Gabbert the freedom to struggle as a rookie starter. There will be ups and there will be downs, so he's not a great fantasy option.

    In Week 3 he went 12-for-21 for 139 yards and a touchdown. Two interceptions and three fumbles accompanied those stats—but the monsoon-like conditions in that game made it difficult for either offense to succeed.

    But there will be consistent opportunity. And with rookies, that is half the battle.

8. Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota Vikings

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    The Minnesota Vikings’ passing game has been unimpressive through the first three weeks of the season. Receiver Percy Harvin is the only wide receiver on the team that scares opposing defenses.

    But Minnesota does have a talented rookie tight end, Rudolph, who is arguably the team’s third best receiver. The Vikings haven’t shown that they know this yet. But they should soon.

    Minnesota claimed it would come out in many two tight end sets to get Rudolph and Visanthe Shiancoe involved with the offense. But it hasn’t happened much yet.

    As the passing game continues to struggle Minnesota should look to Rudolph to bolster it—his receptions and receiving yards have increased each week this year.  

7. Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore Ravens

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    With No. 2 receiver Lee Evans out in Week 3, Torrey Smith had his opportunity. And he took it. He had five receptions for 152 yards and three touchdowns.

    Anquan Boldin is the team’s No. 1 receiver no question about it. But Evans has severely struggled through his first two games as a Raven—only two receptions for 45 yards.

    With tight end Todd Heap in Arizona with the Cardinals, the passing game needed help. Smith could be a guy that helps fill the void.

    We’ll have to watch what happens in Week 4, but keep an eye on Smith.  

6. Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Dalton was one of two rookie quarterbacks given the reins to his NFL team from day one. Dalton hasn’t posted the numbers that Cam Newton, the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, has. But his numbers haven’t been putrid.

    In Week 2 he threw for 332 yards and two touchdowns. Regardless of who it’s against, 300 yards passing is 300 yards passing.

    As Dalton continues to progress in his rookie campaign he’ll get more and more comfortable with the offense. He and No. 1 receiver AJ Green will continue to develop a greater rapport too, making Dalton more successful.

    He’ll have control of the offense for the rest of the season which makes him a more valuable rookie than Minnesota's Christian Ponder or Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert.

5. Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints

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    Ingram was drafted by the Saints to punch the ball into the end zone when the high-powered Saints offense reached the goal line.

    At 5’9,” 215 pounds Ingram is a large running back. He’s got the physical build of a player ready to do damage in the NFL. He is the Saints’ best option at running back, which means the opportunities for goal line carries should increase as the season progresses.

    He hasn’t rushed for over 51 yards in his first three NFL games, but Ingram’s strength lies in his ability to blast through goal line defenses. He should get more of those opportunities. Just show a little patience.

4. AJ Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

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    In two of Green’s first three NFL games he’s reached the end zone.

    In Week 2 he had 124 yards on 10 receptions and a touchdown. He’s averaged 64.67 receiving yards per game—good enough for six points in standard leagues.

    He is the team’s No. 1 receiving option since Chad Ochocinco departed in the offseason. Green has the talent to become a true No. 1 receiver in the NFL—he’ll show glimpses of that talent throughout the season. And he’ll continue to develop and find a rhythm with fellow rookie quarterback Andy Dalton as the season progresses.

    Be ready for a roller coaster ride throughout his rookie campaign.

3. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons

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    This was a great landing place for the 6'3'' receiver from Alabama. Roddy White is Atlanta’s No. 1 receiver, and he’s one of the best in the NFL. It takes all the pressure off Jones to be the No. 1 guy immediately.

    That isn’t to say that he doesn’t have the talent to be a No. 1 receiver. The talent is there.

    Through his first three NFL games he’s had only had one game with over 75 yards receiving (Week 3 he had 115 yards receiving), and he’s still without a touchdown.

    As Jones progresses in his rookie season, he should get more and more comfortable and his numbers should get better. 

2. Daniel Thomas, RB, Miami Dolphins

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    Miami brought in running back Reggie Bush from the New Orleans Saints this offseason to serve as its No. 1 running back. But Bush has disappointed through three weeks of the season—he has only 80 rushing yards in three games.

    Thomas missed Week 1 but has rushed for 90-plus yards (107 and 95 yards, respectively) in each of his first two NFL games.

    The Miami passing game isn’t overly impressive, with Chad Henne at quarterback and Brandon Marshall—Miami’s No. 1 receiver—not at the level he used to be. The running game will be relied upon in this offense. And Thomas will lead it moving forward.

1. Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers

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    Newton has been the most electric rookie in the league thus far. Two 400-yard passing games in your first two NFL games will do that.

    Receiver Steve Smith’s resurgence—he’s on pace for his first 1,000-yard receiving season since 2008—has served as the catalyst for Newton’s hot start.

    Newton won’t replicate his 400-yard passing games again, but he should be good for double-digit points the rest of the way—given his arm strength and legs.

    When the running game picks it up—Carolina running backs have posted only 151 yards rushing through the first three games—then it will make Newton that much more dangerous as a passer. Defenses will have to respect him and the run game. Who will defenses opt to stop?

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