NFL Rookies to Stay Away from in Fantasy Football

Dan Hope@Dan_HopeContributor IIIJuly 6, 2015

NFL Rookies to Stay Away from in Fantasy Football

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    Todd Gurley has star potential, but the St. Louis Rams running back's recovery from injury makes him a risky investment for fantasy football this year.
    Todd Gurley has star potential, but the St. Louis Rams running back's recovery from injury makes him a risky investment for fantasy football this year.Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Fantasy football players looking to strike gold in their drafts this year will want to take chances on rookies who have star potential. There are a number of rookies, however, who fantasy GMs might be best suited avoiding.

    In some cases, there are rookies simply coming off the board too early in fantasy drafts, given the risk factors associated with those players that could keep them from realizing their potential in year one. For example, St. Louis Rams running back Todd Gurley is still recovering from a torn ACL, which makes him a high-risk selection in the early rounds of a fantasy draft.

    That said, there are also some rookies who should probably be avoided altogether—except in the deepest of leagues—as they are in situations in which they are unlikely to receive significant playing time in 2015.

    The following selections and analysis are only intended to correspond with redraft leagues, not dynasty leagues with annual rookie drafts. All listed average draft positions are values reported by as of Sunday, July 5.

Todd Gurley, RB, St. Louis Rams

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    Michael Thomas/Associated Press

    Average Draft Position: 34.33 (No. 1 among rookies)

    Todd Gurley has the tools to be one of the best running backs in the NFL, but he likely won’t get there in his rookie season. Still working his way back from a torn ACL suffered in November, Gurley is not a player fantasy owners should count on for big production with a prime pick in a 2015 redraft league.

    While St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher has shown a willingness to quickly turn over feature back duties to rookies the past two years (Zac Stacy in 2013, Tre Mason in 2014), it would be a surprise if Gurley immediately takes a lion’s share of the team’s carries.

    The No. 10 overall pick will likely begin the season playing second fiddle to Mason—who is coming off a solid debut season in which he rushed for 765 yards—then gradually acquire an increased workload as he works his way back to his pre-injury form.

    More clarity on Gurley’s status should come soon, as the running back is set to meet with Dr. James Andrews for a re-evaluation of his knee, according to Fox Sports’ Alex Marvez. If Gurley gets a clean bill of health before training camp, his average selection as a late third-round pick could become justifiable.

    Most likely, though, Gurley will not be a consistent source of fantasy points in his rookie season, at least not early on. In the early rounds of a fantasy draft, team managers would be better off drafting a proven running back option who is fully healthy rather than selecting a newcomer who might not be able to perform at 100 percent this year.

Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Tennessee Titans

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Average Draft Position: 89.28 (No. 10 among rookies)

    The Tennessee Titans took a chance on Dorial Green-Beckham’s questionable character when they selected the former Missouri wide receiver with the No. 40 overall pick in this year’s draft. But while the Titans deemed his talent to be worth the risk of potential off-field problems, Green-Beckham might not be worth gambling on with a selection in a 2015 fantasy draft.

    At 6’5” and 237 pounds, Green-Beckham is a huge wide receiver with immense physical upside. However, it will likely take him more than one year to realize his potential.

    An unrefined route-runner, Green-Beckham did not play a single snap in a live football game last season after he was dismissed from Missouri following an alleged domestic violence incident. While he needs to work on his fundamentals to become a more complete wideout, he will likely also need some time to shake off the rust of inactivity.

    It doesn’t help Green-Beckham’s cause that he missed time during offseason workouts this spring with a hamstring injury, as that could put him behind the eight ball going into training camp.

    On a Titans roster that already featured a solid quartet of veteran wide receivers in Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter, Harry Douglas and Hakeem Nicks, Green-Beckham is going to have to stand out in training camp to work his way up the depth chart.

    Given all of those factors, Green-Beckham might only see sporadic playing time in his rookie season, especially early in the year. He would not be a smart investment, beyond a late-round flier, for fantasy football drafters this year.

Jay Ajayi, RB, Miami Dolphins

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    Alan Diaz/Associated Press

    Average Draft Position: 103.39 (12th among rookies)

    Despite falling to the fifth round and being only the 13th running back off the board in this year’s NFL draft, Jay Ajayi currently has the sixth-highest average fantasy draft position among rookie running backs. Given that, it appears that fantasy players are expecting a little too much from a player who fell all the way to the Miami Dolphins’ No. 149 overall selection this spring.

    It is true that Ajayi likely would have come off the board significantly earlier had there not been concerns about a potentially degenerative knee injury. According to CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler, “the long-term durability of his right knee [was] a ‘strong’ concern, according to several league sources.”

    As long as Ajayi can stay healthy, he has the skill set to be a very solid NFL running back. A well-rounded back who catches the ball effectively out of the backfield, Ajayi could prove to be especially valuable in point-per-reception fantasy leagues.

    Even so, drafting a fifth-round rookie with a middle-round pick in a redraft league is not a smart strategy.

    The Dolphins didn’t draft Ajayi in the fifth round because they needed a running back who can play right away; they drafted the Boise State product because he was the best talent available.

    It is possible Ajayi could be Miami’s No. 2 running back this season, given that the Dolphins’ other options to back up Lamar Miller are Damien Williams, LaMichael James and Mike Gillislee. That said, it would be a big surprise if Ajayi cuts significantly into Miller’s playing time in 2015.

Sammie Coates, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Average Draft Position: 179.21 (25th among rookies)

    There are many similarities between Sammie Coates, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ third-round pick this year, and Martavis Bryant, who became a breakout star for the Steelers during the second half of his rookie season last year. While both have prototypical combinations of size and speed as well as demonstrated big-play ability, both fell in the draft due to inconsistency as collegiate players.

    The big difference for Coates’ potential to produce this year, versus the situation Bryant entered last year, is that Coates has Bryant ahead of him.

    If Coates proves to be a quick study in route running and can overcome the issues with drops that plagued him at Auburn, he has the ability to make a similar impact to Bryant, who had 549 receiving yards and eight touchdowns on just 26 receptions in 10 games last season.

    With Bryant already occupying Coates’ role as the deep-threat weapon on the outside, however, Coates is going to have to make marked improvement to work his way into the regular rotation. While it’s feasible that Coates could overtake Markus Wheaton on the Steelers depth chart, it’s unlikely—at least for 2015—as Wheaton projects as a much better fit to play from the slot as the team’s No. 3 wide receiver.

    Because Coates has the tools to be a quick source of touchdown receptions if he works his way into the lineup or injuries strike ahead of him, he would be worth selecting and stashing late in a league with oversized rosters. In a league with 15- or 16-player teams, however, there should still be players available at the end of the draft with a better likelihood of production this upcoming season.

Mike Davis, RB, San Francisco 49ers

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Average Draft Position: 188.87 (28th among rookies)

    Fantasy owners who rolled the dice on Carlos Hyde last year were left disappointed, as the rookie from Ohio State received little playing time behind starting running back Frank Gore. Similar disappointment is likely to come this year for those who take a chance on drafting Mike Davis, even though Gore is no longer with the San Francisco 49ers.

    While Hyde only ran for 333 yards and four touchdowns on 83 carries last season, the reality is that he was drafted to be the successor to Gore, not a complement. A powerful between-the-tackles runner with good quickness for his size, Hyde should emerge as a workhorse in Gore’s stead this season.

    Complementing Hyde this year will be Reggie Bush, who signed a one-year contract with the 49ers as a free agent this offseason. A shifty runner with receiving skills out of the backfield, Bush is well-suited to serve as a change-of-pace and passing-down back for the San Francisco offense.

    Davis, a fourth-round pick from South Carolina, will likely only see significant playing time if Hyde gets injured. While Davis is a strong between-the-tackles runner in his own right, he doesn’t bring anything to the table that Hyde cannot do. He also faces competition for carries from Kendall Hunter, who is recovering from a torn ACL but would be the top choice to fill in as the complementary back if Bush gets injured.

    In leagues with deep rosters, it could be a smart strategy for Hyde owners to use a late-round draft pick on Davis as insurance. But Davis’ likelihood of playing regularly is too low to bank on any high-level production from the rookie running back this year.

    All measurables and statistics courtesy of unless otherwise noted.

    Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.