I know what you’re thinking… No, it’s not too early. And let me tell you a story to show you why.
The year was 2010 and the first sports season of the new decade, baseball season, was amongst us. I’ve never been much of a baseball fan, but for some reason I continue to partake in the tomfoolery that is fantasy baseball with my high school buddies. With my fantasy baseball draft impending, I focused on sleepers for the upcoming season and I had one particular player in mind: Chris Davis. Yes, the same Chris Davis that hit .239 in 113 games in 2009. The same Chris Davis that got sent down to Triple-A halfway through that 2009 season, but came back in August sporting a .308 average and that nasty hitter’s touch that every fantasy baseball GM (and actual baseball GM) dreams about. But it wasn’t just the great minors numbers or the bounce-back he showed in 2009 that confirmed to me that he was the sleeper to pick in 2010. Plus, he was batting .550 during and looking like an absolute stud-ebaker. His strikeouts were down, his batting average was up, his hits were still home-running – he was a lock of a bounce-back candidate.
A lock to go right back down to Triple-A. He lasted just 120 at-bats, batting just .192 and hitting only 1 HR in the process.
For those of you that care less about baseball than I do (which is saying something, believe me), the point of this story may not be clear to you, but for anyone that jumped on the training camp hype from last year (Kellen Winslow, or god forbid, Cecil Shorts III), you know what I’m talking about. Now, it’s not that training camp hype is all bad. Training camp hype allowed me to zero in on Jimmy Graham last year, for one. But, it’s important to look at how NFL players fit with their teams, the depth of the position on those teams, and what broader contexts may affect their play. And there’s no better group of players to do that with than NFL rookies, so I’m going to hone in on 10 rookies that can make a huge impact this year for their teams, both real and fantasy.
Trent Richardson, RB, Cleveland Browns
The fantasy community can sure jump on an impact rookie running back right away. Touted by everyone’s mother as the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson, T-Rich has the potential to deliver top 5 RB numbers when it’s all said and done, and is valuated as such. Projected to go anywhere between the end of round 1 and the beginning of round 2, the excitement over Richardson is reminiscent of the excitement over other young running backs that ended up being fantasy busts in their first year with the starting gig – the Ryan Matthews and Shonn Greenes of the fantasy world. Now, let’s not get it twisted – Richardson is neither Matthews nor Shonn Greene, and that’s a good thing (well, Matthews is actually good now, but that’s beside the point). Yet, there is still plenty to be concerned about with Richardson. The consistent 8-man fronts he’s going to face because of his QB situation, the offensive line which produced a 28th ranked rushing attack last year, the AFC North (I know Cincinnati has Reggie Nelson who’ll probably give up a long run or two to Richardson, but Baltimore and Pittsburgh will make sure it’s not nearly that easy), and simply making the transition as an NFL rookie. Can he still produce top 10 RB numbers? Absolutely. But I’ll let you spend the first round pick on him.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins
RGIII comes into the league one year after Cam “The Man” Newton took fantasy football by storm, and it’ll show. The recent success of running quarterbacks (Vick, Cam, Tebow) will make fantasy owners jump the gun on RGIII, but his situation should come under heavy scrutiny. The receiving corps of Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan, and Santana Moss should be more than serviceable, but still doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence, and the pass rush heavy NFC East should be a huge concern, both for RGIII’s production and health. However, it’s pretty hard to argue that he isn’t a perfect fit for Mike Shanahan’s bootleg offense (if Jake Plummer could do it, RGIII will eventually excel at it), so if you caught the short end of the stick when drafting your first QB, take a flyer on the new face of DC (sorry Barack).
Michael Floyd, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Big, fast, strong, and fairly polished for a rookie receiver. Floyd has the tools to make an impact from day 1, which is one of the reasons why he was the 13th pick in this year’s draft. And he’ll never be double covered. Yeah, playing alongside a top 3 WR has its benefits. So why does he show up third on this list? Kevin Kolb. Or John Skelton. Whoever you think will actually win the starting QB job. Both have big enough arms, but both also have an incredibly infuriating tendency to check-down instead of going through their progressions. So, if Floyd is running 7 yard hitches, he might have a shot at a good season with either of those two at QB, but if you’re going to take a flyer on a receiver as your draft comes to a close, he’s the guy you should think of.
Alshon Jeffrey, WR, Bears
Boy, did Christmas come early for Jay Cutler or what? While Jeffrey and Brandon Marshall are both more possession-receiver types, they fill a huge need for the Bears and that passing offense. Cutler’s got the gun to sling it to Jeffrey anywhere on the field, and while Marshall isn’t Larry Fitzgerald, he’ll still command enough attention to give Jeffrey his chances. Now, you can’t ignore the offensive line issues, mostly because it hasn’t improved at all from a personnel basis, but in a league of measurables, Jeffrey has the size, strength, and jumping ability to be exactly what the Bears and Jay Cutler are looking for on third downs and more.
Justin Blackmon, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
The two-time Biletnikoff Award winner has the best opportunity of any WR in the draft to make an impact. He’s an X receiver with nowhere close to another comparable receiver as far as talent on this roster, and he may have just enough help between MJD, Laurent Robinson, Marcedes Lewis, and Mike Thomas to keep defenses from honing in on him and giving Blaine a true number 1 receiver. The negatives, however, are plenty. The QB play from last year, the offensive line play from last year, the play from Marcedes Lewis and Mike Thomas from last year, the work he’ll need to put in with regards to route running and expanding his route tree. But hey, with Jerry Sullivan on our side, are you going to be the one to bet against him? Just don’t overpay come draft day.
Reuben Randle, WR, New York Giants
The truth of the matter with Randle is, I don’t know if the Giants found their Manningham replacement like everyone says they did. He was great value where he was picked, and he’s a solid addition to an already solid WR corps. Unlike some teams, like the 2011 Jaguars, that couldn’t put out one quality fantasy pass catcher, the 2011 Giants showed that, like the Packers, they can put out a multitude of quality WR/TE pass catchers. Randle has a great quarterback and the opportunity to make an impact, and for a non-first round rookie, that’s all you can really ask for.
Greg Childs, WR, Minnesota Vikings
When you think of the prototypical X receiver, you think of size, speed, strength, jumping ability, and confidence. You think of the best WR on his team. But, what you don’t think of is the 134th pick in the draft. The self-proclaimed “steal of the draft”, Childs was the most productive of the three Arkansas WRs taken in this year’s draft and arguably the most athletic. He’s coming off an injury, but he sure looked good at his pro day. Plus, he fills a huge need for the Vikings, who have the perfect slot receiver but are sorely missing a true number 1 to help out Christian Ponder.
Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Bucs
He’s got a huge opportunity, and you know the new Bucs coaching staff is going to side with him over LaGarrett Blount. But, they’re very similar backs in terms of style, so it’s really going to be a matter of who produces when it gets down to it. He’s got as good an opportunity as any running back not named Trent Richardson.
Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
Best QB prospect since Peyton Manning? Joining the worst team since the 1976 Bucs who went 0-14? Okay, that might be overkill, but you get the point. The Colts did a good job retaining some of their impact players, despite their age, and won’t be as bad this year as they were last year. That being said, Luck’ll need more than Reggie Wayne and a rookie TE to succeed. He’ll have his chances this year, so I’d put him in solid QB2 range.
Ronnie Hillman, RB, Denver Broncos
Who? The backup to a 31 year old running back with a history of knee issues. The running back who’ll play in the same backfield as the guy that made Joseph Addai look like a stud. A super fast twitch athlete who may struggle early on because of the uptick in competition from San Diego State, he’s incredibly quick, patient, and despite his size, has goal line capabilities. He’ll be fighting a former first round pick in Knowshon Moreno for the backup spot when the season starts, but the fight won’t be a fair one, and not in the way you might think. Moreno has come close to wearing out his welcome in Denver and is coming off of ACL surgery.
Ryan Broyles, WR, Detroit Lions
Incredible hands, incredible quickness. He’ll need both if he’s going to contribute, but he sure has the talent to do so. Does he get the quickness back after November ACL surgery? Keep tabs on your league’s waiver wire.
David Wilson, RB, New York Giants
The Giants just put out running backs, and with the injury history of Ammad Bradshaw, you have to assume that the former Hokie is in the best possible situation to succeed. He’s a fast-twitch athlete in the fastest of senses, and he’s got good enough vision to burst through the holes that the Giants O-line will produce. His main hindrance will be getting on the field, especially due to his poor pass blocking (and we know Tom Coughlin won’t stand for that), but with Bradshaw’s injury history and Wilson’s talents, I’ll sign off on taking a late round flyer on him.
Agreements, Disagreements, and other great fantasy fits? Leave them in the comments!
Tags: 2012 Fantasy Football Andrew Luck Cecil Shorts Cecil Shorts III Chris Davis David Wilson Doug Martin Fantasy Football Greg Childs Jacksonville Jaguars Jeris Pendleton Jimmy Graham Joseph Addai Justin Blackmon Kellen Winslow Knowshon Moreno Michael Floyd Robert Griffin III Ronnie Hillman Ryan Boyles Ryan Broyles Trent Richardson