The NFL Draft has come and gone, and we’ve had a couple weeks now to try to figure out what it all means. I’m sure you’ve watched the experts on ESPN and NFL Network break each pick down a hundred times by now, but most of their analysis comes in the context of real football. Who cares about that stuff, right? What we care about here is fantasy football!
So how did the draft affect your fantasy season? That’s what I’m here to discuss.
The short answer to question posed above is that it shouldn’t affect it very much. A lot of people like to get excited about the potential of rookies to change the fantasy landscape, but the truth is that impactful rookies are few and far-between.
Sure we’ve seen guys like Andrew Luck, Doug Martin, and AJ Green all have big rookie campaigns in recent years, but these are the exception, not the norm. For every AJ Green, there are several Tavon Austins, Mark Ingrams, and Geno Smiths. That’s not to say that Tavon Austin will never be fantasy-relevant, but he certainly was not in his rookie year. So who has the chance to be fantasy-relevant this year? We’ll break it down by position.
Fantasy Relevant Rookie Quarterbacks
Johnny Manziel, Cleveland Browns
Rookie quarterbacks don’t normally affect the fantasy football world. They don’t know their offensive schemes in-and-out, and they generally have some mechanical adjustments to make. One characteristic, though, can make rookie quarterbacks relevant: the potential for yardage and touchdowns on the ground. Johnny Manziel could be a usable quarterback this year simply because he can rush for 50 yards and a touchdown in any game he plays.
That being said, DO NOT draft Manziel as your number-one quarterback. See how he does in training camp, and, if he’s going to start for the Browns, feel free to use a late-round flyer on him. At the worst, you drop him. At the best, he becomes excellent trade bait or your starting quarterback.
Keep Half An Eye On
I’m not going to go into much detail here. The rest of the quarterbacks who have a chance at starting this year (Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, Derrick Carr) don’t have the rushing potential of Manziel and are not worth drafting. If you’re a guy who’s streaming quarterbacks, though, keep an eye on their stats and matchups, as they could be worth one or two starts this year.
Fantasy Rookie Fantasy Running Backs
Bishop Sankey, Tennessee Titans
Sankey immediately became the number-one rookie running back in fantasy when he was drafted to the Titans, who parted ways with Chris Johnson this offseason. He may not be the most talented of the rookie RBs (or he may be, I haven’t done the film study to really weigh in on it), but it likely doesn’t matter. Chris Johnson has been anywhere from mediocre to bad for the past few years and still finished as a top-ten RB last year simply due to volume. Sankey will see a lot of that volume now with Johnson out of the picture.
There is a big caveat to this recommendation. According to fantasyfootballcalculator.com, Sankey is being drafted as the 18th RB right now, ahead of names like Ryan Mathews, Frank Gore, Ben Tate, and Ray Rice. That is completely ludicrous. Don’t be the guy in your league who takes Bishop Sankey in the 3rd round. You’re reaching at that point. If he’s there in the 5th, go right ahead. You should NEVER reach on a rookie.
Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals
Jeremy Hill is not on the same level as Bishop Sankey opportunity-wise, but he has a chance to contribute this year. Gio Bernard is great, but it is clear that the Bengals do not want him as their every-down back. BenJarvus Green-Ellis averaged 3.4 YPC in 2013. That is not good. Jeremy Hill is very talented. If I’m the Bengals this year, I’m figuring out creative ways to get Bernard the ball in space and planning on using Hill on 1st and 2nd down. Now, I’m not the Bengals, so who knows whether that’s what is actually happening in Cincinnati. I would be very surprised, though, if Hill does not have a prominent role in this offense when all is said and done.
Keep An Eye On
Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons
Devonta Freeman is now presumptuously the backup to Steven Jackson in Atlanta, along with Jacquizz Rodgers. Jackson will be 31 when the season starts, missed 4 games due to injury last year, and had his worst statistical season of his career. If you draft Steven Jackson, keep Freeman in mind as a handcuff. If you don’t draft Jackson, keep an eye on Freeman on the waiver wire.
Terrance West and Isaiga Crowell, Cleveland Browns
Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell are both in Cleveland, West through the draft and Crowell as a UDFA, though it’s possible that Crowell is the more talented back. Ben Tate appears to be the starter there, but Tate has never truly been a feature back before. Keep an eye on the performance of all three through training camp and preseason.
Tre Mason, St. Louis Rams
Tre Mason is the new backup for Zac Stacy in St. Louis. We here at Let's Talk Fantasy Football believe that Stacy is a stud, but Mason is talented as well and is the definite handcuff for Stacy in 2014.
Fantasy Relevant Rookie Wide Receivers
Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills
Sammy Watkins is a dynamic playmaker and a special talent. That being said, he did not get drafted into the best situation for fantasy owners. The ball will be thrown to him by E.J. Manuel, who had a 42.3 QBR in 2013. Furthermore, the Bills offense ran the ball 51.12% of the time last year, good for third-highest percentage in the NFL. Neither of those two stats bode particularly well for our friend, Sammy. Manuel’s passes, though, have to go somewhere, and Watkins stands to see a lot of targets. I expect him to see a lot of work in between the 20’s but not enough touchdowns to make him a top-25 wide receiver. Someone in your league will probably reach on him. Don’t let it be you.
Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I would not be surprised at all if Evans ends the season as the number one rookie WR in fantasy. Why, you ask? It’s simple. He’s 6’5”. Vincent Jackson, his fellow starting WR, is also 6’5”. I’d expect to see Jackson get double-covered in the redzone often, meaning Evans will spend a lot of time with a single, smaller cornerback covering him in jump-ball situations. That means touchdowns.
That being said, I don’t know how spectacular the Bucs offense will be this year. I believe that Josh McCown’s 2013 was a complete aberration, and Mike Glennon is just passable right now as an NFL QB. Mike Evans is supremely talented, but he, like Watkins, may be held back by his team’s quarterback situation. Evans is another rookie who someone will probably reach on. Make sure you take this into consideration.
Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia Eagles
Matthews was the 7th WR taken in the 2014 NFL Draft, but he was put into a situation where he could see immediate success as the 3rd WR in what should be a prolific Eagles offense. Yes, the Eagles have a plethora of offensive weapons that will all demand targets, but with Matthews’s exceptional size and speed (6’3” with a 4.46 forty), it seems like Chip Kelly will have to find ways to get him the ball. He’s the kind of guy who you take a late-round-flyer pick on and hope he breaks out.
Keep An Eye On
Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers
Kelvin Benjamin is big and strong (6’5”, 240 lbs), and he only has Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant ahead of him on the Panthers depth chart. If Benjamin impresses in training camp, expect him to get plenty of opportunities during the regular season.
Devante Adams, Green Bay Packers
Davante Adams is talented and will have Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback. An injury to any of Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, or Jarrett Boykin makes him a must-roster player.
Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson are the newest members of the Jaguars receiving corps with only Cecil Shorts and Ace Sanders ahead of them on the depth chart. Neither of them will likely be huge contributors this year, but anything is possible.
Cody Latimer, Denver Broncos
Cody Latimer will likely compete with Emmanuel Sanders for Eric Decker’s former role in Denver. If he wins that battle, he belongs on a roster in every single league.
Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giant
A notable exception on this list is Odell Beckham Jr., the third WR taken in the draft. I don’t trust rookie WRs under 6’ to be consistent contributors, so unless your league counts kick-return points for the returner, I wouldn’t bother. Beckham is currently being drafted ahead of his teammate Rueben Randle, which I find difficult to fathom.
Fantasy Relevant Rookie Tight Ends
None of them. That’s right. In a 10 or 12 team league, you should not be drafting any rookie tight ends this year.
Keep An Eye On
Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions
Eric Ebron was the first tight end drafted this year, but he will be the second tight end on the Lions as Brandon Pettigrew just received a big contract. I’m sure the team will run plenty of two-TE sets, but Ebron simply won’t see enough targets to warrant being an every-week tight end.
Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Austin Sefarian-Jenkins adds another 6’5” target to the Tampa Bay Buccaneer’s growing collection of them. He’ll be the type of TE who’s fantasy production will be completely dependent on whether or not he catches a touchdown that week.
Jace Amaro, New York Jets
Jace Amaro made the slot his home more than a traditional tight end in college, so it would make sense for the Jets to use him in a similar fashion. Amaro has a chance to make a name for himself on a team with a dearth of quality pass-catchers.
The Fantasy Football Rookies Impact
So what did we learn here? First of all, I’m not a huge fan of rookies in general. Second of all, I’m really not a huge fan of rookies this year. A lot of these guys have been put in situations where they’ll have startable weeks, but it won’t be with any sort of consistency. By all means, keep track of the guys you think will be good and consider taking them in the later rounds, but definitely do not count on any of these rookies to be a starter for you (except perhaps for Sankey, who is likely a decent flex play).
Have any questions for me? Think that several rookies will be studs this year? Plan on drafting Johnny Football in the third round? Let me know! As always, I’d love to talk fantasy football.