Sunday, July 24, 2011

Which Rookies Are Worth Drafting On Your Fantasy Team? Fantasy Primer Pt. 2

***Update: 8/1 - I've made some adjustments in the post below after the first week of NFL practices have changed some rosters around:

In the second installment of my Fantasy Football primer, we will look at one of the most difficult decisions facing any fantasy football owner:  are there any rookies good enough to draft?

In 2010, the rookie crop was just as unpredictable as ever, with guys like Sam Bradford, LeGarrette Blount, Mike Williams, and Rob Gronkowski performing well enough to start for many fantasy teams by mid-season.

However, there were just as many duds such as Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy, and Ryan Matthews.  Even a guy like Dez Bryant who seemed to have a decent rookie season only had a couple great games and spent the rest of the year doing virtually nothing (I would know; I had him on my team waiting for him to produce).

What clouds the issue even further is the protracted lockout that has prevented anyone from seeing how well any of the rookies might be performing in their workouts with their team.  There's been no on-field reporters at practice to tell us which quarterback actually seems to get the system, or a wide receiver who has been tearing it up on the field.

With that in mind, one has to dig a bit deeper to find potential rookie standouts in this year's class.  Unless otherwise noted, I would not recommend drafting any of these players until your final few rounds.

Top Fantasy Rookie QBs

  1. Colin Kaepernik, San Francisco - Right now, you're probably wondering what I'm smoking.  Here's Kaepernik's upside in value: he was drafted by new coach Jim Harbaugh and there's no solid incumbent to beat him out of the starting position. Alex Smith will probably be released this week, and if he is I'd grab Kaepernik in a late round, especially if you're in a dynasty league. ***Update 8/1 - I've cooled on Kaepernik with the re-signing of Alex Smith.  However, if Smith falters and they give Kaepernik a shot, he's worth a pickup in some dynasty/keeper leagues.
  2. Cam Newton, Carolina - His scrambling ability and physical tools should ensure solid stats in the running department.  If Steve Smith is healthy, he has a top-flight receiver to help bail him out of jams.  What remains to be seen is how quickly he will see the field, and no one knows if the Panthers will stick with Newton and Jimmy Clausen at quarterback or seek to bring in an experienced veteran.  If the Panthers bring in a Kyle Orton/Matt Hasselbeck-type, then back off of Newton until the late, late rounds.
  3. Christian Ponder, Minnesota - Ponder is in the same position as Newton in the sense of not knowing if the team will bring in a veteran starter for this season.  Ponder is helped by having a lot of offensive weapons around him (hello, Adrian Peterson), but the stark reality is that the Vikings are playing in the NFC North.  Exposing Ponder to the likes of the Packers, Bears, and Lions (don't laugh, have you seen the front 4 of the Lions???) defenses as a highly inexperienced rookie may be the worst thing to do to him in terms of his development and confidence.  **** Update: 8/1 -  With McNabb now being the #1 QB, Ponder isn't a realistic choice.
  4. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati - Lots of starting experience in college, and a great head for football will allow Dalton to take the field possibly before any of his other fellow rookies.  That, and the fact that current starter Carson Palmer is not returning to the job under any circumstance, ensures Dalton the starting job.  He'll still have Ochocinco, Cedric Benson, and fellow rookie A.J. Green as weapons, and honestly I just can't see Dalton throwing more interceptions than Palmer did last year (20).
Top Rookie Fantasy RBs
***There isn't a single running back in this rookie class that has the kind of buzz that would make you want to draft him, but the way to look at it is to find a team that seems to have a big need at the position.  Don't go with a rookie who is clearly walking into a committee system.  There's only four running backs that I'd even consider taking in the draft. 
  1. Roy Helu, Washington - Yes, Helu is stepping into a committee of sorts, but this committee is there because everyone got injured last year.  Ryan Torain is probably the incumbent starter, but Coach Shanahan only shows loyalty to backs who produce consistently.  If Helu can be that man, he could have quite a good year considering how important the running game will be to the Redskins this year.
  2. Alex Green, Green Bay - Green showed an ability to catch the ball out of the back field in college, no doubt a major reason why the Packers took him.  They were 24th in the league in rushing last year after Ryan Grant went down with a season-ending injury in the first game. It's hard to say whether Grant is fully recovered and ready to go, but he is in no way the firm incumbent at starter. 
  3. Daniel Thomas, Miami - With the departure of (most likely) Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown, there should be a huge hole to fill at running back.  Miami is at the core a running team, and if Thomas is indeed the featured back, he should get plenty of opportunities to do well. ***Update 8/1 - Even though Reggie Bush is now a Dolphin, I don't change my projections for Thomas.
Top Rookie WRs
Performance at the wide receiver position for a rookie is so unpredictable that any recommendations come with a gigantic caution flag.  Who could have predicted that Mike Williams of Tampa Bay was going to have the kind of season predicted for Dez Bryant? 
  1.  A.J. Green, Cincinnati - Considered by far the best receiver in the draft, Green could be limited by his rookie quarterback.  However, Green has the physical tools that should allow for a decent rookie season.  Having OchoCinco at the other wide receiver position will help take the heat off of him.  
  2. Julio Jones, Atlanta - Matt Ryan likes to spread the ball around, so Jones should see plenty thrown his way.  The only question will be whether he will be a go-to guy in the red zone.  Otherwise, unless you're in a point-per-reception league, he's a very questionable draft choice.
  3. Torrey Smith, Baltimore - He's the deep threat in a potentially explosive offense.  The kind of production that everyone expected out of the Ravens last year may finally be realized with the addition of Smith.  If Flacco is able to accurately air it out, Smith could have some monster games.  
  4. Randall Cobb, Green Bay - With Green Bay's complex passing game and multitude of options, I don't expect to see much out of Cobb until the second half of the season.  If the injury bug hits the Packers again, watch for Cobb to emerge earlier.  

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