Rookies are overlooked for the most part in a lot of fantasy drafts, but if you take last year for example, four rookie running backs finished inside the top 20 on the season in terms of standard fantasy points. They were Eddie Lacy, who likely is a first round pick this year in all formats, along with the Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell, the Bengals’ Gio Bernard and the Rams Zac Stacy. All four had productive rookie campaigns in 2013 and look to build on that for the upcoming season.
It’s not just running backs, as rookies such as Cordarelle Patterson and Keenan Allen helped teams at the wideout position, especially down the stretch and into the fantasy postseason of many leagues.
Here are the top five fantasy rookies to keep an eye on come draft day :
If I could’ve hand picked a spot for wide receiver Brandin Cooks to go to succeed, it would have been down in New Orleans. Early reviews are glowing for the former Oregon State Beaver, who has fit in seamlessly with the offense so far. He missed a lot of offseason work due to Oregon State’s late graduation and to make up for lost time, he spent two weeks in San Diego to work out with his star QB, Drew Brees. Darren Sproles departed for Philadelphia in the offseason and I expect Cooks not only to make up that production but to exceed what Sproles did in terms of catches and TD. Even though Sproles was a running back and Cooks is a wideout, they’ll be used in similar fashions. He’s my early favorite for NFL rookie of the year.
The Titans drafted this versatile back out of the University of Washington in the second round of this past May’s draft. He’s small in stature at 5’9 but packs a punch at 210 pounds. They don’t have much else in their backfield at the moment, with Shonn Greene ailing and Dexter McCluster not a traditional back to begin with. Sankey catches the ball beautifully out of the backfield (caught 67 balls at UW) and with an offensive line that’s better than they are given credit for, I expect a big rookie year from Sankey. Goodbye, Chris Johnson. There’s a new tailback in town.
Sammy Watkins was an absolute stud at Clemson, breaking all kinds of records during a star studded career as a Tiger. Catching 25 touchdowns over a four year career, he has really worked on developing a good rapport with quarterback EJ Manuel. Devoid of other real quality options in the passing game, Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said after minicamp back in June that he wants to get the ball to rookie wideout Sammy Watkins “a whole bunch.”
Reports out of Falcons camp have Steven Jackson out with a hamstring. The sound you heard from Flowery Branch was the door being opened for Devonta Freeman, drafted in the fifth round out of Florida State. The shifty tailback has shown a ton of potential through the minicamps and even through the first few days of training camp. He has an inate ability to find holes in tight spaces and got the “tough yards” while at FSU. A remade Falcons offensive line helps with first round pick Jake Matthews starting from day one on the right side. Jackson may be back from his hamstring injury in time for the opener, but don’t count out Freeman taking the lion’s share of the carries early in the season and potentially beyond.
Jermichael Finley is long gone, so in steps the undrafted rookie from California who has opened eyes in Packers camp so far. He has a lot going for him, including standing tall at six foot six, playing with the best QB in the game in Aaron Rodgers and having Andrew Quarless as his lone healthy competition. Green Bay loves to use the tight end in the red zone, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Rodgers-Rodgers connection at least a half dozen times for scores.