This summer, a panel was asked to select the Top 25 fantasy rookie prospects for 2012 from the list of draft-eligible college skill position players. The panel includes: Will Carroll and Mike Beacom of SI.com, Steve Lassan of Athlon Sports, Alex Esselink of College Fantasy Football Insider, and Todd DeVries of College Football Geek.
Each week during the season, SI.com will evaluate how the top fantasy prospects of tomorrow are performing on the college gridiron. Here is the preseason Top 25, with background information and a comment from one of the panelists for each player:
Many thought Richardson was every bit as good as former Crimson Tide teammate Mark Ingram last year. In fact, Richardson's 6.3-yard average was almost a full yard better than Ingram's average per carry. The 224-pound back now has the stage all to himself in Tuscaloosa and could follow in Ingram's first round footsteps come next April.
Lassan says: Richardson can immediately become a top 20 fantasy rusher.
Like former Ducks teammate LeGarrette Blount, James will enter the NFL with character issues, but his abilities on the football field will force teams to overlook them. James has gained more than 3,200 yards in his two seasons in the lineup, and has found the end zone 38 times during that stretch. If anything will raise red flags it will be his size (5-foot-9, 185 pounds).
DeVries says: No player in the country has the electric, quick-twitch moves James has. His ability to bounce plays outside and get to the edge in the blink of an eye makes him a nightmare for Pac-12 defensive coordinators.
Jeffery recorded 85 or more yards in 11 of 14 contests last year, including 130 yards against Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. He is one of the biggest NFL Draft receiver prospects (6-foot-4, 229 pounds) and should earn favor among scouts for his ability to produce (88 catches, 1,517 yards in 2010) despite being the Gamecocks' only real receiving threat.
Carroll says: Jeffery is the best receiver in college football based on his speed, moves and outstanding hands. The key to his success this year is how well (quarterback) Stephen Garcia is able to find other receivers when Jeffery is double and triple defended.
Everyone's projected No. 1 pick for 2012 is also a fantasy favorite, even though rookie quarterbacks rarely make a splash. Luck completed 70.7 percent of his passes and averaged 8.2 yards per carry (55 attempts) last year. He's not your usual highly-touted quarterback prospect, he's special -- maybe John Elway special.
DeVries says: His skill set and the pro-style offense he orchestrates at Stanford all translate extremely well to the NFL game.
Fuller may be the best receiver ever to suit up for the Aggies. He used his 6-foot-4 frame to catch 12 touchdowns last fall, and he collected three games of 150 or more yards. His father played six seasons with the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s.
Carroll says: His ability to turn catches into touchdowns makes him a very valuable receiver.
Blackmon proved last season he's just as dangerous as former OSU receiver Dez Bryant. Blackmon had 100 or more yards in all 11 games he played, including 207 against Texas Tech. He even carried for a 69-yard score against Baylor. His DUI arrest last October will follow him into the NFL.
Beacom says: The Dez Bryant and Michael Crabtree comparisons help and hurt Blackmon's stock.
Notre Dame has produced a number of NFL wide receivers in recent years, with Floyd expected to be the next. He caught almost twice as many passes (79) as the Irish's next closest receiver last season, and had a catch of 30-plus yards in six games. The DUI arrest in March will sting, but it won't keep him off the field next fall.
Lassan says: The biggest issue with Floyd is staying healthy. If he can do that, he can be the top receiver from the 2012 draft.
How good is Gray? Ask Texas' defense, which allowed the Aggies back to gain 223 yards on 27 carries last November. That performance was part of a string of seven consecutive 100-yard efforts to end the season.
DeVries says: The only thing holding Gray's fantasy value in check this fall is the presence of his counterpart, Christine Michael. Gray has explosive breakaway speed and is a dangerous threat in the passing game.
Measurables are nice, but eye-popping stats count, too. Broyles' 131 catches for Oklahoma last year caught the attention of everyone. It's not as though Broyles wasn't already on the radar (89 catches for 1,120 yards in 2009), he just wasn't Top 10 material. And with Landry Jones back in the pocket there's no reason to believe Broyles cannot add to his totals.
Lassan says: He is best suited as a slot receiver, where he will be a factor in PPR formats.
The Hokies' next great back brought smiles to the faces of fans this offseason with his dazzling displays in a pair of scrimmages. Last year, in limited duty, Wilson scored nine touchdowns in just 128 offensive touches. He is also one of the country's best triple jumpers.
Esselink says: Good size, incredible speed and the ability to bust big plays as both a running back and as a kick returner. Listen for the Heisman whispers to start early.
The 2010 Holiday Bowl MVP was just heating up as last season was coming to a close (284 yards against Washington State, 177 against Nebraska). In the past two seasons the 222-pound bruiser has gained a total of more than 2,800 yards from scrimmage. Polk had arthroscopic surgery this offseason to repair a meniscus injury but is expected to be fine when he returns to action.
DeVries says: Polk is a bigger back who's at his best running between the tackles.
Last season, Jones was held to fewer than 250 passing yards just twice, and he completed 65.6 percent of his 617 attempts. His come-from-behind win over Nebraska and his performance in the 2011 Fiesta Bowl (34-of-49 passing for 429 yards) offered a boost to his draft stock.
Esselink says: Very similar to Sam Bradford in size, arm strength and on-the-field presence. Mentally and physically, he'll be ready to contribute in 2012.
Like so many Big Ten rushers, Baker must share the load (Le'Veon Bell), but Baker is the better of the two. He has a nose for the end zone and is capable of breaking the long run (three carries of 55-plus yards last season).
Lassan says: His best quality is his blend of speed and power -- a well-rounded back.
A patellar tendon injury caused Childs to miss the final month of last season, but all indications are that he'll be ready for a clean start to 2011. In eight games before the injury, Childs had gained 659 yards on 46 catches, including a 164-yard effort against eventual National Champion Auburn.
Beacom says: Childs may have been tempted to bolt for the NFL last season had he not suffered the injury. If he can return to top form, he'll remain one of the SEC's top receivers.
The shifty Ellington beat up on Auburn (188 yards from scrimmage), Miami-FL (three touchdowns) and Georgia Tech (166 yards on 20 carries) before a toe injury robbed him of much of the Tigers final five games last season.
Esselink says: He's an explosive runner, but he's also not afraid to mix it up and grind out yards.
Last season, no receiver in the conference could touch Criner, who averaged 15.0 yards on his 82 catches. He's deadly near the goal line and capable of stretching the field (at least one reception of 40-plus yards in eight games last fall). Questions were raised this offseason about whether Criner would play due to an undisclosed personal issue.
Beacom says: Criner was college football's biggest mystery this summer. Assuming that's a thing of the past, Criner should have another stellar year catching passes from Nick Foles.
The more Boise State gives the ball to Martin, the more he does with it, evidenced by his climbing yards per carry average the past three seasons. He is highly effective as a receiver in the Broncos offense (12.1 yards per catch) and showed at the end of last season the ability to handle the ball 20-plus times a game.
Carroll says: Martin will get plenty of carries, with some of them going for long distances.
Poole posted six 100-yard games in his first full season as the Volunteers' starting running back. Of course, his 14-carry, 117-yards effort against Alabama's defense was the most memorable of those performances.
Beacom says: SEC backs are given style points from scouts for having to face such a demanding schedule. If Poole can gain 100-plus yards against 'Bama and LSU, he can get the job done in the NFL.
Herron's first two seasons in Columbus hardly had him on the fast track to the next level. However, after his 1,155-yard and 16-touchdown junior campaign opinions have changed. Herron has below-average size (205 pounds), hardly living up to his "Boom" nickname. He is one of four Ohio State players who must sit the first five games of the season due to the tattoo scandal.
Beacom says: He probably needs a few more games like the ones he had against Penn State (190 yards) and Michigan (175 yards) last year to remain an early-round running back prospect.
Pead first gained recognition for his 175-yard performance in Cincinnati's key 2009 win over West Virginia. Last season he trampled Oklahoma (169 yards) and Rutgers (213 yards), but was also held to fewer than 40 yards in four games.
Beacom says: He's been too inconsistent. The upside is there, but Pead cannot afford to have as many "down" games as he did last fall.
Barkley improved his efficiency last year, throwing 26 touchdowns compared to just 12 interceptions (15 to 14 in 2009). When he is on, few quarterbacks in the country are as good; in back-to-back games against Stanford and Cal last year he passed for 742 yards and eight touchdowns (no interceptions) combined.
Esselink says: He doesn't have prototypical NFL height, but he has an elite arm. He beat out two veteran signal callers his freshman year (2009), so you know he has the moxie to play at the next level.
Ball scored 18 of Wisconsin's 48 rushing touchdowns last season, and he gained 100 or more yards in each of the Badgers final five contests. He has the size and quickness to compete at the next level.
Beacom says: Ball is one of the best backs in the Big Ten, and yet may not be the best back on his own team (James White). He'll have to split carries, which will affect his draft stock.
After seeing little action as a freshman, Haulstead exploded in 2010, averaging 15.4 yards per reception and leading the Seminoles with six touchdown catches. NFL teams will be attracted to his 6-foot-3, 213-pound frame.
Beacom says: Much of the hype has to do with size and red zone potential, but Haulstead can become a more well-rounded receiver in time.
The word around Miami is that Miller is 4.3 fast, or faster. If he can show he can handle a heavy workload (just two games with more than 12 carries last year) he'll start to rise up draftboards. Scouts will also want to know if he can catch the ball out of the backfield (just 11 catches last season). Also offers potential as a kick/punt returner.
Beacom says: Speed guys always find a home in the NFL, in Oakland if nowhere else. Miller is explosive but may suffer if given the "situational back" label.
Forced to run the ball against some of the best defenses in the country, Bolden has held up well for Ole Miss. In fact, he averaged 6.0 yards per carry last season and gained 113 yards against Tennessee and 91 against LSU. Bolden is also versatile; he's caught 52 passes over the past two seasons.
Beacom says: He could break Deuce McAllister's school record for touchdowns and few outside of Mississippi know much about him. That will change this fall.