Fantasy football 2014 draft preview: Rookies to watch
The 2014 class of fantasy rookies appears to be thin on top-shelf fantasy prospects but filled with opportunity in the later rounds of drafts. While we know the dangers of expecting rookies to carry consistent fantasy value, we also know that sometimes the best value comes out of a late-round rookie whose talents far exceed what anyone expected. Impact players like Russell Wilson, Alfred Morris, Zac Stacy, Keenan Allen and T.Y. Hilton could all have been had late in fantasy drafts (or even on waivers) in the summers of their rookie years.
Unfortunately, for every breakout youngster, there’s a Geno Smith, Ronnie Hillman or Tavon Austin putting up modest campaigns for owners who drafted them ahead of what was supposed to be a highly-touted rookie season. Keep in mind that a disappointing fantasy rookie can turn into a star sophomore with an offseason of improvement and adjustment, as Michael Floyd and Alshon Jeffery have shown.
The rookies below are getting drafted in most standard 14-round, 12-team fantasy leagues. At the bottom, I’ll provide a list of rookies who are getting drafted in larger leagues and should be considered for early waiver pickups. Each rookie’s current FantasyPros ADP is listed in parentheses, along with what I think the player’s ADP should be.
Bishop Sankey, RB, Tennessee Titans (ADP: 5.05. Should be: Round 5.)
The fact that Sankey, the first running back taken in the 2014 draft, is also the first rookie running back taken in fantasy football drafts should not be surprising. Sankey has looked good in preseason, has a good offensive line and is the only rookie running back expected to start the season at tailback and get the bulk of his team’s carries all year.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills (ADP: 8.04. Should be: Round 8.)
He’s shown playmaking skills in camp, although his preseason performances have been lackluster so far. The Bills led the league in rushing attempts in 2013, and while they would like to feature Watkins and the passing game more consistently, it’s all going to depend on the development of sophomore quarterback EJ Manuel. Watkins’ fantasy value is also dependent on this, making him a top-35 wide receiver with a very high ceiling.
Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints (ADP: 9.08. Should be: Round 9.)
One of the most dynamic wide receivers in college football last season (Cooks led FBS with 1,730 receiving yards) joins one of the most dynamic passing games in the NFL in New Orleans. After the offseason departures of Lance Moore and Darren Sproles, there’s plenty of room for Cooks to do his thing on the fast track at the Superdome. He’ll likely be the fourth mouth quarterback Drew Brees feeds, but he should be able to turn a few targets into a good amount of fantasy points. Unfortunately, there will be plenty of good wide receivers at this stage of the draft.
Terrance West, RB, Cleveland Browns (ADP: 10.08. Should be: Round 9.)
Backing up Ben Tate means you’re probably going to see some starts at some point -- Tate has spent plenty of time on the mend in his NFL career. The rookie out of Towson has a similar game to Tate, but he has the feet to bounce around would-be tacklers rather than try to run through them.
Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (ADP: 10.10. Should be: Round 12.)
The Buccaneers drafted Evans to work opposite another 6-foot-5 beast in Vincent Jackson, with fellow rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins also checking in at 6-foot-5. The Buccaneers will try to run the ball early on under risk-averse head coach Lovie Smith, but later in the season, once quarterback Josh McCown has the offense on the same page, Evans should be a valuable WR3 – especially as a red-zone threat.
Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers (ADP: 11.11. Should be: Round 9.)
Had Hyde been the first running back taken in the draft, like he was expected to be, he probably would have been a third-round fantasy football pick. Though he was chosen by a team with no glaring need for running backs at the time, Hyde is suddenly backing up 31-year-old Frank Gore and looks like a great rookie fantasy sleeper.
Jeremy Hill, RB, Cincinnati Bengals (ADP: 11.12. Should be: Round 11.)
The Bengals have Hill lining up as the backup to 2013 fantasy darling Giovani Bernard. Hill seems to have already passed veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis on the depth chart, which means goal-line carries await him in Hue Jackson’s run-oriented offense.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland Browns (ADP: 12.05. Should be: Round 16.)
While Manziel can use his arm and legs to get out of trouble, he’s still going to try to improvise more than is warranted, as young quarterbacks often do. With Josh Gordon possibly suspended for the season, Manziel’s fantasy value is limited to a bye-week replacement during weeks with favorable matchups. There are just too many good quarterbacks out there to waste a roster spot on Manziel in standard leagues.
Andre Williams, RB, New York Giants (ADP: 12.06. Should be: Round 9.)
Expected to get goal-line carries for the Giants, Williams’ ADP hasn’t fully corrected from the early drafts that took place before David Wilson announced his retirement.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers (ADP: 12.07. Should be: Round 10.)
At the start of the summer, Benjamin was labeled a project who would likely become a fantasy beast once he refined his route-running skills. But he’s already having a great camp, and he’s expected to be one of Newton’s main red zone targets this season, along with tight end Greg Olsen.
Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons (ADP: 12.10. Should be: Round 9)
Like Williams in New York, Freeman stands to see increased work after a training camp injury to his teammate. Steven Jackson’s hamstring injury is allowing his backups to see more action, and Freeman put up 107 total yards in his first preseason game, including 50 rushing yards on 10 carries and two catches for 57 yards. Take advantage of his unbalanced ADP.
Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit Lions (ADP: 12.12. Should be: Round 15.)
Last season, Tim Wright finished as the best rookie tight end in fantasy (13th among all tight ends with 87 fantasy points) after going undrafted in the NFL (and in most fantasy formats). Wright was the best rookie tight end in fantasy football since Rob Gronkowski scored 114 fantasy points in 2010. The lesson: Rookie tight ends rarely make a big fantasy impact. With that said, Ebron is a unique offensive talent who should be quarterback Matthew Stafford’s third or fourth option in 2014.
Tre Mason, RB, St. Louis Rams (ADP: 14.02. Should be: Round 11.)
Mason was a beast at Auburn, but the Rams enjoyed a standout 2013 from unheralded rookie Zac Stacy. While Stacy slowed down at the end of last season, he’s still the team’s primary running back, and Mason will provide change-of-pace talent behind him. Even so, grabbing him in the 14th round would be robbery. He’s deserving of a higher pick.
Rookies currently not being drafted in a standard 14-round draft for 12-team leagues:
Jordan Matthews, WR, Philadelphia Eagles (ADP: 15.08. Should be: Round 11): Can he earn targets lost by the departed DeSean Jackson? His nine-catch performance in the Eagles’ second preseason game is an encouraging sign.
Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, New York Giants (ADP: 15.10. Should be: Round 15.): The early expectation that Beckham would take over for Rueben Randle pushed his ADP higher than it should be. He’s a big talent who might need a year or two to develop, and a bad hamstring has limited him this preseason.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Minnesota Vikings (ADP: 16.11. Should be: Round 18.): Even if he lands the starting job, there are still far too many other good quarterbacks to take a chance on before Bridgewater. If wideout Cordarrelle Patterson develops the way everyone expects, Bridgewater could become a late-season bye-week consideration for fantasy owners. It’s still an Adrian Peterson-first offense.
James White, RB, New England Patriots (ADP: 16.04. Should be: Round 13.): White is slowly climbing up the ADP ranks, as rumors persist he’s auditioning to take the full-time job from Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, who are both free agents after this season.
Marqise Lee, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars (ADP: 18.06. Should be: Round 13.): Without question, Lee could be this year’s version of Keenan Allen. Tthe Jaguars lack established playmakers, and he’ll instantly get work at wide receiver. He just needs Blake Bortles to develop quickly.
Jace Amaro, TE, New York Jets (ADP: 20.12. Should be: Round 19.): Amaro could out-produce both Ebron and Seferian-Jenkins in Year One and still not be worthy of anything more than a bye-week replacement roster spot.