How will the NFL's rookies impact fantasy football drafts?
With the NFL draft all said and done, fantasy football owners now have the next three months (give or take) to speculate on the potential value of the players drafted into the NFL. We already took a reactionary look at the fantasy value of the offensive skill players taken in the first round. Now that the entire draft is finished and the players have been introduced to their respective coaches and fans, we have a much clearer picture of their fatntasy value. Correct that -- the "perceived" fantasy value. Going forward, you can rest assured knowing that these values will rise and fall like a fantasy wave as mini-camp and training camp news starts hitting.
Below, we analyze the newest members of the NFL based on where they might be drafted in a fantasy football draft this fall.
Possible early round pick (Rounds 1-5)
• Bishop Sankey, RB, Tennessee Titans -- A quick look back to last year's average draft positions shows that there were very few rookies taken in the first five rounds of fantasy drafts. The only ones taken among the top 60 picks in standard-scoring leagues were Eddie Lacy (No. 29 in a 12-team league), Giovani Bernard (No. 54) and Montee Ball (No. 65), according to fantasyfootballcalculator.com.
Sankey was not only the first running back taken (at No. 54, no less), but also the only tailback going to a situation where he'll likely end up with the lion's share of the carries. That alone makes him a top-30 running back going forward. Even then, he's not someone on which to burn a third-round pick. If you draft RB-WR-WR or RB-WR-QB with your first three picks, he's a decent option as an RB2, assuming he takes the starting gig from Shonn Greene.
Possible mid-round picks (Rounds 6-12)
There are first-year players that have a ton of talent, but are either being blocked by veterans, are in interesting situations about which we need more information or they play a deep fantasy position. Last year, there were six rookies whose ADP fell between rounds six and 12 in 12-team, standard-scoring formats -- Kenbrell Thompkins (No. 87), LeVeon Bell (No. 81), Tavon Austin (No. 95), DeAndre Hopkins (No. 118), Cordarelle Patterson (No. 139) and Christine Michael (No. 140).
• Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills -- Watkins might have the best potential to become a Dez Bryant-type fantasy wide receiver, but he needs E.J. Manuel to develop quickly after a very shaky first season. The Bills sent Stevie Johnson to the 49ers last weekend, so Watkins will have to learn from Mike Williams and Robert Woods. Luckily, the Bills have some strong offensive weapons, and he won't take sole responsibility in the early going.
• Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Evans will also likely be picked up among the top 40 wide receivers on Draft Day, based mostly on potential. He's in a Hopkins-like situation from last season, joining a team with a shaky quarterback situation and a very good WR1 in Vincent Jackson on the other side. He also plays in what should be a relatively conservative offense under new head coach Lovie Smith.
• Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints -- The Saints added one of the best offensive weapons in the draft, and they plan to use him all over, including as a kick returner. He'll pick up where Darren Sproles left off, and we can expect Drew Brees to utilize him frequently, possibly even taking targets away from Kenny Stills. Consider him a bigger Tavon Austin, and bump the Saints' already good DST up a couple spots in your rankings.
• Lache Seastrunk, RB, Washington Redskins -- Redskins' new head coach Jay Gruden used both BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Bernard last season, so a combination of Alfred Morris and Seastrunk makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately, Seastrunk playing in Washington hurts Morris' fantasy value more than it helps Seastrunk's.
• Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers -- Benjamin's one of my favorite players for dynasty leagues because of his size and ability to go up and beat everyone for the football. Unfortunately he's going to be asked to do more than he's ready to in his first season, since he's going to the weakest wide-receiver unit in the NFL. Think of Cordarrelle Patterson's unpolished rookie season -- but with a real quarterback.
• Jordan Matthews, WR, Philadelphia Eagles -- Matthews led the SEC with 1,477 receiving yards on 112 catches at Vanderbilt, which is 45 more catches than second-place Jarvis Landry. Sure, it's a product of the system he was in at Vanderbilt, but the point is he has good hands and he gets open. In Philadelphia, he'll be joining Chip Kelly's equally quirky system, likely working out of the slot that Jason Avant occupied. "The one thing he does is catch the ball in traffic," Kelly told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "He made an unbelievable amount of contested catches. He has such a wing span and will to go up and get it." With Jeremy Maclin still coming back from injury, and Riley Cooper still trying to establish himself as a go-to receiver, Matthews has a great opportunity here.
Possible late-round picks (Rounds 13-16)
Many times, owners will take a shot on a rookie in the late rounds because we don't know what might happen. Last season, WRs Aaron Dobson and Markus Wheaton were among the rookies drafted in the final rounds of most drafts.
• Terrance West, RB, Cleveland Browns -- I had hoped the Browns would take Charles Sims here, as the perfect match in the backfield with Ben Tate. But West looks like a very good handcuff for Ben Tate's owners, considering the free-agent signee's injury history. West is a thick (225 pounds, 5-foot-9), fast running back who played at a small football school (Towson). He set FCS records in rushing yards (2,509) and touchdowns (41) last season.
• Jeremy Hill, RB, Cincinnati Bengals -- The Bengals took Hill as the second-highest drafted running back after Sankey, despite many higher rated tailbacks on the board. This should be the kiss of death for Green-Ellis, and Hill will serve as Bernard's backup. We also expect the Bengals to lean more on their running game with Gruden gone.
• Andre Williams, RB, New York Giants -- The Giants signed Rashad Jennings this season, and they have the most-hated man in fantasy football (David Wilson), now that Mike Shanahan is no longer in the NFL. Williams could battle Jennings for the top spot, although he has questionable hands at best.
• Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit Lions -- If the tight end position wasn't so deep, Ebron would likely be a much higher draft pick. He'll eventually become Matthew Stafford's third-favorite receiving option, after Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush. In the early going, however, he'll likely struggle -- outside of some red-zone chances. He will be drafted here only because tight end has a large middle tier after the above-average options, you can pick him and "hope," and then dump him for a decent free agent if he disappoints early.
• Tre Mason, RB, St. Louis Rams -- The Rams already have a ton of running backs, but Auburn's Tre Mason is a tenacious back, in spite of his smallish stature (5-foot-8), and we expect him to become the No. 2 back behind Zac Stacy. He looks like a good handcuff for whoever takes Stacy in the first couple rounds. Don't forget he rushed for 195 yards on 34 carries against the National Champion Florida State Seminoles.
• Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland Browns -- Manziel's fantasy stock looked much brighter before Day 2 of the draft, when it was revealed that Josh Gordon could be suspended all season due to a failed drug test. Assuming Gordon is gone for most, if not all, of the regular season, the Browns are going to lean on Manziel's playmaking skills with Greg Little and Nate Burleson as his receivers. Johnny Football was already a late-round flier, but now he's going to have to rush for several touchdowns to make up for the interceptions we expect to see.
• Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants -- The Giants showed they weren't happy with WR Rueben Randle, and now Beckham should get a chance to make Eli Manning happy as the team's second-best fantasy wide receiver.
• Charles Sims, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- With Doug Martin coming back from season-ending shoulder surgery, Sims became a very interesting third-round draft pick on Friday. Martin is already working out in mini-camps, and he should be fine for the season (much different than a knee injury). Sims should immediately see work as the team's third-down back, as he's great in the passing game in receiving and blocking. The Bucs had the franchise's first-ever offense-only draft, which started with Evans, TE Austin-Seferian-Jenkins and Smith with their first three picks.
• Storm Johnson, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars -- Another chance for a fantasy opportunist, as Johnson joins the Jaguars, who are without Maurice Jones-Drew now. They did add Toby Gerhart, however, and he'll be the lead back to start the season. Johnson could be a surprise this season.
Possible in-season rookie pickups
• Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers: Did anyone have a more precipitous fantasy drop than Hyde? He went from being the expected top fantasy rookie, as the highest rated running back in the draft, to possibly going undrafted because he joined a 49ers team that still has Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, Marcus Lattimore and LaMichael James. Both Gore and Hunter are in contract years, and Hyde will have to fight for touches. We expect he'll see touches near the goal line, but the takeaways here are that the fantasy value of both Gore and Hyde took a considerable hit compared to this time last week.
• Best of the rest: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Tampa Bay; Marqise Lee, WR, Jacksonville; Allen Robinson, WR, Jacksonville; Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Minnesota; Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta; Derek Carr, QB, Oakland; Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville; Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay; Cody Latimer, WR, Denver; Jerick McKinnon, RB, Minnesota; Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Chicago.
David Gonos is a fantasy sports veteran of over 20 years and over 100 fantasy leagues. You can also follow him @davidgonos on Twitter.