The NFL draft reflects many things. The NFL has always been a copycat league in that everyone wants to try whatever seemed to be the winning equation the prior season. This means not only giving something a chance - say using a rookie quarterback - or following along with the trend to under-use all rookie running backs. Once upon a time the running backs were kings as rookies and you could just ignore pretty much all other positions. Now the reverse is happening with both quarterbacks and wideouts turning in impressive first season.
Last season, the rookies never had the benefit of any offseason work and most never saw their playbooks and ran with their team until training camp when the NFL and NFLPA signed their Collective Bargaining Agreement. Though it would seem the lack of work would greatly benefit the veterans, the reality was that it was a banner year for rookie quarterbacks and wide receivers. Cam Newton shattered most all rookie records and A.J. Green and Julio Jones helped many fantasy teams reach their championships. Andy Dalton - a rookie quarterback in Cincinnati with young and questionable receivers - ended up in the playoffs.
It's a brave new world and rookies matter in fantasy football. Here's the initial look at the top ten players coming out of the draft and why you need to track them in training camp.
1. RB Trent Richardson, Alabama (CLE - 1.03)
Once again we see an Alabama running back get selected at the top of his position and offer the most potential for 2012. Mark Ingram was the golden boy last year and mostly disappointed thanks to 1.) Darren Sproles, 2.) getting injured but mostly 3.) the Saints still just used a committee approach. Can that happen with Richardson? Sort of good news, bad news.
The good news is that Richardson is most often compared to Adrian Peterson in size (5-9, 228) and running style. He also goes to the Browns where he should have no problem surpassing Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbonnaya on the depth chart and it is almost inconceivable that Richardson won't be the primary, workhorse back. He is considered to be a special back and better than any other coming out of college for the last couple of seasons.
The bad news is that we said similar things about Mark Ingram last year who Richardson backed up at Alabama. And with a rookie quarterback, will the passing offense do anything to prevent defenses from loading up against Richardson? But still, Richardson has to be the #1 pick for rookies in redraft leagues because he'll get more touches than any other player. Rookie running backs have under performed for the last few years but expect Richardson to attract the optimistic drafter looking for a home run.
2. WR Brian Quick, Appalachian State (STL - 2.01)
This ranking could go down in a fast way but Quick has the best mixture of quarterback, playing in a dome for a team that has a tremendous need for him to deliver immediately. Quick is a raw player and that could well be his downfall as a rookie but he is 6-3, 220 pounds with plenty of speed.
If he shows the ability in training camp to get past cornerbacks, Quick could end up with the best stats if only because he has the best quarterback and situation. He's plenty big enough for work over the middle with plenty of receptions. His biggest challenge for work is probably Danny Amendola coming of his torn triceps and dislocated elbow that ended his season early in 2011.
3. WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State (JAC - 1.05)
In most every league, Blackmon will be the first rookie receiver taken and there are plenty of reasons why. He won the Biletnikoff Award (best NCAA receiver) for the last two years. He has moderate size at 6-1, 208 but has been a monster against almost all defensive backs any place on the field. His chemistry with QB Brandon Weeden made it almost pitch and catch with no need for a playbook at times. He is polished and wildly productive. He is expected to be a starter from week one and be a major contributor.
The only downside - and it could be significant - is that he landed on the #32 passing team from last year. Blaine Gabbert's rookie season (2214 yds, 12 TDs, 11 Int) was nothing short of horrific. Laurent Robinson is also on board there to take up some catches while the team is giving up on Mike Thomas who went from 66-820-4 to only 44-415-1 under Gabbert last season. The Jaguars are a run first team thanks to Maurice Jones-Drew and even when they threw last year Gabbert rarely completed more than 50% or topped 200 pass yards. Blackmon may have found the worst case scenario unless Gabbert can somehow play quite unlike he did in 2011.
4. RB Doug Martin, Boise State (TB - 1.31)
Martin could end up surprising. The Buccaneers were expected to end up with Trent Richardson until the Browns moved up and blocked them. No problem, they still ended up with the second best back in the draft 27 picks later. The Buccaneers have soured on LeGarrette Blount who has never developed into an adequate blocker on pass plays, never became much of a receiver in the offense and was mostly phased out of the offense in the final five weeks of the season. In comes Martin who is a three-down back with an ability top play any role the offense needs - unlike Blount. He's equally good between the tackles or around the edge and at 5-9, 223 he can use his size and burst to move the chains. If he can look sharp early on, he may just replace Blount all together and work as a receiver as well.
5. QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor (WAS - 1.02)
The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner gets some love thanks to Cam Newton who made us rethink rookie quarterbacks. He needs to be drafted in every league as a back-up to see what happens. But Griffin is a supreme athlete who can do damage both as a passer and a rusher. The biggest difference between Griffin and Newton (some would argue the only) is size. Griffin is only 6-2, 223 lbs while Newton rings in at 6-5, 244 lbs. That may mean Griffin is more susceptible to injury when he runs but he is explosive and hard to catch. He can extend plays running around the pocket or he can take off and hurt the defense. His rushing ability is why he's a better fantasy prospect as a rookie than Andrew Luck plus Griffin has better quality receivers than the rebuilding Colts.
6. WR Michael Floyd, Notre Dame (ARI - 1.13)
You could argue that Floyd has as much potential as any rookie wideout and he ends up with the player he likely most resembles - Larry Fitzgerald. They are both the same size (6-3, 220 Floyd and 6-3, 215 Fitzgerald) with game changing ability. Floyd is a great deep threat that the secondary will learn to respect or pay the price. He's equally good over the middle. Had he gone to a number of other teams, he would likely would have been penciled in as the #1 receiver. But he'll play along with Larry Fitzgerald and a still questionable quarterback situation. He should be a lock for at least a few big games from catching a deep score. Imagine if Peyton Manning had ended up in Arizona.
7. TE Coby Fleener, Stanford (IND - 2.02)
Normally a rookie tight end means the fantasy bench since it pretty unlikely that any of them will end up in the top twelve and hence be worthy as a starter in most leagues. That could be changed this year with the Colts drafting Fleener who was the best tight end in the nation and at 6-6, 247 lbs he's a big target. Make no mistake, Fleener is a receiver first and maybe always. And he becomes relevant as a rookie since he is being paired up with his college quarterback Andrew Luck who should love having a safety blanket. Over the last two seasons, Fleener has totaled 62 catches for 1101 yards and 17 touchdowns. He's never had more than 34 catches in a season but still posted as many as ten touchdowns just last year. The Colts are going to have to throw and Luck may end up tossing short passes to his college roommate.
8. WR Kendall Wright, Baylor (TEN - 1.20)
This is where the risk starts to outweigh the potential for fantasy rookies this year barring more information from training camps. Wright is under-sized at 5-10, 196 lbs but was Robert Griffin's favorite outlet at Baylor and he is both very athletic and polished in running routes. A four-year player at Baylor, Wright improved every season and ended with 108 catches for 1663 yards and 14 touchdowns against the Big 12 last year. With Kenny Britt and Nate Washington already there, Wright will need to earn increased playing time as the season progresses but should end up as the #2 there sooner than later. He's probably better as a final round draft in the summer and then hold on to see if he can help you in the later months of the season.
9. RB David Wilson, Virginia Tech (NYG -1.32)
At 5-10, 206 lbs, Wilson is not the replacement for the departed Brandon Jacobs as the Thunder to Ahmad Bradshaw's Lightning. What he does provide is an electric running style that saw him become the ACC Player of the Year as a Junior in 2011. He rushed 290 times for 1709 yards and nine touchdowns last year while adding 22 catches for 129 yards and another score. Wilson is very quick and yet runs low enough to run over some defenders. He is a good receiver out of the backfield and and make defenders miss when out in the open field. What he seems is a better version of Ahmad Bradshaw and without chronic foot problems as well. HC Tom Coughlin will use Wilson in some measure but his rookie season could end up being Bradshaw's caddy while learning the pro game. If Bradshaw does miss time injured - Wilson becomes a far more attractive player.
10. QB Andrew Luck, Stanford (IND - 1.01)
The best player of the 2012 draft may end up to be the next Peyton Manning, but it is less likely that he will start out at the same pace as Manning did. His rushing game is questionable and his best receivers are the aging Reggie Wayne and oft-injured Austin Collie. He does get to use his college buddy Coby Fleener but Luck is a pocket passer and will not offer the rushing stats that help prop up the weekly stats. Luck should be drafted as a deep backup but his role as a rookie is not likely to warrant being a fantasy starter.