With the NFL Draft in the books, we can finally begin the unofficial fantasy football preseason. While I have broken down each offensive position group (see links at the bottom of the page), this post ranks the overall top 15 rookies drafted as per their value for a dynasty league.
To be clear, when I say “Dynasty” rankings, I don’t mean “Career” rankings. For keeper leagues, I’m focusing on the first few years of players’ contracts. After that point, a lot of unpredictable scenarios arise. They could be traded, their team could get significantly better/worse, they could shoot themselves in the foot (literally or figuratively), get abducted by aliens… You get the idea. With that said, the first few years of a player’s career are just as much (if not more) about their situation and opportunity as they are about talent. The best fantasy players will have a combination of BOTH!
[Note: If you’re interested in where the rookies stack up in redraft rankings, those will be coming at a later date]
Quarterbacks may get all the headlines, but in fantasy football, running backs and receivers have more potential to contribute early in their careers. Normally RBs would dominate this list, but this WR class is deep with good opportunities. Obviously these rankings would be skewed if your league has unique scoring like PPR, 2-QB, etc.
1. RB Bishop Sankey, Titans
Before the draft we knew that the Titans desperately needed a starting RB. Bishop Sankey was chosen first among the position group because of his combination of quickness and durability. He has a huge opportunity to succeed in Nashville. Shonn Greene will vulture some TDs, but he’s now had two knee surgeries in two years. Sankey will pile up gobs of rushing and receiving yards. If you have the first dynasty pick, consider yourself lucky!
2. WR Brandin Cooks, Saints
While Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin are more desperately needed by their teams, and may be force-fed more than Brandin Cooks, the Saints are truly an explosive offense and Cooks is a perfect fit. Sean Payton must be salivating with creative ideas on how to use Cooks. Does that sound familiar? It should, because you heard it last year. But, forget it. Cooks is the real deal! Plus, the Saints are shaky at RB and will ride Brees hard. Beyond this season, Colston has proven to be fragile and Jimmy Graham’s franchise tag shenanigans might mean he’s done as a Saint – either of which would mean bountiful targets for Cooks down the road.
3. WR Mike Evans, Bucs
It seems appropriate that Mike Evans was drafted ahead of Manziel, because at Texas A&M, he made Johnny look gooood. He lands in one of the best situations of any rookie WR. Tampa Bay has a big void at WR2, they’ve got two above-average QBs competing with each other, and the winner will surely toss over 100 targets at Evans when Vincent Jackson is double-teamed. Oh yeah, he’s a big redzone target too. He needs to watch his back though, fellow rookie Robert Herron is an excellent prospect.
4. RB Carlos Hyde, 49ers
Frank Gore can’t play forever, and hearing coach Harbaugh talk about Lattimore’s rehab does not inspire confidence. In fact, he could earn a hashtag like this one in the near future. So, the physically gifted Carlos Hyde becomes the heir apparent to the 49ers running game. He might not pay dividends until next season, but if Gore gets injured Hyde could easily be the 2014 fantasy rookie of the year.
5. RB Devonta Freeman, Falcons
Freeman was the ninth RB taken, but his opportunity is about as good as it gets. The Falcons acquired Steven Jackson past his prime and he couldn’t solve their running woes. Now, over the next couple years, Freeman – a good all-around back who had a light workload at FSU – has an opportunity to be the best Falcons RB since Michael Turner circa 2008 (even though my phone tried to autocorrect his name to Donuts Freeman).
6. WR Sammy Watkins, Bills
Watkins is really talented, but he’s got a tall order to break out in Buffalo. Stevie Johnson’s departure helps, but they still have three quality WRs, and one not-so-quality QB. I’m not a math major, but that doesn’t quite add up. I hope EJ Manuel proves me wrong and can feed Watkins the rock, but I’m not betting on it.
7. WR Kelvin Benjamin, Panthers
This ranking is mostly about opportunity. It’s not often that a rookie wideout becomes an instant No. 1 target. Well, say hello to Kelvin Benjamin. Simply by putting on a uniform he’ll get 100 targets, because the Panthers have nobody else (sorry, Jerricho Cotchery). I think Benjamin already racked up a few targets from Cam while celebrating Thursday night. His situation makes him the No. 1 rookie WR in redraft leagues, but his skill set puts a ceiling on his long-term value.
8. RB Terrance West, Browns
Ben Tate has a dicey injury history and the Browns are making the ground game a priority, so West could get a big opportunity this season. West tore up the FCS with his size/speed combo, but he needs to run more strategically or he will get banged up in the NFL. A promising pick for fantasy purposes.
9. QB Johnny Manziel, Browns
Finally! An end to the speculation about which team is going to draft Manziel (how insufferable was Jon Gruden during the first round). Upon being drafted, Manziel said, “Cleveland? Damn. Well at least they’ve got Josh Gor… Wait, he did what now?!” To make matters worse, the Browns didn’t draft a single WR in the draft. So either Browns’ management is unbelievably incompetent, or the Gordon rumors are way overblown. I’m still ranking Manziel as the first QB because Hoyer is a good incumbent (less pressure), he has great weapons (Gordon, Cameron, Hawkins, Tate), and the Browns have two first-round picks next year to build around him. He’ll put up some nice passing and rushing stats eventually (assuming he doesn’t get injured while “improvising”), just don’t expect too much in 2014.
10. QB Teddy Bridgewater, Vikings
Experts say that Bridgewater had a bad pro day, but he’s impressed me where it counts: in the games. Minnesota has some good receivers, and Bridgewater has the accuracy to make defenses pay for focusing on the Purple Jesus. If he plays 16 games, Bridgewater could easily match the combined 3645 yards and 18 TDs achieved by Cassel, Ponder and Freeman in 2013 (the most frustrating three-headed monster since this one 40 years ago).
11. WR Jordan Matthews, Eagles
Chip Kelly is already excited about using Matthews in the slot and he will be great for the Eagles. Matthews constantly made tough catches against double teams for Vanderbilt over the last few years. Now he’ll face single coverage and have a professional QB delivering the ball.
12. RB Jeremy Hill, Bengals
It looks like the Bengals are going to stick with their thunder & lightning approach. Hill is a relatively big RB that will compete for the “thunder” role. BenJarvus Green-Ellis owners should be worried, but I don’t see Hill as a threat to the dynamic Bernard.
13. TE Jace Amaro, Jets
Amaro was my top TE heading into the draft, and I’m keeping him there (even though the Jets aren’t exactly “high octane”). He will easily surpass TE Jeff Cumberland in passing situations. As long as Geno Smith continues to improve, Amaro will come along with him.
14. TE Eric Ebron, Lions
Interesting. After breaking the bank for Golden Tate and Brandon Pettigrew, I would’ve expected the Lions to address other team needs in the draft. But alas, they reach for Ebron – the rookie most likely to make acrobatic Top 10 plays, though not the most consistent player. My prediction: Ebron will have a huge game, everyone will scramble to pick him up, then he’ll follow that with a total stinker.
15. QB Blake Bortles, Jaguars
The man more commonly known as “that quarterback with the really hot girlfriend” isn’t moving far – heading from Orlando to Jacksonville. Unfortunately for him, Jacksonville’s offense is a mess. Their best receiver is indefinitely suspended and RB Toby Gerhart isn’t going to strike fear into any opposing front 7s. Having a couple talented rookies will help if they learn quickly, but Blake’s confidence is going to be tested. GM Caldwell says Bortles won’t start until 2015. I don’t buy it, but I would still avoid him in redraft leagues. He’s a long-term fantasy prospect.
[Click the links below for more rookie evaluations and rankings]