The 2014 rookie wideout class headlined by Odell Beckham Jr., Kelvin Benjamin and Mike Evans was an outlier. Typically, rookies are far less impactful in fantasy circles. Last year, zero rookie quarterbacks finished in the top-12 of PPR fantasy points per game, one rookie wideout finished in the top-36 (Amari Cooper), zero tight ends in the top-24 and three running backs (Todd Gurley, David Johnson, Duke Johnson) were in the top-24.
So we are going to tread lightly in both season-long draft and DraftKings with rookies. Of course, the talent/landing spot combo for Ezekiel Elliot is hard to match. After that, we have a lot of question marks. These are the rookies I have my eye on for PPR scoring this year, starting with the most impactful.
1.Ezekiel Elliot, RB, Cowboys
It’s going to be interesting to see how DraftKings prices Elliot out of the gate. The default is to be cautious with rookies, but this is a very unique situation. The run-committed Cowboys boasted PFF’s No. 1 run-blocking offensive line in each of the last two seasons and were No. 4 in 2013. That played a large role in the last three starting RBs (DeMarco Murray, DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden) ranking 6th, 2nd and 13th in PPR fantasy points per game.
Although McFadden and Alf Morris are in town, you don’t use (waste?) the No. 4 overall pick on a running back to put him in a committee. Elliot is a lock first-round pick in season-long fantasy.
2. Sterling Shepard, WR, Giants
With underperforming Rueben Randle gone and Victor Cruz a question mark after his devastating knee injury 1.5 years ago, the Giants were truly desperate for a compliment to all-world WR Odell Beckham. They got a good one in pristine route-runner Sterling Shepard. He’ll slide right in as the primary slot receiver whose violent cutting ability will help him get open right away at the NFL level. This is a team with a mediocre run game (18th in YPC last year) and a woeful defense (dead last in yards allowed), setting up high-volume games for a pass attack which operates primarily out of three-wide sets. Shepard, whose attributes remind of Randall Cobb, will play Cobb’s role in the Ben McAdoo offense (ex-Packers assistant).
3. Corey Coleman, WR, Browns
A lot of fantasy owners will see “Browns” and immediately shy away from Coleman. That’s a mistake. Coleman will step right in as the No. 1 receiver on a team getting an offensive overhaul under talent-maximizing/offensive-minded new head coach Hue Jackson. His competition for targets will be TE Gary Barnidge, RB Duke Johnson and a bunch of inept veterans/questionable rookies. As the No. 15 overall pick and first wideout off the board, expect Jackson to scheme the ball to the explosive Coleman (4.40, 40.5 vertical) in space consistently.
4. Laquon Treadwell, WR, Vikings
Before the draft, I detailed how Treadwell’s athletic measureables are worrisome from a fantasy production standpoint. I suspect it was a major reason he slipped behind Corey Coleman, Will Fuller and Josh Doctson to No. 23 overall.
Teddy Bridgewater is a game-managing, weak-armed, under-aggressive thrower which means Treadwell’s physical, tough, big style will mesh well. Of course, volume is a major concern; the Vikings ranked dead last in pass attempts per game in 2015 (28.38). This remains Adrian Peterson’s offense.
5. Michael Thomas, WR, Saints
The draftniks’ argument over whether Thomas is #good has lost a lot of importance thanks to his landing spot. Wide receivers for the Saints are going to produce thanks to a defense that remains one of the worst in the league, the up-tempo pass-based scheme and of course Drew Brees. We’ve seen questionable talents such as Willie Snead, Ben Watson and Kenny Stills become fantasy-relevant in New Orleans. As the 47th overall pick, Thomas will slide right into the Marques Colston “big slot” role. Dwarfing over Brandin Cooks and Snead, the 6-foot-3 Thomas will immediately be a primary red-zone option that Brees needs with Colston and Jimmy Graham mere memories.
6. Josh Doctson, WR, Redskins
The Redskins have DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Jordan Reed and Jamison Crowder. But they still used the 22nd pick on Doctson, which speaks to what they think of this kid. The infatuation is understandable, as we can see in the optimal size/speed/explosiveness numbers I noted here. So even if the Skins don’t save the $8M against the cap and cut Pierre Garcon, Doctson is highly likely to get on the field at some point this season and have an impact. Note D-Jax and Garcon are both free agents after the 2016 season.
7. Derrick Henry, RB, Titans
One of the surprise picks of the draft was Derrick Henry in the second round. Not because it was a reach (he’s 6’3/247 with 4.4 speed and a 37-inch vertical), but because the Titans already have so much invested at running back. Right after the Henry pick was made, coach Mike Mularkey called DeMarco Murray to assure the veteran he’s still the top dog. “You’re still the guy that’s going to carry the load for us. When you need to take a break and come off the field there will be no letdown from the next one that comes in, whoever that is.” Although no one is really buying that, it’s still a rough landing spot for Henry.
8. Will Fuller, WR, Texans
Fuller went at No. 21 overall, ahead of Doctson, Treadwell and Shepard. That doesn’t mean we have to like him more in fantasy. The blazing speedster will open up the field for DeAndre Hopkins which is a great thing for the Texans, but expect high volatility in the box score. Brock Osweiler ranked 34th among 35 qualifiers in PFF’s Deep Passing metric last season.
9. C.J. Prosise, RB, Seahawks
Marshawn Lynch is retired and Thomas Rawls suffered a nasty broken ankle plus torn ligaments in December. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the Seahawks used three draft picks on running backs. The most exciting of the group is former WR turned RB C.J. Prosise, who will immediately step into a third-down, four-minute and two-minute back. It’s also possible he’ll steal some early-down work from Rawls – especially if that ankle is slow to recover. Passing backs like Prosise are always going to be interesting on DraftKings due to the full-PPR format. For example, Charles Sims quietly posted eight double-digit DK games last year.
10. Jordan Howard, RB, Bears
Howard has a couple things working in his favor despite slipping to the fifth round. Head coach John Fox loves to use committees, dating all the way back to his J-Stew/D-Willy days in Carolina. Perhaps more importantly, Jeremy Langford’s rookie year was really concerning as detailed by Mike Clay here. So the powerful Howard should immediately get a share of the early-down work and could become the lead part of a RBBC before long. His performance will be worth watching closely at training camp.
11. Kenneth Dixon, RB, Ravens
I’m not quite sure why five running backs went before the Ravens took Kenneth Dixon in the fourth round. But I do know he’s the kind of player we should be interested in because we can argue he’s the best receiving back in this class. Throughout the year, we’ll talk about the safety in rostering game-flow independent backs. Furthermore, Marc Trestman offenses love to throw to running backs and Justin Forsett turns 31 in October. Buck Allen, Terrance West, Lorenzo Taliaferro and Trent Richardson are all vulnerable on the depth chart.
12. Tyler Boyd, WR, Bengals – Departed Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu accounted for 29.3 percent of CIN’s receptions last season. Boyd has a clear path to No. 3 WR duties behind A.J. Green and Brandon LaFell.
13. Paul Perkins, RB, Giants – Rashad Jennings is 31 years old and Andre Williams is not good at football (PFF’s No. 161 RB in 2015, No. 126 in 2014). Perkins’ tackle-breaking ability will get him on the field.
14. Devontae Booker, RB, Broncos – Running backs in Gary Kubiak’s scheme will produce. It’s simply up to Booker to pass Ronnie Hillman, who could only garner a 1-year/$2M deal from the Broncos in free agency.
15. Kenyan Drake, RB, Dolphins – Jay Ajayi emerged from the draft entrenched as the starter. Drake, shaky in pass pro but excellent as a receiver, has drawn Charles Sims comps.
16. Deandre Washington, RB, Raiders – The Raiders spent much of the offseason poking around at running backs, suggesting they’re not too high on Latavius Murray. But the only draft pick they used at the position was a fifth-rounder on Washington.
17. Malcolm Mitchell, WR, Patriots – It’s very difficult for fresh wide receivers to make an early impact in the Patriots’ complex scheme. But Mitchell has the short-area quicks and inside/outside versatility the Patriots love. His stock will rise if Danny Amendola becomes a cap casualty.
18. Rashard Higgins and Ricardo Louis, WR, Browns – When you’re competing with Brian Hartline for a starting job, you’re in a good spot.
19. Keith Marshall, RB, Redskins – Marshall was regarded as a better prospect than Todd Gurley when they came out of high school. Marshall’s freakish 4.31 speed at 5’11/219 hopefully suggests his ACL tear is behind him. If so, the No 2 spot behind Matt Jones is within reach even though Marshall was a seventh-rounder.