Welcome back to the rookie report! Week one was full of surprises and upsets, but isn’t every week in the NFL? Hey, “On any given Sunday…..,” right? Nowadays it’s more like any given Thursday, Sunday or Monday. Hopefully your fantasy teams were able to come out on top in week 1, but if not, it’s time to bounce back. Before we dive in to week 2’s rookie outlook, let’s take a look back at the fantasy rookie performer of the week for the season openers.
Rookie Performer of Week 1: Brandin Cooks, WR, NO: Cooks was a stud in the opener with Kenny Stills sidelined, racking up 3 catches on the opening drive and ending the game with 7 catches, 77 yards, 18 rushing yards, and a TD. It was just the start of what figures to be a dominant rookie campaign in PPR leagues. Honorable mention: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, CAR
Here’s a quick look at what to expect for week 2:
Rookies to Start:
RB Terrance West, CLE (Wk. 2: vs. NO): West was one of the biggest surprises in the league in week 1. He put up triple-digit yards after starter Ben Tate did what Ben Tate does and got hurt. West struggled throughout the preseason, registering a yards per carry mark somewhere in the negative YATR range (Yards above Trent Richardson. We’re making his usual 2.9 YPC football’s Mendoza line). West looked like a different player in week one, putting up over 6 yards a carry. He’ll start against a not so scary Saints run defense. If you’re afraid the Browns will abandon the run after falling behind, don’t be. They didn’t when they fell behind the Steelers 24-3 and it almost helped them win the game. West is a no-brainer flex choice and a low end RB2 in 10-team leagues this week.
WR Brandin Cooks, NO (Wk. 2: @Cle.): On the other side of the Browns-Saints game, Cooks should be able to come close to matching his week one output. He is running a lot of the same routes that Darren Sproles ran in New Orleans, and that means they’re getting him the ball in space. It’s only a matter of time before he’s able to break a long one. Until he does, you’ll happily settle for his 14-16 points in PPR formats. He should be good for that again with Stills still on the mend and possibly out this week.
WR Kelvin Benjamin, CAR (Wk. 2: vs. Det.): I’m willing to admit when I’m wrong, and I’ve been wrong about Benjamin. I still don’t think he’s got the upside of a true fantasy WR1, but he looks like a very safe play most weeks. The Panthers’ passing game really revolves around Kelvin and Greg Olsen. I’m a little hesitant to trust Kelvin since we haven’t seen him play with Cam, but everything I’ve heard this preseason said he and Cam were fast friends. I think the chemistry will be solid. Against the Lions sub-par secondary, Kelvin should approach 100 yards again and might find paydirt again. Feel free to trot him out comfortably as a WR3.
RB Bishop Sankey, TEN (Wk. 2: vs. Dal.): I wouldn’t have the courage to play Sankey after watching him play behind Dexter McCluster and even Leon Washington on the depth chart in week 1, but I think he’ll climb soon. There’s at least a little worry that he’s this year’s version of Montee Ball, who was highly touted entering the season and wound up stuck behind Knowshon Moreno all season. Sankey did put up 25 yards on just 6 carries in week one, and the Cowboys defense is really bad. All Bishop needs is a chance. I’m just not sure if he gets it this week. You are probably best served with Sankey on the bench, but you should continue to keep him rostered. He’s got every-down skills.
WR John Brown, ARI (Wk. 2: @NYG): Brown was really impressive in the Cardinals’ opener. He’s the clear cut WR3 in a vertical passing offense that often employs 3WR sets. He caught just 2 balls for 29 yards in the opener, but he did find the end zone and was on the field for nearly 60% of the offensive snaps. Head coach Bruce Arians has openly compared Brown to T.Y. Hilton, and Hilton had an impressive (albeit inconsistent) rookie campaign. Brown will be boom-or-bust. I feel like against the G-Men, Carson Palmer will have his pick of where to go with the ball. I’d expect Fitzgerald to be targeted more heavily to make up for week 1, which means Brown is likely more WR4 fodder than WR3.
WR Sammy Watkins, BUF (Wk. 2: vs. Mia.): Like Brown, Watkins is likely more WR4 than WR3. He managed just 3 catches for 31 yards in week 1 as he played through a foot injury, and this week he’s likely to see a lot of Brent Grimes. I’d expect him to at least match the week one stats, but I’m not sure he exceeds them by much. I’d likely leave Sammy on the bench until I see him start to produce more, but like I wrote last week, Watkins is going to be a focal point in this passing game eventually.
WR Marquise Lee, JAX (Wk. 2: @Was.): Lee put up a respectable stat line in week one with 6 grabs for 62 yards, but he got a bunch of it in garbage time. Not sure there will be as much of that this week in what I think is actually a winnable game for the Jags. I think he still might approach last week’s numbers as Allen Hurns comes back down to earth, but it would have to be PPR and a deeper league for me to consider trotting out Lee, even against a weak Redskins D.
Rookies to Sit:
QB Derek Carr, OAK (Wk. 2: @Hou.): This is going to get redundant quickly. I have to put Carr somewhere on here as long as he’s starting, but things are going to be ugly for a while. They have a weak o-line, limited weapons, and are down MJD this week. They also face JJ Watt and the Houston Texans. I wouldn’t want Carr starting in a 2 QB league. He’s a bottom 10 option amongst the 32 starters.
RB Jeremy Hill, CIN (Wk. 2: vs. Atl.): I was excited for Hill coming into week one, and then he got just 4 carries and played just 10 offensive snaps. I still think Hill has some big weeks coming as coach Hue Jackson mentioned that Hill will play more going forward, but I can’t trust that it starts this week. The Falcons’ defense is far from frightening, but I just don’t know how much more work Hill will see. Gio Bernard wasn’t exactly great on the ground last week, but he got the red zone touches. Keep playing the waiting game with Hill this week.
RB Devonta Freeman, ATL (Wk. 2: @Cin.): Freeman looked really good on the limited touches he saw against the Saints, and his time is coming, but Steven Jackson isn’t done for yet. I think most of Jacquizz Rodgers’s touches will eventually make their way to Freeman, who might be the heir apparent to S-Jax. The problem for now is that the backfield is just too crowded to even roster Freeman in re-draft leagues. Antone Smith also continues to see some work, making this a 4-headed monster at RB.
WR Mike Evans, TB (Wk. 2: vs. StL.): I like Evans' upside, but I’m not sure the Bucs will throw it enough this week to make Evans playable. He was targeted a healthy 9 times in week 1, making 5 grabs for 37 yards and nearly secured his first TD. The usage is encouraging, but the Rams looked like a dumpster fire in the opener. If the Bucs can get out in front, they’ll ride the running game and really limit the damage Evans can do. He might be a good buy-low candidate after this week.
TE Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, TB (Wk. 2: vs. StL.): ASJ caught just one pass in the opener for 26 yards, and seems like a long shot to even suit up this week. He’s still running behind Brandon Myers on the depth chart, but his size will make him a tough matchup once he starts getting starter’s reps.
Deep League Sleepers:
RB Isaiah Crowell, CLE (Wk. 2: vs. NO): With West getting the starting nod, Crowell will undoubtedly be overlooked in many leagues, but he is the superior talent of the 2 Browns’ rookies. Crowell is worth a stash if you have room on your bench in any league. He has RB1 upside if he can secure the starting gig and is a player to target in dynasty leagues. He’ll see change of pace work this week behind West in a run-heavy offense, but he found the end zone twice on just 5 carries last Sunday. He might still be a goal line vulture this week.
RB Carlos Hyde, SF (Wk. 2: vs. Chi.): Hyde was impressive in limited carries in the season opener, and this week the 49ers get the porous Bears’ run defense. The Bears let Fred Jackson carve them up for 61 yards on just 7 carries and allowed nearly 6 yards per carry to the Bills as a team. The 49ers live for the power run game, and Hyde is going to be a big part of that, especially now that LaMichael James is off the team. I think he could certainly match the 50 yards and a score he put up against Dallas last week.
WR Jordan Matthews, PHI (Wk. 2: @Ind.): I was a bit disappointed by Matthews usage in week one. He saw just 4 targets, and ended the game with 2 catches for 37 yards. He has superior talent to Riley Cooper, but until he leapfrogs him on the depth chart, his fantasy production will be inconsistent. He gets a solid matchup this week in what should be a shootout with Indy, but it’s hard to predict a huge week given his limited opportunities. Anything over 60 yards would be a win for Matthews in my opinion.
That’s all I’ve got for week 2. Hopefully it helps you make some tough lineup calls this week, but as always: Good luck, trust your gut, and have fun. It’s just a game.
Welcome to a new season of the Rookie Report. ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL!? The NFL kickoff is less than an hour away as I write this, and I’m sure all us football junkies are getting jittery with anticipation (or maybe just drunk). For those of you unfamiliar with the Rookie Report, each week I’ll give a rundown of the rookies you should start for sure, borderline starting options, guys who should stay on the bench, and throw in some deep league sleepers. I’ll give my thoughts on their outlook for the week which you can hopefully use to effectively utilize your rookies. They are the hardest players in fantasy to predict.
Alright, that’s enough jibber-jabber. Let’s get to it. Since this is week 1, I’m going to start off by quickly laying out my top 10 fantasy rookies for this season. They aren’t necessarily the most talented players, just the ones who will have the best fantasy value this year.
Bishop Sankey, RB, TEN: It shouldn’t take long for Sankey to overtake Shonn Greene as lead back for the Titans. The Titans have a very good o-line and Sankey should be a low-end RB2 for most of the year. He’s also the Titans’ best pass-catching back.
Brandin Cooks, WR, NO: Cooks will be a PPR monster from the get-go. He’s basically a more polished Tavon Austin with a coach who knows how to create mismatches with his schemes. Kenny Stills injury should help Cooks hit the ground running.
Jeremy Hill, RB, CIN: For those of you who don’t know, Gio Bernard is not an every down workhorse back, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis is no longer a Bengal. The Bengals are planning on running a lot more this year with Hue Jackson in charge of the offense. Hill will see plenty of work, especially at the goal-line. Should be a weekly flex option.
Mike Evans, WR, TB: Evans dominated defenses at A&M, and he has the size and skill to do so at the next level too. He’ll be a big red zone target who has a real shot at 10+ TDs. McCown proved last year he can find big receivers in the end zone.
Jordan Matthews, WR, PHI: Matthews opens the season in the slot, but he could overtake Riley Cooper for the number 2 role before long. He has elite talent in an explosive offense. Only a matter of time before he explodes.
Sammy Watkins, WR, BUF: The Bills traded up to get Watkins to be their WR #1, so he’ll undoubtedly be a big part of the offensive gameplan, but inconsistent quarterback play will limit his upside. Bills are also expected to be the one of the run-heaviest teams in the league. Watkins should be hoping Orton takes the QB job from E.J. sooner rather than later.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, CAR: Kelvin had some big red flags in his college career (drops, questions about effort & attitude), but no rookie WR will have more opportunity. Opens as Panthers’ de facto number 1, but should suffer some growing pains. He’s ikely to score at least 7 TDs.
Jace Amaro, TE, NYJ: Amaro should easily be the most productive rookie tight end. With David Nelson as the team’s #2 WR, Geno should lean on Amaro a lot. He’s essentially an oversized slot receiver, and he should be a great option in PPR leagues.
Derek Carr, QB, OAK: Carr is the only rookie QB with a starting job. I wouldn’t be shocked if Matt Cassel and Chad Henne hold off their more talented backups for half the season, and Manziel is far from a sure thing even if he beats out Hoyer in the first few weeks. Carr looks the part and had an impressive preseason. Could be a low-end QB2.
Cody Latimer, WR, DEN: Wes Welker’s suspension and concussion issues could open the door for a big rookie season for Latimer. He’s more talented than Andre Caldwell and a better fit for the outside WR spot vacated by Eric Decker than free agent signee Emmanuel Sanders. Could do big things with Peyton Manning throwing him the rock.
Honorable Mention:Johnny Manziel, QB, CLE, Eric Ebron, TE, DET, Allen Robinson, WR, JAX, Devonta Freeman, RB, ATL, Andre Williams, RB, NYG
Alright, with that laid out, let’s move on to week number one…
Rookies to Start:
WR Brandin Cooks, NO (Wk. 1: @Atl): Cooks is the one rookie that I would certainly recommend starting this week. It seems like Kenny Stills is unlikely to play, and the game could be a shootout. I think Cooks is ready to go off. In PPR leagues, he should be a solid WR3 or flex play. He might not score a TD, but I’d be shocked by anything less than 5 catches, and he has the wheels to take it to the house at any given time.
RB Bishop Sankey, TEN (Wk. 1: @KC): Am I in love with Sankey in week one against a typically stout Chiefs’ front? No. Do I think he’s capable of a productive week? Absolutely. I’d probably lean against playing Sankey this week, but I think he’ll get a bigger share of the work than the preseason usage would suggest. I think Sankey sees 15+ touches in the opener, with 70-80 total yards.
WR Sammy Watkins, BUF (WK 1: @Chi.): Watkins has been banged up for much of the preseason, but he’ll be good to go on Sunday. The Bears’ boasted one of the worst defenses in the NFL a year ago, and they haven’t looked that much better in the preseason. I wouldn’t expect a breakout with E.J. Manuel throwing him the ball, but Watkins could have a nice debut. I’d expect somewhere in the range of 4-5 catches for around 60 yards, but wouldn’t be surprised if he does more.
WR Mike Evans, TB (Wk. 1: vs. Car.): The Panthers’ strength on defense is their front 7. Evans’s size is going to create problems for the secondary, especially if they double-team Vincent Jackson like most teams did last year. Evans is as good a bet as any Buccaneer to find the end zone in week one, but I wouldn’t expect a huge catch tally. The Bucs will be a run-first team.
WR Kelvin Benjamin, CAR (Wk. 1: @TB): Benjamin’s value for week one really hinges on Cam Newton. Newton is listed as a game-time decision right now, but even if he plays I’d imagine the ribs will limit his effectiveness. If Cam doesn’t go, there’s no way you start Kelvin. If he does play, you’re pretty much hoping for a TD. Benjamin likely won’t go much over 50 yards against a pretty solid Tampa defense.
WR Jordan Matthews, PHI (Wk 1: vs. Jax.): Matthews was a standout all August for the Eagles after a shaky preseason debut. There will be a lot of mouths to feed in this offense, and this game looks like an easy Philly victory, but Matthews has been so efficient with his targets that it may only take 5 or 6 looks in his direction to have a productive week. He may be worth a shot in some deeper leagues.
Rookies to Sit:
QB Derek Carr, OAK (Wk. 1: @NYJ): Carr may be starting for Oakland, but he shouldn’t be starting on your fantasy team. Rex Ryan loves to blitz, and Carr will be in a hostile environment. Carr played in a college offense that featured a lot of short passes and easy reads. The Jets defense will be anything but easy to read. I’d expect Carr to be rattled by the pressure and have a shaky first outing. Surely you can find 2 quarterbacks (If in a 2-QB league) that you should play ahead of him.
RB Jeremy Hill, CIN (Wk. 1: @Bal.): Although I’m very bullish on Hill for the season, I think week one is not the best place to utilize him. The Ravens’ defense is always pretty good, and at we still aren’t completely sure how the work will be split between Hill and Gio. Gio got the 1st team reps in goal line situations in the preseason, but averaged barely over 2.5 yards a carry for the preseason tilts. Hill will certainly see work in week one, but I want to be sure the touchdowns are coming his way before I start trotting him out there in the weekly lineup.
RB Andre Williams, NYG (Wk. 1: @Det.): After the Hall of Fame game, Williams looked like he would share work with Rashad Jennings and be a really nice player this year, but that sentiment faded over the last few games of the preseason. He’ll still get some carries, maybe even a red zone tote or 2, but merely as a change of pace back for now. Jennings will be a 3-down back in the early going. Until that starts to shift, Williams should stay benched.
Deep League Sleepers:
RB Jonathan Grimes, HOU (Wk. 1: vs. Was.): I list Grimes here because we haven’t seen Arian Foster play a single down of preseason football due to injury. Foster insists he feels “wonderful,” but I bet the Texans still intend to spell him more than the average bell cow running back and Grimes has been the most impressive of the backups. The Redskins defense was sieve –like last year, so Grimes could have a nice game with just a handful of carries.
RB Lorenzo Taliaferro, BAL (Wk. 1: vs. Cin.): Ray Rice is suspended for the first 2 games of the season, and Bernard Pierce has spent the majority of the preseason banged up. Taliaferro is a perfect fit for OC Gary Kubiak’s one-cut zone running scheme, so if he gets a chance to spell Pierce and looks good, they may ride the hot hand. Kubiak was the OC in Denver as they had a different RB break 1,000 yards every year back in the late ‘90’s-early ‘00’s. Remember Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson and Rueben Droughns? There are a couple of obstacles for the rook though. The Bengals’ defense should be stout up front with Geno Atkins back, and Justin Forsett is listed as the number 2 back headed into the weekend. Don’t be shocked if the rook does find some work however.
WR Cody Latimer, DEN (Wk. 1: vs. Ind.): ESPN’s Broncos beat writer Jeff Legwold reported that the two primary players the Broncos will use to fill Wes Welker’s production are Emmanuel Sanders and Latimer. There was no mention of Andre Caldwell, who is currently listed above Latimer on the depth chart. I think that means we’ll see Latimer lined up outside in 3-WR sets with Sanders in the slot. It’s a huge boon for Latimer’s week one outlook in what should be a shootout with the Colts. There are always plenty of targets to go around with Peyton under center, and I think a line of 5-75-1 is very possible for Latimer in week one. There won’t be any questions after this week about whether or not he’s ahead of Caldwell in the pecking order.
TE Jace Amaro, NYJ (Wk. 1: vs. Oak.): Amaro gets a plus matchup in week one in an offense where he should be the second-best receiver on the team. I don’t expect the Jets to be explosive or for Amaro to pile up touchdowns, but he should see plenty of targets all year. In deep PPR leagues (14 or more teams), I think Amaro could be a nice play this week. He should see 6+ targets.
That’s all I’ve got for week one. Hopefully it helps you out. Now you can go ahead, kick back and enjoy the first weekend of NFL games that count since the Super Bowl. I’ll end the column with the same advice I always do: Trust your gut, and have fun. It’s just a game.
The NFL draft is almost upon us again, and in case you haven’t noticed over the past couple years, some players selected this weekend are sure to make an impact on fantasy football immediately. It wouldn’t make much sense to project how guys are going to do in year one without knowing the situation they’re walking into, but it doesn’t hurt to familiarize yourself with the players. With that in mind, here comes a list of guys to know for this weekend’s NFL draft with a brief overview of the obvious names as well as a few potential sleepers and busts:
The obvious guys (In the order I would want them):
Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
Derek Carr, Fresno State
Johnny Manziel, Texas A & M
Blake Bortles, UCF
I’m not worried about Bridgewater’s swooning draft stock and poor Pro Day showing. He’s the most cerebral QB in this class, has the best anticipation skills of the group, and has phenomenal accuracy on intermediate throws. His quick-decision making will keep him safe in the pocket, and his arm strength is good enough to make all the throws, even if he doesn’t have a cannon. For me, Teddy is clearly number 1 in the class.
Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles are considered the top two QBs in mock drafts right now, but I’m not sold on either guy. Manziel’s improvisational skills are unlikely to translate to the NFL the way most scouts hope. He’ll have to learn to throw from the pocket to have a lengthy career as a starter. If he doesn’t, he might be another Tim Tebow. Bortles has all the skills you want from a quarterback, but you have to sift through a lot of film to find them all. His prototype size and cannon arm make scouts drool, but his inconsistency will be maddening.
Derek Carr seems unlikely to be a first round pick, but he could really surprise at the next level. He was given full control of the offense at Fresno, and it was a very productive group. He throws a pretty deep ball, and has seen what to expect in the transition to the NFL at QB from watching his brother David. He’ll have to get used to lining up under center and operating a pro-style offense, but he has the tools to be a better QB than Manziel or Bortles.
Sleeper: Zach Mettenberger, LSU
Mettenberger’s stock has takena bit of a hit due to a flagged drug test and a degenerative back condition that have been discovered, but Mettenberger features the same requisite size and arm strength as Bortles, is close to him in terms of accuracy, and faced better competition at the college level. It makes him even more valuable that he can be picked a round or two later than Bortles as well. Honorable mention sleepers: Brett Smith, Wyoming & Tom Savage, Pitt
Bust: Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
Thomas has the measurables that get scouts hot and bothered, but he never was able to put the pieces together at Va. Tech. He’s got tight end size, good speed and a really strong arm, but his accuracy and mechanics have been a nightmare. His upside is as a bigger Jake Locker, but I see more Josh Freeman (2013 Josh Freeman). Honorable mention bust: A.J. McCarron, Alabama
The obvious guys:
Bishop Sankey, Washington
Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
Tre Mason, Auburn
Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona
Jeremy Hill, LSU
Lache Seastrunk, Baylor
Devonta’ Freeman, Florida State
Charles Sims, West Virginia
There likely won’t be a running back selected in round one, but there could be a few productive backs in this crop. It’s difficult to separate these guys, but what puts Sankey a cut above for me is that he has no glaring weaknesses and is a high character guy who was voted team captain at UW. He won’t dazzle you with his elusiveness, but he runs well in traffic, is a great receiver out of the backfield, and he has an extra gear to run away from defenders. He’s also relentless at the goal line, scoring 36 TDs in the last 2 years.
Carlos Hyde is an impressive power runner and always seems to fall forward, and it doesn’t hurt that he averaged over 7 yards per carry in the Big Ten. His question marks are character related, but he’s got the size and skill to play all 3 downs. Tre Mason came on strong down the stretch of the season, showcasing great agility and vision. He doesn’t dance around in the backfield, he lets the hole open up and he hits it. The only question mark about Mason is that he’s undersized.
Jeremy Hill and Ka’Deem Carey both are solid runners, but each has some character red flags. Carey’s got great vision and patience, and he’s fantastic as a receiver out of the backfield, but he’s best suited to a spread offense. Hill on the other hand is a violent downhill runner, but he lacks great balance and rarely if ever uses his second hand to cover the ball in traffic. He also struggles in pass protection, which will certainly keep him off the field on 3rd downs and perhaps make it hard for him to get on the field. Seastrunk is the most explosive runner on this list, but he really has struggled against good defenses. He needs to learn to get upfield more quickly and not go east and west so much. Freeman is undersized and played in a committee in college, which raises the question of how many carries he can handle at the NFL level, and Sims seems like a 3rd down back at best.
West is no sleeper to draft insiders or anyone who saw him play, but who watched a Towson game? West set the FCS single-season records last year with 2,519 yards and 41 rushing TDs. Granted those numbers came against FCS competition, but the skills are legit. Someone is going to give West a chance, and he’s got the talent to be productive at the NFL level. Storm Johnson had a solid year for UCF, but not one that made him a household name. He doesn’t have one defining skill that jumps out at you, but the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. His unimpressive 40 times at the combine might make him a great value in the draft since he’s quicker in pads than on a track. Honorable mention sleepers: Lorenzo Taliaferro, Coastal Carolina & Isaiah Crowell, Alabama State
Bust: Andre Williams, Boston College
Williams was extremely productive in his senior season, leading the FBS with 2,177 yards, but he runs too upright and provides nothing as a receiver. Literally, he had zero catches last year. He also takes a bit to get up to speed, which when coupled with his upright running will make him an easy tackle as he hits the hole. I expect him to struggle at the next level. Honorable mention bust: DeAnthony Thomas, Oregon
The obvious guys:
Sammy Watkins, Clemson
Mike Evans, Texas A&M
Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
Allen Robinson, Penn State
Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
Marquise Lee, USC
Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss
Davante Adams, Fresno State
Watkins is close to the consensus as the #1 receiver in the class, but he, Evans and Beckham are all grouped pretty closely together. Watkins has the upside of a true #1. He’s a game-changer. He runs great routes, has great hands, and is an absolute burner in the open field. He’s got a smallish frame, but plays tougher than his size. Evans has freakish size, and high-points the ball with the best of them. He’s great at tracking the deep ball, works his way back to the quarterback effectively on broken plays, and will be a nightmare to cover in the red zone. He does need to polish his route running, but he could make a fantasy impact quickly. Beckham is getting a lot of attention lately. The Jets and Eagles are both enamored with him and would like to move up to get him. His skill set compares to Victor Cruz and he could have a long career as a slot receiver who can make big things happen after the catch. His size does limit him to a slot role, but he can be a star if he lands in the right place.
Jordan Matthews might be the most underrated WR in this class. He lacks top-end speed, but he is way above average at every other aspect of the position. He’s going to be a very productive number 2 wideout for a long time, a la former Bronco Ed McCaffery. Allen Robinson has the physical tools to be a number 1 wide receiver at the next level, but he needs to clean up his route running if he wants to make that jump. He is physically overwhelming for a lot of DBs and he dominated at times against Big Ten competition. Brandin Cooks has blazing speed and piled up big numbers in a pass-happy OSU offense, but his small size will likely limit him to the slot and he may struggle against more physical corners. He has the upside to be a star (think Carolina Steve Smith), but he needs to find a way to get stronger without losing speed.
Marquise Lee had magnificent sophomore and junior years at USC, but saw a severe drop-off as a senior with Matt Barkley and Robert Woods gone to the NFL. Lee is a fluid route runner with good speed, but can be jammed at the line and has had some durability concerns in his career. He has big potential, but needs to find the right fit to realize it. Donte Moncrief might have the most upside of any receiver in this class. He wasn’t all that productive last season due to inconsistent QB play, but he also could have shown more toughness and fight for the 50/50 balls. If he can add that killer instinct, some scouts believe Moncrief can be Josh Gordon good.
Davante Adams has been extremely productive at Fresno State, but some of that is a result of Fresno’s uptempo system and Derek Carr’s reliance on Adams. Adams has very good hands and deceptive speed, but he doesn’t have great acceleration to get separation quickly and hasn’t had a chance to show what he can do against top competition. He could smoothly transition into the NFL, or he could become a career depth guy if he isn’t as effective against NFL DBs as he was against those from the MWC.
Sleepers: Cody Latimer, Indiana & Robert Herron, Wyoming
Latimer isn’t exactly a sleeper. He topped 1,000 yards receiving in the Big Ten last year and has been shooting up draft boards for the past couple months. To me he projects as Jordan Matthews-lite. He doesn’t have blazing speed, but he’s got every other WR skill you need. There’s a pretty good chance he’s selected ahead of a few of the obvious names listed above, and will likely out-produce a few of them as well. Herron isn’t very well known, but he could be special. His size likely limits him to the slot, but he could be one of the 2 or 3 best slot receivers in this draft. He has surprising strength and toughness for a guy who stands 5-9, 195, and he also has elite speed. Honorable mention sleepers: Kain Colter, Northwestern & Dri Archer, Kent State
Bust: Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
Scouts love Benjamin’s measurables. He’s even bigger than Mike Evans, but he isn’t nearly as polished a product. He could be a threat in the red zone, but his route running needs a lot of work, and he had several frustrating concentration drops. Kelvin could be solid if he puts in the work, but he also could be a complete bust. Honorable mention bust: Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
The obvious guys:
Eric Ebron, North Carolina
Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, Washington
This year’s tight end class has 3 potential fantasy stars, and they’re the guys listed above. Ebron has the most upside. He has the size of a tight end and runs like a receiver. He still needs some polish, specifically in his route running and blocking, but his size and athleticism remind scouts of Vernon Davis. Amaro is much more polished than Ebron, but he lacks Ebron’s speed. He’ll likely be more productive in year one, but Amaro’s upside is a little limited. He is a very natural pass catcher and a better blocker than Ebron. Amaro’s role in the NFL will be as a move tight end who does his best work lined up in the slot. Austin Sefarian-Jenkins is has some character concerns, but he is the most traditional tight end of the group. He’ll be a great working underneath and potentially in the red zone, and he’s a load to tackle after the catch. His immaturity could drive his team nuts, but he’s got the skills to be a phenom.
Sleeper: Joe Don Duncan, Dixie St.
Okay, part of the reason I mentioned this guy is because I love the redneck name, but Duncan has a chance to be another Joseph Fauria. Granted, Dixie State isn’t exactly facing top competition, but Duncan was a red zone killer, scoring 13 touchdowns in 10 games last year. He won’t step right in and dominate, but he could develop into a nice player. Honorable mention sleeper: Trey Burton, Florida
Bust: C. J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
C.J. is commonly thought of as the number 4 tight end in this class, but he’s not a great receiving tight end. He won’t do you any good for fantasy purposes early on in his career. He might develop that part of his game later, sort of like a Heath Miller, but he walks in the door as purely a blocking tight end. Honorable mention bust: Xavier Grimble, Florida State
That’s all I’ve got for now. I’ll be back sometime after the players have landed on teams to talk about which ones you want on your fantasy team. Until then, enjoy the draft.