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Fantasy Football 2013: Top Five Under the Radar Rookies

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2013 Fantasy Football: Top Five Under the Radar Rookies

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2013 NFL Draft now in the books, fantasy football owners and analysts can start to think about where the rookie class fits for 2013. Notable names like Eddie Lacy, Montee Ball and E.J. Manuel will be worth drafting in a lot of leagues, but the list of rookies that can be impactful for fantasy owners does not have to end with players who were selected early.

Around this time a year ago,Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was far below the fantasy radar after being a third-round pick and with two veterans above him on the depth chart in Matt Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson. Head coach Pete Carroll suggested fairly quickly that Wilson would get a chance to compete for the starting job, and he of course did win the job and start all season. Wilson finished as the 11th-highest scoring fantasy quarterback in ESPN standard leagues last season, including at least 15 fantasy points in eight of his last nine games. That production was certainly a boon for owners that used a late-round pick on Wilson, or were able to add him off the waiver wire early in the season.

There are quite a few players who, like Wilson last year, are entering potentially favorable situations that could lead to them making an impact at some point during their rookie season. Finding another player that contributes to as many fantasy playoff runs as Wilson did in 2012 is unlikely, but there are some unheralded rookies that could become more than serviceable options for fantasy owners this year.

Here's a look at five rookies that may be under the radar right now, but I think could quickly become viable fantasy options in 2013.

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5. Joseph Randle, RB, Dallas Cowboys

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No less an authority in the Cowboys’ organization than Jerry Jones expects Randle to become the team’s No. 2 running back behind DeMarco Murray this season. Murray has missed nine games due to injury over his first two NFL seasons, so being his primary backup could lead to significant action for Randle as a rookie. At minimum, barring something unforeseen, the Oklahoma State product should be viewed by fantasy owners as Murray’s top handcuff.

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4. Markus Wheaton, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

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Wheaton will look to replace Mike Wallace as Pittsburgh’s primary deep threat, and his timed speed (4.45 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine) suggests he is well-suited to the role. Fantasy football owners should not necessarily expect a huge catch total from the Oregon State product in 2013, but the possibility for big plays is enough to put in on the radar of those in deep leagues.

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3. Stepfan Taylor, RB, Arizona Cardinals

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Taylor improved his production in each of his final three seasons at Stanford, culminating in 1,530 rushing yards (10th in the country) on 322 carries (fourth in the country) along with 13 touchdowns in 2012. He also showed his skill as a pass catcher 41 catches for 287 yards last season, and he now steps into an Arizona running back rotation that includes Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Williams.

But Mendenhall played just six games in 2012 as he worked his way back from an ACL tear, and Williams has played only five games in two NFL seasons due to knee and shoulder issues. Durability was not an issue for Taylor in college, and it may not take much for him to prove to new Cardinals’ head coach Bruce Arians that he is the best running back on the team.

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2. Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs

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Kelce fell down draft boards due to character concerns, but he was productive at Cincinnati in 2012 (45 receptions for 722 yards and eight touchdown) and Kansas City’s depth around him at tight end (Tony Moeaki and Anthony Fasano) is not imposing. The Chiefs have wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and few (if any) other good options in the passing game, so if Kelce puts together a strong training camp he could be a Week 1 starter and have a significant role right out of the gate.

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1. Aaron Dobson, WR, New England Patriots

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The prospect of catching passes from Tom Brady is good news for any receiver’s fantasy value, and Dobson has the size (6’3”) and speed (40-yard dash times in the 4.4-second range at Marshall’s Pro Day) to make the most of those chances. On talent alone he has to be considered the frontrunner to take over for the departed Brandon Lloyd as New England’s starting “X” receiver in 2013. That role yielded 130 targets for Lloyd in 2012, and Dobson should be just as productive (74 receptions for 911 yards and four touchdowns) with similar opportunities. The Patriots have not had a wide receiver with Dobson’s skill set since trading Randy Moss, and with little competition for significant playing time there is a ton of upside for fantasy owners here.