By Jarrod Patterson @J_M_Patterson on July 19, 2014
Fantasy football has quickly become one of the most popular past times in the world. That is why nearly every sports analyst in the nation is constantly analyzing NFL depth charts on an almost daily basis. What most FF enthusiasts forget to look at, however, are the incoming rookie draft classes. While it may be uncommon for rookies to make a significant impact fantasy-wise, it isn't unheard of. Here are 15 NFL rookies who could do just that.
Paul Richardson was a second-round draft pick for the Seahawks this year from the University of Colorado. After a torn ACL caused him to miss the 2012 season, Richardson returned in 2013 to set a school record with 1,201 receiving yards. Now in Seattle, he will have Percy Harvin, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse to compete against for playing time, but Richardson's speed and athleticism should allow him ample opportunities to make an impact.
Former Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel might be the most polarizing player the NFL has seen since the great Tim Tebow. In 2012, he became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. In 2013, Manziel again lit the NCAA on fire with his mobility and QB prowess. Though slightly undersized, he was drafted in the 1st round to be Cleveland's QB of the future. While Brian Hoyer may have the inside track right now, Manziel will start sooner than later.
The Miami Dolphins' offense fell short of expectations last year after the additions of WR's Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson, as well as TE Dustin Keller. Gibson and Keller were both lost to injury and Wallace struggled mostly due to QB Ryan Tannehill's lack of time in the pocket. With the Dolphins offensive line much improved, they will look to rookie WR Jarvis Landry to fill their need for a mid-range playmaker capable of lining up in the slot.
RB De'Anthony Thomas could immediately challenge for the title of the NFL's best nickname, The Black Mamba. The former Oregon playmaker has a plethora of talents, including the ability to line up in the slot, the backfield and out wide at reciever. Essentially, Thomas is a more dynamic version of former Chiefs RB/WR Dexter McCluster. At this point, it's unknown exactly how Thomas will be used, but it's fair to assume he'll get his touches.
Former Notre Dame TE Troy Niklas is flying under-the-radar a bit heading into his rookie season. Drafted by the Arizona Cardinals, Niklas is taylor-made for the TE position in head coach Bruce Arians' offense. He is underrated as a blocker (which should improve their run-game) and has the speed and toughness to be an effective weapon over the middle. Plus, with WR's Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald around, Niklas will rarely get double-teamed.
While RB Steven Jackson has had an amazing NFL career, his time as a starter has likely come to an end. He could be an effective short-yardage or goal-line back, but it appears quite likely that the Falcons will look to their youth for production. Enter rookie RB Devonta Freeman from the National Champion FSU Seminoles. At 5-foot-9, 210 pounds, he has the size and burst to be an every down back, likely making Jackson expendable.
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins was perhaps the most well-rounded TE in the 2014 NFL Draft. His explosiveness as a receiver was evident during his time at UW. By the time 2012 (his true sophomore season) had ended, Seferian-Jenkins held school records in receptions (110) receiving yards (1.390) and touchdowns (13) for a tight end. Unfortunately, he missed 2013 to injury. Once again healthy and drafted to the Bucs, defenses better do their homework.
Last year, the Rams thought they had a starting RB in Daryl Richardson. Unfortunately, that didn't work out as Richardson struggled early in 2013. Luckily for St. Louis, they found a gem in fifth-round draft pick Zac Stacy. Stacy took over and never looked back, posting over 1,100 total yards and eight touchdowns. Stacy will have serious competition from rookie Tre Mason, also known as the man who broke Bo Jackson's single-season rushing record.
Up until his final year, Marqise Lee was a prolific receiver at USC. In 2011, he was the Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year with over 1,100 yards and 11 TD's. Then, in 2012, he was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the year, posting 118 receptions for 1,721 yards and 14 TD's. After losing QB Matt Barkley in 2013, the Fred Biletnikoff Award Winner had a mediocre final year at USC, but will look to rekindle his swag with the Jaguars.
No one can dispute RB Jeremy Hill's on-field skillset, after the former LSU Tiger rumbled his way through two phenomenal seasons. That's all it took for Hill to dominate the SEC with a career 2,156 rushing yards on only 345 carries, giving him an astounding 6.2 yard per carry average over his career in the rugged SEC. He also added 28 TD's. If he can keep his head straight, Hill and fellow Bengal's RB Giovani Bernard will form a nasty 1-2 punch.
WR Sammy Watkins was probably the most complete playmaker to come out of the NFL Draft in the past few years. His speed, agility, athleticism and football intelligence make him a can't-miss prospect. Not surprisingly, the Bills traded WR Stevie Johnson after selecting Watkins in the draft, showing their faith in the former Clemson product. If QB E.J. Manuel can stay healthy, Buffalo's offense could be surprisingly potent this year.
TE Eric Ebron was clearly the best receiving tight end in the 2014 NFL Draft. His athleticism was well documented throughout his time at Chapel Hill, and at the NFL Combine. He was worthy of a first-round draft pick and Detroit was in the mood for a luxury selection at No. 10. With TE Brandon Pettigrew lacking consistency as a receiver, Ebron will have plenty of opportunities to get comfortable in Detroit's pass-happy offense.
For a large part of the 2014 pre-draft process, former Huskies RB Bishop Sankey was overlooked. That's surprising, given the sheer production he amassed in just two years at UW. In those seasons, Sankey posted over 3,300 rushing yards and 37 TD's. Luckily, teams eventually did their homework and in the end, Sankey was the first back taken in the draft, selected in the second-round by the Titans; a perfect situation considering the loss of CJ2K.
WR Brandin Cooks may not have realized it when he was drafted by the New Orleans Saints, but he was essentially blessed with the honor of starting his NFL career in WR heaven with QB Drew Brees. The 5-foot-10, 190 pound WR may not have significant size, but he has legitimate 4.3 speed, along with many of the same skills former Saint Darren Sproles possessed in his prime. With Cooks replacing Sproles in many ways, he could have a Pro-Bowl year.
There has been a lot of buzz surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles since head coach Chip Kelly arrived last season. After winning the NFC East in his first year, it was clear Kelly meant business. However, that couldn't have prepared fans for the release of Pro-Bowl WR DeSean Jackson. Regardless of fans' shock, filling Jackson's shoes will be rookie WR Jordan Matthews. who already looks the part of a legitimate No. 1 WR in Eagles OTA's.
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