Rookies are always a difficult subject in the world of fantasy football. On one hand, fantasy football owners welcome new talent for their rosters. Everyone wants to take pride in drafting the next big NFL playmaker. The NFL Combine, the NFL Draft and training camps can stir up all sorts of speculation and excitement for prospective fantasy owners. On the other hand, the reality is that we're dealing with the unknown.
Fantasy football itself is about projecting outcomes for any player, but rookies are a different breed. Until an NFL rookie takes his first steps onto the field, on the big stage, we're working off of collegiate accomplishments, situation and opportunity. Sure, we have a few weeks of preseason to judge, but even then we are often considering 2nd and 3rd stringers as their opposition. With that said, let's take a look at the rookies with the most potential heading into the 2014 NFL season.
1. Bishop Sankey, RB, Tennessee Titans
Sankey tops this list primarily due to his presumed role as RB1 in Tennessee. Shonn Greene and Dexter McCluster are Sankey's biggest competition. Few would suggest Sankey will reach the production of Chris Johnson in his prime, but Sankey is a premium rookie prospect for fantasy owners simply because of his expected workload. He's having ball security issues this preseason, and that will happen with rookies, but Ken Whisenhunt has continued to endorse him. He's a low-end RB2 option in most scoring formats.
2. Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sammy Watkins may deserve to be No. 2 on this list, but the reality is that Evans has a much more reliable quarterback situation. Josh McCown is coming off a productive season in Chicago, and while it's hard to suggest he's the long-term answer in Tampa Bay, he's proven he can consistently get the ball to his receivers.
3. Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills
Watkins is a great talent who is entering questionable circumstances. Quarterback EJ Manuel will need to prove he can be more consistent before Watkins can really break out. That said, Watkins may be the most desirable wide receiver in dynasty leagues. For the purposes of standard fantasy leagues, he's a high-upside WR4 prospect who could pay off even in his rookie season.
4. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers
Aside from tight end Greg Olsen, there really isn't another player guaranteed targets from quarterback Cam Newton. Benjamin has the most to gain, and it happens to be during his rookie season. He's spent a lot of time training with Newton as well. He's a solid prospect who was essentially handed Steve Smith's role from the start.
5. Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers
Nearly every running back beneath Frank Gore was swept away with injuries this offseason. Hyde stands to gain from a tremendous opportunity. Gore seems to surprise us every season by proving he still has tread on the tires, so there's always a risk that Hyde takes a backseat all season. However, he's in a situation that warrants serious consideration in all fantasy formats. The 49ers are already using him in the pistol formation alongside Colin Kaepernick, and he's being used as a receiver at times as well.
6. Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints
No more Lance Moore in New Orleans. Enter Brandin Cooks. He has plenty of opportunity for a significant snap count and has Drew Brees throwing to him. Not only that, he's already proving to be a talent in training camp. It's normally tough to sell a rookie in New Orleans simply because Brees is a great ball distributor, but Cooks may also fill a void left by Darren Sproles as a small, shifty receiver. Cooks gets a bump up in PPR leagues as a result.
7. Jeremy Hill, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
Hill has been playing well in training camp. He's a great power back to complement the shifty Giovani Bernard. It's unlikely Bernard will ever lose his role as the team's most dynamic ball carrier. However, Hill should see plenty of work between the tackles and should see his fair share of work in goal-line situations. He's ideal for touchdown-only leagues, and should be an upgrade over what owners saw from BenJarvus Green-Ellis in 2013.
8. Terrance West, RB, Cleveland Browns
Ben Tate is presumed to be the Browns' primary ball carrier in 2014, but there are a number of things working against him. First, Tate needs to stay healthy -- something he's struggled with throughout his career. Second, the Browns coaching staff has indicated they intend on a committee approach from their backfield. West has impressed in camp so far, but he's the apparent backup to Tate so far in preseason. He'll likely see his share of work, and has tremendous upside if Tate struggles to stay on the field.
9. Marqise Lee, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
Lee has loads of talent, but injury concerns lowered his draft stock in 2014. With Cecil Shorts constantly battling hamstring issues, Lee has potential to surface as the team's No. 1 wideout. Lee could be paired with rookie quarterback Blake Bortles, however, and a rookie quarterback paired with a rookie wide receiver is a big gamble. He's a risky proposition with a high ceiling. Regardless, Lee has a chance to lead the Jaguars in targets this season judging from his preseason output so far.
10. Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons
On one hand, Steven Jackson has impressed in camp. On the other hand, Jackson continues to remind us that he's well past his prime. Jackson is currently dealing with a hamstring injury, which could nag him for a good portion of the regular season. Devonta Freeman could have an opportunity to prove himself sooner rather than later, but he's more valuable in dynasty leagues. Jackson will eat away at Freeman's value whenever he's capable of taking the field.
11. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants
Beckham was a top wide receiver prospect for the 2014 NFL Draft, and he was ultimately drafted 12th overall by the Giants. Beckham has since battled a hamstring injury all offseason. It's likely that Beckham will eventually recover, but hamstring injuries tend to linger, and rookie wide receivers tend to go through growing pains. He's a prime dynasty prospect. At the same time, he and the Giants have an uphill battle before he can prove to be a consistent fantasy option.
12. Jordan Matthews, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
A second-round pick in May, Matthews has been playing at a high level during training camp. The majority of his snaps have been with the second-team offense. Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Zach Ertz, LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles may see the bulk of the team's targets. If Matthews can play well in preseason, he's a sneaky pickup with Maclin's injury history.
13. Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit Lions
Ebron has struggled in camp thus far. It's reported that he's dropping enough passes to warrant attention. Regardless, the coaching staff seems to have a lot of faith in Ebron's abilities. The days of hoping Brandon Pettigrew will be the next great fantasy tight end might be over. Pettigrew is being used more as a blocker since Ebron was drafted, and coaches continue to line Ebron up everywhere they can. It's likely Ebron ends up as a TE2 in 2014, but he could be worth owning as a plug-and-play tight end with the upside that comes along with his high-octane offense.
14. Allen Robinson, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
Lee may be the Jaguars' more exciting prospect, but Robinson could be the more desirable PPR option this season. Robinson has been compared to Anquan Boldin and could offer plenty of short and intermediate completions. He's battling a nagging hamstring at the moment, so he needs to prove he can put in a full season. Of course, with Justin Blackmon out of the picture, Robinson could be a steady option. He's a sleeper pick nonetheless.
15. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Minnesota Vikings
The battle at quarterback is currently down to Matt Cassel and Bridgewater in Minnesota. Assuming Bridgewater starts, he could pay dividends for fantasy owners. The Vikings haven't been able to produce successful quarterback play since the Brett Favre era. Bridgewater doesn't have elite arm strength, but he doesn't need it in Minnesota. He has great awareness and can sell play action -- something that will come in handy with Adrian Peterson in the backfield.
16. Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland Browns
Yes, Brian Hoyer has been named the starter in Cleveland. Regardless, Manziel is worth a look in dynasty leagues, which is where a lot of his value is being considered at the moment. Manziel may be one of the bigger boom-or-bust rookies at the moment, and he's certainly risky in the world of fantasy football. Even if Manziel struggles to win games in Cleveland, his rushing yards should provide some fantasy value for owners. Of course, we could be looking further down the road before Manziel is even on the field. That said, Josh Gordon should return in 2015, which adds more value to Manziel's fantasy future. Expect QB2 numbers from Manziel, but his ceiling makes him worth a stash if he's available in later rounds of your draft.
17. Jerick McKinnon, RB, Minnesota Vikings
McKinnon is a complete all-or-nothing prospect who will likely not see much playing time unless Peterson goes down. He's making this list simply because he will likely be relied on if Peterson can't suit up. He's worth drafting in later rounds as Peterson's handcuff.
18. Dri Archer, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Even though Le'Veon Bell and Legarette Blount are facing charges for possession of marijuana, it's very possible they won't see any suspension until 2015. Even if they were suspended sooner, Archer isn't going to be a bell cow for Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh coaches have referred to him as their Darren Sproles. He could be a great PPR sleeper, but the Steelers haven't always utilized a pass-catching back. It will be interesting to see how much his talent demands his presence in certain packages, but his workload may not extend beyond that.
19. Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
This is a tough one. Assuming Bortles starts, it's easy to dismiss him because Jacksonville hasn't delivered a competent fantasy quarterback since the days of David Garrard -- and even then it was spotty at best. With that said, the offense seems to be in a rebuilding period. Maurice Jones-Drew is gone, and Justin Blackmon is practically an afterthought. If Bortles can survive the regular season, it's always possible he'll deliver some fantasy numbers in a league increasingly emphasizing the passing game.
20. Jace Amaro, TE, New York Jets
He's struggled in camp, dropping a lot of passes sent his way. He has shown improvement in preseason. Amaro has boldly declared he's a "100-reception tight end," and if he can focus, he has every opportunity to see a lot of targets. He may be a possession target in New York as the Jets continue to groom Geno Smith. As a tight end, he's worth grabbing as a flyer in your later rounds simply because he'll likely start for the team in 2014.
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