2012 Fantasy Rookie Review
By Jeff Brubach
After the completion of the 2013 NFL Draft, fantasy football owners around the globe will break out their bifocals and fine-toothed combs to determine which NFL rookies will provide fantasy draft value for the upcoming season. While the 2013 draft is certain to produce plenty of skill position talent, very few of these players are likely to be celebrated as marquee first round picks. As NFL teams focus top picks on offensive and defensive linemen, there will undoubtedly be future fantasy forces drafted in the later rounds that will provide a spark in the world of fantasy football. Just because a player is drafted on day two or three of the NFL Draft doesn’t mean he won’t be a viable fantasy asset. In this vein, let’s take a look at the 2012 rookie class beyond the Luck's and Martin's of the world, to highlight some late-round options that surprised fantasy owners last season.
2012 was a banner year for rookies, with fresh new faces headlining fantasy teams all season long. The Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins sealed up their quarterback dilemmas with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, while the Cleveland Browns and Tampa Bay Buccaneers found top-level rushers in Trent Richardson and Doug Martin. The first round of the 2012 NFL Draft even produced some solid pass catching options in Jacksonville’s Justin Blackmon and Tennessee’s Kendall Wright. While a passing glance at Sportcenter or an outdated fantasy football magazine off a grocery store news stand would have instructed fantasy owners to snatch up these rookies, the real fantasy value came from the middle to end stages of the NFL Draft.
Seattle struck gold in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft by selecting Russell Wilson with the 75th overall pick. At the time of the selection, Wilson appeared to be the backup to newly acquired Matt Flynn, but both unproven starters would have to perform in Seattle’s preseason games. This is where we, the most ardent of fantasy football detectives, noticed a rising star. After the second week of preseason action, Wilson had racked up 279 yards and a 3:1 TD/INT ratio, while Flynn struggled to 102 yards and 0:1. This led to a Week 3 preseason game with Kansas City in which Wilson exploded for 185 yards, two touchdowns and 58 yards rushing while Flynn sat out with a sore arm. A franchise quarterback was born, and Russell Wilson turned in a fine rookie season highlighted by a 26:10 TD/INT ratio and 489 yards on the ground in Seattle’s read-option attack. Most of the 2013 class of rookie signal callers will be drafted in the 2nd Round or later, creating the chance of another Wilson-like revelation this season.
A fine preseason performance launched another rookie, this time at the running back position, in the Redskins Alfred Morris. Morris (the 2012 NFL Draft’s 173rd selection) hammered home 13 touchdowns to go with an astounding 1,610 rushing yards on the season but was part of a muddled backfield as the 2012 preseason began. After the dust settled on Week 3 of the 2012 preseason, Morris was the clear leader in the Washington backfield in terms of production (194 yards, one TD), but sat out the final preseason game and watched Redskins mates Roy Helu and Evan Royster run wild. On the surface, this appeared to be yet another case of a Mike Shanahan crapshoot backfield, but with some deeper scanning of Washington’s preseason box scores, intelligent fantasy owners were taking a late round shot with Morris, who paid off handsomely. Beyond the Eddie Lacey types, the 2013 draft will provide less heralded options like 2012’s Morris, who could pay dividends for fantasy owners.
The leading rookie wide receiver in the 2012 fantasy football landscape was another late round selection, the Colts T.Y. Hilton, who was selected 92nd overall. Hilton didn’t have the benefit of a strong preseason like our first two examples, but the youngster did get some help in terms of playing time availability as teammate Austin Collie battle a myriad of injuries and was lost for the season near the end of September. The loss of Collie coincided with a strong Week 3 performance from Hilton (four receptions, 113 yards, one TD) which sparked a successful rookie campaign of 861 yards and seven touchdowns. Hilton was rightfully undrafted in 2012 fantasy football drafts, but early season waiver claims paid off in this case, as another late round NFL Draft pick was on his way to stellar fantasy production.
When the 2013 fantasy football draft season rolls around, be sure to keep tabs on the rookies drafted after the bright lights of the Tavon Austin and Geno Smith selections have worn off. As 2012 demonstrated, fantasy football rookie standouts can come from all corners of the NFL Draft.