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2013 Fantasy Rookie Outlook

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Bell is the top rookie RB right now, but will he stay there? Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Bell is the top rookie RB right now, but will he stay there? Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

I’m going to pull some stats from the Fantasy Rookies are Overrated piece. Since 2003 (the last 10 seasons) we have seen an average of 5.7 starter-worthy (Top 15 QBs, Top 36 RBs, Top 36 WRs, Top 15 TEs) rookies per year. That’s just 7.3 percent of all rookies drafted. In addition, the average number of running backs that are starter-worthy is just three per year.

Fantasy owners are always excited about the “next big thing” instead of taking the reliable and proven options sitting in front of them. As proof, Giovani Bernard came off the board in round four ahead of Chris Ivory, Vick Ballard, Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace and even Tom Brady in our Football.com Post NFL Draft Mock Draft.

With that in mind, it’s time to give you the real scoop on what you can expect from this year’s crop of rookies.

Quarterbacks

E.J. Manuel, BUF – The comparisons to Cam Newton are legitimate. Out this entire class, no QB has more upside. Few have more risk, though. It’s likely that the Bills let Manuel sit behind Kevin Kolb (hopefully, not learning from him though), and that obviously negates any redraft/yearly league potential. However, everyone pegged Russell Wilson as Matt Flynn’s backup last year and look how that turned out. Manuel is a dual-threat QB, is raw and inaccurate, but has a great arm and plenty of weapons from the draft. The Bills picked three WRs to add to Stevie Johnson and company, so at the worst, Manuel is a great long-term stash with future QB1 potential.

Geno Smith, NYJ – The Jets, and Rex Ryan, are claiming this will be an open competition for the starting role. We know better, as it would be a disappointment if Smith doesn’t win the job… but hey, the Jets are use to disappointment at this point. Even though Smith is extremely athletic, he is mainly a pocket passer. Smith’s biggest downfall is his poor accuracy, but he has the tools to improve. Another issue is the lack of top-end weapons on the Jets offense. Smith is no more than a QB2, and unless he improves his accuracy, he’ll never break out of that tier.

Mike Glennon, TB – Standing 6’7”, Glennon is quite the figure at QB. Glennon’s game is suited for a pro offense, and given Josh Freeman’s own inconsistency and being in his last year of a contract, Freeman could be on a short leash. The Bucs won’t pull the plug quickly, but if we see more inconsistency, or even worse, Glennon could get a shot in 2013.

Tyler Wilson, OAK – The only reason Wilson has some upside is because he arguably has the best chance of starting. After all, Matt Flynn wasn’t guaranteed the job last year, even after signing a significant contract with the Seahawks. Issues abound though, as Wilson has small hands coupled with a long release time. Wilson doesn’t look ready to start, but then again, Flynn has just 141 pass attempts to his record.

Matt Barkley, PHI – Evaluators pored over Barkley’s negatives: arm strength, size, should have done more with WRs he had, etc. However, Barkley is exceptionally intelligent and extremely accurate, and don’t underestimate his athleticism. Over the course of his USC career, Barkley threw an astonishing 16 TDs and zero INTs with a 69.2 completion percentage on designed rollouts. All he needs to do is surpass Nick Foles and wait for a Michael Vick injury, both doable.

Matt Scott, JAX – I was borderline shocked that Scott went undrafted. Scott is more dual-threat than many realize as he ran for 506 yards and six TDs last year. Scott brings his great QB mind, good touch, accuracy and great mobility to a team with little standing is his way: Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert. Scott’s opportunity may come sooner than later.

Landry Jones, PIT; Ryan Nassib, NYG; Zac Dysert, DEN; Tyler Bray, KC – All of these QBs are entering situations with set-in-stone QBs. Bray possibly has a shot if Alex Smith reverts to his subpar play without Jim Harbaugh, but Bray has several questions of his own. The other three have no shot at contributing outside of injuries, and their teams would prefer if they never saw the field.

Running Backs

Le’Veon Bell, PIT – Bell is a big back at 6’2” and 230 lbs, but still brings quality pass-catching ability. The Steelers claim Bell is a “workhorse back,” and while it’s tough to trust Todd Haley, that gives Bell plenty of upside. If Bell does lead the way, he is a great bet to be the leading fantasy rookie RB. Nevertheless, Bell does better in open space, and if he struggles to fight through tackles at the NFL level, a timeshare or Running Back By Committee (RBBC) could be in store.

Montee Ball, DEN – Everyone knocks Ball based on his 983 college touches, saying there is only so much wear-and-tear a RB can take. We’re not concerned with 5-6 years down the road though. Ball had 83 career TDs at Wisconsin and is a good all-around back with decent pass-catching ability already. That will keep him on the field for third downs, and with Peyton Manning at QB, you know Ball will get his opportunities. The Broncos might be the highest-scoring offense in 2013, which means plenty of scoring chances for Ball. If the Broncos do release Willis McGahee, Ball will slide into the No. 1 spot for me.

Eddie Lacy, GB – Every fantasy owner cheered when the Packers took Lacy. Then, they booed and sobbed when they drafted Johnathan Franklin in the fourth round. Lacy was extremely productive in college averaging nearly 6.8 YPC over his career. He looks to be the favorite for lead carries, but this isn’t a team with a ton of red zone rushing TDs. In fact, Aaron Rodgers has more than his RBs. This is a clear timeshare, and it makes Lacy a mid-late round pick.

Giovanni Bernard, CIN – Bernard isn’t a big back (5’9” and 202 lbs) but he’s elusive and a good addition to the passing game. Think Darren Sproles. The bad news is that BenJarvus Green-Ellis isn’t going anywhere, and BJGE will be the red zone RB of choice, not Bernard. There will be opportunity and yards for Bernard, but he is more of a mid-late round option and RB3 at best. (Note: Have to love when the day you post an article that the OC, Jay Gruden, comes out and says Bernard is not workhorse back and is a 10-15 carry guy.)

Johnathan Franklin, GB – I actually preferred Franklin to Lacy coming out of college, and if it were just he in Green Bay, I’d be excited. However, Lacy is there, and even with Franklin’s do-it-all ability (even running between the tackles), he’s likely the change-of-pace option. Monitor the Packers backfield through camp and the preseason. Unless Lacy’s toe really is an issue or Franklin severely out-plays him, Franklin is mainly a Lacy handcuff or late-round flier.

Mike Gillislee, MIA – I would be surprised if Gillislee didn’t surpass Daniel Thomas on the Dolphins depth chart. He brings all-around ability and good patience in finding running lanes. Gillislee was also solid in pass protection at Florida, further helping his chances of unseating Thomas as Lamar Miller’s backup.

Zac Stacy, STL – There is something to be said about a running back who posted back-to-back seasons with 1,100-plus rushing yards and double-digit touchdowns… at Vanderbilt. With a wide-open competition for lead RB duties with Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead, you must keep your eyes on Stacy.

Joseph Randle, DAL – Any time you’re DeMarco Murray’s backup, you have potential (just like Darren McFadden’s backup). Murray has struggled with injuries his entire career, dating back to his college days. Randle isn’t amazing in one area, mostly just a solid all-around option. He did average 5.5 YPC in his college career with 38 TDs the last two seasons. Randle won’t wow you, but he is a must-have handcuff for Murray owners.

Knile Davis, KC – Speaking of RBs with a history of several injuries, we have Davis. Nevertheless, prior to his injuries, Davis ran for 1,322 yards and 13 TD in 2010. On top of that, he has amazing speed given his size at 227 lbs – ran a 4.37 and 4.48 40-yard dash. Like Randle, Davis is a terrific handcuff option behind Jamaal Charles.

Latavius Murray, OAK – One more backup RB for you. Murray heads to Oakland and is the odds-on favorite to backup Darren McFadden. Yes, the same DMC who has never played more than 13 games in a season. Like Davis, Murray is quicker than you would expect from a 6’2”, 223 lb running back, as he checked in with 4.38 and 4.40 40-yard dash times. He’ll have to unseat Rashad Jennings as the immediate backup, but Jennings isn’t a picture of health either.

Christine Michael, SEA – If only he had landed in Green Bay by himself! Michael has the most pure talent of any running back not named Marcus Lattimore. Michael checks in at 220 lbs, yet still ran 4.54 40, has a 43-inch vertical and knocked out 27 225-pound reps at the combine. Unfortunately, he is behind the Skittles stud, Marshawn Lynch, and will battle Robert Turbin for the backup role.

Stepfan Taylor, ARZ – This backfield is a committee nightmare. One would assume Rashard Mendenhall will lead the way, but if he falters, Taylor, along with Ryan Williams and Andre Ellington all lie in wait. He is a good power back, but that would mean more if he was in line for first and second down carries.

Marcus Lattimore, SF – The most talented rusher is also the most risk-laden and long-term option. Dynasty leaguers should draft Lattimore higher than keeper leagues, but redraft owners can simply stay away.

Andre Ellington, ARZ; Kerwynn Williams, IND; Jawan Jamison, WSH – Ellington will be in the competition for the Cardinals and may have more potential than Taylor… Williams is a good pass catcher with great speed… Jamison is in a crowded backfield, but Mike Shanahan knows how to make RBs good, and you just never know when dealing with Shanahanagins.

Wide Receivers

Tavon Austin, STL – Not only was he the first WR off the board, but Austin should be the first rookie WR off fantasy draft boards. Don’t misjudge Austin by his 5’8” height, as he is stronger than most would think (14 reps at combine). Austin has 40 times of 4.34 and 4.40 and immediately fills the hole left by Danny Amendola. As proven in years past, Sam Bradford loved throwing to Amendola, and Austin is a multi-dimension threat a la Percy Harvin and Randall Cobb. Plan to draft him in the mid rounds, even as high as the sixth round in some leagues.

DeAndre Hopkins, HOU – I’ll give you a name… Hakeem Nicks. That is the perfect comparison for Hopkins, but he doesn’t have the injury issues that Nicks does. He is an exceptional route runner (same thing said about Nicks coming out of UNC) and has amazing (and huge) hands. He caught 48 consecutive one-handed catches and even snatched one from two yards out on ESPN’s Sports Science. The Texans have needed an option alongside Andre Johnson, and Hopkins will provide that.

Cordarrelle Patterson, MIN – Like Austin, Patterson is an athletic marvel who will produce in more ways than just receiving (1,858 all-purpose yards last season). The issue with Patterson is that his route running needs work, and his performances are inconsistent. That said, the Vikings need a playmaker of Patterson’s ilk given Harvin’s departure. Greg Jennings is the team’s No. 1 receiving option, but Patterson can help in more ways than one.

Robert Woods, BUF – Woods in-game performance is much better than his tests would suggest at the combine. Before Marqise Lee took over last season, Woods was a Top 15 pick. Like many rookies, Woods needs route-running work, but still has the inherent talent to win the starting job opposite of Stevie Johnson. If he does, and Kolb starts over Manuel, Woods can provide deep-league value, but is still more of a keeper/dynasty target.

Aaron Dobson, NE – The Patriots wide receiving group saw an overhaul. Outside of Julian Edelman, we are looking at a bunch of new choices for Tom Brady. Amendola will be atop the chart, as long as he’s healthy, but all Dobson needs to do is surpass underwhelming Michael Jenkins for a starting gig. Dobson is another receiver on this list with great hands, and he brings good size at 6’3” 204 lbs. Oh, and how is this for an astounding stat? 92 targets last season, zero drops! None!

Keenan Allen, SD – Allen went from first-round lock and in the conversation as the top WR to being a third round selection. His recovery from a knee injury caused his slide. Allen still has upside given his physicality and excellent hands – not quite Hopkins level, but close. Allen’s 2013 stock all depends on whether he can emerge from the glut of options that include Danario Alexander, Malcom Floyd and Vincent Brown.

Terrance Williams, DAL – Williams has great speed and the ability to get behind defenses deep downfield. Granted, Baylor’s offense was one of the nation’s best, but 1,832 yards and 12 TDs is worth noting no matter where you play. Williams is a good bet to win the job as the Cowboys No. 3 option, and with how often Dez Bryant and Miles Austin get hurt, Williams is worth a late-round pick.

Justin Hunter, TEN – Hunter used to be the higher rated prospect from Tennessee over teammate Patterson, but tore his ACL in 2011 and wasn’t the same last year. However, Hunter still has a good blend of size and speed (6’4” and 4.44/4.49 40-yard dashes) that makes him an intriguing long-term prospect. For 2013, a team filled with Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright and Nate Washington gives Hunter a tough hill to climb, but Britt could be gone next season, opening to door for Hunter.

Quinton Patton, SF; Stedman Bailey, STL; Kenny Stills, NO; Da’Rick Rogers, BUF; Marquess Wilson, CHI; Markus Wheaton, PIT; Justin Brown, PIT – Patton is buried in San Fran, but can go up and attack the ball in the air… Bailey joins WVU alum Austin in St. Louis and had an astounding 25 receiving TDs last season… Drew Brees loves to sling the rock, and he will love looking for Stills deep downfield when he’s on the field… Wilson has a great size/speed combo and could push Alshon Jeffery if given the chance… Wheaton and Brown will battle for the No. 3 role in Pittsburgh, and while Wheaton has top-end speed, he runs soft routes and could fall behind Brown if he isn’t careful.

Tight Ends

Tyler Eifert, CIN – Eifert does everything: runs quality routes, attacks the pass in the air, fights through defenders, beats defenders downfield and even blocks extremely well. While some may be concerned that Jermaine Gresham is already in place, he’s never reached the TE1 level, and Eifert more than has the ability to do so. Even if Eifert doesn’t pass Gresham immediately, the Bengals will have to use him in several two-TE sets, as Eifert could become Andy Dalton’s second-favorite target, even ahead of the WR options.

Travis Kelce, KC – Yes, the Chiefs have Tony Moeaki and Anthony Fasano, but neither has the ability that Kelce brings. Kelce missed the entire 2010 season due to a suspension for off-field problems, but registered 722 yards and eight TDs last year. Some have compared him to Rob Gronkowski given his hands and big-play ability. That’s high praise.

Zach Ertz, PHI – It’s way too early to know what Chip Kelly is thinking or plans to do. Ertz could become his No. 1 tight end, or he could sit and develop behind Brent Celek and Clay Harbor. His is similar to Eifert in many ways, albeit a bit slower, so the opportunity for production is here. It all depends on what Kelly decides.

Jordan Reed, WSH – In the passing game, Reed is a mismatch for most defenders, but he desperately needs to improve his blocking. Reed has more fantasy appeal than Logan Paulsen, but Paulsen surpasses him in blocking, so Reed will need another Fred Davis injury to make a real impact. Although, that could be more likely than not with Davis.

Gavin Escobar, DAL; Vance McDonald, SF; Dion Sims, MIA; Nick Kasa, OAK; Levine Toilolo, ATL – Escobar has more balls skills and catching ability than athleticism, but he will be learning from one of the best in Jason Witten… Exit Delanie Walker, enter McDonald, who is extremely versatile, shown by how much he lined up in the slot at Rice… Sims is behind Dustin Keller and is the next in former basketball players turned tight end… Kasa is a better blocker than receiver, but there isn’t an established TE option in Oakland… Toilolo is 6’8” 260 lbs and a physical beast, presenting a great option in the red zone once he’s done studying under the tutelage of the game’s best-ever tight end, Tony Gonzalez.