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2013 Fantasy Rookies: Pre-Draft Spin

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If he ends up as a team's No. 1 RB, Michael will be a RB2 as a rookie. Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
If he ends up as a team's No. 1 RB, Michael will be a RB2 as a rookie. Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

In the past, my offensive rookies piece would near Bill Simmons-length. After all, I want to make sure you are well prepared for your draft when it comes to expected production from the youngin’s. There is a problem this year: utter lack of top-end talent. It wouldn’t a surprise if all of the rookies failed to make a significant impact in 2013.

Still, you want insight, and that’s what you’re going to get. Obviously, this list will change post-draft, as a player’s landing spot can greatly influence his chance of success. Therefore, this first list will be a straight ranking based on talent alone.

QUARTERBACKS

Matt Barkley – Easily the most pro-ready of any QB in the draft. You’ve heard the negatives: arm strength, size, should have done more with WRs he had, etc. All of that is easily offset by his QB “brain.” Barkley is the most intelligent QB in the draft, but 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. With his vast experience at USC (1,562 passes) and intelligence, which he’ll use to improve, Barkley has the ability to disprove the naysayers.

Rookie Impact: Likely none. Barkley needs to develop and won’t likely be asked to start immediately.

Geno Smith – Images of Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III probably flash through your minds. Hopefully for Smith, his NFL team plans to use him in that pistol formation that made the likes of Kaepernick so successful. Smith rarely faced pressure in college, throwing 96 percent of his passes from the shotgun or pistol. That is why some take his accuracy with a grain of salt. The area overlooked is that Smith actually struggled with his intermediate throws at times. Nevertheless, Smith has that rare blend of athleticism and top-notch QB attributes that make GMs drool. Plan to see Smith drafted ahead of Matt Barkley, but don’t be surprised to see him sit behind a QB while learning.

Rookie Impact: Like Barkley, none, unless the QB ahead of him suffers an injury or Smith simply outplays him in the preseason. Then, we’re looking at a likely QB2.

Others in conversation: E.J. Manuel, Ryan Nassib, Matt Scott, Mike Glennon, Tyler Wilson

RUNNING BACKS

Christine Michael – For fantasy prospects, pray Michael ends up in Green Bay. There is no better fit. Michael posted 1,530 yards and 12 TDs in 13 games. The problem is that those 13 games came over two seasons due to injury. With his size, speed (given that size) and great thickness – especially in his legs – Michael is a prototypical NFL built RB.

Rookie Impact: If he can stay healthy, make a few better decisions and end up with a team like Green Bay, Michael has legitimate RB2 potential.

Eddie Lacy – Was it the supremely formidable Alabama offensive line or Lacy’s ability that led to his success in college? That is what NFL GMs are busy figuring out, and I can tell you much of it was in fact due to Lacy’s talent. He is a hard-running RB who also brings a fake-you-out-of-your-shoes spin move.

Rookie Impact: Lacy could sneak into the first round with a team that needs a leading RB (Pittsburgh, Green Bay). If he does, Lacy is at least a RB3 with upside as a RB2.

Montee Ball – How do you not like a guy who scored 83 TDs over his career? A FBS record by the way! The main concern with Ball is just how much wear and tear he already has. At Wisconsin, Ball carried the ball 924 times. For fantasy purposes, we’re not concerned with the long-term effect, unless you’re in a dynasty league. The fact is that Ball was never hurt, knows how to reach the second level and certainly knows how to find the end zone. Unlike most RBs on this list who need a majority share of carries to succeed, Ball can be a terrific TD vulture even if stuck behind someone else.

Rookie Impact: At least a RB3 based on TD possibilities with RB2 potential if a lead RB.

Jonathan Franklin – The only significant downside to Franklin is his pass blocking – think David Wilson with the Giants. Other than that, Franklin has the ability to be the best rookie fantasy running back in 2013. Franklin can run through the holes or take it outside. He possesses great one-cut ability and is a good pass catcher, but Franklin has shown a fumbling problem… hmm, more Wilson comparisons.

Rookie Impact: Franklin is likely headed for a timeshare or change-of-pace role making him a RB4, but like Wilson, if the lead dog goes down, look out.

Giovani Bernard – Bernard ran better than expected in the spread system at UNC, but that may also be his downfall. Often, Bernard will look for the cutback instead of grinding out the extra yard or forcing his way through a small hole. That can get you in trouble at the NFL level. Bernard does have great ability at those cutbacks and with his spin move, which will help him succeed to some degree.

Rookie Impact: If a team drafts him as a complement back (i.e. DeAngelo Williams to Jonathan Stewart), his upside is limited to a RB4, and that’s the most likely scenario.

Others in conversation: Miguel Maysonet, Andre Ellington, Marcus Lattimore, Mike Gillislee

WIDE RECEIVERS

Cordarrelle Patterson – Patterson doesn’t have the length of experience compared to most WRs, but he arguably has the most natural ability of them all. With good size, Patterson is able to use his body to make catches and keep the ball away from defenders. However, that’s also a downside, as Patterson uses his body too much. That led to too many dropped “easily catchable” passes, and he rarely had to reach the ball at its highest point. Patterson also struggles with the physical, hand-checking type of corner and will need to improve in that area.

Rookie Impact: Patterson is a bit raw, but given his terrific natural ability, he could see similar success to that of Justin Blackmon. Still that is WR4, borderline WR3, territory.

Tavon Austin – Tavon “Slot Machine” Austin (yes, that’s what I am calling him) is the epitome of a slot receiver. He finds the open spots in the defense, exploits them, and then has the burst/acceleration to leave defenders in his wake. Austin can also make the high and low catch, showing great range for a guy his size, but now we’re talking about his weakness… that size. Austin will be limited to the slot the majority of the time and will struggle to be a sideline option. Nevertheless, Wes Welker, Victor Cruz and Danny Amendola have shown just how valuable and dangerous a slot receiver can be.

Rookie Impact: Unless he ends up on a team with a weak QB or passing game, Austin can have WR4 value, and we can bump that to a WR3 if in a PPR league.

DeAndre Hopkins – We mentioned Victor Cruz, so it’s only fitting that we have another Giants WR to which we can compare a rookie: Hakeem Nicks. Hopkins runs the WR route tree extremely well and adds enough speed to beat defenders deep. Hopkins has quality double moves, head fakes, power, hands and balance. So why is he not No. 1? Hopkins lacks “ideal” NFL size at 6’1” 214 lbs and can hesitate instead of heading upfield immediately after the catch. Still, when that’s all you can say negatively, there is a ton of upside here.

Rookie Impact: If Hopkins ends up on a No. 2 WR needy team, he could have legitimate WR3 value.

Terrance Williams – Add in Hopkins route-running ability, and you’d have the mold for an elite NFL WR. Williams is mostly a sideline receiver and needs to improve his route running. The good news is that Williams should be a solid red zone option given his ability to attack the ball in the air and separate from his man quickly.

Rookie Impact: Williams’ playing time will be helped by his quality blocking. On a team looking for a downfield/red zone option, Williams can have WR4 value.

Keenan Allen – It’s hard to knock Allen’s overall production given the QB play seen at Cal. Allen does many things well (route running, jump balls, uses frame to shield, making defenders miss) but isn’t elite in any one area. With no wow factor, his faults draw more attention, as he drops some easy passes, doesn’t block well and doesn’t have elite downfield speed.

Rookie Impact: It’s possible the QB play held Allen back in college, and he will impress more with a reliable passer. It’s also possible Allen is just an all-around quality WR, who will stick around for years but never reach the top level. Consider him a WR4/5.

Others in conversation: Justin Hunter, Robert Woods, Markus Wheaton

TIGHT ENDS

Tyler Eifert – Eifert is one of the better TE prospects we’ve seen in years. He has a receiver-like build, but we’re still talking about someone at 6’6” 250 lbs. Eifert lined up outside, in the slot or on the line at Notre Dame, and he excelled no matter where he was. He attacks the ball like few others, and once the ball is his, Eifert is tough to bring down. Eifert is even a quality blocker, taking on both linebackers and defensive ends for the Irish. Some will argue he needs improvement in that area – blocking – but, it’s not a tremendous amount, and we don’t get points for blocking anyway.

Rookie Impact: Unless he’s buried behind a Tony Gonzalez type and is mentored as a rookie, Eifert is a legitimate high-end TE2 with TE1 potential.

Zack Ertz – Ertz is more physical than Eifert, looking to lower his pads to drive defenders back. That isn’t to say Ertz lacks athleticism. Ertz is a quality route runner in his own right and uses his quickness to gain separation. Like Eifert, he lined up all over the place, which only helped him use his ability to find the soft spots in the defense. Ertz needs to improve his blocking, especially at the second level and will have trouble freeing himself from DBs.

Rookie Impact: Ertz’s negatives aren’t enough to have him ignored in fantasy circles. Depending on the team, Ertz could have solid TE2 value.

Others in conversation: Travis Kelce, Jordan Reed