Welcome both experienced fantasy players and first-timers! Now, some may say it’s way too early to talk fantasy football, but I have to kindly disagree. It’s never too early to start mulling over who you might want to target in your upcoming draft. I’ll delve in to other pressing fantasy questions in future columns, but for now, let’s take a look at the newcomers to the fantasy world. No, I’m not talking about your friend-of-a-friend Steve who you’ve reluctantly roped in as the 10th person in your league. I’m talking about rookies.
The 2014 NFL Draft introduced a whole roster full of instant-impact fantasy starters and sprinkled in some minor disappointments too. Those drafters or nifty traders who were able to snag the likes of Odell Beckham, Mike Evans or Kelvin Benjamin were nicely rewarded for their efforts. Owners of Bishop Sankey or Eric Ebron, on the other hand, were burned by the rookie curse. With this in mind, how does the 2015 draft class size up in fantasy world?
First, let’s examine the most prominent position in football: the quarterback. In recent memory, only a handful of rookie quarterbacks have been able to provide starter-quality material in 10-team leagues. Robert Griffin III was the most recent example of a game-changing rookie quarterback. While this year’s class has some enticing options in Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, my advice is to not bite on either in one-quarterback leagues. Leave both on the waiver wire but keep an eye on Winston during your bye week in case he sparks an early connection with Tampa Bay’s wealth of receiving options.
There are two big names you have to keep an eye on on the running back market. Selected 10th overall by the St. Louis Rams, Todd Gurley is primed to take the league by storm. Coming off an ACL injury and operating behind an unproven offensive line, Gurley has been knocked down in some early draft rankings. Don’t let this scare you off. When fully healthy he has the talent to be a top-five back. Do yourself a favor and grab Gurley a round early; just make sure to grab his backup Tre Mason as a handcuff in case he misses any time in the beginning of the year while his ACL heals.
The other noteworthy back is Melvin Gordon, a first-rounder who will immediately take over the lion’s share of the carries in the San Diego Chargers’ backfield. While he may not possess the same talent level as Gurley, he has an easier (and healthier) path to carries in a high-powered offense. Do not be surprised if he ends the year as a top-10 running back and if he and Gurley are unanimous first-round fantasy selections next year.
The final position to cover is wide receiver. Only Baltimore Raven Maxx Williams registers as a tight end sleeper and even he is best fit to start the year on the waiver wire. Following the success of the 2014 class, top-10 picks Amari Cooper (Oakland Raiders) and Kevin White (Chicago Bears) are sure to generate loads of buzz heading into your draft. I’m a fan of both, though I think White presents the greater advantage because of Chicago’s recent history. Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall have each excelled in the Bears’ offense, as Jay Cutler’s strong arm opens up opportunities for skilled pass-catchers.
Also keep an eye on Eagles rookie Nelson Agholor, a Jeremy Maclin clone out of the University of Southern California who will benefit tremendously from the departure of Maclin and a healthy Sam Bradford in Philadelphia. With some lucky breaks, both Agholor and his second-year teammate, wide receiver Jordan Matthews, could have breakout years. Finally, Miami Dolphins rookie receiver DeVante Parker possesses a formidable combination of size, strength and speed, but he recently underwent foot surgery and thus will be on an even steeper learning curve than his fellow rookies.
Until next time, fantasy lovers, play on.
Joe Lanzilla is a rising senior in the SFS. Fantasy Football Corner appears every other Tuesday.