Offseason Extra: Fantasy potential of the 2012 class
Every year owners fall for names they recognize from college on Draft Day. However, as Dave Richard writes, only a handful of rookies prove valuable in their initial season. He shares his choices for 2012.
When rookies get drafted by an NFL team, they're picked based on expectations. For instance, Andrew Luck is expected to lead the Colts' offense for the next 15 years. Trent Richardson is expected to rumble on the ground for the Browns for the next nine or 10 years.
Rookies have pre-draft expectations in Fantasy Football, too. But some are believed to be with a team where they'll exceed expectations and others will wind up stuck on a depth chart or with some sub-standard teammates.
Here's our take on 10 rookies who should do better or worse than we expected going into the 2012 NFL Draft simply because of where they ended up. This is not a list of obvious players like Luck or Richardson or Justin Blackmon, who should serve their teams well even though they're not in an ideal spot.
Note: Players are listed in order of Fantasy impact.
Top five draft winners
1. Robert Griffin III, QB, Redskins
Call him the rookie we saw coming weeks in advance: When the Redskins invested a huge package of picks in Griffin, we knew to take notice. Mike Shanahan and the Redskins' coaching staff are going to put Griffin's best attributes to work right from the get-go: His strong arm and his mobility. While we'd be shocked if he put up the rushing numbers Cam Newton did last year, he's still going to get some stats on the ground. But his arm is sound and the Redskins made some shrewd moves this offseason to lock up a receiving corps loaded with speed. They'll provide him opportunities to make some plays out of the pocket, which is where Shanahan's quarterbacks have put up big numbers in the past. He's easily the most appealing rookie quarterback for Fantasy and will be a trendy mid-to-late pick as a backup.
Initial 2012 projection: 3,383 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, 18 interceptions; 425 rush yards, four touchdowns
2. Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers
You can tell that Bucs coach Greg Schiano is over the moon for Martin. When asked if he saw some of former Rutgers protégé Ray Rice in Martin, Schiano said, "To tell you the truth I do. I see a guy who runs hard and plays hard." He also referred to Martin as a "three-down back" and sounded like a man ready to give Martin every bit of the workload you'd expect a coach to give his first-round pick. This isn't to say that LeGarrette Blount won't have a role, but the smart money is on Martin having more carries, way more catches and way more total yards than Blount. The only catch: Short-yardage touchdowns, where Blount might still be of use to the Bucs.
Initial 2012 projection: 216 carries, 907 yards, five touchdowns; 33 catches, 256 yards, one touchdown
3. Coby Fleener, TE, Colts
Unquestionably the most perfect fit for the best receiving tight end in the draft. Fleener heads with his college quarterback, Andrew Luck, to a Colts team that needs offensive assets. He'll start from Day 1 and be a mismatch problem when he flexes out or lines up wide like Aaron Hernandez has done for the last two seasons. Colts coach Chuck Pagano told CBSSports.com in March that he's still dealing with the nightmare of defending the Patriots' tight ends in their AFC title game. Now he has one of his own. And not only is Fleener a good fit for the Colts, but he's an additional investment for Luck, providing a target he's very familiar with. For a team expected to pass a lot in 2012, this is a great move.
Initial 2012 projection: 61 catches, 754 yards, six touchdowns
4. Rueben Randle, WR, Giants
Randle was drafted 63rd overall, but he is by no means the 63rd-best rookie in this draft. He might even turn out to be the third-best rookie receiver this season. Randle is a big guy, nearly 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, and he's got as good a chance as anyone on the Giants' wideout depth chart behind Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz to land the third receiver job. The kicker is that when he plays he'll be lined up with Nicks and Cruz, so defenses can't possibly do any better than stick one cornerback on him. With Eli Manning throwing the ball, that should lead to some good numbers. It's just a matter of opportunity for him.
Initial 2012 projection: 44 catches, 585 yards, four touchdowns
5. Ronnie Hillman, RB, Broncos
Unless you think Willis McGahee can handle another 285 carries (249 in the regular season, 36 in the postseason), or that Knowshon Moreno will come back seamlessly from a torn ACL, or that Lance Ball or Mario Fannin will step up and be huge contributors for the Broncos, you should get to know Hillman. While he might take a little while to develop into a primary rusher, he does have some exciting accolades and measurables. For instance, he broke some of Marshall Faulk's college records with 1,711 rush yards for a single-season best. And he can run a sub 4.5-yard 40-yard dash at 5-foot-9 and 200 pounds. But the Broncos love his explosive, big-play style, and they'll give him the chance to make some plays so long as he has a good preseason. Playing behind Peyton Manning (defenses won't stack the box) and with McGahee (who turns 31 in October) should yield some good opportunities.
Initial 2012 projection: 106 catches, 474 yards, two touchdowns; 25 catches, 172 yards.
Need-to-know rookie: Randy Bullock, K, Texans. The Texans brought in veteran Shayne Graham to compete for the job with him, but the early guess is that the rookie will win out. Bullock made 90 percent of his field goals last year for Texas A&M and is a costly investment as a fifth-round pick (and is obviously much younger than Graham). Over the last two seasons the Texans' kicker has finished as a Top-10 option, so if Bullock gets the gig he might be great for Fantasy.
Top five draft losers
Kendall Wright, WR, Titans
From all accounts, Kenny Britt is believed to be well on his way back from a torn ACL, Nate Washington is fresh off of a career year and Damian Williams played admirably for a second-year guy. So why add Wright? The Titans fell in love with his game and want to utilize his speed. It should work out for the team, but the chances of Wright catching over 50 passes or scoring more than six touchdowns this year seem bleak considering the talent around him (including running back Chris Johnson, who will chew up plenty of offensive touches). The best-case scenario for Wright is that he fits in right away while Britt is slow to recover from his knee surgery. Short of that, he's not expected to touch his potential this season.
Initial 2012 projection: 44 catches, 657 yards, three touchdowns
Stephen Hill, WR, Jets
Stephen Hill might turn out to be the next Demaryius Thomas -- or the next Troy Williamson. He left no questions at the combine about his measureables, but can he translate it to the pros after a fairly limited body of work in college? He'll be challenged to do so given the state of the Jets' quarterbacks. Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow can't be classified as accurate by any means, and Hill will need all the help he can get to be effective as a rookie. He might be used more for his blocking skills than anything else as a rookie. That won't mean a lot of numbers.
Initial 2012 projection: 37 catches, 515 yards, three touchdowns
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Dolphins
By comparison, Tannehill should acclimate to his pro offense faster than any rookie quarterback. That's because it's the same offense he ran in college, and the coordinator (Mike Sherman) is the same coach he had at Texas A&M. That's great for him, but it's the team around him in Miami that makes him a loser. The Dolphins' top receivers are Davone Bess and Brian Hartline. They've got Reggie Bush and Anthony Fasano too. This is among the worst receiving corps in the NFL right now. So even with a good offensive line in front of him and an offense he's got down pat, he'll have to make a lot of magic to be productive in his first season.
Initial 2012 projection: 3,152 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, 17 interceptions; 208 rush yards, one touchdown
David Wilson, RB, Giants
Wilson is the classic case of a speedy running back getting picked solely for talent instead of need. That's not a bad thing for him or the Giants but it certainly puts a cramp on his Fantasy prospects. Ahmad Bradshaw remains atop the Giants' depth chart, and so long as he's there Wilson won't have a chance to see more than a few carries per week. What's more, Wilson isn't considered to be a complete back. So if Bradshaw misses some time as he's been known to do, Wilson still isn't expected to carry a full workload.
Initial 2012 projection: 75 carries, 393 yards, two touchdowns; 18 catches, 136 yards, one touchdown
Michael Floyd, WR, Cardinals
Floyd's on-field production at Notre Dame cannot be debated -- the guy's a stud. He's effectively a Larry Fitzgerald clone, right down to their respective college totals. But Floyd has two issues that should keep him from realizing his Fighting Irish stats in the pros: His quarterback(s) and his opportunities. Floyd wound up on the only team in the league with a Top 5 receiver in Fitzgerald and two bottom-10 quarterbacks in Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. We were psyched when the Falcons nabbed Julio Jones to pair with Roddy White last year; we'd feel the same way this time if the Cardinals had a capable long-term answer at quarterback. And even if they did, Floyd's target totals won't be close to Fitzgerald's, which means his stats won't be as huge had he wound up with a team with a legitimate need at receiver.
Initial 2012 projection: 59 catches, 737 yards, five touchdowns
Need-to-know rookie: LaMichael James, RB, 49ers. No doubt, James' landing with Jim Harbaugh's 49ers suggests that Harbaugh loved him even when he coached against him in college. But the mass of running backs the Niners have means that James won't see a ton of work until he either plays beyond anyone's expectations or Frank Gore gets hurt. He's one for the future, not for the present.
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