Last season, two rookies (Cam Newton, Andy Dalton) threw for at least 3,000 yards. DeMarco Murray and Roy Helu were difference-makers on the ground when given opportunities. A.J. Green went over 1,000 yards while Julio Jones and Torrey Smith came on strong late.
The 2012 season won’t be any different. A fistful of rookies will emerge from the depth charts and be fantasy assets in Year One. We’ve got the ball rolling with Draft Grades from Evan Silva and Chris Wesseling. We’ll have the Dynasty spin on the rookies and veteran winners/losers.
For now, let’s sink our teeth into which rookies have the best chance of helping owners in 2012.
1. Trent Richardson, RB, Browns
The best pure talent in the draft also happens to play fantasy’s most important position. Richardson will step right in as the Browns’ early-down back, third-down back and goal-line back. The Browns didn’t give up four picks to move up one spot on Thursday night just for their health. Widely considered the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson in 2007, Richardson has immediate RB1 upside.
2. Doug Martin, RB, Bucs
Simply put, LeGarrette Blount is not a special talent. He has lost six fumbles in the last 27 games, runs to contact, can’t catch passes and doesn’t see the field when his team is behind. The Bucs know this, which is why they spent a first-round pick on a complete back in Boise State’s Doug Martin. At the very least, Martin will immediately step in as the primary passing-down back on a team led by check down artist Josh Freeman. But we suspect that the rookie won’t have a hard time taking over full-time feature back duties quickly.
3. Robert Griffin III, QB, Redskins
A running quarterback is a fantasy owner’s dream. It’s why we’ll be high on Jake Locker this year and why we were high on Tim Tebow last year. It’s why Michael Vick will still be elite and Cam Newton can’t flop. RGIII’s unique athleticism fits perfectly with Mike Shanahan’s bootleg-heavy offense. He ran for 699 yards and 10 touchdowns at Baylor last season. That’s not comparable to Newton’s 1,473 yards and 20 touchdowns at Auburn in 2010, but that’s why Griffin is only a QB2 with upside for now.
4. Michael Floyd, WR, Cardinals
Since Arizona traded away Anquan Boldin following the 2009 season, they’ve tried Steve Breaston, Early Doucet and Andre Roberts as complements opposite Larry Fitzgerald. None have worked. When watching Floyd, the first thing you notice is his freakish strength and physical play combined with 4.47 speed. That projects to fit perfectly across from Fitzgerald. We know Floyd will see plenty of single coverage as a rookie.
5. Alshon Jeffery, WR, Bears
If Jeffery had been able to turn pro after his sophomore season, he likely would have been a top-20 pick. But after a miserable junior year that saw him battle weight problems and quarterback issues at South Carolina, the Bears were able to snag him at No. 45 overall last Friday. Jeffery will immediately slide right in as the starting flanker opposite Brandon Marshall in Chicago and now has Jay Cutler throwing him the ball. Jeffery’s “go get it” ability and strong hands in the red zone have the potential to be difference-making.
6. David Wilson, RB, Giants
Ahmad Bradshaw has missed just five games over the last three seasons, but that’s not a complete picture of his injury history. Over the last three offseasons, he’s had four lower-leg surgeries and a bone marrow injection. He has screws in his right foot and a stress fracture. So as Bradshaw enters his age-26 season, there’s some reason for concern. David Wilson is a true first-round talent at the running back position as he replaces Brandon Jacobs in the Giants’ backfield. There’s upside for a lot more than the lesser half of a timeshare.
7. Justin Blackmon, WR, Jaguars
Blackmon immediately steps in as the Jags’ No. 1 receiver, but he’s not the same caliber of talent as Julio Jones, A.J. Green or Dez Bryant. Additionally, he’ll be catching passes from Blaine Gabbert, perhaps the NFL’s least effective quarterback in 2011. Gabbert’s rookie tape was so bad that it’s hard to project any kind of significant step forward. There’s some risk here.
8. Coby Fleener, TE, Colts
Fleener has a lot going for him as a rookie. At 6’6/247 with a 4.47 40-yard dash and 27 bench press reps at the Combine, his measurables compare favorably with Jimmy Graham. He’s also stepping right into a starting role and will have college teammate Andrew Luck as his quarterback. Make no mistake -- Fleener is a pure pass-catcher and will be a fantasy sleeper at the tight end spot.
9. Andrew Luck, QB, Colts
Luck might be the most prepared of any quarterback to enter the NFL…ever. That said, the Colts are in a major rebuilding phase. His wide receivers right now include a declining Reggie Wayne, an unproven Donnie Avery and an oft-injured Austin Collie. Although Luck has good mobility, he ran for just 150 yards and two touchdowns on 47 carries at Stanford last season.
10. Stephen Hill, WR, Jets
You haven’t heard of Stephen Hill because he was a wide receiver in Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense. That means he was just a deep threat and blocker, much like Demaryius Thomas a few years back. But Hill is 6’4/215 with freakish 4.36 speed and a 39.5 inch vertical. In other words, he was one of the best raw athletes in the draft. The Jets are already making Calvin Johnson comparisons and saying Hill is expected to start opposite Santonio Holmes right away.