The focus of so much great post-draft coverage is understandably tilted towards Dynasty formats. It is way more fun talking about the long-term prospects of Thomas Rawls and Chris Conley – Why Kansas City? Anywhere but Kansas City – than discussing the reality that few rookies will have a meaningful impact in redraft formats this season. Few is not none, however, and there were enough talented players who landed in potentially high-volume situations to take notice. Here is how the rookies should come off the board in redraft formats.
This quarterback class was really a two person class, and that remains the case when discussing 2015 fantasy outlooks. Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston are the only rookies worth monitoring in redraft leagues and, frankly, Dynasty formats as well.
Of the two I prefer Winston this season. Though the Titans did an exceptional job adding offensive talent in the draft, Winston’s pass-catching corps fit his aggressive style perfectly. Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and theoretically Austin Seferian-Jenkins have the contested-catch prowess Winston was sorely missing in college. If he was throwing to the trees he will be targeting in the pros while at Florida State, it is conceivable his interception numbers would look considerably different.
Winston does not have the scrambling ability to score many points with his legs, but he still could put up solid numbers as long as the rebuilt offensive line in Tampa can keep him upright. I value him as a mid-range QB2 with the upside to vault into the top-ten even in his rookie year.
This site has been known to criticize Titans GM Ruston Webster from time to time, but the work he did surrounding Mariota with talent has been deservedly lauded. He landed a wide receiver with astronomical upside in Dorial Green-Beckham, found the right tackle Tennessee desperately needed in Jeremiah Poutasi, added a sustainer running back in David Cobb who should take some pressure off the rookie quarterback, and got the steal of the draft with Tre McBride in the seventh round. All four players could be starters and contributors early in 2015.
Mariota falls into the same QB2 range as Winston, but just a bit lower because of a weaker supporting cast. Mariota’s legs do give him some upside Winston does not have, however, so I have no issue with those who value him ahead of Winston.
Todd Gurley is still the top back in Dynasty formats -- even if landing with the Rams knocked him out of 1.01 -- but in redraft formats Melvin Gordon is the rookie back to own. Though Gordon has limitations, he should be given the Ryan Mathews role in the Chargers’ offense, a role which netted Mathews almost 18 touches and over 11 standard fantasy points a game the last two seasons. Losing passing-down work to Danny Woodhead will hurt his PPR value, but Gordon has the makings of a mid-range RB2 in redraft leagues.
Despite the paucity of offensive line talent in St. Louis, the real concern in redraft for Gurley is his health. With Jeff Fisher already hinting the team will take a conservative approach with their new star running back, it appears probable Gurley will being his career on the PUP list, which would cost him at least the first six games of the season. Gurley will be a solid starter once he is healthy, but that could take some time.
T.J. Yeldon was the fantasy rookie most helped on draft weekend. After striking out trying to acquire a three-down back in free agency, the Jaguars found their guy in Yeldon. Though he lacks elite speed, Yeldon is a fluid mover with quick feet and good vision who should fit like a glove in the Jags’ zone-blocking scheme. Toby Gerhart and Denard Robinson still exist, but taking Yeldon in the second round is a great indication Jacksonville plans for him to be their starter. After an offseason of moves suggesting the Jaguars want to focus on the run, Yeldon is a candidate for 15-plus touches a game and will be a solid RB2.
Ameer Abdullah also left the draft smelling like roses after the Lions picked him up late in the second round. The departure of Reggie Bush left a big need for a “small back” in the Lions’ running back rotation, and Abdullah should immediately step into that role. Bush only averaged 10.5 touches a game last season while hobbling through various injuries, but Pierre Thomas averaged as many as 14 touches a game in New Orleans while playing in a role similar to the one Abdullah will be asked to fill. Abdullah has real 15-plus touch a game upside in what should be an improved running game. Abdullah is a high-end RB3 with potential for more.
On a related note, Detroit may have also found Abdullah’s battery mate of the future – or, based on Joique Bell’s play and health woes, battery mate of the present – in undrafted free agent Zach Zenner. Though Zenner did not hear his named called in the draft, he has the skills to win a role in what should be a multi-back offense in Detroit. Bell is coming off another offseason surgery and has averaged less than four yards per carry each of the last two seasons. Zenner could play his way into the “big back” role which was netting Bell almost 16 touches a game last season in games Reggie Bush was healthy. He could turn into a nice flier depending on how the preseason plays out.
Another player who theoretically fell into a great situation is Tevin Coleman, but his fit in Kyle Shanahan’s offense is concerning. An impatient player with questionable vision, Coleman could struggle to adapt to the zone-blocking scheme prominent in Shanahan’s offense. I made a mistake bumping up Bishop Sankey, another poor player who happened to fall into a perceived great landing spot, post draft last season. I am not going to make the same mistake again. I will be buying what should be an undervalued Devonta Freeman this summer.
An interesting redraft flier could be Buck Allen. Allen is not a great runner, but his ability out of the backfield should fit well in Marc Trestman’s offense. Matt Forte caught 176 passes in two seasons under Trestman in Chicago, and Trestman oversaw Charlie Garner’s 91 catch season in 2002. Allen is a nice sleeper in PPR leagues. Josh Robinson could also make some noise this season. Frank Gore is 32-years-old, and Dan Herron fits better as a third-down back. If Gore goes down, Robinson could be in for some valuable short-yardage work in the Colts’ prolific offense.
Like the running backs, potential early volume warps the top of the redraft board. While Kevin White’s touchdown potential makes him a candidate for 1.01 in Dynasty formats, Amari Cooper profiles as the best redraft option as the most likely target hoard in the class.
The Raiders were one of the most pass happy teams in the league last season, throwing the ball 629 times overall and on 63% of their total plays. While the architect of that offense, Greg Olson, is now calling the shots in Jacksonville, Oakland’s defense deserves most of the blame for the Raiders’ imbalanced offense last season. Oakland trailed on 69% of their total offensive plays last season, and almost 74% of their throws came while the team was trailing.
The Raiders added some pieces to their defense, but not any that will transform it into a top-ten unit. Oakland will have to throw again this season, and with not much receiving talent on the roster, Cooper could see 25% of those targets his rookie year. The 140-target mark is not out of reach, which would put him squarely in the WR2 conversation.
Though Kevin White has a lot more talent to fight through on his depth chart, he still has the opportunity to be a major contributor on an offense that should remain pass-heavy despite coach John Fox’s wishes. The Bears simply do not have the offensive line to be the running team Fox might envision, and though the defense should improve, it is unlikely to be an elite unit. That means Chicago should flirt with 600 pass attempts again this season, and White has a good chance to crack 100 targets with some serious touchdown upside. I like him as an upside WR3.
The wide receiver whose redraft value was helped most by landing spot was Nelson Agholor. A versatile “Y/Z” type with underrated speed and punt return skills after the catch, Agholor is a great fit in Chip Kelly’s offense. He should take the lion’s share of the role Jeremy Maclin rode to 143 targets and 10 touchdowns last season, though those numbers will be hard to reach. Jordan Matthews’ expanding role will make it hard for Agholor to reach the target total, and Agholor does not profile as a double-digit touchdown scorer. Even so, Agholor is a good bet for 120 targets in a high aDOT role, and I like him in the same range as Kevin White.
Breshad Perriman also fell in the perfect situation for his skill set. A freak athlete who gets on top of corners very quickly, Perriman is the perfect replacement for the departed Torrey Smith. Perriman has the ability to win right now on the nine and post routes Smith made a living with last season, and he has the physical attributes to develop into a better all-around receiver than Smith ever was. The 11 touchdowns Smith scored last year are unrepeatable, but a diminishing Steve Smith makes 100-plus targets an achievable goal for Perriman. Perriman should be a boom-or-bust WR4 right out of the gate.
DeVante Parker will be lower on my rankings than he is for some because I question Parker’s fit in the Dolphins offense and with Ryan Tannehill specifically. A “Z” receiver who needs help getting off the line, Parker’s deep-game prowess does not fit in well with Tannehill’s terrible deep accuracy. Parker does have better ball skills and contested ability that the guy he is replacing, Mike Wallace, but he will have to become more proficient in the intermediate and short games to be a real factor in the Dolphins’ offense. With Kenny Stills poised to play a much bigger role than the 63 targets Brian Hartline saw last season, Parker will struggle to touch 100 targets this year.
The Titans dramatically upgraded their offense in the draft, adding what should be their starting quarterback, running back and right tackle while also adding two wide receivers who could contribute early in Dorial Green-Beckham and Tre McBride. Green-Beckham is the more interesting of the receivers simply based on his size and athletic profile, but McBride is a smooth receiver who should transition quickly to the NFL. Unless Justin Hunter improves quickly or Harry Douglas shows a level we have not seen, three-wide sets consisting of DGB, McBride and Kendall Wright should be the default sooner rather than later. With better quarterback play, that could mean fantasy relevance for all involved.
Justin Hardy looked like he would be a better real-life player than fantasy player pre-draft, but that was before he landed in Atlanta. With Harry Douglas gone and Roddy White struggling with injuries the last two years, Hardy has a clear path to considerable targets. He is worth a look in deeper PPR formats.
Tight End - Why Bother?
The temptation here is to trump up the opportunity of Maxx Williams in Baltimore. The Ravens have limited pass catching talent overall, and Williams could conceivably step into the high-volume role Martellus Bennett filled in Marc Trestman’s offense the last two seasons. History tells us that situation is unlikely to unfold.
The first problem rookie tight ends face is simply getting on the field. Since 2007, only nine tight ends have played more than 600 snaps in a season, and no rookie cracked the 600-snap mark last season. Richard Rodgers came the closest with 491 snaps, while No. 10 overall selection Eric Ebron managed just 452. The transition from college tight end to pro tight end is among the most difficult, and getting on the field early is a real challenge for even the top talents.
Even when allowed on the field, rookie tight ends rarely make a mark in fantasy. Over the last 10 seasons, only two rookies have put in top-ten seasons at the tight end position: John Carlson and Rob Gronkowski. Carlson’s 93 point season in 2008 would struggle to put him in the top-12 in today’s NFL, and Gronkowski is an otherworldly talent that Maxx Williams does not come close to matching.
Rookie tight ends simply do not contribute. Maybe Williams can be a useful TE2 in deeper leagues, but he is unlikely to be anything more than a streaming option at any point in his rookie year. There are not any other rookies at the position who will even approach that level of productivity.