With only one day left for drafting before the football season kicks off on Thursday night, it is time for the first installment of this year’s Waiver Wire Report. Throughout the season, my goal will be to shine a little light on the names you need to have on your fantasy radar each week. We will strive to provide a solid mix of players to suit those in leagues of all sizes. We will try to stick to players whose ownership levels make them reasonable pickups in standard 12-team leagues. Beyond that, we will try and touch upon some names for those of you in deeper formats as well.
For those of you who followed the column last year, you already know that along with the week’s hot pickups, I will mix in some of my favorite weekly plug-and-play calls, as well as sometimes updating last week’s names where applicable. As is the case in columns such as these, I won’t always list a guy you are curious about. If that is the case, please feel free to jump into the conversation and ask about anyone you are interested in via the comments section and you will get some analysis on the player in question. With the short week, this installment is a little lighter than it will normally be. This week, we will just touch upon a few players at each position to consider adding to your bench prior to Week 1. Now, with the introduction out of the way, let’s get onto this week’s report.
Geno Smith, NYJ - I have already mentioned Smith as one of my sleeper picks this year, and I think he has a great chance to get off to a great start this week against the Raiders. His running ability buoys his value and gives him a nice floor to stand on. I see him making big strides this year and think a lot of people will be grabbing him after a nice Week 1. Beat the rush if you can.
Jake Locker, TEN - Locker has a lot of positives going for him as we start the year. He has a nice trio of wideouts in Kendall Wright, Nate Washington and the emerging Justin Hunter. Ken Whisenhunt is also on board as the offensive coordinator and brings his pass-happy system with him from San Diego. Remember last season how Philip Rivers was revitalized thanks to this offense? Locker and his cannon-arm could be looking at a similar revival this season.
Shaun Hill, STL - Sam Bradford’s injury has opened the door for the veteran Hill to take over. Before you shake your head and write him and the Rams passing game off, just consider that fact that Hill has been a pretty solid starter when given the chance. If you were banking on Bradford being your backup or QB2, then give Hill a look. The Rams will surely dial the passing offense back a bit, but Hill can likely approximate the production Bradford would have given you.RUNNING BACKS
LeGarrette Blount, PIT - Le'Veon Bell’s owners won’t want to admit it, but from the looks of it, the Steelers are going to start the year with some form of committee in their backfield, and Blount is going to be part of it. Blount isn’t really a threat to Bell’s role as the lead back, and he won’t factor in the passing game. But he looks like he is going to get a handful of carries each and every week as well as seeing action near the goal-line. That makes him a flex candidate out of the gate.
Benny Cunningham, STL - Cunningham made a lot of noise in pre-season, running hard and and well. The injury to Sam Bradford means the Rams may look to run the ball more, and that means an opportunity for the versatile Cunningham to carve out a role in this new-look offense. If Zac Stacy falters, then Cunningham could even move into the starting job at some point.
Isaiah Crowell, CLE - The Browns grabbed Crowell as an undrafted free agent this past spring, but it was only off-the-field issues that caused his stock to drop so much. There are some who have gone so far as to say that Crowell is the most physically gifted back in this year’s class. The Browns released both Dion Lewis and Chris Ogbonnaya, leaving Crowell third on the depth chart behind chronically injured Ben Tate and fellow rookie Terrance West. West has looked lost in the pre-season, while Crowell has looked like a beast. He’s a lottery ticket that could pay off if (when) Tate gets hurt again.WIDE RECEIVERS
Cody Latimer, DEN - Wes Welker’s four-game suspension for taking extacy, on top of his concussion problems, has pushed the talented rookie one peg closer to being fantasy relevant this season. The Broncos are going to air it out again, and while he is currently no better than fourth in the WR pecking order, he is worth stashing in hopes that he can work his way onto the field and into Peyton Manning’s good graces. Worth stashing now with an eye to down the road.
Andrew Hawkins, CLE - Someone other than Jordan Cameron has to catch the ball in Cleveland, and I would rather take a chance on the speedy Hawkins than rely on Miles Austin staying healthy. He’ll be more of an asset to those of you in deep PPR leagues, but he has the ability to catch 4-8 passes every week no matter who the quarterback in Cleveland is.
John Brown, ARI - I wrote about Brown in the WR sleepers piece a couple weeks back, but since then all he has done is continue to impress in the pre-season. Bruce Arians runs more three-wide sets than just about anyone in the NFL, so savvy owners are grabbing Brown late in their drafts and hoping he can replicate what T.Y. Hilton did in this offense for Indianapolis last year.TIGHT ENDS
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TB - The 6’5” rookie is progressing nicely in camp and it is only a matter of time before he pushes Brandon Myers for more playing time. He should become a red-zone option right out of the gate.
Richard Rodgers, GB - Rodgers is the starting tight end for one of the best passing offenses in the league. Andrew Quarless is still around, but Rodgers has outplayed him all camp and looks like he will be the primary pass-catching TE. Anyone who has a chance to play catch with Aaron Rodgers on a consistent basis is worth our attention.
New York Jets - The Jets get a tasty matchup out of the gate with the Raiders and rookie Derek Carr at quarterback. It would have been even sweeter if interception-machine Matt Schaub was still under center, but Rex Ryan’s boys should be able to confuse the rookie into a few mistakes of his own.
Since we end up drafting more wide receivers than any other position in fantasy football, it is necessary to dig a little deeper to find viable sleeper candidates. Rather than just list my favorites, we’ll take a look at every team from around the league and give you some names you need to know for the mid-to-late rounds of your fantasy drafts this year. Only one name has an ADP as high as #32, and you’ll find a nice mix of upside second-year starters, hot-shot rookies and under-the-radar options. We will tackle this in two installments. Here is the first batch from Arizona to Kansas City.
Third-round rookie John Brown has been one of the standouts in Cardinals camp. He has been very solid so far in preseason and has just about locked up the number three spot over Ted Ginn. Bruce Arians runs plenty of three-wide sets, so Brown will have an opportunity to carve out some value as a low-end flex option as the season progresses. He is a late sleeper for dynasty owners.
Harry Douglas performed admirably for the Falcons last season in the wake of injuries to Julio Jones and Roddy White. He is one of the more dependable WR3’s in the league, but it will take more injuries for him to be worth considering drafting. Still, the retirement of Tony Gonzalez means Douglas won’t totally disappear in the offense. There just isn’t much upside here to be found.
Marlon Brown enters his second season as the third man on the WR totem pole thanks to the addition of veteran Steve Smith. The 6’5” sophomore’s best chance to make an impact will come in the red zone or if the seemingly ageless Smith finally runs out of gas. The Ravens won’t throw it enough to provide Brown many opportunities to make a difference, so he’s best left as waiver-wire fodder.
The buzz surrounding rookie Sammy Watkins has taken the spotlight off of sophomore Robert Woods, and creates a nice buying opportunity. Watkins and Mike Williams will work on the outside, leaving Woods to man the slot. One thing working in his favor will be his chemistry with E.J. Manuel as both enter their second year together. He won’t cost those of you in deep drafts more than a late round pick to see if he can take the next step this season. Plus, it’s always fun to bet against Mike WIlliams.
The Panthers receiving corps is such a mess that talented rookie Kelvin Benjamin is likely to be the only member to even merit consideration on draft day. Benjamin is likely penciled in to the starting lineup, but you don’t want to rely on the raw rookie as anything more than a WR4 to start the season. At 6’5”, he will immediately become one of Cam Newton’s primary red zone targets, but as with any rookie, growing pains should be expected.
This spot was reserved for Marquess Wilson, who was having a terrific training camp and slated to be the slot man working underneath Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery until breaking his collarbone in practice. He could miss up to three months, which takes an intriguing late-round flier off the market. It also puts his position up for grabs with Eric Weems, Michael Spurlock, Chris Williams and possibly Santonio Holmes in the mix. There are targets to be had for whoever can seize the opportunity, but the best option now is to avoid the mess until the smoke clears.
The injury to Marvin Jones takes their best sleeper option off the table for drafters, leaving Mohamed Sanu as A.J. Green’s running-mate to start the year. Sanu has underwhelmed in his brief career, but he could provide some value in deep leagues until Jones is able to return. Foot injuries can be very problematic for receivers and unless you can stash Jones in an IR slot, the best course of action is to throw your late-round dart at someone else and monitor his recovery once the season begins.
There isn’t a lot to get excited about when looking at the Browns WR’s. Word on Josh Gordon’s possible suspension should come any day now, and Miles Austin cannot be trusted to make it through one game without pulling a hamstring. That leaves newly acquired Andrew Hawkins as the closest thing the Browns have to a reliable option. He will work primarily out of the slot, and makes more sense in PPR, since his lack of size (5’7”, 175) limits his upside. If you are looking for a really deep sleeper, keep an eye on Charles Johnson. Drafted by the Packers in 2013, Johnson has good size and speed and has been making plays in the preseason. He could easily take advantage of the opportunity to surprise.
Terrance Williams is locked in as the starter opposite Dez Bryant, and he will look to build on a very solid rookie season (44, 736, 5). He is a solid WR4, with upside, as long as Tony Romo stays on the field. He is currently being drafted right around the time the top rookie names come into the conversation. I would rather bank on the second-year player taking the next step than I would a rookie hitting the ground running if given the choice. Cole Beasley is a late-round name for deep PPR leagues after catching 53 balls out of the slot last year.
Emmanuel Sanders' move to Denver has made him one of the trendiest sleeper picks since the day it was announced. His stock has risen so much already that he is now being drafted as a WR3, meaning he isn’t really a true “sleeper” anymore. Still, with Peyton Manning throwing you bombs in this offense, he still has upside as a WR3 who could crack the Top 20. The true sleeper here is rookie Cody Latimer. Wes Welker could be one more concussion away from retirement, which opens the door for the 6’5” rookie. He is a guy to target in dynasty leagues and keep on speed dial in redraft leagues should Welker go down.
Golden Tate doesn’t have much competition to be the secondary option behind Calvin Johnson. He also doesn’t really possess the upside of many of the names in his tier of receivers. He’ll be a more reliable option in PPR leagues, since he should see a fairly reliable amount of targets in this pass-happy offense each and every week.
Green Bay Packers
Jarrett Boykin will take over from the departed James Jones as the No. 3 option in this prolific passing offense. That role alone should translate to 50-60 catches and 5-7 touchdowns. He’s late round depth for deep leaguers, but has upside if either of the guys ahead of him goes down with an injury.
DeAndre Hopkins should take another step forward in his second year in the league. Andre Johnson’s return actually helps buoy his value, since he will see plenty of single coverage. The place where Hopkins can most easily increase his value is by becoming a more dependable red zone target. There is also a very real chance that Johnson could get traded during the season, which would thrust Hopkins into a bigger role. There is plenty of upside here, and once again the second-year player rule is in effect.
Hakeem Nicks certainly qualifies as a sleeper candidate coming off two straight injury-plagued seasons. But, that is the problem, the upside is clouded by the risk. He is worth a late flier to see if he can blossom with Andrew Luck throwing him passes. If Nicks proves brittle again, second-man Da’Rick Rogers and rookie Donte Moncrief are next in line.
The Jaguars used back to back second round picks on Marqise Lee (60) and Allen Robinson (61), and it’s a good thing since Justin Blackmon is facing a year-long suspension and Ace Sanders will miss four games with a suspension of his own. That leaves Cecil Shorts and the two rookies to fill the void. Lee would have been a first rounder were it not for a shaky final year at USC, and he has the opportunity to make those who doubted him regret passing on him. Robinson is bigger (6’2”, 220) and should get plenty of work in the red zone. Lee has more buzz, but Robinson could end up being the better choice. You can wait and take a chance on one of them in the endgame.
Kansas City Chiefs
Dwayne Bowe’s stock is heading in the wrong direction with news that he will not only miss Week 1 of the season, but also the fact that his finger is “shot” and he is having trouble catching the ball. Some may quip that Bowe has always had trouble in that department, but the fact is no one seems to want any part of him. In an ongoing PPR draft, Bowe slid to the 11th round (129th overall) as the 51st WR selected. While that actually makes the enigmatic receiver look like a bargain, third-year pro Junior Hemingway may be the closest thing to a sleeper in this corps, with only Donnie Avery and A.J. Jenkins as obstacles to playing.
That's enough names for today - we'll follow up with the second batch soon!
Jay Cutler, CHI - If you like to play the waiting game and draft your starting quarterback as late as possible, then Cutler is the guy you should be targeting. I know that advice is perhaps difficult for many fantasy owners to embrace enthusiastically, since Cutler often tantalizes with elite talent, only to frustrate his owners with bouts of immaturity and injuries. Concerns about his ability to stay healthy for the full season is the main reason the Bears gunslinger is out of the Top 12, but it also makes him one of the bigger potential bargains if he can manage to stay on the field. He heads into his second year in Marc Trestman’s pass-happy offense and gets to hoist it up to the league's best WR duo in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. The Bears return the entire offensive line and that cohesion should help them move up the ranks and hopefully help Cutler remain upright. Matt Forte, Martellus Bennett and second-year receiver Marquess Wilson only add to the weapons that Cutler will have at his disposal, which gives the veteran a great chance to outperform his draft position and even threaten to crack the Top 5 if everything breaks right. If you are going to wait, you want to take a chance on a guy with as much upside as possible and Cutler certainly has that going for him. Waiting as long as possible to grab your starter also generally means you will grab your backup earlier, and if you embrace the risk of Cutler, then it isn’t the worst idea to pair him with another QB from his range such as Tony Romo, Philip Rivers or Ben Roethlisberger.
BOOM OR BUST
Cam Newton, CAR - Someone will pull the trigger on Newton early based on what he has done in the league his first three years, but this is shaping up to be the year that you should happily let someone else vie for his services. The Panthers had a brutal offseason, letting their entire wide receiving corps go as well as losing their starting left tackle, Pro-Bowler Jordan Gross, to retirement. They were not very aggressive in free agency, instead settling for uninspiring veteran wideouts Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood. They did draft exciting rookie Kelvin Benjamin in the first round to help replace the loss of Steve Smith, but only Greg Olsen has any real chemistry with Newton. Newton’s value has always been boosted by his running ability, but there are questions there too this year coming off ankle surgery along with questions on his blind side, where former defensive lineman Nate Chandler will try to fill the shoes of Gross. If there are any concerns about the ankle, he could run less than before and his touchdowns have dipped considerably from the 12 he scored in his rookie season. The biggest problem I have with drafting Newton this year is that there are plenty of safer options in the area where he is being drafted that I would feel much better hitching my wagon to, like Tom Brady, Matt Ryan or even Nick Foles.
Andy Dalton, CIN - The Bengals quarterback comes into 2014 lumped firmly in the top group of QB2’s. He is also coming off a great 2013 that saw him pass for over 4,000 yards and 33 touchdowns, which ranked him inside the Top 5 in standard leagues. So why are we so down on “The Red Rifle” when all he has done so far in his career is improve each and every season? First off is the change in offensive philosophy with Jay Gruden giving way to the much more conservative Hue Jackson. Jackson runs a very run-heavy scheme, and the team added RB Jeremy Hill in the draft to compliment Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, further signalling that they intend to keep the ball on the ground more. Dalton still has A.J. Green and an exciting group of complementary weapons, which gives him a solid floor to stand on, but the reduction in volume means he’ll be hard pressed to match last season’s numbers. I still like him as a backup to any of the running quarterbacks, but he’s not going to be an every-week starter handing the ball off more than half of the time.
Ryan Tannehill, MIA - Tannehill made some very nice strides in his second year and was really coming on strong as the season came to an end before putting up two consecutive stinkers, including an ugly three-interception game against the Jets, which meant missing out on the playoffs. But the team will be switching to a more up-tempo attack as Chip Kelly disciple Bill Lazor takes over the offense. Hopefully, Tannehill can pick up the new playbook fast, but if he can, there is definitely plenty of upside for a player that you can get relatively cheaply.
Josh McCown, TB - There isn’t much room left on the McCown “sleeper” express train, but it is understandable considering he was one of last season’s best stories after taking over for Jay Cutler when he was injured. He parlayed his career year into a new job and a chance to start for the Buccaneers, who boast a similar pair of “big” WR’s in Vincent Jackson and rookie Mike Evans to what McCown had to work with in Chicago. He’ll be a quality backup and a guy to stream in and out when the matchups are right.
Geno Smith, NYJ - Michael Vick’s signing cast a little cloud on Smith’s value, but it is still his job to lose and he should be able to build on the strong finish to his rookie season. The team added plenty of weapons in the passing game in WR Eric Decker, TE Jace Amaro and RB Chris Johnson. Smith also has the ability to make plays with his legs, and those rushing stats will help him score consistently every week, which is exactly what we want out of our late-round quarterback fliers. I personally think he is perfectly poised to make a sizeable jump up the rankings by season’s end.Johnny Manziel, CLE - If you want to draft a rookie in this year’s draft, then Johnny Football is the guy to get. While the team has said all the right things about Brian Hoyer, the fact is the career backup won’t be able to hold off Manziel for the starting job. The only real question is how long it will take for the switch to be made. Like Smith above, Manziel’s upside comes from what he can do with his legs, not only running the ball, but extending plays and finding open receivers downfield. Losing the services of Josh Gordon for at least half a season doesn’t help, but Kyle Shanahan knows how to build an offense to make the most of what Manziel brings to the table and the Browns boast one of the best offensive lines in all of football. Whenever he takes over, he’ll be fun to watch as well as fun to own. Just be prepared for the possibility that he may start the season on the bench.
Chris Johnson, NYJ - There is no denying that Chris Johnson is not the running back he used to be. The guy who electrified the league in his first two years in the league is long gone and what we are left with is an undersized speedster heading into his seventh NFL season, looking to revive his sagging career with a new franchise. In New York, he will be working with a much better offensive line than he had recently in Tennessee, and although Chris Ivory is around to eat into his carries and steal goal-line carries, Johnson will still be the primary third-down back and the lead-dog in any committee. Add in the fact that Ivory has a penchant for getting injured and you can at least see a scenario for some upside. He looks like a bargain buried at the end of the RB2 ranks, and I think I would be satisfied hoping he slides down the draft board than grabbing equally risky Frank Gore or the unproven Toby Gerhart too early.
Trent Richardson, IND - One sure way to land on the undervalued radar is to come off a season where you simply stunk up the joint. To say that Richardson was terrible last season is actually understating how bad he really looked and how much he killed anyone who wasted a first round pick on him last year. The Colts invested a number one pick in Richardson and they have not shown any signs that they are ready to abandon their belief that he can still be a workhorse for their offense. They allowed Donald Brown to leave via free agency, didn’t draft any running backs and lost Vick Ballard to an achilles injury. That leaves only Ahmad Bradshaw, who is coming off a season lost to neck surgery, as a realistic threat to Richardson’s workload. The Colts will have one of the more explosive offenses in the league this year, and T-Rich will be in the middle of it all. Best of all, you should be able to roster him as a RB3/Flex option who could give you a really nice edge when he rebounds.
BOOM OR BUST
Doug Martin, TB - Martin comes into this season with much less hype than he did a year ago, when he was a consensus Top-3 pick looking to build upon his breakout rookie season. Instead, he injured his shoulder, missed most of the season and crippled many owners' playoff hopes in the process. Truth be told, he wasn’t looking nearly as effective for the six games he did play, which led Tampa Bay to draft receiving back Charles Sims in the third round. Sims will immediately cut into Martin’s work on third down and veterans Mike James and Bobby Rainey are lurking to steal touches if new coach Lovie Smith goes the committee route. We also can’t overlook the addition of WR Mike Evans and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who along with Vincent Jackson provide the Bucs with three massive targets in the red zone, which likely means more passing and less touches for Martin there as well. I still think he has the talent to finish in the Top-5 if everything breaks right, but there are plenty of red flags that could be enough to make you think twice before burning a second round pick on the third-year back.
Ryan Mathews, SD - Mathews finally stayed healthy last year and played an entire 16-game season, finally delivering on the promise that a healthy season would bring results. The only question remaining is if you believe he can do it two years in a row. The Chargers obviously still have their doubts, as they signed Donald Brown for insurance should the oft-injured Mathews prove fragile once again. The biggest problem facing Mathews, aside from remaining on the field, is the fact that the Chargers could go to a RBBC with Mathews, Brown and Danny Woodhead rotating in and out, allowing new coach Mike McCoy (a John Fox disciple) to ride the hot hand. Mathews is the ultimate Boom or Bust player. If others let him slide, then you can take a chance on the obvious upside. But you won’t feel good about it, that much I can guarantee.
Bishop Sankey, TEN - If you are looking at drafting a rookie running back at the draft table this year, then the Titans rookie should be at the top of your wish list at this point. The reasoning is easy enough, since unlike his fellow rookies, Sankey looks like he will have a starting job when Week 1 rolls around. Shonn Greene is still around, and if Sankey struggles, then it is possible he could cede the starting job to the veteran. But new coach Ken Whisenhunt has already gone on record saying he sees Sankey as a three-down back. Rookie backs are always risky, but if he can lock down the starting job, he will be a solid RB2 all year.
Lamar Miller, MIA - When the Dolphins went out and signed Knowshon Moreno in the offseason, Miller’s days as the starter seemed numbered. But Moreno injured his knee in workouts, and he is just now trying to get back into game shape. Moreno’s best attributes are mainly that he does everything you need a running back to do fairly well, especially pass protection. Miller has the better tools, however, and all he will need is the brittle Moreno to revert back to the guy who underperformed his entire career, before cashing in on the Broncos offensive explosion a year ago. Taking a flier on the talented player entering his third year could pay dividends if he can seize the starting job and relegate Moreno to third-down work.
Devonta Freeman, ATL - I think if you took a poll of fantasy players and asked which starting running back is the most likely to lose his job this year, Steven Jackson would be the choice of many. Jackson will be 31 and is coming off a season where he missed time with a torn hamstring and failed to top 100 yards in any game when he was healthy. To make matters worse, the veteran injured his other hamstring in camp and will miss much of the preseason as a result. Freeman was already slated to have a role in the offense, but it is easy to see him beating out Jacquizz Rodgers for the #2 job and eventually taking over for Jackson when the inevitable injuries occur.
Terrance West, CLE - Ben Tate was signed to be the lead back for the Browns, but the team didn’t hesitate drafting the talented rookie out of Towson State when he was still on the board in Round 3. Tne team has already signaled that they will be going with a very run-heavy scheme this year, which means West is already slated to split time with Tate when the season begins. One of the reasons the Browns tabbed the 225-pounder was his familiarity with the zone-blocking schemes utilized by new OC Kyle Shanahan as well as his ability as a pass blocker. While Tate has shown flashes, he has never been able to avoid racking up injuries, and he has already missed time in camp this season, which is allowing West to flash his ability and win over the coaching staff. If I was going to draft a Browns running back, then I would rather take the chance on West reaching his upside than Tate staying healthy.
Andre Williams, NYG - Williams’ stock is rising thanks to his performance in the Hall-of-Fame game against the Bills as well as the unfortunate retirement of David Wilson due to his neck injury. Williams looks like he is close to locking up a role as the goal-line back and is now the clear handcuff to anyone drafting Rashad Jennings. The Giants invested plenty in Jennings in hopes he could help solidify their running attack, but he is 29 years old and has never been a feature back before in his career. Tom Coughlin historically takes a long time to trust any rookie running back, but Williams should at the very least be able to carve out a big enough role to be a Flex-worthy player with upside if Jennings should stumble.
OTHER HANDCUFFS TO REMEMBER
Carlos Hyde, SF - If Steven Jackson would win the poll I mentioned before, then Frank Gore would likely be a close second. Hyde is another must-get handcuff as a guy who can get the job done if he gets the chance.
Charles Sims, TB - Sims can catch the ball out of the backfield, giving him immediate value in PPR leagues. If Martin struggles in his return from injury, the rookie could get even more work.
Tre Mason, STL - Zac Stacy has the starting job, but Mason arguably is the better athlete with the higher ceiling. However, he has a lot of work to do when it comes to pass protection, so he will need an injury to see any real time early on.
James White, NE - White is drawing raves in Patriots camp, and you know how the genius loves to mess with us when it comes to running backs.
Now that the NFL Draft is complete, there is no better time to take a little break from your struggling fantasy baseball teams and take a look at the incoming class of offensive talent to get on your radars for the upcoming fantasy football season. They are ranked by position with a quick Top 10 overall list to follow. This is an early rankings list, and will very likely change as preseason arrives and players get their first chances to stake a claim to starting jobs and/or more playing time. Consider this list a starting point for names you want to keep track of when training camps open in just a few short weeks.
1. Johnny Manziel, CLE - The Browns made the biggest splash of the first day of the draft when they moved up via a trade with Philadelphia to draft Manziel with the 22nd overall pick. I was in attendance and I can testify that the crowd in Radio City Music Hall went nuts when his name was finally announced. The former Heisman winner’s stock took a hit with the news that his top receiver, Josh Gordon, is facing a suspension for failing another drug test, but Johnny “Football” still ranks at the top of this year’s incoming rookie class due to his ability to scramble and improvise on the run. The Browns have publically stated that their new franchise player is the backup to Brian Hoyer, but the Browns didn’t draft Manziel to plunk him on the bench. Hoyer is a nice story, as a local product, and he played well in his short stint last year, but he doesn’t even come close to matching Manziel’s natural ability. Gordon’s suspension has the Browns publically stating that they will dial things back offensively and go with a run-heavy attack, which actually will play to the rookie’s strengths as he hones his passing game. His rushing ability will bolster his pedestrian passing numbers to make him a quality QB2 in his rookie year.
2. Teddy Bridgewater, MIN - The Vikings landed Bridgewater with the final pick of the first round, and then came out and said that he will be given every chance to compete with Matt Cassel for the starting job in training camp. The Louisville product tumbled in the draft due to questions regarding his technique, but he couldn’t have asked for a better landing spot than with the VIkings. Norv Turner loves to throw the ball vertically and Adrian Peterson is there to take the pressure off. Throw in a nice set of weapons in Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright and Kyle Rudolph and it is easy to see Bridgewater making some noise as a QB2 at some point this year.
3. Blake Bortles, JCK - Although the 6’5” Bortles was the first quarterback selected in the draft, with the number three pick by the Jaguars, unlike Manziel or Bridgewater, he doesn’t figure to play that much in his rookie season. Chad Henne will continue to start as Bortles learns the ropes and waits for his first opportunity, which could come sometime in the second half. Bortles has potentially more value than those above him in dynasty formats, but expectations for this season aren’t quite as rosy.
1. Bishop Sankey, TEN - The running back out of Washington was the first tailback selected in this year’s draft, as the Titans grabbed him with the 54th pick. If you need further evidence that the NFL is a passing league, not only did no running backs get selected in the first round, but Sankey is the latest that the first running back drafted has gone in the history of the draft. The good news is that he has landed in a spot that will lead to immediate production, thanks to the Titans moving on from Chris Johnson, leaving only the plodding Shonn Greene standing in his way. Sankey has drawn comparisons to Tiki Barber, and he should start in a committee with Greene from day one and should get the most consistent work of anyone in this class. The Titans have a great offensive line and will continue to lean on the running game. Sankey rates as a RB3 with upside, whose stock could soar with a solid preseason.
2. Jeremy Hill, CIN - The Bengals signaled that BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ days could be numbered in Cincinnati. The “Law Firm” scored seven touchdowns last year to help obscure the fact that his skills are on the decline. Hill (6’1”, 233) has the size to take over as the power back alongside Giovanni Bernard, and provide owners who take a shot at him flex-worthy stats as the new short-yardage back. If Hill can show enough in camp, then the Bengals could wave goodbye to Green-Ellis and save $2.5 million, a move that Hill should have no trouble convincing them to make.
3. Terrance West/Isaiah Crowell, CLE - Ben Tate will be the starter for the Browns in new OC Kyle Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme, and as mentioned earlier, the Browns plan to run the ball a ton this year as Manziel breaks in and Gordon serves his likely suspension. That means carries for all the backs in Cleveland’s backfield, and potential upside for whoever emerges as the number two behind the oft-injured Tate. West has been compared to Alfred Morris, who emerged as a fantasy star in Shanahan’s offense and played his college ball at Towson State. West isn’t the only rookie the Browns are bringing in though, as they also signed troubled Isaiah Crowell as an undrafted free agent. Crowell very well may have been the top back in this class were it not for a long list of off-the-field problems. He has the skills to be a complete back but just has to prove he can be a model citizen. It’s a nice gamble by the Browns that could pay off big time if Crowell matures. This will be an interesting battle to keep track of, because if you draft Tate, you will want to grab his handcuff late for insurance.
4. Devonta Freeman, ATL - Steven Jackson will be 31 when the season starts, and he is coming off his worst season as a pro. Freeman will immediately put pressure on Jacquizz Rodgers for the number two spot in the lineup, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him sharing the workload with Jackson when the season starts. He can catch passes, which is a vital part of what the Falcons want to do on offense, and if Jackson succumbs to injury again, Freeman could be a lottery ticket that pays off in spades.
5. Carlos Hyde, SF - Hyde is a bruising runner whose value in redraft leagues is muted by landing in San Francisco. Frank Gore will be 31 but has remained healthy and productive the last three years. Add in the fact that the Niners have Kendall Hunter and Marcus Lattimore on the roster, and it is easy to see the potential for Hyde to be brought along slowly. However, Lattimore has a history of knee injuries and Hunter doesn’t profile as a feature back anymore, so there is a chance that Hyde could be the guy the team turns to if Gore were to go down.
6. Charles Sims, TB - Sims will be thrown right into the battle for the No. 2 job with Mike James and Bobby Rainey, and seeing as the Bucs burned a third-round pick on the 24-year-old, they obviously expect him to win the job. Sims is definitely one to watch in camp, since Doug Martin is returning from shoulder surgery. It’s a crowded backfield, but Sims can catch passes as a kind of poor-man’s Matt Forte.
7. Tre Mason, STL - After a record-setting career at Auburn, Mason lands with the Rams and more than likely signals the team is ready to move on from both Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson. Mason is smaller than you might like out of a starting RB at 5’8”, and he is not much of an asset in the passing game either as a blocker or a receiver. Zac Stacy should be able to hold him off for early down work to start the year, but Mason will apply some pressure to the incumbent for sure. Benny Cunningham is also in the mix, which means that Mason won’t be rushed into the lineup, despite his collegiate heroics.
8. Ka’Deem Carey, CHI - Matt Forte is still the man in Chicago, but since the team allowed Michael Bush to walk in the off-season, Carey already lines up as the clear backup to Forte, who has battled injuries at various times in his career.
1. Sammy Watkins, BUF - Watkins was the most talented receiver in this year’s draft and the Bills paid a premium to move up to draft him. Afterwards, they traded Steve Johnson to San Francisco, which clears the way for Watkins to be the No. 1 WR for E.J. Manuel right out of the gate. Watkins is a little undersized (6’1”, 211) by today’s standards, but he is an electrifying playmaker who will bring a new level of excitement to the Bills' atack. He looks like a solid WR3 at this point, with room to move up the ranks if Manuel can elevate his game in his second full season.
2. Mike Evans, TB - There are plenty of people who prefer Evans to Watkins, being that he is much taller (6’5”, 231), making him a serious weapon in the red zone. He is often compared to Vincent Jackson, who is now his teammate. The only thing holding down Evans this year will be the fact that he won’t be the primary option in the passing game and the less than stellar options at quarterback for the Buccaneers. Evans should hold more value in touchdown-heavy leagues thanks to his ability to win the “jump” balls in the endzone. If everything breaks right, he could easily be the best rookie receiver this year.
3. Kelvin Benjamin, CAR - The 6’5” Benjamin doesn’t have as much skill as some of the other receivers behind him on this list, but he has the size and the opportunity to make an impact immediately for a Panthers team that is thin at WR, thanks to the departure of Steve Smith. The Panthers love to run the ball, but Cam Newton is going to love looking Benjamin’s way in the red zone, where his huge wingspan will make him a nightmare to defend. Like Evans above, he’ll have more immediate value in TD-heavy formats, and is worth speculating on as a WR 4/5 with upside.
4. Odell Beckham, NYG - Beckham is someone to watch in camp this year, since the Giants have clearly signaled they aren’t really sold that Rueben Randle is the answer to replacing Hakeem Nicks as the starter opposite Victor Cruz. Beckham should be able to beat out Randle to become the “X” receiver in the revamped Giants passing offense, and he could easily lead all rookies in catches if he gains Eli Manning’s confidence. His lack of size (5’11”, 198) doesn’t give him as much scoring upside as those higher on the list, but he could turn out to be a better option than anyone outside of Watkins for PPR leagues.
5. Jordan Matthews, PHI - Matthews (6’3”, 212) comes to Philly from Vanderbilt, where he finished as the SEC’s all-time leader in receptions (262) and yards (3,759). He will get to strut his stuff in Chip Kelly’s explosive offense and should take over as the primary slot receiver to start the year. Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper will begin the season as the primary outside receivers, but it isn’t that far fetched to think that Matthews will challenge Cooper for more playing time as the season progresses. He will likely be slightly undervalued on draft day and might present the most affordable route to buying into the Eagles offense this year.
6. Marqise Lee/Allen Robinson, JCK - Lee has the better pedigree of the two Jaguars rookies, but Robinson may end up having the better rookie season. Robinson is the bigger target (6’3”, 220) and doesn’t come with as many red flags as the more heralded Lee (6’0”, 199). Lee dropped in the draft due to questions about his knee and his work ethic. Throw in the fact that both will take a back seat to Cecil Shorts in a passing game that will rely on Chad Henne and neither player really projects to make a huge impact in their first year.
7. Brandin Cooks, NO - Cooks landed in the perfect place for a player with his skill set. Speed is his calling card, and with both Darren Sproles and Lance Moore gone, he will get the opportunity to fill the void created, especially out of the slot. But, as with any Saints wide receiver, predicting success on a weekly basis will be a fool’s errand, meaning you will be frustrated trying to figure out when Drew Brees will look his way. He is still worth a late-round flyer. Just be aware that you will likely never feel comfortable starting him.
8. Martavis Bryant, PIT - Bryant (6’4”. 211) slipped in the draft, and the Steelers feel like they got a potential steal in their fourth-round pick. Emmanuel Sanders is gone, and the Steelers will have an open competition to fill his spot across the field from Antonio Brown. Markus Wheaton failed to impress last year and Lance Moore is on the downside of his career, so Bryant will have an opportunity to play. His size will make him an option in the red zone and give him some sleeper appeal in deeper formats if he can lock down the number two spot in camp.
9. Davante Adams, GB - Adams will be given time to learn behind Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and Jarrett Boykin, and he is more of a name for owners to keep on file if injuries strike or Boykin doesn’t build on last year’s mini-breakout.
10. Cody Latimer, DEN - Latimer will enter the year fourth on the depth chart behind Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Emmanuel Sanders. He’s in an ideal spot for a rookie to learn the ropes, but unless injuries strike, he is more of a dynasty grab than a redraft target. However, he is just one Wes Welker concussion from being an every-week player.
1. Eric Ebron, DET - The Lions broke the Giants' hearts when they grabbed the best tight end in the draft just ahead of them. He is a physical specimen at 6’4”, 250, and brings wide receiver speed to the position. People are already salivating over drafting the next Vernon Davis or Jimmy Graham, but it should be noted that tight ends rarely make a splash in their first season. Ebron will be utilized enough to catch anywhere from 50-75 balls as a rookie, but you will be better served by grabbing him as your TE2 than elevating him to TE1 status before he’s even played a snap.
2. Jace Amaro, NYJ - Amaro will be given every chance to start over veteran Jeff Cumberland, but with Geno Smith under center, expectations should be kept fairly low. A better dynasty target who could emerge as a solid TE2.
Overall Top 10 Rookies
Stankey, Watkins, Manziel, Evans, Benjamin, Beckham, Hill, West, Matthews, Ebron