Everyone has their strategies for their fantasy teams; taking running backs early, drafting play-makers only, grabbing the best quarterbacks, and probably many other drafting ideas that may or may not lead to success.
But if you were one of the smart drafters that got your hands on AJ Green, Doug Martin or Rob Gronkowski, you understand that scooping up a top rookie could pay huge dividends. And, if you were one of the savvy owners who picked up Zac Stacy, Kenny Stills or Joseph Fauria last season, you know that non-first round rookies can provide value if you keep a close eye on them.
So, here are the top-40 rookies to watch this year, divided up between worthy draft picks, fringe draftable options and players worth monitoring during camp.
Worthy Draft Picks
1. WR Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills
After Buffalo traded two first-rounders for him, it’s clear he’s going to be a major part of the offense this year. While he needs a healthy and developed EJ Manuel to produce at his highest point, he’ll be the feature weapon and looks to be a 1,000 yard threat.
2. TE Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions
If he can stay healthy, Eric Ebron may have one of the most productive rookie tight end performances of all time. He looks to be the second best option in an offense that has been tremendously productive in recent years, and should dominate the seam that Calvin Johnson opens up. 800+ yards and 7+ touchdowns looks like a very strong possibility.
3. WR Odell Beckham, New York Giants
While it’ll be curious to see how the Giants use Beckham and Victor Cruz together, I have little doubt that Beckham will be a key part of the offense early. 700+ yards is very possible, especially with Rueben Randle not a lock to take the next step as a featured weapon.
4. RB Bishop Sankey, Tennessee Titans
Sankey will enter camp as the clear best running back on the team, and the expectation is that he’s the favorite for rookie of the year. However, the Titans are likely to use a running back by committee, and Sankey is a bit limited athletically. It’ll take some time before his vision/patience translates to the NFL level.
5. WR Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Bucs
The Bucs put a premium on length in their 2014 draft, starting off with Mike Evans as their first rounder. Evans enters the roster as the second best receiver, but his college concerns of separation issues and NFL-ready routes likely will limit the Alshon Jeffery-impact many are expecting.
6. WR Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia Eagles
I’ve heard nothing but great things from Philadelphia about Jordan Matthews thus far, and there’s a possibility he ends the year as the team’s most productive receiver. I still think Jeremy Maclin and the team’s tight ends will produce enough to stifle some of Matthews’ production.
7. WR Brandin Cooks, New Orleans Saints
The explosive vertical threat certainly seems like he fits well in the Saints offense, but time will tell exactly how the offense will make the most of the playmaking yet undersized threat. He’ll likely follow TY Hilton’s big play yet inconsistent fantasy tendency.
Fringe Draft Picks
8. WR Marqise Lee, Jacksonville Jaguars
Tough to tell which Jaguars rookie will step up opposite Cecil Shorts, but since Lee was the first one drafted, he’s the odds on favorite. It won’t be much with Chad Henne at quarterback, but someone has to catch passes in Jacksonville.
9. RB Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals
Hill won’t unseat Giovani Bernard as the team’s featured back, but he does add a power dimension to the running game that Bernard cannot. Look for Hill to get his touches (6-10 per game), but his true value will lie as a redzone threat (6-7 TDs) expected. He should be a key handcuff for Bernard owners as well.
10. WR Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers
Benjamin has already begun to have weight woes in the NFL, and his routes aren’t NFL ready. He’ll need time before he can be the big-bodied threat fans will hope for. Without great receiver talent, though, he’ll likely get every opportunity to thrive as a rookie.
11. TE Austin Seferian Jenkins, Tampa Bay Bucs
The Bucs offense is designed a lot like the Chicago Bears last year with ASJ filling that Martellus Bennett role. His length and soft hands should provide instant help in the redzone. Don’t expect too many yards (400 area) but 6-7 touchdowns is very possible.
12. TE Jace Amaro, New York Jets
Don’t get too excited by Jace Amaro, because he’ll need time before he’s NFL-ready in his Joker-like role for New York. He’s not a lock to be an instant contributor, but could pay dividends late in the season.
13. WR Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
He and Marqise Lee could certainly flip spots on this list, if not even higher. Robinson reminds very much of Keenan Allen, and could have that type of impact midway through his rookie year.
14. WR Paul Richardson, Seattle Seahawks
I wasn’t a Paul Richardson fan in the 2014 NFL Draft, but Seattle clearly was based on their drafting. Russell Wilson did a great job of spreading the ball around last year, and could give Richardson 25-30 receptions this year, with most of them vertically.
Worth Monitoring in Camp
15. RB Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers
Hyde has the talent to take over as the team’s lead back if Frank Gore gets hurt.
16. RB Charles Sims, Tampa Bay Bucs
The Bucs will put a premium on running the ball this year. Sims is Doug Martin’s spell as well as a better receiver out of the backfield.
17. WR Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
The Packers need another receiver to step up with James Jones gone. Look for Adams to compete for that spot. If he wins, he could be a top-10 fantasy rookie.
18. RB Terrance West, Cleveland Browns
He’ll battle with Ben Tate, but it’s clear the Browns want West to win the job. If he does or at least wins key touches after camp, he’s worth drafting/picking up.
19. WR Cody Latimer, Denver Broncos
Latimer wasn’t viewed by us as an early contributor in the NFL, and I expect some growing pains early on. However, in Denver’s offense, being the 3rd-4th receiver could still mean quality numbers.
20. WR Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins
An NFL-ready receiver on a team desperate for help in the area, Landry could be the 2nd or 3rd option out of training camp.
21. WR Robert Herron, Tampa Bay Bucs
Herron isn’t a lock to make the roster, but he’s the best slot receiver they have in my opinion. He could win that job and be the interior threat with three big bodies around him.
22. RB Tre Mason, St. Louis Rams
I don’t buy the notion that Mason will immediately unseat Zac Stacy, but it’s worth monitoring in camp. Mason was a top running prospect.
23. QB Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings
Bridgewater probably isn’t worth drafting this year, as even if he wins the job early in his rookie season, he’ll struggle. But, he’s worth monitoring for sure.
24. RB Ka’Deem Carey, Chicago Bears
Matt Forte isn’t a lock to stay healthy for the 2014 season, and Carey is the clear number two talent-wise. If he wins that job, could be much more coveted.
25. TE Richard Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
The Packers could use a tight end upgrade with Jermichael Finley out. Rodgers is a plus-talent, but could take time to develop.
26. WR Ryan Grant, Washington Redskins
Like Robert Herron, he’s not a lock to make the roster. But he’s a polished short-area receiver with reliable hands on a team full of deep threats-only.
In-Season Potential Adds to Monitor
27. RB Lorenzo Taliferro, Baltimore Ravens
He’s the team’s best pass blocker and pass catcher out of the backfield in my opinion. Needs to beat out Justin Forsett.
28. RB Devonte Freeman, Atlanta Falcons
He could be the team’s second back, and the Falcons will rely on the running game this year.
29. QB Johnny Manziel, Cleveland Browns
The Browns don’t know who the starter will be, but if Manziel wins, he’ll likely give fantasy owners the same thing he gives his coaching staff: headaches.
30. WR Donte Moncrief, Indianapolis Colts
Moncrief had top-50 talent coming into his senior season at Ole Miss, but never took the next step. He has NFL-starter upside, though time will tell how long it will take, if ever, to realize.
31. WR Jalen Saunders, New York Jets
His initial impact will be on special teams, but if he’s able to display his elite speed on offense, the Jets will find a role for him.
32. TE Troy Niklas, Arizona Cardinals
Very raw still, but he has great pass-catching upside. He could find a home in the offense later in the year.
33. WR John Brown, Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals will likely ask Brown to be the 4th receiver and on special teams as a rookie.
34. RB DeAnthony Thomas, Kansas City Chiefs
Thomas doesn’t have a true NFL position, but I wouldn’t put it past Andy Reid to find a role in the offense at some point this season.
35. RB Jerrick McKinnon, Minnesota Vikings
His combine numbers wowed and he’ll be the prime candidate to replace Toby Gerhart behind AP, but I don’t think McKinnon is a steady NFL contributor for the long-term.
36. RB Lache Seastrunk, Washington Redskins
Robert Griffin may have wanted Lache Seastrunk, but there’s no guarantee his former teammate will make the roster. If he does, he has unique speed and big-play ability.
37. QB Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
I believe Matt Schaub will have a resurgence this year. If Derek Carr plays, however, it won’t be because the offense is thriving.
38. TE CJ Fiedorowicz, Houston Texans
It’s unclear if Fiedorwicz will be valued as a pass catcher or not, but he’s one of their better interior options.
39. WR Josh Huff, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles have plenty of receiving threats, but Huff was a high pick and has experience in Chip Kelly’s offense from Oregon.
40. RB Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns
Crowell was arguably the most talented running back in last year’s class. Character issues put him out of the draft. A chance in Cleveland could be all he needs.