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Rookies in fantasy football are a tricky proposition. Top picks play for terrible teams, no-names land in great situations, and each of them is being lectured by Pacman Jones at the Rookie Symposium, so all bets are off. If you’re in a keeper or dynasty league, then talent is usually more important than situation, but in redraft leagues you need the guy who will be in a position to produce right away, which is rare.

There have been exceptions to this rule, most notably Cam Newton last year, but in general, rookies don’t contribute much to fantasy championships. Fantasy owners tend to have short memories, so Cam’s success last year will artificially inflate the price of some rookies this year. Whether Andrew Luck or RG3 can repeat Cam’s 2011 performance is irrelevant. What matters is how much you have to pay for them. Value is always the name of the game in fantasy, and with rookies it is incredibly difficult to find value.

Cam was a top-5 QB in 2011, and lasted past the 12th round of most drafts, so the lesson is to reach for the young studs right? Mark Ingram begs to differ. Taken around the 20th back off the board in drafts, going from Alabama to a high powered Saints offense, Ingram had the makings of a fantasy starter or flex option. He ended up being outscored by the likes of Kevin Smith and Toby Gerhart, as well as two other backs on his own team. Injuries played a part, but that’s a risk for any player, much less one who has never had to face bounty-seeking NFL defenses for 16 games.

Rookies will always creep up owners’ draft sheets due to the irresistible lure of youth and potential, so the key is to have guys you target and possibly reach for, and guys that you flag and move down your list. Because in fantasy drafts, like bars, at the end of the night, the 21-year old will always be more appealing than the proven veteran, no matter what your head tells you.

 

Fail It

Trent Richardson – RB – Browns

As much as I love his talent, T-Rich landed in a no-win situation. Not only is he in an impossible division, not only did his team manage less than 100 yards on the ground per game last year with Colt McCoy as their QB, but also they are handing the offense over to a rookie in Brandon Weeden. He may be a 28-year old rookie, but what does age have to do with prepping for the NFL? Has Weeden spent the last 6 years studying Dick LeBeau’s blitz schemes? The last QB to make the baseball to football switch was Drew Henson and look how that turned out. Weeden will learn a lesson from Henson’s Uncle Jim: It’s not easy being green, especially in the AFC North.

The lone upside to Richardson is that he is a true feature back in a league that is sorely lacking them. This argument is valid, but if you want T-Rich, you’re going to have to pony up in the second round for him, passing up receivers like Hakeem Nicks and Andre Johnson. If you’re willing to take the risk for the only offensive option on a team that averaged 3.7 YPC last year, be my guest. I’ll gladly take a stud wideout instead at this point in the draft.

 

Stephen Hill – WR – Jets

He’s been called the Second Coming of Megatron. Well once upon a time Reggie Bush was considered the next Barry Sanders and it took him five years to have any fantasy relevance. Yes, Hill and Calvin went to the same college. Yes, they probably both took Women’s Studies 201 in Baker Hall. But that is where the comparisons end. As a freshman, Calvin put up a line of 48/837/7 in his worst collegiate season. In his entire career, Hill’s line was 49/1248/9. Hill does have some tantalizing numbers of his own, being 6’5” and running a 4.36 40, but on the field he has done nothing to warrant going 43rd overall to the Jets.

Which brings us to his current situation. The inadequacies of Mark Sanchez are well-publicized in the press, but from a fantasy perspective, he has yet to put a receiver in the top 20 and has only had one (Braylon Edwards in 2010) in the top 30. Even for a talented receiver, a bad QB can ruin their production. For a receiver as raw as Hill? Sanchez will make him want to hitch a ride from Justin Blackmon to the nearest bar where they can complain about their QBs and drink Jägerbombs.

 

Coby Fleener – TE – Colts

In the last 10 years, only 5 rookie tight ends have broken 80 points in a season: Gronk and Hernandez in 2010, John Carlson in 2008, Heath Miller in 2005, and Shockey in 2002. The average season from those tight ends was 51 receptions, 618 yards and 6 TDs, which would have been good for 12th among all tight ends last year.  So if Fleener puts up a season that ranks among the top-5 in recent history, he still won’t be worth starting in standard leagues.

Fleener does have familiarity with Luck, which may help him, but Luck is also a rookie. The other five TEs mentioned either had Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, or Kerry Collins and Matt Hasselbeck in their “primes.” The odds are stacked way too high against Fleener to justify taking him over proven veterans like Tony Gonzalez or even guys like Jacob Tamme, who have found their way into favorable situations.

 

Nail It

Robert Griffin III – QB – Redskins

I am throwing a huge caveat in front of this blurb: DO NOT DRAFT RG3 AS YOUR STARTER.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s look at the reigning Heisman trophy winner. Unlike most top-5 picks, RG3 was not picked by a team that had a disastrous year in 2011. The Redskins traded up to get Griffin (albeit from the 6th pick), and as opposed to the Colts, whose roster is a total mess, the Skins have a nice core in place already. In fact, the only glaring weakness on this team last year was quarterback. So unlike Luck, and even Cam last year, RG3 is in a better position to win than most top-5 QBs.

Back to the caveat. Despite his other-worldly season last year, no sober person drafted Cam as their QB1. But he guided many teams to titles by unseating a mediocre starter, or by making a top QB trade bait for other roster weaknesses. My point is that even if you never start him, using a late-round pick on RG3 as your QB2 can get you to #1.

 

Rueben Randle – WR – Giants

Year 1 – 107 receptions, 1220 yards, 7 TDs

Year 2 – 60 receptions, 944 yards, 9 TDs

Year 3 – 82 receptions, 1536 yards, 9 TDs

That’s a three year stretch averaging over 170 fantasy points, which is top-10 WR production. Those stats are from Steve Smith 2.0 in 2009, Mario Manningham in 2010 and Victor Cruz in 2011 AKA “The Guys Who Started The Season As The Giants 3rd Receiver.” In terms of consistency, only Roddy White has done better since 2009 than TGWSTSATG3R.

Randle steps into this role after increasing production in each of his three years at LSU, and never having a QB who played anywhere near as well as Eli has played recently. With questions about Hakeem Nicks’ health, Randle’s price on draft day is rising, but given the success of TGWSTSATG3R in recent history, he’s worth reaching for.

 

Doug Martin – RB – Bucs

As a New Jersey native, I am well aware of what Greg Schiano did to Rutgers football. He took a program that was the laughingstock of the NCAA and turned them into a team that has won five straight bowl games. He also has produced NFL and fantasy studs like Ray Rice and Kenny Britt, with Mohamed Sanu (another rookie I love) possibly joining those ranks in Cincinnati. My point is that he’s no Mike Shanahan, when he has a guy he can ride, he goes with it. Unfortunately for Schiano, LeGarrette Blount is no Ray Rice.

Fortunately for the fantasy community, Doug Martin can fill that role. When Rice first emerged in Baltimore, he had Willis McGahee in front of him on the depth chart and vulturing touchdowns from him on the field. Martin might not have all the talent Rice does, but he also has far fewer barriers. This is a guy being drafted as a platoon back who will likely end up with the majority of the carries for a team desperate to take pressure off Josh Freeman, and a coach who knows how to use the talent at his disposal.

From Around The Web

  1. David_KOA says:
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    @Kevin Kumpf,
    In 2010 we saw a player by the name of Payton Hillis(far less talented) playing RB for the Clevland Browns, facing the AFC North 6 times(from weeks 1-16), on a far worse(talent) offense and he finished as the 5th overall fantasy player. The reason I bring up the the 6 games vs the AFC North is that in most cases a large amount of fantasy leagues host championship game during the 16th week of the season. If your league has that format, then Trent Richardson and you only have to face the AFC North five times and dodge the Pittsburgh Steelers a second time.

    You also bring up that you would rather take a stud WR like Andre Johnson or Hakeem Nicks. It’s interesting that in such a rich and deep talent WR1(fantasy) field you would consider those two not risk in the 2nd round. In the last two years Andre Johnson has only played in a total 20 games out of 32 and is going to be 31. Nicks has missed an average of two per season in his three years at the NFL level.

    Not trying to rain on your parade and congrats on the back 2 back wins to open the competition. It’s awesome that you and a handful of other fantasy writers have the courage(to submit a article) and the skill to do this kind of thing.

    • Kevin Kumpf

      Kevin Kumpf says:
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      @David_KOA,

      I’m not saying that a Hillis situation is impossible, just that I wouldn’t bet a second round pick on it. The magic surrounding Hillis is that he went undrafted in every league, so the value was incredible.

      Good call on the schedule factor, missing that second Steelers game is huge for 16-week leagues. For 17-week leagues, it might be the difference between 1st and 2nd place.

      As for receiver health, I’m more worried about Nicks than Andre due to the more recent injury, but there’s injury risk with any player. T-Rick had over 300 touches in the SEC last year and now he’s in the NFC North, so, despite being a tank, he’s not immune to injury either.

      Thanks for the comment and I encourage you to submit an article for the next round, for fun if nothing else!

  2. Hot Sauce says:
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    Good stuff. Agreed on Randle, he is worth a reasonable reach in pretty much any format.

    In regards to Richardson though, and I know a lot of people are already sipping the Kool Aid and will go to great lengths to defend him, but situation really does not mean anything for running backs like Richardson. It’s only about opportunity really, and he certainly has that. The commenter above makes a nice point with Hillis. MJD is another case of being productive on a weak offense. Richardson has tremendous talent and a rare feature role as a rookie.

    And I’m not one to try and defend the Browns, but they had a lot of close losses last year. Their team overall actually isn’t too bad for being a bottom feeder. I will concede it’s easy to look at a team’s schedule/results and find a stat that you can slant in your favor, but the Browns had a lot of close losses. And only 2 losses were by a defecit of more than 2 touchdowns. It’s not like Richardson will only be a first half contributor and then the Browns will be down by 24 in every 2nd half and forget about the run game. T-Rich will get a lot of opportunity, he avoids Pitt a 2nd time, and the idea of a rookie QB just means they will need him more.

    • Kevin Kumpf

      Kevin Kumpf says:
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      @Hot Sauce,

      In terms of overall career, I agree that talent does win out on situation (look at Barry Sanders). But for one year, I think it’s going to be tough sledding in Cleveland. I see a lot of three-and-outs in their future, which does not bode well for the TD total for Richardson.

      I can picture a similar situation as Jacksonville saw last year, where the team scores about 20 TDs for the season. If you think T-Rich can score enough of those to warrant a second round pick, more power to you.

  3. Willdogg says:
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    Would of bought your Trent views 48 hours ago, but now that Marshawn is going to be suspended the market just got even thinner for an everydown back. You’ll be LUCKY to see him in the second round.

    • Kevin Kumpf

      Kevin Kumpf says:
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      @Willdogg,

      From what I’ve heard, a suspension for Lynch is not a sure thing, but it would add some value to Trent. I’d still rather take best player available in the second round and take a discounted Lynch later on than reach for Richardson.

  4. General Tso says:
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    I like T-Rich alot and his opportunity in Cleveland looks promising. But Hillis before him was a beast and they were able to wear him out. Be careful as you enjoy the T-Rich ride as they will try to lean on him more and more and the big question is will he be still around come the playoffs. My advice for those that take him. Sell high and get rid of him before the injuries start to mount in the 2nd half.

    • Kevin Kumpf

      Kevin Kumpf says:
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      @General Tso,

      I couldn’t agree more. If you can get Richardson at a fair value and he explodes early on, absolutely sell high. Rookies who put up a 20 point week are always sexier than they appear, and you can use them to fill other holes in your lineup.

  5. Ed says:
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    When looking at Richardson, I don’t think it’s really fair to hold the 3.7 YPC against him for two reasons. The first is that their Rb’s last year were brutal (Hardesty, Ogbonnaya, and a often injured/less motivated Hillis) along with them also having a pretty poor O-line, which has been improved.

    • Kevin Kumpf

      Kevin Kumpf says:
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      @Ed,

      Richardson will definitely improve that 3.7 number this year due to his tackle-breaking ability. But that number tells me that those admittedly terrible RBs were getting hit behind the line or quickly thereafter. I’m no Browns expert, but it looks like their line is the same as last year, with the exception of 2nd round pick Mitchell Schwartz stepping in at RT. Much like the rest of their team, the line has the potential to be a top unit in the future, but I don’t think they put it together in 2012.

  6. S-Quire says:
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    Great take on Giant’s third receiver. Now that you put it in perspective, it seems almost obvious. I’ll shoot him up my list and pray he is a kingmaker.

    For me, the WR’s after the 7th round (12-league PPR) seem a lot like a crap shoot. I have Torrey Smith, Meachem, Greg Little, Randy Moss in different tiers (best to worst) but deep down can’t help but lack confidence that any one is a surer bet than another even though I rank them as many as 5-10 picks apart.

    When the snake comes back around to me in a late round, no clue if I’ll draft Collie, Doug Baldwin, or Randall Cobb.

    Does Steve Smith (STL) have anything left? Can Laurent Robinson reclaim even 75% of his value? Why is Earl Bennett’s ADP so high?

    And most importantly, do I have the b*lls to hold on to my drafted late-rounders as one week wonders rear their ugly heads on the waiver wire?

    Sorry, I kind of flew off the handle there…

    • David_KOA says:
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      @S-Quire,
      I wanted to put my response for your Earl Bennett question her but instead accidentally made a whole new comment(#7) below

  7. David_KOA says:
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    @S-Quire,
    When you look at Earl Bennett’s game log from last year you see that he was targeted at least four times in 7 of his 11 games. To take it a little bit further when he got at least 5 targets(4 games) he put a stat line of 4.25 catches, 70.5 yards & .25 TD’s

    With Brandon Marshall being brout in to be the number one, add Alshon Jeffery on the other side and that leaves Bennett to make hay in the middle. Jay Cutler showed he likes to look Bennett’s way from weeks 9-11 show this trend. He has three straight games of 5+ targets and had no less then 75 yards in any of those three games.

    He is not coming off the board till at least the 16th round and at that point he has the ability and opportunity in 2012 to return a profit.

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