2014 was a great year for rookie wide receivers.
A dozen wideouts were drafted in just the first two rounds and nine of those went before any running back was selected. Three ended up in the top 15 wideouts – Odell Beckham, Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin. And Jordan Matthews, Sammy Watkins and Jarvis Landry all exceeded expectations making it six of the top 30 receivers being rookies. Most years won’t produce more than one if even that much.
Running backs were largely disappointing other than Jeremy Hill taking over in Cincinnati. Bishop Sankey never lived up to his billing and Carlos Hyde had to wait for this year to become a starter. Tre Mason was a starter but that ended this past weekend. More than anything about 2014, Ultra-hyped Johnny Manziel was a bust. He was the Tebow of the year. Only without any unexplainable success.
2015 missed all the first round trading of the previous season and the draft seemed less dramatic. Running backs were considered especially good and deep even if the Cowboys somehow ignored them all together.
Here’s the first look at the Top 12 fantasy rookies as of the end of the draft. And until training camp opens and the pads go on – don’t get comfortable with any of them. A few will soar and a few will flop. And a few not mentioned will surprise. The day after the draft, here is the starting point for fantasy expectations for 2015 value.
1. RB Melvin Gordon (6-1, 215 – Wisconsin) San Diego Chargers 1.15
Gordon was the second back taken and his selection was how the Chargers elected to replace Ryan Matthews and give the backfield its best upgrade since LaDainian Tomlinson retired. Gordon should be a stud. A big back ready for a heavy workload, he posted a mere 2587 rushing yards last year for the second highest in FBS history. In an era of committee backfields, Gordon is a throwback since he doesn’t ever have to come off the field. He’s powerful, shifty and an catch the ball as well. Gordon will take over the backfield and make all other Chargers backs have little fantasy value.
Fantasy Expectation: He will take over the backfield and stands a very good chance of posting stats worthy of a fantasy start. If he handles a high volume from the start, he could end up with RB1 value. You can argue Gordon vs. Gurley and prove either side. But at least Gordon has never torn an ACL and is sure to be healthy to start the year.
2. RB Todd Gurley (6-1, 222 – Georgia) St. Louis Rams 1.10
Gurley is expected to become an elite back in the NFL though it may take a little time to get there since he is still recovering from a torn ACL just last season. He may be ready for week one and he may not. He may recover all the speed he had that made him a threat to score every play. He may not. Modern medicine does wonders though and enough doctors signed off on him to still make him the #1 back drafted. He is a beast with all the power to bust through the line and can still flash footwork that keeps him moving out in the open field. This is no situational back. Gurley is all about 300+ carry seasons and crossing the goal line no matter who is trying to hang onto him.
Fantasy Expectation: The Rams have every intention on riding Gurley as hard as they can. They would have never picked him at the 1.10 unless they felt certain that the knee is not going to present any problems though it may slow him at least a bit in the first half of the season. He’ll face SEA, SF and ARI twice every year but Gurley is used to dishing out the punishment. By August a much better picture of his early season expectation will exist.
3. WR Amari Cooper (6-1, 211 – Alabama) Oakland Raiders 1.04
Normally getting picked by the fourth worst team in the NFL means a wideout is shackled to a losing team with plenty of problems but in this case – probably not. Derek Carr was impressive in his first NFL season and that was without much receiver help or any real rushing threat. Cooper is a rare talent. He won the Biletnikoff Award and was in the running for the Heisman Trophy. He was the SEC Offensive Player of the Year. He is an all-around wideout that can catch any and every pass. Not only a great route runner but adept at separation and can stretch a play. No question he is already NFL-ready.
Fantasy Expectation: Derek Carr showed he was up to NFL standards and his connection with Cooper will last for years. The combination of Carr-to-Cooper promises to be a difference maker for the offense that needed this sort of firepower for more than a decade. Carr will challenge to be the top rookie wideout without a doubt.
4. RB T.J. Yeldon (6-1, 226 – Alabama) Jacksonville Jaguars 2.36
Yeldon was a good need pick for an offense that wasn’t going to rely on the lighter Denard Robinson as the primary back. Yeldon comes from SEC bully Alabama and initially backed up Eddie Lacy there before becoming the primary back. His three year career saw him scored a total of 39 touchdowns and top 1000 yards the last two seasons while rushing for over six yards per carry. He’s never ran more than 207 times in a season but should figure in as the starter in Jacksonville. Yeldon is the replacement for Maurice Jones-Drew one year later.
Fantasy Expectation: The Jaguars haven’t had much success on offense for many years and even Jones-Drew disappointed in his final season there. But no one stepped up in 2014 so expect Yeldon to be as good as it gets in J’ville. He has very minor experience as a receiver but the Jags are not throwing much to backs anyway. Yeldon should end up with top 30 numbers this year but how much better depends more on the success of the rest of the offense.
5. RB David Johnson (6-1, 224 – Northern Iowa) Arizona Cardinals 3.22
Johnson supplies the Cardinals with a much needed big power back to pair with Andre Ellington (5-9, 199). The Cardinals have long needed a more help rushing and the Ellington experiment did not go so well. He only ran 201 times and missed the final four games with a hip injury. Johnson ran for over 1000 yards in his final three seasons at Northern Iowa and scored a total of 63 touchdowns there including 19 just last season. He also caught over 30 passes in each of his four years. He is a big back with 4.5/40 speed who can catch the ball well.
Fantasy Expectation: He will be the complement to Andre Ellington but it is easy to see how he could end up as the primary back very early in the season. Ellington caught about four passes per game and Johnson can cut into that. Ellington was just a sixth round pick back in 2013 and he’s already hit his ceiling while limping to the sidelines. Johnson is in a good situation to take over the backfield and while he may not be an elite talent, he’s a big runner who can catch. He could be the first decent running back in Arizona since the final years of Edgerrin James.
6. WR Kevin White (6-3, 215 – West Virginia) Chicago Bears 1.07
What is not to like about a wideout that is 6-3 and runs a 4.35/40 and who caught 109 passes just last season? He goes to the Bears and is the exact same size as Alshon Jeffrey only faster. He has the speed to be a deep threat and the size for over the middle work. He provides a bookend with Jeffery and should prove to be the better receiver within a season or two. He replaces Brandon Marshall from day one and should have little problem picking up the new offense and gaining chemistry with Jay Cutler.
Fantasy Expectation: With Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett there, White is not going to start out as the primary receiver. Marquess Wilson is also expected to gain more playing time this year. White is intriguing and could end up with surprising numbers even as a rookie. But there is a better chance that he starts out slower and will need at least one season to become more than just a complementary part of the passing equation in Chicago.
7. WR Devante Parker (6-3, 209 – Louisville) 1.14 Miami Dolphins
At 6-3, Parker presents a big target in Miami and he was the second highest rated wideout on some draft boards. He was limited to only six games last year because of foot surgery and yet still ended with 43 catches. He tied the school record with 33 career touchdown receptions and will become a valuable red zone and end zone target for the Dolphins. He has great hands and can catch everything thrown over the middle even in heavy traffic. He is able to work his way open downfield despite his bigger size.
Fantasy Expectation: Nice addition for Ryan Tannehill and a good complement for the shorter Jarvis Landry (5-11). Parker will be a good fit for the ball-control offense of the Dolphins and should start the year as the #2 wideout since Kenny Stills will be the speedy deep threat. He could end up challenging for fantasy relevance even as a rookie and his ability to catch touchdowns will be a big help. Replaces Mike Wallace who scored ten touchdowns just last year.
8. QB Jameis Winston (6-4, 231 – Florida State) Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1.01
Have to love that Winston celebrated his first overall pick status with a dinner of crab legs (one of his knocks was the “stolen crab legs” incident). He won 26 games in a row at Florida State along with the Heisman Trophy in 2013. He threw 65 touchdowns during his two seasons as starter and set numerous school records. He has the prototypical size and is considered to be very smart and accomplished at scanning defenses and going through his progressions. Despite his minor off-the-field issues, Winston projects as an NFL-ready talent in all phases of his passing.
Fantasy Expectation: Rookie quarterbacks rarely show fantasy significance and for every Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck there are about 50 other rookie quarterbacks who never produced enough to merit any fantasy start. No matter what happens in the summer, Winston cannot be considered worthy of a fantasy start but he will deserve being a fantasy back-up just in case he is lightning in a bottle. The Buccaneers offense is nothing special yet but starting out with Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans and the likely to emerge Austin Seferian-Jenkins is worth noting. Winston won’t produce rushing stats and that hurts his fantasy stock, but he’s in a much better situation than it may seem.
9. WR Breshad Perriman (6-2, 212 – Central Florida) St. Baltimore Ravens 1.26
Don’t blink or you may miss him. Perriman ran a 4.24/40 and fancies himself as the next Julio Jones. Perriman rolled up 115 catches for 2243 yards and 16 touchdowns over his three years at Central Florida where he averaged over 20 yards per catch in both his final two seasons. Perriman is a deep threat who topped 1000 yards in 2014 but who has yet to catch more than 50 passes in a season even though he was the primary receiver. He is the son of Brett Perriman who was a wideout for the Lions in the 90’s. He is a blur on the field and yet can start and stop almost instantly and has the size to go up for the catch.
Fantasy Expectation: Perriman’s knock was dropped passes but he has promised to improve. He replaces Torrey Smith who was the deep threat in Baltimore for four years though they tried to make him an every down possession receiver with mixed results. Perriman matches with Joe Flacco and should beat out Marlon Brown sooner than later. Steve Smith has to be in his final season so Perriman has an opportunity to become the #1 wideout there as early as next season. But he’ll be an inconsistent deep threat like many rookies.
10. QB Marcus Mariota (6-4, 222, Oregon) Tennessee Titans 1.02
The second overall pick in the draft just won the Heisman Trophy and pretty much every other quarterback award. He comes off his best season with a Rose Bowl MVP and a total of 4454 passing yards for 42 touchdowns. At Oregon, he threw a total of 105 touchdowns over his three years as the starter. Better yet, he ran for over 700 yards in every season and rushed in as many as 15 scores just last year. Mariota was prolific in one of the most wide open, high scoring offenses in the NCAA. He even scored twice as a receiver.
Fantasy Expectation: While Mariota won’t have a potent backfield to support him he has some weapons in Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter and the newly acquired Dorial Green-Beckham. Mariota will also supply rushing yards and scores which count big in fantasy but he has to learn an entirely different way of playing after spending his career in Oregon’s “nothing else like it” offense. His rushing production could make him better than Winston this year and could end up the better of the two every year.
11. Dorial Green-Beckham (6-5, 237 Missouri) Tennessee Titans 2.40
Another one in the crowded bus for “talented but troubled” players that seem ubiquitous this year. One the plus side, DGB is a freak physically with parallels to Randy Moss. He is huge at 6-5 and yet ran a 4.49/40 at the combine. He has all the measurables a team could want and has a deceptively good second gear. His catch radius is huge and can make spectacular catches. On the downside, he sometimes runs poor routes and relies too much on his size instead of separation. He was suspended twice while at Missouri and arrested twice for marijuana. Allegedly was involved in a burglary and pushing a female student down some stairs. Sat out the entire 2014 season after being kicked off Missouri.
Fantasy Expectation: Coming on the heels of boom-and-bust Josh Gordon, Green-Beckham did well enough going at the 2.40 pick since character issues abound. But he is worth the risk because of his physical tools and at least some past production that shows great promise. With Justin Hunter and Kendall Wright already there, DGB doesn’t have to do much his first season but stay on the straight and narrow but he shows great upside for the future and could end up with at least a few big games this season. With luck, he can develop alongside Mariota for a long-term tandem.
12. Ameer Abdullah (5-9, 205 Nebraska) Detroit Lions 2.22
Abdullah leaves Nebraska after four years and topped 1600 rushing yards the last two seasons including scoring 22 times in 2014. He has experience as a receiver with 73 career catches for 690 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s a bit smaller than prototypical but runs a 4.5/40 and has excellent burst as a north-south runner. He’s a smart, determined runner who can also play special teams. Good hands and follows his blockers well. He’s a high character guy that some scouts rated as high as #3. His size is his biggest limitation but that can be overcome. His tendency to fumble (13 times in four years) will need to improve.
Fantasy Expectation: Abdullah is the replacement for Reggie Bush. Joique Bell (5-11, 220) will continue to be the primary rusher but Abdullah should be more than up to the task of relieving Bell. Plus Abdullah was considered one of the best pass catching backs in the draft and goes to a team that completed 113 passes to running backs last year. Abdullah should end up keeping Theo Riddick lower on the depth chart and should provide fantasy relevancy this year if only in reception point leagues. He is worth watching in the summer to determine just how big of a role he’ll be given as a rookie.