For those of you that were pumped for the NFL Draft but are holding those horses for the new fantasy football season, I’ve got some middle ground for you. Since it’s only June, let’s take a gander at those top prospects from May that might actually be relevant before your first baby is born.
We’ll break down each main position for the fantasy realm, analyzing roles and fantasy value for the here and now. Ya with me so far? Let’s jump right in and get our feet wet:
Johnny Manziel (Cleveland Browns)
I’m a Johnny Football fan, but more specifically I’m a believer. I do think his talent will translate to the next level, mostly because he’s a special player that isn’t easy to figure out. He’ll have to prove he can stay healthy, but his running ability and tendency to create something out of nothing apparently are underrated to a certain degree.
I get the concern of no Josh Gordon, but Manziel still has Jordan Cameron and a stable of ready and willing running backs. Cleveland will conduct a run-first philosophy, not to mention use Manziel on designed running plays. OC Kyle Shanahan made RG3 look like an elite option in his rookie season, and I personally like Manziel better as a pure passer. I think he can be a low-end QB1, if not better.
Teddy Bridgewater (Minnesota Vikings)
Bridgewater is probably the only other rookie passer that will start from day one. He’s not the athlete Manziel is, but he has a system that could take advantage of his smarts and pure passing ability. He also has Adrian Peterson and some pretty nice weapons in the passing game. I doubt he chases QB1 status due to a lack of running prowess, but he should be a stable QB2 worth using during bye weeks or injury jams.
Guys to keep tabs on: Derek Carr, Blake Bortles and Zach Mettenberger
None of these guys are projected to see the field much as rooks, but all have immense talent, so if they do, take notice.
Bishop Sankey (Tennessee Titans)
Sankey leads the way as the safest rookie back to draft. Chris Johnson is gone, Shonn Greene is a plodder with a bum knee and Dexter McCluster isn’t feature back material. Sankey should be looking at RB2 potential right away.
Tre Mason (St. Louis Rams)
Mason seems to already be in the mix for a big role as a rookie. Whether that’s just on third downs or snagging Zac Stacy’s formerly concrete lead back role away from him remains to be seen.
Devonta Freeman (Atlanta Falcons)
Freeman is a quality talent with some serious upside. He may have landed in the perfect situation with an aging and increasingly ineffective Steven Jackson being the only real obstacle in his way.
Terrance West (Cleveland Browns)
West is another stellar talent who could be an injury away from a monster role. He should vie for a solid role behind Ben Tate no matter what, but could be a big part of Cleveland’s offense if Tate succumbs to injury like he has in the past.
Jeremy Hill (Cincinnati Bengals)
BenJarvus Green-Ellis looks to be being phased out sooner rather than later. If that happens, Hills could see some work in short yardage and goal-line situations, giving him solid Flex value.
Carlos Hyde (San Francisco 49ers)
Hyde will need Frank Gore to go down or have his role dramatically reduced. Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James are scat backs, while Marcus Lattimore may never be the guy the Niners hoped he’d be when they drafted him. Cue Hyde potentially being a monster as a rook.
Guys to keep tabs on: Ka’Deem Carey, De’Anthony Thomas, Andre Williams, Alfred Blue, James White and Isaiah Crowell
Crowell is the most talented of the group probably, with Carey right up there with them. It’s entirely possibly none of these guys makes a dent in year one, but all need to be monitored. Carey is one Matt Forte injury away from being relevant, while White could be a Stevan Ridley fumble away from a key gig, too. You can’t waste picks on these guys in fantasy drafts just yet, but they have major Dynasty appeal and need to be watched closely all summer.
Mike Evans (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
I don’t see a wide receiver that can make the leap to WR1 status as a rookie, but if it can be done it’s got to be Mike Evans. He’s in an awesome situation with a competent passer and loads of talent around him. I think he’s a solid WR3 at the worst.
Sammy Watkins (Buffalo Bills)
Some will say Watkins is the top rookie receiver, but his lack of size, the system and shaky quarterback play say otherwise. He could chase WR2 value, but it may take some time.
Odell Beckham (New York Giants)
Beckham might have a minor role starting out with Big Blue, or he could come in and supplant the disappointing Reuben Randle right away. If he does, he might carry WR2 upside.
Brandin Cooks (New Orleans Saints)
Cooks figures to lock up a spot in New Orleans’ top three receiver positions, but exactly where is anyone’s guess. Regardless, his elite talent is worth a flier in drafts.
Marqise Lee (Jacksonville Jaguars)
Lee is a very fluid athlete who was productive at USC and should transition nicely to the next level. He’ll almost certainly lock down a starting gig with Justin Blackmon likely out for the year. He could post solid WR3 numbers.
Cody Latimer (Denver Broncos)
Latimer is very explosive and versatile but doesn’t have a clear role with a bum foot and tons of competition in Denver’s pass-happy offense. No Eric Decker does open the door for the rook to do some damage, though, so keep an eye on how the Broncos plan on using him.
Kelvin Benjamin (Carolina Panthers)
Benjamin is raw as a balls, but he’s extremely physically gifted and could be one of Cam Newton’s top targets right away. He’ll probably be closer to a WR3 to start out, but he has WR2 potential if he can learn quick and fix some of his flaws.
Guys to keep tabs on: Martavis Bryant, Allen Robinson, Davante Adams, Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff, Jeff Janis and Donte Moncrief.
Realistically, Janis is a long shot coming from a small school, but his physical talent reminds of Jordy Nelson. These other guys could have a shot at making early impacts, but don’t yet have clear paths to big roles.
Eric Ebron (Detroit Lions)
Ebron is the only true freak talent of this tight end rookie class, so much so the Lions brought him in despite already having solid tight end depth. Ebron can block and has the size and speed to create serious mismatches, so it’d be a relative shock if he didn’t play a ton early in his career. He won’t have to start necessarily to chase TE1 value.
Jace Amaro (New York Jets)
Jeff Cumberland is New York’s current starter. That is all.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
ASF is long and fairly athletic, giving him some rather fine upside. He doesn’t have the clearest path to a starting gig, but he’s more physically gifted than any other tight end in Tampa Bay. With all the other weapons in this offense, it’d be easy for him to make an impact as a red-zone threat.
Guys to keep tabs on: Troy Niklas, Richard Rodgers and Colt Lyerla
Niklas is an exceptional talent for the position, as he’s a terrific receiver and very fluid. He might find it tough to start as a rookie with both Rob Housler and John Carlson around, though. Rodgers and Lyerla will be battling for playing time in Green Bay, but only one will have any real value, and that’s only if Brandon Bostick doesn’t become the guy and Jermichael Finley doesn’t return. Lyerla is a freak athlete for the position and would be a real interesting weapon if he found his way into a key role.
*Photo Credit – Heismanziel via Flickr