Fantasy Football 2011 – Five Rookies to Target on Draft Day

July 8 4:33am

By Antonio D’Arcangelis

It’s been a long time coming, but the 2011 NFL season is looking more and more like a safe bet. For many skill position rookies, it’ll be a fast learning curve, so don’t plan on reaching for any of these guys in the first two rounds (use San Diego RB Ryan Mathews 2010 results as a valuable lesson). But even with the NFL lockout delaying off-season workouts for these youngsters, there will be a few impact rookies. So without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the big names from the 2011 draft class who you should target on draft day.

1. Mark Ingram, RB – New Orleans Saints

In 2009, the electric Ingram won the Heisman trophy and rushed for 1,658 yards, and even with the injury-plagued disappointment that was 2010, the Saints still made a move traded back into Round to snag him with the 28th pick.  Ingram’s résumé speaks for itself, and he’s been highly coveted by NFL scouts for his all-around brilliance (blocking, interior rushing and receiving skills). The Saints need a between-the-tackles rusher with the ability to punch the ball in the end zone, and Ingram has that in spades. It’s a crowded backfield – and there could be a lot of committee work early in the season with Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory if neither get traded – but Ingram is a beast. Look for him to be getting the lion’s share of carries by Week 4 and putting up RB2 numbers. I don’t think that Round 4 is too early to reach for Ingram.

2. Daniel Thomas, RB – Miami Dolphins

The JUCO transfer and Kansas State product is patient, strong, athletic and versatile, all the qualities a team needs for a feature back. It’s clear the Dolphins intend to run the ball, and with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams as free agents this season, it could be Thomas’s time to shine. Miami actually parted with three draft picks to land him with a late second-round pick, which means he’s a serious chess piece they’re likely to use early on.  Thomas has great size (6-2, 230) and put up amazing numbers for K-State: 2,850 yards and 30 TDs in two years. Both Thomas and Ingram have a solid chance to give you late Round 2, early Round 3 value, but it’s not worth the risk. Thomas has gotten some flak for his upright running style, and many believe he’ll be injury-prone at this level. Still, he’s the 1b to Ingram’s 1a, and he’s okay to snag toward the end of Round 4 in redraft leagues.

3. Ryan Williams, RB – Arizona Cardinals

There are myriad problems with the Arizona running game, and while it’s not just on the backs themselves, Tim Hightower and Chris Wells have each shown incomplete arsenals – marred by an unseemly plague of injuries, fumble issues, and an overall lack of explosiveness. Williams, a surprise second-round selection out of Virginia Tech, could be the productive all-around back they’ve been looking to feature. He ran for 1,655 yards and 21 TDs in 13 games during his freshman 2009 campaign before missing extended time last season with hamstring issues, so that’s of some concern. Still – the 5-9, 212-pound back is much more complete than either Hightower or Wells. He’s powerful, agile and reports of a great set of hands abound in scouting reports. Williams is surely a reach for Round 3 and 4, but rounds 5-6 seem like a logical spot in most 12-team formats.

4. A.J. Green, WR – Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals’ experiment with T.O and Chad Ochocinco failed miserably, and the misfortune-finding franchise were in need of a big-time WR on draft day, selecting Georgia’s A.J. Green with the fourth overall pick. While the quarterback situation is still undecided, Green will likely be penciled in as the team’s No. 1 WR by the start of the season. The tall, athletic receiver (6-4, 211) has an enviable blend of speed, size and football smarts that include precision route-running. Despite missing the first four games of the 2010 Bulldogs season because of a stupid NCAA violation (he sold his 2009 Independence Bowl Jersey for $1K to an agent), Green finished the season with a team-high 57 catches for 848 yards and nine TDs. It’s a time of rebuilding in Cincinnati, but the best way to bring along a receiver is to get him targets; look for Green to make an immediate impact and haul in 70-80 catches, 1,000+ yards and 6-10 TDs in his rookie campaign – numbers that translate to a perfect Round 5-6 selection.

5. Julio Jones, WR – Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons plan to use this physical specimen (6-3, 220) alongside Pro Bowl receiver Roddy White. Every great No. 1 (and White is among the best in the game right now) has a solid No. 2, and Jones could easily fill those shoes.  Atlanta QB Matt Ryan is undoubtedly among the most talented young signal callers in football, and the only thing holding him back has been the absence of an impact playmaker to pair with White in the passing game. Jones led the Crimson Tide 78 catches for 1,133 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior and totaled 179-2,653-15 in his three seasons at Alabama. Some believe he’s already primed for the challenge of a 16-game NFL schedule, and he’ll have an excellent support system to learn additional tricks from during the outset of promises to be an exciting career. Jones is definitely worth a mid-to-late-rounder pick in seasonal leagues, a middle-round pick in dynasty/keeper leagues and a Top-5 pick in rookie-only drafts and should be highly coveted in keeper leagues.

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