Fantasy Football Rookies 2013 – NFL Rookie Player Rankings
Each year we get a new crop of NFL rookies and each year we have to figure out where they’ll fit in with their fantasy elders. The history of rookies in fantasy is uneven at best, but there are too many examples out there of rookies who got their opportunity and ran with it (and passed, caught, etc…) So I’m not afraid to draft a rookie just based on them being rookies. If the opportunity and ability is there, I’m seeking them out.
I’ll going to do my best to navigate the rookie landscape for fantasy by grouping the top fantasy football rookies of 2013 into tiers right below these words.
Tier 1 Rookies
If I had to pick a rookie of the year right now it would be Bell. Not based on talent alone, but on opportunity and lack of competition. The Steelers passed on other top rookies like Eddie Lacy, Montee Ball, Johnathan Franklin, Christine Michael and so on, so they didn’t exactly settle for Bell. The only player that went before him was the Bengals Giovani Bernard, and we’ll get to him soon enough.
NFL Draft evaluator Matt Waldman was high on Bell, saying, “Bell reminds me stylistically of Eddie George because he’s powerful, agile, quicker than fast, and third-down friendly.” The Steelers have been lacking a good short yardage back since Jerome Bettis left, which has hurt their offensive line since teams could pass rush in key situations. Bell should see plenty of work in early downs, but he’s also adept in the passing game, with 30+ receptions in each of his last two seasons at Michigan St.
It’s tough finding a running back that can play on all downs and Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley has already praise Bell as a workhorse back, also comparing him to Eddie George, and for his receiving skills. All signs are pointing toward Bell getting the most combined targets and touches of all the rookie running backs this season.
I have gone back and forth on Austin as a fantasy wide receiver for this season, but I believe Jeff Fisher when he says, “We’re going to try to get the ball to him as often as we can.”
Austin will be able to line up all over the field, but his main position will be in the slot, where Danny Amendola averaged nine targets a game last season. If Austin even nears that, his ability coupled with that kind of opportunity, would lead to tons of fantasy goodness.
Besides the slot, Austin has plenty of experience in the backfield. Last season at West Virginia he had 72 carries for 643 yards and it looks like coach Fisher is working him in the backfield already in OTAs.
In the past, a player like Austin might not have seen as many touches as they do in today’s game. The up-tempo and spread offenses now employed by many teams allow players like Randall Cobb, Percy Harvin and now Austin, to work in many facets of the game and get plenty of work. His upside makes him hard to pass on this season, especially in PPR leagues.
If we were going for skill only, Bernard would probably be at the top of Tier 1, but at this moment he still has to contend with last year’s starter, BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Bernard, like Bell, has three-down ability, but with more speed and explosiveness. If I were in a rookie dynasty draft, Bernard is my number one pick.
So the question is, when will Bernard surpass Green-Ellis in playing time, not if. He will no doubt be the third down back to start the season with Green-Ellis not being adept in the passing game. So he we will be useful in PPR leagues early on and will have a stage to move up as the season progresses.
Tier 2 Rookies
I can see why many would have Ball in the first tier, and the early talk of him being the main back in Denver sure in enticing. I won’t let him fall in drafts too far, but I don’t think his ability locks him in as the starter.
There is talk that one of Knowshon Moreno or Willis McGahee will be cut, which will help free up some space for Ball. But my main concern is Ronnie Hillman. He has bulked up this off-season and already had plenty of ability. He is slotted in as the third down back at the moment, but could earn more playing time if Ball doesn’t prove himself early.
Lacy almost made tier one for me, but unlike Giovani Bernard, Lacy has some tough competition in Johnathan Franklin. If The Packers would have drafted just one of these guys rather than both, that guy would be at the top of this list, but as it is, we could possibly see a pretty even split in production, which is never great for fantasy.
Lacy is a beast and will have plenty of room to run with defenses on their heels trying to stop Aaron Rodgers’ aerial attack. His injury history is worrisome, but his upside is great. The reason I like him ahead of Franklin is due to the fact he should get goal line carries. With the Packers up-tempo and productive offense, he should get plenty of opportunities.
There’s a very good chance we will see Franklin at the very least as the third down/passing down back, which is a good place to be in the Packers offense.
Lacy and Franklin are so close right now that every little OTA and training camp report will move their average draft position up and down. Both can have value this season, but if one takes over the majority of the running back duties you’ll get a steal in drafts if you pick right.
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Tier 3 Rookies
Dobson is a boom or bust pick, with a lot of room for bust, but the boom in the New England Patriots offense is loud and filled with fantasy points. Last season Brandon Lloyd was all the rage in fantasy circles (including mine), but this year we have a new Patriot receiver to hype! The good news is that he can be had for much cheaper in drafts.
Last season Lloyd had 130 targets. He didn’t do much with those targets, but he did have them and Dobson is in line for those this season. Dobson is also taller than Lloyd with great hands, which makes for a perfect red zone target. If you add in the fact that Gronkowski, Hernandez and Amendola all have had trouble with injuries, Dobson could be thrust into the spotlight this season.
I talked about Stacy in my fantasy football sleeper post because of his opportunity and ability to carry the load. He’s not as dynamic as similar sized players like Ray Rice or Doug Martin, but he can take a hit and keep moving forward. The Rams will need that type of runner at times this season and if he proves himself, he may just win the starting job outright.
The Vikings lost a dynamic playmaker in Percy Harvin this off-season, but picked up another in Patterson in the draft. His ability after the catch is tremendous and Ponder is much more comfortable throwing the ball short, like he did with Harvin. The main problem for Patterson will be learning the system and getting on the field so he can get those targets. He’ll start by returning kicks, but his ability will be hard to keep off the offensive side of the ball as the season progresses.
Hopkins was one of the most NFL ready receivers in the draft and will get to play opposite Andre Johnson. There’s no reason he won’t be productive when he gets targets this season. The only problem is figuring out how many targets that may be.
The Texans are a decidedly run first team with Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Last season Johnson and the tight ends saw most of the passes come their way, but they did lose James Casey and they’ve had the lackluster Kevin Walter as their number two receiver for way too long now. I think Hopkins’ upside isn’t sky high, but he should have some value, even as a rookie.