As we are evaluating this years college players who are hoping to become an NFL rookie next season, I wanted to take a look back and evaluate the rookies who jumped out and surprised some fantasy owners with their strong rookie years.
1. Eddie Lacy (Running Back- Green Bay Packers)- Lacy was one of two Green Bay rookie running backs last year. There was some talk around training camp that fellow rookie Jonathan Franklin and Eddie Lacy would split time getting the ball, that talk was complete non-sense when the season started. Lacy rushed the ball 284 times; the next closest in numbers was James Starks with 89 carries. There is no doubt that Lacy is the clear back in Green Bay and they do not mind feeding him the rock on a consistent basis. Lacy averaged around 19 carries per game last season, and I believe that will increase next season as the team continues to put more faith in him. He ended the season rushing for 1,178 yards with 11 touchdowns. Lacy walked away from his rookie season with the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Lacy will continue to get grow in this dynamite offense. One thing that I noticed is that the Packers are not afraid to give Lacy the ball around the goal line. In years past, Rodgers would be looking to his wide receivers and tight ends around the goal line, but this past season they gave the ball to Lacy and let him pound it in. Lacy scored 9 of his 11 touchdowns from within the 5-yard line. The Packers will continue to move the ball, so those short-yardage touchdown opportunities will continue to appear and Lacy will continue to capitalize on those chances. Lacy is the complete back heading into his second His future with the Packer organization is a bright one. Lacy is a clear RB1 for fantasy teams heading into next season.
2. Keenan Allen (Wide Receiver- San Diego Chargers) – The resurrection of Phillip Rivers last season had a lot to do with rookie wide receiver, Keenan Allen. Allen who was drafted in the 3rd Round of last years draft turned out to be a steal. He fell in the draft due to an injury late in his college season, and he was not able to participate fully in all the pre-NFL draft events. Early in the season people around the NFL were concerned about his early struggles and even Allen thought about quitting the NFL. Things drastically changed as the season progressed. Allen began to receive playing time after both Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd went down with season-ending injuries; Allen made the most out of this opportunity. Allen finished the season with 71 receptions, 1048 yards receding and 8 touchdowns. All of those numbers led NFL rookies. The River-Allen connection continued to grow and mature as the season went on. In this upcoming season, I fully expect Allen to grow on those numbers and to start producing as WR1 on most fantasy teams.
3. Le’Veon Bell (Running Back- Pittsburgh Steelers)- For the past couple years the Steelers have seemed to lose their identity as a tough, powerful running offense. That all changed when the Steelers drafted Le’Veon Bell out of Michigan State in the 2nd Round of last year’s draft. He was injured in the pre-season. The injury caused him to miss a couple of weeks of the regular season. His first regular season action came in week 4 when he rushed for two touchdowns against the Detroit Lions. Bell showed some real positives throughout the season. He will continue to be a workhorse for the Steelers in the upcoming season. While there is some injury concern regarding Bell, he is still in a situation where he will get the chances to produce and score. I expect Bell to be a low-end RB1 and a high-end RB2.
4. Zac Stacy (Running Back-St. Louis Rams)- The Rams had a ton of options at running back going into training camp, and no one thought Zac Stacy would be the go-to back at the end of the season. Stacy was buried at the bottom of the depth chart at the beginning of the season. That all changed week 5 against the Jaguars were he rushed for 78 yards on a measly 14 carries. From there on out Stacy was the lead back racking up 973 yards and 8 total touchdowns in basically 12 games. In the last 8 games, Stacy scored at least one touchdown in 6 of those games. The news continues to get better for Stacy as the Rams organization has come out and said Stacy will get more carries this season. I see tons of potential for Stacy as he finished out the season strong and with the Rams telling the public he will get more carries it only means good things for the young Stacy.
5. Andre Ellington (Arizona Cardinals)- Like the Rams the Cardinals had a variety of options at running back heading into the season. Andre Ellington was backing up Rashard Mendenhall to start the season. As the season progressed, Ellington and Mendenhall started to split time at running back, showing both the Cardinals coaching staff and fantasy players what he could do. He really jumped onto the fantasy spotlight with his performance against Atlanta rushing for 154 yards and 1 touchdown on only 15 carries. The coaching staff had some concerns regarding his body make-up and whether he could fully sustain an entire complement of carries. At the end of the season, with season YPC mark at 5.5, the coaching staff had no choice but to come up with ways to get Ellington the ball. New head coach Bruce Arians has publicly stated he wants to build his offense around Ellington, while finding ways to get him the ball. He also hinted at using Ellington in the passing game as well. Ellington has great talent at potential, but there is still some question to how much work he will receive on Sundays come fall. With this uncertainty, fantasy owners should proceed with caution when drafting Ellington. While he does have tremendous upside the fact remains that no one knows how many carries he will receive. With all this being said, I still think in limited carries Ellington can be a solid RB2 for fantasy teams this fall.