One of my favorite things about fantasy football each year is looking forward to the incoming class of rookies. Whether you play in a dynasty league, keeper league, or redraft league, first year players can have a huge effect on the fantasy football landscape. A year ago, players like Eddie Lacy, Keenan Allen, and Le'Veon Bell were rookies who established themselves as the season wore on and could be counted on from week to week. However, fantasy owners who took a chance on Tavon Austin and Montee Ball came away disappointed. With May 8th approximately two weeks away, let's take a look at ten of the top skill position players heading into the 2014 NFL Draft.
QB Blake Bortles- There aren't many quarterbacks out there who possess an impressive blend of size, strength, and mobility like the 6'4'' Bortles. Those impressive physical tools coupled with his strong junior season have him mentioned among the top 3 signal callers in this class. Bortles has some maturing to do as a passer as his downfield accuracy and decision making need improvement. For fantasy purposes, Bortles will only be on my radar in keeper and dynasty leagues, and possibly deeper redraft leagues. Not only do rookie QBs struggle to put up huge numbers, but many of the logical fits for Bortles will likely not have high-powered passing offenses.
QB Teddy Bridgewater- One guy who I find to be extremely interesting heading into the 2014 draft is Teddy Bridgewater. At one point many considered him to be the favorite to be the number one pick, but Bridgewater has been reportedly dropping as of late due to his poor workouts and small frame. I am still a believer in his talent. Bridgewater has impressive accuracy and is an extremely intelligent quarterback. But similar to Bortles, I find a hard time believing he will have much fantasy value as a rookie. If you have the roster spot I wouldn't mind taking a late-round flier on him in deeper redraft leagues.
QB Johnny Manziel- If Manziel can find the right situation, I believe he has the most upside of the top 3 quarterbacks from a fantasy perspective. Not only does he have the improvisational skills of a Brett Favre or Tony Romo to keep plays alive, but he has the straight-line speed and vision to be an effective runner. While I would not be comfortable with "Johnny Football" as my QB1 in any type of format, I will definitely be considering him as a QB2 in the later rounds regardless of his landing spot as a high upside pick. His playmaking ability coupled with the rushing numbers I expect him to provide make him an extremely attractive option.
RB Carlos Hyde- Unlike most of the guys on this list, Hyde is a senior who played four seasons at Ohio State. He is a big, bruising back who isn't afraid of contact. If he can find the right situation, he should be in line for snaps on first and second down as well as goal line work. That should make him much more attractive in standard than in PPR formats, but as an extremely talented back he should be on the fantasy radar regardless of the format of your league.
RB Tre Mason- Auburn's success this past season really put running back Tre Mason on the map. For being a smaller back at 5'9'', Mason is a much better inside runner than people would think. He has great vision and is excellent at setting up his blocks. Mason rushed for over 1,000 yards over the past two seasons, including 1,816 a year ago. The one thing he wasn't asked to do much at Auburn was catch the football, as he only caught 19 passes the past two years combined. I don't find that to be too concerning and expect Mason to be part of a running back committee as a rookie. Consider him a RB3/flex option with upside for fantasy purposes.
RB Charles Sims- The more I hear about Sims, the more I like his ability to be a contributor as a rookie. As a good receiver and reliable pass blocker who doesn't necessarily have any special running skills, Sims reminds me of a young Knowshon Moreno. I don't expect him to be the lead back for whoever drafts him, but Sims is someone who at the very least should be able to contribute on third down. He is the kind of player who will be much more valuable in PPR formats as opposed to standard scoring leagues. If Sims can find himself in a situation where he can see 8-10 touches a game, I wouldn't mind taking him in the later rounds of any type of draft.
WR Sammy Watkins- Besides maybe Johnny Manziel, I don't think there is a more exciting fantasy rookie than Sammy Watkins. The Clemson standout is so impressive because he can beat you in so many ways. He not only has the speed to get behind the defense but also the strength and toughness in the open field to break tackles. Watkins is the type of prospect who should be able to step in from day one and be a starter in the NFL. As a rookie, Watkins should find himself in the WR3 range with WR2 upside. He would definitely be the first player I would take off the board in dynasty rookie drafts.
WR Mike Evans- Making a living catching passes from Johnny Manziel the past few seasons, Mike Evans fits the mold of wide receivers that teams are looking for these days. At 6'5'', he is a big and physical wideout who excels at using his body to box out defenders and going up to make plays on the ball. I see Evans as the type of player who will be a difference maker at the NFL level but may take some time to develop. He is a definite target of mine in dynasty and keeper leagues but only a later round option in redraft leagues.
WR Marqise Lee- Following his 2012 season at USC, Lee was in the same class as Watkins as an elite playmaker with outstanding speed who is dynamic after the catch. His soft hands and fluid route-running made him virtually unguardable in his sophomore season. But injuries and inconsistent play in 2013 really hurt his stock. Lee can likely be had much later in your fantasy draft than Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans because of the red flags and is exactly the type of player I like to target in the later rounds as a high-risk high-reward type of fantasy prospect.
TE Eric Ebron- The consensus top tight end on just about everyone's board is Eric Ebron. Similar to San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis, Ebron is like a wide receiver in a tight end's body. He is the type of player that can line up as an inline tight end, in the slot, or outside the numbers. He should prove to be a matchup problem at the NFL level and is exactly the type of player I like to target as my TE2 for my fantasy team because of the upside. He will definitely involve some risk, but in the right situation could have similar value to what Jordan Reed had last year once he became comfortable within the offense.
This should be one of the more fascinating years when it comes to drafting rookies in fantasy football. There is an extremely deep class of wide receivers and plenty of running backs who should make an impact at some point in their careers if not in year one. It will be exciting to see where these playmakers are drafted and who can land in ideal fantasy football situations. The NFL Draft can not come soon enough!