North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

June 28, 2013

Fantasy Football Fix: Choosing rookies can be fraught with peril

By Erik Harris
North Jefferson News

Want to get a jump on your fantasy football team? Here’s the first of a series of articles to give you an edge.

Drafting rookies for your fantasy football roster is always iffy, especially when you pluck them early, which puts you in a position of relying on their production. Moreover, first-year studs like the ones born in 2012 are rare.

The unlikely numbers accumulated by the likes of Doug Martin, Robert Griffin III and Trent Richardson should not make you overconfident about claiming rookies in 2013. Don’t expect E.J. Manuel or Geno Smith to deliver an Andrew Luck-ish maiden voyage, which saw him finish ninth among quarterbacks in overall points last season. Despite the lack of high-end value residing in this year’s class (mainly at the quarterback position), there is some attractive talent to consider.

Montee Ball

Denver RB

The Broncos didn’t draft Ball in the second round to watch and learn from their veteran rushers. 31-year-old Willis McGahee, Denver’s leading rusher a year ago, has been released. This shows their confidence in the rookie and suggests Ball will be the starter in the backfield from the start.

Expect Knowshon Moreno’s 138 rushes from last year to decrease and Ronnie Hillman will be nothing more than a change-of-pace back. Peyton Manning operates one of the top offenses in the league, which means Ball will have many red-zone opportunities. This backfield will split caries early, but if the former Wisconsin star starts fast then coach John Fox should hand him more and more attention.

Likely place in a 12-team draft: Round 6

Tavon Austin

St. Louis WR

Despite his small stature and inexperience, this cat-quick West Virginian has the potential to be an electric weapon for the Rams in his first season. His fantasy value will depend on how well he and quarterback Sam Bradford mesh.

Anytime a quarterback and receiver approach their first season together, timing and rhythm is a concern. But with Austin’s dynamic skill set, Bradford will find a way to get the ball in his hands; even if that means handing it to him. His big-play potential and versatility make him a safe candidate as a fantasy starter.

Likely place in a 12-team draft: Round 6

Le’Veon Bell

Pittsburgh RB

After finishing last year ranked 26th in the league in rushing, the Steelers are looking to toughen up offensively. Acquiring Bell in the second round of April’s draft shows their commitment to returning to a power running game that sets up the play-action pass.

Though additional backs Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman should accumulate some carries early in the season, Bell’s superior skills are likely to make him the go-to back as the season progresses. Expect Bell to be a steady producer that gets several carries near the goal line.

Likely place in a 12-team draft: Round 7

Eddie Lacy

Green Bay RB

The competition facing Lacy in the Green Bay backfield is few and far between. The rookie will provide this offense with a well rounded back, something they have been missing for quite some time. Remember, the Packers offense revolves around quarterback Aaron Rodgers. But coach Mike McCarthy will utilize Lacy’s ability to run between the tackles, which will slow defenses pass rush.

Bottom line, he will be the starting running back for an elite NFL offense, so there is much potential. Don’t get too jumpy Alabama fans, this guy is a middle-round prospect. Believe it or not, you wont get extra points based on him being a former Bama baller.

Likely place in a 12-team draft: Round 6

DeAndre Hopkins

Houston WR

One thing we know for sure about the former Clemson Tiger- he doesn’t mind taking the backup role, in fact, he plays a downright nasty second fiddle. As an alternate target behind Sammy Watkins last year, Hopkins torched colligate defenses for 1,405 yards and 18 touchdowns. If he can manage similar production while playing alongside Andre Johnson and Arian Foster in 2013, fantasy owners will be pleased, to say the least.

Houston quarterback Matt Schaub will find himself in the same place Matt Ryan was a few years ago- with an explosive rookie receiver joining a veteran playmaker out wide. Ryan has beautifully managed his weapons (Julio Jones and Roddy White) in Atlanta. If Schaub can mimic Ryan, Hopkins will be a fantasy beast.    

Likely place in a 12-team draft: Round 13