Rookies are not to be ignored in your fantasy football draft.
Last season’s crop was highlighted by Jameis Winston (Tampa Bay), Todd Gurley (St. Louis), David Johnson (Arizona) and Amari Cooper (Oakland). The 2016 class may not be at the same level, but there are many fantasy starters to be had and several later-round value options.
▪ Like last year with Winston and Marcus Mariota (Tennessee), the 2016 NFL draft saw quarterbacks go No. 1 and No. 2 overall in Jared Goff (St. Louis) and Carson Wentz (Philadelphia). However, unlike Winston and Mariota, neither Goff nor Wentz are positioned for much rookie impact.
▪ Ezekiel Elliott (Dallas) has arguably the best offensive line in football and as we saw with DeMarco Murray in 2014, Dallas has the potential to have the NFL’s leading rusher (even Darren McFadden was able to finish third last season in rushing). Elliott is an elite fantasy option and he is a fair pick in the second half of the first round of fantasy drafts.
▪ Derrick Henry (Tennessee) should be one of the busier backup running backs as the Titans plan to unleash both DeMarco Murray and Henry. Henry should be particularly effective around the goal line where he is relentless –– Henry had 45 touchdowns in three seasons at Alabama and an astonishing 153 touchdowns in high school.
▪ Denver matched Miami’s offer sheet to keep C.J. Anderson, but nonetheless Devontae Booker is a prime mid-round fantasy target. Booker is a tremendous pass-catcher and should get third-down work. Booker is also a must handcuff and would be an every-week fantasy starter if Anderson were to miss time.
▪ With Ryan Mathews’ injury history in college and the NFL, Wendell Smallwood (Philadelphia) could start for the Eagles at some point this year. Smallwood has elite quickness and agility (his 6.83-second time in the three-cone drill at the NFL Combine was the best of any running back this year).
▪ With 124 receptions in college, DeAndre Washington (Oakland) should be in the mix for the Raiders on passing downs. He also would likely start if Latavius Murray were to miss time.
▪ With Matt Forte leaving Chicago after eight seasons, there is work to be had in the Bears’ offense. Jordan Howard should get mixed in behind starter Jeremy Langford and could get goal line work but coach John Fox is somewhat notorious for not playing rookies much.
▪ Four wide receivers went in the first round, but of those only Corey Coleman (Cleveland) is a major 2016 fantasy target. Coleman is a dynamic, explosive receiver who led the NCAA with 20 receiving touchdowns last year. Laquan Treadwell (Minnesota) also should be heavily involved although he might not initially start and plays in a run-first offense. Of the other two, Will Fuller (Houston) is more of a deep-threat option and Josh Doctson (Washington) has been battling hamstring issues and he is buried some on the depth chart.
▪ Sterling Shepard (N.Y. Giants) is a reasonable dark-horse for NFL Rookie of the Year honors. Shepard joins a potent pass-first offense and he has been a star in camp. Shepard is a polished, silky-smooth receiver who also flat-out put on a show at the combine.
▪ With Marvin Jones and Mohammad Sanu no longer on the team, Tyler Boyd (Cincinnati) should be an instant high-end contributor. Boyd was a three-year starter at the University of Pittsburgh, where he passed Larry Fitzgerald for school records in receptions and receiving yards.
▪ Michael Thomas (New Orleans) joins Coleman, Shepard, Treadwell and Boyd as a top tier of five 2016 rookie wide receiver fantasy targets. With tremendous size, Thomas could be a major scoring threat for the Saints and plays on one of the best offenses in football.
▪ It’s rare for even the best of tight ends to do much as rookies. Two however are worth drafting. Hunter Henry (San Diego) will backup Antonio Gates but Henry (the 2015 John Mackey Award winner) is more pro ready than most and should be involved in the Chargers’ passing game. Tyler Higbee (Los Angeles ) is a former wide receiver and is a target for your final pick as a deep sleeper.
Alan Satterlee is a co-owner and senior writer for DynastyFootballWarehouse.com, a comprehensive fantasy football strategy site.