The NFL draft is done, and so of course it’s time for a way-too-early-in-the-year prediction of the top 10 fantasy impact rookies for the upcoming season. These are in reverse order of their predicted ranking among others at their position, not strictly by predicted points per game.
“With the number 10 pick in the 2014 Fantasy Draft…”
10.) Sammy Watkins – Buffalo. Watkins and Robert Woods will draw some raves in 2014 as a solid one-two punch for the Bills and E.J. Manuel. As Buffalo finally competes for a playoff spot, Watkins’ stats will be steady if not flashy as he racks up yards after the catch. I don’t envision more than a couple scores, however, and a shaky QB situation limits his catch potential. Prediction: 5-7 ppg.
9.) Troy Niklas – Arizona. Rob Housler was finally healthy last season — for seemingly the first time in three years. Here’s saying he finds his way back to the familiar confines of the trainer’s room in 2014, which leaves the door open for Niklas — a 6’6″, 270-pound outlet valve for Carson Palmer. With Andre Roberts gone and Michael Floyd the “deep” threat, the Notre Dame grad should consistently find room to roam behind opposing lines and the potential for 5 or 6 TDs. Prediction: 4-8 ppg.
8.) Johnny Manziel – Cleveland. He either starts the season and gets hurt halfway through, or he rides the pine until Brian Hoyer’s mediocrity catches up with him. Either way, Johnny Cleveland puts up enough stats to warrant fantasy QB2 consideration. What will cap his value most is Josh Gordon’s off-field issues. Prediction: 12-14 ppg.
7.) Jordan Matthews – Philadelphia. Philly’s fast-paced offense resulted in career numbers for DeSean Jackson last season. Combine the talent void he left with Jason Avant’s departure and Matthews should post WR3 fantasy stats on a team that likely finishes near the top of the league in offense again this year. Prediction: 5-8 ppg.
6.) Teddy Bridgewater – Minnesota. The Vikings hoped they’d found their franchise quarterback three seasons ago when they took a gamble on Christian Ponder. This year they’ll roll the dice with Bridgewater. Because he’s got beatable competition in Matt Cassel plus three full seasons of college experience, the former Louisville Cardinal should see significant starts and put up QB2-worthy numbers in 2014. Prediction: 12-15 ppg.
5.) Brandin Cooks – New Orleans . Cooks may have been the fourth receiver drafted this year, but he’s on one of the most pass-heavy teams in the NFL. Lance Moore and Darren Sproles — both free agent defectors — were targeted a combined 143 times in 2013, so there will be a fair share of Drew Brees passes coming Cooks’ way this season. Prediction: 6-8 ppg.
4.) Odell Beckham Jr. – New York Giants. A talent vacuum left by Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham will put Beckham on the field more than Tom Coughlin would prefer for his rookie 1st-round pick. Combined with a bounce-back year from Eli, Odell could very easily average 6-9 points per week in a division full of poor defenses.
3.) Mike Evans –
Tampa Bay. The end zone will be Evans’ playground during his rookie season with the Bucs. Benefitting from double coverage to team-mate Vincent Jackson, Big Mike could very well become Josh McCown’s favorite red-zone target, giving the former A&M standout WR3 fantasy appeal, with WR2 potential. Prediction: 7-10 ppg.
2.) Blake Bortles – Jacksonville. He’s the least flashy rookie QB on the least flashy offense in the league, yet Bortles should be a 16-game starter barring injury. And in the AFC South, that should get the UCF grad a consistent 13-16 ppg by default — which puts him near the top of this rookie list. But be warned, with a lack of big-time play makers at his disposal on a run-first offense I don’t see more than one or two big weeks for the Jags starting QB.
1.) Bishop Sankey – Tennessee. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. The Titans’ O-Line is about to gel with the additions of Chance Warmack last year and pro-ready Taylor Lewan this year. Tennessee cut ties with long-time starter Chris Johnson, then 29-yr.-old Shonn Greene had his second offseason knee surgery. If Ken Whisenhunt can get Sankey half the production he got from a Mathews/Woodhead combo last year, you’ve got a low-end RB1. Prediction: 8-12 ppg.
So that rounds up this year’s talented 2014 draft picks with the biggest fantasy impact from my perspective. Having said all that, don’t reach too early for any of these guys come draft/auction time. Recall how last year’s rookie class had more busts than booms.