The 2012 NFL Draft has come and gone, and the rookie class has begun their initiation into their new jobs as mini-camps have been underway throughout the land. It is no longer necessary to wonder what NFL team certain college stud players may land on as we now get to turn our attention to what fantasy value the rookies have moving forward. Predicting a successful rookie fantasy campaign is a tricky undertaking indeed, especially in mid-May, but it keeps the fantasy juices flowing and they certainly aren’t going to rank themselves, right? Who will be the A.J. Green, DeMarco Murray or Cam Newton of 2012? Rookie fantasy drafts are underway in earnest, and it is time to start ranking the NFL newbies and keep rolling towards the kickoff of the 2012 fantasy football season.
1.) Trent Richardson, RB, Cleveland: Richardson steps in right away as the No. 1 running back for a team that averaged a meager 3.7 yards per carry last season and had only four rushing touchdowns. He is a three down running back who has drawn favorable comparisons to one Adrian Peterson. However, he will likely accumulate most of his fantasy points by sheer volume of touches as the Browns lack the passing game to draw defenders out of the box. The fourth round of re-draft leagues is where Richardson should come off the board on draft day but rest assured that he will be taken a lot higher than that.
2.) Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington: The Redskins jumped up in the draft to lock up their quarterback of the future and made multiple moves to surround the rookie with weapons. The signings of Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan will bolster the receiving options for Griffin, as will tight end Fred Davis, Leonard Hankerson and veteran wide out Santana Moss. Don’t overlook the resigning of Tim Hightower as an excellent pass protecting running back as well as a superb receiving option for the rookie. Look for Washington to utilize plenty of roll out passing plays where Griffin can press defenses with his rocket arm and maintain the threat of tucking the ball and gouging defenses with his legs as well. He is a dynasty stud and should be the second or third player drafted in that format and start looking his way in the ninth round of redraft leagues as a solid No. 2 fantasy quarterback option.
3.) Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay: Martin is the complete package – able to pass protect, soft hands out of the backfield and a hard driving low center of gravity running threat. He will be the bell cow running back in Tampa Bay for 2012, moving incumbent LaGarrette Blount to the role of short yardage, possible goal line option. The new regime in Tampa Bay wants to play a physical ground-and-pound style of football, so Blount will not be completely eliminated from the picture, but his role will certainly be a reduced one. Martin did miss portions of the rookie minicampwith hamstring issues but was very durable while at Boise State. The Buccaneers are going to run to set up the pass in 2012, looking to set up play action opportunities to get the deep ball to their new weapon Vincent Jackson. Martin is a perfect fit for this style off attack and will see plenty of touches both rushing and receiving. He should last until the late fourth, early fifth round of redraft leagues but the lack of proven running back talent will see some owners reach as high as late Round 2 for him.
4.) Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis: Luck is the dynasty No. 1 overall selection as the sky is the limit for what this kid will produce over the course of his career fantasy wise. Luck is as pro ready as any quarterback prospect has been in years, and has the athleticism and intangibles to be a game-changing talent from the outset of his career. The Colts did everything they could to surround Luck with as many weapons as possible in April’s draft, including bringing his tight end from Stanford, Coby Fleener, on board in the second round. That is huge for Luck as he transitions to the NFL behind a less-than-stellar offensive line and with a shaky running back situation. The Colts are in a rebuilding mode, and that will stifle some of the early fantasy scoring potential for Luck, but he does have Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie as solid wide receiving options to help ease his transition in to the league. I am a big proponent of garbage time fantasy stats, and I believe therein lies some real fantasy scoring options for Luck. The Colts will be trailing in plenty of games this season and potentially facing the stat padding ‘prevent defense,’ and look for Luck to benefit from that. In redraft leagues he is a draft option around the same position as Robert Griffin, late ninth or early 10th as a solid No. 2, bye week fill-in option.
5.) Justin Blackmon, WR, Jacksonville: I feel a little better about this ranking having seen some reports out of Jacksonville that Chad Henne has a shot to unseat Blaine Gabbert as the starting quarterback for the Jaguars. Coach Mike Mularkey has said there will not be a competition for the job, but Gabbert should be on a short leash. By the end of 2011, Gabbert appeared to have already been afflicted with ‘David Carr disease,’ and was going down from phantom pressure. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a Chad Henne ‘slappy,’ but I do believe that he is a better option for Blackmon to achieve fantasy success as a rookie. Blackmon isn’t the talent that last year’s wide receiving rookie standout A.J. Green is, but he has the tools to be a fantasy impact player as a rookie. He will get plenty of targets from whoever is under center and his after the catch skills are above average. It is still a bit unclear as to where Blackmon will actually line up for Jacksonville, he worked at the “Z” and slot positions in minicamp after it had been widely thought he would be the “X” receiver in the offense. Regardless of where he lines up, he will have to struggle mightily for every fantasy point he can with the quarterback situation in Jacksonville. He is a late-round selection in redraft leagues, anywhere from Round 12 to 14 as a No. 3 fantasy wide receiver/flex fill-in type of player.