Back to the grind we go. Drafting rookies in the fantasy football world is a hit-or-miss proposition. For every no-brainer like Edgerrin James in the Indy offense, there’s a Lawrence Phillips blowing his chance in St. Louis. For every first-round hot-shot like J.J. Stokes, there’s Marques Colston in the seventh round. Lots of people won’t draft rookies for a variety of reasons, but a good value pick of a rookie – usually late in the draft – can make the difference between a playoff contender and an also-ran. Here’s a quick selection of those who I think are intriguing for this year’s draft and going forward for keeper/dynasty leagues.
Marshawn Lynch (RB BUF): Opinions on Lynch vary, hence so has his auction value. The curse of first-round draft picks from Cal in the Jeff Tedford era (Kyle Boller, Aaron Rodgers, J.J. Arrington)
has made many a fantasy football expert wary of Lynch’s production – even when his only competition at running back in Buffalo will be Anthony Thomas. He certainly made a lot of plays in the Pac-10, but will it translate to the AFC East?
The value in Lynch will hopefully be determined by the time you draft. If he beats Anthony Thomas outright, he’s the starting running back for a team that some see as a sleeper wildcard team. Along with Lynch, the Bills are counting on JP Losman’s continued to improvement, Lee Evans becoming a star, and the offensive line benefiting from free agent signings.
Travis Henry and Willis McGahee both enjoyed early fantasy success with the Bills, so Lynch’s Average Auction Value (AAV) of $8 is cautiously low. I think he goes for $10 or more in a majority of leagues, depending on your roster size and lineup requirements. If you need a No. 3 or No. 4 running back, it’s a solid price; getting him under $10 represents a real value pick.
Calvin Johnson (WR DET): An AAV of $3 is sure to be inflated by the hype of this rookie in the Mike Martz offense. His college career was much more celebrated than his new teammate, Roy Williams, and look at Williams’ stats in his rookie year: 54 receptions, 817 yards and 8 touchdowns in 14 games (11 as a starter). And that was as the only receiving option in a conservative offense led by Joey Harrington. Calvin Johnson will have Williams on the other side of him in an aggressive downfield offense.
I don’t think he’ll get to 1,000 yards this season, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. If Williams gets injured, the numbers go up. But for right now, let’s predict a rookie season of 800 yards and 7 TDs, which is the average of the rookie seasons of Williams and Torry Holt (under Martz). Again, with the hype, Johnson probably goes for much more than $3 to $5, especially in keeper leagues.
Adrian Peterson (RB MIN): Poor Chester Taylor. Guy runs for 1,216 yards and 6 TDs in his first year as a full-time starter, and his team goes and drafts a stud like Peterson in the first round. Then fantasy football sites like Sportsline already label Peterson the starter before he was even signed.
There will be a running back tandem in Minnesota this year. It’s for a very good reason – they can’t pass. The quarterback is Tavaris Jackson. The receivers are named Moe, Larry and Curly. So the Vikings will be doing a lot of running, and Chaz Taylor wore down toward the end of last season. Hence Peterson is here, but is not the No. 1 guy, at least not yet. Rookies have to learn blitz protections and catch passes; Peterson’s just not ready.
So how to value such a rookie, whose playing time will most likely increase as the season progresses? Right now it varies, but I think the AAV of $5 is about right where it should be. One caveat about Peterson: if an RB has a history of injuries in college, then it’s likely he’ll be hurt in the pros as well. I call this the Cadillac Williams Theory. Cadillac was routinely hurt at Auburn. He went nuts for the first few weeks with Tampa Bay in 2005, piling up yardage and TDs. Then he got injured, missed two games, and hasn’t been the same since. Just some food for thought.
Brandon Jackson (RB GB): Another rookie running back who will play as part of a tandem. I’m not going to claim that I’m an expert on Jackson. Here’s what I know: He runs like Ahman Green did when Green first became a Packer, and the only competition for Jackson is Vernand Morency. The same Vernand Morency who started one game in Houston last year because he couldn’t beat out Wali Lundy and Ron Dayne. The same Vernand Morency who just got hurt in training camp and will miss a couple of weeks.
I envision this best-case scenario for Jackson: You get him for his AAV of $2 late in the draft, and he becomes Ladell Betts in November. The Packers’ schedule during the fantasy home stretch includes games against Kansas City and Detroit. Then in Weeks 14 and 15 – the season finales and playoffs for most leagues – the Pack plays at home vs. Oakland and at St. Louis. Not terrible defenses, but no reason Jackson couldn’t see 100 yards against either. This is something to keep an eye on.
Anthony Gonzalez (WR IND): Meet the new Brandon Stokely. Not as fast, but has better hands and runs better routs. And he’ll also be undrafted in the majority of drafts out there. For keeper leagues, Gonzalez is a solid rookie pick in the event of an injury to Harrison, Wayne or Clark. With the Colts losing a lot on the defensive side of the ball this off-season, they’ll probably have to outscore most teams to win. If Peyton Manning is forced to revert to the record-setting season of 2004 (4,557 yards, 49 TDs), then Gonzalez will be in line to see a good deal of those passes.
Stokely’s best numbers came in that 2004 season (1,077 yards, 10 TDs), so even half of that will be considered a good rookie campaign for Gonzalez. As previously stated, he should go undrafted in all but the deepest leagues. If you don’t spend the $1 on him, monitor his progress on the waiver wire throughout the year.
JaMarcus Russell (QB OAK):
We have to at least note Russell; he’s the No. 1 overall pick! Are they going to throw him directly into the fire, or let him replace Josh McCown/Andrew Walter toward the end of the season? Either way, Russell shouldn’t do much this season – especially as he continues to hold out. Even if he does play, it’s behind a sieve of an offensive line while throwing to a bunch of third-string wide receivers. Needless to say, Russell shouldn’t enter your draft plans unless you are in a deep keeper or dynasty league. The same goes for Brady Quinn (QB CLE)
. Nothing like possibly being thrown to the wolves against the Baltimore and Pittsburgh defenses in November and December in Cleveland.
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