Rookie 2016 Fantasy Impact
By Alan Satterlee, DFW Senior Writer and Co-Owner, @Speedkills_DFW
I have a good friend who I introduced to dynasty football and he is adamant that us dynasty-ballers have it wrong around rookie drafts in that we draft way too early. It’s a fair point. Most of us all have our rookie drafts in mid-May as soon as we can after the NFL draft. It’s like waiting for Christmas and we all generally want to get to drafting as soon as we can after football has been over for several months at that point. There’s also something to be said about scouting players in dynasty football and applying that knowledge (skill?). However, we don’t know a ton in May and even three months later (still before any games are played) so much has changed (as we have had OTAs and some training camp at least, not to mention some actual pre-season games).
That said, rookie drafts would no doubt would look WAY different if they were conducted in August than in May.
With that in mind I’ll take stab at 2016 rookie impact — not dynasty of course, but dynasty starts with the first season coming up. Here are my top 12 rookies for 2016 impact.
1. Ezekial 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 year 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. Elliott was pretty much the clear-cut top rookie back in May and nothing has changed.
2. 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. Coleman looks to not only be a “future star” but he has torn it up every step of the way since being drafted and should make major noise even as a rookie. Many have called Coleman “the next Steve Smith”.
3. 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 this year’s Combine. He’s a safe bet for a heavy-volume of targets right out of the gate.
4. Derrick Henry (Tennessee) should be one of the busier backup running backs as the Titans plan to unleash both DeMarco Murray and Henry on defenses. 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. I think you can start both DeMarco Murray and Henry some/many weeks, and drafting both likely guarantees a top fantasy back.
5. 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 immediately get third-down work. Booker is also a must handcuff and would be an every-week fantasy starter if Anderson were to miss time.
6. 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. In addition to a fairly high-volume target receiving role, Boyd could sneak in some carries and I bet he passes for a touchdown this year on a trick play, which Mohammad Sanu used to do and Boyd has done that at Bengals’ camp.
7. Laquan Treadwell (Minnesota) should be heavily-involved although he may not initially start and he also plays in a run-first offense, dropping him to sixth on this list. Charles Johnson has been getting first-team reps and his experience may lead him to stay there initially, but eventually Treadwell will become Minnesota’s number one receiver. If weather concerns you, then beware as Treadwell and company will be playing outdoors at Minnesota in Week 15, at Green Bay in Week 16 and then back to frigid Minnesota in Week 17.
8. Michael Thomas (New Orleans) joins Coleman, Shepard, Boyd and Treadwell 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. He has been a human highlight reel at Saints’ camp. The only potential concern is all the mouths to feed in New Orleans between Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, Coby Fleener and Mark Ingram but on the other hand there will be a lot of passes to go around.
9. 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. Washington lit it up in the Raiders’ first pre-season game with 43 rushing yards on eight carries, and collecting a 32-yard reception (something Latavius Murray never did all of 2015). With a tremendous offensive line in Oakland and an up-and-coming offense, Washington makes for a solid middle-of-the-draft sleeper in drafts.
10. 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. San Diego press has talked how Henry looks like “the real deal” since the start of OTAs and camp, and Henry showed off his stuff in the Chargers’ first pre-season game as well with 43 yards on three receptions. Henry started that game with Gates resting in week one pre-season.
11. Will Fuller would seem to be more of a one-trick pony with deep speed, but he has looked sharp in OTAs, camp and pre-season, making the Texans look good with their use of the 21st-overall pick in the NFL Draft. Fuller looks as though he could be “the neat DeSean Jackson”, as the two are similarly-sized and both with exceptional speed. Fuller was a prolific scorer in his last two seasons at Notre Dame with 29 receiving touchdowns.
12. The other rookie tight end I’ll highlight is Tyler Higbee (St. Louis), who is a former wide receiver. With Jared Cook having signed with Green Bay in free agency there is next to nothing stopping Higbee from major playing time and whomever is the Rams’ starting quarterback can use a big target over the middle (that many in the local Los Angeles media has dubbed “Little Baby Gronk”). Higbee is a target for your final pick as a deep sleeper.
Not making the top 12 cut: Josh Doctson (Washington) has been battling hamstring issues and he is buried some on the depth chart. Doctson was a high rookie pick back in May, and has attractive long-term upside but he may be quiet as a rookie and could start the season on the PUP-list. With Matt Forte leaving Chicago after eight seasons, there is work to be had in the Bears’ offense. Jordan Howard (Chicago) should get mixed in behind starter Jeremy Langford and could get goal line work but head coach John Fox is somewhat notorious for not playing rookies much. Like last year with Winston and Marcus Mariota (Tennessee), the 2016 NFL draft saw quarterbacks go #1 and #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. Kenneth Dixon (Baltimore) is a talented do-it-all running back but the Baltimore backfield is looking mighty crowded with Justin Forsett, Buck Allen and Terrance West all currently ahead of him on the depth chart. CJ Prosise (Seattle) was a rookie draft darling as a PPR-magnet, but Prosise has been slowed by a hamstring injury nearly all of camp and he has fallen behind on a team with Super Bowl aspirations while Christine Michael has had a strong off-season and looks to be forming a tandem with Thomas Rawls. Paul Perkins (N.Y. Giants) joins an elite offense in New York, and maybe he surfaces later in the season with fresh legs. For now though, Rashad Jennings is set to reportedly be the team’s bell-cow and Andre Williams has dropped weight and for now has the Giants’ backup running back position. Though drafted in the 7th round, Keith Marshall (Washington) has impressed in camp. Marshall should get in some reps with starter Matt Jones and if Jones continues his fumbling ways Marshall could potentially get plugged in to start. Marshall posted a 4.31 time in the 40-yard-dash at this year’s Combine, the fastest of any backs. Undrafted Josh Ferguson (Indianapolis) has serious pass-catching chops and should get third-down work for the Colts. Ferguson left Illinois with 168 receptions, a huge number for a college running back. With Ryan Mathews’ injury history in college and the NFL, Wendell Smallwood (Philadelphia) could start for the Eagles at some point this year (his 6.83-second time in the three-cone drill at the Combine was the best of any running back this year).