With the draft over it’s officially fantasy football season. There is a new crop of rookies in the league and I’m going to break them down by position so you know which rookies to target in your draft 3-4 months from now. Yeah it’s early, but so what.
For a long time rookie QBs were a non-factor in fantasy. The “Aaron Rodgers strategy”, letting rookie QBs sit and learn for two years, was the established plan for new QBs. It still makes a lot of sense and might be the best way to go, but with the recent success of rookies Andrew Luck, RG3, Cam Newton, and Russell Wilson teams are no longer as patient with their rookie signal callers and are throwing them into the fire right away. It a risky move with a significant chance of destroying their confidence (Locker, Ponder, Gabbert), but it has worked more often than not the last few years, so teams will probably keep doing it.
No matter how talented a rookie is, he needs enough playing time to be worth a spot on your fantasy roster. It takes most rookies time to learn the playbook and the intricacies of more complicated NFL offenses. Quarterbacks have to learn more than any other position which is why it’s so rare for a rookie QB to come in and be effective off the bat. Obviously it’s possible as guys like Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck have proven the last couple years. Other positions like RB are less complex and rookies can step in right away and be effective like Eddie Lacy, Le’Veon Bell, Gio Bernard, and Zac Stacy last year. I’ve split my breakdown into two parts; I’ll cover the rookie’s chance at playing time and their potential fantasy impact if they see the field.
For most of you in standard re-draft fantasy leagues, only the top few names on this list will make any difference to you. For those of you in multi-year keeper leagues or long-term dynasty leagues with deep rosters, I’ve broken down the fantasy potential of every QB drafted and a few relevant UDFAs.
* Before you rip me in the comments section keep in mind that these aren’t rankings of long-term success, just their projected fantasy impact this season.
QB Rookie Fantasy Rankings:
1.) Johnny Manziel, Browns:
Playing time – Brian Hoyer deserves a chance to open the season as the Browns starting QB. He won both of his starts last year on a team that only won 2 of the 14 games that Hoyer didn’t start. He’s from Cleveland, grew up a Browns fan, it’s a cool story but also a long shot with the Browns spending a first rounder on Manziel and fans already making Manziel jerseys the #1 seller in the off-season. The pressure on Hoyer will be immense, with fans calling for Manziel after every three-and-out, but I think he will at least get a chance to open the season as a starter. As soon as Hoyer shows any sign of faltering, which he probably will, Manziel will take over. I think it will be in week 5 after their bye.
Fantasy outlook - His fantasy value will be impacted by the status of WR Josh Gordon. If he manages to avoid suspension, the combination of Gordon, TE Jordan Cameron, new RBs Ben Tate & Terrance West, Andrew Hawkins, recently signed Earl Bennett and undrafted FA Chandler Jones will give Manziel plenty of weapons to succeed. Even without Gordon, I think there is more talent at receiver than most people give the Browns credit for. What Manziel is missing is a big, safety-valve target like he had in Mike Evans in college.
I’m going out on a limb here, but I think Manziel will be successful as a QB regardless of whether Gordon plays or not. The kid is a dynamic play-maker (and party animal). For fantasy purposes, he’s going to run a lot and throw deep more than most QBs in the league. This is going to results in more INTs than his fantasy owners will like, but I think it will also result in a stat line similar to RG3′s rookie season. Around 200 passing yards, 50-75 rushing yards, and 2 total TDs per game which is a solid 20 point fantasy day in most leagues. Manziel is just going to get better as he adjusts to the speed of the NFL and the Browns eventually add more weapons around him. Manziel is a top-tier back-up in 1-QB leagues and a priority add in keeper leagues.
Auction Value - Re-draft $7, Keeper $14
Draft him ahead of - Joe Flacco
2.) Teddy Bridgewater, Vikings:
Playing time - He is already getting snaps with the 1st team offense and he’s only been with the team for a few weeks. That’s a pretty good sign that he’s going to be given a legitimate shot to win the starting job. The Vikings did just re-sign Matt Cassell to a 2-yr deal, so I think Cassell will open the year as the starter but he showed last year that he is mediocre at best. I like the fact that Bridgewater didn’t go home after his initial interviews, but stayed in Minnesota and used the week to get a head start on the playbook. I think Cassell will get the opening day gig, but will be on a short leash. Cassell can succeed when he’s surrounded by offensive talent like he was in New England, but he can’t carry a team. I think Bridgewater will be starting by week 6 in a home match-up vs the Lions porous secondary.
Fantasy outlook - Bridgewater was my #1 QB in the draft and I think he has the best potential to be an above average NFL starting QB. Manziel’s fantasy upside is higher due to his running ability and tendency to air it out, but Bridgewater is smart, goes through his progressions well and throws receivers open better than any rookie QB. With an explosive weapon in Cordarrelle Patterson and AP forcing 8 men in the box, Bridgewater should be able to pick defenses apart. If you prefer consistency over the Manziel roller coaster, than Bridgewater is your guy. I think he has a good shot for 200+ yards and close to 2 TDs per game. He won’t throw as many picks as Manziel but won’t have as many 25+ fantasy games either. If you like to carry two QBs on your roster, Bridgewater makes an ideal back-up since he should be the starter by the time you need a bye week replacement for your #1 QB.
Fantasy value - Re-draft: $5, Keeper: $10
Draft him ahead of - Ryan Fitzpatrick
3.) Zach Mettenberger, Titans:
Playing time - Jake Locker is not the answer in Tennessee, the Titans have already decided not to pick up their 2015 option on Locker so he will be on a short leash this season. Charlie Whitehurst is technically the #2 QB but if he had any real potential the Chargers wouldn’t have let him go for next to nothing (2 yrs, $4.5M). Assuming he’s healthy and drug-free, Mettenberger will get a chance to play as soon as Locker inevitably fails. Whitehurst might get the first shot at replacing him, but he’s probably going to fail too.
Fantasy outlook – I am higher on Mettenberger than most, I had him ranked as the 5th best QB prospect and his ideal size and cannon arm are worth getting excited about. He played in a pro-style offense under former NFL OC Cam Cameron and has the physical ability to make any throw on the NFL route tree. The Titans added T Taylor Lewan to an already strong O-line which should keep Mettenberger clean and give him enough time to unleash his rocket arm and connect with deep threats Nate Washington, Justin Hunter and promising 3rd-year player Kendall Wright. There are a lot of ifs with Mettenberger, but he has as much upside as any rookie QB.
Fantasy value - Re-draft: $3, Keeper: $8
Draft him ahead of - Jake Locker