Fantasy Football - Underrated Rookies

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Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports


Five rookies finished in the top 60 overall last season, but only two of them were projected to be in the top 100 by both Yahoo and ESPN before the season. There were 22 rookies that finished in Yahoo’s top 200 last year and only 10 were ranked in the top 200 before the season. This happens every year because it’s hard to project how much playing time rookies will get and how successful they will be when they see the field. Of the 22 rookies who finished in the overall top 200 last year, Yahoo’s preseason rankings were off by an average of 66 spots per rookie and ESPN by 89 spots on their rookie ranking projections. So even on the players who they correctly projected as top 200, they were way off on where they would end up in the rankings. It’s a crap-shoot. No one knows how the transition from college to the NFL is going to go, but if you can correctly predict which rookies are going to have success, you can find yourself a cheap fantasy asset without having to outbid the casual fans in your league with their ESPN printouts.

I’ve already ranked the rookies and priority UDFAs by position which you can review with the links below. I mentioned how far off the major fantasy sites were in their rookie rankings above, but provided some additional proof in the table below. Last year wasn’t a fluke, every season the rookies are ranked incorrectly. Granted, injuries are unpredictable and a key factor in rookie playing time, but how the rookie fits in with the team’s offensive scheme, the talent level of the player(s) in front of him, and of course the rookie’s skill level are often more important.

Matthew Berry Projected Ranking
Yahoo Projected Ranking
Actual Ranking
Eddie Lacy483624
Gio Bernard816646
Zach Stacy >25020354
Keenan Allen >25020860
Andre Ellington >250>25078
Cordarrelle Patterson92147112
Terrance Williams>250224120
Tavon Austin10487145
DeAndre Hopkins109143146
Marlon Brown>250>250147
Kenny Stills>250178150
Zach Ertz>250236153
Montee Ball5471154
Jordan Reed>250>250157
Mychal Rivera>250>250164
Joe Fauria>250>250165
Robert Woods>250206173
E.J. Manuel>250228180
Aaron Dobson143163184
Tyler Eifert>250194187
Kenbrell Thompkins94107193

Rams’ running back Zac Stacy is a perfect example. Most sites ignored Stacy because of his late draft position (5th round) and because he was behind Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead on the depth chart.  Both running backs were ineffective to start 2013 and the main reason was the they were bad fits for the Rams power running scheme. HC Jeff Fisher had always liked bigger backs (Eddie George, Chris Brown, LenDale White) before Chris Johnson took over for the Titans late in Fisher’s run there. Fisher has used a big, powerful running back in 14 of his 17 years as a head coach with the Titans, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that he went with Stacy as soon as the backs ahead of him struggled.

Last year 17 of the 22 rookies who finished in the top 200 finished above where they were ranked by both ESPN & Yahoo last year. Over half of the 22 weren’t even in either site’s preseason top 200. I’m not knocking either site, projecting fantasy performance is hard in general (T-Rich was ranked 10th on both sites) but rookies are even more difficult. That being said, if rookies continue to outperform their preseason rankings then eventually the major sites need to adjust. It doesn’t appear that they have this year despite the 2014 draft being widely considered the most talent rich in the last 25 years. I’ve listed the average rankings from Yahoo, ESPN, and Matthew Berry in the table below and then ranked the players I feel are most undervalued.

Yahoo ranking
ESPN ranking
Matthew Berry Ranking
Average ranking
Bishop Sankey42685154
Sammy Watkins112738389
Mike Evans9313192105
Odell Beckham Jr143199NR181
Brandon Cooks96165115125
Eric Ebron175NR140172
Jeremy Hill152116107125
Kelvin Benjamin126NR144157
Devonta Freeman117171123137
Terrance West92150145129
Carlos Hyde138172149153
Tre Mason157103124128
Andre WilliamsNR169158184
Johnny Manziel132180NR171
Ka'Deem CareyNR164174188
Charles SimsNRNR154195
Jordan Matthews166NRNR197
Marqise Lee NR197NR200+
Lorenzo Taliaferro168NRNR200+
Jerick McKinnonNR178NR200+
Teddy Bridgewater179NRNR200+

I think it’s surprising that all three sites have only 14-16 rookies in their top 200 when 22 rookies finished in the top 200 last season from a MUCH weaker draft than this year’s. Team’s look for excuses to get their recent draft picks on the field, so look for rookies who are starting due to lack of talent on the roster (Benjamin), playing behind injury prone starters (West), better fits for their team’s offensive scheme (Hill, Taliaferro), playing for a new coach who didn’t draft the current starter (Sims) or just more talented than the player in front of them (Freeman, Matthews). I think they got a few rankings right, but here is my list of players who will significantly outperform their 2014 average ranking.

* My next post will cover players not ranked in any of the top 200 lists above who I project will finish there by the end of 2014.

Overall Fantasy Rookie Rankings

QB | RB | WR1 | WR2 | TE | IDP

Fantasy Football – Undervalued Rookies

1.) Brandin Cooks, Saints (Avg rank: 125, my rank: 67) - Last year’s 125th ranked player was Oakland receiver Denarious Moore (46, 695, 5). I think Cooks is going to crush those numbers. He’s already working with the starters during Saints OTAs, sliding seamlessly into Lance Moore’s slot receiver position. Cooks has explosive speed, sticky hands and is a crisp route runner. If there is any question about his ability to pick up the offense, this article about how fast he picked up Oregon St’s offense in college should answer it. The only question I had about Cooks rookie success was his ability to beat press coverage, but in the slot he will have room to get off the line and I think he has a legit chance to be the most productive rookie receiver in the league and have him ranked accordingly (67). The Saints lost both Lance Moore and Darren Sproles and I think Cooks will pick up most of their targets. He is the most talented WR the Saints have had on their roster in a long time, has one of the most accurate QBs in the NFL throwing him the ball, and I think a 80, 1100, 7 season is well within his ability.

2.) Jeremy Hill, Bengals (125, 68) - BJGE got 220 carries for some reason last year despite a pathetic 3.4 ypc. Green-Ellis is likely to be cut this off-season and if Hill replaces his workload this season he should approach 1,000 yards with at least 7-8 TDs. Hill has great size (6’2, 235) and is very talented, he averaged just under 7 ypc as a between the tackles back in the rugged SEC. The Bengals are talking about splitting Gio Bernard out as a receiver more often which will leave Hill as the primary back. He should give Sankey a run for the top rookie RB and should be ranked in a similar spot.

3.) Devonta Freeman, Falcons (137, 86) - Anyone who watched Stephen Jackson last year should know that he is done. He struggled to stay healthy and looked like a fullback when he was. There is some concern about Freeman not being big enough to be a #1 RB (5’8, 203) and he is shorter than ideal, but well-built and has the natural ability to avoid straight on hits. Talent wise, Freeman is the best RB on the Falcons roster and if his pass pro is adequate, Freeman should be the starting running back and put up RB2 stats in fantasy. Freeman is a smooth receiver out of the backfield and I think he could have a similar stat line as Reggie Bush last year (1,000 rushing, 500 receiving, 7 TDs). He’s a good bet to finish in the top 100 overall and should be ranked much higher than 137.

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