Fantasy Football – Unranked Rookies

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Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

In part 1 of my fantasy rookie series I rated all the rookies and UDFAs who might have any fantasy value and in part 2 listed the rookies that are undervalued by the major fantasy publications. Today I listed the rookies that are unranked by both ESPN and Yahoo, but should be. Last season 13 rookies that were unranked in the preseason by both sites finished in Yahoo’s top 200 at the end of the 2013. Last year’s draft was considered mediocre at best and still 22 rookies finished in the top 200. This year’s draft was considered one of the best in recent history, but for some reason that isn’t reflected in the preseason rankings of ESPN or Yahoo.

ESPN has 15 rookies in their top 200, ESPN’s lead fantasy writer Matthew Berry has 14 and Yahoo has 16. Despite the overwhelming talent in this year’s draft, they have 6-8 less rookies ranked this year than finished in the top 200 last year. Most rookies don’t start the season at the top of the depth chart, which seems to preclude them from the major site rankings, but team’s don’t use high draft picks on players for them to sit the bench. Injuries, lack of production, better scheme fit, and simply better talent gets rookies on the field sooner than analysts expect every year. Just because someone has a decent chance to play based on mid-summer depth charts doesn’t ensure success as you can see in the table below and likewise being 3rd or 4th on the depth chart before training camp doesn’t mean rookies will ride the bench either. Talent plays and the ability to project which rookies see the field can make a major difference in your fantasy fortunes. My last post listed both the mistakes made in rookie rankings last year and the early rookie rankings this year. If my point hasn’t been made yet about how far off Yahoo and ESPN were on rookies last season, here is a breakdown of rookies projected to be in the top 200 last year by ESPN & Yahoo that didn’t end up there and most weren’t even close.

[table id=3 /]

As the charts from my last post and the one above shows, even the most well-known fantasy prognosticators struggle when it comes to rookies. I’m not claiming that I’m great at it, but I did just spend the last 5 months watching game tape on this year’s rookie class before the draft. I feel like I know these players pretty well and I’ve had some success projecting mid-to-late round rookies in the past (TY Hilton, Keenan Allen, Russell Wilson) but my old site is defunct so you’ll have to take my word on it. I’ve missed on my share as well (Travis Kelce, Stepfan Taylor, TJ Graham) but based on the above table and the ones from my last post you are better of guessing then going with the rookie rankings from Yahoo & ESPN.

Last year 13 rookies who were weren’t ranked in either Yahoo or ESPN’s top 200 ended up finishing in the top 200. This year’s draft class was widely considered the best in recent history and there will be some players who end up in the top 200 who no one projects to be there, expect me of course. Every year there are a group of rookies that come out of nowhere to have an impact in fantasy and with all the talent in this year’s draft I think there will be more than usual. Even last year, in a relatively weak draft you could have spent your last $3 on Keenan Allen (3rd round pick), Zac Stacy (5th) and Andre Ellington (6th) and you may have got laughed at during your draft but you probably would have finished in the money at the end of the season. Here is my list of players currently unranked by Yahoo or ESPN that are going to end up in the top 200 at the end of the season.

1.) WR Allen Robinson, Jaguars: I’d be surprised if Robinson isn’t added to both ESPN & Yahoo’s list by the start of the season, but if your league drafts early take advantage of it and save one of your last roster spots him. The Jags are using Cecil Shorts in the slot during OTAs to make room for Robinson (& Lee) outside. Robinson has the size (6’3,220) and sticky hands to be Chad Henne’s go-to receiver, but he’s also a beast after the catch and should put up enough yardage numbers to be worthy of a WR3 / Flex spot. In two years as the starter at Penn St he caught 172 balls for 2,450 yards and 17 TDs. Robinson has the talent to be Jacksonville’s #1 WR and could crack the top 100 overall.

2.) RB Storm Johnson, Jaguars: It feels wrong to start this list with two Jags and I don’t blame you if you are tempted to stop reading, but things are improving in Jacksonville. 2013 #2 pick Luke Joeckel is back from injury and they added two solid O-lineman in Zane Beadles and Brandon Linder, so the blocking should be vastly improved. Jags HC Gus Bradley is going to mimic the Seahawks run-first philosophy which will mean plenty of carries to go around. Chad Henne is a decent enough QB that teams won’t stack the box against him and they added legitimate receiving talent in Robinson and Marqise Lee. The Jags have a better line and some dangerous weapons on offense, so there days of being a laughingstock are just about over. Toby Gerhart will be the starter in week 1, but Johnson has similar size and might be more explosive and a better receiver. Johnson also played with #3 overall pick Blake Bortles in college so their familiarity may give Johnson an advantage if/when Bortles takes over. Gerhart was a solid backup for AP in Minnesota but has never been a feature back and may not be able to produce as he did in Minnesota without their mauling run-blockers. If Gerhart falters or gets hurt, Johnson is the next best RB on the roster and should get a chance. He’s a well-rounded back who is pretty solid at everything which should be enough to put up fantasy relevant stats when he gets a chance to play.

3.) TE Jace Amaro, Jets –  After having the worst group of skill players in the NFL in 2013, the Jets finally brought in some talent in the off-season. New additions like WR Eric Decker and RB Chris Johnson at least give the Jets some players that teams have to keep track of. They also added 3 WRs in the draft (Saunders, Enunwa, Evans) and Michael Vick in free agency.  They have some weapons now, but their QBs still suck. Whether it’s Geno Smith or Michael Vick, neither is an accurate down-field passer. If they are going to have success in the passing game, it’s going to come on short-to-intermediate routes and that’s where Amaro comes in. He lined up more as a wide receiver than a tight end in college and it should be the same with the Jets. They moved Amaro all over the field during OTAs and should do the same during the season trying to isolate Amaro vs LBs and safeties. With his size, speed, and hands Amaro is a mismatch and is going to have a solid rookie season. I think 50, 700, 5 is realistic. and wouldn’t be surprised if he surpasses that and beats out Ebron for the #1 rookie TE.