Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
While the world's attention is focused on World Cup and Wimbledon action, the smart fantasy owner is already getting a feel for where many NFL rookies may go in this year's fantasy drafts.
I use an excellent site, fantasyfootballcalculator.com, for my source. Let's see what people think about the upcoming rookie class:
Bishop Sankey, RB, TENNESSEE (June 30 ADP 38.2) - Although he wasn't selected until late in the second round, the former Washington Huskies running back is the top-rated fantasy rookie heading into training camp. It's all about the opportunity he'll receive. Sankey takes over for departed running back Chris Johnson and only has to beat out journeyman Shonn Greene, which he should do fairly easily.
Sammy Watkins, WR, BUFFALO (ADP 77.8) - The fourth-overall pick suffers from "mediocre quarterback syndrome." Fantasy owners who are not sold on E. J. Manuel have trouble picking his talented receiver before the likes of Marques Colston and Julius Edelman. Should the perception of Manuel rise in training camp or the preseason, Watkins' fantasy value would take a corresponding jump.
Brandin Cooks, WR, NEW ORLEANS (ADP 91.0) - It's surprising Cooks hasn't overtaken Watkins for the top rookie receiver spot given his role in a Drew Brees offense. Brees is famous for distributing targets to multiple receivers and Cooks should be no worse than No. 4 on his list behind Jimmy Graham, Colston and Kenny Stills and the No. 1 deep threat with his blazing 4.33-second speed in the 40-yard dash. There are at least 143 targets available with Darren Sproles and Lance Moore playing elsewhere.
Jeremy Hill, RB, CINCINNATI (ADP 95.0) - Though he won't be the best running back in the Bengals' backfield, he should be the big back to go along with Giovani Bernard's speed. As such, he will get most of the tough yardage and goal line work that used to belong to aging BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Mike Evans, WR, TAMPA BAY (ADP 98.9) - The Bucs are trying to put together their version of the "fire-high gang" that had so much success in Chicago last season. The team drafted the 6-foot-4 Evans to play opposite 6-foot-5 Vincent Jackson. Newly signed Josh McCown comes from the Bears, where he had success with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Like Watkins in Buffalo, Evans' fantasy value is tied to a quarterback who fantasy owners are not sure about.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, CAROLINA (ADP 111.1) - Talk about a great opportunity to shine! Benjamin comes to a Panthers team devoid of receiving talent. The top veteran wide receivers consist of Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant. Benjamin should see more targets than any rookie receiver and more touchdown chances as his huge 6-foot-5 frame is made for red zone work. Just as Florida State QB Jameis Winston.
Devonta Freeman, RB, ATLANTA (ADP 114.2) - Steven Jackson is expected to be the opening day starter, but we all know how injury-prone the nine-year veteran has become. Freeman should be able to jump ahead of too-small Jacquizz Rodgers on the depth chart and be the "handcuff" to Jackson. As such, it's hard to pick him before the late rounds except in dynasty leagues.
Eric Ebron, TE, DETROIT (ADP 117.7) - Ebron faces plenty of challenges before he'll be a starting fantasy tight end. The Lions just paid TE Brandon Pettigrew a bushel of money over the winter and still have Joseph Fauria (seven touchdowns) on the roster. They also added Golden Tate on the outside to go with the best receiver in football, Calvin Johnson. Given these parameters, it's hard to see what fantasy owners are thinking by drafting Ebron this high.
Jordan Matthews, WR, PHILADELPHIA (ADP 123.7) - Matthews seems to have the talent to produce in a Chip Kelly offense, but he may not get the opportunity to shine right away. Yes, the team sent DeSean Jackson packing, but they return Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper. The Eagles also added a great pass receiver in Sproles. Still, long-term, Matthews is probably the team's most talented receiver and if Maclin or Cooper falter, his fantasy value could skyrocket.
Tre Mason, RB, ST. LOUIS (ADP 125.0) - The Rams found their workhorse running back last year in Zac Stacy, so the selection of Mason is interesting. Despite what you may hear about a shared backfield, we think Stacy gets the bulk of the work and Mason ends up being the "change-of-pace" guy.
Carlos Hyde, RB, SAN FRANCISCO (ADP 125.7) - Hyde is talented, but joins a backfield with Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and Marcus Lattimore. By season's end, he could be the backup to Gore, but the 10-year veteran has been pretty durable and Hyde isn't likely to see enough playing time to be a viable fantasy option in Year 1.
Johnny Manziel, QB, CLEVELAND (ADP 138.9) - In dynasty leagues, he's certainly worthy of a middle-round pick, but there are plenty of red flags flapping in the breeze for those who want to select him in a redraft league. The biggest question is whether he'll have Josh Gordon to throw the ball. Gordon will almost certainly be suspended for part or all of the 2014 season and he was a top-two fantasy receiver last season. The team also improved their ground game with the addition of running back Ben Tate. Long-term, I like Manziel's chances to succeed in the NFL, but for 2014 he'll be a huge gamble.
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, NEW YORK GIANTS (ADP 155.0) - Beckham will be a giant threat as both a receiver and a kick returner in his rookie season, so in fantasy leagues that accumulate return yardage, he'll be a much better value. He's likely to start the season as the No. 3 receiver behind Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle, but at some point could bypass the inconsistent Randle.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, MINNESOTA (ADP 200-plus) - We're afraid Matt Cassel will be just good enough in Norv Turner's offense that the team will let Bridgewater sit for most or all of his rookie season. Obviously, you can't score fantasy points holding a clipboard, so Bridgewater's value is likely to be minimal until/if the Vikings are out of the playoff hunt and by then the fantasy season may already be completed.
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