Drafting Rookies

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's a question that I get asked every year - Are there any fantasy studs in this year's class of rookies?

Last year at the NFL Draft, we saw Sam Bradford (QB), C.J. Spiller (RB), Jermaine Gresham (TE) and Demaryius Thomas (WR) as the first selections at each skill position. However, only one of the four, was the leading rookie scorer at his position - Bradford.

The Rams' quarterback was a mediocre fantasy contributor - not a superstar. He finished 12th in yards (3,512) and 18th in touchdowns passes with 18 totaling 149 fantasy points which was 21st among quarterbacks. In fact, he was only slightly better than his draft position which was as the No.29 QB off the board.

At the running back spot, Spiller failed to live up to expectations. The Buffalo running back finished 50th in running back points with 80. He started the season in a crowded backfield with Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson however even when the team sending Lynch to Seattle, Spiller never asserted himself and finished with just 74 rushes for 283 yards and 24 receptions for 157 yards.

The No.1 fantasy rookie running back last season was Tampa Bay's LeGarrette Blount who cracked the 1,000-yard mark Starting just seven games Blount, finished the season in a hurry rushing for 511 yards and two scores over the final five games. Blount, who before the season was most well-known for a fighting incident in college, was likely a free-agent pickup in most leagues and paid huge dividends.

Gresham won the starting job in Cincinnati, but could only amass 73 fantasy points, making him the No.22 tight end. The top rookie tight end was New England's Rob Gronkowski. The Pats' tight end benefited from a Hall of Fame quarterback who loves to throw to his tight ends and finished the year with 42 receptions for 546 yards and 10 touchdowns worth 122 points. That was good enough for seventh place at the position.

Those fantasy owners who thought wideout Demaryius Thomas was going to shine because he was the first wide receiver picked in the NFL draft were greatly disappointed. Thomas struggled with health and the ability to learn a completely new offense and finished the year with just 22 catches for 283 yards and two scores.

The top fantasy rookie wideout was Tampa Bay's Mike Williams (65-964-11) who accumulated 179 points to finish 19th overall at the position. Like his teammate Blount, he was also likely a free-agent pickup or a late round flier.

So who will be this year's flops and surprises?

Though Cam Newton should get the most opportunities of any rookie quarterback, I don't think any of the four first-round picks (Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder) will shine. Unless you are in a keeper league, drafting a rookie QB in 2011 will be a wasted selection.

There are two running backs worth selecting - Mark Ingram of New Orleans and Daniel Thomas of Miami. Neither will get the opportunity that Ryan Mathews had last year, but could and should eventually take over the primary rushing roles for their respective teams. I actually liked Ryan Williams to be the best of the group until he ruptured his patella tendon and it was determined he'll have to sit the year.

Both Ingram (fantasyfootballnerd.com ranking 54) and Thomas (ranked 57) are being selected in the fifth round and should yield solid value. As a long- shot, think about Delone Carter in Indianapolis. If the former Syracuse star gets a chance, I think he could shine in the Colts offense.

There were three receivers drafted in the first round this year - A.J. Green, Julio Jones and Jonathan Baldwin. Green will have a rookie quarterback and Baldwin isn't mature enough to play in the NFL so that leaves Jones as the most obvious choice as the receiver. Jones should get most of the opportunities that Michael Jenkins got but he's a better player and should post solid numbers like 60-750-5. My long shot is Greg Little in Cleveland who has the talent to be the best receiver on their roster.

I don't like any of the rookie tight ends this season. The top draft pick was Notre Dame's Kyle Rudolph, but he'll be stuck behind Visanthe Shiancoe all season. Plus the position is as strong as its has been in years so there is no need to take a flier on a guy like the Rams' Lance Kendricks.

Overall, I think this is a weak year for the rookie class. Add in the small amount of practice time due to the lockout and you won't be getting much help from the rookies this year.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.

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