They can be season saving revelations (Odell Beckham, Jr.) or send an entire positional unit into limbo (Bishop Sankey). I’m here to help you keep perspective while not talking yourself out of some of these players entirely.
A word of caution before I begin: very few are worth building your team around unless you’re playing in a Dynasty League. As long as you remember this, we’re going to be just fine.
1. Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders
One thing that stood out to me about Cooper beyond his route-running, maturity, work ethic, and knowledge of the position? His ability to make average Quarterbacks look really, really good.
Cooper didn’t have a first or second round Quarterback his entire career at Alabama, yet he was still able to light up defenses for over 3,000+ receiving yards and 31 touchdowns. Why am I pointing this out to you? Because he’s getting an upgrade in Oakland with Derek Carr. Unless you’re playing in a Dynasty League Cooper should be a lock to be the first rookie off the board.
2. Todd Gurley, St. Louis Rams
I never wavered in my belief that Gurley, selected 10th overall out of Georgia, was the best running back in this draft class. Not when he tore his ACL or when there were “whispers” of a PUP designation.
Now that Gurley has been placed on the NFI (Non-Football Injury) list and is eligible to be activated at any point it only increases my confidence. Tre Mason is a fine running back, but for those Fantasy owners who haven’t seen Gurley work yet and are hesitant fear not, you will understand soon enough.
3. DeVante Parker, Miami Dolphins
Here’s what is going to happen:
Fantasy Football owners are going to be enamored with running backs and the names they recognize. Experts are going to cloud their judgement with chatter about that foot surgery he had this offseason and the one before that in 2014. They’re going to tell you all the reasons why Parker isn’t the real deal. What I want you to do is clear all of that nonsense from your mind and hear me when I tell you that Parker is the real deal and will prove it quickly once you see him in action on Sundays.
4. T.J. Yeldon, Jacksonville Jaguars
Why Yeldon over Gordon? Well because he’s built more for the next level and comes into a situation as the unquestioned workhorse back in Jacksonville.
That was the good news.
The bad news is unless something clicks with the Jaguars offensive line he’s going to have to create more than I care to see him to. He’s gifted enough to be a top-15 runner in the NFL, but preseason will tell how much the surrounding offense will hold some of those talents back. If he shows he can’t be held back, then you have a 1,100-1,200 yard, 6-9 touchdown running back.
5. Melvin Gordon, San Diego Chargers
Yes I ranked Melvin Gordon 5th. Yes I know I’m in the minority on this one, especially among Dynasty Football rankings. But I don’t care, and here’s why you should. I’m not going to throw out that lazy analysis that Gordon is going to fail because he went to Wisconsin (even though it would be pretty. Easy. To. Do. That.). Instead I’m going to just leave it at he’s not my kind of feature back, yet.
In today’s NFL running backs need to be able to catch out of the backfield, pick up a blitz (a problem Ball has had as well), and hold onto the football. Gordon has issues with all three; proceed with caution. Seriously.
6. Kevin White, Chicago Bears
John Fox. Adam Gase. Jay Cutler (sometimes). Size and speed. It would seem White has everything needed to succeed immediately in the NFL.
Except the route tree.
As we learned last year with Cody Latimer in Denver, not just anyone is going to waltz into this system and play because they’re physically capable. A lot of this offense is built on knowing what you’re supposed to do, blocking, and precision. While he still could be a solid player year one, until White proves he can do those things I listed earlier be cautious in your optimism for a breakout rookie campaign.
Ameer Abdullah, Detroit Lions
If Joique Bell isn’t careful, you’re looking at a real breakout candidate among rookies. While his receiving skills are just what the Lions need out of a three-down back, he does have significant fumbling issues.
Tevin Coleman, Atlanta Falcons
Love his size, speed, and fit. Don’t love Devonta Freeman cutting into his touches. Has the potential to fly up the list if he wins the job outright.
Maxx Williams, Baltimore Ravens
Odd to see a tight end on these lists but think about this for a moment:
Martellus Bennett flourished in Marc Trestman’s system in Chicago and Williams has a clear path to the starting job. He has a real opportunity to put up some serious numbers at a general position of Fantasy Football need.