Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports
Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Justin Becker of Fantasy Football Overdose. You can follow the Fantasy Football Overdose Google+ Page, and for more Premier Fantasy Football Rankings and Projections visit Fantasy Football Overdose – a fantasy football blog.
Everyone is always on the hunt for the next breakout player in fantasy football. It often starts with the second-year quarterback or people whisper about which wide receiver entering their third season in the league is ready for the big jump. Or it could be the free agent who was a career backup and is finally getting their shot with a bigger role on a new team.
It happens every season in fantasy football. We research, predict and draft. And then we crash and burn when guys like David Wilson and Lamar Miller turn into embarrassing disappointments. On the flip-side, guys like Alfred Morris (2012) and Eddie Lacy (2013) rip it up as rookies, and all those would-be fantasy football experts miss the boat.
The truth is, it’s not easy to see which rookie is going to make a huge impact every year. Just look at last season, when everyone pegged Denver Broncos rookie running back Montee Ball as the next mega sleeper. Instead, both Eddie Lacy and Giovani Bernard out-performed him. Or how about at wide receiver, where Tavon Austin was supposed to light up the league; instead, his touches had to be manufactured and he fizzled down the stretch. All the while Keenan Allen, who wasn’t even drafted in the first round like Austin, put up solid numbers on a consistent basis.
It’s touch and go with first year players, to be sure, but we still at least have to try to nail them down before 2014 rolls around. With that in mind, let’s break down five guys who could truly tear up fantasy football as rookies this year:
Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
There are at least 4-5 running backs that could make huge impacts right away, and possibly 2-3 more that could end up shining if injuries take their toll. But the guy that screams production at the position no matter what is Hyde. He’s no burner, but he’s a downhill runner who has enough wiggle and natural athleticism to put his bruising size and strength to good use. Provided he lands somewhere where the run-blocking isn’t completely dreadful, there is little that should keep him from becoming a steady RB2 right away in 2014.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
A large amount of Watkins receptions last year came off screen plays, which at first could cause some to think he’ll need his touches manufactured as a rookie. It’s not all that realistic of a concern, however, as Watkins has the size and speed to work outside (or really anywhere on the field) and appears to have enough knowledge of the route tree to not be dumbed down to the type of role we saw out of Tavon Austin for most of 2013. That means he should have a good amount of upside when it comes to his role in his new town, leaving the chief concern being exactly who drafts him. As long as he has a competent quarterback and some decent talent to take pressure off of him, he should make a very solid impact as a rookie.
Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Watkins is the superior athlete and is much more explosive in the open field, but Evans could easily end up being the better pick in year one. Blessed with elite size and ball skills, Evans was highly productive in college and even brings underrated speed to the table. Landing with the New York Jets or Baltimore Ravens wouldn’t really be conducive to elite fantasy production as a rookie, but it’d still be hard to bet against him. Ideally he’d land somewhere like Detroit, where he could be a stud right away with defenses mostly worried about Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush. St. Louis would also be an ideal setting, as Sam Bradford would be competent enough to get him the ball and Tavon Austin would help keep defenses honest in their coverage.
Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
As great as the first three rooks are, Ebron might be the safest for an immediate impact in the fantasy scene. Blessed with an elite size and speed combo for the tight end position, Ebron just might be the best tight end prospect since Vernon Davis. In fact, some feel he could even be better than Davis. It will take some time to see if that kind of hype is crazy or not, but depending on where he lands, he absolutely could be a terror as a rookie in 2014. Landing with the Jets or Bills isn’t ideal, but no matter where he goes, he’d likely be starting full-time right away. Ebron obviously can catch the ball all over the field and will be a major red-zone factor. And the fact that he is already an effective and willing blocker shows there will be very little reason to keep him off the field. A dark horse could be the Atlanta Falcons, as Tony Gonzalez is retired and they need a new tight end to take his place.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Before your jaws hit the floor or you stop reading the article, recall that we’re not saying these guys are going to be career stalwarts or get their teams to the Super Bowl. They’re just going to be fantasy studs – potentially. And if we’re using potential as the key word – and we are – is there any way we could leave Manziel off this list? I didn’t think so.
True, Manziel isn’t a traditional passer, is small and might be an injury waiting to happen. However, in the name of Robert Griffin III, he’s athletic enough and creative enough to at least confuse defenses for his rookie season. He definitely is going to need to fall into the right situation with the right supporting cast to have long-term success, but on paper Manziel figures to have enough athleticism and moxie to be a fantasy asset even if he’s drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars or Oakland Raiders.
His pro day showed he can make all the throws, and assuming wherever he winds up they put him in a system that is built for his skill set, then he might have a pretty good chance at pulling it off. A true gamer with undeniable upside, Manziel is built to thrive as a fantasy football option. He certainly comes with some red flags and warranted risk, but the plays he can make outside of the pocket with his arm and legs make him a guy everyone will be itching to select late in their fantasy drafts.