The 2015 NFL Draft is in the books and now might be a perfect time to pinpoint what fantasy football owners should expect from this year’s class in the upcoming season, and when to target them during fantasy drafts.
This year’s class will probably find it difficult to top 2014’s batch of impactful rookies.
The 2014 receiving class was arguably one of the best ever, with the Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr., the Panthers’ Kelvin Benjamin, the Buccaneers’ Mike Evans, and the Bills Sammy Watkins each putting up huge numbers for fantasy owners.
First-year running backs weren’t as dominate, but the Bengals’ Jeremy Hill, the Rams’ Tre Mason, the Texans’ Alfred Blue, and the Browns’ Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West all posted good to great rookie years.
It’s a tall order to fill for the 2015 rookie class, but let’s take a look at each listed and flesh out their chances of making a big impact in their first NFL season and on fantasy rosters. Below is a compiled list of rookies who stand to make a big impact with their new teams and, for our purposes, in the fantasy season.
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Winston’s been labeled a future superstar and a bust. But this year’s No. 1 pick will have plenty of weapons in receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, and running back Doug Martin is in a contract year. Picking up Winston in the early to late teen rounds as your No. 2 QB could prove worthwhile.
Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
Mariota has all the athletic skills to put up a rookie season like Robert Griffin III in 2012. Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter are nice receivers, and Dorial Green-Beckham could blow up. Running back Bishop Sankey, however, needs to improve for Mariota to really excel, and he may need a lot of help from the offensive line.
Sean Mannion, St. Louis Rams
The Rams have Nick Foles, but he’s coming off an injury and entering the last year of his contract. Unless Foles stays healthy, Mannion and the big arm that fired off 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns in 2013 could step in next season. Mannion will be a free-agent pickup worth the risk at some point in 2015.
Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders
Far and away the best receiver of this year’s class, many owners will spend an early round pick on Cooper. He could be next season’s Odell Beckham Jr. or Mike Evans.
Phillip Dorsett, Indianapolis Colts
With the second-fastest 40 time among receivers at the combine (4.33 seconds), Dorsett gets to catch passes from Andrew Luck, who tossed an NFL-best 40 touchdowns last year. Andre Johnson and T.Y. Hilton need a third receiver to draw defenses away, and Dorsett can certainly do that.
Devin Funchess, Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton and the Panthers needed a receiver to pair with last year’s sensational rookie Kelvin Benjamin, and the 6-foot-5 Funchess could fly on a team with few other options in the receiving corps. A late teen to final few rounds pick for now.
Dorial Green-Beckham, Tennessee Titans
The off-the-field issues seem to be behind him, and Green-Beckham gets to start his career and build chemistry with Mariota right away. Long-armed and powerful, Green-Beckham could be a major red zone threat next year and is worth as much as a 12th to 13th round pick in deeper or keeper leagues.
Tyler Lockett, WR, Seattle Seahawks
Because of size, the 5'10 Lockett fell to the third round and into Seattle’s lap. But he’s got great arm length and top end speed to be the deep threat or even work the slot some as Russell Wilson’s first big-time receiver.
Sammie Coates, Pittsburgh Steelers
Drops and inconsistency were big issues for Coates at Auburn, but he’s in a very good situation in Pittsburgh. Defenses will crowd receiver Antonio Brown, and Coates has the ability to beat out Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant for more targets. Free agent pickup for sure, but monitor Steelers training camp.
T.J. Yeldon, Jacksonville Jaguars
Injury is a concern since Yeldon has an upright running style, but he’s a powerful, explosive back who could eat up yards and beat out Denard Robinson and Toby Gerhart for the starting job.
Melvin Gordon, San Diego Chargers
Should best out Branden Oliver for the starting nod, and already has the bulk to smash opposing defensive lines for tons of yardage. With quarterback Philip Rivers under center, Gordon will be gone by the third or fourth round in most leagues, and he’s worth it.
Ameer Abdullah, Detroit Lions
Joique Bell and Theo Riddick are ahead of Abdullah for now, but the Lions are still looking for a reliable back after Reggie Bush’s departure. His size poses problems, registering at only 5-foot-9 and 205 lbs., but Abdullah’s a talented runner who already took on some much bigger players in the Big Ten. At the latest he’ll get a shot early or midway through the season, and until then he’s only a free agent pick up after the draft.
Todd Gurley, St. Louis Rams
The knee should be strong by the start of the season and there’s no denying Gurley’s the most versatile and talented back in this year’s class. But the Rams offensive line allowed 47 sacks last season and was No. 20 in rushing. The Rams shipped out veteran Zac Stacy, but Gurley still has to contend with Tre Mason. Gurley will get snaps, but his o-line and impending position battle aren’t the best situations for a rookie. He’ll still go between the second and fifth rounds in drafts.
Duke Johnson, Cleveland Browns
Faces a similar size issue as Abdullah, but the Browns have a revolving door at running back with no player leading the squad in rushing in consecutive seasons since Peyton Hillis in 2010 and 2011. Johnson does have to beat out or wait for Isaiah Crowell or Terrance West to slip up, and for Cleveland to figure out the quarterback situation, so he’s a free agent pick up for sure.
Tevin Coleman, Atlanta Falcons
Steven Jackson has aged and left, and Devonta Freeman was underwhelming in his rookie year. Coleman has a good situation ahead of him, and if he makes the most of it he could soar next season. He has breakout speed that could lead to long touchdowns, but keep a close eye on the Falcons' training camp to see if Coleman’s worth even a late-round pick for now.
Clive Walford, Oakland Raiders
A monster at 6-foot-4 and 258 pounds, Walford was a curious pick for Oakland with Mychal Rivera already on board. But he notched 676 yards and seven touchdowns off 44 catches last season with Miami, and quarterback Derek Carr could use another reliable tight end as the Raiders go to the no-huddle offense. He’s a free agent add-on.
Maxx Williams, Baltimore Ravens
Williams was one of the highest-rated tight ends in this year’s class after making 36 receptions for 569 yards and eight touchdowns with Minnesota last year. He’s a little young coming off a redshirt sophomore season, but the Ravens need a tight end with Dennis Pitta’s future in doubt and Owen Daniels off to Denver. Williams also has to beat out fellow rookie tight end Nick Boyle, so pay close attention to both as the season approaches.
Jeff Heuerman, Denver Broncos
The Broncos snagged Heuerman even after signing Daniels. His role diminished in Ohio State’s offense last season, going from 26 receptions for 466 yards and four touchdowns in 2013 to half that production a year later. But Heuerman’s a solid pass catcher with great size and Peyton Manning loves his tight ends. There could be a free-agent run on Heuerman like we saw with Julius Thomas two years ago.