The start of the NFL and fantasy football season is still months away, but its not too early to talk about which rookies will make the biggest fantasy impact this fall.
Last season Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy and San Diego Chargers receiver Keenan Allen were major contributors for fantasy owners almost immediately out of the gate.
Lacy, a second-round pick, took home Offensive Rookie of the Year honors after rushing for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns, helping the Packers reach the playoffs.
Allen became quarterback Philip Rivers top target by the fourth week of the season, and the former Cal star racked up five 100-yard receiving games en route to 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns.
Now both entered better situations than many first round prospects, which will determine the effectiveness of this year’s class. Defenses were more focused on shutting down quarterback Aaron Rodgers before they were Lacy, and Allen stepped in as the Chargers were in dire need of a partner for Rivers.
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Quarterbacks like Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater could join teams lacking receivers or a running game, and running back Tre Mason might have to wait years before he plays behind a decent offensive line.
Defensive players like Jadeveon Clowney could be double teamed unless he’s picked by Houston, in which case he’ll have J.J. Watt and Brian Cushing to help out along the edge.
Based off their production in college and projections as where they’ll fall in the draft, we can speculate as to who would be a top pick in fantasy drafts.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
No single college player had a more electric career than Manziel, and with his speed and accuracy he could be a mix of Drew Brees and Michael Vick. He’ll be a better fantasy pick up that Bridgewater or Blake Bortles due to his running game. Also if he winds up in the top four to Houston, St. Louis, Jacksonville or Cleveland he’ll have plenty of young targets.
How well he takes hits, given is smaller frame, will determine how much time Manziel spends outside of the pocket and is overall production.
Still he’s worth a eighth or tenth round pick, and shouldn't be the first quarterback an owner takes. At the end of the year though he could challenge Cam Newton’s stellar rookie year.
Tre Mason, Auburn
A sneaky deep position this year, Mason stands to be the best of the bunch. He’ll probably go in the second round of the draft, continuing the trend of the last few years, but Mason could be another steal like Lacy. In fantasy leagues he could go as high as fifth round pick. Great size at 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds, Mason could also be effective in the passing game.
Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
The lone senior amongst the younger Mason, Ka’Deem Carey and Bishop Sankey, Hyde already has the bulk to take NFL hits. He's also a workhorse who upped his total yardage every year in college, ending his last season with 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns.
De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon
In terms of athleticism and playmaking abilities Thomas might have no equal in the draft. But at 176 pounds, Thomas won’t be an every-down back. He might initially start off strictly as a returner, but that still gives him the chance to breakaway for touchdowns.
Depending on his spring and who drafts him, Thomas could be a pick somewhere in the last four rounds.
Sammy Watkins, Clemson
Clearly the best receiver in this class based on talent. But Watkins has been projected to go in the top five to teams that don’t have a reliable quarterback or one for the future yet.
He’s still worth at least an sixth to eighth round pick, and could be the next Julio Jones for owners.
Mike Evans, Texas A&M
Excellent size and hands make Evans a early round pick. He caught anything that came his way at Texas A&M, and proved very hard to tackle. He could be another Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham.
Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
Blazing speed with a 4.33 40-yard dash at the combine makes up for his height, 5-foot-10. But Cooks could be a lot like Allen after posting back-to-back 1,000 yards seasons for Oregon State’s high-octane offense.
If he goes to a team like the Jets, he’ll get plenty of opportunities and be a 10th to 13th round pick in most fantasy drafts.
Eric Ebron, North Carolina
Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
Last season, we saw the Colts' Coby Fleener and the Redskins' Jordan Reed flourish as rookie tight ends, and by this time next year Ebron and Amaro will join the discussion. Both have terrific size and should be able to play right away.
Premier tight ends like Graham and Gronkowski have been going higher and higher in drafts over the past few years, and Ebron and Amaro could continue that trend in their second seasons.
Both should have solid years and good landing spots for either include Pittsburgh, Dallas or even Miami, where they’ll rack up points. They’ll be steals in fantasy drafts this year in the teen rounds.