Pre-Training Camp Rookie Tiers: Part 1
We are on the cusp of training camp, and fantasy drafts are about to start in earnest. As I’ve written in the past, I like to create rankings at significant demarcations on the NFL calendar in order to keep a better perspective when it comes to drafting for real in the summer.
In the coming weeks, we will be inundated with news updates about spectacular practice feats, injuries, depth chart movements, etc. While we should absolutely lend credence to all of this information, it is important to keep in mind that much of it will be overblown in the media. Even in instances where preseason hype is reality, it will be useful to remember how you felt about a player before all the hoopla of training camp takes place.
This is especially true with regard to rookies in dynasty leagues. This is the first time we will be seeing them on an NFL field. It is easy to get caught up in the inevitable glowing reports that local media outlets pen about these players while their newly drafted shine remains intact. The trick is weeding out what information is actually useful, and having a pre-established sense of these players helps in this endeavor.
Here is the first three tiers with more to follow next week.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Bills (6’1” 205 lbs) Age: 21
Watkins has been destined for the 2014 1.01 pick since he first stepped on the field as a freshman at Clemson. A sluggish sophomore season and a small incident off the field cannot overshadow his utter dominance both athletically and technically at the collegiate level. While most will focus on his speed, it is his route running that makes him truly special. Buffalo isn’t the ideal landing spot, but I believe in talent over situation, especially at wideout. He will not be a stud right away, but if you aren’t willing to wait on his immense upside, you shouldn’t be playing dynasty.
Mike Evans, WR, Buccaneers (6’5”, 225 lbs) Age: 20
Evans concedes speed and technique to Watkins, but he shines where Watkins lacks most: size (which has been statistically shown to have a correlation with a receiver’s fantasy production). Evans dominated statistically in the toughest conference in college football, including a combined 18 catches for 566 yards and five touchdowns against Alabama and Auburn this past year. He will get to learn from his NFL doppelganger Vincent Jackson. While he may not have much volume out of the gate, he will be an immediate red zone threat. His long term upside is even higher than Watkins’ given his size, and he is as good of a pick at 1.02 as Watkins is at 1.01.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Saints (5’10”, 185 lbs) Age: 20
With a combination of talent, supporting cast, and potential opportunity, Cooks has established himself as the clear cut 1.03 pick in most leagues. The Oregon State alumni led college football with 1,730 receiving yards on 128 grabs last year. He ran the fasted 40 time (4.33) at his position at the combine, confirming the explosiveness he displayed on tape. New Orleans has 137 targets to redistribute with the losses of Darren Sproles and Lance Moore. Both Drew Brees and the Saints’ coaching staff has talked him up as being a contributor right out of the gate, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him be the most productive rookie receiver this year.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Eagles (6’3”, 212 lbs) Age: 21
It’s hard to find something not to like about Jordan Matthews. He is the all-time SEC leader in total receptions and yards. At 6’3”, he ran a 4.44 40 yard dash in Indianapolis. Then, offensive guru Chip Kelly traded up to make Matthews his second round pick. DeSean Jackson is out of town, and both Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper are on one year deals. While he is slated for slot receiver duties right now, he has the talent to be the main outside threat on what is guaranteed to be an explosive offense for years to come under Kelly.
Carlos Hyde, RB, 49ers (6’0” 236 lbs) Age: 22
As I touched on in my recent piece on San Francisco, I don’t think the 49ers backfield is as crowded as most think. 31-year-old Frank Gore’s effectiveness dipped drastically down the stretch, Marcus Lattimore’s health is a lingering issue, and Kendall Hunter has proven to be nothing more than a scat back. While the numbers may not reflect it this year, Hyde is the guy to own in this backfield long term. He has the makings of a future workhorse under Jim Harbaugh and his mauling offensive line.
Bishop Sankey, RB, Titans (5’10” 203 lbs) Age: 21
Sankey steps into what is easily the most conducive environment for fantasy production among rookie running backs. He put up monster numbers in his last year at Washington, rushing for 1,870 yards (5.7 YPC) and 20 touchdowns while adding 28 receptions for another 304 yards and a touchdown. He then posted elite speed scores at the combine and was the first back taken off the board in May. If you are trying to win this year, Sankey over Hyde is probably the way to go.
Odell Beckham, WR, Giants (6’0” 194 lbs) Age: 21
Beckham was the first receiver taken off the board after Watkins and Evans at 12th overall. He is an explosive athlete, shown by his 4.43 40 yard dash, elite 6.69 3-cone drill, and 38.5” vertical. The LSU alumni knows how to leverage this athleticism, making sharp cuts to get open and timing his leaps to win contested balls. He posted an elite 19.6 yards per reception in his last collegiate year. Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo is bringing Grenn Bay’s offense to the big apple, and Eli Manning is still a capable quarterback despite a horrendous 2013 season.
Eric Ebron, TE, Lions (6’4” 245 lbs)
Ebron is the clear cut number one tight end in this class. He was the only one taken in the first round (10th overall) and is entering an elite offense with a young quarterback desperate for secondary production next to Calvin Johnson. I would not be counting on anything resembling consistency in his rookie year, but he has great athleticism for his size and undeniably makes for the best long term investment at his position this year.
Davante Adams, WR, Packers (6’2” 216”) Age: 21
Adams posted video game numbers at Fresno State, leading the nation with 131 grabs and 24 touchdowns. His 1,719 receiving yards was second behind Cooks’ 1,730. The Packers thought highly enough of him to make him their second round pick despite other needs. Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are currently in the last year of their deals, and the production left behind by James Jones is there for the taking in the meantime. Either way, Mike McCarthy clearly has long term plans for Adams and Aaron Rodgers.
Next three tiers coming next week.
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