Redraft Rankings - Thursday's picks ranked 1-to-9
It’s always important to think twice before drafting rookies – even first-rounders – in redraft formats. For the most part, the guys picked in the first few rounds have bright futures, but most of them don’t break out until their second or third season.
That all being said, we still have to fit these guys into our rankings. Down below are overall redraft rankings for the 2014 season. Included are the nine players selected in the first round of the draft.
1. Sammy Watkins – WR – Bills – WR3
Consider that of the 18 wide receivers picked in the first round since 2008, none put together a Top 12 season as a rookie. Only five finished in the Top 36 and half were outside the Top 50. If we exclude outliers, the average rookie wide receiver finishes right around 49th at the position.
Of course, the top-two wideouts from that group were Julio Jones and A.J. Green. Watkins has the upside to be as good as those guys and Buffalo gave up a haul to get him. The concern was competition for reps, but with Stevie Johnson headed to San Francisco, the path to the team’s No. 1 gig is much clearer. Of course, with 2013 early-round picks Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin, and offseason acquisition Mike Williams in the mix, there’s still plenty of competition should he struggle out of the gate. Going deeper, E.J. Manuel was not very good as a rookie and it seems unlikely he’ll develop into anything more than a mediocre starter. The Bills are on the run-heavy side of the league, but they run a fast-paced offense, which allows extra offensive plays every week. Watkins’ big-time ability puts the rookie in the WR3 conversation. But a lot of moving parts need to come together for him to actually put a Top 36 season together.
2. Mike Evans – WR – Buccaneers – WR4
The Buccaneers 2014 offense seems to be developing into what the 2013 Bears looked like. Josh McCown will be at the controls. Doug Martin is a three-down player who does a lot of what Matt Forte can do. Like Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans are both huge targets at wide receiver. All that’s missing is an elite-blocking tight end. Evans has a slightly clearer path to targets than Watkins, but – with Jackson around – he doesn’t have the opportunity to be his team’s No. 1 wideout in 2014. With no competition for an every-down role and guaranteed to see a ton of work near the goal line, Evans makes for a solid WR4. Just keep in mind that, over the past six years, only two rookie wideouts have scored more than six times in a season.
3. Johnny Manziel – QB – Browns – Good QB2
The best rookie-season campaigns we’ve seen over the past few seasons have come from passers who do damage with their legs. Including the playoffs, Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton each carried the ball over 120 times and combined for 21 rushing scores as rookies. Even Andrew Luck scored six times on 66 carries as a rookie. Manziel is certainly going to rank near the top of the position in rush attempts per game. Even if he experiences the normal rookie-season passing struggles, he’ll make up for it with his legs. The Browns offense is significantly better than it was a few years back. With Josh Gordon, Andrew Hawkins, Jordan Cameron, and a much-improved rushing game via Ben Tate, Manziel has the tools to put up QB1 numbers as a rookie. The key for him will be beating out an inferior Brian Hoyer for the club’s Week 1 gig. My bet is that he will.
4. Kelvin Benjamin – WR – Panthers – Borderline WR4
Despite coming off the board later, Benjamin gets the year-one nod over Brandin Cooks and Odell Beckham. The reason for this is pretty obvious: Benjamin is his club’s No. 1 wide receiver. It’s not crazy to think the rookie could lead his team in targets. With Newton rehabbing for most of the offseason, the Panthers seem primed for offensive regression, but Newton hasn’t been a Top 5 fantasy quarterback each of his first three seasons by accident. With Newton under center, Carolina has been no worse than average and, at times, elite in offensive touchdown production, Benjamin has tight-end-like size and is locked into a full-time gig. He’s worth WR4 consideration.
5. Brandin Cooks – WR – Saints – WR5 with upside
Considering that he’ll be operating out of one of the league’s top offenses, there’s plenty to be intrigued about with Cooks. The 5’10/189 speedster slots in as New Orleans’ No. 3 wideout behind Marques Colston and emerging Kenny Stills. Last season, however, the Saints had three or more wide receivers on the field 45 percent of the time, which was third-lowest in the league. In fact, coach Sean Payton’s tendency toward rotating wideouts led to Stills, Lance Moore, and Robert Meachem basically sharing the No. 2 and 3 gigs last season. Stills had an excellent rookie season, but was only targeted 50 times. Of course, with Moore and Darren Sproles gone, there are targets that need to replaced. Just over half of Sproles’ 2013 targets came while he was lined up at wideout. Cooks will immediately be in the wide receiver rotation, but with Jimmy Graham, Colston, Stills, and Pierre Thomas demanding their share of the targets, his production will be inconsistent. Cooks is worth a bench spot, but you don’t want him in your starting lineup in 2014.
6. Odell Beckham – WR – Giants – WR5
Beckham is going to play quite a bit on the outside this season, but he’ll likely be off the field in three-wide sets. The pick suggests the Giants coaching staff doesn’t have very much confidence in Rueben Randle, but he’s been competent enough the past few years to earn a first look at a starting gig opposite slot man Victor Cruz. Beckham may unseat Randle at some point in 2014, but the better bet is that he’ll play a part-time role over the short-term. He’s worth a stash, but that’s it.
7. Eric Ebron – TE – Lions – TE2
Over the past five years, three tight ends have been selected in the first round. Of those three, the best fantasy finish was Jermaine Gresham in 2010 (21st). He caught 52 balls for 471 yards and four scores. Ebron is a big-time talent in a great long-term situation, but he’s buried in Detroit. You may think Brandon Pettigrew stinks, but that doesn’t matter. He signed a four-year, $16 million extension this past offseason. He’s going to start and play a lot for this club in 2014. Joe Fauria was a sensation near the goal line in 2013 and is still in the tight end mix. Of course, Detroit has a major void at wide receiver, which means Ebron has a great shot at the team’s primary slot gig. It’s there where he will do a lot of his damage this season.
Ebron’s situation reminds me a lot of Tyler Eifert’s last season. Drafted in the first round, Eifert was buried behind Gresham, but was good enough to force Cincinnati into more “12” sets. He ended up with just 39 receptions and was No. 29 in fantasy points at the position. I like Ebron’s upside more considering Detroit’s need for a wideout, but it’s not enough to put him in the TE1 conversation.
8. Teddy Bridgewater – QB – Vikings – Back-end QB2
As mentioned earlier, the rookie quarterbacks who have done the most damage from a fantasy perspective over the past few years have done a lot with their legs. Bridgewater can move pretty well, but he’s not in Manziel or Newton’s category. We’ve seen a few decent fantasy seasons from rookie signal callers (Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan), but the ceiling is that of a borderline QB1. Consider that, since 2008, no first-round passer has eclipsed 23 passing touchdowns (Luck). Only three have eclipsed 18.
I do like Bridgewater, however, and I think he has a great shot to beat out Matt Cassel for the team’s Week 1 job. It may surprise you to know that the Vikings were above average in offensive touchdowns last season. It helps having Adrian Peterson to create scoring opportunities, and Bridgewater will have that assistance in 2014. A conservative passer, Bridgewater isn’t going to make a ton of big, down-field plays, but he’s going to get the ball to his top weapons. Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings, and Kyle Rudolph provide him with a strong trio of pass-catchers. Like most rookie passers, Bridgewater isn’t going to be a fantasy stud out of the gate, but he’s a fine late-round flier/QB2.
9. Blake Bortles – QB – Jaguars – QB3
The Jaguars have already said Bortles won’t start out of the gate. There’s a good chance he’s under center by the time the club’s Week 11 bye rolls around, especially with underwhelming Chad Henne at the controls in the meantime. The Jaguars have a ways to go offensively, which leaves Bortles – even when he lands the starting gig – as a poor fantasy bet in the short term.
Check out our offensive player projections, which are updated regularly throughout the NFL draft.
Follow Mike Clay on Twitter: @MikeClayNFL