Welcome to a new season of the Rookie Report. ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL!? The NFL kickoff is less than an hour away as I write this, and I’m sure all us football junkies are getting jittery with anticipation (or maybe just drunk). For those of you unfamiliar with the Rookie Report, each week I’ll give a rundown of the rookies you should start for sure, borderline starting options, guys who should stay on the bench, and throw in some deep league sleepers. I’ll give my thoughts on their outlook for the week which you can hopefully use to effectively utilize your rookies. They are the hardest players in fantasy to predict.
Alright, that’s enough jibber-jabber. Let’s get to it. Since this is week 1, I’m going to start off by quickly laying out my top 10 fantasy rookies for this season. They aren’t necessarily the most talented players, just the ones who will have the best fantasy value this year.
- Bishop Sankey, RB, TEN: It shouldn’t take long for Sankey to overtake Shonn Greene as lead back for the Titans. The Titans have a very good o-line and Sankey should be a low-end RB2 for most of the year. He’s also the Titans’ best pass-catching back.
- Brandin Cooks, WR, NO: Cooks will be a PPR monster from the get-go. He’s basically a more polished Tavon Austin with a coach who knows how to create mismatches with his schemes. Kenny Stills injury should help Cooks hit the ground running.
- Jeremy Hill, RB, CIN: For those of you who don’t know, Gio Bernard is not an every down workhorse back, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis is no longer a Bengal. The Bengals are planning on running a lot more this year with Hue Jackson in charge of the offense. Hill will see plenty of work, especially at the goal-line. Should be a weekly flex option.
- Mike Evans, WR, TB: Evans dominated defenses at A&M, and he has the size and skill to do so at the next level too. He’ll be a big red zone target who has a real shot at 10+ TDs. McCown proved last year he can find big receivers in the end zone.
- Jordan Matthews, WR, PHI: Matthews opens the season in the slot, but he could overtake Riley Cooper for the number 2 role before long. He has elite talent in an explosive offense. Only a matter of time before he explodes.
- Sammy Watkins, WR, BUF: The Bills traded up to get Watkins to be their WR #1, so he’ll undoubtedly be a big part of the offensive gameplan, but inconsistent quarterback play will limit his upside. Bills are also expected to be the one of the run-heaviest teams in the league. Watkins should be hoping Orton takes the QB job from E.J. sooner rather than later.
- Kelvin Benjamin, WR, CAR: Kelvin had some big red flags in his college career (drops, questions about effort & attitude), but no rookie WR will have more opportunity. Opens as Panthers’ de facto number 1, but should suffer some growing pains. He’s ikely to score at least 7 TDs.
- Jace Amaro, TE, NYJ: Amaro should easily be the most productive rookie tight end. With David Nelson as the team’s #2 WR, Geno should lean on Amaro a lot. He’s essentially an oversized slot receiver, and he should be a great option in PPR leagues.
- Derek Carr, QB, OAK: Carr is the only rookie QB with a starting job. I wouldn’t be shocked if Matt Cassel and Chad Henne hold off their more talented backups for half the season, and Manziel is far from a sure thing even if he beats out Hoyer in the first few weeks. Carr looks the part and had an impressive preseason. Could be a low-end QB2.
- Cody Latimer, WR, DEN: Wes Welker’s suspension and concussion issues could open the door for a big rookie season for Latimer. He’s more talented than Andre Caldwell and a better fit for the outside WR spot vacated by Eric Decker than free agent signee Emmanuel Sanders. Could do big things with Peyton Manning throwing him the rock.
Honorable Mention:Johnny Manziel, QB, CLE, Eric Ebron, TE, DET, Allen Robinson, WR, JAX, Devonta Freeman, RB, ATL, Andre Williams, RB, NYG
Alright, with that laid out, let’s move on to week number one…
Rookies to Start:
WR Brandin Cooks, NO (Wk. 1: @Atl): Cooks is the one rookie that I would certainly recommend starting this week. It seems like Kenny Stills is unlikely to play, and the game could be a shootout. I think Cooks is ready to go off. In PPR leagues, he should be a solid WR3 or flex play. He might not score a TD, but I’d be shocked by anything less than 5 catches, and he has the wheels to take it to the house at any given time.
RB Bishop Sankey, TEN (Wk. 1: @KC): Am I in love with Sankey in week one against a typically stout Chiefs’ front? No. Do I think he’s capable of a productive week? Absolutely. I’d probably lean against playing Sankey this week, but I think he’ll get a bigger share of the work than the preseason usage would suggest. I think Sankey sees 15+ touches in the opener, with 70-80 total yards.
WR Sammy Watkins, BUF (WK 1: @Chi.): Watkins has been banged up for much of the preseason, but he’ll be good to go on Sunday. The Bears’ boasted one of the worst defenses in the NFL a year ago, and they haven’t looked that much better in the preseason. I wouldn’t expect a breakout with E.J. Manuel throwing him the ball, but Watkins could have a nice debut. I’d expect somewhere in the range of 4-5 catches for around 60 yards, but wouldn’t be surprised if he does more.
WR Mike Evans, TB (Wk. 1: vs. Car.): The Panthers’ strength on defense is their front 7. Evans’s size is going to create problems for the secondary, especially if they double-team Vincent Jackson like most teams did last year. Evans is as good a bet as any Buccaneer to find the end zone in week one, but I wouldn’t expect a huge catch tally. The Bucs will be a run-first team.
WR Kelvin Benjamin, CAR (Wk. 1: @TB): Benjamin’s value for week one really hinges on Cam Newton. Newton is listed as a game-time decision right now, but even if he plays I’d imagine the ribs will limit his effectiveness. If Cam doesn’t go, there’s no way you start Kelvin. If he does play, you’re pretty much hoping for a TD. Benjamin likely won’t go much over 50 yards against a pretty solid Tampa defense.
WR Jordan Matthews, PHI (Wk 1: vs. Jax.): Matthews was a standout all August for the Eagles after a shaky preseason debut. There will be a lot of mouths to feed in this offense, and this game looks like an easy Philly victory, but Matthews has been so efficient with his targets that it may only take 5 or 6 looks in his direction to have a productive week. He may be worth a shot in some deeper leagues.
Rookies to Sit:
QB Derek Carr, OAK (Wk. 1: @NYJ): Carr may be starting for Oakland, but he shouldn’t be starting on your fantasy team. Rex Ryan loves to blitz, and Carr will be in a hostile environment. Carr played in a college offense that featured a lot of short passes and easy reads. The Jets defense will be anything but easy to read. I’d expect Carr to be rattled by the pressure and have a shaky first outing. Surely you can find 2 quarterbacks (If in a 2-QB league) that you should play ahead of him.
RB Jeremy Hill, CIN (Wk. 1: @Bal.): Although I’m very bullish on Hill for the season, I think week one is not the best place to utilize him. The Ravens’ defense is always pretty good, and at we still aren’t completely sure how the work will be split between Hill and Gio. Gio got the 1st team reps in goal line situations in the preseason, but averaged barely over 2.5 yards a carry for the preseason tilts. Hill will certainly see work in week one, but I want to be sure the touchdowns are coming his way before I start trotting him out there in the weekly lineup.
RB Andre Williams, NYG (Wk. 1: @Det.): After the Hall of Fame game, Williams looked like he would share work with Rashad Jennings and be a really nice player this year, but that sentiment faded over the last few games of the preseason. He’ll still get some carries, maybe even a red zone tote or 2, but merely as a change of pace back for now. Jennings will be a 3-down back in the early going. Until that starts to shift, Williams should stay benched.
Deep League Sleepers:
RB Jonathan Grimes, HOU (Wk. 1: vs. Was.): I list Grimes here because we haven’t seen Arian Foster play a single down of preseason football due to injury. Foster insists he feels “wonderful,” but I bet the Texans still intend to spell him more than the average bell cow running back and Grimes has been the most impressive of the backups. The Redskins defense was sieve –like last year, so Grimes could have a nice game with just a handful of carries.
RB Lorenzo Taliaferro, BAL (Wk. 1: vs. Cin.): Ray Rice is suspended for the first 2 games of the season, and Bernard Pierce has spent the majority of the preseason banged up. Taliaferro is a perfect fit for OC Gary Kubiak’s one-cut zone running scheme, so if he gets a chance to spell Pierce and looks good, they may ride the hot hand. Kubiak was the OC in Denver as they had a different RB break 1,000 yards every year back in the late ‘90’s-early ‘00’s. Remember Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson and Rueben Droughns? There are a couple of obstacles for the rook though. The Bengals’ defense should be stout up front with Geno Atkins back, and Justin Forsett is listed as the number 2 back headed into the weekend. Don’t be shocked if the rook does find some work however.
WR Cody Latimer, DEN (Wk. 1: vs. Ind.): ESPN’s Broncos beat writer Jeff Legwold reported that the two primary players the Broncos will use to fill Wes Welker’s production are Emmanuel Sanders and Latimer. There was no mention of Andre Caldwell, who is currently listed above Latimer on the depth chart. I think that means we’ll see Latimer lined up outside in 3-WR sets with Sanders in the slot. It’s a huge boon for Latimer’s week one outlook in what should be a shootout with the Colts. There are always plenty of targets to go around with Peyton under center, and I think a line of 5-75-1 is very possible for Latimer in week one. There won’t be any questions after this week about whether or not he’s ahead of Caldwell in the pecking order.
TE Jace Amaro, NYJ (Wk. 1: vs. Oak.): Amaro gets a plus matchup in week one in an offense where he should be the second-best receiver on the team. I don’t expect the Jets to be explosive or for Amaro to pile up touchdowns, but he should see plenty of targets all year. In deep PPR leagues (14 or more teams), I think Amaro could be a nice play this week. He should see 6+ targets.
That’s all I’ve got for week one. Hopefully it helps you out. Now you can go ahead, kick back and enjoy the first weekend of NFL games that count since the Super Bowl. I’ll end the column with the same advice I always do: Trust your gut, and have fun. It’s just a game.