Separating the wheat from the chaff in fantasy football can be an arduous undertaking, particularly when rookies are involved. It’s perhaps never been more imperative to have this ability, considering some expect there to be 24 more rookies taken in fantasy drafts this year compared to 2015.
The ghosts of JaMarcus Russell and Charles Rodgers still haunt many in this community. Ryan McDowell, a writer for Dynasty Football League, notes that less than 15 percent of rookie quarterbacks selected in redraft fantasy leagues from 2010 to 2015 produced a top-12 fantasy season. He further notes that, on average, only two rookie wide receivers per year rank in the top 36; only one rookie tight end in the past six greats has ranked in the top 12.
But that doesn’t mean all rookies should be avoided on draft day. Here are three worth putting on your roster.
Corey Coleman, WR, Cleveland Browns
Of all wide receivers in the most recent draft class charted by Pro Football Focus, Coleman graded highest in his ability to separate himself from defenders.
The Browns haven’t ranked inside the top 20 in team passing yards either of the past two seasons, but that could change soon if Coleman and starter Robert Griffin III get on the same wavelength. Plus, Griffin enjoys throwing the football downfield and graded extremely high on throws of 40-plus yards when he was in Washington. With Griffin’s propensity to loft deep passes, and Coleman’s proven ability to run 20-plus-yard routes, it would appear the team’s passing offense is due to improve.
The team’s other top receiver, Josh Gordon, must serve a four-game suspension, leading many to believe that Coleman will garner the lion’s share of targets to start the season, with some expecting at least 132 targets in 2016.
Sterling Shepard, WR, New York Giants
Shepard, New York’s second-round pick, was listed as a starter in the team’s first depth chart. He can be effective both in the slot and on the outside, and is tailor-made for Ben McAdoo’s West Coast offense.
The Giants have long sought a consistent, healthy, versatile receiver to pair with Beckham, indubitably one of the league’s best talents. Pro Football Focus ranked the Giants’ receiving corps in the bottom half of the league for good reason. And while Reuben Randle, for example, reaped the rewards of playing alongside the attention-demanding Beckham, New York hasn’t truly had two dynamic receivers in years.
Shepard changes that.
Kenneth Dixon, RB, Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore’s offense was disastrous last year, but Dixon could fix that.
At Louisiana Tech, Dixon led his draft class in forced missed tackles (16) and had the second highest elusive rating, according to Pro Football Focus. He also has a nose for the end zone — he was the all-time leading touchdown scorer in FBS history until Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds passed him in his final collegiate game — and has reportedly bulked up considerably since leaving college.
According to NumberFire’s Tyler Buecher, Marc Trestman’s offense has featured a back with at least 69 catches seven different times. Dixon, likely the best receiving back among rookies, could make that eight.