For all the attention surrounding Johnny Manziel, the reality is his position rarely yields fantasy production when it comes to rookies. Take the top five career leaders in passing touchdowns. Among that group, Brett Favre, Drew Brees and Tom Brady failed to combine for double-digit touchdowns in their first year.
Peyton Manning did throw 26 touchdowns as a rookie in 1998 but had 28 interceptions. Dan Marino, in the strike-shortened 1983 season, had 20 touchdowns in nine games before posting 48 touchdowns in his second season.
More practical for fantasy players in non-dynasty leagues is adding rookie running backs, especially given their upward-trending production in recent seasons. Eddie Lacy and Le’Veon Bell come to mind last year. In 2012, Alfred Morris and Doug Martin were second and fifth, respectively, in rushing yards.
This season brings another set of rookie running backs that could become factors your fantasy lineup, starting with Bishop Sankey. The Tennessee Titans made Sankey their second-round pick (54th overall) after he rushed for 1,870 yards and 20 touchdowns at the University of Washington.
At 5-foot-9, 209 pounds, Sankey has the physical stature to handle a full workload, and even though the Titans appear poised to use running back by committee approach, Sankey doesn’t have much in the way of competition for meaningful carries. Tennessee’s other running backs include third-down specialist Dexter McCluster and ailing Shonn Greene, who missed OTAs recovering from a second knee surgery.
Entering training camp, which opens Saturday for the Titans, Sankey certainly has all the makings of a solid RB2, especially if Greene manages a poor training camp and is left off the final roster.
Here are other rookies to consider when preparing for your drafts:
Jeremy Hill, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals have a clear No. 1 in Giovani Bernard, but Hill has moved in front of BenJarvus Green-Ellis as the primary backup. At 6-1, 233 pounds, Hill has the ideal frame for goal-line work and provides a battering-ram change of pace to Bernard’s breakaway speed.
Plus any running back in the Bengals’ offense has the luxury of working with A.J. Green, who keeps defensive coordinators up into the wee hours trying to figure out how to slow perhaps the most reliable wide receiver in the NFL not named Calvin Johnson.
Green’s ability to get deep and bring down 50-50 balls in the end zone means defenses must provide cornerbacks help over the top with a safety, leaving the line of scrimmage more vulnerable. The Bengals finished eighth last season in rushing thanks in part to all the attention paid to Green.
Andre Williams, RB, New York Giants
In making the case for Williams, fantasy players need to ask themselves if they trust the other running backs on the Giants’ roster. Rashad Jennings, for the time being, is first on the depth chart but has not been able to stay healthy. While with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Jennings missed all of 2011 and finished 2012 on injured reserve, before appearing in 15 games for the Raiders in 2013.
Giants No. 2 running back David Wilson missed the final 11 games last season with a neck injury but recently was cleared for full-contact practices. Still, an injury involving the head or neck area ought to have fantasy players thinking twice about taking a chance on Wilson. Throw in a propensity for fumbling, and his value takes another hit.
That leaves Williams, who led the country with 2,177 rushing yards last season with 33 touchdowns. The downside is that Williams had just 10 catches (total) in college, but that doesn’t mean he still can’t be a lead runner. Morris, for instance, continues to be a high-end RB1 despite only 20 catches in two seasons.
Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit Lions
The Lions apparently have decided it’s in their best interest to use Brandon Pettigrew primarily as a blocker moving forward. Ebron, meanwhile, has spoken about lining up at several positions, which makes him an intriguing prospect for fantasy owners.
The Lions have a dynamic offense with Megatron, multi-purpose running back Reggie Bush and quarterback Matthew Stafford. Ebron certainly has the physical gifts to fit right in, and he’ll be working exclusively in single-coverage against linebackers given the other game-breakers around him.
Ebron is worth a look in the later rounds, with tremendous promise in an offense that ranked third in the league last season in passing.
Richard Rodgers, TE, Green Bay Packers
The third-round pick (98th overall) was named the Packers’ MVP during OTAs. The tight end situation in Titletown is murky at best, so Rodgers will get every chance during training camp to prove he belongs on the field regularly.
With Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback, Richard Rodgers is in position to become one of the highest upside picks of this year’s fantasy drafts.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills
From the opening days of training camp, the No. 4 overall selection of the Buffalo Bills wowed teammates with acrobatic catches, including a one-handed gem in the end zone Wednesday. With Stevie Johnson in San Francisco, the Bills need to find a No. 1 for quarterback E.J. Manuel, and Watkins is on the fast track.
Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers drafted Hyde in the second round (57th overall) presumably to be the heir apparent to Frank Gore, who is 31 and in line for fewer carries this season. Hyde stood out during OTAs and may leapfrog Kendall Hunter to become the regular No. 2 running back if he impresses coaches during training camp.
Terrance West, RB, Cleveland Browns
Ben Tate occupies the No. 1 slot on the running back depth chart for the Browns, but that doesn’t mean West isn’t going to push him for the job. Tate has never been the go-to guy, and the youthful Browns are going to run plenty, so there should be plenty of carries for both players.
Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints
Any wide receiver with Drew Brees as his quarterback isn’t a bad gamble. Cooks ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds, which was the second fast time in the NFL combine, and the Saints are in need of more options in the passing game with the departures of Darren Sproles and Lance Moore.
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants
The Giants need to find a complement to No. 1 wideout Victor Cruz, and Beckham has the inside track after being selected No. 12 overall. Speed and precision were among his strengths in college.