It’s easy to get caught up in rookie hype, but the best advice is to avoid rookies on draft day. This year there are several rookies that will have an instant impact on their teams. History shows that running backs are the safest rookie picks on draft day. Wide receivers and tight ends are more risky and rookie quarterbacks should be off your radar. Here’s how you should approach this year’s rookie class on draft day.
1) Ryan Mathews – RB San Diego
This guy is a rare talent and should be high your draft board. Mathews is taking over for future HOFer LaDanian Tomlinson who jetted off to New York. Mathews (I have him #12 overall) is a versatile runner with speed, strength and the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Mathews walks into the perfect situation in San Diego. He joins a team with a talented QB in Philip Rivers, a defense that is solid and a coach committed to running the ball. Mathews is the early favorite for offense ROY and should get plenty of scoring opportunities with the Chargers. My advice: have confidence drafting Mathews and plug him in as your #1 RB.
2) Jahvid Best – RB Detroit
The Lions have been looking for Barry Sanders’ replacement for years; they may have found the closest thing in Best. The rookie from Cal is fast and has the potential to break a big play every time he has the ball. The good news for Best (I have him #55 overall) is he will get an opportunity to play immediately; the bad news is he plays for the Lions. Detroit is slowly building a solid group of skill players, but they aren’t quite there yet. My advice: consider Best a #2 RB and should be drafted around the 5th or 6th round.
3) C.J. Spiller – RB Buffalo
One would argue Buffalo’s running game wasn’t the biggest issue facing the team last year. Still, the Bills spent the #9 pick on Spiller. Spiller joins a crowded backfield that includes Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch. It’s not clear how Spiller will be utilized in Buffalo, but we know he will be the starter on opening day. Both Jackson and Lynch are battling injuries that will keep them out a couple of weeks. By default, Spiller lands the starting spot in Buffalo’s backfield. I don’t see him keeping that spot for the entire season. Spiller doesn’t strike me as an every down, carry the load RB. He’s quick and shifty, but not bruising and looks to run away from contact. Spiller is also hurt by a mediocre QB and shaky OL. My advice: Spiller should be drafted in the mid-late rounds. His lack of consistency and competition for carries makes him less valuable.
4) Dez Bryant – WR Dallas
Bryant can thank Randy Moss for landing in Dallas. Back in 1998, the Cowboys passed on Moss twice on draft day, only to watch him become an NFL superstar. Dallas wasn’t going to let that happen with Bryant, who slid down draft boards on draft day because of concerns about his character. Bryant quickly asserted himself at Cowboys camp making big plays before suffering a high ankle sprain during practice. The injury will keep Bryant out the rest of the preseason and expect that injury to linger throughout the season. High ankle sprains are a slow healing injury and players have often said it’s an injury that affects them all season. The injury is also significant because it has kept Bryant off the field. Rookie WRs need the most attention during training camp and he’s just not getting that while he nurses the injury. My advice: Bryant should be drafted in the later rounds. Don’t expect him to produce early in the season. Have him on your bench ready to contribute later in the season as a #3 WR.
5) Toby Gerhart – RB Minnesota
The departure of RB Chester Taylor to Chicago leaves a large void in Minnesota’s backfield. Sure Adrian Peterson is the undisputed starter for the Vikings, but his back-up remains a mystery. Minnesota made RB a priority in the draft, grabbing Gerhart in the 2nd round. Gehart is a strong runner who is also reliable. During his four years at Stanford, he never lost a fumble in 671 carries. Peterson’s fumbles are a concern for the Vikings and it was important for them to find a back-up with sure hands. Expect Gehart to be the Vikings back-up, pushing Albert Young to 3rd string. Gehart will get opportunities this season, especially if Peterson continues to put the ball on the ground. I don’t expect it happen often, but Gehart is a viable goal line option and could take away TDs from Peterson. My advice: draft Gehart in the late rounds. However, if you have Peterson, you may have to use a mid to late round pick to grab Gehart for Peterson protection.
Other notable rookies:
-Dexter McCluster – RB Kansas City – Don’t draft him, but he could provide a RB needy team some depth during the season. He is fast and can catch the ball. Kansas City will find ways to use him.
-Mike Williams – WR Tampa Bay – After being drafted in the 4th round, Williams is expected to be a starter this year. If you really need a WR, draft Williams in the late rounds. Tampa’s offense is a mystery this year with second year QB Josh Freeman, but I don’t expect an aerial assault. Willaims offers depth to your WR corps.
-Sam Bradford – QB St. Louis – The #1 overall pick will be a good NFL QB, but not this year. Keep him off your draft board this year.
-Jimmy Clausen – QB Carolina – Many analysts believed Clausen was the most NFL-ready QB in this year’s draft class. He has shown good poise in the preseason, but is still a ways away from being considered for your fantasy team.
-Tim Tebow – QB Denver – The Broncos took a reach when they drafted Tebow. The former Heisman Trophy winner may sell jerseys, but he’s nowhere near an NFL QB right now. Leave him off your draft day list.
-Montario Hardesty – RB Cleveland – Running backs are such a premium that Hardesty, a 2nd round pick by the Browns, should be drafted in most leagues. He’s currently nursing a knee injury and will sit behind Jerome Harrison most of the season, but the Browns will give the high draft pick his shot at playing time. Consider a late round pick on Hardesty, especially if you draft Harrison.
-Golden Tate – WR Seattle – He’s a good athlete, but not ready to make an impact in the NFL. Undersized at 5’ 10”, Tate is in the learning stages of his career. Leave him off your draft boards.
-Aaron Hernandez – TE New England – The rookie from Florida is an intriguing player to me. He was drafted in the 4th round, and was brought in to catch passes. For years Tom Brady has used his TE in the red zone, Hernandez may be his new guy. I wouldn’t draft him, but I’d watch his numbers throughout the season.