It’s May and we’re already thinking about fantasy football. The degenerates in all of us only really care about daily fantasy football these days, but season long fantasy football leagues still promote comradery and at times can even tug on the heart strings. Oh, the days of drafting Terrell Davis with the #1 pick, only to see him stink up the joint and blow out his knee. Or you draft Adrian Peterson and he plays one game all year because of an off field scandal.

That’s the bummer of regular fantasy football leagues, but they can also be a ton of fun when you start incorporating keeper and dynasty aspects and consider how incoming rookies will play into the equation. And while the weekly grind is a little more attractive in the DFS scene, there is still nothing like holding drafts with your buddies in a basement in late August. Or if you’e a true crazy like me, you’re trying to lure people to do just that in mid-June. Or next week.

But I digress. The point is the 2016 NFL Draft just wrapped up, pro football returns in its real and fantasy form in just over three months and in a flash, we’re going to be caring a lot about rookie roles, stats and potential impact. No matter what type of fantasy league you’re conducting, you’ll want to know who is who and whether or not they can help you out. Let’s sort through the madness by ranking the top NFL rookies in fantasy football by position going into 2016:


  • Jared Goff (Los Angeles Rams)
  • Carson Wentz (Philadelphia Eagles)
  • Paxton Lynch (Denver Broncos)
  • Cardale Jones (Buffalo Bills)
  • Cody Kessler (Cleveland Browns)
  • Dak Presscott (Dallas Cowboys)
  • Jacoby Brissett (New England Patriots)

Goff and Wentz kick this thing off with the only real value, but Goff is firmly planted as the top fantasy quarterback among rookies because he’s probably the only one that will have a realistic shot at starting all 16 games as a rookie. He is also the most polished, blessed with great size and arm strength. He doesn’t have amazing weapons and will face the brutal NFC West, but he has Todd Gurley to help him and reminds me a bit of Matt Ryan. If he’s half of Ryan, he could enjoy a decent rookie year.

Wentz and Lynch are next up in the batting order, but Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez respectively could hold down the fort for the first half of the year. Wentz and Lynch have serious upside due to big arms, nice mobility and a nice supporting cast, but playing time is going to be key here. If Wentz gets the starting nod early, he brings all of the upside to the table.

Jones is my next favorite passer based solely on sheer talent and upside. He’s a big dude with a cannon, has had some success at a high level in college and has loads of upside. He also is raw and inexperienced, and probably won’t unseat Tyrod Taylor right away – if ever. If he does, though, he could end up being what E.J. Manuel was supposed to be.

Kessler is a total wild card, as he put up some decent numbers in college and really has the tools to be an effective game-manager, but Browns gonna Browns, and all. He does not have a proven system or weapons and he himself is going to be extremely tough to trust. He also has to get through RG3 and Josh McCown to see playing time, and that’s no lock.

Prescott has a ton of upside as a very interesting dual threat, but Tony Romo is king kong in Dallas. Romo has become rather injury-prone in his later years, of course, so it remains quite possible the Prescott Era begins in 2016. There would be serious ups and downs if it did, but he can run and sling it, so fantasy upside would certainly be there.

The same goes for Brissett, who probably would max out on a four-game window, but considering his immense talent and upside, packaged with no one knowing what Jimmy Garappolo brings to the table yet, he could still see some important field time. He has the least value of this list, but oddly some of the more intriguing talent.

The Skinny: Stash Wentz late, forget about everyone else.

Running Backs

  • Ezekiel Elliott (Dallas Cowboys)
  • Kenyan Drake (Miami Dolphins)
  • Derrick Henry (Tennessee Titans)
  • C.J. Prosise (Seattle Seahawks)
  • Keith Marshall (Washington Redskins)
  • Devontae Booker (Denver Broncos)
  • Kenneth Dixon (Baltimore Ravens)
  • Alex Collins (Seattle Seahawks)
  • Jordan Howard (Chicago Bears)

Running back is going to be fun, as there are a lot of moving pieces going into 2016. Matt Forte is on the Jets, Alfred Morris left D.C., Eddie Lacy lost weight and the list goes on. A good amount of rookies coming in could have some serious say in what goes down, but there are really only two that I’m infatuated with. Elliott is the obvious eye-popper as the new head banger in Dallas.

He’s an elite talent and was picked 4th overall, so dude’s gonna get work. He will be coming off the boards possibly as high as the first two rounds once people catch wind of him in preseason.

The other guy I’m liking is Kenyan Drake, who the Dolphins took off the draft board in round three. I honestly did not know much about him before the draft, but two things are clear: Miami is not totally sold on Jay Ajayi as their new feature back and Drake was over-shadowed by Derrick Henry at Alabama. I’m not saying Drake is amazing – he’s not – but he does everything very well, has solid long speed and constantly keeps his feet moving. An energy guy like that could find solid success if thrust into a big role, ala Devonta Freeman last year.

Then there is the guy that was ahead of him on the Crimson Tide, Henry himself. His immediate value hinges to early down and goal-line duty, and that may be a problem with DeMaro Murray in town. I’m sure they eventually both get work, but Henry has not proven himself as a receiver and will ultimately need to supplant Murray to hold serious value. That being said, if he took over that role, he’d have enormous upside due to his awesome speed/power combo.

Prosise, Marshall and Booker are probably the only other guys you really need to pay attention to. Prosise is a special runner who can slide in between cracks and has the speed, agility and elusiveness to bust off exciting runs. His main knocks are impatience and a lack of experience, but with Marshawn Lynch retired, he’s going to be a name to watch. The same can be said for new teammate Alex Collins, but I’m much higher on Prosise.

Sticking with that final three, Marshall and Booker are starting caliber talents who will simply need to find their way into roles. Booker is concretely behind C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman for now, but both guys have disappointed in the past and Booker has a feature back skill-set. It may only be a matter of time before he’s the main man in Denver’s backfield. There is also Marshall, who has blazing speed and loads of talent, but slid due to injury issues. If he’s ready to rock and starter Matt Jones falters, he could be one of the biggest rookie running backs in fantasy football this year.

The Skinny: Over-pay for Eliott early and stack on top rookie backs late.

Wide Receivers

  • Laquon Treadwell (Minnesota Vikings)
  • Will Fuller (Houston Texans)
  • Corey Coleman (Cleveland Browns)
  • Josh Doctson (Washington Redskins)
  • Sterling Shepard (New York Giants)
  • Tyler Boyd (Cincinnati Bengals)
  • Michael Thomas (New Orleans Saints)
  • Malcom Mitchell (New England Patriots)
  • Braxton Miller (Houston Texans)
  • Pharoh Cooper (Los Angeles Rams)

Role is arguably more important than anything when it comes to wide receivers, especially when you’re dealing with PPR formatted leagues and DFS sites. Running backs can score pretty easily on short plunges, but receives that aren’t out on the field a good amount of time will understandably suffer because of it.

That’s one reason why the leading candidates are going to be Treadwell, Fuller, Coleman and Doctson. Even with those guys, there are question marks. Treadwell has speed issues, Fuller has hands issues, Coleman is on the Browns (ha!) and Doctson is going into a situation where there are already a lot of mouths to feed in D.C. That being said, these guys are immensely talented. Fuller, Coleman ad Doctson are all burners on the field, while Treadwell makes some of the best on-the-ball plays we’ll see out of rookies. They all have a shot at early round value if things break their way.

The next level consists of Shepard, Boyd and Thomas. All three of these guys could eventually be studs, but whether or not they thrive as rookies will depend on how active they are. Shepard needs to move firmly past Victor Cruz, Boyd needs to work his way past Brandon LaFell and Thomas needs to find his spot alongside Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead and Brandon Coleman.

If we’re looking at the talent, Shepard, Boyd and Thomas all start and could quickly ascend the ranks, or at least push the top four guys hard. For now, they need to be slow-played and taken late in fantasy drafts – if at all.

Mitchell could be the lone outlier in this group, as the Pats typically do not give rookie receivers much playing time. They could use his long speed and route-running ability, though, so if he cracks the top rotation, look out. Miller has too much learning to do to make a huge impact in year one, while as talented as Cooper is, he’s probably going to initially be buried in Los Angeles.

The Skinny: Don’t force it at WR this year. Aim for Treadwell, Fuller, Coleman late.

Tight Ends

  • Hunter Henry (San Diego Chargers)
  • Austin Hooper (Atlanta Falcons)
  • Tyler Higbee (Los Angeles Rams)
  • Seth Devalve (Cleveland Browns)
  • Nick Vannett (Seattle Seahawks)

Not surprisingly, there isn’t a whole lot to get excited about when it comes to rookie tight ends. The position is naturally slow to develop in year one at the NFL level anyways, but then this is also a weak crop and few of these guys are guaranteed a big role in their first season.

Henry is without a doubt the most talented guy in this group, yet he’s slated to begin his career behind veteran pass-catcher, Antonio Gates. That restricts his upside, but in San Diego’s pass-happy offense, he still could have value. Gates is also old and could start to regress steeply, so there are a number of reasons the athletic Henry could come into solid production.

Hooper is easily second in line among rookie tight ends, as the Falcons still don’t have an answer at tight end. There’s a lot to like about Hooper, too, as he brings good size and solid straight line speed to the table.

The excitement drops off from there, but it’s worth noting that Devalve is a sure-handed option behind Gary Barnidge in Cleveland and Vannett could potentially get some opportunities with Jimmy Graham working back from a devastating knee injury. Higbee could also get a shot with the Rams being short-handed at tight end, but if you’re looking for stability beyond Henry and Hooper, you’ve got another thing coming.

The Skinny: Draft veterans at tight end, per usual. Let the newbies take Henry and Hooper.

Overall, there are not a ton of rookies that stand out right away, but the next few months could paint a different picture. In summary, Jared Goff is really the only quarterback to consider, but he’s on a team that wants to run the ball and he could struggle, so for fantasy purposes he’s likely off limits. There certainly are some running backs to monitor, but the position with the upside, like usual, is going to be wide receiver.

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