2011 Rookie Watch: Part I

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    05/03/2011 1:50 AM - 

    Each year it seems as if more and more rookies make a positive fantasy impact. Predicting which ones will do it is the difficult task.

    So something I’ve found helpful is to do my lists in phases, immediately following the draft, instead of waiting for mini-camps and training camps to commence. Remember, two rookies who made huge fantasy impacts last season (ironically, both on the same team) were Tampa’s WR Mike Williams and RB LaGarrette Blount. Blount went undrafted while Williams was taken in the fourth round.

    So, I present to you some rookies I believe will make a fairly good-sized fantasy impacts over the long haul of the 2011 NFL season… in no particular order.

    Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee — Oh sure, it’s easy to list the 8th overall pick in the draft in this group. Well, truth be told… I hate this pick. I think the Titans reached for this pick, but they got the man they wanted and he’ll likely be starting in Year 1. Considering he has one of the best RBs in the league behind him, a solid offensive line and a receiving corps that a lot of rookies would like, you could do a lot worse than Locker. Oh, and he runs too.

    Cam Newton, QB, Panthers — Based solely on his foot-speed alone, Newton possesses immediate fantasy value. Newton has a strong arm, a great running game behind him, and a very good offensive line. Granted, his receiving corps isn’t nearly as good as what Locker has, but it’s good enough for him to post solid numbers.

    Ryan Williams, RB, Cardinals — I hate to say this, but I think Beanie Wells’s days in Arizona are numbered. I really thought he would flourish in this Arizona offense, but I don’t think Ken Whisenhunt likes him and I’m still baffled as to why he can’t stay healthy. Either way, Williams is a great fit in Arizona and could produce right away.

    Mark Ingram, RB, Saints — History tells us Sean Payton loves bruiser-backs who are patient runners. He loves fresh legs… and it doesn’t get much fresher than Ingram, a rookie from Alabama and former Heisman Trophy winner. In this offense, how can you not succeevd?

    Daniel Thomas, RB, Dolphins — Another second-rounder that not a lot of people are talking about. Depending on the status of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, Thomas could be the best rookie fantasy RB of the bunch. He combines power with some deceptive speed, and he even has decent hands. With this offensive line built to run block, Thomas could be a rookie who might approach 1,000 rushing yards in Year 1.

    Mikel Leshoure, RB, Lions — Very good hands out of the backfield, but his strength is his power running. He will find his way into the end zone in this offense, it’s just a matter of how often he’ll touch the ball early on.

    A.J. Green, WR, Bengals — Honestly, the only reason I can see him NOT flourishing in Cincinnati this year is the unsettled QB situation. If Carson Palmer is telling the truth, who takes over under center? Andy Dalton? Green has too much talent to not have decent numbers, but even the best receivers in the NFL can’t dominate without a gun-slinger… just ask Larry Fitzgerald.

    Julio Jones, WR, Falcons — There’s a reason the Falcons traded up so high to get this guy. They believe he can be the difference in this offense being great and being elite. Jones gives Matt Ryan another legitimate weapon down the field, and this is huge because Tony Gonzalez isn’t getting any younger. Although Ryan loves Roddy White, he isn’t shy about sharing the love to anyone who will work hard for him.

    Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Chiefs — Much like Atlanta, Kansas City just went from a good offense to a great offense with this pick. Baldwin is 6-4 with a 42-inch vertical jump and loves going through traffic. He brings a toughness to the middle of the field for Kansas City’s offense that they didn’t have before, which will not allow Tony Moeaki and Dwayne Bowe to run free.

    There will be others… stay tuned!!

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