News will come and go regarding the NFL labor situation, but one constant that kept on this spring was the NFL Draft. Another year, another 254 players got picked to new teams where they'll fight for playing time (well, some more than others).
Rookies are always an important part of Fantasy play, but to some leagues they mean everything. Fantasy owners in dynasty and long-term keeper leagues don't just look at rookies as players who might help them in 2011 -- they look at them as investments for the next five to 10 years.
If you're one of those owners, we're with you. And even if you're not, you should take a look at the Top 20 rookies Jamey Eisenberg and I think will deliver the most value over the course of the next several seasons. Just remember one tip: The players who stay in the same offense from year to year almost always do better and are more consistent than the players who endure coaching changes, playbook changes and team changes.
At the top, Ingram and Thomas are essentially interchangeable, but the belief here is that Ingram will ultimately outperform Thomas assuming they have the same career span. Green and Jones are about as safe as it gets looking long-term, but it's Green's skill-set and role as the De facto No. 1 receiver in Cincinnati that pushes him ahead of Jones.
The top four are followed by three running backs and three quarterbacks, and the landscape of the NFL has a lot to do with that. With no "sure thing" at quarterback in this draft and plenty of "sure thing" quarterbacks long established in this league (with another entering the 2012 draft in Andrew Luck), it's easy to pass on Newton & Co. This tier of rushers is in order based on how soon they could potentially become starters; that's really the only thing that separates these guys. As for the passers, the idea here is to draft passers with upside and a long leash, and Newton has the most upside and the longest leash of anyone in this draft.
Receivers Smith and Hankerson represent excellent value choices; both should have good careers with their respective franchises. Baldwin isn't quite there because it's expected that he'll take some time to develop at the pro level. Limited upside caps Helu, Carter and Ridley. Why is Ponder toward the bottom of our Top 20? Long-term concerns about the health of his arm actually make him more appealing sooner than later.
Finally, kicker Alex Henery might have the longest, most consistent career of any 2011 rookie, but he's a kicker, and it's not worth a long-term minded Fantasy owner to sweat a kicker when there are always so many available.
Thomas is the No. 1 rookie to target this year in all leagues, and he has the chance to shine for Fantasy owners right away because the Dolphins should make him a workhorse. They will likely add someone for competition -- probably a scat back to catch passes -- but Thomas will start and work at the goal line.
At the running back spot, Ingram is next, but the presence of Pierre Thomas will lower his value, along with the Saints' explosive passing game. Helu has the potential to start for the Redskins right away and should be Mike Shanahan's next pet project, which gives him a slight nod over Williams, Murray and Leshoure, who are also in timeshare situations. Vereen, Rodgers, Todman and Hunter are all third-down options, so look for them in point-per-reception formats, and Carter will likely be used as a goal-line back for the Colts.
At wide receiver, Green and Jones should be stars right away, but Little and Hankerson could be surprise options based on the need for help with their respective teams in Cleveland and Washington. Young is a deep threat who should play well for the Lions, and Baldwin could be featured in Kansas City opposite Dwayne Bowe.
And at quarterback, Cam Newton's running ability should help his Fantasy value, but this class is lacking in talent. Gabbert could develop with a year to watch behind David Garrard, but Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick have a lot to prove before they should be considered quality Fantasy options.
When we look back on this class, don't be surprised if Ryan Mallett is the best Fantasy quarterback of this group.
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