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2011 Draft Prep: Can the rookie class catch up?

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Fantasy owners aren't quite sure how to treat rookies this season because of the lockout. There is some trepidation based on the lack of offseason workouts, and there should be. But don't completely panic.

The 2011 rookie class lost all of its mini-camp practice due to the labor issues, and while some rookies were able to train with teammates during voluntary workouts, others enter training camp looking at a playbook for the first time. It could lead to some tough decisions for Fantasy owners on Draft Day.

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For example, are you willing to trust Daniel Thomas or Mark Ingram as starting options? How good can Julio Jones and A.J. Green perform as rookie receivers? What impact will quarterbacks like Cam Newton and Andy Dalton have right away?

Rookies play a prominent role for Fantasy owners each season. Last year, Jahvid Best and LeGarrette Blount were Top 25 running backs, Tampa Bay's Mike Williams was a Top 12 receiver and Rob Gronkowski was a Top 5 tight end. We also got impressive performances from Ryan Mathews, Dez Bryant, Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow and Aaron Hernandez, among others.

So how will the rookies perform this year? Even with the lack of offseason practice, you can't shy away from the top-tier rookies. We've highlighted the players who will make an impact right away in 2011, and we've also provided a rank list for players who could help Fantasy owners in 2012 and beyond.

2011 Dynasty Rankings
The following is a cheat sheet to follow for owners in a dynasty league. Some of these rookies won't make much of an impact in 2011 but could be valuable to Fantasy owners in 2012 and beyond.
1. Mark Ingram, RB, Saints
2. Daniel Thomas, RB, Dolphins
3. Julio Jones, WR, Falcons
4. A.J. Green, WR, Bengals
5. DeMarco Murray, RB, Cowboys
6. Roy Helu, RB, Redskins
7. Cam Newton, QB, Panthers
8. Greg Little, WR, Browns
9. Stevan Ridley, RB, Patriots
10. Mikel Leshoure, RB, Lions
11. Lance Kendricks, TE, Rams
12. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Falcons
13. Ryan Williams, RB, Cardinals
14. Delone Carter, RB, Colts
15. Kendall Hunter, RB, 49ers
16. Shane Vereen, RB, Patriots
17. Torrey Smith, WR, Ravens
18. Leonard Hankerson, WR, Redskins
19. Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals
20. Titus Young, WR, Lions
21. Rob Housler,TE, Cardinals
22. Blaine Gabbert, QB, Jaguars
23. Christian Ponder, QB, Vikings
24. Jamie Harper, RB, Titans
25. Jon Baldwin, WR, Chiefs
26. Bilal Powell, RB, Jets
27. Cecil Shorts, WR, Jaguars
28. Kyle Rudolph, TE, Vikings
29. Taiwan Jones, RB, Raiders
30. Jake Locker, QB, Titans
31. Alex Green, RB, Packers
32. Colin Kaepernick, QB, 49ers
33. Ryan Mallett, QB, Patriots
34. Randall Cobb, WR, Packers
35. Austin Pettis, WR, Rams
36. Jordan Toddman, RB, Chargers
37. Evan Royster, RB, Redskins
38. Julius Thomas, TE, Broncos
39. Greg Salas, WR, Rams
40. Kris Durham, WR, Seahawks
41. Johnny White, RB, Bills
42. Dion Lewis, RB, Eagles
43. Jordan Cameron, TE, Browns
44. Niles Paul, WR, Redskins
45. Ronald Johnson, WR, 49ers

The lockout may cause the 2011 rookies to struggle more than we've seen in previous years, but teams will still depend on them quite a bit. And Fantasy owners should as well if you want to have a successful season.

Running back

The following running backs are listed in rank order based on their value for 2011.

Mark Ingram, Saints
2010 college stats: 158 carries for 875 yards and 13 touchdowns; 21 catches for 282 yards and one touchdown at Alabama
Jamey's 2011 projection: 205 carries for 954 yards and eight touchdowns; 22 catches for 157 yards and one touchdown
Dave's 2011 projection: 197 carries for 909 yards and eight touchdowns; 17 catches for 113 yards
Average Draft Position: No. 60 overall (Round 5)
There's a lot to like about Ingram, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2009 while leading Alabama to the national championship, which is why the Saints traded back into Round 1 to select him. Ingram might not start and will likely share carries with at least Pierre Thomas, but he should still play a prominent role in an explosive offense. Ingram should be considered a No. 2 Fantasy running back this season with the chance to be a No. 1 option in 2012. If you draft him as your third running back this year, then your Fantasy team is in good shape.

Daniel Thomas, Dolphins
2010 college stats: 298 carries for 1,585 yards and 19 touchdowns; 27 catches for 171 yards at Kansas State
Jamey's 2011 projection: 200 carries for 968 yards and seven touchdowns; 15 catches for 121 yards and one touchdown
Dave's 2011 projection: 230 carries for 1,006 yards and six touchdowns; 23 catches for 154 yards
Average Draft Position: No. 68 overall (Round 6)
The Dolphins gave up three draft picks to select Thomas with a late second-round pick in the NFL Draft. The 6-foot, 230-pound Thomas led the Big 12 Conference in rushing the past two years. He totaled 2,850 yards and 30 touchdowns rushing at Kansas State, and he also made 52 receptions. Thomas has the chance to be the best running back of this draft class based on his opportunity even though he will share carries with Reggie Bush this year. The Dolphins plan to start Bush, but he has durabiliy issues. Look at Thomas as a steal with a sixth-round pick. And in the future, Thomas could emerge as a Top 15 Fantasy running back as early as 2012.

DeMarco Murray, Cowboys
2010 college stats: 282 carries for 1,214 yards and 15 touchdowns; 71 catches for 594 yards and five touchdowns at Oklahoma
Jamey's 2011 projection: 155 carries for 755 yards and eight touchdowns; 21 catches for 168 yards
Dave's 2011 projection: 160 carries for 704 yards and six touchdowns; 20 catches for 132 yards
Average Draft Position: No. 126 overall (Round 11)
Murray has plenty of big-play potential and could see a significant amount of touches as he's expected to share carries with Felix Jones. He could end up being a key reserve for Fantasy owners as a No. 3 running back, but don't reach for him before Round 9 or 10. The Cowboys offense should be explosive in 2011, but Jones is still going to get the majority of touches with Tashard Choice also in the mix. That said, Jones has underperformed so far in his career, so Murray can sneak in and be a productive rookie. And depending on how he performs this season, Murray could emerge as a No. 2 running back in 2012.

Roy Helu, Redskins
2010 college stats: 188 carries for 1,245 yards and 11 touchdowns; five catches for 46 yards at Nebraska
Jamey's 2011 projection: 176 carries for 766 yards and seven touchdowns; 11 catches for 88 yards
Dave's 2011 projection: 166 carries for 727 yards and five touchdowns; 13 catches for 95 yards
Average Draft Position: No. 114 overall (Round 10)
The Redskins have high hopes for Helu, especially coach Mike Shanahan. He said Helu reminds him of a young Clinton Portis, which is about as good of an endorsement as he could ask for. That said, the Redskins added Tim Hightower in a trade with Arizona, and he will likely be ahead of Helu on the depth chart, along with Ryan Torain. But keep in mind Torain has a lengthy injury history, and Hightower isn't an elite running back with a history of fumble issues. There's a chance Helu could end up starting by the end of the year, and he has plenty of upside. He could head into 2012 competing for the starting job depending on what happens with Torain and Hightower this season.

Stevan Ridley, Patriots
2010 college stats: 249 carries for 1,187 yards and 15 touchdowns; 11 catches for 61 yards at LSU
Jamey's 2011 projection: 106 carries for 505 yards and seven touchdowns; 11 catches for 67 yards
Dave's 2011 projection: 37 carries for 156 yards and no touchdowns; 4 catches for 28 yards
Average Draft Position: Not being drafted
The Patriots drafted Ridley in the third round of the NFL Draft, and he is expected to be part of a crowded backfield with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead and fellow rookie Shane Vereen. While we don't expect Ridley to have a significant impact, he could take on goal-line work for the Patrios, which would help his Fantasy value. Consider Ridley a No. 4 Fantasy running back for 2011 and a potential sleeper heading into 2012 when he and Vereen could replace Green-Ellis and Woodhead as the top two options on the depth chart.

Jacquizz Rodgers, Falcons
2010 college stats: 256 carries for 1,184 yards and 14 touchdowns; 44 catches for 287 yards and three touchdowns at Oregon State
Jamey's 2011 projection: 88 carries for 432 yards; 43 catches for 382 yards and one touchdown
Dave's 2011 projection: 44 carries for 203 yards and one touchdown; 15 catches for 128 yards
Average Draft Position: Not being drafted
Rodgers is small in stature at 5-foot-6, 196 pounds but he was big on production at Oregon State with 51 total touchdowns in three seasons. He is expected to play in passing situations for the Falcons even with Jason Snelling coming back to Atlanta, and he had 78 catches in 2009. Rodgers has the potential for 1,000 total yards playing in a secondary role behind Michael Turner. He is a great pick in leagues where receptions count, and he could be a surprise rookie in the majority of formats. Atlanta is going to be more aggressive in the passing game this season, and Rodgers should benefit as a sleeper.

Delone Carter, Colts
2010 college stats: 231 carries for 1,233 yards and nine touchdowns; eight catches for 45 yards at Syracuse
Jamey's 2011 projection: 76 carries for 346 yards and seven touchdowns; eight catches for 47 yards
Dave's 2011 projection: 51 carries for 221 yards and four touchdowns; four catches for 20 yards
Average Draft Position: No. 137 overall (Round 12)
Carter's value is on the rise coming into the season even though he's not expected to be the primary rusher for the Colts. That's because he could end up working at the goal line and scoring in double digits in touchdowns. The Colts need help in short-yardage areas behind Joseph Addai and Donald Brown, and Carter is a big back at 5-foot-9, 225 pounds. He had 20 rushing touchdowns in his final two seasons at Syracuse, but his downfall could be his receiving skills since he caught just 19 passes the past two years. He also must prove he can pass protect otherwise he won't be standing next to Peyton Manning much. Plan on drafting him with a late-round pick in deep standard leagues.

Kendall Hunter, 49ers
2010 college stats: 271 carries for 1,548 yards and 16 touchdowns; 20 catches for 101 yards at Oklahoma State
Jamey's 2011 projection: 65 carries for 305 yards and one touchdown; 36 catches for 288 yards and one touchdown
Dave's 2011 projection: 53 carries for 241 yards; 12 catches for 78 yards
Average Draft Position: No. 219 overall (Round 19)
The 49ers will likely use Hunter as a change-of-pace back and on third downs to help save starter Frank Gore. That alone gives him value with a late-round pick in the majority of leagues. But keep in mind Gore hasn't played in 16 games since 2006 and last year was limited to 11 games with a hip injury. If Gore goes down again, Hunter would likely share carries with Anthony Dixon, but Hunter has more upside. He should be considered the handcuff option for Gore, and he also is worth drafting in leagues where receptions count since he could be on the field for passing downs.

Shane Vereen, Patriots
2010 college stats: 231 carries for 1,167 yards and 13 touchdowns; 22 catches for 209 yards and three touchdowns at Cal
Jamey's 2011 projection: 84 carries for 304 yards and one touchdown; 22 catches for 152 yards and one touchdown
Dave's 2011 projection: 18 carries for 87 yards; 26 catches for 178 yards and one touchdown
Average Draft Position: No. 190 overall (Round 16)
Vereen has more Fantasy value in 2012 than he does this season since the Patriots still have Green-Ellis and Woodhead on the roster and also drafted Ridley. But going into 2012, the Patriots backfield has the potential to be Ridley and Vereen sharing carries, and we like Vereen with more Fantasy value down the road than in his rookie season. You're not going to see Vereen drafted in most standard formats, but he could be worth drafting with a late-round pick in point per reception leagues. The Patriots always find a way to get talented players on the field, and Vereen has plenty of star potential based on his college career.

Wide receiver

The following wide receivers are listed in rank order based on their value for 2011.

Julio Jones, Falcons
2010 college stats: 78 catches for 1,133 yards and seven touchdowns at Alabama
Jamey's 2011 projection: 46 catches for 732 yards and seven touchdowns
Dave's 2011 projection: 55 catches for 776 yards and six touchdowns
Average Draft Position: No. 106 overall (Round 9)
Jones gets a slight nod over Green because of his quarterback and that he's going to an established offense. The Falcons made a huge investment in Jones by trading up to select him in the first round of the NFL Draft, and he should pay immediate dividends starting opposite Roddy White and alongside Tony Gonzalez. Matt Ryan should lean on Jones quite a bit, and we consider him a solid No. 3 Fantasy wide receiver with the chance to be a No. 2 option in the future. Jones is going to be a star as his career goes on.

A.J. Green, Bengals
2010 college stats: 57 catches for 848 yards and nine touchdowns at Georgia
Jamey's 2011 projection: 44 catches 764 yards and seven touchdowns
Dave's 2011 projection: 53 catches for 710 yards and five touchdowns
Average Draft Position: No. 116 overall (Round 10)
Green might be the best athlete in the draft, and he has the potential to be the next Calvin Johnson based on his size (6-foot-4, 211 pounds), hands and athletic ability. Green's biggest problem as a rookie is his quarterback situation since the Bengals are unsettled on their starter to open the year. He should be considered a No. 3 Fantasy receiver this season with the chance to be a No. 1 option soon into his career. Plan on drafting Green as a Top 5 option in all rookie drafts.

Greg Little, Browns
2010 college stats: Did not play at North Carolina (NCAA suspension)
Jamey's 2011 projection: 43 catches for 595 yards and seven touchdowns
Dave's 2011 projection: 25 catches for 337 yards and two touchdowns
Average Draft Position: No. 166 (Round 14)
Little didn't play last year because of an NCAA suspension, but in 2009 he had 62 catches for 724 yards and five touchdowns. He should make up for lost time. The Browns need a No. 1 target, and Little might be able to fill that role as a rookie. He could be just as explosive and talented as Jones and Green, but Fantasy owners can draft him with a late-round pick. It also helps that the Browns have a favorable passing schedule with matchups against Houston, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Seattle, Arizona and St. Louis. And since the Browns could be throwing a lot if they are trailing late in games, Little could see plenty of targets in his first season.

Torrey Smith, Ravens
2010 college stats: 67 catches for 1,055 yards and 12 touchdowns at Maryland
Jamey's 2011 projection: 22 catches for 432 yards and two touchdowns
Dave's 2011 projection: 30 catches for 444 yards and three touchdowns
Average Draft Position: Not being drafted
Smith had potential for Fantasy owners when training camp started since he was expected to start opposite Anquan Boldin after Derrick Mason and Todd Heap left. But once the Ravens traded for Lee Evans that changed Smith's outlook. He will now be the No. 3 receiver in Baltimore, which isn't bad by any stretch, but he loses some of his sleeper appeal. We still recommend drafting Smith with a late-round pick in deep seasonal leagues, but we might not see him produce at a high level until his second year in 2012.

Titus Young, Lions
2010 college stats: 71 catches for 1,215 yards and nine touchdowns at Boise State
Jamey's 2011 projection: 36 catches for 654 yards and four touchdowns
Dave's 2011 projection: 31 catches for 446 yards and four touchdowns
Average Draft Position: No. 198 overall (Round 17)
Young has the chance to be the No. 3 receiver for the Lions behind Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson, but Young should still see plenty of passes in his direction. He had 19 touchdowns in his final two years at Boise State, and he should fly on the turf in Detroit. Young has drawn comparisons to DeSean Jackson, and if he can develop a rapport with Matthew Stafford early on then he could emerge as the No. 2 target behind Johnson. Young might never develop into a must-start Fantasy option, but he could be a key reserve in the majority of leagues.

Jonathan Baldwin, Chiefs
2010 college stats: 53 catches for 822 yards and five touchdowns at Pittsburgh
Jamey's 2011 projection: 35 catches for 548 yards and six touchdowns
Dave's 2011 projection: 33 catches for 446 yards and two touchdowns
Average Draft Position: No. 225 overall (Round 19)
The Chiefs needed help at wide receiver and in the red zone, and hopefully Baldwin can fill that role as a potential starter opposite Dwayne Bowe. Baldwin started 27 games for Pittsburgh the past three seasons, at both flanker and split end, and totaled 128 catches for 2,337 yards and 16 touchdowns. Baldwin needs some work adjusting to the next level after leaving college earlier than desired. Expectations are small for Baldwin in 2011, especially with Steve Breaston also in the mix for the Chiefs, so keep him limited to a late-round pick in deeper leagues. His only benefit in 2011 could be as a red-zone threat, which could lead to a handful of touchdowns.

Leonard Hankerson, Redskins
2010 college stats: 72 catches for 1,156 yards and 13 touchdowns at Miami
Jamey's 2011 projection: 33 catches for 470 yards and three touchdowns
Dave's 2011 projection: 32 catches for 408 yards and three touchdowns
Average Draft Position: No. 301 overall (Round 26)
Hankerson will likely be a reserve for the Redskins this season behind Santana Moss, Jabar Gaffney and Anthony Armstrong. The problem for Hankerson, who was a star for the Hurricanes, and all the receivers in Washington is the quarterback situation for the Redskins is a mess. We'd have more confidence in Hankerson if his quarterback situation was better, but he could still play a prominent role for Fantasy owners in this offense as the season goes on. Hankerson could follow in the footsteps of former University of Miami stars like Michael Irvin, Reggie Wayne, Andre Johnson and Santana Moss. Those are lofty expectations, but Hankerson has plenty of talent.

Quarterback

The following quarterbacks are listed in rank order based on their value for 2011.

Cam Newton, Panthers
2010 college stats: 2,854 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and seven interceptions; 264 carries for 1,473 yards and 20 touchdowns at Auburn
Jamey's 2011 projection: 3,142 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and 20 interceptions; 85 carries for 505 yards and three touchdowns
Dave's 2011 projection: 2,485 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions; 42 carries for 181 yards and three touchdowns
Average Draft Position: No. 146 overall (Round 13)
It's easy to understand why Newton was the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. He combined for 4,000-total yards and 50 touchdowns in winning the Heisman Trophy and the national championship for Auburn last year. It wouldn't surprise me if he has plenty of turnovers in his rookie year, but he's also going to have to make plays with his legs. The potential for 20 total touchdowns is there, and with his rushing ability, he could increase his overall Fantasy value. If your league doesn't heavily penalize for interceptions and rewards six points for touchdowns then Newton is worth consideration as a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback in deeper leagues this season.

Andy Dalton, Bengals
2010 college stats: 2,857 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and six interceptions; 86 carries for 435 yards and six touchdowns at Texas Christian
Jamey's 2011 projection: 2,755 passing yards, 15 touchdowns and 14 interceptions; 31 carries for 63 yards and one touchdown
Dave's 2011 projection: 3,105 passing yards, 18 touchdowns and 16 interceptions; 30 carries for 77 yards
Average Draft Position: No. 254 overall (Round 22)
Dalton is expected to start this season with Carson Palmer's status unsettled. He has an intriguing receiving corps with Green and Jerome Simpson leading the way along with Jordan Shipley and Jermaine Gresham. The Bengals are going to lean heavily on their running game, but Dalton has potential as a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback in deeper leagues just based on the opportunity to start. Cincinnati also has a favorable passing schedule with games against poor pass defenses in Cleveland twice, Houston, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Seattle, Denver, Arizona and St. Louis.

Tight end

The following tight ends are listed in rank order based on their value for 2011.

Lance Kendricks, Rams
2010 college stats: 43 catches for 663 yards and five touchdowns at Wisconsin
Jamey's 2011 projection: 37 catches for 411 yards and five touchdowns
Dave's 2011 projection: 30 catches for 377 yards and three touchdowns
Average Draft Position: Not being drafted
Kendricks has the chance to be the best rookie tight end this season since he could start right away for the Rams. St. Louis doesn't have a lot of playmakers in the passing game, and Kendricks could end up being a significant contributor in the red zone. He is worth drafting with a late-round pick in deep seasonal leagues, and in 2012 he could turn into a starting Fantasy option. He could also end up being a bye-week replacement this year if he starts out the season playing at a high level.

Rob Housler, Cardinals
2010 college stats: 39 catches for 629 yards and four touchdowns at Florida Atlantic
Jamey's 2011 projection: 45 catches for 561 yards and three touchdowns
Dave's 2011 projection: 21 catches for 255 yards and two touchdowns
Average Draft Position: Not being drafted
Housler lost his chance to be a solid rookie tight end this year when the Cardinals added Todd Heap. Still, Housler could still make plays in his rookie season, especially with Heap's history of getting hurt. You're not going to draft Housler in most standard leagues, but keep him on your radar in deep formats as a potential bye-week replacement. And heading into 2012 look for Housler to step up as a possible sleeper.

Kyle Rudolph, Vikings
2010 college stats: 28 catches for 328 yards and three touchdowns at Notre Dame
Jamey's 2011 projection: 34 catches for 412 yards and three touchdowns
Dave's 2011 projection: 11 catches for 113 yards and one touchdown
Average Draft Position: Not being drafted
Rudolph may turn out to be the best Fantasy tight end of this class, but his value will be stifled this season with Shiancoe ahead of him on the depth chart. In 2012, you might consider Rudolph a sleeper like Jimmy Graham in New Orleans. Rudolph has plenty of potential and could eventually develop into a star at 6-foot-6, 265 pounds. But it will take Shiancoe leaving Minnesota for Rudolph to live up to his draft value with a second-round pick.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Jamey at @jameyeisenberg .

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