Fantasy Football: Four rookies who could make an impact in 2015


Fantasy Football: Four rookies who could make an impact in 2015

2014 saw an absurd number of rookies make an early impact in the NFL. 

From Odell Beckham Jr. to Mike Evans to Teddy Bridgewater, fantasy owners who took risks on rookies were mostly rewarded for their gamble (except for you, Bishop Sankey owners). 

Could we see another outburst of impact rookies in 2015? And could the success of the 2014 class cause fantasy owners to reach for some of the highly-rated rookies in the 2015 class?

We may not know some of those answers until training camp but looking at the some of the teams and situations the top playmakers in the 2015 NFL Draft ended up in got us excited for the fall.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

So here's a list of some rookies that should make an impact this fall if healthy:

1. Amari Cooper, WR, OAK

Of course Cooper is a rookie to watch in Fantasy Football this year. He was the fourth pick, after all. But there are plenty of reasons to believe Cooper will be a Fantasy stud in his rookie season. He's one of the most polished receivers we've seen in a long while and his game is pro-ready from Day 1. Cooper enters a great situation in Oakland where he should be the No. 1 option in the passing game immediately with up-and-comer Derek Carr at quarterback. Rookie wide receivers were a vital part of the 2014 Fantasy season and Cooper should lead the way for first-year wideouts in 2015. - Tony Andracki

[MORE: Four guys whose stock is falling after free agency, NFL Draft]

2. Maxx Williams, TE, BAL

There may not have been a more perfect match than Maxx Williams and the Baltimore Ravens in the 2015 NFL Draft, and the fact that the Ravens were able to grab the former Gopher at No. 55 and steal him from their AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers was just further icing on the cake. Williams, the No. 1 tight end in this year's draft, instantly adds a dynamic to the Ravens roster that they were previously missing. With Dennis Pitta's future in doubt, it's likely that Williams will be the starter in Baltimore this season. Williams possesses tremendous straight-line speed and has the ability to beat linebackers and safeties down the middle of the field. We saw what Joe Flacco could do with an aging Owen Daniels in 2014, just imagine the production he will get out of a player as talented as Williams. Another added bonus for Williams is new Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman. During Trestman's two years in Chicago, Bears tight end Martellus Bennett hauled in 155 passes on 225 targets, making Bennett one of the league's top fantasy options at the tight end position. I know Williams is a rookie, but he's a must-target in the later rounds this year. A player with his upside should not be sitting on the wire in Week 1. - Scott Krinch

[RELATED: Four guys whose stock is on the rise after free agency, NFL Draft]

3. Tevin Coleman, RB, ATL

With most rookies, their first year success depends on two conditions: talent and depth chart. Coleman can check both of those boxes in Atlanta. The Falcons don't have a workhorse in the backfield with only Devonta Freeman and Antone Smith slated on the roster, immediately pushing Coleman towards the top of the depth chart. Third-down snaps may be harder to come by for Coleman because Freeman and Smith thrive catching balls out of the backfield but the former Hoosier is a strong enough back that he could be the Falcons' goal line runner and pick up major fantasy points that way. He's also in a division that lacks stout defenses (outside of the Panthers). With talent on the outside such as Julio Jones and Roddy White, Coleman is exactly the kind of offensive weapon the Falcons need to take their team to the next level and the kind of FLEX option that could put your fantasy team over the top. - John "The Professor" Paschall

4. Jameis Winston, QB, TB

Once the Tampa Bay Buccaneers felt comfortable enough about Jameis Winston off the field, he became a no-brainer choice for the No. 1 overall pick. That’s because he’s the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck, a savvy quarterback mind and a gritty competitor. Pardon the John Gruden-isms there at the end, but Famous Jameis is that good. If he keeps his head on straight (I think he will) I see no reason why he can’t be a top-10 fantasy quarterback this season. He’s got two 1,000-yard wide receivers in Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, some talent in the backfield – expect a bounce-back year from Doug Martin, while one of Bobby Rainey, Mike James or Charles Sims should hold value. Tampa Bay allowed the third most sacks last season, but they invested in some protection by spending second-round picks on OT Donovan Smith and C Ali Marpet. The Bucs are invested in keeping Winston upright, and with a pair of 6-foot-5 targets to throw to I expect him to have a monster rookie year. I’m not sure it’ll result in Tampa Bay victories but the front office has put him in position to succeed from the jump. It’s too risky to bank on him being your No. 1 quarterback in fantasy leagues, but I’d absolutely use a mid-round pick on Winston. You’ll reap the rewards later. - Mark Strotman

For Bears drafting at No. 8, the 'problem' with Notre Dame G Quenton Nelson is...


For Bears drafting at No. 8, the 'problem' with Notre Dame G Quenton Nelson is...

In the aptly-named mock drafts to this point, this reporter has posited the Bears selecting Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson. That’s not the complete story, however. There’s a “problem.”

The landscape: The Bears currently sit at No. 8 overall; Nelson is rated among the best prospects, regardless of position, in the 2018; Nelson is the consensus top offensive lineman in this draft; the Bears have an immediate need on the interior of their offensive line (at guard or center, depending upon where where the new coaching staff slots Cody Whitehair); and among the prime directives for GM Ryan Pace is the protection of franchise quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

And full disclosure: This reporter does see Nelson to the Bears, just not at No. 8, and presumably if the Bears do not address the post-Josh Sitton situation in free agency.

But there’s a problem. A couple, actually, and having nothing to do specifically with Nelson.

The “problem” centers (no pun intended) around his position: Guard.

Guards do not typically come off the board within the first 10 picks of drafts. Worse for guards, when they do, they don’t work out well. In the last five drafts, only two guards were selected within the first 10 picks, both in the 2013 draft, both (Jonathan Cooper, No. 7; Chance Warmack, No. 10) already undistinguished and both already on their second teams.

Great guards are indeed to be found in first rounds. But relevant NFL history says that they do not come early. Selectively, to wit:

Player Drafted Year
David DeCastro 24 2012
Alan Faneca* 26 1998
Steve Hutchinson* 17 2001
Kyle Long 20 2013
Zack Martin 16 2014

* 2017 Hall of Fame semifinalist

Meaning: Assuming the Bears do not spend starter money in free agency on the like of Andrew Norwell, Justin Pugh, Zach Fulton or (insert UFA name here). Parenthetically on the draft-value aspect of good guards, Norwell was undrafted, Pugh was the 2013 pick just ahead Long, as a tackle, and Fulton was a sixth-rounder.

Pace predilections: “stat” players

Pace is in desperate need of impact players in both the draft and free agency. A guard is simply not in the “impact” vein as Pace’s first three No. 1 draft picks, all top-10’ers and all with something in common that a guard does not bring: stats.

Stats themselves aren’t the point, and an elite offensive lineman contributes to the stats of everyone else on his unit. But 2015 No. 1 Kevin White is a wide receiver; they catch passes and score touchdowns. Pace’s 2016 No. 1 was a rush-linebacker who generates sacks; Leonard Floyd. And 2017 No. 1 was Mitch Trubisky. All players with the potential for producing major-impact, game-changing stat plays.

Conversely, Pace’s New Orleans touchstone was an offensive line that protected Drew Brees with mid-rounders Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks at guard, and no offensive lineman drafted higher than the second round (Jon Stinchcomb).

Best guess, too, is that new head coach Matt Nagy, who’ll obviously be an intimate part of the draft process, will not be pounding the table for a guard, or perhaps for any offensive lineman with that first first-round pick of his tenure. The Kansas City Chiefs got just a so-so starting tackle (Eric Fisher) with the No. 1-overall pick of the 2013 draft while Nagy was there. And the very good Philadelphia Eagles teams took exactly one offensive lineman higher than the fourth round during Nagy’s years there (2008-12) with Andy Reid – and that pick was a guard (Danny Watkins) picked at No. 23, and who was a bust.

Conclusion: If Nelson is far, far and away the highest-graded player on the Bears’ draft board, Pace will make that move – if, and only if, Pace cannot trade down and add the picks that every GM craves as part of franchise-building, which is where the Pace-Nagy administration stands.

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive backs

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive backs

2017 grade: B-

Level of need: High

Decisions to be made on: Kyle Fuller (free agent), Prince Amukamara (free agent), Marcus Cooper (contract), Sherrick McManis (free agent), Bryce Callahan (restricted free agent), Quintin Demps (contract)

Possible free agent targets: Trumaine Johnson, Malcolm Butler, Bashaud Breeland, E.J. Gaines, Rashaad Melvin, Robert McClain, Darrelle Revis

There’s a wide spectrum of scenarios for the Bears at cornerback, ranging from keeping the status quo to blowing the whole thing up, and everything in between. Safety is far more stable, with Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson proving to be a reliable pairing, so that’s set for 2018.

Let’s start with one end of that cornerback spectrum: The Bears keep the top of this unit intact. That means, No. 1, retaining Kyle Fuller via the franchise tag and/or a long-term contract. No. 2, it means bringing back Prince Amukamara, who didn’t record an interception and committed a few too many penalties, but otherwise was a fine enough cover corner. No. 3, it means keeping restricted free agent Bryce Callahan as the team’s No. 1 slot corner.

On paper, this doesn’t seem like an altogether bad option. The Bears weren’t spectacular at cornerback in 2017, but the position was a little better than average, which isn’t the worst place to be for a single unit. Couple with solid play from the safeties and the Bears’ defensive backs were overall a decent enough group. Outside of Marcus Cooper -- who is a candidate to be cut for cap savings -- the Bears may not need to make wholesale changes to this group.

That, though, is a rosier look at this unit. The Bears can certainly improve the personnel in it with a healthy amount of cap space and a strong crop of free agent cornerbacks about to hit the market. Keeping Fuller and then signing a top-tier player like Trumaine Johnson or Malcolm Butler would upgrade this group, as would bringing back Fuller and Amukamara but then using a high draft pick on a player like Ohio State’s Denzel Ward.

Unless the Bears sign two big-time cornerbacks -- i.e. Fuller and Johnson, or even a guy like Brashaud Breeland or E.J. Gaines -- it would seem reasonable for them to use a first or second-round pick on a cornerback in an effort to find a longer-term solution at the position. That doesn’t mean the Bears would absolutely have to go that route, especially with other needs at wide receiver, guard and outside linebacker.

But here’s another thought: It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Bears are able to sign a combination of two top cornerbacks in free agency. With plenty of cap space top-end free agents lacking at wide receiver and outside linebacker/edge rusher, could Pace allocate a good chunk of that money to, say, tagging Fuller and making runs at Johnson, Butler and/or Breeland? 2018 looks to be a good year to be aggressive in the free agent cornerback market, and that could play into the Bears’ strategy well.

Before we finish, we should carve out some space for Amos and Jackson. Pro Football Focus isn’t the only outlet that’s given Amos high marks -- Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 ranked him as the No. 1 free safety in the league, too. Jackson came in at No. 19 in B/R’s strong safety rankings, which is pretty solid for a fourth-round rookie.

But the larger point here isn’t exactly where Amos and Jackson are in outside evaluations -- it’s that, tangibly, the pair played well off each other on a consistent basis last year. Seeing as Amos didn’t enter the Bears’ starting lineup until Week 4 -- after Quintin Demps suffered a season-ending broken forearm against Pittsburgh -- how quickly and successfully he and Jackson meshed was one of the more impressive developments for the Bears’ 2017 defense. Amos needs to make more plays on the ball and Jackson has some things to clean up, but the Bears enter the 2018 league year not needing to address their safety position. That’s a good place to be for a team with other significant needs.