After the 2014 season, it's tempting to have a new perspective on rookies for fantasy football. After all, running backs like Jeremy Hill, Andre Williams and Tre Mason made splashes, and wide receivers such as Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin became instant stars.
Maybe this is the new trend. Maybe, in a ruthless salary cap world where NFL teams no longer hold onto fading, expensive veterans, there will be more opportunities for first-year players than ever before. Or maybe 2014 was a one-year blip, and you should remain as wary as ever of investing too heavily in rookies for your fantasy squad.
There will be time to debate this point all summer. For now, let's take a look at the names we'll be mulling as the 2015 season approaches. First off, here's my very early take on the top 10 re-draft rookies:
1. Melvin Gordon, RB, San Diego Chargers: A sprinting, stiff-arming collegiate superstar, Gordon lands on a good offense to replace Ryan Mathews as the lead back in San Diego. Danny Woodhead will return from his broken leg to be the Chargers' receiving back, but Gordon is so much better than Donald Brown and Branden Oliver that he should be a cinch for early-down work. He'll probably be a top-15 RB in drafts this summer.
2. Kevin White, WR, Chicago Bears: It's a quandary: Do you get excited about White's wonderful raw gifts and Velcro hands, or do you worry that he was a one-year wonder at West Virginia, where the offense is spread and receivers don't face tons of press coverage? I'll admit there's risk in relying on Jay Cutler to provide for a rookie's breakout, but I'm taking the plunge. White is so big and fast, he immediately becomes one of a few men in the NFL who can make Alshon Jeffery look like a possession receiver. Certainly Jeffery is the better fantasy bet entering his fourth season, but right now I'll say White belongs among the top-25 fantasy receivers.
3. Tevin Coleman, RB, Atlanta Falcons: This one is dangerous. Coleman is coming off a wonderful, 2,036-yard season at Indiana, but he's mainly a speed player who doesn't comprehend the finer points of cutting and making tacklers miss. In short, he wasn't one of my favorite backs in this draft. But Coleman lands on a very good offense -- helmed by new coordinator Kyle Shanahan -- in need of a feature back. He's a bit thicker than Devonta Freeman and boasts elite home-run ability, plus he's considered one of the better pass blockers in the draft. I expect him to lead a platoon right away. Keep in mind that I said similar things about Bishop Sankey last year: I didn't love Sankey as a prospect but thought a full-time job would be his with the Tennessee Titans. It didn't work out that way. Coleman carries some real risk.
4. Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders: Cooper was my favorite wideout in this draft, but his landing spot stinks. I know we can look at the Raiders through rose-colored glasses and believe the offense is coming together, but I'm simply not a believer in Derek Carr, whose rookie tape was dreadful. Somewhere down the road, Cooper has Antonio Brown upside. But I think of Sammy Watkins last year, lost in a sea of mediocrity with the Buffalo Bills. Cooper will make some great plays, but I worry he won't be week-to-week reliable.
5. T.J. Yeldon, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars: Yeldon inspires diverging opinions. Some observers look at him as an Arian Foster clone. Others, myself included, see a collegiate fumbler who doesn't run like a 226-pounder, but rather cuts and slashes sometimes unnecessarily. He lands in a fine place for volume: This spells the end of Toby Gerhart as a possible feature back, and Denard Robinson is probably best suited to be a change-of-pace runner. Of course, it's the Jags, and things would really have to turn around quickly for Blake Bortles to suddenly be at the helm of an offensive juggernaut. I'm wary of endorsing situations instead of players, so I'm not going to go crazy with my personal rank of Yeldon.
6. Breshad Perriman, WR, Baltimore Ravens: Here's another uncertain prospect in another great landing spot. The Ravens lost Torrey Smith to free agency and will plug in Perriman, who's got excellent speed and all-around athletic moves for a guy 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds. He's raw, he dropped passes and he played less-than-elite competition at Central Florida, but he fits the mold of a big-play and red-zone aggressor right away. There's flameout potential here, but Perriman could also become a fantasy starter as a rookie.
7. Nelson Agholor, WR, Philadelphia Eagles: Athletically, Agholor reminds observers of the man he'll replace in Philly, Jeremy Maclin. Outside of Jordan Matthews, the Eagles' wideout cupboard is relatively bare, with only Riley Cooper and Josh Huff around to challenge Agholor from getting rookie snaps. (I kind of like Huff as a sleeper, though.) Chip Kelly's offense is likely to become even more focused on the run in '15, but the Eagles play so fast that there will be work for the wideouts, too. Agholor must prove he can get off the line at 6-feet and 198 pounds, but that's Maclin's size and he was quick enough to do so. I prefer Matthews, but as of right now I assume Agholor will be drafted in all leagues.
8. Todd Gurley, RB, St. Louis Rams: Gurley is my favorite rookie this year. In standard dynasty leagues, he might still be my No. 1 pick, but he's coming off a torn ACL and is no sure thing to play Week 1. I'm excited to see him become a star in '16. And heck, maybe he recovers quickly and elbows Tre Mason into a supplemental role right away. But knowing what I know in May, I have to admit there's a chance he gives you very little this season.
9. David Cobb, RB, Tennessee Titans: Cobb was a fifth-round selection, implying there's no guarantee he even makes Tennessee's roster. But he's a favorite of mine, so at this early date I'm holding out hope he could threaten Bishop Sankey for the starting job. Cobb got dinged in the scouting process for his lack of long speed and hard-cut quickness, and the common word became that he was just like Shonn Greene. I don't see it! I think Cobb is a power runner in the Jeremy Hill mold, a roughneck 229-pound TD scorer in the making. And fortunately, he lands on a depth chart where Greene himself is likely to get cut, leaving a vacancy for a power back. Plus, Sankey was underwhelming in '14. If I'm right about Cobb's college production translating to the NFL, he could have value even on a crummy Titans squad.
10. Jay Ajayi, RB, Miami Dolphins: For me, Ajayi was the mystery of this draft. How could a kid who looked that good on tape last until the fifth round? Word circulated that teams were nervous about his knee and that he wouldn't be productive into his second contract. That's crazy talk! What RB is guaranteed more than four or five seasons? Ajayi does everything very well: runs with power, makes tacklers miss, catches the ball, blocks and most of all takes hits and stays upright. Lamar Miller is coming off a good season, so Ajayi isn't guaranteed any playing time in '15, but my guess is that if the Dolphins had their druthers, they'd find a partner for Miller, who averaged only 13.5 carries per contest last season. If Ajayi is the guy, I think his production will be strong on a per-touch basis.
Now let's dig in with a look at every skill player taken in the second and third rounds, and the skill-position names we might need to know that were taken thereafter.
36. T.J. Yeldon, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars: See above.
37. Devin Smith, WR, New York Jets: Volume was always going to be a concern for Smith's fantasy stock, as he's a pure downfield threat who won't do a ton of work in the trenches or red zone. In Gotham, though, with an uncertain QB situation and Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker in place, Smith's workload will suffer. I view him as a Torrey Smith clone who'll make some big plays, and I like the pick for the Jets. Owners in re-draft leagues won't find much use for him in Week 1.
40. Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Tennessee Titans: DGB has major character concerns that could thwart his NFL career before it even begins. But my task in this space is to evaluate his fantasy potential, and it's hard to imagine he could've landed in a worse spot for that. New Titans QB Marcus Mariota has zero experience in a pro-style offense, and Green-Beckham played only 25 games of college football. DGB's insane size and straight-ahead speed (6-foot-5, 237 pounds, 4.49 40) make him a potential TD monster, but will the Titans score many TDs in '15? Plus, the similar Justin Hunter is already in Nashville. Green-Beckham is best left as a high-upside waiver add in standard leagues.
41. Devin Funchess, WR, Carolina Panthers: OK, so I'm about to torch Funchess as a prospect, but remember I did the same to Kelvin Benjamin last year and he worked out fine for the Panthers. Funchess was dreadful as a collegiate player, though. He had too many drops, and for a guy who's 6-foot-4 and 232 pounds, he was way too easy to tackle. Funchess isn't fast, doesn't run good routes and doesn't have good hands. Plus, he'll have to slot in behind Benjamin in Cam Newton's pecking order. If fantasy owners thought Funchess could convert to tight end, where he might have more value (he played TE for two seasons at Michigan), forget it: Greg Olsen just signed an extension, with $12 million guaranteed.
54. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Detroit Lions: Abdullah was an exciting college player with awesome change-of-direction and acceleration, but he brings size and ball-security concerns to the Lions. At 5-foot-9 and 205 pounds, he's on that Andre Ellington/Giovani Bernard borderline where he'll tease with some per-play magic, but potentially break down with full-time use. I'm a Joique Bell fan, and was vexed to hear that Detroit was looking to draft a running back, but this is about a best-case scenario for Bell. Expect Abdullah to fight Theo Riddick for supplemental snaps in '15, but Bell should remain the leader of this time-share.
55. Maxx Williams, TE, Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens can't be counting on Dennis Pitta after back-to-back seasons ruined by a serious hip injury, so Williams could see a nice rookie workload. Down the road, my comparison for Williams is Dallas Clark: a good-not-great athlete without monstrous size, but someone who gets open and has sweet hands. Of course, tight ends tend not to produce consistent numbers in their first seasons -- only one rookie TE since '01, Jeremy Shockey, has exceeded 627 yards receiving -- so Williams won't be in my top 10 this summer.
68. Clive Walford, TE, Oakland Raiders: If Maxx Williams at least landed in a situation with potential, Walford landed in a veritable black hole. In Mychal Rivera, the Raiders have a TE who caught 58 passes last season and doesn't block much, so Walford -- who projects as a strong blocker -- will probably play inline for much of his rookie campaign. In February, I compared Walford to Dwayne Allen, and now that appraisal looks even more accurate, as Walford will contend with Rivera the way Allen contends with Coby Fleener.
69. Tyler Lockett, WR, Seattle Seahawks: Never let it be said that the Seahawks don't have a type. When they traded their third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-round picks to get a wideout, one might've assumed they'd get a big guy to complement Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin, but no. They had their eyes on Lockett, a 5-foot-10, 182-pound waterbug whose best case is probably a T.Y. Hilton role but who may struggle to get off the line against press coverage. Perhaps Lockett winds up threatening Kearse and Baldwin, but it's likelier he makes his rookie contribution as a return man.
70. Jaelen Strong, WR, Houston Texans: Strong's could be a name to know if the Texans get competent quarterback play in '15. He's 6-foot-2 and 217 pounds, runs a 4.44 40 and submitted a crazy 42-inch vertical, which confirms what he showed on tape: He's a big-time leaper who wins at the ball's high point. He isn't really a "separation" guy, which led folks to compare him to Marques Colston, but there's some pre-injury Miles Austin to his game, as well. DeAndre Hopkins will be Plan A in the Houston passing game, but with only Cecil Shorts and Nate Washington competing with him, Strong looks like a fine bet to log starter's snaps right away. Now let's see if Brian Hoyer or Ryan Mallett can use him.
73. Tevin Coleman, RB, Atlanta Falcons: See above.
75. Garrett Grayson, QB, New Orleans Saints: Grayson doesn't have a big arm or above-average athleticism, but neither of those disqualifies him from potential pro stardom. Heck, I endorsed Teddy Bridgewater last year, and those descriptions fit him, too. Where I worry about Grayson is his throwing accuracy. Sure, he improved to 64 percent during his senior year, but against better defenses (and especially in Colorado State's bowl game versus Utah), he failed to hit open players. That's the concern, but the Saints will groom him to be Drew Brees' heir.
76. Chris Conley, WR, Kansas City Chiefs: Let's just say from the start that Conley is a cool kid. He made this film in college, a Star Wars tribute that looks great. He's also one heck of an athlete, notching a 4.35 40 at 6-foot-2 and 213 pounds, and registering high and broad jumps that were among the best ever recorded at the combine. Unfortunately, he lands with Alex Smith, and the same problems that are likely to dog Jeremy Maclin will also dog Conley: Smith can't or won't throw the deep ball. Until that changes, no Chiefs wideout will come highly recommended for fantasy, least of all a rookie.
77. Duke Johnson, RB, Cleveland Browns: Like Abdullah, Johnson belongs to the class of backs who may be too small for every-down action. Also like Abdullah, Johnson lands on a team with two established backs already in place. The Browns drafted Terrance West last year, while Isaiah Crowell was an undrafted free agent, and each had nice moments, so it's unlikely that the 5-foot-9, 207-pound Johnson plays much on early downs right away. But he's a breakaway threat and a wonderful open-field cutter who reminds me of Reggie Bush. A Bush-like third-down role is possible in Week 1.
85. Tyler Kroft, TE, Cincinnati Bengals: Kroft's selection puts an official end to the Jermaine Gresham era in Cincinnati. Tyler Eifert will start, and Kroft will play inline. Whatever Kroft can do, Eifert can do better at this stage of their respective careers, so it would take an injury to Eifert for Kroft to become a weekly receiving threat.
86. David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals' backfield looked like a juicy landing spot for a rookie. I just wish I liked Johnson more as a prospect. Andre Ellington is coming off hip and foot injuries and also needed sports hernia surgery last year, which proves he probably can't be an every-down RB. Enter Johnson, who goes 6-foot-1 and 224 pounds. Perfect, right? A TD-making thumper to go along with Ellington's quickness? Unfortunately, Johnson is an upright runner who doesn't display much power and produced great numbers at Northern Iowa. I think Johnson will be worth a late-round flier in all leagues because of his new home. I'm just not sure he'll take advantage of the opportunity.
87. Sammie Coates, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: If you could transplant another wideout's hands onto Coates' body, you'd really have something. As it is, the incredibly athletic Coates has yet to prove his consistency, and he dropped eight balls at Auburn last season. Martavis Bryant already appears to fill the "freak athlete learning to be a good football player" role in Pittsburgh, so I'm not sure that leaves a regular role for Coates. But while he could absolutely fade away, we could also look back in a few seasons and see the beginnings of an explosive deep and red-zone threat.
88. Sean Mannion, QB, St. Louis Rams: After a junior year when he threw for 37 TDs and 15 INTs, Mannion was viewed as a potential first-rounder. Alas, in his senior year he went for 15 TDs, 8 INTs and lost nearly 1,500 yards off his season total. He played in a pro-style offense at Oregon State but didn't always display pocket awareness and had some killer mistakes when pressure came. I have doubts he's a long-term NFL starter, and he shouldn't even be Nick Foles' backup in '15.
92. Jeff Heuerman, TE, Denver Broncos: Any skill player teamed with Peyton Manning is worth mentioning. The Broncos lost Julius Thomas this winter and are going with a combo of Owen Daniels, Virgil Green and James Casey this year; none of those guys is an obvious star, but all of them have more experience than Heuerman, who'll probably be asked to block as a rookie.
94. Ty Montgomery, WR, Green Bay Packers: Montgomery is a beefy guy whom Stanford used all over the field. He returned kicks and punts, he caught passes and he lined up in the backfield and got carries (36 the past two seasons). As a pass catcher, Montgomery is a work in progress, but his straight-ahead speed and bulldog power made him a college playmaker. In Green Bay, he'll be a fringe player for the time being.
95. Matt Jones, RB, Washington: I was concerned Alfred Morris could wind up with some serious competition coming out of this draft, but I don't think Jones is that guy. He's a load at 6-foot-2 and 226 pounds, but in college he didn't display the kind of instincts and hard cutting that have made Morris a productive player in a zone scheme. Jones is good in protection and you never rule out TDs from a player his size, but things could've worked out much worse for Morris.
103. Bryce Petty, QB, New York Jets: Petty comes to the NFL out of Baylor's spread offense. His footwork tended to break down the rare times he felt pressure, and his deep ball suffered as a result. He's too raw to play much this year. The Jets will sink or swim (read: sink) with Geno Smith and/or Ryan Fitzpatrick.
105. Jamison Crowder, WR, Washington: Crowder had buzz as a potential Brandin Cooks type until the combine, whereupon he ran a 4.56 40 (Cooks ran 4.33), and didn't produce great quickness scores in the shuttle drills. He's almost certainly going to be a slot player in his pro career: quick, but without deep speed or red-zone ability.
106. Jeremy Langford, RB, Chicago Bears: Langford was the fastest RB at the combine, clocking a 4.42 at 208 pounds, which reinforced his breakaway ability when he gets to the corner. He's not so much a hard cutter as he is a decisive head knocker who produces nice runs when there's room. Matt Forte enters his walk year and turns 30 in December, so the battle between Langford and second-year RB Ka'Deem Carey could turn into an audition for '16.
107. Justin Hardy, WR, Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons lost Harry Douglas to free agency and replaced him with the wideout from this draft who most evokes Douglas' slot skills. Hardy is easy to root for: He was a collegiate walk-on at East Carolina and wound up breaking the all-time record for career receptions at an FBS school. His problem for fantasy, of course, is that a player like Douglas was never much of a week-to-week threat, and Hardy probably won't be, either.
125. Javorius Allen, RB, Baltimore Ravens: "Buck" Allen is a 221-pound player with some nice straight-ahead speed, but on tape you wish he'd run more like a power back. Sometimes he's too patient, and he doesn't really have the sharp cutting ability that will allow him to make multiple defenders miss. The Ravens will encourage him to go north/south and become a less-injury-prone Ryan Mathews. Justin Forsett will helm their Week 1 depth chart, and only Lorenzo Taliaferro will be ahead of Allen for a backup role. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Allen work his way into meaningful time as a rookie.
126. Mike Davis, RB, San Francisco 49ers: Whether you can get behind Davis as a sleeper for '15 depends on what you think of Reggie Bush in his age-30 season. Carlos Hyde figures to approach 250 touches if he's healthy, and Bush is a natural complement on passing downs. But if Hyde gets hurt, I strongly doubt Bush would hold up to early-down work (the same holds true for Kendall Hunter, who is returning from a torn ACL), so Davis could wind up as the 49ers' TD maker in a pinch. He's a one-direction thumper.
138. David Cobb, RB, Tennessee Titans: See above.
139. Rashad Greene, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jags stayed away from this draft's high-profile receivers, but they got a good one in Greene. At 5-foot-11 and 182 pounds without freakish quicks, he's probably a slot man, but he was the surest-handed wideout of anyone I scouted this winter. No, being Blake Bortles' safety valve isn't an immediate path to glory, but I like him.
149. Jay Ajayi, RB, Miami Dolphins: See above.
162. Kenny Bell, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: It would take an injury to Mike Evans or Vincent Jackson, but Bell could flash as a rookie. He was a favored sleeper in the draft community, and though he doesn't boast great size, he's a crazy-good athlete and seemed like he was always open at Nebraska. My guess is that somewhere down the road we're going to be talking about Bell as a fantasy factor, though automatically assuming that will happen in '15 with rookie QB Jameis Winston is probably aggressive.
174. Cameron Artis-Payne, RB, Carolina Panthers: CAP is a pretty good player who reminds me of the man he replaced at Auburn, Tre Mason. He's not a bulldozer at 5-foot-10 and 212 pounds, but he's got Mason's excellent vision and balance. Jonathan Stewart will try to be a leading man this year in the Panthers' backfield, but he's been incredibly injury-prone. Artis-Payne would only have to beat out the likes of Fozzy Whittaker, Darrin Reaves and Jordan Todman for looks behind Stew Beef.
205. Josh Robinson, RB, Indianapolis Colts: I know I'm in the minority, but I really like Robinson. He's only 5-foot-8, but he's 217 pounds of thickness, and reminded me of Maurice Jones-Drew at Mississippi State. He won't plow over linebackers who get square shots on him, but he's nifty and powerful. Even if he doesn't find a home in Indy's deep backfield, I think he'll wind up on an NFL roster. He's worth tracking.