Below are the top five rookies at each fantasy-relevant offensive position. Draft position indicates where the player was ACTUALLY drafted, not my recommended draft position.
Round 1: Pick 16
The most athletic quarterback of the class. In addition to being the only quarterback taken in the first round, he has the best chance of any rookie quarterback to start week one. Use caution drafting him for fantasy, as well as any rookie quarterback this year, as he looks to need a few years to develop his skills.
New York Jets
Round 2: Pick 39
Considered by most to be the best quarterback prospect in the draft, he fell to the Jets in the second round because of big question marks that will need to be answered. General managers in the league have questioned his maturity and leadership, and many don’t believe the offense he ran at West Virginia will translate to the NFL. The Jets say this is an open quarterback battle, so it will be worth watching the competition throughout the preseason. With Sanchez looking worse and worse (three interceptions in fifteen snaps in OTAs in a recent day), Smith should be able to win the job.
Round 4: Pick 112
It’s hard to be completely sold on Matt Flynn as the starter given that the former seventh-round pick has yet to throw his 150th career pass in his five years in the league. Also, he got beaten out by a rookie named Wilson last offseason shortly after signing a big contract. Tyler Wilson certainly has the talent to start at some point this year for the consistently rebuilding raiders.
Round 4: Pick 98
A likely first-round pick had he entered the draft after his junior season, Barkley is both talented and polished as a proven leader. Vick has a stranglehold on the starter spot, but when has he ever stayed healthy for a full sixteen games?
Round 4: Pick 115
Big Ben is once again coming off surgery. Jones will only get playing time if Roethlisberger is injured, but this situation seems like more of a “when” than “if.”
Round 2: Pick 48
Bell is Rashard Mendenhall’s replacement. He should have no problem beating out Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman for the starter job. The Steelers are likely to be enamored with his athleticism.
Round 2: Pick 37
Bernard was the first running back taken in the draft. BenJarvus Green-Ellis was ineffective as a starter last year, averaging below 4 yards per rush. The organization’s overcommitment to Green-Ellis as the starter allowed him to surpass the thousand-yard rushing mark, but it was largely a product of the rush attempts given. Something to watch out for: carries for promising rookie sixth round pick, Rex Burkhead.
Green Bay Packers
Round 2: Pick 61
Other than a brief period of serviceable play from undrafted Ryan Grant, the Packers haven’t had good play from the running back position since Ahman Green nearly ten years ago. The Packers have invested in offensive linemen in recent draft classes, and playing with Aaron Rodgers will certainly give Lacy some running room.
Kansas City Chiefs
Round 3: Pick 95
There is a dropoff in fantasy value after the top three rookie running backs. I fully expect Jamaal Charles to start, but Knile Davis is a great second option. Charles’ torn ACL in 2011 showed that depth at the position is important, and the Chiefs would rather not overload Charles with carries and allow a similar thing to occur.
Round 2: Pick 58
Ball is in a crowded backfield. Willis McGahee, Ronnie Hillman, and former first-round pick Knowshon Moreno can all expect to get at least the occasional rush attempt. Because of McGahee’s age, Hillman’s lack of elite talent, and Moreno’s desire to prove the world he is a bust, I’d say Ball has the best chance of remaining rookie running backs to make a fantasy impact, but it’s not by much.
St. Louis Rams
Round 1: Pick 8
Austin came in to the league with the starter job on a silver platter. Chris Givens is the most proven receiver on the roster with the departures of Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson. Much of Austin’s success will depend on former first overall pick Sam Bradford. Amendola was a great fantasy option last season when healthy, so we can expect Bradford’s top target this year to produce big numbers as well.
Round 1: Pick 27
The Texans have had it all on offense in recent years except for a receiver to line up opposite Andre Johnson. Kevin Walter has somehow been a solid fixture in their starting lineup for years. Even St. Louis is laughing at Houston for not finding a better starter until now.
Round 1: Pick 29
Patterson scares me. He could, and probably should, become the main weapon on the offense other than the great Adrian Peterson. He has all of the tools, but often seems unmotivated and inconsistent. Some of the problem was situation, because Tennessee was outmatched talent-wise when playing against most of their conference opponents. Christian Ponder’s continued improvement could be a huge factor in Patterson’s development.
San Diego Chargers
Round 3: Pick 76
Allen easily could have been a first-round pick if not for a PCL sprain suffered last year. He was unable to participate at the combine because of the injury. Still recovering, he ran a very underwhelming time in the 40-yard dash at his pro day. Phillip Rivers has everything to prove and has some new offensive linemen to go along with his new weapon. Allen could easily beat out Danario Alexander and Robert Meachem and be the best receiver in San Diego since Vincent Jackson.
San Francisco 49ers
Round 4: Pick 128
All of the 49ers receivers will need to step up to make up for the loss of Michael Crabtree. Anquan Boldin is sure to start, but there will be a battle between Patton and Mario Manningham for the second spot. Ultimately, all three will get their receptions in this potent offense.
Round 1: Pick 21
Eifert was the consensus top tight end in the draft. Jermaine Gresham is beginning to look like a bust, but the former 2010 first-rounder will likely put up a fight. Gresham’s athleticism can not be counted out, and it will be interesting to see how he responds to his first real competition. Eifert has the combination of size, speed, and production that GMs look for when using their first pick on a tight end. He easily could put up top ten fantasy numbers for his position if he is given playing time.
Round 3: Pick 85
Fred Davis is coming off of a torn Achilles. There is little depth at the position behind Davis, so Reed will definitely get playing time early on. Developing quick chemistry with Robert Griffin III seems like a certainty for any receiving options on the team that actually see the field.
Round 2: Pick 35
Ertz is a wild card due to his situation. Nobody really knows what to expect of the Eagles offense. Chip Kelly’s system worked great in college, and if the NFL is anything like that, this could easily be a top five offense. Brent Celek is very average, and I expect Ertz to see the field about the same amount as the four-year starter.
Kansas City Chiefs
Round 3: Pick 63
Kelce is a mystery. He was suspended for the 2010 season and had an unproductive 2011 as a starter before breaking out last year. Tony Moeaki will probably start, but Kelce will see the field in limited minutes. Unfortunately, Alex Smith is more of an efficient game manager than gunslinger, so the yardage for tight ends won’t be that impressive; especially considering how often he seemed to overlook his former best weapon, Vernon Davis.
Round 2: Pick 47
Escobar is in a great situation for the future. He gets to learn behind one of the best in Jason Witten, and play for a very potent passing attack. Defenses can’t afford to focus on him with Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. Escobar won’t see the field immediately, but Witten isn’t getting any younger, and he can’t afford to keep playing through his injuries.