Commentary

Offseason Notebook: Early fantasy impact of 2008 rookie class

Updated: April 28, 2008, 4:46 PM ET
By Scott Engel | ESPN.com

Here's a fantasy-style first look at the top skill position players from the 2008 NFL rookie class, and how they will affect some of the veteran players they will join on rosters during the upcoming season. The players are listed in approximate order of how valuable they'll be for fantasy this season.

Running backs

Darren McFadden, Raiders: While he is the future of the franchise, McFadden may not make a major splash immediately in the fantasy world. He joins a crowded backfield, and the Contra Costa-Times is already reporting that the Raiders envision McFadden as a change-of-pace back for lead runner Justin Fargas, with Michael Bush having the potential to be a short-yardage back. The Raiders would prefer to ease him into the mix, which means McFadden may be best used as a flex option early in his first season. He has too much talent not to overtake Fargas eventually in terms of statistical production, though, and can still be an occasionally outstanding No. 2 running back by the second half of 2008, while making most of the other Raiders running backs irrelevant for fantasy purposes.

Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers: He's the power presence Pittsburgh has sought since Jerome Bettis retired. Mendenhall can complement Willie Parker, but also drop Parker's fantasy value. Parker should be fresher and more capable of ripping off long runs on occasion, but Mendenhall will steal playing time, especially carries near the goal line. Parker won't be reliable as a No. 2 fantasy running back because he won't score more than a handful of touchdowns, while Mendenhall has some quick initial promise as a prime flex player or third fantasy running back with upside.

Jonathan Stewart, Panthers: The Panthers' brain trust doesn't seem to believe DeAngelo Williams can handle a heavy workload, and Stewart is a perfect, powerful complement who can add more balance to the offense and be a bigger touchdown threat. I'd look to draft Stewart as a third fantasy running back in his rookie year before Williams, who certainly will not be dependable.

Matt Forte, Bears: A fundamentally sound player who has good vision and is versatile, Forte has sleeper potential as a rookie and can seriously threaten Cedric Benson's playing time. Don't hesitate to draft him as a third running back in your 2008 draft. Forte can break tackles and catch passes and is a very exciting prospect from a fantasy perspective.

Felix Jones and Darren McFadden
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisDarren McFadden and Felix Jones were both first-round draft picks, but their fantasy value is shaky because they'll be sharing carries as rookies.
Felix Jones, Cowboys: Marion Barber is still the main man for the Cowboys, but he is more of a workhorse and not an explosive runner. Felix Jones adds an element of speed that Julius Jones didn't provide often enough, but he won't be a major fantasy factor early in his career and his workload could be limited. Barber remains a very good No. 2 fantasy running back and the presence of Felix Jones will ensure he does not get overworked.

Kevin Smith, Lions: He has good vision and is elusive, and Smith can step right in and share some carries with Tatum Bell. He may take some time to adjust to the flow of the pro game, though, so take him late in yearly drafts and be patient with him in his first season.

Jamaal Charles, Chiefs: He's tough and can rip off some long runs, and he's going to make a fine handcuff to Larry Johnson in his rookie season. Should Johnson go down again, Charles will be a very good plug-in option as a rookie.

Ray Rice, Ravens: He is a tough guy for a smaller back and has some promise as a pass-catcher, but he will ensure that Willis McGahee does not get overworked and will have limited fantasy appeal as a rookie unless injuries become a factor in Baltimore.

Ryan Torain, Broncos: He was selected in the fifth round, but in the name of Mike Bell, let's remember anyone can get a chance to run the ball in Denver. He has dealt with injury issues, but he can get to the second level and makes things happen, so don't forget his name.

Chris Johnson, Titans: He's a speed back who can complement LenDale White, but Chris Henry is still in the picture also and it's difficult to envision Johnson being useful in fantasy leagues in 2008.

Steve Slaton, Texans: He can add some needed additional speed to the Houston offense, but he projects to be a role player who will get limited work as a rookie and won't be worth drafting.

Wide receivers

James Hardy, Bills: He has the opportunity to step in and become instantly useful in fantasy leagues. The Bills have a glaring need for a No. 2 receiver opposite Lee Evans, and Hardy can make tough receptions and gain yards after the catch. He certainly will be worth a late-round pick, and don't be surprised if some teams in larger leagues find him to be very valuable as a rookie.

Devin Thomas, Redskins: He will be a good fit in Washington's West Coast offense under Jim Zorn, because he is a big target who can make things happen after the catch. Thomas is a much-needed presence in the passing game and has the potential to have a few quality outings in his rookie season while projecting to be a solid fantasy starter eventually.

Dexter Jackson, Buccaneers: He can be a sleeper in his rookie year. Jackson is a big play waiting to happen and will be surrounded by veteran receivers who will take him under their wings and help erase concerns about his small-school background. Jackson could be the biggest surprise of the rookie class at this position. Take a late-round flier on him in yearly leagues and do your best to get him if you play in a dynasty league.

DeSean Jackson
AP Photo/Stefano PalteraDeSean Jackson waited longer than he'd like, but now he can hope to become one of Donovan McNabb's top targets.
DeSean Jackson, Eagles: He is eventually going to be a big-play man for the Eagles, who need a wideout who can make things happen downfield. It's not out of the question that he can make an immediate impact, but he is likely going to need to polish his route-running skills and will have to take his lumps at the hands of strong veteran defensive backs early on, so don't draft him until the final rounds in yearly leagues.

Malcolm Kelly, Redskins: If he can shake off concerns about his health and less-than-ideal speed, Kelly could be very productive. Thomas may produce at the pro level more quickly, but Kelly has a lot of promise himself even though he may not make a true impact until at least his second NFL season.

Mario Manningham, Giants: If he can prove to be a solid citizen, especially in the big New York media spotlight, Manningham could be a No. 2 receiver for the Giants by his second pro season. He's a boom-or-bust fantasy pick who has a lot of potential, especially in dynasty leagues.

Limas Sweed, Steelers: He is a big guy who can help the Steelers move the chains on third downs, and he'll have immediate red zone potential. But he is not going to be a regular target early in his career and is only worth a final-round pick as a rookie.

Jordy Nelson, Packers: He has considerable promise as a dynasty league player and is a needed piece as the Packers look to rebuild the passing game under Aaron Rodgers. Nelson should be a dependable target by his second or third season with the ability to post quality touchdown numbers.

Donnie Avery, Rams: He is a speed merchant who should fit well in the slot, but won't make enough big plays initially to be anything more than a fantasy reserve. He does have considerable potential as a dynasty league player, though.

Keenan Burton, Rams: He has the ability to make tough grabs look easy and can eventually become a No. 2 receiver in St. Louis. Don't expect much in his first year or two, but he can eventually become at least a respectable fantasy player.

Andre Caldwell, Bengals: He has the skills to help the Bengals plug some holes that may develop at wide receiver, but he may not be able to help in a major way early in his career. Caldwell does project as an eventually productive downfield receiver and quality fantasy player.

Earl Bennett, Bears: He is smart and has solid fundamentals. Bennett could eventually become a respectable fantasy starter, but is unlikely to make much of a splash statistically in his first pro season.

William Franklin, Chiefs: There are obvious concerns at wide receiver in Kansas City, but even though Franklin may not help right away, he does have a good blend of size and speed that makes him worth targeting in dynasty leagues.

Marcus Smith, Ravens: He's another project who should be overlooked in yearly drafts, but he does have the skills to become a quality playmaker later in his career.

Lavelle Hawkins, Titans: He is smart, but Hawkins will have to adjust to the pro game, where he might have trouble getting jammed or open often early in his career. Strictly a dynasty league prospect with not a great amount of upside.

Early Doucet
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesEarly Doucet likely takes Bryant Johnson's place in Arizona. Can he match the production of former LSU teammate Dwayne Bowe as a rookie?
Early Doucet, Cardinals: There is no real room for impact with Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin ahead of him on the depth chart. Yet he can contribute right away as a receiver and help both veterans face less defensive attention on passing downs, which stabilizes their high fantasy appeal.

Arman Shields, Raiders: He's tough and fast, and should eventually adjust to the pro game and fit well in Oakland. But he is small and may never make much of a fantasy impact.

Jerome Simpson, Bengals: There is an obvious need for receiving help now in Cincinnati, but Simpson may be a project and having a need doesn't mean he can fill it.

Eddie Royal, Broncos: He does have the ability to add more speed and versatility at receiver, but won't be worth drafting in his first year because other veteran receivers are targeted much more often.

Tight ends

Dustin Keller, Jets: This is a guy who can really be useful in fantasy leagues once he adjusts to the NFL, so look for him to emerge as a possible fantasy starter in the second half of his rookie year. Keller is a fine pure pass-catcher who will eventually be one of the better fantasy players at his position.

John Carlson, Seahawks: The tight end is integral in the West Coast offense in Seattle and was a pressing need in the draft. Carlson won't make a significant statistical impact in his first season, but he will make some key receptions on his way to becoming a respectable option by his second year.

Fred Davis, Redskins: He is not about to overtake Chris Cooley, but Davis can find soft spots in defenses and will make his presence felt in the red zone when Washington runs two-tight-end sets. He'll catch occasional touchdown passes in his rookie year and will end up being a decent final-round pick or free-agent signing.

Quarterbacks

Matt Ryan
James Lang/US PresswireCan Matt Ryan disprove the theory that rookie QBs aren't good fantasy players?
Matt Ryan, Falcons: He should make a quick adjustment to the pro game and can start in his first NFL season. Yet there are concerns about his blocking in Atlanta and the receiving corps is shaky, so he won't be worth a pick in yearly leagues. Most quarterbacks won't be worth a first-year fantasy selection, anyhow, and Ryan is the best example of that theory.

Joe Flacco, Ravens: He can eventually be a solid fantasy starter and can compete for playing time right away. He will certainly need to learn a lot initially, though, and is strictly dynasty league material as his pro career begins.

Brian Brohm, Packers: He can step in and at least become the backup to Aaron Rodgers right away, because Brohm has the know-how to make a quick jump to the NFL game. He only has dynasty league value, though, if Rodgers can't be the man in Green Bay, and Brohm would not make a real impact until at least his third pro season.

Chad Henne, Dolphins: He is another project, but in Miami, he could conceivably get tossed into the fire early in his career, and that makes him a boom-or-bust guy over the long term.

Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.

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Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com.