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2013 Fantasy Preview: Rating the Rookies

Mike Doria

Mike Doria

NFL Editor for RotoWire. Roots for the Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins, Celtics and the underdog. Plus the McGill Redmen.

QUARTERBACKS

Geno Smith JETS
6-2 - 218 - West Virginia

Although he fell to No. 39 in April's draft, that unexpected tumble probably did Smith a service, in that he won't have to prove he was worth the top-10 pick most observers thought it would take to obtain him. He'll have a chance to compete for starting gig with the Jets, though we suspect Smith won't be rushed into that role, given he remains a work in progress. Either way, Smith should get the job eventually as Mark Sanchez's days with the franchise are almost certainly numbered. Even when Smith does get his chance, remember the Jets' WR/TE contingent has almost as much to prove as the team's signal callers.

EJ Manuel BILLS
6-5 - 237 - Florida State

Taken with the No. 16 overall pick in April's draft, Manuel has the size, mobility and arm strength to succeed as a pro, and he evidently impressed the Bills by throwing very well during a private workout in Tallahassee, Fla., while dealing with windy and wet conditions. That bodes well for his chances of handling the sort of inclement weather he might see in Buffalo, especially in December and January. Veteran Kevin Kolb remains in the mix, but it's only a matter of time before Manuel overtakes him.

Matt Barkley EAGLES
6-2 - 227 - USC

Considering he would have been an early first-rounder had he entered the 2012 draft, Barkley could turn out to be quite a bargain in Round 4. Barkley is polished and pro-ready, and while at first glance doesn't seem an ideal fit for coach Chip Kelly's offense, he's aided by accuracy and a quick release. Michael Vick is the favorite to start the season as the Eagles' top QB, but it's not hard to imagine Barkley overtaking Nick Foles, which would make him an injury (to a QB with huge durability concerns) away from a starting gig.

Mike Glennon BUCCANEERS
6-7 - 225 - N.C. State

The 6-7 Glennon can certainly make the deep throw, and there's little question about his accuracy. While he needs to find more consistency and improve his decision-making in the pocket, he'll have time to grow into his frame and adjust to the pro game while backing up Josh Freeman.

RUNNING BACKS

Le’Veon Bell STEELERS
6-1 - 230 - Michigan State

Given that Bell has good enough hands to stay on the field on passing downs, the 6-1, 230-pound back has a chance to emerge as an every-down option for the Steelers, who obviously weren't content to head into the 2013 campaign with a backfield led by Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman. While Bell may not be the most explosive back in this year's draft class, he possesses a physical element that makes him an ideal fit for the Steelers and the rookie back with perhaps the clearest path to a full-time starting assignment.

Montee Ball BRONCOS
5-10 - 214 - Wisconsin

The June release of Willis McGahee would appear to pave the way for Ball - a highly prolific college player - to claim the Broncos' top running back assignment by the time Week 1 rolls around. Meanwhile, Ronnie Hillman is likely to work as the Broncos' third-down back, and the team still rosters Knowshon Moreno, but make no mistake; Ball, who is a well-rounded back, is in line to make an immediate fantasy splash as a rookie while working as the featured option in a powerful offense.

Eddie Lacy PACKERS
5-11 - 231 - Alabama

Injuries contributed to his draft slide, but if he can get/stay healthy, the pounding Lacy has a chance - with a strong preseason - to emerge as the Packers' top RB. The Packers also drafted Johnathan Franklin, so it's clear they are looking to rejuvenate their running game to help complement the team's explosive passing offense.

Giovani Bernard BENGALS
5-8 - 202 - North Carolina

While BenJarvus Green-Ellis will likely continue to be the Bengals' primary back and top goal-line option, Bernard - the first back taken in April's draft - gives the team a nice receiving weapon out of the backfield. Moreover, there's no guarantee Green-Ellis will hold him off all season.

Zac Stacy RAMS
5-8 - 216 - Vanderbilt

Stacy has Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead with whom to contend, but it's conceivable the fifth-rounder could claim the team's top spot, vacated by long-time starter Steven Jackson. Stacy provides the physical element missing now that Jackson is gone and at the very least could see some goal-line looks.

Johnathan Franklin PACKERS
5-10 - 205 - UCLA

Franklin was a good value in the fourth round, but the presence of Eddie Lacy (taken 61st overall), as well as DuJuan Harris, means Franklin will have to perform well in camp to merit regular work. And at press time, James Starks and Alex Green were in the mix, too. With his pass-catching ability and quickness, Franklin could potentially be the best fit of the bunch, however.

Joseph Randle COWBOYS
6-0 - 204 - Oklahoma State

Randle is expected to serve as DeMarco Murray's primary backup in 2013, a good place to be considering how fragile Murray's been in his short career. Randle's not especially fast, but he has good cutback ability and is a solid pass catcher out of the backfield.

Christine Michael SEAHAWKS
5-10 - 220 - Texas A&M

With Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin around, running back didn't look like a major need for the Seahawks, but the No. 62 overall pick is a major talent, who gives the team formidable depth at the position and a high-upside alternative in the event of a Lynch injury.

Mike James BUCCANEERS
5-10 - 223 - Miami

The Bucs aren't deep at running back behind Doug Martin, which suggests the sixth-rounder could quickly emerge as the team's No. 2 option at the position.

Stepfan Taylor CARDINALS
5-9 - 214 - Stanford

He's behind Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Williams on the Cards' depth chart, but the team drafted both Taylor and Andre Ellington, given the aforementioned duo's durability concerns.

Knile Davis CHIEFS
5-10 - 227 - Arkansas

Davis looks the part - as he possesses a nice combination of size and speed when healthy - but a subpar 2012 has lowered expectations. Unless the Chiefs add running back depth in the coming months Davis could open the season as Jamaal Charles' top backup.

Denard Robinson JAGUARS
5-10 - 199 - Michigan

The buzz in May was the Jags might try to get the speedy and versatile Robinson 10 to 15 touches a game, but as long as Maurice Jones-Drew is healthy, the team's rushing attack will revolve around him.

Chris Thompson REDSKINS
5-7 - 192 - Florida State

Thompson tore his left ACL last October, but once he re-establishes his health, he projects as nice change-of-pace option (to go along with Roy Helu) in the anything-can-happen Redskins' backfield led by the bruising Alfred Morris.

Marcus Lattimore 49ERS
5-11 - 221 - South Carolina

The 49ers' depth at running back effectively allows the team to redshirt Lattimore as a rookie as he recovers from a major knee injury, so he's primarily of interest in keeper formats.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Tavon Austin RAMS
5-8 - 174 - West Virginia

The Rams looked to add a playmaker to their offense, and in that regard Austin is a dandy. Given he's in line to handle the slot role previously held by Danny Amendola, he should see plenty of targets as a rookie. Plus Austin could see work out of the backfield to create more opportunities for him in space.

DeAndre Hopkins TEXANS
6-1 - 214 - Clemson

The Texans took Hopkins in the first round of April's draft, and he'll likely start Week 1. Mind you, Houston remains a run-first team, and Andre Johnson remains the team's top option at receiver, but Johnson has missed significant time with injuries over the last several seasons.

Cordarrelle Patterson VIKINGS
6-2 - 216 - Tennessee

An explosive playmaker with nice run-after- the-catch skills, the 29th overall pick may be eased into the offense, but Patterson could make an immediate impact as a returner. As a rookie, he'll defer to Greg Jennings, who should be the top target in the Vikes' passing attack, but Patterson is bigger and more athletic, and could take on a larger role as the year goes on.

Robert Woods BILLS
6-0 - 201 - USC

While the Bills' QB situation is still unsettled, Woods has a good chance to open the season as a starter opposite Stevie Johnson. Woods isn't a burner and has only average size, but he's especially polished for a rookie and could contribute right away.

Aaron Dobson PATRIOTS
6-3 - 201 - Marshall

The Patriots have re-tooled their receiving corps this offseason, so the big-bodied Dobson should have a chance to contribute early on, especially in the red zone. A healthy Danny Amendola is in line for loads of targets, but Dobson has some immediate upside in the Patriots' explosive passing offense helmed by QB Tom Brady.

Markus Wheaton STEELERS
5-11 - 189 - Oregon State

With Mike Wallace now in Miami, there's a starting job available opposite Antonio Brown, and the small, speedy Wheaton will
be given a chance to compete with Emmanuel Sanders for that assignment.

Keenan Allen CHARGERS
6-2 - 206 - California

Once viewed as a first-round candidate, Allen fell to the Chargers at No. 76 overall, largely due to concerns over his knee. He joins a Chargers wideout corps that includes Danario Alexander, Malcom Floyd and Vincent Brown, but it's not hard to imagine Allen making a contribution as a rookie once injuries hit.

Justin Hunter TITANS
6-4 - 196 - Tennessee

The 6-4 Hunter can stretch the field, but he's blocked by Kenny Britt. That said, Britt has had enough injury and off-field concerns for Hunter to have been a wise insurance pick by the Titans.

Josh Boyce PATRIOTS
5-11 - 206 - TCU

Boyce has to contend with Aaron Dobson, whom the Patriots took in the second round, among others, but Boyce has the speed to develop into a nice deep threat for QB Tom Brady in the prolific New England passing attack.

Terrance Williams COWBOYS
6-2 - 208 - Baylor

Considering the durability concerns attached to Dez Bryant
and Miles Austin, Williams could be of fantasy note in 2013, assuming he emerges as the team's No. 3 wideout, which seems a likely outcome.

TIGHT ENDS

Tyler Eifert BENGALS
6-6 - 250 - Notre Dame

Welcome to the two-tight-end era in Cincinnati, featuring Eifert and Jermaine Gresham. It's an arrangement that may limit Eifert's production early on, so long as Gresham stays healthy, but in leagues deep enough to draft a backup tight end, Eifert is worth a dart.

Zach Ertz EAGLES
6-5 - 249 - Stanford

Ertz gives the Eagles a second option in Chip Kelly's offense, and it's likely he'll be on the field alongside probable starter Brent Celek at times in two-TE sets.

Jordan Reed REDSKINS
6-2 - 236 - Florida

With Fred Davis coming off an Achilles' tendon injury, selecting Reed makes sense for the Redskins, especially given Reed's drawn comparisons to New England's Aaron Hernandez, specifically his run-after-the catch skills.

Gavin Escobar COWBOYS
6-6 - 254 - San Diego State

Jason Witten is entrenched as the Cowboys' top tight end, but Escobar's ability as a receiver would make him an immediate player to target in the event of a Witten injury.

Vance McDonald 49ers
6-4 - 267 - Rice

He'll fill the void created by the departure of Delanie Walker, but Vernon Davis remains the 49ers' top pass-catching tight end.

Travis Kelce CHIEFS
6-5 - 255 - Cincinnati

The athletic ability is there for Kelce to emerge as a starter in Andy Reid's offense in time, but Tony Moeaki and Anthony Fasano block his path in the near term.