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Fantasy football: Which rookies can give your roster some juice this season?

Todd Gurley has the skills package to bring smiles to the faces of fantasy owners this season, if he can get, and stay, healthy.
Todd Gurley has the skills package to bring smiles to the faces of fantasy owners this season, if he can get, and stay, healthy. AP

The 2014 season will forever be remembered as The Year of the Rookie Wideout, with Giants star Odell Beckham, Jr. setting the pace and leading many to fantasy championships despite missing the first four games of his career.

Last year’s freshman WR class also featured Top 25 campaigns by Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin and Jordan Matthews, while Sammy Watkins and Jarvis Landry pitched in meaningfully. My crack research staff tells me this rookie receiving bounty was a first in modern fantasy times.

Meanwhile, no first-year quarterback or tight end made his mark in Fantasyland, while only Jeremy Hill finished the season in the Top 25 RB ranks.

So what does 2015 have in store? Are we about to witness another bumper crop of rookie wideouts, or will we return to normalcy?

Remember that, when evaluating the fantasy potential of any rookie, talent is rarely the most decisive factor. More relevant is the opportunity presented to the player. And this is a multi-faceted equation.

Does the rookie have a clear path to a starting gig? Will he join a high-powered offense, or one whose punter is its most lethal weapon? Is he healthy heading into the season, or has he missed invaluable preseason reps due to nagging injuries?

With these variables in mind, let’s examine the Class of 2015 and assess its members’ likelihood of soaring during their inaugural seasons.

CREAM OF THE CROP

▪ Todd Gurley, RB, Rams. He has everything you’d ever want in a franchise back ... except a clean bill of health. Gurley is expected to miss some regular-season games while he fights back from the serious knee injury that derailed his final season in Georgia. He comes with risk but also superstar upside.

▪ Melvin Gordon, RB, Chargers. This rookie dazzled with his explosiveness in Wisconsin, but he has been criticized for his shaky pass-protection skills and bouts of fumblitis. Gordon is also expected to give way to Danny Woodhead on passing downs. Invest in him as a backup, not a week-to-week starter.

▪ Ameer Abdullah, RB, Lions. Hailed for his quickness, rather than blazing straight-line speed, Abdullah is expected to step into Reggie Bush’s change-of-pace role behind Joique Bell. But the injured Bell has yet to suit up during the preseason, while Abdullah is having an excellent camp. Though not considered an every-down back, Abdullah could put up very healthy fantasy stats, especially in PPR leagues.

▪ Amari Cooper, WR, Raiders. His draft position pivots on how big a step you believe Derek Carr will take in his second year as Oakland’s quarterback. Cooper has All-Pro talent, but will it be squandered in the Raiders’ perennially inept offense?

▪ Nelson Agholor, WR, Eagles. Selected with the 20th overall pick to replace free agent Jeremy Maclin, Agholor steps into a high-octane offense as arguably the most talented receiver on Philly’s roster. How quickly he builds rapport with Sam Bradford, and whether the new quarterback can master Chip Kelly’s system, are the big unknowns.

LATE-ROUND, AT BEST

▪ Jameis Winston, QB, Buccaneers. Assuming he can put his maturity issues to rest, Winston has all the physical tools to be great in this league. But despite being blessed with two outstanding receivers, this rookie has at least a season of growing pains ahead before he’s a viable roster candidate.

▪ Marcus Mariota, QB, Titans. Maybe next year. But given all the work that needs to be done with Tennessee’s offense, probably not even next year.

▪ T.J. Yeldon, RB, Jaguars. He’s expected to start the season in a crowded backfield committee, but Yeldon has the skills to emerge as the lead back. Denard Robinson proved that Jacksonville can still produce a valuable fantasy RB, even if only in spurts; but Yeldon will ultimately be limited by his team’s lack of offensive explosiveness.

▪ Duke Johnson, RB, Browns. At best, he earns the starting job in Cleveland. At worst, his preseason hamstring injury lingers and he’s relegated to spot duty behind Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West. I just don’t see enough upside to consider Johnson anything better than a late-round desperation pick.

▪ Tevin Coleman, RB, Falcons. Once thought to be the heir apparent to Steven Jackson, Coleman’s progress has been disrupted by a bum hammy. Once he returns, he’ll have to earn his carries and there’s no guarantee he’ll make much of a mark as a rookie.

▪ DeVante Parker, WR, Dolphins. Following early-June foot surgery, Parker is expected to miss the entire preseason and will need to work his way onto the field once he’s healthy. Be leery of comparisons to Beckham, Jr., and his extraordinary debut after missing the first four weeks of his rookie season. Parker has great talent, but OBJ is a once-in-a-generation freak.

▪ Phillip Dorsett, WR, Colts. He’s a first-round talent with blazing speed, and he appears to be a lock for the third-WR role in Indy. But barring injury to a starter, Dorsett’s fantasy value will be limited to weekly boom-or-bust status.

▪ Breshad Perriman, WR, Ravens. You hate to dismiss any talented receiver’s chances on the heels of “The Year of the Rookie Wideout,” but Perriman has been hampered by a knee injury in camp and he isn’t exactly joining a pass-happy offense.

▪ Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Titans. He’s had a rough camp, highlighted by multiple drops, and he’ll be catching passes from another rookie learning his way. DGB and Mariota could have a nice future ahead of them, but the operative word here is “future.”

▪ Kevin White, WR, Bears. White is this year’s Exhibit A for why you shouldn’t hold your draft too early. On Saturday, we learned the explosive game-changer will have shin surgery and will start the season on the PUP list, meaning he’ll miss the first six weeks, at least. Worse yet, Chicago may choose to hold him out the entire season.

Next week: My Sleeper picks for the 2015 season.

Ladd Biro is a two-time winner and four-time finalist of the Football Writer of the Year Award by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. Follow all his advice daily at the Fantasy Fools blog (fantasy-fools.blogspot.com), on Facebook and via Twitter (@ladd_biro).

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