There’s no question a small handful of first-year stars will be among 2015’s top fantasy football studs, just as Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans and Jeremy Hill.
Below, you’ll find predictions for the top five fantasy finishers at each skill position followed by an in-depth breakdown of the race for the No. 1 spot at quarterback and wide receiver.
Much attention has been paid this preseason to the top two picks from the 2015 draft: Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. Fans and analysts alike have pored over Winston’s and Mariota’s performances and whether they’re any indication toward future performance.
Here’s a look at their numbers from the last three weeks:
Between the two, Mariota has looked stronger during the preseason. Smart Football’s Chris B. Brown believes the rookie quarterback hasn’t shown his full hand either:
Meanwhile, Winston has lapsed back into the gunslinging mentality he displayed at Florida State in his sophomore season. He hasn’t been helped by a poor offensive line, an issue that Nerdy Football’s Cian Fahey doesn’t see going away anytime soon:
It’s easy to see why Mariota has a higher average draft position, according to FantasyPros.com, given Winston’s play, but don’t be surprised if Winston proves the better option by the end of the year.
In Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the former Florida State Seminole has three very good targets in the passing game. Combine that with Winston’s risk-taking, and you could have some massive fantasy weeks.
Whether or not you agree with that assessment, neither Mariota nor Winston should be viewed as anything more than QB2s in standard 12-team leagues. Don’t reach for either guy and expect him to start for your team on a weekly basis.
It’s rare a rookie quarterback is immediately a fantasy stud right out of the gate. Going back to 2009, here are the highest-scoring QBs from each rookie class and where they ranked on NFL.com:
Cam Newton and Andrew Luck were the outliers. Newton bolstered his fantasy numbers with 706 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground, while Luck had coach Bruce Arians and receiver Reggie Wayne providing a major helping hand in his rookie season.
Neither of those situations would apply to Winston and/or Mariota this year. Go ahead and draft them in the later rounds. Just make sure you’ve already got a proven commodity at QB first.
For a while, that same sense of skepticism surrounded rookie wide receivers. According to ESPN.com’s Christopher Harris, only 19 rookies finished among the top 30 WRs between 2004 and 2013.
Harris also pointed to what may be a growing fantasy trend after Beckham, Evans and Sammy Watkins all put together strong seasons. Suddenly, rookie wide receivers may not carry the same risk they once did.
“My tape study of (Amari) Cooper puts him in ‘elite prospect’ territory; as with Beckham, Evans and Watkins, he looks to be truly exceptional,” Harris wrote. “But my philosophy has evolved to the point where I’ll also take shots on (Kevin) White, (Breshad) Perriman and (Nelson) Agholor because of the NFL’s new-world order, where rookie receivers in the right landing spots can win you a title.”
White could miss the entirety of his rookie season, while even Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh is unsure when Perriman could see the field after suffering a knee injury in training camp, per BaltimoreRavens.com’s Ryan Mink.
The cream of this year’s crop will likely be Agholor and Cooper.
While Cooper is the better receiver, Agholor is in the better situation, thus making him the stronger fantasy option.
Perhaps it’s unfair to hold Cooper’s surroundings against him, but the Oakland Raiders’ last 1,000-yard receiver was Randy Moss in 2005. The passing game is making strides with Derek Carr at the helm, but it might not have advanced enough to see Cooper posting Beckham- or Evans-like numbers.
Meanwhile, yards shouldn’t be an issue for Agholor in the Philadelphia Eagles’ uptempo offense. Plus, somebody has to help make up for Jeremy Maclin‘s lost production.
Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is pleased with the playmaking ability Agholor has demonstrated so far, per Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News:
I think he’s made really great strides in this training camp. He’s proven he can make a play, and that’s really critical for a receiver. We teach them to run these very specific routes and then we teach them that this is the way it should look, ideally. But at the end of the day, you get downfield somehow and when the ball comes your way, you’ve got to catch it. He’s displayed an ability to do that.
On one hand, it’s a bit scary the Eagles are one Sam Bradford injury away from Mark Sanchez being their starting quarterback. Then again, both Maclin and Jordan Matthews seemed to do pretty well with Sanchez starting half the season last year.
Agholor should thrive in his rookie season and justify his status as the No. 1 rookie wideout in 2015.
Read more Fantasy Football news on NerdyFootball.com