Get inside the average drafter’s mind and fears of the unknown are ridiculously common. To the overly skittish, no situation, talent level or price, no matter how favorable, is convincing enough to chase an unproven product. Instead of holding the reins of the bandwagon, many self-proclaimed aficionados cautiously lag behind, a chicken (expletive) approach. However, choose comfort over upside and it could cost you bragging rights.
Take 2012’s rookie RB crop, for example.
Though Doug Martin, Trent Richardson and Alfred Morris were thrust into advantageous positions, spineless owners were slow to the take. To be fair, excluding just a select few marquee performances in recent seasons (e.g. Adrian Peterson in ’07), previous first-year RBs were, for the most part, unreliable. And circumventing the latter was understandable. Lucifer Shanahan burned many an owner over the years . But for so many to treat the Muscle Hamster and T-Pain similarly was shortsighted, despite what history suggested. Sure, Richardson’s minor knee surgery lent cause for pause, but he and Martin were expected to be pack mules, rare three-down rushers in an age overpopulated with timeshares. At their slashed price points (Richardson ADP: 31.3 (RB15), Martin: 45.7 (RB20)), unfazed bargain seekers who acquired them dove head-first into a pot of gold.
This year pull the lever on Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell, and you’re sure to shower yourself in statistical riches.
Scrawl it in blood, the ‘Big Rig’ will be the most sought after rookie this fall. The ex-Spartan embodies characteristics the Steelers typically cherish in a rusher – brawn, toughness, endurance, strong blocking ability and a three-down skill set. Sure, Bell isn't particularly explosive. At the Combine he ran a mediocre 4.60 40-yard dash. However, straight-line speed at running back is an overrated trait.
What Bell does best is steamroll defenders. He's a pallet of bricks personified. Last season in East Lansing, the 6-foot-1, 230-pound plow notched 51-percent of yards after contact, tops among FBS rushers. Equipped, too, with better-than-advertised wiggle, it would be no surprise if he finished well-inside the top-10 in YAC. Also a sensational pass-blocker and excellent receiver, he’s an instant upgrade in all facets over flawed options Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman. A blue-collar throwback – the youngster logged 30-plus carries in seven of 13 games at Michigan State last year – many scouts have compared him to Matt Forte. His ability to plant, cut and go mirrors the Bears’ rusher and melds wonderfully with Pittsburgh’s newly implemented zone-blocking scheme. Expected to be a beast of burden for an organization desperate to revert to its ground-heavy roots, he’s a strong candidate for 300-plus touches, a very attractive workload given the abundance of backfield platoons.
Critics will point to the Steelers' horrendous offensive line from a season ago, but ravaged by injuries, it will be greatly improved. There’s plenty of young, athletic talent up front. And keep in mind Pittsburgh's plus passing attack, spearheaded by the always underrated Ben Roethlisberger, only enhances his statistical upside.
The rookie is hardly fantasy's version of 'The Conjuring.' Don’t be scared, gamer. Sometime in Rounds 4-6 (ADP: 65.8, RB20), your team could be saved by the Bell.
Fearless Forecast (16 games): 278 carries, 1,195 rushing yards, 35 receptions, 247 receiving yards, 11 total touchdowns
Alongside Bell, here are the most dissed fantasy commodities thus far in early drafts:
Tony Romo, Dallas, QB
Y! ADP (Average Draft Position): 89.5, QB12
AAV (Average Auction Value, $200 budget): $14.3
It's hard to grasp why Romo is constantly disrespected. Maybe fanatics are turned off by his easy-going attitude, team affiliation or history of postseason bed-wettings. Whatever the reason, those who continue to turn a blind eye toward the 'Boy are out of touch. Romo is a true consistency king at an overloaded position, the Adrian Gonzalez of the gridiron. Every year since 2007 he's ranked inside the QB top-10 in per game average. With Bill Callahan now calling the shots, Dallas should offer more balance offensively. Last season, Big D threw nearly 67-percent of the time. However, don't expect the signal caller to leave gun in holster, especially with Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Jason Witten on roster and Dallas' defense, which surrendered 25 points per game, in transition. And don't fret about his back. According to ESPN Dallas, he's expected to function normally when training camp opens this week. Rankings reject Ron Jaworski (Flacco ahead of Brees, really Jaws? Really?) slotted him at No. 15 on his QB countdown, but, in fantasy, he deserves more recognition.
Fearless Forecast: 4,786 passing yards, 30 passing touchdowns, 18 interceptions, 38 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown
Rashard Mendenhall, Arizona, RB
Y! ADP: 97.8, RB29
Mendenhall is definitely cut from a different cloth. He's an outspoken conspiracy theorist, minimalist, bibliophile and samurai sword hobbyist. Again, he's a complex dude. However, what isn't complicated about Mendy is his situation. With Beanie Wells collecting unemployment and Ryan Williams trying to bounce back from another crippling injury (shoulder), he enters training camp as the undisputed starter. Doubters will point to Arizona's makeshift offensive line and difficult division slate, but there's much to like about his surroundings. The return of left tackle Levi Brown and addition of first-rounder Jonathan Cooper should bolster a trench unit that couldn't open a hole for a gerbil last season. Add that to Carson Palmer's arrival, Arizona's standout defense and Mendy's previous success under Bruce Arians – recall he finished No. 7 among RBs in fantasy scoring with B.A. calling the shots in Pittsburgh three years ago – and he's a phenomenal value at his current ADP. Viewed as a three-down workhorse by Cardinals shot-callers, he's destined for at least 300 touches. Ostensibly, he's a RB2 value at a RB4 cost.
Fearless Forecast: 275 carries, 1,116 rushing yards, 26 receptions, 203 receiving yards, 7 total touchdowns
Bryce Brown, Philadelphia, RB
Y! ADP: 121.9, RB40
Brown probably isn't someone you should trust holding a baby, Thanksgiving platter or grandpa's ashes. Though he showcased explosive open-field speed, marked decisiveness and plus versatility last year in his short stint as the starter, his nasty case of fumblitis clouded an otherwise promising future. His habit of wanting to bounce runs outside also needs to be remedied. Still, his size/speed blend are All-Pro caliber. Recall last year he tallied a 17.3 missed-tackle percentage, a mark that ranked top-10 among backs with at least 100 attempts. In an expected run-first, run-often Chip Kelly offense, he should carve out a substantial role tag-teaming with LeSean McCoy. A per game workload between 10-15 touches is very feasible, which makes him flexy sexy in 12-team and deeper leagues. Alongside Bernard Pierce and Ben Tate, there is no better handcuff.
Fearless Forecast: 148 carries, 725 rushing yards, 22 receptions, 164 receiving yards, 6 total touchdowns
Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville, WR
Y! ADP: 83.9, WR29
Y! AAV: $7.8
Shorts is the Coors Light of NFL wideouts -- terribly underrated. The overlooked wideout has WR2 written all over him. Understandably, most owners would rather leg-wrestle Vladimir Putin than invest a penny in a player directly tied to Blaine Gabbert, but his situation is far from dire. Recall Shorts notched strong numbers when Gabbert was under center last year. In Weeks 7-10, for example, the pair connected 21 times for 356 yards and two scores (11.9 fantasy points per game in standard leagues). The Mount Union product was even better with Chad Henne, but he's reliable no matter who's chucking wounded ducks in his general direction. Most impressive, according to Pro Football Focus his 2.31 yards per route run (YPRR is a fantastic measurement of a receiver's true production) was the eighth-best among WRs last year, ranking ahead of treasured targets Dez Bryant, Roddy White and Victor Cruz. Throw in Justin Blackmon's four-game suspension, and Shorts enters 2013 in an ideal situation. Out of the gate, he'll attract at least 9-10 targets per game. Buy a pair.
Fearless Forecast: 78 receptions, 1,248 receiving yards, 7 touchdowns
Mike Williams, Tampa Bay, WR
Y! ADP: 105.8, WR38
Y! AAV: $6.4
It absolutely boggles the mind how affordable Williams is in average drafts. The Buccaneer has yet to surpass 1,000 yards in a given year, but he's a reliable red-zone threat who's logged at least nine TDs in two of his first three seasons. He's also one of the game's finest downfield weapons. Last year, his 35 targets of 20-plus yards ranked fifth among eligible wideouts and his subsequent 34.3-percent deep-pass catch rate checked in at No. 10. His 19 red-zone looks also led the team in 2012. Overall, his 9.6 fantasy points per game slotted at No. 23 at his position. Internally questions loom about Josh Freeman's longevity, but as long as 'The Fro' remains under center and Vincent Jackson continues to coax the extra safety, Williams will continue to be a prominent figure in the pass game. Backups Tiquan Underwood and Kevin Ogletree are little threat. For the free agent to be, another WR2-level campaign in 12-team leagues is very attainable. Keep in mind, Doug Martin's presence will stretch defenses thin, creating many vertical opportunities for the Swashbuckler. No doubt he'll be an unheralded fixture on many playoff-bound fantasy franchises.
Fearless Forecast: 66 receptions, 975 receiving yards, 9 touchdowns
Jordan Cameron, Cleveland, TE
Y! ADP: 135.7, TE29
Y! AAV: $1.0
In 'expert' circles Cameron and Arizona's Rob Housler are the league's best kept tight end secrets. Both are young, hungry and expected to be key figures in retooled offenses. However, of the pair the Brown will likely pack the most bite. If his dunk city highlight reel doesn't invigorate the juices, you're obviously zombified. At 6-foot-5, 254-pounds, the ex-BYU hoopster is about to carve out a path similar to position trailblazers Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates. Brandon Weeden is enamored with Cameron's pass-catching abilities and Norv Turner's vertical-attacking offense meshes perfectly with his skill set. Due to Josh Gordon's two-game suspension to start the season, Cleveland will want to establish the super-sized weapon Day 1. Don't wait for the waiver wire scramble. Lock down the Brown late on draft day. A TE top-10 campaign isn't unrealistic.
Fearless Forecast: 62 receptions, 748 receiving yards, 5 touchdowns
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