Zack Ertz gets a special mention, just want to see how effective Chip Kelly’s offense works in the NFL before giving endorsement. Reed will get a chance to compete with Fred Davis for the starting spot, and taking into consideration Davis’ off-the-field issues and inconsistency, wouldn’t be the biggest shock to see Reed on the first team. Reed’s blocking ability is a detriment, which could decrease his goal-line touches. Don’t anticipate that to keep him off the field for long, as his open-field competence in a receiver-quenched squad will make Reed a fixture.
E.J. Manuel, Bills
Call me crazy, but given Kevin Kolb and Jeff Tuel constitute his competition, looks like Manuel has a decent shot at starting on Opening Day for the Bills. The Florida State product made a relatively-late surge up the draft boards, and his selection as the first field general taken was somewhat of a surprise. There’s no doubting Manuel’s talent, as his strong arm, coupled with his mobility, seems suited for the ever-changing landscape of the NFL QB position. Nevertheless, his accuracy is a concern, one that could encumber Manuel from making the same impact as Andrew Luck and the aforementioned Wilson and Griffin III. View Manuel as an entity outside the top-20 quarterbacks heading into camp.
Tyler Wilson, Raiders
The Silver and Black acquired Matt Flynn in the offseason to be the starter, but perhaps it’s a tad presumptuous to bestow such a claim. After all, Flynn is a soon-to-be 28-year-old with just a handful of outings under his belt, and was supposed to hold a similar role for the Seahawks last year but lost the gig to the rookie (Russell) Wilson. Enter Tyler Wilson, who took a step back in 2012 thanks to the coaching prowess of John L. Smith in Arkansas. (Did I say “prowess”? I meant “futility.” My bad.) There’s a lot to like about Wilson, as his precision is second to none, and even with the heightened standards of a signal caller, is alleged to be a cerebral and mentally-tough opponent. Odds are he won’t win the starting job in camp, yet if Flynn wavers, Wilson could see some reps by late October.
Eddie Lacy, Packers
Green Bay struggled in their efforts on the ground in 2012, evidenced by their mark of 3.9 yards per attempt last season, fourth-worst in the NFC. A rushing stable consisting of Cedric Benson, Alex Green and James Starks correlated to these woes, though an offensive line that’s primarily suited to protect against the pass isn’t helping the cause. Despite these limitations, Lacy is on the short list for Rookie of the Year candidates, as his power-built style and ability to create separation translates well to the pro game. Granted, these are aptitudes that Mark Ingram was expected to bring to the Saints, and Ingram’s career has yet to come to fruition. Conversely, Lacy, unlike Ingram, should get the opportunities to be a factor in the rotisserie world in Week 1. View Lacy as a RB2 or flex starter in most standard leagues.
Le'veon Bell, Steelers
Certainly not the most attractive name on the list, Bell should be on the radar of every fantasy owner, as the new Steel City back might rack up the most rushing attempts amongst rookies. Though Bell doesn’t possess Road Runner-like speed (the character, not the Internet service), the Spartan back works well in the receiving game. Moreover, he can give and take a hit with the best of them. With little competition for touches in Pittsburgh, view Bell as a mid-20s player at his position.
Stepfan Taylor, Cardinals
Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Williams sit ahead of Taylor on the Arizona depth chart, but A) Williams missed most of last year with injuries and B) Mendenhall blows. Taylor could be a nice add toward the end of the season come fantasy playoff time, and working in a pro-style offense at Stanford should help the assimilation process.
Montee Ball, Broncos
With the exodus of Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno recovering from offseason surgery, Ball should start training camp atop the Broncos depth chart. Ball was chastised for a lack of speed and physicality during the combine/scouting process, yet these two attributes seemed very present in his record-setting performance at Wisconsin, where Ball accumulated 77 rushing touchdowns and over 5,100 yards. Behind an improved Broncos line, look for this terrain dexterity to continue.
Tavon Austin, Rams
Let’s pump the brakes on the Percy Harvin comparisons, but with St. Louis seeking to fill a void with the absence of Danny Amendola, Austin will get the chance to haul in his fair share of receptions. I’m usually hesitant on drafting first-year receivers, and Austin is by no means entering an established offense. However, the lack of a definitive No. 1 receiver, a shaky running game and an improved pass-blocking offensive line should equate to big things for Austin. His ability to work the middle and deep ball gives him top-25 potential at wideout, a rank that’s good enough for starter status on most teams in standard leagues.
Aaron Dobson/Josh Boyce, Patriots
Individually, they probably don’t offer enough consistency to warrant a look. However, with injury concerns on Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, mixed with a less-than-pristine health past for Amendola, and Dobson and Boyce could be thrust into action sooner than expected.
Markus Wheaton, Steelers
I’m not the biggest believer in Emmanuel Sanders as an elite fantasy talent, giving extra merit to Wheaton by default. Wheaton seems to be a perfect fit for Todd Haley’s offense, and drew multiple assessments to Mike Wallace, who departed the Steelers for South Beach this winter. Don’t forecast a plethora of balls in his direction, but expect Wheaton to make the most of his chances. I’d rank Wheaton on the same plane as Hopkins, though with a slightly shorter ceiling.
Cordarrelle Patterson, Vikings
I commiserate with the apprehension on Christian Ponder, but Ponder isn’t that bad. Ok, well he is, but someone outside of Greg Jennings and Kyle Rudolph will be making catches in Minnesota next year, and Patterson seems like as worthy a candidate as any. I think the worries on Patterson’s rawness are exaggerated, and he has that highlight-material explosiveness that makes his possessions must-watches. In most leagues, I think Patterson goes undrafted, though don’t sleep on the 22-year-old if he has a strong summer.
Tyler Eifert, Bengals
At first glance, Eifert might not appear to offer much to fantasy owners, as Jermaine Gresham has provided stellar play for the Who-Deys at tight end. Still, outside of Gresham and Pro Bowler A.J. Green, Andy Dalton doesn’t have much to work with in terms of receiving options, bequeathing a platform for Eifert to perform. There is a surfeit of efficient tight ends on the fantasy market, and development of secondary Cincinnati receivers like Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones could cut into his targets. But if you’re looking for a sleeper at the position, Eifert’s red-zone proficiency and route-running meticulousness make him your man.