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Fantasy Football 2011: The rookie waiting game

08.25.11 at 10:48 pm ET

Every year we see a few rookies who look so good we want to draft them based on potential or upside alone. We see the explosiveness and the big-play ability and we assume the coaches will see it too. The 2011 season is no different.

We have a long list of rookies and other young players whom we think should get a chance right away. We understand the delays for the most part; running backs need to learn protections and receivers need to refine their routes. Quarterbacks need to digest a new offense and adjust to the speed of the NFL game. Still, sometimes we end up scratching our heads when teams bring game-ready players along slowly. Having a realistic approach to drafting these players will help you to avoid the pitfall of reaching too soon. Nobody wants to get stuck waiting for a player they had ticketed for a major role.

For the record, there are two game-ready rookies we are buying into from the get-go. They are RB Mark Ingram of the Saints and WR Julio Jones of the Falcons. We expect to see immediate returns as these players have established roles on teams that are well-equipped to take advantage of their skills. Jones has a solid guy to work with in Matt Ryan, and Ingram is a great fit for the Saints and should be their starter (or at least their co-starter) with Pierre Thomas.  These players landed in nearly perfect situations. Now for the less lucky.  Here’€™s where the waiting game comes in.

Roy Helu, RB, Redskins

We’€™ve already gushed enough about the Redskins’€™ rookie, and as much as we want to scream ‘€œdraft him!’€, we can’€™t ignore the actions of the Redskins management and coaches. They added a veteran and he’€™s atop the depth chart. Making matters worse, the Redskins are not a very good team, which might limit the opportunities for the running backs. We think Helu is still worth a mid-round selection in redraft leagues just for his upside.  Immediate returns are not guaranteed.

AJ Green, WR, Bengals

This is an obvious one, but we think Green will be pretty good as soon as his rookie quarterback, Andy Dalton, gets his sea legs. That could take a few weeks, but we see Green as being a nice asset in the second half of the season or sooner. His upside is big enough to consider taking him as your 3rd receiver, but if you do, be prepared and build some depth behind him.

Denarius Moore, WR, Raiders

Moore could yield instant gratification, but this is the Raiders. He may not start right away while they continue to wait for Darrius Heyward-Bey. From what we have seen of this player, he is going to be very good once he gets his chance. If he’€™s not starting, you can still take him late in larger leagues. In smaller leagues, he is a player to keep tabs on. He has a lot of upside.

Greg Little, WR, Cleveland

Try to ignore Cleveland’€™s recent history with young receivers.  We like this kid for a number of reasons, but there is a lot working against him in the short term. He did not play organized ball in 2010. That he was still selected so high speaks volumes as to his talents, but that time away from the game combined with the lockout, will slow his development. Once he is settled, he is going to be a standout talent in comparison to his teammates. Getting the ball from Colt McCoy‘€™s hands and into Little’€™s hands will be this offense’€™s biggest priority. We see a very solid potential as the season progresses, but an up and down September is to be expected.

Edmund ‘€œClyde’€ Gates, WR, Dolphins

Chad Henne had trouble using Brandon Marshall‘€™s skills, so we aren’€™t stupid enough to assume that Gates will thrive even if he does manage to unseat Brian Hartline as the starter opposite Marshall. Still, as bad as Henne has been at times, he will either get better or get replaced by Matt Moore, and we think Gates is such a talent that he’€™ll be a viable player at some point this year … even with middling quarterbacks. We’€™re taking him very late in deep redraft leagues. If you play in a league that drafts 240 or more players, we’€™d like to recommend Mr. Gates as a late round sleeper.

DeMarco Murrray, RB, Cowboys

He might take some time to get into NFL shape, but Murray is a playmaker and a half. He should form a devastating 1-2 punch with Felix Jones and we project flex value for him once he is settled in. DeMarco is a nice way to back up Jones, but he might have value on his own.

Delone Carter, RB, Colts

I doubt that I need to educate any fantasy footballer worth his or her salt about how disappointing Joe Addai has been. It’€™s Addai’€™s stunning lack of big play ability, even in the Colts’€™ offense, that leads us to champion Carter as a redraft option. You can throw Donald Brown‘€™s disappointments here too if you wish. Carter is a totally different player.  He has legit power and will move the pile. He’€™s the short yardage force this team has lacked forever and he’€™s got some overall game too. No rookie gets entrusted in pass protection without rigorous vetting, so we expect a gradual climb, but Indy is a win-now team as Manning’€™s window is closing. We think they make Carter a featured element by the end of October. He’€™s worth a late pick in any twelve team league.

Cecil ‘€œBermuda’€ Shorts, WR, Jaguars

This kid is useful for a lot more than Chris Bermanisms. He’€™s another small school guy that really impresses us on film. We think he can do great things once Blaine Gabbert gets under center. Shorts and Gabbert combined will stretch the field for Jacksonville. This element has been sorely lacking for some time for the Jags, whose receiving corps has been loaded with JAGs. Rotobahn sees Shorts as a guy who will break out at some point this year. Perhaps even right away, but we’€™re not ready to bet on that.

Alexander Green, RB, Packers

Green Bay is a meritocracy when it comes to playing time. Ryan Grant is the starter and James Starks is somewhat established too. Starks was one of our deep sleepers in 2010, but you have to call it like you see it, and we see Green as their best option once he is up and running. Grant and Starks will get a chance and maybe they keep the rookie on the sidelines, but Green’€™s upside in the Packers‘€™ offense is ridiculous. He’€™d be an elite option given 100% of the role. For this, we are taking him late in leagues that give us enough roster space to stash a player or two.

Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Chiefs

Yeah, he’€™s a diva. Yeah, he’€™s already been injured by his own teammate. Yeah, he may not even be active by the time we kick off the 2011 season. How do we even consider buying into a player with such childish traits?  Do the names Randy Moss or Terrell Owens mean anything to you?  How about Kenny Britt or maybe Plaxico Burress?  Certifiable fools’€™ stats count just as much as a Rhodes Scholar’€™s. Baldwin has top-shelf skill. His upside going against #2 cornerbacks, as Dwayne Bowe does the heavy lifting, is immense. We’€™re still drafting him in really large leagues for his upside.

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