Four rookies could offer sweet fantasy returns

Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins. (Vincent Pugliese/AP)

What are we to make of this year's NFL newcomers?

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, which is also a multifaceted 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 because of nagging injuries?

With these variables in mind, let's examine the rookie class of 2014.


Give them a chance

Bishop Sankey, RB, Titans. Only Shonn Greene stands between the Washington standout and a starting job. Sankey is neither exceptionally fast nor powerful, but he is a versatile runner with good hands.

Mike Evans, WR, Buccaneers. Johnny Manziel made him a rich man in just one season, and Josh McCown can now make him a star.

Sammy Watkins, WR, Bills. The fourth overall pick out of Clemson will be a Day 1 starter; and with Stevie Johnson now a 49er, Watkins should quickly become E.J. Manuel's favorite target.

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Panthers. No team needs a young wideout to produce immediately more than Carolina. Cam Newton has an entirely fresh cast of receivers this year, so the first-round pick will have ample opportunities to shine.


Look but don't touch

It's important to know these guys, just in case they soar more quickly than expected.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Browns. Everybody has an opinion about Johnny Football, and someone in your league is sure to draft him several rounds too high. Of course he'll win Cleveland's starting job, but with a dearth of receivers and a steep learning curve, his fantasy exploits will be few and far between this year.

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Vikings. The starting job is his for the taking, but he has a lot to prove before he'll be worth fantasy consideration.

Jeremy Hill, RB, Bengals. Assuming he overtakes BenJarvis Green-Ellis, Hill will become Giovani Bernard's insurance policy.

Carlos Hyde, RB, 49ers. The Ohio State bruiser should start the season as Frank Gore's backup, though LaMichael James (elbow) will try to wrest the spot away upon his return.

Andre Williams, RB, Giants. Likely to win the backup job behind Rashad Jennings, Williams may also get plenty of goal-line work.

 Brandin Cooks, WR, Saints. He is unlikely to win a starting job this year, but should be on the field plenty.

Marqise Lee, WR, Jaguars. The USC product should work his way into the starting lineup quickly, but this is Jacksonville. His ceiling is low.

Jordan Matthews, WR, Eagles. With Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper manning the outside, Matthews is projected to play in the slot. Barring an injury, the second-round pick from Vanderbilt is unlikely to produce consistently in his rookie campaign.

Odel Beckham Jr., WR, Giants. He'll spend his rookie season playing understudy to Victor Cruz and Reuben Randle in an offense that struggled mightily in 2013.