Who will be this years David Johnson or Todd Gurley? Those two aforementioned rookies carried their owners to fantasy championships last year and are nearly consensus 1st round picks heading into year 2. Are there any players from the 2016 rookie class that could have a similar impact?
The below rankings are based on how I view these players as talents in combination with their potential role with their new team and what we're hearing from each organization regarding each specific player. These rankings are bound to fluctuate as the weeks pass but are meant to keep you in the know of who the next studs on Sundays will be.
1. Ezekiel Elliott - RB - Dallas Cowboys - Barring an injury Elliott will hold down this top stop for the foreseeable future. There is already talk out of Cowboys camp that the #4 overall pick could crack 300 carries, which certainly is in the realm of possibilities. Dallas has invested so heavily in Elliott and their Offensive Line in recent years that I expect them to rely on the ground-and-pound approach that led them to a 12-4 season back in 2014. Now Elliott has some solid backs behind him in Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris but Zeke is a supreme talent to all of them.
2. Sterling Shepard - WR - New York Giants - The 40th overall pick in this years draft seems to have a hold on the WR2 position in New York. Shepard was one of my favorite players in this draft class and he falls into a perfect situation in New York. New head coach, Ben McAddo, has Eli Manning playing the best ball of his career and in that passing game Shepard could see upwards of 100 targets.
3. Laquon Treadwell - WR - Minnesota Vikings - Treadwell should find himself as the starter opposite Stefon Diggs come Week 1. Diggs had an impressive rookie season but I believe Treadwell can finally fill the primary WR void that the Vikings have lacked for years. Treadwell has a little Dez Bryant to his game. Treadwell plays with a more quiet rage and physicality that can be seen with his blocking in the run game and "my ball" mentality when it's headed his way. While the Vikings have a run oriented approach on offense Bridgewater has already sung praise of Treadwell in offseason workouts saying, "He's going to be big for this team."
4. Corey Coleman - WR - Cleveland Browns - While Coleman's raw athletic ability is something to marvel at I'm in the camp that believes his transition to the NFL will come with more bumps in the road than some think. NFL defenses will present much more of a challenge than the Big 12. However, it appears he'll have all the opportunity to work through his struggles as the Browns depth chart is deprived of talent at the wide receiver position. At this point, Coleman should receive near WR1 target totals and is an intriguing boom/bust WR.
5. Michael Thomas - WR - New Orleans Saints - I'm excited to see how Thomas' rookie year pans out. It appears he was drafted to fill Marques Colston's role in the offense which fits his skill set perfectly. If Thomas is used in that "Big Slot" role that we've seen Colston, Jordan Matthews and Larry Fitzgerald be productive in, he should produce right away. In meantime, lets see how Thomas absorbs the playbook and if he wins a starting job.
6. Derrick Henry - RB - Tennessee Titans - Titans Head Coach, Mike Mularkey, came out and stated they were going to play an "Exotic Smashmouth" style of football. I'm not exactly sure what that means but it appears Mularkey is committed to that approach with the selection of RT Jack Conklin in the 1st Round and RB Derrick Henry in the 2nd. Henry will have to compete with DeMarco Murray for touches. OC Terry Robiskie stated they plan to use the "hot hand" approach in the backfield. Due to his limitations as a receiver I expect Henry might be limited to 1st or 2nd Round work as a rookie.
7. Josh Docston - WR - Washington Redskins - I fear I have Doctson too low here but it's because I'm unsure of the opportunity he'll be thrust into right away. Kirk Cousins suddenly has a bevy of weapons to throw to (Jordan Reed, DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Jamison Crowder). I do consider Doctson easily the best WR of this group and in due time he'll be the WR1 but it might take a half a season. Doctson is incredible to watch.
8. Devontae Booker - RB - Denver Broncos - CJ Anderson is the unquestioned starter in Denver but don't forget that Ronnie Hillman was still able to carve out a semi-meaningful role for himself this past season even when CJ got rolling. In the 2nd half of the season Hillman still averaged 16 touches a game. What does this have to do with Devontae Booker? Well I think Booker is a superior all around back to Hillman and has the talent to overtake that role. Gary Kubiak loves running the ball and CJ Anderson has yet make it through a 16 game season unscathed so Booker could be come a premium handcuff as well.
9. Jordan Howard - RB - Chicago Bears - Truthfully I'm not sold on Jordan Howard or Jeremy Langford but I think they compliment one another and could be a serviceable duo. The way I see it now Howard takes over the between the tackles and the all important goal line work, while Langford is the primary back on passing downs. As the season approaches I think Howard's value will rise in fantasy circles.
10. Paul Perkins - RB - New York Giants - I'm probably more bullish on Perkins than I should be considering the stable of backs he has to pass on the depth chart but I believe in his talent. First, can we all send up a quick prayer that the Giants will stop handing the ball off to Andre Williams? Thank you. Perkins is a little like Devonta Freeman. He's a three down back without a true standout trait but enough ability to be a functional starter for an NFL team. Currently Rashad Jennings stands in his way with Shane Vereen likely having the passing down duties on lock. Those two have some injury history so Perkins might just be one call away.
11. Kenneth Dixon - RB - Baltimore Ravens - Dixon is perfect for Mark Trestman's scheme, the problem is the ambiguity of where he falls on the depth chart at this point. Justin Forsett will likely get the first crack at the job. Buck Allen was serviceable at the end of last season. Then factor in Trent Richardson, Terrance West and Lorenzo Taliaferro. Obviously the cast of characters will dwindle down as the season approaches. For now it's just a waiting game to see when Dixon falls on the depth chart.
12. CJ Prosise - RB - Seattle Seahawks - David Johnson's do not come along every year but if there is a back whose story could look similar to Johnson's it would be Prosise. Much like David Johnson, CJ Prosise will likely make his mark early as a receiver out of the backfield. His role could expand if Thomas Rawls isn't healthy or effective coming off his ankle injury. Prosise in general is raw since he's only spent one year at running back but the upside is all there.
13. DeAndre Washington - RB - Oakland Raiders - I admittedly need to take a closer look at Washington but I wasn't too impressed with the brief viewing of him during the draft process. However the Raiders brass doesn't seem to be too crazy about Latavius Murray and Washington seems primed to take receiving down duties. Washington hauled in 124 passes at Texas Tech. Washington looks to be Murray's primary handcuff as the season approaches.
14. Leonte Carroo - WR - Miami Dolphins - I don't see Carroo ever becoming a star but he'll be a household name to casual fantasy players sooner than you think. Carroo's thick build, detailed route running and physicality as a possession receiver has drawn comparisons to Anquan Boldin. Carroo is a polished product who can play on in the inside and outside and could become an asset in the passing game right away.
15. Will Fuller - WR - Houston Texans - Fuller's astonishing speed brings a much needed deep element to the Texans passing game and complements DeAndre Hopkins well. Fuller has his issue with drops but his big play ability certainly will make up for that some weeks. Think Ted Ginn with Fuller.
16. Tyler Boyd - WR - Cincinnati Bengals - With the departure of Mohammad Sanu and Marvin Jones in free agency Boyd steps into a promising situation where he's likely WR3 on their depth chart. He's smooth but has limitations athletically and will probably be most effect in the slot.
17. Wendell Smallwood - RB - Philadelphia Eagles - Smallwood quietly lead the Big 12 in rushing this past year and in Doug Pederson run based approach he could become a fantasy darling If Ryan Mathews goes down. Darren Sproles will certainly steal touches but I think Smallwood is more apt to take on the bigger workload in that scenario.
18. Jared Goff - QB - St Louis - Jared Goff will enter training camp as No. 2 on the depth chart but we all know he'll be thrown in the fire right away. Goff was easily the best QB prospect in this class and should turn into a solid starter in the league but don't think he'll have much fantasy value as long as Jeff Fisher is calling the shots.
19. Tajae Sharpe - WR - Tennessee Titans - In June it was announced that Sharpe would open training camp as a starter. Who knows if this is a ploy to motivate talented but troubled WR Dorial Green-Beckham. The 5th Round pick out of UMass is just a solid possession Wide Receiver.
20. Kenyan Drake - RB - Miami Dolphins - Drake is quick-twitch explosive play maker who will likely have the chance to carve out a receiving role out of the backfield to go along with his involvement in the return game. I don't see him as a threat to take over Jay Ajayi's role as the starter.
21. Austin Hooper - TE - Atlanta Falcons - Historically rookie Tight Ends don't have much impact but I think Hooper has the ability to push Jacob Tamme for the job. Hooper is well-rounded prospect who should be able to hold his own in the run game to start and can be a factor in the passing game given the opportunity. In the long run I think Hooper will fill the void that Tony Gonzalez left years ago.
22. Hunter Henry - TE - San Diego Chargers - Antonio Gates is still the sheriff in town but I have a hunch that San Diego has plans to sprinkle Henry into the mix at times. I can see Henry stealing like 20 snaps a game with a few targets coming his way out of the gate.
23. Daniel Braverman - WR - Chicago Bears - Braverman is your prototypical slot WR who would fit in perfectly between Kevin White and Alshon Jeffery. Marquess Wilson is re-broke his foot at minicamp so it seems like Braverman will be competing with Eddie Royal, who disappointed his first year in Chicago, and Josh Bellamy for the WR3 and WR4 position.
24. Paxton Lynch - QB - Denver Broncos - Lynch fell into a perfect situation. He's an ideal fit for Gary Kubiak's system and is surrounded by a talented cast of characters. The media will likely make Brock Osweiler comparisons due to their similar stature but Lynch is much more talented. I expect Lynch to see the field here and there in his rookie season, which won't translate to much fantasy value but if Mark Sanchez flames out Lynch will move up quite a bit on this list.
25. Carson Wentz - QB - Philadelphia Eagles - Wentz is the QB of the future in Philly but it looks like he'll be watching from the sidelines to start things off. Once the reins are handed over, and since Sam Bradford is a china doll it could happen sooner than expected, Wentz will be an intriguing fantasy option because of his ability in the run game.