Fantasy Doctor: Rockin’ rookies

The Buffalo Bills’ Sammy Watkins (14) gets upended at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., on Friday, Aug. 8, 2014. (David T. Foster, III/Charlotte Observer/MCT)

Every NFL player was a rookie once.

If you pay attention, dear reader, earlier this week, I gave grades to the top five picks from the 2014 NFL Draft. But, weighing the fantasy impact of rookies is a far different exercise.

Rookies are now halfway through their first NFL season and there are quite a few studs in this year’s rookie class.

Successful rookies range from the obvious to the surprising, but that’s where fantasy football is helpful in distinguishing who was exciting.

At least among skill players, fantasy points are a pretty good indication of who is living up to expectations, who is falling short of expectations and who is performing exactly how they were expected to.

Johnny Football hasn’t emerged in Cleveland yet, but it’s probably been the best season for rookie wide receivers in a while.

These rankings are going to be a little bit different from normal ups and downs. Instead I’ll give you the top five rookies and the one who I think has been the biggest fantasy dud. Here we go.

Rookie No. 1: Sammy Watkins, Bills WR

In case you didn’t see my rookie grades from earlier this week, Watkins was the best of the top 10 picks and a likely candidate for rookie of the year. He has caught 38 balls for 590 yards and since Kyle Orton became the Bills starter, Watkins has been on fire. He has fought through a few injuries, but has been a solid fantasy starter.

Rookie No. 2: Kelvin Benjamin, Panthers WR

Benjamin and Watkins have had almost identical seasons fantasy-wise. Benjamin has caught two more passes for one fewer yard and just as many touchdowns as Watkins. The difference is that Watkins has led the resurgence of Buffalo’s offense, while Benjamin and the Panthers have been stuck in neutral for much of the season, not able to get any momentum going. Benjamin, like Watkins, is a reliable starter for your fantasy team.

Rookie No. 3: Mike Evans, Buccaneers WR

Evans has been a bit slower off the bat than Benjamin and Watkins, but not by much. Last week, he turned in a monster performance against Cleveland (154 yards, two TDs), and has been good with Mike Glennon at the helm. Evans also plays second fiddle to Vincent Jackson, so although he may not be the main target, he also doesn’t draw opponents’ top defender. I like Evans, especially in a flex role.

Rookie No. 4: Odell Beckham Jr., Giants WR

Beckham was out for the first four weeks, but jumped back in and didn’t miss much. Since the injury to Victor Cruz, Beckham has been starting for the Giants and has made the most of it. In Monday night’s game against Indy, Beckham caught eight passes for 154 yards, and has three touchdown catches in three games. He’s hot, so pick him up if he’s available in your league.

Rookie No. 5: Jeremy Hill, Bengals RB

Hill’s emergence has been surprising for a Cincinnati team that thought it already had its running back of the future in Giovani Bernard. Hill is on pace for 10 rushing touchdowns, and busted out for 154 rushing yards and two TDs against Jacksonville last week. Be careful with Bernard’s health, but go with Hill if you have a chance. 

Most disappointing rookie: Teddy Bridgewater, Vikings QB

It may not really be his fault, due to the sudden removal of Adrian Peterson from Minnesota’s offense, but Bridgewater just hasn’t been good. He’s thrown for no more than one touchdown in a game this season, and has tossed five interceptions to go with one fumble. He hasn’t demonstrated his rushing ability at all — he hasn’t even rushed for 100 yards in total this season. Tough to start him at all this season, which is a shame, since he’s definitely a promising athlete.

Peter is a sophomore in Media. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @pbaileywells22