Rookies best in small portions


Special to

I love garlic.

There, I said it. Iím glad that little skeleton is finally out of the closet.

I like garlic on my steak, in pasta, on toast and even occasionally in my eggs. But every now and then, I take a bite of a dish Ė mind you, not one prepared by my lovely wife Ė that has way too much garlic in it. Itís nasty, overwhelming and thoroughly inedible.

Just as too much garlic can ruin an otherwise delicious meal, so too can an over-abundance of rookies weigh down a fantasy football roster. First-year players may look tasty on the draft-night menu, and selecting them invariably generates an approving nod from your fellow owners, but few will actually provide the long-term nourishment you crave.

Thereís simply too much risk associated with most rookies, ranging from the difficulty of unseating a veteran starter to the adjustments their bodies must make to the faster pace, longer season and more physical demands of the pro game. Promising rookie running backs often struggle picking up blitzes, rookie receivers canít get past hard bumps at the line of scrimmage and rookie quarterbacks have trouble with just about everything.

In 2006, only four players produced consistently for the majority of their rookie seasons: Joseph Addai, Laurence Maroney, Maurice Jones-Drew and Marques Colston. Around mid-season, preseason darlings Reggie Bush and Vince Young began to make their marks. Only Jones-Drew, Young and Colston cracked the Top 15 among fantasy contributors at their position.

Like my favorite seasoning, resist the temptation to heavy-up on the spicy new flavors on the 2007 fantasy buffet.

Hereís a look at my Top 10 Rookie Rankings, in order of their projected first-year fantasy value:

Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings. No rookie running back can match his physical skills and explosiveness. But Peterson has a history of injury problems, and will be competing for carries Ė at least initially Ė with Chester Taylor. Most worrisome, he joins a talent-deprived offense with an inexperienced quarterback and arguably the worst receiver corps in the league.

Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions. Iíve searched far and wide, and the only negative comment I could find on Johnson is that heís a rookie. Itís hard not to get excited about the physical marvel lining up opposite Roy Williams in Mike Martzís wide-open offense. Even so, the hype machine has inflated his draft stock to the point that he carries a great deal of risk, as with Bush in Ď06.
Anything shy of Randy Mossí 1,313-yard, 17-TD rookie season may be a disappointment.

Brandon Jackson, RB, Packers. Vernand Morency may get the early-season starts, but itís clear the Packers want the rookie to win the job. Neither big nor particularly fast, Jackson accelerates quickly to the hole and has surprising strength for his size. Donít be surprised if he emerges as a solid fantasy force by mid-season.

Marshawn Lynch, RB, Bills. Heís a virtual lock to start in Week 1, and will face fairly meager competition for carries from the aging Anthony ďA-TrainĒ Thomas and fellow rookie Dwayne Wright. The knock on Lynch is that he split carries in college and may not be powerful enough to handle goal-line duties. And, like Peterson, heís stuck in a lackluster offense. Final caveat: He faces a brutal eight-week stretch to open the season.

Craig Davis, WR, Chargers. When Eric Parker was lost for the first half of the season with a toe injury, the door opened for San Diegoís first-round pick to contribute immediately. He is a versatile receiver that should fit in perfectly with Norv Turnerís offensive attack.

Anthony Gonzalez, WR, Colts. There is absolutely nothing extraordinary about the rookie from Ohio State, except the role that has been handed him on a silver platter. Tapped to replace Brandon Stokley as Peyton Manningís slot receiver, he is destined to produce decent stats over the course of the season.
But unless he catches lightning in a bottle like Stokley did in his magical 2004 season, he is unlikely to be worth a roster spot on most fantasy teams.

JaMarcus Russell, QB, Oakland. A quarterback taken with the first overall pick is virtually guaranteed to see the field in his rookie season. But youíll be in more trouble than the Raiders if you are forced to start him for your fantasy team. There may not be a more ill-fated job on the face of the planet than running the Oakland offense.

Greg Olsen, TE, Bears. Heís whipping up a frenzy in training camp, as the coaching staff experiments lining him up at fullback, in the slot, in two TE sets and in a traditional one tight end formation. With a talented cast around him, he will likely have a handful of excellent games. But consistent production is unlikely as long as he shares time with Desmond Clark.

Justin Medlock, K, Chiefs. He has already won the job, so he canít help but produce. Whether his offense will give him enough opportunities to be a fantasy force is another story.

Robert Meacham, WR, Saints. He probably wonít merit a preseason draft pick, but if the physically gifted rookie earns a starting job on this offense, heíll be a coveted free agent pick-up.