Despite 2008 success, most rookies aren't locks to make impact

The NFL Draft is the one event on the offseason schedule where head coaches and general managers, for all intents and purposes, act like fantasy football owners.

They've been in the process of scouting for months now and placing values on players in an attempt to find sleepers like Terrell Davis and Marques Colston and avoid busts like Ryan Leaf and Akili Smith. But the one major difference is that the majority of fantasy owners don't want to wait around for a player to develop. Instead, we want rookies that will make a significant (and more importantly) immediate impact and allow at least some level of instant gratification.

With that said, it's almost guaranteed that a rookie quarterback won't make an impact in 2009.

Sure, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco put up good numbers last season, but neither finished in the top 12 among quarterbacks on NFL.com. In reality, the transition from the collegiate ranks to the much faster and complex NFL level has been difficult for most players at the position to endure, and that's been evident in the numbers of some of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Brett Favre, who leads the league in career passing yards and passing touchdowns, was invisible in his rookie season. In fact, he didn't make a significant impact on the field or in fantasy land until his fourth season. John Elway, who finished his illustrious career third all-time in passing yards, threw for 1,663 yards with seven touchdowns and 14 interceptions in his first pro season. Even Warren Moon, who was 28 in his "rookie" season in the NFL, had 3,338 yards, 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

These little statistical factoids make even the most valuable and sought-after rookie quarterbacks in the 2009 class, a list that includes the likes of Georgia's Matthew Stafford, Southern California's Mark Sanchez and Kansas State's Josh Freeman, about as valuable as a screen door on a submarine in most seasonal fantasy drafts.

Where rookie quarterbacks have failed to put up numbers throughout the years, first-year running backs have thrived and made tremendous impacts.

Since 2003, there have been a high number of rookie running backs to make some serious noise in the stat sheets. That list includes Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, Joseph Addai, Maurice Jones-Drew and Cadillac Williams. If we look back even further into the annals of NFL history, we find that other backs such as Eric Dickerson, Edgerrin James, Curtis Martin and Clinton Portis (to name a few) were also tremendous options right out of college.

In 2008, a number of rookie runners helped countless fantasy leaguers take home a championship.

Matt Forte and Chris Johnson thrived despite their lack of pro experience, and Steve Slaton turned into one of the best sleepers of the season. All three finished in the top 10 in fantasy points among running backs in standard formats. Kevin Smith also showed flashes of potential, as did Tim Hightower, Peyton Hillis and Tashard Choice.

Ironically, the back that was ranked highest on most cheat sheets last season, Darren McFadden, finished as the sixth-most productive rookie at his position on NFL.com.

There are several talented running backs in the 2009 class, a list that is headlined by Georgia's Knowshon Moreno, Ohio State's Chris "Beanie" Wells and Connecticut's Donald Brown. Fantasy leaguers should also remember Pittsburgh's LeSean McCoy, North Carolina State's Andre Brown and Iowa's Shonn Greene.

Depending on how the draft shakes out, it wouldn't be a shock to see one or more of these runners become this season's version of Forte, Johnson or Slaton.

In terms of overall fantasy draft value, wide receivers fall somewhere between quarterbacks and running backs.

While there have been a few monster rookie seasons at the position, none more memorable than Randy Moss in 1998, there are far more wideouts that have done a Houdini act in their first pro season. In fact, there have only been four rookie wideouts (Moss, Anquan Boldin, Michael Clayton, Marques Colston) to reach the 1,000-yard mark in the Super Bowl era. The last wideout to reach that mark, Colston, was a seventh-round selection of the Saints who had little value in fantasy drafts.

Even Calvin Johnson, who was touted as the best wideout to come out of collegiate ranks in a decade, didn't do much in his rookie season.

The Georgia Tech product recorded 48 catches, 756 yards and four touchdowns in 15 games (10 starts). Those are nice numbers from a first-year wideout, but most fantasy owners expected much more based on his immense skills and abilities. Megatron did take a gigantic step in his sophomore season with 78 receptions, 1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns, but he needed that one season to reach his true statistical potential.

While a number of rookie wideouts did make an impact in 2008, none of them was particularly consistent in standard formats.

Eddie Royal finished with 980 yards and five touchdowns, but he was far more productive in leagues that rewarded points for receptions. DeSean Jackson also had solid totals with 912 yards and two touchdowns, and he would have had a third score had he not had a lapse in common sense at the goal line in a game at Dallas in Week 2. Donnie Avery and Davone Bess also showed flashes of brilliance, but again, neither was consistent enough to be considered more than No. 3 fantasy wideouts across the board.

The top wide receiver in the new class is Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree. A physical athlete with all the tools to succeed, Crabtree could become a borderline No. 2 or 3 fantasy wideout if he lands in the right situation. Missouri's Jeremy Maclin, North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks, Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey and Florida's Percy Harvin are some of the other names that could have some draft value in seasonal leagues.

Tight ends, the last of the offensive skill positions, have had even fewer rookies make a serious statistical impact. Sure, Keith Jackson, Cam Cleeland, Ken Dilger, Jeremy Shockey and John Carlson all had productive first seasons. But for each solid rookie performance at the position, there are many more forgettable ones.

Jason Witten, the top fantasy tight end on NFL.com, produced 35 receptions, 347 yards and one touchdown as a rookie. Antonio Gates hauled in just 24 catches for 389 yards and two touchdowns in his first pro season. Dallas Clark has scored 17 touchdowns in his last two seasons with the Colts, but he had just one in his rookie season.

This trend doesn't exclude the greatest tight ends of all time, either.

Kellen Winslow Sr., Tony Gonzalez and Shannon Sharpe didn't produce in their first seasons, and Dave Casper failed to record 40-plus receptions until his third season. Casper and Winslow are now enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Sharpe and Gonzalez are certain locks to have their busts in Canton in the near future.

After a season that saw Ryan and Flacco perform well and Forte, Johnson and Slaton all put up huge numbers, rookie values are certain to be higher this season. But as the past indicates, most of the offensive skill position players in this new class are destined to fail in their attempt to make a huge statistical impact in 2009.

Have a burning question for Michael Fabiano on anything fantasy football related? Leave it in our comments section below or send it to AskFabiano@nfl.com, and the best questions will be answered throughout the season right here on NFL.com!

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