Top 10 fantasy rookies to watch in the 2016 NFL Draft

The NFL draft is one of the biggest events of the offseason. NFL teams are looking to select the best possible players in an attempt to build a championship-caliber roster. Sound familiar? It's similar to the draft you'll be having with your family and friends later this summer, right? Make the right choice and you're looking at a postseason run. Ask anyone who drafted Cam Newton for their fantasy squads in 2015. Make a mistake, and you could be dead and buried before Week 1.

JaMarcus Russell, anyone?

There is one huge difference though, and it comes at this time every offseason. You can do all the analysis you want on a rookie's collegiate career, his skill set, etc. In fact, our Fantasy Stronghold here at made like Trevor Story and hit it out of the park with their Prospect-a-Day feature. But fantasy analysts can never give a complete projection for a player until we know which team drafts him.

Case in point ... let's look back to the 2004 NFL Draft, when Steven Jackson was the best running back prospect in the class (by a mile). He wound up with the St. Louis Rams, who took him with the 24th overall selection in the first round. Had he ended up as a member of the Dallas Cowboys instead, you would be looking at a potential breakout candidate. But in St. Louis, where the great Marshall Faulk was still on the roster, Jackson's fantasy value (despite all of his talents) was limited as a rookie. At the conclusion of his first pro campaign, Jackson wasn't even a top-30 fantasy runner.

What's more, the likes of Nick Goings, Chris Brown, Derrick Blaylock and Onterrio Smith finished ahead of him at the position.

On the flip side, look at David Johnson from a season ago. Let's be honest, most fantasy fans had never heard of him coming out of Northern Iowa. It wasn't like he was on the same level as Todd Gurley or Melvin Gordon, who were much more highly touted. But when the Arizona Cardinals drafted him in Round 3, fantasy radars popped. Why? Well, the team didn't have a surefire No. 1 option in their backfield. And for as great as he was down the stretch, Johnson was a backup for all intents and purposes until Chris Johnson went down.

Don't believe me?

Take a look at his touch totals. In his first 11 games at the pro level, Johnson had 35 rush attempts and 19 catches (54 touches). In his final five contests with Chris Johnson out of the lineup, the rookie had 90 rush attempts and 17 catches (107 touches). Had CJ2K not been injured, we might not even be talking about David Johnson as a potential first-round selection in 2016.

As former WWE superstar Kurt Angle would say, "it's true, it's true."

So as you look at the following list of the top 10 rookies for fantasy fans to watch, keep in mind that the best players heading into the NFL Draft aren't always the same when it's over.

1. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State: Elliott has three-down potential at the pro level and is likely to be the first rookie picked in seasonal fantasy leagues. That could change if he lands with the Philadelphia Eagles (Ryan Mathews), Chicago Bears (Jeremy Langford) or Oakland Raiders (Latavius Murray), where backfield committees could await next season based on their current rosters. His best landing spots from a fantasy perspective are in Dallas and Miami, where he would be the favorite to start sooner rather than later. Remember, the Cowboys don't have Darren McFadden or Lance Dunbar under contract past 2016.

2. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama: Henry is a large individual (he came to the NFL Network studios last month) who started in his final two seasons at Alabama. A unique and powerful athlete, Henry will push Elliott as the first rookie picked in seasonal leagues if he lands in a great spot at the pro level. While most college scouts don't see him as a first-round talent, the Alabama product won't last far into Round 2. If the Cowboys pass on Elliott with the No. 4 overall pick, Henry could be their backup plan at No. 34. The Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants could also choose Henry in Round 2.

3. Devontae Booker, RB, Utah: Booker considers himself a "beast" who runs hard and could turn into a potential fantasy sleeper. The Utah product has the tools to be a three-down back at the next level, and he could earn that role sooner than later. While he could need a strong training camp (or injuries) to avoid a backfield committee as a rookie, Booker is a name to monitor on the second day of the draft. If he lands on a team that has an older running back atop the depth chart like the Indianapolis Colts (Frank Gore) or Giants (Rashad Jennings), Booker could be a dynasty boon.

4. Laquon Treadwell, WR, Mississippi: The 2016 draft class doesn't have a Julio Jones level of wide receiver, but most scouts consider Treadwell the best of the bunch. A three-year starter at Mississippi, he uses his size and physical attributes to make up for a lack of speed and explosiveness. The NFL is loaded with teams looking to improve at wideout, making Treadwell a surefire first-rounder. His best landing spots from a fantasy standpoint are the Los Angeles Rams, Houston Texans, Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals, but don't expect huge numbers out of the gate.

5. Josh Doctson, WR, TCU: Doctson's name might sound like the old Nissan car line, but this athletic wideout out of TCU has the tools to be an Audi R8 at the NFL level. One of his best assets is his skill as a leaper, which will no doubt make him a nice red-zone target for his future quarterbacks. Of course, his video-game numbers in college were helped in the Horned Frogs' up-tempo offensive attack. If he can improve on his limited route tree, Doctson's upside is among the highest in this class. Regardless of where he lands, he has the look of a late-round pick in most seasonal fantasy football drafts.

6. Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor: NFL media analyst and scout extraordinaire Daniel Jeremiah has Coleman ranked ahead of Treadwell among wideouts. That's notable. The explosive wideout can be dynamic in space, but there are concerns about his ball skills. I'd love to see him end up with a team that lacks a true No. 1, because Coleman could develop into the main man.

7. Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame: Jeremiah believes Fuller has improved his stock to that of a first-round pick, due in large part to his blazing speed ... he ran the second-fastest 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. That sort of skill set could be profitable in the stat sheets as a member of the Vikings or Bengals, who could use a field stretcher in their pass attacks.

8. Kenneth Dixon, RB, Louisiana Tech: Dixon was a stat-sheet stuffer in college, posting over 5,400 scrimmage yards and 87 total touchdowns. He was also the lone FBS player to score touchdowns of 80-plus yards as both a runner and receiver. He does need to improve on his ball security, but Dixon could come in as a nice committee back for his future NFL team as a rookie.

9. Jordan Howard, RB, Indiana: Howard is a powerful runner at 6-foot-0, 230 pounds, and he ran like a jackhammer during his collegiate tenure. Of course, that could be part of the reason he suffered though multiple injuries during his time at Indiana. While he lacks skills as a pass catcher, Howard could turn into an NFL starter as the lead back in a committee in the future.

10. Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State: Some recent mock drafts have Thomas pushing into the late first round, but he's no lock to emerge as a No. 1 wideout at the next level. What makes him interesting from a fantasy perspective is the fact that he could become a nice red-zone target. Thomas also possesses a pretty high ceiling if he can meet and exceed his expectations.

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Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on and NFL Network and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!

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