Top 5 Impact Fantasy Rookies for 2012

For when Richardson and RGIII aren't enough, there's a few other rookies you might want to take a look at this fantasy season.

Drafting a rookie for your fantasy football team is equivalent to placing a bet on the New York Mets to make the World Series. Sure, it might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but you always knew they were going to spiral below .500. Rookies are a similar gamble. Christopher Harris of ESPN projected Daniel Thomas to be the top rookie of 2011. Thomas showed promise early on, but was injured and lost most of his touches to Reggie Bush. Cam Newton? He was #10, or six spots behind Leonard Hankerson (he’s a Redskin, and here's the page you were about to Google). That’s why only two rookies appear in the top 100 of the standard numberFire draft kit. While drafting a rookie is risky, here are five who could make a significant fantasy impact.

5. RB Ronnie Hillman - Denver Broncos

Hillman fits any definition of a deep sleeper. Drafted in the third round out of San Diego State, Hillman is the 112th ranked running back according to the numberFire draft kit. However, Hillman did show flashes of potential in the decent Mountain West Conference, rushing for 1700 yards and 16 TD’s in his final campaign. Hillman’s upside is his ability to quickly move up the depth chart. Willis McGahee is 31, when most running backs start to decline, and is coming off his first season of 110+ carries in three years. Knowshon Moreno must recover from a torn ACL as well as rise from the doghouse of John Fox, who entrusted Moreno with the ball 37 times in nine games. It might be worth your last pick in the draft to take a risk on a player who could be a featured back by mid-season.

4. WR Brian Quick - St. Louis Rams

You can minimize risk when drafting rookies by emphasizing playing time over potential talent. Brian Quick is a great example. Quick is a 6’4” 200 lb wide receiver that played his college ball for Appalachian State. While four WR’s were drafted ahead of Quick, only Quick makes the list because of the Rams dreadful receiving core. Pop quiz, who is the leading returning receiver for the Rams? If you’re like me, your first thought was probably “Does Torry Holt still play for St. Louis?” The correct answer is Brandon Gibson, a fourth year receiver out of Washington State who had 431 yards and one TD. We know that Sam Bradford is an excellent young QB, and defenses still need to focus their attention on Steven Jackson. If Quick can develop early chemistry with Bradford, he will quickly (pun intended) rise to the #1 WR spot on the Rams depth chart.

3. RB Doug Martin - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Martin is the first player who is worthy of consideration for a flex spot on your roster. Drafted in the first round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Martin spent the past four seasons playing a significant role in the Boise State Broncos offense. While the Bucs have LeGarrette Blount, he had a down 2011 season. Blount rushed for over 100 yards only 3 times, while rushing for under 40 yards on seven different occasions. If Blount struggles early, Martin would become an important part of an offense that features an improving Josh Freeman, new WR Vincent Jackson, and an improved offensive line with the addition of Carl Nicks from New Orleans. Blount might be the goal line back, but Martin has the better all around skill set.

2. QB Robert Griffin III - Washington Redskins

Robert Griffin III will be drafted too high in your draft. Don’t blame me; blame Cam Newtonand his excellent rookie campaign. The difference between Newton and Griffin is in their offensive weapons. Newton had a #1 WR in Steve Smith, two solid RB’s in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, and an excellent TE in Greg Olsen. Griffin will have to work with Pierre Garcon, Roy Helu, and Fred Davis. I rank Griffin this high because of the damage he can do with his feet. Griffin should easily outperform the 251 rushing yards and 2.2 TD’s our draft kit projects. Will Griffin put up Newton-like numbers? Probably not. But he is worth the risk as a late round starter in a deep league or a matchup play off the bench.

1. RB Trent Richardson - Cleveland Browns

The third overall pick in this year’s draft combines raw talent with an excellent situation for a rookie running back. Richardson is a bruising 230 lb who ran for 1679 yards and 21 TD’s to lead the Alabama Crimson Tide to a national title. Asides from the talent, Richardson has no obstacles to becoming the featured back for the Browns. His backup is currently Montario Hardesty, who in his two seasons on an NFL roster tore his ACL to miss his rookie campaign, and injured his calf to miss half of his second season. When you add in the improvements the Browns made to the offensive line (2nd round pick Mitchell Schwartz joins All-Pro LT Joe Thomas and Pro Bowl C Alex Mack), you have the recipe for a special season. Richardson might suffer due to the general ineptitude of the rest of the Browns offense, but he is the only rookie who you should start Week 1.