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Scanning the 2011 Class for Fantasy Value

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Hopefully, there will actually be a 2011 NFL rookie class, so with a positive attitude I have decided to peruse the skill position talent getting ready to play on Sundays.

Of course, like rookies in most sports, their ability to be of value to a fantasy owner will be directly related to their opportunity to get onto the field.

If Indianapolis or New England drafts a quarterback, they aren't going to have any fantasy value for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, if the same quarterback gets selected by Carolina, Buffalo, Arizona, San Francisco Cincinnati, Tennessee, Washington or Oakland he might actually get to throw some passes in 2011.

Quarterback - There are no sure things at quarterback this year - no Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco or Sam Bradford.

Cameron Newton, Auburn - He's certainly athletic enough, but does he have the arm and head to play in a pro-style offense? Only time will tell, but seeing as how most fantasy leagues have a one-year time limit, he probably won't pay dividends.

Blaine Gabbert, Missouri - Gabbert played in a non-traditional offense, was frequently out of shape and struggled with his accuracy. He had a better sophomore season than last year's 3,186-yard, 16 TDs, nine INTs junior season.

Christian Ponder, Florida State - With so many teams needing a quarterback, Ponder will find a home somewhere early in the draft. He was the best QB at the NFL combine showing accuracy and arm strength. On the downside, based on his history, he's an big injury risk.

Colin Kaepernick, Nevada - He's got a great leader mentality, but he isn't ready to start in the NFL as a rookie. He was a four-year starter at Nevada, who ran the "Pistol" which means he'll need to learn in an NFL offense for a few seasons.

Jake Locker, Washington - Locker should have left school after his junior year when he would have been selected in the top-10 overall. His 2010 season (2,265 yards, 17 TDs, 9 INTs) cost him a lot of money because he's now barely a top- five at his position.

Ryan Mallett, Arkansas - He's got a million dollar arm, but many insiders say he has a $.10 head. He's likely a lot closer to Ryan Leaf than Peyton Manning.

Running Backs - There is no LaDainian Tomlinson or Adrian Peterson in the group, but given an opportunity to play, each of the players below could contribute in a RBBC situation (running-back-by-committee).

Mark Ingram, Alabama - His 40 time might make people shy away from him (4.58), but he's got a quick first step. Mel Kiper called him the "next Emmitt Smith" but I'm not ready to make that comparison. He'll go no lower than No.15 since the Miami Dolphins' Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are both free agents. If that's the case, he could get plenty of carries in his rookie season and carry solid fantasy value.

Mikel Leshoure, Illinois - Leshoure has the size and speed that make people think of former Illini running back Rashard Mendenhall. He'll need to find just the right situation to have fantasy value in the first year.

Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech - Williams missed part of 2010 (hamstring) which caused his numbers to drop drastically. Still, he has 30 touchdowns and 2,132 yards in 16 career games. He's a compact runner with great power, but he can't carry a rushing offense, so his first-year fantasy value is low.

DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma - He's talented, but injury prone. Posted a lightning 4.38 at the combine and caught 71 balls in his senior season (157 for his career) which could land him a job as a third-down back and a spot in PPR leagues.

Shane Vereen, California - Vereen is in the Jahvid Best mold, having the ability to run and catch the ball, just not quite as dynamic. Location, location, location...if he goes to the right situation, he could have value.

Wide Receivers - The rookie receiving corps promises the best chance for immediate fantasy help. The first four players listed could all contribute right from Opening Day and in the case of A.J. Green and Julio Jones...star.

A.J. Green, Georgia - He might be the most NFL-ready player in the draft and is in the Larry Fitzgerald/Calvin Johnson mold. With Ochocinco and Terrell Owens gone from the Bengals receiving corps, he's a prime candidate to be Cincinnati's No.1 receiver. If not he will get selected by Cleveland. Either way he's the best fantasy rookie in the draft.

Julio Jones, Alabama - He might actually be more talented than A.J. Green, but he's also inconsistent. Ran a 4.39 at the NFL combine with a broken foot. He and Ingram will battle it out for the second-best fantasy rookie behind Green.

Jonathan Baldwin, Pittsburgh - Great size, speed and leaping ability, but questions about his attitude muddy the picture. Think Plaxico Burress. If the right coach can harness his ability, he'll be a consistent 1,000-yard receiver, or he could just be a "problem child."

Leonard Hankerson, Miami - Hankerson was the best offensive player at the Senior Bowl and with a 4.45 40 at the combine has become a top-five player at his position. He can make the tough catch, but like Jones can miss the easy one - he's "Julio Jones Lite."

Torrey Smith, Maryland - Has great speed to stretch a defense (4.37 40) but small hands. Might be good for a late-round flier, but probably a project which will eventually produce value, but only in keeper leagues.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.


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