Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
It's always hard to evaluate talent when it moves on to the next level. How will the high-school "superstar" compete as a freshman in college against better players? Some thrive, while others turn out to have been just a "big fish in a small pond."
Similarly, when the "star" college quarterback, running back or receiver move on to where they "play for pay," some make an immediate impression (Minnesota's Adrian Peterson), some take a few years to develop (Philadelphia's Brian Westbrook) and some, like San Diego's Ryan Leaf, never make it at all.
We are here to see if we can find any rookies who will make an immediate impact and as a result help your fantasy team in 2008.
Matt Ryan should be the only rookie quarterback who gets significant time. But with the team he has to work with, will not be a viable pick this season except in keeper leagues. Ryan is the most "NFL-ready" QB to come out of school this year, but the team will likely feature newly-signed running back Michael Turner and holdover Jerious Norwood while Ryan learns on the fly. Ryan has an underrated receiver in Roddy White, but veteran tight end Alge Crumpler was let go in February.
The running back position has a number of first-year players who will make an impact, although none will put up a year like "AP" did in 2007 (1,609 yards combined rushing and receiving and 13 TDs).
Oakland's Darren McFadden will have the best opportunity as the first running back drafted, fourth overall out of Arkansas, will see the most time at the beginning of the season. However, at the start at least, he will still share time with Justin Fargas.
By mid-season he may not be the most prolific rookie running back. That's because Carolina head coach John Fox loves to use a big back in his offense. When they drafted Jonathan Stewart with the 13th-overall pick the writing was on the wall for DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams. Foster is gone (to San Francisco) and although Williams will likely be the opening-day starter, the job and the touchdowns will go to Stewart by the end of the year.
Matt Forte (Chicago) and Kevin Smith (Detroit) appear to have the starting jobs on their respective teams though it is primarily due to lack of good competition. Meanwhile, Rashard Mendenhall (Pittsburgh) and Felix Jones (Dallas) will also see significant playing time.
Something seems to be developing in Baltimore where rookie Ray Rice has had an excellent pre-season. With starter Willis McGahee having recent arthroscopic surgery, its possible that Rice will get a lot of early carries. The coaching staff seems to like what they are see so far from the former Rutgers star.
And the secret is out of the bag in Tennessee where Chris Johnson has gotten a lot of publicity. He was the fastest of the rookie running back class and his 66-yard TD run in the first preseason game showed the world what those at East Carolina already knew - Johnson is a game-breaker.
This year's crop of wide receivers doesn't include a Terrell Owens or even a Keyshawn Johnson, but there are a couple of players worth watching.
James Hardy has the size to make a difference in Buffalo across from speedster Lee Evans, but his first-year numbers probably won't help anyone's fantasy team nor will Devin Thomas or Malcolm Kelly in Washington. It's possible that DeSean Jackson will beat out a largely mediocre group of receivers in Philadelphia for the spot opposite Kevin Curtis, but his more likely impact will be as a punt returner. Donnie Avery will be the third receiver in St. Louis unless he can beat out Drew Bennett and Early Doucet might get a chance in Arizona if thing can't be worked out between disgruntled wideout Anquan Boldin and the coaching staff.
For now, unless you are in a keeper league, stick with the rookie running backs. That is the only position in 2008 where a rookie will make a significant contribution to your fantasy team.