Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and other rookies will be on everyone’s radar when fantasy football drafts kick off. However, most NFL rookies will have to prove themselves in training camp and then in games as the season moves along. After finishing your draft, there will be several rookies to keep an eye on, as they can be used to replace injured players or as bye-week replacements.
Due to their individual team situations, I think these five players could have surprising fantasy impact at some point in 2012:
(Players are listed in alphabetical order.)
1. Travis Benjamin, WR
Benjamin’s success will depend upon the effectiveness of the Clevend Browns’ eventual quarterback (Colt McCoy or Brandon Weeden). The offense should see definite improvement with the addition of running back Trent Richardson, hopefully allowing the passing game to open up. I do not expect the Browns to win a lot this year, but I think they will be passing. Benjamin posted 84 catches for 1,352 yards in his final two seasons at Miami, and I think it is reasonable to expect him to find a role in the Cleveland offense.
2. LaMichael James, RB
James is part of a crowded San Francisco 49ers running game, which obviously features Frank Gore at the top. Gore is 29 years old and played every week in 2011, but he did miss five games in 2010. Backup Kendall Hunter received 112 carries last year, and the team acquired Brandon Jacobs in the offseason. It will be a high climb for James to see the field with any consistency this year, but his talent should not be ignored. With 5,082 rushing yards in three college seasons, if given a chance, James could improve a 49ers team that reached the NFC Championship Game last year.
3. Ryan Lindley, QB
As a fantasy player, I am avoiding the Arizona Cardinals’ quarterbacks for now. I have never believed Kevin Kolb could be an effective fantasy contributor, and I think John Skelton looked like the better player last season. I hope that Lindley is given a legitimate chance to compete for the starting job, if not right away, then at least later if the team struggles under Kolb and Skelton. Lindley’s 12,690 passing yards and 90 touchdowns in college were very impressive, and I would like to see him get a shot to play with Larry Fitzgerald.
4. Isaiah Pead, RB
In this case, Pead could begin the season as the St. Louis Rams’ second running back, playing behind Steven Jackson. Jackson has missed only two games in the last three seasons, but his production has dropped since 2009. The Rams could easily use Pead to consistently relieve Jackson, giving him a chance to have fantasy impact even if Jackson is not injured. Pead scored 12 touchdowns last year for Cincinnati and, depending on his preseason, could be more of a handcuff than a sleeper when your draft starts.
5. Nick Toon, WR
Any New Orleans Saints wide receiver who gets on the field can have fantasy value. Toon is another possession receiver who could see a lot of passes from quarterback Drew Brees, especially if teams focus more on stopping Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham in 2012. Toon caught 64 passes for Wisconsin last season, accumulating 926 yards and scoring 10 touchdowns. Definitely monitor Toon’s preseason growth, as he could start the season as high as third on the Saints’ depth chart.
Mike Patton is a co-host on the Deep Sleeper Fantasy Football podcast. He has been a fantasy enthusiast since 1997 and has won championships in baseball, football, basketball, hockey and pick ’em leagues.