“Mad Dog McCleese” 2015 Offensive Rookie Impact Players: The Future is Now
I’m thrilled to hit leadoff for MLFS along with Matt Barkman who previewed “The Big 3 Impact Offseason Moves” last week. I’ll be previewing the five most impactful 2015 NFL offensive rookies. The buildup to the 2015 Draft is finally over and now we finally know the all-important landing spots for the biggest names in the 2015 rookie class. It’s safe to say that this is the deepest rookie running back class we’ve seen in a long time. The proof is in the pudding, as we saw the most running backs drafted in the first round since 2012. In addition, there are a couple franchise quarterbacks to go along with another very deep wide receiver class. It’s exciting to preview the players that will impact everyone’s 2015 Fantasy Football teams, regardless of what type of league you’re in; re-draft, keeper, or dynasty. Without further ado, let’s peel off the outer layer of the orange and start squeezing out some juice.
Todd Gurley, RB, St Louis Rams
Todd Gurley is arguably the most talented player in the draft, and the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson. When you consider the context of this statement it should be enough to make fantasy football owners everywhere start salivating at the thought of owning Gurley. AP is a once in a generation type of running back, just like Barry Sanders and Walter Payton were before him. Gurley may not ever reach their level, but he does possess a lot of the same traits that made them superstars of their era. Let’s start off with the fact that he has elite vision that he uses to spy a seam in the defense. Once he identifies a crease, he’s gone like the wind. Proof of this would be the fact that Gurley scored the highest Elusive rating in college football according to ProFootballFocus.com. Gurley scored an elusive rating of 116.6. This may not mean much to the casual owner, but to put this number into perspective, the next best Elusive rating for a pro last year was Marshawn Lynch, aka “Beast Mode”, who scored a 94.3.
Gurley is also blessed with world-class field awareness, and more importantly the patience to wait for his blockers to open up running lanes for him. Gurley runs violently, and isn’t afraid to initiate contact and truck a defender, just like my comp “Beast Mode”. It’s no secret that to be a true three-down workhorse running back in the NFL you have to be able to catch the ball and pass-protect. Gurley does both very well. Add it all up and you have yourself a complete back who checks all the boxes, and will be the back to own in St Louis in 2015, and years to come. The Rams have shown a commitment to running the ball in the past with Zac Stacy and Tre Mason. Head Coach Jeff Fisher beefed up the offensive line in the 2015 Draft, taking four offensive linemen in the first six rounds. Gurley is a lock to take over as their bell cow back as soon as he’s cleared to play. It will be Gurleys’ job to lose, and the only thing that will keep him from getting the lion’s share of carries is his knee. Maybe he sits out the first month of the season, but so what. Need I remind you of a certain rookie last year named Odell Beckham Jr., who also sat out the first month of the season, only to come back and set the fantasy football world on fire! That’s just the type of player Gurley is, one worth waiting on, and a difference maker who can help bring home a Fantasy Football Championship. Don’t shy away from drafting Gurley just because he’s not going to be ready to suit up Week 1 because you will regret it later.
Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There is a reason Jameis Winston went number one overall in this year’s draft, and that’s because franchise quarterbacks only come around every 3-5 years. Not to mention, he’s the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck, and that’s not something we should take lightly. Winston is a proven winner who won a National Championship and Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman in 2013. He was as consistent as they come throughout his collegiate career at Florida State, tossing at least one touchdown in every start while finishing with 65 touchdowns in 27 games. There is no doubt Winston is going to excel at the next level and is a slam dunk starter Week 1 for Tampa Bay. Considering the surrounding cast of targets at his disposal in Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, he shouldn’t have any problems putting up gaudy numbers as a rookie. Winston is a surgeon under center who possesses an advanced ability to scan the field and go through his progressions. At 6’4” 231 pounds, he’s capable of seeing over the defensive linemen and staying upright in the pocket under pressure. My top comparison for Winston is Ben Roethlisberger. Like Big Ben, Winston has a very strong lower body and is able to shake free of would-be sacks while still managing to get rid of the ball. Keeping the play alive with great pocket presence is something he excels at, similar to the master of this trade in Roethlisberger. Winston was also a pitcher in college, which is proof that his arm is very strong and capable of making all the NFL level throws. He also has very good touch on his throws and the accuracy to boot. Winston’s most appealing trait is his experience as a pocket passer in a pro-style offense which puts him light years ahead of most rookie quarterbacks coming into the league. Let’s not forget he’s a master of the playbook and even Jon Gruden was amazed at his advanced understanding of plays and reading the defense. Winston is a fierce competitor and doesn’t get down on himself after he throws an interception or makes a bad throw. He will be a superstar from day one and I believe he could easily finish in the top 12 this year in fantasy points at his position. I’m hitching my trailer to Winston, and I’d advise you to do the same.
Kevin White WR Chicago Bears
Kevin White is a super-freakish athlete and arguably the best receiver in a deep 2015 rookie wide receiver class. The upside White possesses long-term is off the charts, making his ceiling higher than his rookie counterparts. I’d like to refer to White as a “man” among boys while playing at West Virginia in 2014. White finished his senior year with 109 receptions for 1,447 yards, and 10 touchdowns. He started off the season with seven consecutive 100-yard receiving games and set a school record with 16 receptions versus Texas. It was a spectacular breakout year for Kevin White as he tore up opposing defenses. White has the prototypical NFL frame for his position at 6’3” 215 pounds. He is very aggressive going after the ball and has the “my ball” mentality. White is very competitive when the ball is in the air and is excellent at high-pointing the pigskin over defenders. He also possesses a terrific inside release to beat press coverage. White has no problem creating separation on crossers, and has the balance and footwork to stop on a dime on hitch routes. He is tough for defenders to bring down after the catch and is always looking to run up field after the reception. White is fast and ran a blazing 4.35 40 yard dash at the NFL combine, proving that he has top-end speed to go along with his plus size-strength combination. I couldn’t possibly be more thrilled with White’s landing spot with the Chicago Bears. The Bears desperately needed to replace Brandon Marshall after their trade with the Jets. Opposing defenses won’t have the luxury of double-teaming White since Alshon Jeffery is going to be lined up opposite White. Jay Cutler may not be a sexy name or the best quarterback in the league, but I don’t foresee him having any issues getting the ball to White and trusting him to make big plays. Make no mistake Kevin White is going to be an impact player from day one for the Bears and fantasy owners. He should flirt with 1000 yards as a rookie and catch 7-10 touchdowns. As far as comps go, White should have a floor of Larry Fitzgerald and ceiling of Dez Bryant, assuming he picks up the offense quickly.
Melvin Gordon RB San Diego Chargers
Melvin Gordon is one of the most explosive running backs to come out of college in the past five years. He put up monster numbers at Wisconsin last year, finishing with the second-most single-season rushing yards in FBS history with 2,587. This trialed only Hall of famer Barry Sanders mark of 2,628 in 1988. Gordon also broke a then FBS single-game rushing record with 408 yards versus Nebraska. In addition, he won the Doak Walker Award for being the nation’s best running back and was the Heisman Trophy runner-up. The list goes on-and-on for Gordon and I could talk about his accolades all day, but I don’t want to bore you to death. I would rather focus on what makes Gordon such a great player. For starters, he has great first-step quickness. Gordon also possesses elite burst and acceleration that allow him to blow by defenders to the second level. He’s also endowed with top-notch agility and balance, allowing him to jump-cut at the line of scrimmage to change gaps and avoid tacklers. Gordon can transition run from inside to outside without losing any speed, but seems to prefer bouncing it outside where he registered the majority of his big runs. He’s a patient runner who follows his blocks well and will truck a defender. What really makes him so special is his home run hitting ability, having registered 40 runs of 15+ yards in 2014. Gordon is a shifty runner in the open field and uses an effective spin move to make defenders miss. The closest comp to Gordon is Jamaal Charles, since they have very similar body types and upright running styles. While I’m not saying he’s going to be Jamaal Charles his rookie year, I do think he can reach his level in the future. Gordon will be the San Diego Chargers starting running back Week 1 barring an injury. If any rookie running back reaches 1,000 yards rushing, the smart money is on Gordon. Branden Oliver, Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown are all 3rd down/pass catching options at best, and don’t figure to be much of a threat to Gordons’ playing time. Jump aboard the Melvin Gordon train before it leaves the station and takes off for a magical ride in 2015.
Amari Cooper WR Oakland Raiders
Amari Cooper is considered by many scouts to be the most polished and NFL ready wide receiver in the class. He won the Biletnikoff Award as a junior in 2014 after leading the nation in receptions (124) while finishing 2nd in yards (1,727) as well as touchdown receptions (16). Cooper was a touchdown machine during his career at Alabama, scoring 31 times in 40 games (30 starts). Amari is super athletic and highly skilled as a route runner. Cooper accelerates to top speed and stays there at the top of his routes. He’s very good at making his defenders lean before breaking them off in the opposite direction. Cooper has a second gear that he uses to blow by defenders like a heat-seeking missile. He owns the post route and could probably run it blindfolded. Cooper seems to always know where traffic is on crossers, and he does a good job of avoiding getting lit up or taking unnecessary big hits. He can lineup anywhere on the field and gets in and out of breaks good, managing to create instant separation. Cooper tracks the ball well and has the burst to run under and finish for six. He possesses the rare ability to make spectacular catches in traffic, think Odell Beckham Jr.-like catches….but with 2 hands! Cooper is dynamic after the catch and will be a day one contributor who is as advertised. Cooper is easily the most complete rookie wide receiver, making him a safer pick then the rest of his counterparts to draft. Plus, he landed in a pretty good situation in Oakland, considering they don’t have a true WR1, and Michael Crabtree hasn’t look like the same player since coming back from his ACL injury sustained in 2013. I expect Derek Carr to establish chemistry with Cooper early in training camp and pepper him with targets throughout the regular season. Cooper projects to have the highest floor of all rookies and is the safest pick due to his finely tuned skillset and prime opportunity. I’m expecting 75+ catches, over 1000 yards receiving and at least 8 TDs. Cooper will give Raider Nation and his fantasy owners something to cheer about for this year, regardless of their overall record. He’s also my pick for 2015 NFL Rookie of the Year. As far as comps go I would refer to him as a poor man’s Odell Beckham Jr. Cooper and OBJ have the same body-type and nose for the football. They both possess superhuman ability to make amazing catches in the biggest games and under the brightest lights. I will leave you with one of Coopers’ beast catches.
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