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My Five: Rookie Trends - Part I

In the first four installments of My Five I've addressed some of the notable movements and repercussions of free agency. I decided my next step would be to dive in and analyze the draft. My original intention was to do a ranking of the top keepers from this year's incoming class (I'll list them briefly at the conclusion of Part II), but it turned out to be quite predictable. Next I thought I'd list some sleepers from the later rounds, but until we see teams' depth charts and have some indication of how reps are going to be distributed I really just would have been guessing, so I'll save that one for a few weeks into the preseason. In the midst of my research, which delved into past years, a pattern formed, then another. What follows are the five biggest trends I saw evolving since the 2008 draft and hopefully they can provide some insight into evaluating this year's crop of newbies.

5. Impact Pass Rushers

Defense comes first today, not necessarily because it's the least prevalent trend, but because it affects the least amount of fantasy owners as the number of those in IDP leagues is still few. I didn't consult the Elias Sports Bureau or anything for confirmation, but it seems as if more rookies are putting up significant sack numbers of late. With the ever-evolving approaches of NFL teams, the widespread implementation of the situational pass rusher has allowed first year defenders to get on the field faster with lesser overall understanding, and in some cases talent. Just go get the quarterback! There wasn't a particular size, position designation, or prototype to identify these guys, but the common thread is they are all super athletic. Last year's class brought in a plethora of sack specialists and two of the previous three drafts produced some big performers as well. Below I've listed the top rookie totals from the past four years and singled out the most athletic rush prospects for 2012.

Previous Years Data

Year - Player (Sack totals)

2011 - Aldon Smith (14), Von Miller (11.5), Jabaal Sheard (8.5), Ryan Kerrigan (7.5), Adrian Clayborn (7.5)

2010 - Ndamukong Suh (10), Carlos Dunlap (9.5)

2009 - Brian Orakpo (11), Clay Matthews (10)

2008 - none

2012 Targets

Bruce Irvin - Seattle Seahawks - Round 1, Pick 15

Fastest 3-cone and 40-time among outside linebackers at the combine, 22 sacks in final two years at West Virginia.

Melvin Ingram - San Diego Chargers - Round 1 Pick 18

Short at 6'1", but Elvis Dumervil and James Harrison manage just fine with less. Crazy athletic and versatile, can do standing backflip and dunk a basketball in pads, scored 3 TDs in 2011 and played QB in high school. My best guess for double digits sacks in 2012.

Chandler Jones - New England Patriots - Round 1 Pick 21

Very raw skills and limited college production, but has the size (6'5", 266 lbs) and athletic pedigree to develop. Brothers Art (Ravens DT) and Jon (UFC Light Heavyweight Champ) are pro athletes. Big numbers might not come for a year or two.

Whitney Mercilus - Houston Texans - Round 1 Pick 26

Only one year starter at Illinois, but led FBS with 16 sacks. Fast (4.68 40-time), with plenty of moves and is headed to a defense that gets after the quarterback.

Nick Perry - Green Bay Packers Round 1 Pick 28

Freakish athlete, tallied best scores among ends in bench press, vertical, and broad jumps at combine. Had 22 career sacks at USC and will have fellow Trojan alum Matthews drawing the attention of protections on opposite side.

4. Pass-Catching Tight Ends

Tony Gonzalez was the pioneer of the modern tight end movement, Antonio Gates drove it to the next level, and then the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski and the Saints' Jimmy Graham just blew it up in 2011. This has sent teams scrambling for dynamic playmakers at the position who above all else can be weapons in the passing game. The old requirements to be a certain size and to have the ability to be an in-line blocker are no longer restrictions on the young guys entering the league. The big question is can they create matchup problems. Some guys are smaller split out types, some are big red zone weapons, and the best can do it all. The numbers show the elite guys leaping forward from year one to year two so don't reach too high on Coby Fleener in non-keeper formats, and don't expect much from the rest of the gang out of the gate. I've listed the top rookie performances since 2008, included all significant year two stats to illustrate the point, then touted 2012?s most promising options.

Previous Years Data

Year - Player (Receiving yards - Touchdowns),* indicates second year stats

2011 - Lance Kendricks (352 - 0), Kyle Rudolph (249 - 3)

2010 - Aaron Hernandez (563 - 6/910 - 7*), Tony Moeaki (556 - 3), Rob Gronkowski (546 - 10/1,327 - 17*), Jermaine Gresham (471 - 4/596 - 6*), Jimmy Graham (356 - 5/1,310 - 11*)

2009 - Brandon Pettigrew (346 - 2/722 - 4*)

2008 - John Carlson (627 - 5/574 - 7*), Dustin Keller (535 - 3/522 - 2*)

**Ed Dickson, Jermichael Finley, and Fred Davis each took big jumps of their own in year two but had virtually zero production their rookie seasons.

2012 Targets

Fleener - Indianapolis Colts - Round 2, Pick 34

Profiles as a matchup nightmare, standing 6'6" with good speed and terrific hands. Reunited with college quarterback with whom he hooked up for 10 scores in 2011. Should be right back there by year two.

Dwayne Allen - Indianapolis Colts - Round 3, Pick 64

The Colts really took the Patriots approach to heart, scrapping up the top two tight end prospects in the draft. Beefier than Fleener and figures to play more in-line, but has respectable route-running and receiving skills of his own (598 yards, 8 touchdowns in 2011).

Michael Egnew - Miami Dolphins - Round 3, Pick 78

Converted wide receiver who was better in his junior than senior year. Fits new school profile at 6'5" and 4.62 40-speed.

Ladarius Green - San Diego Chargers - Round 3, Pick 110

Comes from the small school of Louisiana-Lafayette so jump in competition will be steep. Slight frame at 238 pounds, but stands 6'6", has 4.53 speed, and scored 15 touchdowns his final two years in college.

3. Better WR Evaluation/Drafting

It always seemed to be a joke aimed at the follies of the Lions, but there were plenty of first round wide receiver busts to go around throughout the 2000s. Peter Warrick, David Terrell, Reggie Williams, and Troy Williamson are a few that come to mind. Obviously the proliferation of pass-happy offensive attacks has increased wideouts' opportunities to be successful, but it seems front offices have improved their ability to assess the incoming talent which could portend nice things for this year's four first-rounders. Last season produced two exceptions, but much like the tight ends, receivers have been making a significant leap in their sophomore seasons. Offenses, route-trees, and coverages are much more complex at the pro level so there tends to be an acclimation period. Justin Blackmon is on par skill-wise with last year's breakout rooks, but his quarterback situation scares me enough to proceed cautiously. The others three guys could provide nice mid-to-late round value and all four are solid keeper options. Each first round receiver of the last four drafts is listed below with their corresponding year one and year two stats. I've then included a quick blurb on each player.

Previous Years Data

Year - Player (Receiving yards - Touchdowns),* indicates second year stats

2011 - A.J. Green (1,057 - 7), Julio Jones (959 - 8)

2010 - Dez Bryant (561 - 6/658 - 5*), Demaryius Thomas (283 - 2/551 - 4*)

2009 - Hakeem Nicks (790 - 6/1,052 - 11*), Percy Harvin (790 - 6/868 - 5*), Jeremy Maclin (773 - 4/964 - 10*), Kenny Britt (701 - 3/775 - 9*), Michael Crabtree (625 - 2/741 - 6*), Darrius Heyward-Bey (124 - 1/366 -1*)

2008 - none

2012 Targets

Blackmon - Jacksonville Jaguars - Round 1, Pick 5

If college production is what you seek, all Blackmon did was register 232 catches, 3,304 yards, and 38 touchdowns in his last two seasons. Of course his numbers are skewed by the spread system run by Oklahoma State and he has Blaine Gabbert as his probable quarterback in Jacksonville, but he has all the tools.

Michael Floyd - Arizona Cardinals - Round 1, Pick 13

Floyd is a physical beast at 6'3", 220 pounds. Produced back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons at Notre Dame while combining for 21 scores. Will have the benefit of working with/and opposite Larry Fitzgerald.

Kendall Wright - Tennessee Titans - Round 1, Pick 20

Wright, like Floyd, will benefit from not having to be the go-to guy in the Titans offense from the get go. He finished third in FBS with 1,663 yards in 2011 and averaged a robust 15.4 yard-per-catch. Standing just 5'10" with shiftiness and supreme run-after-the-catch ability he might be best working out of the slot.

A.J. Jenkins - San Francisco 49ers - Round 1, Pick 30

Jenkins was a bit of a surprise selection in the first round, but he put up solid numbers in his senior year (90 receptions, 1,276 yards, 8 scores) and ran a 4.39 at the combine.

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