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Freshman 15: Opportunity Ahead

There have been numerous freshman fantasy breakouts, but many other talented players that have not gotten their shot yet. That will change in 2013.

The 2012 NFL Rookie Class has given us three workhorse running backs, two legit QB1's and some serious upside at wide receiver. What about the players that haven't had a chance to shine yet? They make excellent Dynasty acquisitions, especially if they can be had at a discounted price. We'll take a look at some potential breakthrough sophomores that just haven't gotten an opportunity thus far.


Flashing in 2012?
Before we get into the 2013 potential, there are a few rookies that could still find their chance late in the 2012 season. Running backs Ronnie Hillman and David Wilson both have explosive ability, but problems in pass protection have left them on the sidelines more often than not. With injuries to Andre Brown and Willis McGahee respectively, both youngsters could get their chance soon. A couple of 49ers, LaMichael James and AJ Jenkins, could also get some added work because of injury. Neither rookie has an offensive touch this season and they are more likely 2013 options, but opportunity may knock for one or both. Eagles rookie WR Damaris Johnson may also get increased reps with DeSean Jackson's season ending injury. Tight End Coby Fleener only needs to get healthy in order to have a chance at late season, deep league value.

Highly Touted
Not all rookies in this article are going to be deep Dynasty pick-ups and roster stashes. There are plenty of early rookie draft picks that have yet to make any type of impact, fantasy or otherwise.

The first player that comes to mind in the Highly Touted category is receiver Michael Floyd. With the emergence of Andre Roberts as the Robin to Larry Fitzgerald's Batman, coupled with the revolving door of mediocrity at the QB position, Floyd has yet to get his true opportunity. He was drafted in the 1st round of most rookie drafts and his talent level is legit. Be patient.

Brian Quick has tantalizing size and speed, but thus far he's been overshadowed by speedy rookie receiver Chris Givens. Quick was raw coming out of college and expecting fantasy relevant numbers from him as a rookie was not a great bet. 2013 may be a different story, if he can harness his considerable ability. He's well worth taking a chance on.

Stephen Hill started the season with a bang - 2 TD's on 5 catches and 89 yards. In the 8 games since, he's managed just 11 catches, 123 yards and a TD. Much like Quick, he's another raw rookie receiver that had major expectations placed on his shoulders because of a lack of competition in his landing spot. Hill is a massive target and possesses dangerous speed, but he needs more time. He might flash in 2013, but he's likely to be a 2014 breakout.

The writing was on the wall for Steven Jackson this season and fantasy owners had a feeling that he would be splitting time in the backfield. The only thing fantasy owners were not expecting was that to be Darryl Richardson, 7th round selection out of Abilene Christian. Richardson has speed to burn and 98 touches on the season. Highly touted rookie playmaker Isaiah Pead has just 6. Sleeping on Pead long term would be a mistake. He's a weapon with the ball in his hands and even though he's had a tough adjustment to the NFL, he'll get an opportunity as soon as next season. Both rookie backs are similarly sized and talented, making it a Dynasty situation to monitor closely next summer.

Opportunity Needed

Robert Turbin, Lamar Miller and Bernard Pierce are all very intriguing Dynasty RB prospects that could be integrated more into their respective offenses in 2013. With injury or opportunity, all have the ability to be RB2's. Turbin is backing up probably the hardest runner in football, Marshawn Lynch, so he's a high upside handcuff. Pierce is also spelling a top RB property in Ray Rice, which makes him a must own. Think handcuffing is not important in Dynasty, just ask the LeSean McCoy owner who didn't roster Bryce Brown. Miller is in the most high risk/reward situation for 2013. He's not a handcuff at the moment, just a talented roster stash. Should Reggie Bush leave the team via free agency in the offseason, Miller and Daniel Thomas would likely share the load next season. Thomas is a decent player, but does not run as hard as his size suggests in between the tackles. Miller is far more explosive and exciting, and even in a timeshare would have FLEX value because of his playmaking ability. This situation deserves a watchful eye this spring.

Rueben Randle has above average size and speed, and although he's landed in a crowded WR situation with the Giants, he's got the potential to be a fantasy factor in 2013. Outside of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, he possesses the most talent and upside. It's possible that he'll take over WR3 duties next year and that could be good for 500+ yards as he gains Eli's trust in the offense. He has played sparingly this season, and when pressed into duty, he's performed. He's also returning punts now, suggesting the coaching staff is gaining trust in the rookie. He's definitely one to acquire this offseason, because sooner or later, he should get more involved.

Ladarius Green's game is that of a wide receiver, but he's got the size of a move TE. With Antonio Gates a shell of his former self, Green is going to be the man in San Diego as soon as next season. He is still a raw product, but with his size and playmaking ability, he's got legit TE1 upside. He's an immediate Dynasty add if he is somehow on your waiver wire.

Jared Cook has all the potential in the world, but much like Jermichael Finley, it just hasn't come to fruition consistently. And by the way, he's a free agent at the end of the season and just went on IR. Enter Taylor Thompson. A converted defensive end from SMU, Thompson's upside as a pass catcher is off the charts. He might be another year away from true fantasy impact, but the time to get on board is now, not when the hype starts.

Adrien Robinson is a developmental prospect, both in Dynasty and for the Giants. He got rookie draft hype when GM Jerry Reese dubbed him the "JPP of Tight Ends". A statement like that is enough to get our attention. With Martellus Bennett on a one year deal, Robinson's opportunity could come sooner rather than later. If the Giants move on from Bennett, Robinson will still likely be eased into the flow of the offense, but much like Thompson, the potential is huge. As a 6'5", 259 lb. pass catching TE, his 4.51 forty time is that much more impressive.

Digging Deep

Rod Streater got all the pre-season attention as an undrafted rookie from Temple (deservedly so), but their 5th round pick might be turning heads next summer. Juron Criner is the anti-Raiders receiver, not a burner or downfield threat. He's a possession type with reliable hands and superior body control. He's got the potential to be a redzone target and effective fantasy player with starters reps. Darrius Heyward-Bey is solid and still improving, but he'll be making over $7 million in 2013 in the last year of his rookie contract. With Denarius Moore still having consistency issues, both Criner and Streater could shine given the chance.

Joe Adams has not lit the world on fire in the return game, which was supposed to be his calling card to playing time. As a raw rookie, though, he may still be adjusting to NFL play. What he could have is an opportunity to be a deep threat for one of the strongest armed QB's in the league. Steve Smith is not getting any younger, Brandon Lafell has been solid but unspectacular and after those two it's wide open. Adams will never be the receiver that Smith is, but he could certainly be the deep ball replacement if he can continue to improve his game. If you have a roster spot, he's worth an add. If not, keep an eye on the Panthers receiving situation for the remainder of this year and the offseason. If they don't spend an early draft pick on a WR or add one through free agency, Adams might start gaining steam as a deep sleeper.

The Bears are devoid of a solid pass catching TE option and Evan Rodriguez certainly has the skills to fill that need. He was playing at fullback this season, but has seen reps at TE, his natural position. Much like Ladarius Green in that he is more of a receiver, Rodriguez lacks imposing size to be physically dominant. He could be a mismatch for opposing defenses in the Aaron Hernandez type role though. Will he get his chance? It's worth a speculative add if you need TE help.

Jermaine Gresham is enjoying a breakout season, so there hasn't been too many targets to go around at the TE position. Orson Charles is ready and waiting though. He's an ultra-athletic receiver at 6'3" and 251lbs. with the strength of a larger TE. His draft stock fell big time and he ended up getting stolen by the Bengals in the 4th round. It might not be next season, but Charles has the upside to be the most dangerous receiving option for the Bengals outside of AJ Green.

James Hanna is an undersized but athletic TE with speed to be a fantasy factor. That won't happen until Jason Witten, 30, is out of the picture, but Hanna has the skills to be the heir apparent. Witten is locked up until 2017, so Hanna may need an injury in the next couple seasons to show what he can do, but he's worth a look in deep Dynasty leagues. If you happen to own Witten, he's not a bad "handcuff" option moving forward.