As we move down the list of rookie IDP fantasy impact players, there will be a definite shift from some names that are more likely to be selected in redraft leagues versus those that are more suited to be dynasty options. Situational pass rushing threats may take a little while to adjust to the uptick in the quality of offensive lineman they now face and see their numbers improve as the season progresses, and their reps increase.
#11 Dont’a Hightower, ILB, NE: The Patriots selected Hightower with the 25th overall pick in the draft and he figures to step right into the starting lineup. However, figuring out just where he will line up for New England is the tricky part of determining his fantasy value. Strong-side linebacker when the Patriots employ the 4-3 scheme, which they did use extensively last season, seems to be the likely landing spot for Hightower heading into training camp. He also has the versatility to line up as an outside rushing threat linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, and be an explosive option to get to the quarterback. Hightower also has the skill set to be able to drop back into coverage and this will serve him well in an effort to be a three down player for the Patriots. As training camp unfolds there will be a clearer picture of just where New England plans to utilize Hightower and right now he is locked in as a solid #3 fantasy LBer.
#12 Harrison Smith, S, MINN: Due to the lack of quality safeties currently on the Minnesota roster, Smith will be afforded the opportunity to line up as a starting, every down player from day one. He is a more than willing tackler who can step into the box and contribute, but the Vikings scheme may limit those opportunities. Smith possesses above average coverage abilities and snagged 7 interceptions as a junior for Notre Dame. Gifted with the size, 6’2″, 215lbs, and athletic skills to line up anywhere the Vikings elect to use him will make Smith a highly productive fantasy defensive back option in 2012. He is a solid #3 fantasy DB with excellent #2 potential for his rookie season.
#13 Brandon Taylor, S, SD: The Chargers shifted Eric Weddle into the free safety position in 2011, allowing him to become a ball hawking presence in their defensive backfield. Taylor can line up as the run thumping strong safety next to Weddle from the get go in San Diego for 2012. The fact that he addresses an immediate need for the Chargers and his willingness to sell out to stop the run should help Taylor achieve maximum snaps right away. At 5’11″, 209 lbs has the size to compete in coverage and had 4 career interceptions while at LSU. Solid fantasy DB #3 heading into the 2012 season.
#14 Shea McClellin, DE, CHI: McClellin was drafted in the first round by the Chicago Bears to line up at left end and be the complementary pass rushing option opposite Julius Peppers. His ability to set the edge against the run, and his explosiveness off the ball as a pass rusher should allow McLellin to amass more snaps than the incumbent Israel Idonije. A bit undersized for the position, McClellin will utilize his non-stop motor, natural strength and nose for the football to be a disruptive force from the outside for the Bears. Is just an instinctive, high intensity football player that is sound in all facets of the game. May eventually be moved to the linebacker position down the line in his career as a possible replacement for Brian Urlacher, but for now will be in the pass rushing role from the left end position. Low end #3 fantasy DL as the 2012 season kicks off, and as he receives more snaps throughout the year could be a solid #2 DL for fantasy purposes as his sack total rises.
#15 Fletcher Cox, DT, PHI: Cox has the potential to be the most productive rookie defensive lineman taken in the draft for fantasy purposes in 2012. His versatility, size and strength make him an immediate three down lineman in the Eagles Wide-9 defense. At 6’4″ and nearly 300lbs, Cox will bring consistent pass rushing pressure up the middle on first and second downs. With his speed and explosiveness from the edge he can also be moved outside as a pass rushing defensive end on third down. The Eagles have a potent rotation along the defensive line and that could slow down the fantasy numbers that Cox immediately posts but as he sees extended snaps he will be a fantasy force. Very solid #2 fantasy DL and in tackle required leagues a #1 DT for fantasy purposes.
#16 Stephon Gilmore, CB, BUFF: Gilmore was the second corner back selected in Aprils draft behind Morris Claiborne of LSU. Gilmore should have no problem gaining a starting position on a team that struggled mightily in their secondary in 2011. He was a three year starter for South Carolina and possesses the size and speed to be an immediate fantasy impact corner. The Bills have already mentioned that Gilmore was selected, at least in part, due to his height and reach allowing him to match up with the twin tower tight ends in New England. Gilmore is more effective in a zone scheme and may struggle a bit in press coverage situations, which is why he will be tested often. The ‘rookie corner rule’ is in full effect when fantasy owners look at the viability of selecting Gilmore. A smart, technically sound player that should start from day one and is a fine #2 fantasy DB for 2012.
#17 Bruce Irvin,OLB/DE, SEA: The Seahawks threw the first curve ball of the 2012 NFL Draft by selecting Irvin with the 15th overall pick. Penciled in to replace Chris Clemons in the “elephant role” along the Seattle defensive line at some point, Irvin may find himself as a situational pass rusher early in his career. The Seahawks managed only 34 sacks in 2011 and need an immediate impact pass rusher to line up opposite Clemons, they believe they nabbed the drafts best pure pass rusher in Irvin. He is very explosive with a quick first step which enables him to bring pressure from both the outside and as an inside, disruptive pass rushing presence. Even in a limited role he has the potential to rack up double digit sacks and is a #3 fantasy OLB/DE player as a rookie, with tremendous upside in dynasty formats.
#18 Quinton Coples, DE, NYJ: Coples was a lightning rod prospect heading into the draft as game film from 2011 did not always sync up with the potential he had shown earlier at North Carolina. Has been accused of taking plays off and not putting forth maximum effort consistently and it will be on Rex Ryan and the Jets to get him to play to his enormous potential. In the recent Jets rookie mini-camp, Coples was used exclusively along the defensive line and does not look to be utilized as an upright OLB option this season. He was brought in to be a pass rushing threat that the Jets have lacked, most likely he will settle in at left defensive end and possibly shift inside from time to time in passing situations. Until he shows that his motor will be running full tilt in New York, plan on Coples being a #3 DE for fantasy purposes.
#19 Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, CIN: Kirkpatrick came off the board at the 17th spot, selected by the Bengals to challenge for an immediate starting position in 2012. The uncertainty of the health of Leon Hall and the decline of Nate Clements as a dominant defensive back will afford Kirkpatrick every chance to be a week one starting corner in Cincinnati. Kirkpatrick was schooled in a Nick Saban defense while at Alabama and is a more than willing tackler who is comfortable in all coverage schemes. At 6’2″, and 190lbs he is long and strong enough to match up with tight ends as well as the receivers in the NFL. Another rookie corner back that will benefit from being tested early and often in his first season. Solid #3 DB for fantasy purposes, with definite #2 fantasy DB upside.
#20 James-Michael Johnson, ILB, CLE: Johnson is a thumping, prototypical middle linebacker who is a dynasty gem as the potential back up to DQ Jackson in Cleveland. There is also the real possibility that he can win the weak side linebacker position right out of the gate for the Browns, with Scott Fujita serving his “bountygate” suspension. He is an aggressive, hard hitting player with the skill set to drop into coverage if that is what is asked of him. Jackson played the entire 2011 season after going down in week #6 back in 2009 and missing all of 2010 season. Should Jackson go down, Johnson would see his value sky rocket and is a nice late round fantasy draft option with #2 fantasy LBer upside if he can win the weak side slot in Cleveland.
So we now have a first look at the top 20 IDP fantasy impact rookies heading into 2012. This list is of course a fluid one, as are all rankings from now until our fantasy drafts. Training camp and injuries will see names move up and down, or even completely off of this list. For now we have a nice starting point in determining just which rookies can step right in and contribute to our fantasy squads.