The 2015 NFL Draft class started out with a lot of fantasy promise, and Todd Gurley, David Johnson, Amari Cooper and Jameis Winston went on to make significant first impressions.
But many of their draft classmates, especially wide receivers, barely saw the field due to injury. What will they do as sophomores? Plus, there are a lot of second-year running backs that find themselves in great spots to start the year. Which ones should you target?
1. Jay Ajayi, RB, Dolphins
The Dolphins signed former league rushing champion Arian Foster to a one-year deal prior to the start of training camp, but for now Ajayi remains atop the depth chart. The former Boise State star should benefit from new head coach Adam Gase, who likes to use one running back as much as possible. If Ajayi remains the starter, he’s got a lot of value in the fifth round or later. He has already missed some practices because of a bone bruise, but there is plenty of time remaining for Ajayi to establish himself as the No. 1 back.
2. Thomas Rawls, RB, Seahawks
Undrafted out of Central Michigan, Rawls rushed for 830 yards and four touchdowns before fracturing his ankle in December. The Seahawks drafted three running backs, but head coach Pete Carroll has stated that Rawls is still his lead back. As long as Rawls can bounce back fully, he could easily finish among the league’s leading rushers.
3. Matt Jones, RB, Redskins
Jones averaged just 3.4 yards per carry and also underwent a minor hip procedure in the offseason. Head coach Jay Gruden seems primed to give Jones all the work he can handle as the team’s starting running back now that Alfred Morris is in Dallas. Jones has the size and the ability to be a three-down back — if he stays healthy.
4. Jeremy Langford, RB, Bears
The Bears let Matt Forté go, which leaves the door wide open for Langford to seize the starting job. He was a star last year when Forté was injured, averaging more than 20 fantasy points per game in standard leagues. If he can improve his yards per carry and become more of a factor as a receiver, Langford will easily be a solid RB2.
5. Duke Johnson, RB, Browns
Johnson had a very up-and-down 2015, and it doesn’t help that he plays for the Browns and has Isaiah Crowell in the same backfield. The good news is that Johnson showed an ability to make plays in the passing game (61 rec., 8.8 ypc), a role that should increase this year, making him a great stash in PPR leagues.
6. Melvin Gordon, RB, Chargers
Gordon was a bust as a rookie with just 641 yards rushing on 184 carries and no touchdowns in 14 games. He also underwent mircrofracture knee surgery in January, but he was out on the field for the start of training camp. There’s no doubt plenty of eyes will be on Gordon’s knee as camp progresses and when preseason games start. There’s also no doubt, however, that Gordon remains a big part of San Diego’s plans, and the Chargers are hoping he will benefit from better blocking up front.
7. T.J. Yeldon, RB, Jaguars
Yeldon enters his second season sharing carries with free-agent acquisition Chris Ivory, especially in short-yardage and goal-line situations. However, Ivory is injury-prone and Yeldon knows the offense, so it’s entirely possible that Yeldon ends up with more touches.
8. DeVante Parker, WR, Dolphins
Parker needed surgery in training camp and really didn’t see the field until the final six games, when he caught 22 passes for 445 yards and three TDs. This season, Parker will be the Dolphins’ primary outside receiver and should see enough targets to record around 70 receptions for about 1,100 yards.
9. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Lions
Abdullah would have been last year’s preseason fantasy MVP, if such a thing existed. But he struggled early with fumbles and drops before finding his rhythm as the season progressed, averaging 4.8 yards per carry over his last seven games. Abdullah underwent shoulder surgery in January, so the team will probably be cautious with his workload at the start of training camp, but the expectation is that he will be given every opportunity to show what he’s got.
10. Marcus Mariota, QB, Titans
Mariota was up and down, but he was learning a new offense and had to deal with injuries. The Titans have added reinforcements, and Mariota’s potential as a runner only enhances his fantasy upside. The receiving corps is still a work in progress, but a backfield of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry should help.
11. Kevin White, WR, Bears
White missed his entire rookie season with a stress fracture in his shin. General manager Ryan Pace has already said that the No. 7 pick in the 2015 draft is 100 percent, and the early reports out of training camp were very good. He could explode this season.
12. Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Titans
Beckham flashed big-time upside during the second half of last season and is expected to take the next step and become Marcus Mariota’s No. 1 wide receiver in Year 2. He has all the tools necessary to become an elite fantasy wide receiver and could be a steal in the mid-to-late rounds.
13. Tyler Lockett, WR, Seahawks
The Seahawks love Lockett and want to get the ball in his hands more often. The only problem is that he will be fighting for targets with Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and Jimmy Graham. Lockett is only going to keep getting better, and he’s an excellent WR3 on any fantasy team.
14. Breshad Perriman, WR, Ravens
Perriman didn’t play a down as a rookie due to a sprained right knee. He was a participant in the Ravens’ offseason workouts, but started training camp on the Physically Unprepared to Play (PUP) list because of a partially torn ACL in his left knee. Right now, the expectation is that he will make his long-awaited debut at some point this season. Perriman brings plenty of upside but also uncertainty when it comes to his health as well as the state of Baltimore’s receiver corps.
15. Javorius Allen, RB, Ravens
Allen averaged 3.8 yards per carry last year in place of an injured Justin Forsett but had more impact as a receiver (45-353-2, 62 targets). Forsett is entering his age-31 season. Even with Forsett and rookie Kenneth Dixon on the roster, Allen should see his share of touches.
— Written by Michael Horvath, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Horvath is a Canadian who also happens to be a fantasy football (not to be confused with CFL) and fitness nut. Follow him on Twitter @realmikehorvath.