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2016 Fantasy football rankings: Top 20 rookies

We take a look at how the draft class of 2016 stacks up for fantasy football owners.

Fantasy football managers around the country are preparing and coordinating their fantasy drafts, as we near the start of the 2016 regular season. For those in re-draft leagues, a new season means a new fantasy roster. For others, it's about the new additions to their rosters. Regardless, there's a new draft class for fantasy owners to pick from, but they're unproven as pros and fantasy assets. For some, expectations couldn't be higher. For others, it's about making a name for themselves. Either way, there is a lot of new talent to shake up fantasy drafts.

Fantasy football itself is about projecting outcomes for any player, but rookies are a different breed. Until an NFL rookie takes his first steps on the field, we're working off of collegiate accomplishments, situation and opportunity. With that said, let's take a look at the rookies with the most potential heading into the 2016 NFL season.

1. Ezekiel Elliot, RB, Dallas Cowboys

Elliot was drafted fourth overall in the 2016 draft. He's one of the most exciting rookie prospects in fantasy in quite some time, and for good reason. Elliot's combination of adept vision and decisiveness behind Dallas' top-tier offensive line is a recipe for fantasy gold. However, Ezekiel isn't without his fair share of risks for fantasy owners. He's currently battling a hamstring injury and is expected to miss at least the first week of the preseason. Meanwhile, Alfred Morris has been a reliable contributor when the ball is in his hands. Still, the Cowboys are eager to let their first-round pick shine in his first year, and all indications are that he can deliver. Elliot may even get selected in the first round of many re-draft leagues, which may be a bit rich for a rookie, but there's no denying he brings a high ceiling with him for his NFL debut.

2. Sterling Shepard, WR, New York Giants

Shepard is one of the more desirable rookie receivers this year in fantasy. He has a noteworthy draft pedigree as the 40th overall pick, and he's entering a situation where his team is looking for an answer to complement Odell Beckham Jr. Shepard could easily be the No. 2 option for Eli Manning. Victor Cruz is looking for a comeback season, but patellar tendon injuries are difficult to completely recover from, and Cruz hasn't seen a regular season snap since 2014. Shepard should see plenty of snaps his rookie season, and he could be serviceable as a WR3 or better for fantasy owners.

3. Corey Coleman, WR, Cleveland Browns

Coleman was widely touted as one of the top playmakers in the 2016 NFL Draft. He's a vertical threat that will likely find himself as the No. 1 option at wide receiver in Cleveland to start the season. Unfortunately, being the WR1 in Cleveland doesn't always equate to a significant fantasy reward these days. However, with coach Hue Jackson entering the mix, there could be more offensive success in Cleveland than we've seen in recent years. Coleman will be a WR3 to start the season, and there's tremendous upside even with Josh Gordon returning in October.

4. Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans

Henry will likely find himself behind DeMarco Murray on the depth chart at the start of the 2016 season, but the second-round draft pick could find himself as the benefactor of a "hot hand" committee in Tennessee's backfield. Henry is a 6'3, 247-pound bruiser who has been compared to Brandon Jacobs. If anything else, Murray owners would be wise to grab Henry as an insurance policy.

5. C.J. Prosise, RB, Seattle Seahawks

Marshawn Lynch is enjoying retirement, leaving Thomas Rawls and Prosise as the assumed ball carriers in Seattle. Rawls is still the favorite to start the season, but Prosise has plenty of opportunity to prove himself with Rawls mostly unproven as a consistent workhorse. Prosise will take over the role Fred Jackson had in 2015. Coincidentally, Prosise was compared to Jackson entering the 2016 draft. Prosise's biggest weakness is ball security. If coach Pete Carroll and his staff can mold Prosise into a more disciplined ball carrier, he has plenty of potential for a more significant timeshare in 2016. At the least, Rawls owners should snatch up Prosise as the team looks to find a consistent talent to replace Lynch moving forward.

6. Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints

Thomas may be one of the better "flier" options on the tail end of your fantasy draft, and he has added value in dynasty leagues. Drew Brees is looking to establish chemistry with his receivers, especially after Marques Colston was released in February. Brandin Cooks will likely see the bulk of targets in New Orleans, but Thomas will be competing with Willie Snead and Brandon Coleman for the trust of their veteran quarterback. At 6'3 and 212 pounds, Thomas has a shot at being a real threat in the red zone, and he's a well-rounded player that Brees may target often in his rookie season.

7. Kenneth Dixon, RB, Baltimore Ravens

Dixon is yet another rookie with shaky competition standing in his way. Justin Forsett had a career year for the Ravens in 2014, but came back down to earth in 2015, averaging roughly 64 yards per game and finishing with just two touchdowns before missing the final six games of the season with a broken arm. Forsett will turn 31 in October, and Javorius Allen has yet to prove he's the answer. Dixon could see some meaningful snaps in a backfield that is in a fluid state heading into the regular season.

8. Laquon Treadwell, WR, Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings selected Treadwell in the first round of the 2016 to complement the small burst of breakout potential that Stefon Diggs exhibited in 2015. Treadwell doesn't have the separation ability with his speed, but he makes up for it with great hands and body control. He's comparable to Roddy White. Treadwell will likely be an immediate threat on the field, but it remains to be seen how consistent his involvement will be on a run-first offense that benefits heavily from a dominant defense in Minnesota. Treadwell owners will be fortunate to see even low-end WR3 production from the rookie receiver in 2016.

9. Devontae Booker, RB, Denver Broncos

Booker would be a much more interesting fantasy prospect in 2016 if it weren't for the four-year, $18 million deal the Broncos reached with C.J. Anderson in March. Still, Booker is currently competing for third-down duties with Ronnie Hillman, which could create a flex-worthy timeshare at any point in the season. Minimally, Booker is a high-upside handcuff for wary Anderson owners in 2016.

10. DeAndre Washington, RB, Oakland Raiders

Washington was drafted in the fifth round by a Raiders team that hasn't gotten what they've wanted out of Latavius Murray just yet. Washington, provided he can secure a spot on the roster, should see a fair share of work in his rookie year. If Murray can't prove himself as a workhorse for the organization, Washington may get significant touches for fantasy owners digging deep at the RB position this year. Washington is exceptional in open space, but his size is a bit lacking for a healthy workload. Regardless, he has every opportunity to take the reigns in Oakland's backfield and is worth a flier, particularly if you're a Murray owner, in 2016.

11. Jordan Howard, RB, Chicago Bears

Matt Forte is now in New York, leaving Jeremy Langford and rookie Jordan Howard in Chicago's backfield. Langford proved to be a capable ball carrier in 2015. However, with coach John Fox's penchant for a committee backfield and Howard's ability to punish with his size between the tackles, there is plenty of potential for Howard to secure, at minimum, a vulture role for fantasy owners. He's yet another late-round flier in re-draft leagues that could pay dividends.

12. Will Fuller, WR, Houston Texans

The Texans traded up in the first round of the 2016 draft to obtain Fuller. He's an outside threat that is unlikely to see much work in the middle of the field. At best, Fuller finds a meaningful role similar to what we saw from Ted Ginn as a Carolina Panther in 2015. He will be difficult to trust for fantasy purposes his rookie season, especially with Cecil Shorts and Jaelen Strong taking meaningful snaps in 2016. Fuller is a feast-or-famine option in standard scoring leagues with a much lower floor in PPR formats. There's no doubt that he will see his fair share of snaps in his rookie season, but the Texans could take their time in easing him into the lineup at the start of the season.

13. Wendell Smallwood, RB, Philadelphia Eagles

Smallwood has plenty of opportunity in Philadelphia's backfield. The fifth-round running back will likely be sitting behind Ryan Mathews to start the season, but he has a lot of potential as a situational player along with Darren Sproles and Kenjon Barner. Smallwood isn't a flashy running back, but he has exceptional hands and is an aggressive runner when he spots his lanes. Smallwood has added value in dynasty formats as a rookie among a backfield of veterans.

14. Paul Perkins, RB, New York Giants

Perkins is hardly worth drafting, but it's worth noting that the Giants created a carousel of waiver pickups in 2015. After Andre Williams, Shane Vereen and even Orleans Darkwa dominated waiver wire discussions at least once during the 2015 season, Rashad Jennings ultimately came out on top with 863 rushing yards and four total touchdowns. It's difficult to even remotely recommend Perkins entering the backfield enigma in New York, but there's nothing wrong with using a late-round pick on some new talent. There's always a chance Perkins can surprise. If nothing else, Perkins should be on your waiver radar as the season progresses.

15. Josh Doctson, WR, Washington

Doctson is a bit of a stretch for those looking for value in a re-draft league. Washington's first-round pick is currently battling an Achilles injury and will likely be waiting for opportunities behind DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon in 2016. However, both Jackson and Garcon will be free agents in 2017, which makes for a lot of dynasty appeal. Jackson missed seven games in 2015 due to hamstring and leg setbacks, so Doctson makes for an interesting late-round insurance policy for anyone looking to take a low-risk gamble in re-draft leagues.

16. Leonte Carroo, WR, Miami Dolphins

Carroo is looking to carve out a spot behind wide receivers Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker in Miami. The third-round receiver will need to utilize his reliable hands and ball tracking skills to offset his weakness as a speedster. He's been compared to Anquan Boldin, and could end up being a reliable target for Ryan Tannehill in 2016. His upside is a bit limited with the talent around him, but Miami is expecting big things from Carroo in the future. He'll likely be on many re-draft waiver wires but has more upside in dynasty leagues.

17. Austin Hooper, TE, Atlanta Falcons

Aside from Julio Jones, the Falcons are scarce on playmakers downfield entering the 2016 season. On top of releasing Roddy White in March, the team has yet to fill the void left by Tony Gonzalez, who retired in 2014. The Falcons drafted Hooper in the third round, and whether he can contribute remains to be seen, but he'll likely be thrown into the fire quickly. Mohamed Sanu, acquired during the offseason, should demand a decent share of targets this season. However, Hooper could minimally see red zone work in his rookie campaign. Fantasy owners can view him as a TE2 who simply needs to surpass Jacob Tamme and Levine Toilolo on the depth chart for a higher ceiling.

18. Braxton Miller, WR, Houston Texans

If it weren't for Will Fuller being drafted in the first round, Miller would be much higher on this list. Regardless, Miller is such a dynamic player that he deserves to be considered even in re-draft leagues. Miller may end up being a bit of a gadget player in his rookie year, but that could be the best situation for him if he wants to excel quickly. Miller can be used as a deep threat or on short routes. He can be used in the backfield if needed. He can even take a few shots downfield at quarterback if the team designs the plays for him. If Brock Osweiler and Miller can get on the same page early in the season, fantasy owners will be glad they took a flier on him. He'll likely be on your waiver wire to start the season.

19. Tyler Boyd, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals snatched Boyd in the second round of the draft as an answer to the departure of both Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones during the offseason. The team also acquired free agent Brandon LaFell, who is expected to start as the team's No. 2 receiver in September, leaving Boyd to slot duties for the time being. Boyd has a bright future and should be a long-term solution for the Bengals, but that may not offer much for fantasy owners in re-draft leagues in 2016.

20. Hunter Henry, TE, San Diego Chargers

Henry was the first tight end drafted in 2016. Despite his recent two-year extension, Antonio Gates is 36 years old and spent much of the 2015 season playing through a sprained MCL. That's not to say that Gates is bound for more injuries in 2016. It's simply a reminder that caution will increase with Gates' health as he gets deeper into the twilight of his NFL career. It's no wonder why the Chargers spent their second-round pick on Henry, the top tight end on most draft boards in 2016. Henry likely won't offer much value as long as Gates is healthy, but he'll catapult to the forefront of waiver discussion if Gates misses any time. Henry has much more value in dynasty leagues.

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