An NFL rookie needs more than just talent to become fantasy-worthy in his first season. More than the ability to run, catch or throw, an NFL rookie needs the chance to display his wares. Which is why many of today's stars weren't great right out of the gate.
As an example, lets look at this year's three top running backs and currently the first three players off the board: Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy and Ray Rice.
In Foster's first season, he rushed just 54 times for 257 yards and three touchdowns, with 84-percent of the yards coming in the Texans final two games because he started the season as the team's fourth-string tailback behind Steve Slaton, Ryan Moats and Chris Brown.
Similarly, in 2008 with the Ravens, Rice (107 carries for 454 yards) was No. 3 on the depth chart behind Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain.
McCoy had the best opportunity of the three (155 carries), but still shared rushing duties in Philadelphia with Brian Westbrook and fullback Leonard Weaver.
You can see from the above three examples, that the most important factor in becoming a first-year factor is opportunity. It's hard to gain yards from the bench.
To get on the field requires more than just opportunity, however. A player must gain the coach's/quarterback's confidence that he knows the plays and will run them correctly when called on.
A receiver who runs a wrong route and makes his quarterback look bad, or worse, gets his passes intercepted, is not going to see many targets even if he's on the field. And a running back who can't protect his quarterback by picking up the blitz, isn't going to be on the field enough to be fantasy worthy.
With that in mind, here is our top half-dozen rookies who we believe can have immediate fantasy impact in their first season "where they play for pay."
1) Trent Richardson, Cleveland (ADP 13.5) - Richardson should be the top fantasy rookie in 2012 simply because he'll get a chance to be a "workhorse" running back from Week 1. Given the Browns lack of a passing game means that Richardson will use his size (227 lbs), speed (4.49 40 at the Combine) and good hands for 15-20 touches a game. The lack of a good passing game is also a detriment as defenses will crowd the line of scrimmage against the Browns. He's also in a tough defensive division with Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, but he should still be able to produce 1,400 yards from scrimmage and perhaps eight touchdowns.
2) Doug Martin, Tampa Bay (ADP 39.8) - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers became disenchanted with running back LeGarrette Blount for two reasons: an inability to be part of the passing game and fumbling. For that reason they traded back into the first round to select Martin at No.31. Martin has been compared to new head coach Greg Shiano's former Rutgers running back Rice, but he's not that good, at least not yet. Martin has a solid all-round game which makes him an every down back, something Blount isn't and never will be. However, Blount could eat into some of Martin's playing time, particularly near the end zone where his extra 25 pounds could make a difference. Still, Martin should accumulate 1,200 yards rushing and receiving and six touchdowns.
3) Andrew Luck, Indianapolis (ADP 124.7) - Luck has been called the best NFL quarterback prospect since the guy he's replacing Peyton Manning. He has many fine qualities, including good size, solid mechanics, NFL accuracy and three years of starting experience in an NFL-type passing offense (713-for-1,064 for 9,430 yards, 82 TDs and 22 INTs). His biggest problem is the supporting cast in Indianapolis where there is almost no running game. He'll have veteran receivers in a declining Reggie Wayne and solid but not spectacular Austin Collie. His tight end will be fellow Stanford alum Coby Fleener, who unfortunately, will likely have to block more than catch given the Colts offensive line. Luck will play all 16 games if healthy and should throw for about 3,300 yards, rush for 250 yards and throw 24 TDs.
4) Brian Quick, St. Louis (ADP 119.2) - Quick couldn't have chosen a better situation to walk into. He's going to be the Rams' No. 1 receiver from Day 1 and he's got a solid young quarterback under center in Sam Bradford. Assuming that Bradford is healthy by training camp (there is a question on that matter) the combination should get plenty of time to work together. Quick has been compared to Terrell Owens in ability and that's impressive. Hopefully, he doesn't have Owens' head case propensity. It's frequently hard to judge a player who didn't play in a BCS conference because of the lower level of competition, but Quick should be able to produce 65 receptions for 900 yards and six scores which would put him just slight below what Bengals rookie A.J. Green did in 2011.
5) Robert Griffin III, Washington (ADP 88.9) - Those expecting another Cam Newton rookie season will be disappointed, but Griffin has plenty of talent around him and should play well right from the start. A Mike Shanahan team will always run the ball first and with Roy Helu, Tim Hightower and Evan Royster that won't change. Griffin has the ability to make a play when things break down which is good, but Shanahan is likely to limit that to protect his quarterback's health. Griffin's Redskins will finish the season with a better record than Luck's Colts, but Luck will have the better fantasy statistics. Think 3,000 yards passing and 19 touchdowns with 350 yards rushing and three scores. Not Newton-like, but a nice start to a long career.
6) Michael Floyd, Arizona (ADP 104.9) - If the Cardinals can straighten out their quarterback situation, Floyd can be a solid fantasy contributor as the receiver opposite Larry Fitzgerald. With "Fitz" getting all the defensive attention, Floyd will only have to beat his man to get open. At 6'3" 220 lbs with great after catch ability, Floyd should break more than a couple of long plays this season. If the QB situation were better, Floyd could put up Julio Jones rookie numbers, but he'll still offer up 55 receptions for 720 yards and six TDs.