In most fantasy leagues, Rookies are usually a late-round flyer that you hope to hit on and it's gravy if they hit but a simple waiver swap if not.  In some dynasty leagues they go a little higher since you can keep them on your team by sacrificing the pick in the round you took them in the following draft.   But with Dynasty Owner, where teams must be created under a salary cap using actual player contracts, hitting on rookies is critical.  If you find a stud, you have elite production for the next 4-5 years on a dirt cheap contract which allows you to load up on superstar veterans at other positions (especially QB where the highest performers are almost always the highest paid players in the NFL).

With half the season in the books, owners can start to get a sense of who has real potential and opportunity to become a franchise cornerstone, and who might have been over drafted or not worth waiting around for.

Tier 1:  The Dynasty Cornerstones

Thus far, the prized rookie for Dynasty Owners is Kelvin Benjamin

1). Kelvin Benjamin, WR - Carolina Panthers

  • Average Salary:  $2MM/year
  • Free Agent: 2018
  • WR Performance Rank (Avg Pts/Game):  15th
  • Contract Rank for WRs: 59th

Two things are clear after 8 games - Benjamin is an un-guardable monster and he's going to be Cam Newton's favorite target for years to come.  He's already a top 15 WR, despite being slowed by injury, and despite being the focal point of defensive game-plans.  We know Carolina will continue building their offense in years to come but adding more weapons in the passing and running game should only open things up more for the dominant WR.  Congratulations if you snagged him in drafts this year.

2). Sammy Watkins, WR - Buffalo Bills

  • Average Salary: $5MM/year
  • Free Agent: 2018
  • WR Performance Rank (Avg Pts/Game): 19th
  • Contract Rank for WRs: 29th

Every bit as dominant as Benjamin, albeit with a different style.  Watkins is only limited by his tenuous QB situation as Buffalo already threw in the towel on E.J. Manuel.  Watkins also has a hefty rookie contract as rookie deals go, but he certainly belongs on this list.  The Bills took some heat for giving up so much to trade up for him, but nobody is questioning that move now, especially as they sit at 4-3 and he caught the game-winning TD as time expired in week 7.  

3). Odell Beckham, WR - NY Giants

  • Average Salary: $2.6MM/year
  • Free Agent: 2018
  • WR Performance Rank (Avg Pts/Game): 28th
  • Contract Rank for WRs: 53rd

The WR theme continues, which is expected since this was called the deepest and most talented WR draft in the last decade.  Beckham was hampered by injury early this season but has shown enough to make this list - he's officially locked in as a future (if not current) no. #1 WR in NY.  Victor Cruz's devastating knee injury simply solidifies his position, and Beckham has shown remarkable play-making ability in limited action.  In his first game without Cruz, he scored 2 TDs and appears to be a mismatch in the redone.

Tier 2:  Signs of Greatness

1). Isaiah Crowell, RB - Cleveland Browns

  • Average Salary: $500k/year
  • Free Agent (Restricted): 2017
  • RB Performance Rank (Avg PTs/Game): 40th
  • Contract Rank for RBs: 105th

An absolute shocker that he's on this list, Crowell is an UDFA who up until the 4th pre-season game was unlikely to make a crowded roster at RB for the Browns.  But Crowell's rise isn't all that surprising when you realize he was the top high school RB recruit in the nation coming out of his senior year and showed flashes of greatness his freshman season with the Georgia Bulldogs before disciplinary reasons forced him to transfer to a Division II school and into obscurity.  While he's still mired in a crowded backfield situation in Cleveland, anyone who's watched him play has seen that he's clearly the most talented back they have and it's not close.  His limitations in pass protection are the only thing holding him back, and he's clearly leapfrogged hyped fellow rookie Terrance West.  Ben Tate has a veteran hold on the job but by the end of the season and for the next several years, we predict Crowell will be a top 10 RB in the league.  He's that explosive.  His contract is piddles, so if you were quick enough to pick him up off waivers, you probably got the steal of the Dynasty Owner season.

2). Branden Oliver, RB - San Diego Chargers

  • Average Salary: $450k/year
  • Free Agent: 2016
  • RB Performance Rank (Avg Pts/Game): 7th
  • Contract Rank for RBs: 125th

Another UDFA from the University of Buffalo, Oliver has been brilliant in his 2 games as the lead back for the Chargers while Ryan Matthews has been hurt.  The only thing that prevents him from being called a clear cornerstone already is a lack of clarity that his organization has bought into him as the lead back capable of carrying the entire load, mostly because of his diminutive frame and their hesitation to do the same with Darren Sporoles, whom Oliver is often compared to.  They also have shown extensive commitment to incumbent Ryan Matthews.  If the Chargers show a willingness to make him a feature back, he's going to be an absolute steal for the 2 years Dynasty Owners have him for less than $1MM and would jump to the top of Tier 1 right with Benjamin and Watkins.

3). Mike Evans, WR - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • Average Salary: $3.6MM/year
  • Free Agent: 2018
  • WR Performance Rank (Avg Pts/Game): 41st
  • Contract Rank for WRs: 39th

Evans has shown exactly what everyone thought he could be in limited action - a redone mismatch with someone who can routinely beat single coverage.  He has 2Tds on the year and averages over 50yards per game, numbers we think will increase as long as his health improves.  Tampa Bay has also struggled mightily in some games, notably the embarrassing loss they took against Atlanta a few weeks ago on national TV, which always brings game to game averages down.  We expect Evans to settle in as a top 25 WR when his rookie campaign is done.  That will comfortably slot him in the cornerstone category and owners should enjoy the next 4 years on his rookie deal.

4). Blake Bortles, QB - Jacksonville Jaguars

  • Average Salary: $5.1MM/year
  • Free Agent: 2018
  • QB Performance Rank (Avg Pts/Game): 32nd
  • Contract Rank for QBs: 24th

Owners who took a shot on Bortles, who looked incredible in the pre-season, have to be happy about the fact that we're getting to grade him far sooner than anticipated as the Jaguars brass initially claimed Bortles would sit out the entire season and learn under Henne.  That turned out to be as absurd as it sounded at the time, and Bortles got thrown into the fire in after week 2 and already has 5 games under his belt.  And in those 5 games, Bortles already has a multi-TD game, a 3oo+ yard game, and has been an effective running QB in all 5 contests averaging almost 30 rushing yards per game to go along with his 232 ypg passing average.  He absolutely has the big arm and the scrambling ability to make him a cornerstone franchise QB, but the NFL and especially the Quarterback position is judged on wins and losses so until Bortles starts winning more consistently, he'll always be in Tier 2 and at risk of being replaced in a couple years.  

5). Teddy Bridgewell, QB - Minnesota Vikings

  • Average Salary: $1.7MM/year
  • Free Agent: 2018
  • QB Performance Rank (Avg Pts/Game): 42nd
  • Contract Rank for Qbs: 40th

Two weeks ago, Bridgewater would have been a candidate to be in Tier 1, but this is why we wait until mid-season to start this report.  Unless you are talking about Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson, defensive schemes are going to adjust to rookie QBs faster than the rookies will progress and that has been the case with Teddy.  In his first NFL start he threw for 317 yards and ran for a TD, looking very comfortable controlling the game in an impressive win against the Atlanta Falcons.  Fast forward to the last 2 games and he's thrown 5 INTs vs only 1 TD, with the Viking offense only amassing 19 points total in the 2 contests.  Now he's still on the fringe, only right now he's on the fringe of bust potential.  Still, players and coaches alike rave about him having the makeup needed to be a successful QB in the NFL so we'll leave him here for right now.  But he needs to string together a couple of strong games before the conclusion of this season for us to believe he could be the long-term answer for the Vikings or your Dynasty Owner franchise.

Also in this Category:  Davante Adams WR - Green Bay Packers, Derek Carr QB - Oakland Raiders, Jerick McKinnon RB - Minnesota Vikings, Allen Robinson WR - Jacksonville Jaguars, John Brown WR - Arizona Cardinals, Jace Amaro TE - NY Jets, Jordan Matthews WR - Philadelphia Eagles

Tier 3:  Incomplete Assessment

The guys in this group simply don't have enough data to make a judgement on how they will turn out.  They are also slotted according to how quickly they project to have a significant workload.

1). Johnny Manziel, QB - Cleveland Browns

  • Average Salary: $2MM/year
  • Free Agent: 2018
  • QB Performance Rank (Avg Pts/Game): --
  • Contract Rank for QBs: 40th

The most hyped rookie still has yet to play a meaningful regular season snap (short of a few gimmick snaps early in the season).  Up until last week it looked like Johnny Football could be holding the clipboard all year but after a horrible loss to Jacksonville where starter Brian Hoyer struggled mightily, the chants for Johnny are starting up again in Cleveland.  We still anticipate him playing at least 4-6 games before the season ends, unless the Browns are in a heated playoff chase.   

2). Carlos Hyde, RB - San Francisco 49ers

  • Average Salary: $920k/year
  • Free Agent: 2018
  • RB Performance Rank (Avg Pts/Game): 81st
  • Contract Rank for RBs: 43rd

Hyde has some positive and negative indicators, but is mostly unknown because he still hasn't had a chance to carry the mail in any single game. And as a bigger back, he projects as someone who wears a defense down and thus gets better with 20+ carries so judging his alarming YPC (3.4) based off spot-duty is probably not fair. A game or two with Gore on the sidelines would really be welcomed from Hyde owners as they'd get to see if he can be a lead RB1 that the SF 49ers envisioned when drafting him.

3). Jeremy Hill, RB - Cincinnati Bengals

  • Average Salary: $930k/year
  • Free Agent: 2018
  • RB Performance Rank (Avg Pts/Game): 46th
  • Contract Rank for RBs: 42nd

Hill has the same story as Hyde and owners won't know how effective he can be unless Gio Bernard misses time. It should be noted that Hill has looked to be a more effective RB than Hyde, scoring 3TDs and averaging 4.3 YPC but the sample size is just too small for both backs to draw any conclusions. Hill is ranked lower than Hyde because Gio isn't going anywhere anytime soon and is only 1 year removed from his own rookie campaign. Hyde should have a chance to show what he can do as early as next season if Gore retires or starts getting phased out.

Also on this list: Jimmy Garrapolo QB - Patriots, Zach Mettenberger QB - Titans, Logan Thomas QB - Cardinals, Marquise Lee WR - Jacksonville Jaguars, Charles Simms RB - Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tre Mason RB - St. Louis Rams, Cody Latimer WR - Denver Broncos, Eric Ebron TE - Detroit

Tier 4:  Bust Potential

It's too early to call these guys flat out busts, and there will very likely be a guy or two who jump off this list and turn into quality assets for your franchise, and maybe even stars.  But through the first 8 games, disappointment is the best word to describe this group.

1). Brandin Cooks, WR - New Orleans Saints

  • Average Salary: $2MM/year
  • Free Agent: 2018
  • WR Performance Rank (Avg Pts/Game): 40th
  • Contract Rank for WRs: 56th

We might regret putting Cooks on this list as early as this coming week, but to this point we are comfortable saying we're disappointed in his lack of production.  He was the overwhelming favorite for offensive ROY coming into the season and he's not even in the top 5 of that discussion at this point.  The snaps and the targets are there, he just simply hasn't produced what everyone thought he would in this offense.  With the exception of the first game of the season, he's been underwhelming every game and hasn't scored since week 1.  We're still hopeful he can turn it around but this feels a little like the trajectory Tavon Austin was on when the Rams were trying to force production to their diminutive slot reaciever and it simply never worked.  Now Austin is nearly irrelevant in the league and certainly an afterthought in fantasy.  We would bet against that happening with Cooks but we need to see a big game soon to get back on board.

2). Bishop Sankey, RB - Tenessee Titans

  • Average Salary: $980k/year
  • Free Agent: 2018
  • RB Performance Rank (Avg Pts/Game): 74th
  • Contract Rank for RBs: 41st

Unlike most of the other Rookie RBs in this class, Sankey has had a chance to be the feature back multiple times and the resulting production is slightly alarming.  In the two games where he's been the starter, he's only notched 3.5 yards per carry and hasn't scored.  In fact he wasn't the goaline back in a first and goal situation on the 1 yard line - a loud signal that says the Titans don't yet trust him when it matters most. He also hasn't shown anything in the passing game and his coaches have expressed disappointment with his ability to pick up blitzes and pass protect.   Owners can only hope he's still getting acclimated to the speed of the NFL game but things aren't looking good for one of the top RBs drafted in 2014.

3). Terrance West, RB - Cleveland Browns

  • Average Salary: $700k/year
  • Free Agent: 2018
  • RB Performance Rank (Avg Pts/Game): 38th
  • Contract Rank for RBs: 61st

West was one of our favorite rookies coming into this year and he's the toughest guy to slot on this entire list.  On one hand, he's played extremely well in stretches this year averaging 4.1 yards per carry.  He has a 1o0 yard game, 2 TDs, and still has not yet cracked over 20 carries in any single game.  So why is he on the bust potential list?  Well he's also been deactivated (a healthy scratch) and benched after a horrible performance last week vs the Jaguars.  And probably most alarming is the fact that fellow rookie Crowell has the makings of being a star RB in the league.  If that's not enough, Ben Tate is the starter ahead of both and should be a Brown for at least the next 2 years.  It's a nightmare fantasy situation in Cleveland and West's prospects are cloudy at best, despite having talent to be a difference maker.    

1). Josh Huff, WR - Philadelphia Eagles

  • Average Salary: $700k/year
  • Free Agent: 2018
  • WR Performance Rank (Avg Pts/Game): --
  • Contract Rank for WRs: 107th

It's hard to call a 3rd round WR a bust candidate when they haven't gotten much action on the field, mostly due to injury, but Huff's prospects don't look great and many pundits were really high on him coming into this season as he's theoretically a good fit in that up-tempo offense.  Maclin is clearly the number 1 option, and Riley Cooper and fellow rookie Jordan Matthews both have prominent roles.  TE Zach Ertz is also growing into a playmaker that demands targets so while the first half of his rookie season started slow, we just don't see how Huff will have enough targets to make a difference this year.  And all of those aforementioned guys are younger than 27 so his long-term prospects are concerning as well.