The NFL regular season is fast approaching and that means we’re only days away from the beginning of this year’s fantasy football season.  The first game of 2014 is set to kick off on Thursday September 4 when the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks host the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field in downtown Seattle.

Teams around the league have begun trimming their respective rosters down as the NFL preseason nears its end.  Fantasy football team owners are keeping a close eye on position battles and playing time in order to target any hidden gems that could fly under the radar of less observant members of their respective leagues.

A group of players that is always tough to read before each season begins is the new class of rookies.  While there are always a handful of first-year players that are given roles prior to the season, the majority of the youngsters have to show what they can do during the preseason before coaches are comfortable designating their particular roles.

Over the past few weeks we’ve been posting our fantasy rankings to help get you ready for your fantasy football draft.  Check out our Top 20 NFL Fantasy Quarterbacks, Top 20 NFL Running Backs, Top 20 NFL Wide Receivers, Top 20 NFL Tight Ends and Top NFL Fantasy Football Sleepers.  We conclude our fantasy rankings with the Top NFL Fantasy Rookies for 2014.

RUNNING BACKS

Bishop Sankey, Titans

Sankey was the first running back selected in this year’s draft and has a great opportunity to excel with the Titans.  Long-time starter Chris Johnson moved on to the New York Jets during the offseason which left only oft-injured Shonn Greene to compete with Sankey for the starting job in Tennessee.  A strong runner with good receiving skills, Sankey has looked good during the preseason and will likely end up as the top running back on the Titans roster when the season begins.

Terrance West, Browns

Cleveland moved up in the draft to take West in the third round and the rookie has shown his appreciation by making some nice runs during his preseason action.  While Ben Tate is expected to be the Browns primary ball carrier, the fourth year back has had a history of injuries during his brief NFL career.  Cleveland’s coaching staff has also indicated that they want to use a committee approach in their backfield.

Carlos Hyde, 49ers

Hyde steps into a San Francisco backfield that has been led by Frank Gore for the better part of a decade.  Gore, 31, is getting up there in age and the 49ers have used him sparingly over the past couple years in order to keep him fresh for the playoffs.  Meanwhile, Hyde has looked very good through the first three games of the preseason, rushing for 88 yards on just 15 carries (5.87 yards per carry).  On a run-heavy team like San Francisco, there should be plenty of opportunities for Hyde to make his mark.

Andre Williams, Giants

(Source: Jason Miller/Getty Images)

(Source: Jason Miller/Getty Images)

After running for 2,177 yards while playing with Boston College last year, Williams has been impressing the Giants coaching staff throughout training camp and the preseason.  With long-time backup Rashad Jennings the only back ahead of him on the Giants depth chart, Williams will be given plenty of opportunities in the upcoming season.  Through four preseason games he’s rushed the ball 33 times for 151 yards (4.57 yards per carry) and a pair of touchdowns.

Devonta Freeman, Falcons

He may be currently buried on the Falcons depth chart but Freeman has looked better than any of the backs running ahead of him during the preseason.  Through three games he’s racked up 92 yards on 20 carries and has been an asset as a pass-catcher out of the backfield with six receptions for 101 yards.  While he’s quickly becoming a star on HBO’s Hard Knocks, Freeman may end up as a serious difference maker on the Falcons offense sooner rather than later.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Mike Evans, Buccaneers

It’s looking more and more like Evans will be lining up as the Bucs second starting receiver opposite Vincent Jackson when the season begins in a couple weeks.  He’s a big wideout (6-5, 231) that knows how to use his size to his advantage and he’s got a quarterback in Josh McCown who had a lot of success last season throwing to large receivers in Chicago. Evans’ combination of size and skill should see him get plenty of looks in the red zone.

Sammy Watkins, Bills

Watkins was probably the most talented receiver selected in this year’s draft and Buffalo wanted him badly, moving up from the ninth pick to take him fourth overall. The problem is that Watkins’ success is dependent on the development of Bills second-year quarterback E.J. Manuel, which can be a scary thought.  With blinding speed and above-average run after the catch ability, Watkins has the potential to be the next great receiver in the NFL.

Brandin Cooks, Saints

(Source: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

(Source: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Of all the rookie receivers, the one entering the best situation for success is Brandin Cooks.  He joins a Saints offense that has one of the best passing games in the league, led by perennial Pro Bowler Drew Brees.  Cooks was the fastest receiver at the scouting combine, running a 4.33 40-yard dash.  While the Saints have plenty of weapons on their offense with Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston and Kenny Stills, there should still be plenty of opportunities for Cooks to shine.

Kelvin Benjamin, Panthers

Considering the Panthers are without their entire receiving corps from last season (Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn all moved on in free agency), there is a gaping need for a number one pass-catcher in Carolina.  Benjamin used his size (6-5, 241) to his advantage while playing for Florida State but he isn’t the speediest of guys and could run into trouble with the bigger and stronger cornerbacks in the NFL.  He hasn’t had many problems so far in three preseason games though, hauling in eight catches for 117 yards and a touchdown while looking like the best receiving option for Cam Newton.

Odell Beckham, Giants

He may not be the biggest guy but Beckham makes up for his lack of size (5-11, 198) with immense speed, running a 4.43 40-yard-dash at the combine.  Already known as an accomplished route-runner who isn’t afraid to go across the middle of the field, Beckham also has great hands that helped him make several highlight-reel catches while playing for Louisiana State.  He should fit in well with Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle (who was Beckham’s roommate in college) in the Giants offense but a hamstring injury has limited his progress during the preseason.

TIGHT ENDS

Eric Ebron, Lions

Detroit took Eric Ebron with the tenth overall pick in this year’s draft so it’s safe to say that he’ll be a big part of the Lions offense in the upcoming season.   He didn’t do much blocking while playing at North Carolina, rarely lining up next to a tackle, but his combination of size (6-4, 245) and speed (4.60 40-yard dash) should fit in nicely with Matthew Stafford and the Lions.  With Calvin Johnson drawing the attention of opposing defenses and Brandon Pettigrew likely being used in the traditional in-line tight end role, Ebron’s above-average route running will suit him well in Detroit.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Buccaneers

It’s clear that they like big receiving options in Tampa Bay.  Seferian-Jenkins is a half-inch taller than Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, who are both 6-5, giving the Bucs a formidable receiving corps that will be more than a handful for opposing defenses.  A solid blocker with decent speed and a unique leaping ability, Seferian-Jenkins can fit in any tight end role and will be an intriguing option in the red zone. He’s been playing mostly with the second team behind Brandon Myers but that’s likely just a temporary thing as ASJ is better athlete with a much higher ceiling.

Jace Amaro, Jets

(Source: Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

(Source: Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

A polished pass-catcher with great hands, Amaro will get an opportunity to do some damage on a Jets team with limited options at receiver.  He runs great routes and has already started to earn the trust of his quarterback, Geno Smith, in the red zone.  At 6-5, 260 he isn’t the fastest guy around but that hasn’t stopped him from being a very productive pass-catcher.  Through three preseason games Amaro has eight catches for 79 yards and a touchdown, which was a one-yard score that shows he’s going to be a threat when the Jets are around the goal line.

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