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GET READY TO SING THE ALMA MATER, BECAUSE IT'S TIME to talk rookies. You're familiar with rookies—those first-year players whom overanxious owners tend to pick too high in drafts because they want to be the first to nab the Next Big Thing even though he's years away from contributing. Well, the names below are rookies who have the best chance to produce this season and help your team to a title. And sorry, Matthew Stafford, you may have been No. 1 in April, but you didn't even crack our top 15.
1 Chris WELLS
SOMETIMES HE goes by Chris Wells. Other times he goes by Beanie Wells. By the end of the season you'll know him as Fantasy Rookie of the Year Wells.
Everything adds up to this running beast turning into fantasy gold. At 6' 1" and 235 pounds, he's the most physically ready of all the first-year backs. He slides into the spot vacated by Edgerrin James, who was actually used in each of Arizona's playoff games. He'll be the money man when the Cardinals reach the goal line, which may be every other drive, considering their offensive weapons. And when the team is running out the clock, guess who will get the ball? Yes, Mr. Fantasy Rookie of the Year.
2 Donald BROWN
SAID COLTS CEO Jim Irsay after Indy selected the versatile and durable Brown at No. 27, "He reminds people of Thurman Thomas." In fact, team president Bill Polian was the general manager of the Bills when they picked Thomas, who went on to have a Hall of Fame career.
And if that's not enough of an endorsement, consider that current starter Joseph Addai has withered as an every-down back. After he took over as the undisputed starter, his per-carry average has fallen in each of the last two years. There's a need for a running back to share the workload, and the Colts plan to see what Brown can do for them.
3 Michael CRABTREE
THE NINERS have needed an elite receiver since, oh, T.O. said see ya in 2004, and they have one in the dynamic Crabtree. And don't be worried about him making the transition from Texas Tech's spread offense to the NFL. Front-office types say the spread makes it easier to evaluate college receivers, because its goal with receivers is the same as NFL offenses': get the ball to wideouts in space. One NFL personnel man told SI's Peter King that Crabtree plays like "a faster [Anquan] Boldin." Now, if either Alex Smith or Shaun Hill could play like Joe Montana or Steve Young, then the 49ers would be on to something.
4 Knowshon MORENO