EVERY year rookies become an interesting talking point in fantasy football, with every coach eager to own the best first-year pro’s. A season ago the likes of Josh Jacobs, A.J. Brown, and Kyler Murray burst onto the scene and became household fantasy names and this year will be no different with another healthy batch of rookie contributors raring to go.
All numbers/stats provided are based on ESPN fantasy leagues
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FOR the third straight season the quarterback that went No. 1 overall kickstarts the rookie fantasy discussion. Unlike Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray though, the Bengals have surrounded Joe Burrow (Bengals) with a strong enough supporting cast for him to excel from the word go. A.J. Green, John Ross, Tyler Boyd and former LSU teammate Tee Higgins give Burrow plenty to work with offensively, making him the best QB rook up for grabs. If you’re in a dynasty league with a longer-term outlook then it’s worth considering Tua Tagovailoa (Dolphins) despite his history of injury woes. Personally, Tua is my favourite rookie and I believe he’ll be successful in Miami.
WE might be forced to wait for Tagovailoa to have an impact in the league with the former Bama stud in his final stages of recovering from a nasty hip dislocation he suffered back in November last year. His unknown status will see him go undrafted in a lot of leagues, but taking a late chance on Tagovailoa with one of your final picks is worth the gamble. Newest Charger Justin Herbert (Chargers) falls in a similar basket and he’ll lock horns with Tyrod Taylor to fight for the starting spot. At 6′ 6″ and with a powerful arm, L.A. could unleash Herbert from day dot to start a new chapter in the franchise’s history that doesn’t involve Philip Rivers. Even if he’s given the opportunity, I’m not a huge Herbert believer and I don’t expect him to thrive in year one.
THERE were 10 other quarterbacks taken outside of the top-10, but none of them have a ton of fantasy value in 2020. Jordan Love (Packers) was the fourth QB to hear his name called in the first round, but he looms as a long-term succession plan for Aaron Rodgers, Jake Fromm (Bills) had to wait until the 5th round to hear his name called and won’t likely see a lot of the field, and while Jacob Eason (Colts) could be the future of Indianapolis, he falls into the same basket as Love and Fromm. The only other play-caller worth mentioning is Jalen Hurts (Eagles) who after an up and down college career lands in Philadelphia. The Eagles appear keen on using Hurts’ versatility on the field this year and may even see some snaps under center. Don’t go thinking he’s an answer in fantasy though – unless of course, Carson Wentz goes down.
THE first rookie I expect to come off the board this year is Clyde Edwards-Helaire (Chiefs) thanks in large part to the team he landed on. The lone running back to come off the board in the first round, CEH will be a popular pick for coaches with the expectation he’ll see his fair share of rushing carries and targets in the passing game. His dual-threat ability means Edwards-Helaire may come off the board in the first 30-35 picks and if he’s as good as advertised I can’t blame you for snapping him up early. A pair of collegiate juniors were the next two backs to come off the board with D’Andre Swift (Lions) and Jonathan Taylor (Colts) drafted inside the top-50. Both joined a running back room with an established lead rusher in the form of Kerryon Johnson Marlon Mack respectively.
IN Detroit, Johnson managed just eight games in 2019 as Bo Scarbrough, J.D. McKissic and Ty Johnson saw their fair share of the snaps/carries as well. The Lions’ newest rookie in Swift will have to battle for his own role in the offense, but a strong history of production as both a rusher and a pass catcher at Georgia means he’s worth taking a chance on in the middle rounds. From a dynasty perspective, Johnathan Taylor is perhaps the best first-year back to target, but that might not translate to instant fantasy success. At Wisconsin, Taylor was a rushing force, becoming one of just seven players to run for 6,000 yards in his collegiate career and the only on to do so in three seasons!
Image from bleacherreport.com
FUMBLES and a lack of pass-catching ability limit Taylor’s fantasy ceiling and he’ll likely be used in run-based sets while splitting time in the backfield with Marlon Mack. Taylor will presumably start the seasons as the Colts’ RB2 but he should still see enough production to matter in 2020. My favourite rookie halfback came off the board next with Cam Akers (Rams) set to battle Darrell Henderson for the lead running back role in Los Angeles. After cutting Todd Gurley, many expected Henderson to have fantasy sleeper written all over him, but the Rams clearly had other plans, using their first pick of the draft on the FSU product. Akers can block as well as produce in the running game and I won’t be shocked if he finishes the year as one of the very best rookie performers.
FOLLOWING the Akers pick both J.K. Dobbins (Ravens) and A.J. Dillon (Packers) found themselves picked in the second round landing in Baltimore and Green Bay respectively. The speedy former Buckeye in Dobbins intrigues me a lot, but the presence of Mark Ingram will limit his output – despite the Ravens commitment to a heavy-run style of play. Stashing Dobbins on your bench could pay dividends, but don’t go expecting him to consistently set the world on fire. Dillon entices me even less, with Aaron Jones the clear lead RB for the Packers. He could be deployed as a change of pace back, but there’s a reason he’s going undrafted in most leagues.
THERE’S only one other running back who was picked outside of the first two rounds worth mentioning in my eyes, with Ke’Shawn Vaughn (Buccaneers) generating a lot of hype post-draft. He has a clear path to lead-back duties providing he can overtake Ronald Jones III and Dare Ogunbowale in a new-look Tampa Bay outfit. Set your expectations accordingly, but there’s definitely value in picking Vaughn with a late selection. Zach Moss (Bills), Darrynton Evans (Titans) and La’Mical Perine (Jets) are all interesting handcuff options, but none of them should be picked come draft time.
THE discussion around rookie wide receivers starts and ends with a star power trio selected within six picks of each other. Henry Ruggs III (Raiders), Jerry Jeudy (Broncos) and Ceedee Lamb (Cowboys) are set to lead the charge for first-year wideouts and all three of them will be drafted in the majority of leagues. Ruggs is a serious speedster who should quickly become Derek Carr’s main weapon in Las Vegas, with the ability to take a short 3-yard slant pass 70 yards to the house. Be careful though while Ruggs has a blueprint for success in year one overdrafting him could hurt a lot of coaches. There will be high-high’s and low-low’s and Carr’s arm doesn’t instil me with a lot of confidence so proceed with caution.
Image from thegamehaus.com
JERRY Jeudy comes with his own fantasy concerns, mainly due to the supporting cast around him, rather than a knock on his personal skill set. The versatile pass-catcher will give Denver another weapon for sophomore QB Drew Lock to utilise, but there’s no guarantee their second-year signal-caller will take another stride in his development. Couple that with the Broncos strong group of running backs and Jeudy might not possess as much value as first thought. However, outside of Courtland Sutton, he’ll have very little competition for targets, which bodes well for those playing in PPR leagues. Jeudy’s poised to become an integral part of Denver’s offense and even with a few red flags emerging I think he’ll end the year as the top rookie WR.
CEEDEE Lamb fans may disagree, with Dallas’ new toy arguably the best receiver of the class. He joins a Cowboys roster that houses Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Ezekiel Elliott, all of whom will demand plenty of the ball. With so many mouths to feed in the Cowboys juggernaut offense, Lamb will find it hard to stand out in year one, even though he should still have some bright moments. He may be the most talented player in this group, but that doesn’t mean he should be drafted – even in a high-scoring offense.
THREE other receivers came off the board in the first round with Justin Jefferson (Vikings) the popular name amongst those drafted in the 20’s. With Stefon Diggs departing for Buffalo, Minnesota smartly used the pick they received from the Bills to choose his replacement. At LSU, Jefferson led the nation in catches (111) while hauling in the third-most receiving yards (1,540) and if he’s given a lot of volume/targets there’s every chance he can be a fantasy factor. I won’t be hitching my wagon to that expectation, with the Vikings set to be a run-heavy team, leaving Jefferson as a late-round pick at best. The same could be said for Brandon Aiyuk (49ers) and Jalen Reagor (Eagles) who were taken in the first round to strengthen two NFC giants. Reagor has less competition to worry about than Aiyuk, but both players will probably bounce on and off the waiver wire all season.
BUT wait, there’s more! The record draft haul of receivers meant that a few diamonds in the rough emerged outside of the first round and if things break right for them they could be fantasy darlings in the new season. Cincinnati opted to take Burrow’s collegiate teammate Tee Higgins (Bengals) with the first selection of the second round and if injury strikes he could be a big-time player. I won’t go picturing him or the likes of Chase Claypool (Steelers), Denzel Mims (Jets) or Michael Pitman Jr (Colts) reeling off a 1,000-yard season, but they can provide stability for a number of quarterbacks who need reliable receivers. Last but not least keep your eye on KJ Hamler (Broncos) who many are tipping to be a sleeper pick in the new season. With Sutton and Jeudy set to demand the bulk of the targets, Hamler could fly under the radar and be a sneaky fantasy pick-up.
I have bad news for the first-year group of tight ends, at least from a fantasy perspective. Most of the relevant guys were drafted by a team with a ton of depth at the position meaning there are no clear TE starters from this rookie class – at least with Week 1 in mind. The first one to come off the board 43rd overall in Cole Kmet (Bears) will likely be outsnapped by Jimmy Graham and currently, Chicago has TEN tight ends on their roster. Even though that number is set to go down, I still can’t see Kmet carving out enough of a role to matter in 2020.
THE same can be said for a pair of fresh faces in New England with Devin Asiasi (Patriots) and Dalton Keene (Patriots) who will not only be competing against each other for targets, but they’ll lock horns with Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse as well. Of the bunch, I like Asiasi’s chances to work his way to the top of the depth chart for the Pats, but he still a long short to haul in enough receiving yards to matter in fantasy. Adam Trautman (Saints) is the last relevant name worth mentioning, drafted by New Orleans to one day take the TE1 reigns from now 33-year old Jared Cook. Trautman put up huge numbers over his final two collegiate seasons at Dayton – snagging 110 catches for 1,511 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns making him my favourite tight-end to draft in dynasty leagues. However, Cook is still atop the Saints’ depth chart and with back-to-back Pro Bowl nods under his belt, he’ll hold that mantle for the foreseeable future.