Rookie Preview

Tue May 5 2:22pm ET
By JEFF PAUR
Sr Fantasy Writer

Edwards-Helaire is top rookie


There is nothing more exciting than a rookie. There is a lot of unknown but the potential is always there for big things. Fantasy owners love to find that next big thing, so rookies are normally a hot item come draft day. Just remember, rookies don’t always pan out in year one. 

We don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade but if you look at last year, there are only a handful of real impactful rookies. Kyler Murray was the top fantasy rookie, finishing sixth overall in fantasy quarterback scoring. He was the only rookie quarterback to score in the top 20 in scoring, though, with Daniel Jones finishing 21st overall in quarterback scoring. 

The running back position had just one rookie back, Miles Sanders, finish in the top 20. Sanders was 15th overall in fantasy running back scoring. Josh Jacobs was the next best rookie back, finishing 21st overall in running back scoring.  

A.J. Brown was top rookie receiver last year, ranking 22nd overall in receiver scoring. So he was the best rookie receiver and was just a low-end No. 2 for fantasy teams. Other rookies of note were D.K. Metcalf (29th), Terry McLaurin (30th) and Deebo Samuel (31st). These receivers were mainly No. 3 or fill-in plays for fantasy teams. 

The tight end position was really impacted by just one rookie, Noah Fant. He was 14th overall in fantasy tight end scoring. Fant had a few big games but was nothing more than a spot play for fantasy teams in year one.

So as you can see, rookies don’t always make a huge impact their first year in the league. Just temper your expectations some when it comes to rookies. Loading your team with rookies is usually a recipe for disaster. 

With that said, here is a position-by-position look at the rookie class for the coming season. We’ll start with the quarterback spot. . . . .

ROOKIE QUARTERBACKS

  1. Joe Burrow, Bengals
  2. Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins
  3. Justin Herbert, Chargers
  4. Jalen Hurts, Eagles
  5. Jacob Eason, Colts

Burrow is the clear top rookie quarterback, getting picked first overall by the Bengals. He’ll start from day one and has a chance to have some big games in this offense. His value is probably better down the road as the Bengals improve the team around him, especially their offensive line. For now, Burrow is likely a spot starter for fantasy teams. He won’t be consistent enough at the loaded quarterback position to be worth using every week for fantasy teams. 

The rest of the quarterbacks carry a lot more question marks. We aren’t sure there is another rookie that opens the season as the starter for their team. Tagovailoa and Herbert might start at some point this year, but that likely doesn’t happen right away. And Hurts might be a guy that gets playing time but more so in a Taysom Hill-type role for the Eagles. Overall, Burrow might be the only rookie that makes a fantasy impact in year one.

ROOKIE RUNNING BACKS

  1. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Chiefs
  2. D’Andre Swift, Lions
  3. Cam Akers, Rams
  4. Jonathan Taylor, Colts
  5. Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Bucs
  6. J.K. Dobbins, Ravens 
  7. Zack Moss, Bills
  8. Antonio Gibson, Redskins
  9. Anthony McFarland Jr., Steelers
  10. A.J. Dillon, Packers

The running back spot has some rookies that have a good chance to make an impact this year. Edwards-Helaire is the most exciting of the group. He has a great chance to start in the Chiefs explosive offense and get plenty of weekly work. His ceiling is the highest of any rookie back. Edwards-Helaire could be a low-end No. 1 back before the season is out. 

Swift and Akers are two more backs with some competition to start, but should be the starter’s on their respective teams to open the season. And both look like good fits for the offenses they play, giving them some good fantasy upside. Both have a chance to be dependable No. 2 backs. 

Taylor is similar to the previous two backs mentioned but probably has the toughest competition for carries, which is why he landed behind those two. Marlon Mack had a 1,000-yard season last year, so don’t discount him to still get work this year. Taylor and Mack might be in more of a timeshare than the other two guys. 

Vaughn is another back similar to Taylor with decent competition for carries but his talent level isn't quite that of Taylor. Vaughn could very well start for the Bucs but this offense isn't quite built to run. Ronald Jones also performed well down the stretch last year, so he isn't going to just move out of the way for Vaughn. 

The rest of the backs on this list are in tougher situations to garner a bunch of playing time. All should play and a few might emerge to get double-digit touches per week, but for now, expect erratic production in their current roles.

ROOKIE RECEIVERS

  1. Justin Jefferson, Vikings
  2. Denzel Mims, Jets
  3. Jerry Jeudy, Broncos
  4. Michael Pittman Jr., Colts
  5. Henry Ruggs, Raiders
  6. Jalen Reagor, Eagles
  7. Bryan Edwards, Raiders
  8. CeeDee Lamb, Cowboys
  9. Tee Higgins, Bengals
  10. Brandon Aiyuk, 49ers

The receiver class was loaded this year. Many called this the most talented rookie class in several years, so don’t be surprised if many of these guys make an impact their rookie seasons. A lot of the value for these talented players comes down to landing spot. And for us, Jefferson landed in a great spot to make a big impact as a rookie. He should start for the Vikings from day one and should get plenty of weekly targets. He also is a very talented player, which helps his case even more to be the top rookie receiver.

Mims is another player that fits the same category as Jefferson. Mims might not be the most talented player in this class, but he could actually lead the Jets in targets as a rookie. He has a chance to post big numbers.

Jeudy, Pittman, Ruggs and Reagor also are rookies that should come in and start right away. These guys might have a little more competition for work, though, which puts them down the list a little more. All are talented players with a high ceiling. It wouldn’t surprise if any one of them makes a strong push to be the top rookie receiver in the game. 

Lamb might have the most talent of any of the receivers in this draft, but he has Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Ezekiel Elliott to compete with for targets. He did not land in a great spot to have a big rookie season. His future is very bright, though. 

One player to keep an eye on that made this list is Edwards. He went a little later than most of these guys on this list, but his potential is high. He is a big receiver that won’t get pushed around in coverage and should start from day one. He could be the surprise of this rookie receiver class.  

ROOKIE TIGHT ENDS

  1. Devin Asiasi, Patriots
  2. Cole Kmet, Bears
  3. Dalton Keene, Patriots
  4. Josiah Deguara, Packers
  5. Adam Trautman, Saints

The tight end spot is probably the least exciting of the rookie class. Kmet is the most talented of the group, but he landed with the Bears. Chicago already has a veteran tight end on the roster, Jimmy Graham, and several other options at tight end for Kmet to compete with for targets and playing time. Plus, Kmet lands with a team that has quarterback questions. He still might be worth some spot starts for fantasy teams but that is about it for now.

Our top rookie tight end for this year is Asiasi. He takes over as the starter for the Patriots and should get plenty of chances to produce in an offense that likes to use the tight end. Plus, New England has some questions at receiver, which could open the door for more targets at the tight end spot. 

So in closing, the rookie class has some promise this year, especially the receiver spot. Just remember, there aren’t a lot of rookies that become big-time fantasy players in year one. Proceed with caution!

Jeff Paur is a two-time finalist for FSWA Fantasy Football Writer of the Year and won the FSWA award for Best Fantasy Football Article on the Web in 2011. He also was the most accurate expert in 2012, winning the FSTA Fantasy Football Accuracy Award. If you have any questions for Jeff, email him at jeff@rtsports.com. Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffpaur.

Player Notes
Josh Allen May 31 9:53pm ET

Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen has 17 rushing touchdowns in 27 career starts. Only free-agent QB Cam Newton (Panthers) has had more rushing touchdowns in his first 27 starts.

Fantasy Spin: Despite below average accuracy, Newton has been a high-end fantasy quarterback for much of his career because of his rushing stats. Allen may never reach Newton's level, but his running ability can keep him in the QB1 mix.

From TheHuddle

Robert Woods May 31 8:03pm ET

Los Angeles Rams WR Robert Woods registered 613 yards after the catch in 2019 - the third-highest total in the league.

From TheHuddle

John Ross May 31 8:03pm ET

Cincinnati Bengals WR John Ross averaged 7.3 yards after the catch in 2019 - tied for the fourth-highest average in the league among players who amassed 50 targets last season.

From TheHuddle

Le'Veon Bell May 31 7:13pm ET

New York Jets RB Le'Veon Bell has enjoyed a target share of between 17 and 18 percent in four of his last five seasons, with the only exception coming in 2015 (15 percent). His 17.3 percent share in 2019 was the second-highest mark of his career.

From TheHuddle

George Kittle May 31 7:13pm ET

San Francisco 49ers TE George Kittle has compiled two of the three best seasons for a tight end in terms of producing yards after the catch since at least 2015 over the last two years. His 871 receiving yards after the catch in 2018 are the most by any player over the last five seasons (and 208 more yards than second-place Travis Kelce compiled in 2016), while his 623 receiving yards after the catch in 2019 led all tight ends and trailed only Chris Godwin (629) among all players last season.

From TheHuddle

Kareem Hunt May 31 6:43pm ET

Cleveland Browns RB Kareem Hunt ranked sixth among running backs with 44 targets from Week 10 until the end of the 2019 regular season. Additionally, Hunt's 49 slot snaps also ranked sixth among running backs in the league for the year despite playing only eight games.

From TheHuddle

Calvin Ridley May 31 5:33pm ET

Atlanta Falcons WR Calvin Ridley was on track for 66 catches for 853 yards and nine touchdowns on 101 targets prior to the Falcons trading Mohamed Sanu to the New England Patriots following a Week 7 loss. Over his final six games and before succumbing to an abdomen injury that ended his season prior to Week 15, Ridley's 16-game pace over the final six contests was 91 receptions for 1,315 yards and eight touchdowns on 131 targets.

Fantasy Spin: Six games is a relatively small sample, but it provides a bit of rationale to those that believe Ridley could be this year's Chris Godwin. The third-year pro finds himself in a wonderful environment to make it happen, as Julio Jones will continue to command the most respect from defensive coordinators and Atlanta's defense may struggle at times yet again. As such, Ridley should be viewed as a high-end WR2 with WR1 upside.

From TheHuddle

Jake Butt May 31 3:53pm ET

Denver Broncos TEs Albert Okwuegbunam, Austin Fort and Jake Butt are expected to be competing for two roster spots during training camp. Okwuegbunam is considered a favorite for one of the spots.

From TheHuddle

Melvin Gordon May 31 3:10pm ET

Denver Broncos running back Melvin Gordon III had 6,000-plus scrimmage yards and two Pro Bowl selections in five seasons with the Chargers, but he thinks the Broncos running scheme is better suited to his strengths as an explosive, downhill runner. Gordon had 2,587 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns in his final year in college in a zone-based offense similar. He had his moments as a perimeter runner with the Bolts, but his straight-line running style is better suited in an offense with more downhill runs. Denver has a zone-based system that's expected to feature more downhill plays under offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. The Broncos plan on using Gordon as their lead back despite Phillip Lindsay's presence, and in an offense better suited to his strengths as a runner, Gordon could be more efficient and give fantasy owners RB1 upside at an RB2 cost.

From RotoBaller

Lamar Jackson May 31 3:03pm ET

Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson hopefully will try more downfield throws this upcoming season when the team faces one-on-one coverage, according to head coach John Harbaugh. 'Those corners are going to be one-on-one and those safeties are going to be one-on-one against receivers, especially on downfield throws, and we got to make them pay for it,' Harbaugh said. 'I really do believe that's the next step for this offense from an execution standpoint. I really do believe Lamar is going to take the next step and our receivers are going to take the next step.'

Fantasy Spin: Jackson is one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL and would be an even more valuable fantasy option if he is able to connect on more downfield throws. Hs should be one of the first quarterbacks selected in all drafts and is a must-start option in fantasy leagues.

From TheHuddle

Baker Mayfield May 31 2:50pm ET

NFL.com's Bucky Brooks thinks that Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield is primed for the best season of his career in new head coach Kevin Stefanski's offense. Cleveland's 12-personnel packages featuring tight ends Austin Hooper and David Njoku, along with receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, and running back Nick Chubb, will be hard to stop. Mayfield averaged 9.0 yards per attempt (third-most in the NFL) in 12-personnel setups last year, and that formation is Stefanski's preference. Mayfield was also much better on play-action passes last year, so the Browns should look to feature those types of plays to take the pressure off the third-year passer. Cleveland's rebuilt offensive line should also give Mayfield better protection in 2020. All of this should add up to Mayfield being much more productive under Stefanski, making him a fine QB2 target with QB1 upside after his disappointing 2019 campaign.

From RotoBaller

Dak Prescott May 31 2:10pm ET

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott has not yet signed the franchise tender as he seeks a long-term deal from the team. History suggests the sides will come together before the July 15 deadline or Prescott may not be with Dallas beyond this season. Since the franchise tag was introduced in 1993, only eight quarterbacks have been tagged and all but two, Drew Brees in 2005 and Kirk Cousins in 2018, got extensions prior to the season. Prescott is coming off the best season of his four-year career throwing for 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns. He enters fantasy draft season as a top-three option at quarterback in fantasy.

From RotoBaller

Clay Matthews May 31 1:33pm ET

Free-agent LB Clay Matthews (Rams) is not receiving interest from the Cleveland Browns at this point.

From TheHuddle

Kareem Hunt May 31 1:13pm ET

Cleveland Browns RBs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt probably will be on the field at the same time on occasion this upcoming season, in the opinion of The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot.

Fantasy Spin: Chubb will continue to receive most of the work at running back this upcoming season, but Hunt was a solid receiver out of the backfield in 2019. Chubb should be a No. 1 running back in fantasy leagues, while Hunt can be a flex option in most leagues and likely will be more valuable in point-per-reception leagues.

From TheHuddle

Jadeveon Clowney May 31 1:03pm ET

Free-agent DE Jadeveon Clowney (Seahawks) is still receiving interest from the Cleveland Browns even though he has not accepted their contract offer at this point.

From TheHuddle

Stefon Diggs May 31 12:53pm ET

Buffalo Bills WR Stefon Diggs has only worked with QB Josh Allen during drills at the recent workouts in Florida.

Fantasy Spin: The team has not been able to hold offseason workouts, but Allen and Diggs have found a way to work on building their chemistry. Diggs likely will be the top option in the passing game this upcoming season and should be considered a No. 2 wide receiver in most fantasy leagues.

From TheHuddle

Olivier Vernon May 31 8:43am ET

The Cleveland Browns could release DE Olivier Vernon if the team signs free-agent DE Jadeveon Clowney, in the opinion of 710 ESPN Seattle's John Clayton. The Browns currently have Vernon and Myles Garrett at defensive end and also signed DE Adrian Clayborn earlier this offseason to a one-year, $3.75 million deal.

From TheHuddle

Willie Snead May 31 12:03am ET

Baltimore Ravens WR Devin Duvernay is expected to compete with WR Willie Snead for playing time in three-receiver sets.

From TheHuddle

Ezekiel Elliott May 30 11:43pm ET

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott had 355 touches in 2019, making him the first running back since Ladainian Tomlinson in 2006 and 2007 to have back-to-back seasons with at least 350 touches.

Fantasy Spin: Even with the Cowboys finishing with the second-most passing yards in the league, Elliott still handled a huge workload. The volume alone should keep him firmly in the RB1 mix in 2020.

From TheHuddle

Tyler Lockett May 30 9:23pm ET

Seattle Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett's 11.23 yards per target and 18 receiving touchdowns over the past two seasons rank second in the NFL, and he has caught 77.2 percent of his targets in that stretch, the third-best mark.

From TheHuddle