Sunday Special: Most intriguing rookies of the 2020 fantasy football season

Drafting rookies for your fantasy team always comes with risk. Last year, I put all my eggs in one basket, thinking I could win my leagues with the likes of David Montgomery, Miles Sanders, and Josh Jacobs. As you could assume, that brought mixed success.

In 2020, I’m working on a more balanced approach. A few vets and a Miles Sanders could have mitigated the odds of a slow start, while providing that coveted late-season upside.

After an initial analysis of the rookie class, I believe these guys carry the most fantasy relevance of the bunch. And as always, I’ve added a few nuggets I’ve been thinking about this week.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB – Kansas City Chiefs

Because Andy Reid likened Edwards-Helaire to former Eagles’ great Brian Westbrook, I dug into Westbrook’s receiving numbers. Westbrook averaged 65.3 catches and 4.7 receiving touchdowns per season from 2003 to 2008. The Chiefs’ main contingent of running backs caught 87 passes last season, and as long Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman stretch teams vertically, Edwards-Helaire will have a chance to eat teams alive underneath.

The question in assessing Edwards-Helaire is not about his abilities. The Chiefs wouldn’t have used a first pound pick on him if he wasn’t a polished runner and pass-catcher. The question is about whether or not he’s worth a top 30 pick, which is where he’s being slated in PPR formats. Damien Williams is fresh off a 131-yard, two-touchdown performance in the Super Bowl, so drafting Edwards-Helaire in the third round feels a bit early. Williams is being drafted around 100, so if you want Edwards-Helaire, I’d draft both players and start Damien in the first game of the season.

Justin Jefferson, WR – Minnesota Vikings

If I were picking Offensive Rookie of the Year today, I’d take Jefferson at 25/1 and hedge with Joe Burrow at 2/1. With Stefon Diggs’ departure to Buffalo, Jefferson has the opportunity to make an impact from day one. His size, speed, and ability to catch in traffic (92.3% contested catch rate) will allow him to dominate out of the slot.

Call me crazy, but I think there is a real chance Jefferson leads the Vikings in catches as a rookie. His average draft position is currently 119, per FantasyPros.com. A 10th or 11th round pick for Jefferson is a no brainer.

Jonathan Taylor, RB – Indianapolis Colts

Like Edwards-Helaire, Jonathan Taylor starts his career in a running back timeshare. That’s a shame because I want to see what Taylor can do as the bell cow behind arguably the league’s best offensive line. His 2,225 scrimmage yards and 26 touchdowns at Wisconsin last year are absurd numbers.

None of this is meant to take away from Marlon Mack, who quietly amassed 1,091 yards and eight touchdowns in 2019. Mack deserves touches after that performance and has extra motivation to ball out in a contract year. And Nyheim Hines is the team’s go-to third down back, which diminishes Taylor’s value even further.

Taylor’s ADP sits at 48 right now. Again, I think that is too high for a rookie in a backfield by committee. Taylor has upside, but taking him in the fifth or sixth round seems risky. If you’re in a dynasty league, now that’s a different story.

D’Andre Swift, RB – Detroit Lions

Swift follows Todd Gurley, Sony Michel, and Nick Chubb in a string of Georgia running backs to make it to the NFL. He has three-down ability and should have a real shot at keeping Kerryon Johnson off the field next year, especially after Johnson’s underwhelming second season (just 3.6 yards per carry).

Despite Swift’s obvious talent, successful Detroit running backs are few and far between. The team hasn’t had a 1,000 yard rusher since Reggie Bush in 2013. I think he will be a solid player, but I don’t want to rely on Swift as a fantasy starter until I see him buck the Detroit trend.

Cam Akers, RB – Los Angeles Rams

Akers is projected as a fifth round pick in seasonal leagues. I actually think that makes sense. Todd Gurley leaves 223 attempts up for grabs in the Rams’ backfield, and Akers could easily steal the majority of them. 3.7 and 3.8 yards per attempt from Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson isn’t good enough to cut it.

Akers can differentiate himself from Brown and Henderson in the passing game. Gurley caught 31 passes a year ago while Brown and Henderson caught six in total. In his final season at Florida State, Akers caught 30 passes for 225 yards and four scores. His competition is weaker than what Jonathan Taylor and D’Andre Swift are facing.

Michael Pittman Jr., WR – Indianapolis Colts

Pittman and Justin Jefferson were two of the most prolific receivers of the 2019 NCAA season. Both finished in the top five in receptions (Jefferson’s 111 was first, Pittman’s 101 was fourth). And just like Jefferson, Pittman can claim a role as one of the team’s top two receivers. Nobody on Indy’s team caught more than 45 passes last season. That will jump with Phil Rivers under center.

If Rivers can cut down on his mistakes this season (and I think he will behind that O-Line), the Colts could win 10+ games. Pittman will be part of that success, and he can be yours with one of your final few picks. His ADP currently sits at 151.

So who got snubbed? Joe Burrow and the first three receivers off the board come to mind (Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, and Ceedee Lamb).

Let’s take a look at Burrow. Only four rookie quarterbacks have cracked the top 10 in fantasy scoring over the last 10 seasons. Those were Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Dak Prescott, and Kyler Murray. All four of them added value with their legs. Burrow is already good at extending the play, but he’s not as dynamic as those four. Form a backup plan if you draft him.

How about those receivers? My Magic 8-Ball tells me Jeudy could tear up the slot for Denver. But he’s also competing for targets with Courtland Sutton, Noah Fant, and fellow rookie K.J. Hamler. Volume is also a concern with Ruggs. I see him having a Mecole Hardman-like rookie season, offering huge boom-or-bust variance on a week to week basis. And finally, there is Ceedee Lamb. Lamb should step into the Randall Cobb role as the Cowboys’ third option behind Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Cobb caught 55 balls for 828 yards and three touchdowns last season. That was good for 10.4 points per outing. Lamb is clearly the better talent, but 10.4 points does not make you fantasy-relevant.

I know I’m missing Jalen Reagor, Brandon Aiyuk, and J.K. Dobbins, but I don’t see much upside in them. Let me hear it if you disagree with any of my analysis. I can’t wait for the 2020 season.


A factoid for NFL fans: In 2019, only three of the league’s 10 highest-paid running backs made the playoffs. Who were they? Jerick McKinnon, Lamar Miller, and Duke Johnson… The Minnesota Vikings will likely use some form of this argument in negotiations with Dalvin Cook, who has threatened to holdout if the Vikings don’t get a deal done by training camp. Between this and his injury history, his leverage appears smaller than ever.

The other players in last year’s top 10 include Ezekiel Elliot, Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, Devonta Freeman, Saquon Barkley, and Leonard Fournette.

A fitting quote for our current society: “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.” – Charles Bukowski

A launch to keep your eye on: Elevated Gains CBD Protein Bars (Twitter @elevatedgains, Instagram @elevatedgains)

Elevated Gains was created by a friend of mine in Denver, Colorado and aims to help athletes perform and recover at the highest level. Each Elevated Gains protein bar has been crafted to include 21 grams of protein, 25 milligrams of CBD, and zero grams of added sugar to help you recover better than any other protein bar on the market. Most bars currently available only have around 12 grams of protein and are packed with added sugars and ingredients nobody understands.

The company’s official launch is on July 15th and both the CinnaGraham and Chocolate Peanut Butter flavors will be available. The first 100 orders will come with an awesome (and soft) Elevated Gains t-shirt. I have tried the bars myself and highly recommend buying a box upon release!


If you enjoyed this edition of the Sunday Special, consider subscribing to the ATM: At The Minute Podcast on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Any and all feedback is appreciated. Have a great week.

 

 

Published by Peter Mitchell

Oklahoma-raised, KC-based. I like covering NBA, NFL, and Fantasy Football, among other things.

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