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. . . . .
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
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.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffpaur.
June 5th: Best Ball Strategy
Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard comes in at No. 10 on NFL.com's Nick Shook's top-10 coverage men in 2019, and he's the only linebacker on the list. Not only does he consistently stop the run, but Leonard is expected to stay with receivers, running backs and tight ends in coverage. His five interceptions led all linebackers last season, as well as his 58.6 passer rating allowed as the nearest defender in coverage. Leonard finished with seven passes defensed and even took an interception back for a touchdown. The 24-year-old (25 in July) has 284 tackles (182 solo), 19 tackles for loss, 14 QB hits, 12 sacks, seven interceptions, 15 passes defensed, six forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in just two seasons for Indy. Leonard is the No. 1 IDP linebacker for a reason.
Kansas City Chiefs free safety Tyrann Mathieu's average separation yards of 3.4 leaves something to be desired in coverage, and so does his catch rate allowed below expectation (minus-7.5), but he was crucial in the Chiefs Super Bowl run from a year ago. He had a passer rating allowed of 57.6, but his ballhawk rate of 17.1 percent is an indication of how effective he is in KC's secondary. The Honey Badger compiled 75 tackles (63 solo), two sacks, four interceptions and 12 passes defensed on his way to his second first-team All-Pro selection in his seven seasons in the league. Mathieu may not have the best numbers from a pure analytical perspective, but he gets it done nevertheless and is a fringe starter at defensive back in IDP leagues.
Seattle Seahawks strong safety Bradley McDougald comes in at No. 8 on NFL.com's Nick Shook's top-10 coverage men from the 2019 season. His coverage success rate of 62 percent really stands out. Only three other players on Shook's list -- Justin Simmons (65.9 percent), J.C. Jackson (65.5) and Eddie Jackson (62.8) had better success rates than McDougald last year. He also allowed a passer rating of just 54.4 when targeted and a tight-window percentage of 12. The 29-year-old has really started to come on the last two years with Seattle. McDougald had 70 tackles (52 solo), two interceptions, half a sack and a fumble recovery in 2019. He won't be an every-week starter in IDP leagues, but he might be worth a look when you need a bye-week replacement.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has stuck by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo through all the criticism and believes the signal-caller has the ability to become an all-time great at the position. Garoppolo does have an advantage this offseason because he's not rehabbing an injury like he was before 2019. He ranked in the top five in touchdown passes (27), completion percentage (69.1) and yards per attempt (8.4) during his first full regular season last year, helping the team to a Super Bowl appearance. However, the 49ers are a team that leans more on the run and defense, making Garoppolo a glorified game manager. The 28-year-old has a low ceiling as a QB2 in Shanahan's current offense.
New England Patriots quarterback Jarrett Stidham and a group of six teammates recently gathered at a private football field to work out together. Stidham has been the catalyst for the throwing sessions, according to sources. Veteran QB Brian Hoyer has been at the throwing sessions, as have been wide receivers Julian Edelman, Damiere Byrd and Gunner Olszewski. Stidham, a fourth-round pick last year, looks to be the team's starting solution in the post-Tom Brady era entering the 2020 season. Head coach Bill Belichick seems totally comfortable rolling with the unknown 23-year-old, and we wouldn't bet against Belichick. So if Stidham is indeed the starter under center in Week 1, he'll be a midrange QB2 for fantasy owners.
Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward faced a high target rate of 22.4 percent in 2019, and on top of that he posted a coverage success rate of 61 percent and had a ballhawk rate of 14.3 percent, all while operating in a tight-window rate of 28.6 percent. His 77 targets accounted for nearly a quarter of his coverage snaps, so not only are opposing quarterbacks throwing his way, but Ward is shutting most of those targets down. If the 23-year-old former fourth overall pick can stay healthy -- he's played in just 25 games in his first two seasons -- he could break out in 2020 for a Browns Defense that could become streamable at some point during the year.
Minnesota Vikings free safety Harrison Smith was targeted just 40 times in pass coverage in 2019, but he comes in at No. 6 on NFL.com's Nick Shook's top-10 coverage men in the league. He forced tight windows 20 percent of the time and allowed a passer rating of just 50.3 when targeted. Fellow safety Anthony Harris was a standout in his own right in Minnesota, but Smith is the more fear safety for the Vikings. The 31-year-old has made the Pro Bowl each of the last five seasons and was an All-Pro in 2017. Smith had 85 tackles (65 solo), one sack, three interceptions, 11 passes defensed and two fumble recoveries last year. Because he's also a threat against the run, Smith is a top-10 fantasy defensive back in IDP leagues.
The Carolina Panthers hired former seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Luke Kuechly as a pro scout on Thursday. His new role will require plenty of film watching and advance scouting. Kuechly, who was also a five-time first-team All-Pro, retired after the 2019 season mainly because of multiple head injuries suffered throughout his career. He posted 100-plus combined tackles in every single one of his eight seasons in the NFL and also had 12.5 sacks, 18 interceptions and 66 passes defensed. In his prime, Kuechly was one of the best sideline-to-sideline linebackers. He turned 29 years old this past April. It's a shame we didn't get to see more of Captain America on the football field, but he should be a tremendous asset to Carolina's scouting team.
Cincinnati Bengals cornerback William Jackson III (shoulder) played with a torn labrum in his shoulder the entire season in 2019. "I don't know how I did it, but I did it. It was painful every game. I'm fully healthy and ready to go," Jackson said. The 27-year-old gutted it out through 14 games to record 37 tackles (26 solo), one interception and three passes defensed. It sounds like Jackson has recovered well and should be ready for the start of the regular season this fall. He could have a bounce-back year in 2020 if he's fully healthy, but Jackson hasn't ever been fantasy relevant in IDP leagues with just two career interceptions in 45 games for Cincy.
Chicago Bears free safety Eddie Jackson wasn't targeted all that much in 2019 (43 times) and his ballhawk rate (9.3 percent) won't turn many heads, but he allowed a passer rating of just 49.9 and a catch rate allowed below expectation of minus-20.9 percent. He had only two interceptions last season, but he's demonstrated a nose for the football in the past, as evidenced by his career-high six picks in 2018. A fourth-round selection by Chicago in 2017, Jackson has been a Pro Bowler each of the last two years and was a first-team All-Pro selection in 2018. He might be useful as a bye-week filler in deeper IDP leagues, but he's not an every-week starter. The Bears Defense, on the other hand, is a top-five fantasy unit that should rebound after a down season in 2019.
Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre'Davious White has become one of the league's best cover corners after being taken in the first round in 2017. He faced 84 targets last season and had six interceptions, 17 passes defensed, allowed a passer rating of (38.9) and a catch rate allowed below expectation (minus-8.4 percent). White had a tight-window percentage of 28.6 despite playing press coverage on opposing wideouts at a low rate. His ballhawk rate of 20.2 percent is close to that of Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who came in at No. 1 on NFL.com's Nick Shook's top-10 coverage men in 2019. Like Gilmore, White isn't much of an IDP star because QBs often avoid him, but Buffalo's defense overall should be seen as a top-five fantasy unit.
Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt has been impressed by quarterback Baker Mayfield's leadership during the offseason virtual program. Hes done everything Id expect from him as a starting quarterback," Van Pelt said. Mayfield also hosted a throwing session for around nine teammates in Austin, Texas. Van Pelt said that Mayfield has quickly grasped the new offense and is making strides with new West Coast footwork. Van Pelt has Mayfield leading with his left foot in the shotgun and is streamlining his footwork under center. He's also removing a big stagger step from his dropbacks. Mayfield was talked up prior to the 2019 season, too, and he disappointed in his second season. But the third-year signal-caller does have everything in place for a rebound and is in an offense that should cater more to his strengths, making him a value QB2 with upside for QB1 status by season's end.
Denver Broncos free safety Justin Simmons was only targeted 44 times in 2019, but he was very effective when he was the nearest defender on a target. His 34.1 percent ballhawk rate -- the percentage of targets where the nearest defender made a play on the football -- was the best among those meeting NFL.com's Nick Shook's criteria by more than six percentage points. Simmons' catch rate allowed below expectation wasn't all that impressive at minus-6.7 percent, but his tight-window percentage of 34.1 helped him allow a low 34.7 passer rating. The Broncos slapped the franchise tag on the 26-year-old and hope to iron out a long-term extension before July 15. Simmons is the strength of Denver's secondary now and is a fringe defensive back starter in IDP leagues.
New England Patriots defensive back J.C. Jackson posted excellent coverage numbers in 2019 despite starting only six games. His overall numbers were slightly better than teammate Stephon Gilmore, but Gilmore had almost twice as many targets (96 versus Jackson's 58). Jackson allowed the lowest passer rating (21.8) as the nearest defender in coverage among all defenders who qualified and the second-lowest completion percentage allowed. He allowed a passer rating of just 8.1 in press coverage and recorded all five of his interceptions while in press. And finally, Jackson had a perfect passer rating of 0.0 as the nearest defender on deep targets. He should see a much bigger role in 2020 for a Patriots Defense/special teams that is a top-10 fantasy unit.
New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore earned the top spot as the best defensive back in coverage in 2019, according to NFL.com's Nick Shook. He was the only player who faced 85 or more targets and didn't allow a single touchdown, and he also picked off six passes. Gilmore allowed the lowest passer rating (38) as the nearest defender in coverage among cornerbacks. His catch rate allowed below expectation (minus-11.8) was also the lowest among cornerbacks with a minimum of 300 coverage snaps. But like most elite corners, Gilmore lacks fantasy appeal because opposing quarterbacks often shy away from his side of the field. New England's strength will be on D again in 2020, though, and their defense/special teams unit is a top-10 fantasy option.
Philadelphia Eagles DE Josh Sweat could receive a bigger role in the defense this upcoming season after he had a solid 2019 season.
Philadelphia Eagles DE Genard Avery may only be used on special teams and as a pass rush specialist this upcoming season, in the opinion of The Philadelphia Inquirer's Les Bowen.
Seattle Seahawks running back Chris Carson used his explosiveness to shed defenders and turn upfield in 2019. He had 50 15-plus mph runs and averaged 4.3 yards gained after a defender closed within one yard of him last season. It helped him gain 1,230 yards on the ground despite not playing a full season because of injuries. Carson is coming off a season-ending hip injury, but although he's expected to be ready for Week 1, his explosiveness as a runner is tempered by the fact that he continues to struggle with injuries. If the 25-year-old can remain on the field for a full season, he should easily be an RB1, but you're much better off taking him as an RB2 and keeping your fingers crossed.
Free-agent RB Devonta Freeman (Falcons) would receive interest from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers if he lowered his asking price, according to head coach Bruce Arians.
Fantasy Spin: Freeman rejected an offer that would have paid him $4 million, so he may have to wait longer if he is looking for more than that salary. He would be part of a committee if he signed with Tampa but could lead the team in carries in that situation. Fantasy players should continue to monitor his status.
Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey comes in ranked ninth on NFL.com's Nick Shook's top-10 explosive runners of 2019, but he'll still be the No. 1 player selected in the vast majority of 2020 fantasy drafts. He reached 15-plus mph on 96 touches last season, which was the most in the NFL, with 52 of those touches coming on rushing attempts. McCaffrey had a 15-plus mph rate of 18.1 percent and was able to gain 10-plus yards on 31 of his rushes in 2019. The fact that he touched the ball so much brings his 15-plus mph percentage down on this list. But McCaffrey's superior abilities as both a runner and receiver make him stand out above the rest of the competition by a landslide.