Fantasy football season is just around the corner, and as you start to run mock drafts and find your sleepers you’ll be targeting in round 15 and on, it’s important to take a look at the incoming rookie class to see where you can get instant impact, who might be a good stash for your playoff push, and who to avoid entirely. Here we’ll go position by position with my top 3 targets at each position, and a dark horse option.
The main factor when selecting a rookie quarterback in fantasy is a simple one, who is actually going to be starting games for their team? As it stands right now, Joe Burrow is a lock to start for the Bengals day 1, and with a pretty solid cast of weapons including Tyler Boyd, AJ Green, Joe Mixon, Tee Higgins, and an offensive line that gets 2nd year left tackle Jonah Williams back, Burrow is set to put up solid numbers as a rookie, not to mention he adds value as a running quarterback. Tua and Herbert, will get a chance to start this year, it’s just a matter of when, as the Dolphins and Chargers both have solid veteran options in Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tyrod Taylor who can start and allow the rookies to sit and learn. Tua’s hip is looking healthy, so of the two, he’s more likely to start earlier.
Dark Horse: Jake Luton, Jacksonville
Luton makes the dark horse list due to the lack of QB depth in Jacksonville. Behind Gardner Minshew II, Luton is competing with Mike Glennon and Joshua Dobbs for the backup role. Odds are, either Glennon or Dobbs will be cut, and whoever stays as a backup still won’t give the front office a lot of confidence. If Minshew is hurt or, and hopefully he doesn’t, just sucks, then the Jaguars are more likely to try the rookie out. His chances of playing are higher in my opinion then guys like Jacob Eason in Indy, Jordan Love in Green Bay, or Jalen Hurts in Philly, and thus he earns the dark horse title. Don’t draft Luton.
Here’s where the fun begins. Running backs have such a huge impact in fantasy football and when you hit on a rookie, it can take you places, like when Ezekiel Elliot carried me to my 1st title in 2016. This year’s class offers a lot of potential, both day 1 and down the road for any keeper or dynasty leagues. Let’s start with Edwards-Helaire, the only running back this year drafted in the 1st round. From the best offense in college football where he emerged as a pass catching threat out of the backfield, Clyde the Glide will slide seamlessly into Kansas City’s offense, and you can expect him to catch 50-60 passes in year one. He’s a low end RB1 option and a solid RB2 for any PPR team. Akers is another guy who can expect a high workload early as he heads to the Rams, where he will replace Todd Gurley as their RB1. While Darrel Henderson and Malcolm Brown are there, Akers offers far more upside, and with him being the Rams 1st selection, they’ll want to get the most out of him early. He’ll see a high volume of carries, but behind a tough offensive line it won’t be fun to watch. Taylor will be competing with Marlon Mackin Indianapolis, and with his running style and the draft capital invested in him, I expect him to take over that job full time. Not to mention the Colts have a fantastic offensive line and an older quarterback, signaling a heavy run game. Other guys to draft and stash include D’Andre Swift, who is likely to take the starting role from Kerryon Johnson at some point this year, JK Dobbins, who is a clone of Mark Ingram and is one injury away from a full workload in the Ravens loaded running game, and Zack Moss, who will likely take on a lot of the red zone caries in Buffalo. This is a talented running back class, invest draft capital in it.
Dark Horse: Eno Benjamin, Arizona
Kenyan Drake was traded to Arizona last season and took the fantasy world by storm, and now the Cardinals have Benjamin, a productive, high character player out of Arizona State with similar measurables to Drake, as his backup. Should drake get hurt, Benjamin is a perfect fill in and the offense shouldn’t skip a beat. For PPR leagues, Benjamin caught 77 balls his last 2 years for the Sun Devils. If you have Drake, you will want to have Benjamin on the bench.
This historic wide receiver class is going to pop off this season, so choosing my top 3 was tough. If you saw one of my last posts, I had Pittman and Lamb making my all rookie team over Jeudy. I have thought on it a bit more, and with his route running and the number of weapons in Denver, I think Jeudy will have a chance to shine early. Courtland Sutton, Noah Fant, and deep threat KJ Hamler combined with a deadly running attack lead by Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay will prevent Jeudy from facing any double teams, and he should quickly become a favorite target for Drew Lock. Pittman steps into a Colts offense that needed receivers and size and will jump in as WR2 behind TY Hilton. Similar to Mike Williams in Los Angeles, Pittman should become a favorite target for Phillip Rivers early, and he offers a far better red zone threat. Lamb is headed to a perfect situation in Dallas, where he will have established receivers in Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup taking defenders off of him, allowing him to work on the outside and in the slot. Dallas will have no issue throwing the ball with all those weapons out there. Other receivers including Denzel Mims, Henry Ruggs III, Justin Jefferson, and Brandon Aiyuk should all also see heavy workloads early in the year. With the added depth from this draft class to this position, you will be able to find great depth pieces, and great flex options late in your drafts this year.
Dark Horse: Lynn Bowden Jr, Las Vegas
Lynn Bowden did it all at Kentucky, where he was a star receiver, then a running back and even a quarterback. Much like Taysom Hill, guys like Bowden who can do it all are dangerous, and if the Raiders can put the ball in his hands, he will have not only a significant impact on their offense, but on your fantasy season as well.
Unlike rookie wide receivers, 1st year tight ends rarely make a significant fantasy impact. We saw TJ Hockenson, who was taken 8th overall by the Lions in the 2019 NFL Draft, have a huge week 1 and then basically disappear the rest of the season. Noah Fant, the other tight end taken in the 1st round, didn’t make a strong impact until the last few weeks of the season. What I’m getting at is when you are looking to fill the tight end spot on your roster, don’t trust rookies. If you’re desperate or want to stash a player who maybe can make an impact later like Fant, then Kmet and Asiasi are your guys. Kmet comes into a crowded tight end room in Chicago, but he was their 1st draft pick in 2020, and GM Ryan Pace will want to see him on the field, so he will get his chances. Asiasi is quite the opposite, and is already being slated as TE1 in New England, so the reps will be there early for him, but with a new quarterback under center in Jarrett Stidham, it’s hard to say for sure that Asiasi will be a fantasy factor. Deguara also steps into a barren tight end room in Green Bay, but Aaron Rodgers usually doesn’t trust rookies. The moral of the story is, draft veteran tight ends, not rookie.
Dark Horse: Colby Parkinson, Seattle
Tight ends seem to do pretty well in Seattle, with Will Dissly and Jacob Hollister becoming solid fantasy options last season when healthy. While both should be back and Greg Olsen being added to the mix doesn’t exactly put Parkinson in a position to make an impact early on, none of those three are locked in starters. Olsen is at the end of his career and hasn’t managed to stay healthy, Dissly is coming off a torn Achilles, and Hollister simply isn’t an eye-popping option despite playing well down the stretch. Parkinson is a former 5-star high school recruit with solid athletic ability for the position, and is someone I can see easily sliding in to the TE1 spot in Seattle late in the year and becoming a red zone target for Russell Wilson. He may not warrant a draft and stash spot right now, but keep him on your watch list as we move toward the playoffs.
Image: (Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
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