The start of the 2020 NFL regular season is only about two weeks away, and although we all hoped to see a lot more of the incoming rookie class this preseason, the current climate didn’t allow for that opportunity. Nevertheless, the abridged offseason/preseason process has not tempered the rookie hype, especially in the fantasy football world.
Rookie rankings typically drop in late April or early May, directly following the conclusion of the NFL draft and then are sprinkled in with all the other rankings throughout the summer. But it’s now late August and it’s time to take another look at rookies specifically, breaking them into tiers for the upcoming season. Who’s must-have and who’s a little overhyped?
1. Clyde Edwards-Helaire (RB - KC)
Although he was a bit overhyped early in the fantasy rookie evaluation process, the Damien Williams opt-out skyrocketed the former LSU product up draft boards. He’s going as the RB7 in ESPN leagues right now, and between RB6-RB11 on most sites. I have him ranked as my RB10 and No. 15 overall, but that’s lower than he’ll go in most drafts.
I did a full break down on July 29 of Edwards-Helaire’s value post-Williams’ opt-out. You can read that in full here—and I recommend that you do if you’re considering drafting him. If you’re someone who just likes to read the last chapter of a book, here’s where I arrived for his 2020 statistical projection:
Edwards-Helaire’s new projection based on his new workload is 186 rushing attempts, 61 receptions, 1,369 total yards, and 10 total touchdowns. It’s not Hunt’s rookie season, but it’s damn good. The 253.9 projected PPR points slot him at No. 10 in my RB rankings and No. 15 in my overall Top 200.
SECOND HALF DIFFERENCE-MAKERS
2. Jonathan Taylor (RB - IND)
There’s a very good chance we’re drafting Taylor in the second or third round of fantasy drafts next season, but for this year I’d take him late in the fifth or early in the sixth round as my RB26. My rank as the No. 61 overall player is about one round lower than his current ADP.
His size-speed-power combo portends NFL success rather quickly, as does running behind one of the best offensive lines in football. So why isn’t he ranked as an RB2 right away? Well, because there is a crowded backfield in Indianapolis and the Colts aren’t giving up on Marlon Mack right away. I don’t anticipate Mack donning a Colts uniform in 2021, but he’s still their starter heading into 2020 (for now). I expect Taylor to get the plurality of the running back touches in the second half of the season, becoming a weekly RB2 from that point forward. Just keep in mind he may not be a starting player in your lineup for at least the first month of the season.
3. D’Andre Swift (RB - DET)
Swift popped up on the injury report last week with a leg ailment, but it doesn’t appear to be too serious. As such, let’s keep the hype train rolling on the player many expected to be the first running back taken in the 2020 NFL Draft (it was Edwards-Helaire instead at pick No. 32). Swift projects as a future three-down back (and by future, I mean, like, Week 10) with the speed and agility to become a major pass-catching threat out of the backfield in addition to his ability to carry the load inside.
Like Taylor, Swift will likely be an every-week RB2 in the second half of the season, whether he rips the job away from Kerryon Johnson or if Johnson hands the reins over after suffering another injury. Swift ranks as my RB29 heading into the season, which is only a few spots lower than his current ADP (RB25). He’s a very worthwhile sixth-round pick that you can stash—he’s a great complementary piece for those who draft Todd Gurley, Chris Carson, or James Conner and have concerns about injuries.
4. Henry Ruggs III (WR - LV)
Ruggs is my top-ranked rookie wide receiver, and I’m incredibly fascinated to see how Jon Gruden and the Las Vegas Raiders use him. Despite him being the first wide receiver taken in the 2020 NFL Draft and being a speed demon from a very popular college (Alabama), he’s actually very reasonably priced in fantasy drafts. The big reason why is just the overall depth of the wide receiver position, but he’s my WR44 (No. 95 overall) going as the WR48 (No. 117 overall). Gruden will concoct ways to get the ball in Ruggs’ hands. Given the news that Tyrell Williams will try to play through a torn labrum this season, Ruggs figures to be a 90-target guy who may find himself in your starting lineup as a flex based on the matchup. He has the skill set to be a matchup-winner for you any given week.
5. Cam Akers (RB - LAR)
I’m asked about Akers quite frequently and he’s one of the toughest rookies to evaluate. On one hand, if he can become the lead back in Los Angeles, the potential production is massive and can put Akers right there alongside Taylor and Swift in RB2 range late in the season. However, the backfield is crowded. Malcolm Brown is the forgotten man who will get more work (particularly in goal-to-go situations) than many are anticipating, plus the Rams invested decent draft capital in Darrell Henderson one year ago and he’ll get work. This appears to be a true RBBC unless there’s an injury. I’m in wait-and-see mode, ranking Akers as my RB34 (No. 85 overall).
INTRIGUING, BEWARE OF OVERRATING
6. Ke’Shawn Vaughn (RB - TB)
There may be no more polarizing rookie in fantasy this season than Vaughn. I, personally, wasn’t a fan of the pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While running back will remain a need for Tampa Bay until and unless Ronald Jones proves he can be a lead back, Vaughn just wasn’t who I thought was the best fit. The Buccaneers didn’t have a chance to take either of the first three running backs on this list (they weren’t taking a running back at 13—or 14, if they didn’t trade up) which were all better fits, so they settled for Vaughn. That’s not to say Vaughn can’t become the guy in due time, but he doesn’t fill an immediate need outside of maybe being a returner. He’ll likely get 160-ish offensive touches when it’s all said and done, but I don’t expect him to be anything more than a bench option (RB37) or bye week flex fill-in unless Jones gets hurt.
7. Jerry Jeudy (WR - DEN)
Jeudy is a tremendous talent, but beware of overrating the Denver Broncos’ passing offense as a whole heading into the season. The Broncos will be a run-first team, leaning heavily on free agent addition Melvin Gordon and incumbent Phillip Lindsay to control the game. We also need to see how Drew Lock adjusts to the rest of the league adjusting to him after putting five games on tape last season. The Broncos’ offense as a whole could be very exciting, but everyone can’t eat and produce simultaneously. Jeudy will have big weeks, but so will Courtland Sutton and KJ Hamler. Jeudy is my WR48 heading into the season, which is about where his current ADP sits.
8. Justin Jefferson (WR - MIN)
Essentially, this section is just a repeat of what’s above. Jefferson is the talented No. 2 option on a run-heavy offense. The more he plays in the slot, the more productive he will be. He’s absolutely worth a bench flier and can be a matchup-dependent play during bye weeks, but he’s not putting up Stefon Diggs numbers this season. He probably would’ve been ranked significantly higher this season if the Philadelphia Eagles took him, but he’ll do just fine with the Minnesota Vikings in the coming years. He’s my WR49 heading into 2020.
9. Michael Pittman Jr. (WR - IND)
Let’s make it three in a row in order as Pittman comes in as my WR50. Given his pro-ready receiving traits, Pittman may have the highest floor of any rookie wide receiver this season, but his ceiling is much lower than any of the players we’ve talked about so far. I think Pittman can be the Mike Williams of this Indianapolis offense for new quarterback Philip Rivers and could potentially see a lot of work if T.Y. Hilton’s injury issues from this offseason linger. However, it’s hard to imagine Pittman being a better option than your current starters when active and healthy. Even with limited upside, his potential workload makes him just as good a flier as Jeudy and Jefferson.
10. Antonio Gibson (RB - WSH)
Following Washington’s release of Derrius Guice, Gibson is a player many in the fantasy community are excited about. He’s a dynamic player who looks to be the top pass-catching back in D.C. However, he must become a better pass-blocker if he wants to stay on the field—TDN’s Ben Solak rated it as his worst trait coming out of college. I’d take a chance on him at RB46, where I have him ranked. My recently released projection for him is as follows: 283 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns on 66 attempts, plus 38 receptions for 288 yards and a touchdown in the receiving game.
Check out my rookie sleepers column next week for additional discussion on first-year players not listed above.