After one of the craziest, most arduous offseasons of all time, the 2020 NFL regular season is set to kick off this week. The reigning, defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans kick off the party on Thursday night before 26 more teams take the field on Sunday. To cap it all off, we have a Monday Night Football double feature. An exciting season lies ahead, particularly for the incoming group of rookies who had a significantly abridged offseason to get acclimated.
Each Wednesday, The Draft Network, in conjunction with Panini, will be taking a close look at three rookies on the rise in fantasy football. But since Week 1 is yet to be played, let’s start by looking at the top rookie at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver entering the season.
QB: Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft will be the only rookie quarterback starting in Week 1. While Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert may see action in the second half of the season, Burrow will get the jump on them both when he takes on the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday afternoon.
Burrow is one of the favorites to win the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award (along with the next player on this list) and will be asked to fix an offense that scored the third-fewest points (17.4 per game) and had the seventh-fewest total yards (323.1) in the NFL last season. Can he do it?
In Burrow’s favor are the other skill position players in Cincinnati. The wide receiver corps consists of A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, Auden Tate, and fellow rookie Tee Higgins—all quality options. Running back Joe Mixon is one of the league’s best at the position and was recently rewarded with a new contract. While the tight end position isn’t great, Drew Sample and C.J. Uzomah can hold down the fort in 2020.
To Burrow’s detriment is the offensive line. Former first-round pick Jonah Williams will effectively be playing his rookie season in 2020 after missing all of 2019 due to injury. If he’s the same player we thought the Bengals were getting when he left Alabama, the left tackle position should be fine. However, the rest of the group leaves a lot to be desired—PFF ranked them as the second-worst unit in the NFL heading into this season.
In the end, I settled on a projection of 3,800 passing yards, 24 passing touchdowns, and 16 interceptions for Burrow. Tack on about 300 rushing yards and two-to-three rushing scores and Burrow should be a top-20 fantasy quarterback this season.
RB: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs
Chiefs fans and fantasy football players were very excited when Kansas City used the last pick of the first round to add the LSU pass-catching back to the best offense in football. Damien Williams, the should’ve-been Super Bowl MVP and team’s starting running back, opted out of the 2020 season, leaving the full starter’s role in Edwards-Helaire’s hands. Dreams of Kareem Hunt’s rookie season are flashing through the minds of many fantasy managers.
Edwards-Helaire, the current OROY favorite, will be the first offensive rookie to take the field this season, so there will be plenty of time for overanalysis and nit-picking about his performance between the end of Thursday Night Football and Sunday’s 1 p.m. ET slate. The two things to keep a close eye on in September is the volume of his workload and when he comes out of games. Will Andy Reid try to limit Edwards-Helaire’s touches in general early in the season? Will he lean on backup Darrel Williams in obvious pass-protection situations?
Regardless, this should be a special season for Edwards-Helaire. My projection for him 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 productive and should be good enough to finish as an RB1. His stock couldn’t be any higher right now.
WR: Henry Ruggs III, Las Vegas Raiders
There are more names than you can count when it comes to potentially highly-productive rookie wide receivers this season. Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, Justin Jefferson, Michael Pittman Jr., Laviska Shenault, maybe even Van Jefferson… the list goes on and on. But the player I settled on for top rookie receiver was the first one taken in the 2020 NFL Draft, Ruggs.
The injury to Tyrell Williams leaves Las Vegas without a true No. 1 receiver. Ruggs, tight end Darren Waller, second-year slot Hunter Renfrow, and fellow rookie Bryan Edwards will have to shoulder the pass-catching load this season. I have Derek Carr projected for 533 pass attempts this season, with Waller (100) and Ruggs (90) leading the way in total targets.
Ruggs’ speed will stretch the field horizontally as much as it does vertically—especially given Carr’s typical depth of target—which should lead to plenty of YAC opportunities. Ruggs can truly be—and has to be—featured as an explosive playmaker in this offense. My preseason projection for Ruggs sneaks him into the top 40: 62 receptions, 868 receiving yards, and five touchdowns.