Rookies that could be major fantasy contributors year one
Written by: Zachary Dennison
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In fantasy football we see people treat rookies in a lot of different ways, we have those people in our fantasy leagues that always draft rookies really high or a bunch all together. I had a guy in my fantasy league last year take 4 rookie wide receivers on his team. It’s hard to gauge rookies but I will say if you don't pay attention to college football, the NFL draft or to fantasy podcasts that help you pick out these rookies then it could be very tough to pick the right one. A lot of the time the best rookies in fantasy football year one aren't 1st round picks, for example Jonathan Taylor, Antonio Gibson, Cam Akers near the end of the year, Chase Claypool and even though he was a first round pick he was the 5th taken at his position in Justin Jefferson who had one of the best rookie seasons in NFL history. These guys all could have helped people win their leagues last year and most were taken later than the 6th round in fantasy drafts, Taylor and Gibson did start to rise up boards late in the fantasy draft season but all ended up being steals by the end of the season.
Finding really good running backs in fantasy can be tough, health is always a factor, if they're involved in the passing game or if they get the red zone opportunities all matter. Rookie running backs always seem to get drafted all over the place, we saw Jonathan Taylor climb up into as high as the first 3 rounds last year and even saw C.E.H climb into the first round in drafts. So here we go again, now I don't think we’ll see any RBs sneaking into the first round in fantasy this year but we will definitely see them climb in drafts. My RBs are going to start with a familiar name then we are going to get into some guys you probably haven’t heard of till now unless you follow college or the draft. Definitely monitor these names throughout the off-season and if there RB rooms clear up more they could become amazing values and steals in the draft.
A very physical running back with great hands has been receiving a lot of Matt Forte comps this offseason. With his running and pass catching ability I really like Najee Harris this year, especially as one of the top RB of his class. More and more lately these rookie running backs are getting a lot of carries early and often. Najee has the body to hold up early in the NFL and didn’t rack up carries for a majority of his college career. Not till his senior year when he had 400 plus touches this past year. Some weaknesses he has to take care of are mainly trying to not run into contact and try to break more tackles. He does come into the league significantly older than the other prospects being 23 years old, but that should bode well to his rookie season being a big one. Going to the Steelers provides him with one of the biggest components needed for a big fantasy season opportunity. Talent and Opportunity are the big ones when it comes to any fantasy star or breakout season, and that’s what I see coming from Najee Harris. The big knock I've heard is that the Steelers O-Line is still awful, and that they didn't do too much in the draft to fix it after losing multiple starters. But I go right back to opportunity, with a slower pocket passing QB there and no other competition at RB he will get work in both the passing game and the red zone. He should get 300+ touches in this offense and that will lead to a great rookie season, get as many shares of him in you're redraft leagues as possible.
Before the draft started I had a whole section written about his UNC teammate Javonte Williams, I thought he was going to be a steal and go to a great situation, but he went to the Broncos and I had to delete it all. His teammate Michael Carter though was drafted to a... (I can't believe I’m about to say this) but a great situation on the Jets. With no competition there, that’s opportunity and actually out-performing his teammate on a per-touch basis, that’s talent. This has all of the makings of a guy you're going to be able to get late in your fantasy drafts that's going to well out perform his ADP. He was used in the passing game and run game at UNC, he is a littler more compact, built like Kamara was out of college. He will become a nice security blanket for Zach Wilson there, and if he is able to hold up throughout the 17 game season he could be in the category of league winner at seasons end. Can’t believe I’m saying this about a Jets player or the team in general but they had a good draft and they might actually have some fantasy options on this team.
Just Missed the Cut
Travis Ettiene - People out here are thinking he is just going to take a lead back role here, guys the disrespect for James Robinson is getting crazy. James Robinson killed it all last year and will be the starting back when the season starts. I always say for a fantasy star you need talent and opportunity, while Ettiene has the talent, just not the opportunity. Meyer already has a vision for this RB room, that’s Robinson as a 1st and 2nd down back, Ettiene as the 3rd down guy with Carlos Hyde being sprinkled in there in the red zone and short yardage situations.
Javonte Williams - Another one who has all the talent to be a star RB in the league, but again he has an opportunity problem with Melvin Gordon ahead of him in the depth chart it could be a rocky start. I do think he has a chance to be a fantasy superstar and might be even better than anyone else on this list. If Gordon gets hurt in the preseason or offseason you could see a J.Taylor like rise in drafts, that’s how close he is to being a league winner. I will have plenty of shares of him if he could be one of my RBs on the bench.
Trey Sermon - This pick is definitely more of a sleeper pick for drafts, he does not have the greatest path to opportunity, but this backfield will start to clean itself up as the offseason and preseason goes on. He could easily take over this backfield as part of a 1-2 punch between him and Mostert, he is young, talented and in a Shanahan system. He is perfect for this system as a one-cut back, and if he stays healthy unlike all the other 49er running backs last year, he could definitely have his shares of breakout games early in the season. This backfield will always be very frustrating to deal with but hopefully with the young healthy rookie they could have someone that could breakout at the end of this year.
All 3 of these guys are going to be good dynasty picks in those rookie drafts, cause they both could end up having the starting job next season, and if either James Robinson, Melvin Gordon or Raheem Mostert go down with injury or start playing inefficently, we could see any of these guys take a major role, its just a harder path to guarenteed touches, then the other guys on this list.
Now this isn’t a pick that’s going to surprise anyone, he is the best TE prospect to come out of the draft in the past decade. Considered a can’t miss prospect, he will blow by linebackers and will out muscle any defensive back. He should get plenty of targets and with the TE position being so shallow with only three guys you can truly trust in fantasy this year. Pitt’s is 1000% worth the risk and should be drafted as a TE1. It is tough to find weaknesses for this guy on tape, it would probably be his blocking ability but even that is pretty average and could easily be improved with the help of a good TE coach. Going to Atlanta is a dream scenario for any offensive player let alone a generational talent, getting Matt Ryan who has played with an all timer in Tony Gonzalez, there are other high end weapons so not all the attention is on Pitts. If the rumors are true and Julio could be on his way out after June 1st, this could lead to an opportunity most rookie TEs never see and that's 100+ targets. Watch out my early rankings I’m creating now are before my projections have Pitts at 5 right after Andrews, and if Julio is out of there he could easily climb to 4.
Oh wow Zach you put the number 4 pick and number 5 pick in the draft as the first two pass catchers on your list, so original. Now I know that I’m not giving you ground-breaking analysis here; these guys both are super talented players and are getting a big opportunity. But the Bengals were near the top of the league with teams using 3 receiver sets, and with Chase’s talent and previous connection with his college teammate Burrow he could have a record setting season for the Bengals which is what he has already predicted. He will be playing outside on the other side of Tee Higgins but with a spread out offense with this much talent around if Burrows gets the protection he needs this year the Bengals offense could actually be really good this year. Looking through past drafts receivers getting drafted in the top 5 have turned in really good rookie seasons in fantasy, Chase could easily be over drafted in your drafts but if your able to scoop him up on your bench he could have a breakout rookie season with Burrow and be an every week start on your team down the line.
Here we go again another shocker on the list here, the Heisman trophy winner Devonta Smith, really been going out on a limb here. For people that know football, follow the college game and the NFL draft these names may seem obvious to you, but they might not be the first names that come to mind in your draft. But they should, we saw rookie receivers tear up the league last year and we’ve seen it the last couple of years, these rookie pass catchers are getting lots of opportunity, coming with a lot of talent. Smith could be a steal even in your drafts, people have been all worried about his height and weight but this dude is a certified baller. He is only fighting guys like Jalen Raegor and Travis Fulgham for playing time, now Fulgham played fine last year but neither of those guys are Smith. Devonta Smith is an amazing route runner and separator, he glides out on the field. Now we still don't know what Jalen Hurts is going to be in the NFL but he has played with Smith before at Alabama, and Smith should come in immediately as a #1 receiver for this team. If his body holds up for the entire season you could be looking at a rookie season comparable to Justin Jefferson, and be the best of all these guys. He will probably be one of the guys that can be drafted in the 10th round or later in drafts in your home/casual leagues, so if your able to get him as a WR off the bench that will be a great value and maybe even in contention for league winner.
Terrace Marshall Jr
This was one of the day 2 picks and finally a name that not everyone has heard of, but his talent is real and he is coming from the new Wide Receiver U, LSU. He was stuck on the depth chart behind Ja’marr Chase and Justin Jefferson, but he might be just as special, standing 6’3 205 lbs. He has speed to go down the field, the ability to go up and get balls in traffic over defenders, and he plays in the slot where the Panthers just lost Curtis Samuel. They have a QB now that is willing to throw it down field and loves throwing to his slot receiver in Sam Darnold, he is a gunslinger and able to move outside the pocket and improvise. Marshall Jr did fall in drafts due to his injury history, and his most recent knee injury which has some not liking what his longevity in this league looks like. But we’re not talking about his future or anything about his future in the league, we are talking about his rookie season. Once we start seeing ADPs we will be able to tell his real value, but he could easily rise or fall on draft boards as the offseason goes on, but for now we will have him penciled in as one of your last picks and maybe the last guy on your bench. I think as long as he is healthy which is a big IF he could put together a really nice fantasy season and continue the tradition of LSU wide receivers coming into the league and absolutely dominating his rookie year.
Just missed the cut
Rondale Moore - If the WR room starts to show their durability issues in Arizona, Moore could easily come in and be productive, with an often injured AJ Green and Christian Kirk. He probably won't be drafted in fantasy but watch for him on your waiver wire if any of those WR go down.
Josh Palmer - I really love that the Chargers got this kid, a team that’s looking for a more consistent guy at the #2 spot, love Mike Williams but he is always hurt, he plays through it but is always getting hurt on those toss up balls. Palmer has sure hands, a lot of speed to beat any corner and to take those slants to the house. He might be the last guy on you're bench, but he has the upside to be the #2 on this team, and if Williams gets hurt again this guy could take over.
Amon-Ra St.Brown - This might be my favorite pick to be a sleeper and I could see myself having plenty of him by the end of the fantasy season. He has all the talent in the world and a massive opportunity, with no real competition there at WR in Det, and a new QB there who hasn't had time there to have a favorite target. He missed the cut due to his lack of high upside, no real break-away speed and not great height, he might not be a superstar but he could be a fantasy star.
Amari Rodgers - Who knows how this situation works itself out, if Aaron Rodgers leaves, disregard this pick. But if he’s back there are still plenty of ??? but we know Aaron loves his slot guys like Randal Cobb, and Rodgers could easily take over that role there, especially since Randall Cobb has been a mentor for Amari growing up. Now if Rodgers gets traded and they dont get a bridge QB in return then dis-regard this pick.
There are so many Wide Receivers in this draft that have a path to a lot of opportunity, so I'm sure there will probably be a break out player that is not on anyones boards coming into the season. We will see how this all shakes out in pre-season and if any of these young guys build early chemistry with their QB, this season is going to be crazy and with an extra game on the season and less pre-season games we will be in uncharted territory for parts of this 2021 season.
If you have any questions for me or if you want to discuss this at all, my DMs are always open give me a follow and lets talk fantasy