Rookie Roulette – Gambling on the Rookies That Can Make an Immediate Impact

Author: Chris Wolf

Rookies are fun to debate for several reasons. There is the unknown, the uncertainty and the hope that it all works out for those that took a chance. More now than ever, we just don’t know what we’ll get with the incoming NFL rookie class. We can look back to the 2011 lockout for the last major abnormality in the NFL operations schedule.

That year’s rookie class recounts the confusing times where a player could not sign with his team after the draft, there were no UDFA’s, and a player was not allowed to be contacted by their team due to the union’s dispute.

Von Miller, 2011’s no.2 overall pick had this to say following the lockout ”Today feels like a holiday to me! Thank God for football.”

Thank God for football is right. We have been starving for anything football related during these tough times. We watched the 2020 “virtual draft” become the highest rated draft ever. We saw 6.8 million viewers tune in for two football legends playing the gentleman’s game in the rain, while cracking jokes and splitting pants. But the anticipation of this year’s season will be something special.

The stakes of this year’s off-season medical lockout are much higher than any contractual dispute, but the results may prove similar to 2011. There was an abnormal amount of early season injuries and just ugly, ugly play in the first few weeks. With the absence of rookie mini camps, no direct contact with their teams and self-supervised conditioning programs; the 2020 rookie class is facing an incredible uphill battle. Some players are able to provide early return on fantasy value while others don’t have such a direct path. Below are some players to take a gamble on as well as some to pass on.

Chalk:

These players are early picks that should produce in the beginning of season

Clyde Edwards-Helaire (RB-KC)

An absolute perfect fit for one of the most desirable landing spots in all of fantasy football. He has all of the tools needed for his role in Andy Reid’s offense and has drawn comparisons to fantasy stud Brian Westbrook. Damien Williams will be “the starter” but CEH will mix in early and often contributing to both the ground and air game.

Jerry Jeudy (WR-DEN)

Jeudy is a purist of a route runner. He brings a dimension to Denver that Drew Lock was obviously missing last year. Jeudy will make Drew Lock a better fantasy asset in year two and could push for the team lead in targets based on his NFL ready skill set. Denver’s passing attack under Lock accounted for just 61.1% of their plays but there is room to grow with the addition of Jeudy and KJ Hamler.

Jonathan Taylor (RB-IND)

While CEH may be the best all-around at the running back position, Taylor is the best pure runner in this year’s draft. He is a bruiser that seeks out contact and has the privilege to play behind one of the best run blocking offensive lines in the game. There’s competition for backfield touches with Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines but, there is plenty to go around for the Colt’s running backs. Taylor could realistically push for 250+ touches and should be taken in the top 20 RB picks and top 2 in rookie drafts.

The Colt’s Jonathan Taylor is poised to lead the Indianapolis stable of running backs in 2020.

Gamble:

These players may produce early but will probably take a little time to get going in year one

Cam Akers (RB-LAR)

As I previously wrote about here, Akers is a really good running back that has had the misfortune of running behind bad offensive lines. The Florida State offensive line had gotten absolutely bullied the last two years while the Los Angeles Rams offensive line did not fare much better. Akers was the No.52 selection in 2020 and will be splitting snaps with long time backup Malcom Brown and 2019 third rounder Darrel Henderson. Those two players have their respective strengths, but Akers can absolutely do it all. It would not be a surprise for him to obtain 60% of the backfield touches by mid-season.

Joe Burrow (QB-CIN)

Joe Burrow was an NCAA star. Joe Burrow will be an NFL star. Since making a deal with the devil in his senior season, Burrow lit up college football by completing the best statistical season ever. He has loads of talent surrounding him and an offensive staff that will utilize his field vision and quick release. He does not have a strong arm but his placement and timing more than makes up for it. As with any rookie QB, he will need time to acclimate to NFL life. Expectations should be tempered in the early going but Burrow has the tools to push into the top 12 QB conversation exceedingly early in his career.

Justin Jefferson (WR-MIN)

The No.22 overall pick filled a huge need for the Vikings. He projects to step in as a year one starter opposite Adam Thielen and could immediately garner 100-115 targets. He is a polished route runner with fantastic straight-line speed, but he may need a little time to get going. Like Burrow, Jefferson enjoyed late collegiate career success and will probably parlay that into a strong NFL career. But like most rookies, he will need time to gel with his team, coaches and new surroundings. He is in position to have one of the better seasons of this year’s rookie WR’s; it just might take some time to get going.

Bad Beat:

These are fantastic players in not-so fantastic positions for 2020

D’Andre Swift (RB-DET)

Swift was one of my favorite running backs in this year’s draft. It just breaks my heart to see him land with a team that has had such bad luck with recent running backs. Rushing for over 1,000 yards in his final two seasons after playing behind Nick Chubb and Sony Michel at Georgia, Swift is a very capable runner and a fantastic receiver. I hope he shines in Detroit, but you really can’t love the situation for 2020.

Jalen Reagor (WR-PHI)

The Eagles ranked 29th in WR catches last year. Desean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery have missed a total of 26 games in the last two seasons. It appears that Reagor landed in a fantastic opportunity but probably not for this year. Philly was at the top of the league in lining up in 12 personnel while also possessing a strong group of pass catching backs. Since injuries are assumptive and not predictive, you really cannot see a clear path to touches in this offense. If they do not get everyone healthy (or trade/cut someone) and open up their downfield offense, then maybe the No.21 overall pick can produce this year. He is a much better overall receiver than people give him credit for but maybe we will not see it just yet.

Brandon Aiyuk (WR-SF)

The Super Bowl silver medalists wanted to come away with a solid overall receiver in the draft. They succeeded by drafting the Arizona State product. Aiyuk had very respectable 2019 numbers in his final collegiate season posting a 65/1,192/8 line with a 18.3 ypr. Pairing any wide receiver to a Kyle Shanahan offense is normally smart money. This year may be tough though for Aiyuk to see ample targets. With the emergence of Deebo Samuel, the presence of coaching staff favorite Kendrick Bourne and the return of Jalen Hurd it may be a tough 2020 for Aiyuk. Oh yeah, there’s also all world tight end George Kittle and the league’s No.2 rushing attack to compete with as well. Aiyuk could very well push for the No.3 job this year but his production is sure to be limited early.

There’s roughly 70 days until the first preseason game. The much needed start to watching live football will be here before we know it. That goes for the 2020 rookies as well. With facilities beginning to open up and the players finally going to meet their coaches and teammates, the first year players will finally get a chance to experience what they’ve been waiting for their whole lives….to be on your fantasy football team.

Chris Wolf is a freelance writer for Dynasty Owner

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