Over the past few years, rookies have been a big commodity for fantasy football, and I love it. There is something about rookie selections in fantasy that is so tempting. Since you can get most rookies for a bargain, it feels good when you can grab one in the draft and at this point in the season, you are plugging them into your lineup every week.
It is no shock that each year you have new talent that comes in and changes the teams they are on. However, it is a shock when we look back and think about how cheap we could have picked these players in our fantasy drafts. In 2014, Mike Evans’ average draft position was around 100, and Odell Beckham Jr. largely went undrafted in fantasy that year. These players were game changers and still remain at a high level of value today. The next year, Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon both got plenty of respect going into their rookie season. Both of whom were being drafted, on average, within the 3rd to 5th rounds. However, Stefon Diggs, David Johnson, and Jay Ajayi essentially went undrafted in most drafts that year.
2017 Rookie Class
After consecutive years of rookie excellence, it led us to 2017, where we saw players like Kareem Hunt, who was drafted 86th overall and became a top five running back on the season. Evan Engram, who was drafted 23rd overall in the draft, and largely went undrafted in fantasy, became a week in and week out starter at the tight end position. Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Deshaun Watson, Evan Engram, Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Alvin Kamara, Cooper Kupp, Kareem Hunt, Kenny Golladay, and Tarik Cohen. This list leaves out a few players that would fall into this rookie class that are now having a profound effect in football, but I should get to my point.
Over the past few years, we have a boosted respect and a higher expectation for the incoming rookie classes. I noticed that it has had an effect on the drafting strategies for fantasy football players, especially this year. This year, the rookie class was hyped a great deal between the draft and the beginning of the season. The overall average draft rankings for rookie players this year were:
- Saquon Barkley (NYG): 7
- Royce Freeman (DEN): 54
- Kerryon Johnson (DET): 65
- Sony Michel (NE): 71
- Rashaad Penny (SEA): 95
- Ronald Jones (TB): 118
- Derrius Guice (WSH): 128
- Nick Chubb (CLE): 134
- Calvin Ridley (ATL): 135
- DJ Moore (CAR): 138
- Michael Gallup (DAL): 150
As you can see, rookies are starting to get more respect in fantasy football drafts. When you look at these draft positions, you can see that drafters are not taking much of a risk either. After all, the majority of these players were taken on average after the 8th round. Not a bad deal if you ask me. especially since your later round picks are your wait and see candidates. This year, we have already seen some of these rookies rise to a significant level, while others we are still waiting to see what happens.
Rookies of NFL Present
Saquon Barkley, NYG
Despite the clear friction amongst the New York Giants players, Barkley has been able to have the season we all expected from him. He is a game changing running back and is fitting in well with the Giants. As a fantasy asset, he has posted an average of 17.6 points a game, and has totaled 88.2 points in non-ppr format. Without a doubt, Saquon Barkley is a must-start and a top ten running back for the next few years. Even though it is clear that the Giants are going to make changes to their offense in the next few years. As a team, you can not have your top wide receiver and your quarterback at odds with each other. Even with the anticipated upcoming changes, I firmly believe that the Giants will be shaping their offense around the talent of Saquon Barkley.
Sony Michel, NE
Sony Michel has shown to be the mid-round draft pick that paid off. The first three games of the season, we didn’t see much from Michel. Then came Burkhead’s injury, Michel capitalized on this opportunity, and is now an effective starter at the running back position, posting 17 points in the last two games. As a starter, he has had 43 rushing attempts, leading to 210 yards, over two games. I have my eye on Sony Michel for the foreseeable future. He has shown the ability to compete at this level, and I fully expect him to improve as his career goes on. From a dynasty point of view, Michel is more of a question mark. He could take over as the go-to running back for the next couple of years. I am waiting to see what happens with the Patriots, so if you don’t want to deal with the unknown future for Michel, you might be able to trade him for someone like James Conner, who I anticipate will be the starting running back next year for the Steelers, after they lose Le’Veon Bell to free agency or a trade.
Calvin Ridley, ATL
Honest poll: Who guessed that Calvin Ridley would score a touchdown before Julio Jones would this season? No one? Well I’m not surprised, I certainly didn’t expect Calvin Ridley to have an effect on the Atlanta Falcons as soon as he did. I fully expected him to eventually become a star. Though he is proving to be the man in Atlanta, even with Julio Jones around. If you were able to get him in fantasy football this year, you probably got him for a really good deal. On average, he was drafted in the 14th round, and now he should be plugged into all rosters as a starter. Ridley is the prime example of what we love to see when we draft a rookie (spend very little draft capital and get 13 points on average per game).
Rookies of NFL Future
Kerryon Johnson, DET
We all want to see Johnson get more use. It is the same old story out of Detroit: a committee running back system. Guess who can’t stand running back committees? Me. I try to avoid these situations as much as I can, which is why I have high hopes for Kerryon Johnson for the future. He is getting an average of 5.7 yards per carry over 50 rushing attempts. It is only a matter of time before he gets the official starting role and starts getting 15-20 rushing attempts a game. In dynasty leagues, I have him stashed for the next couple of years because I really believe in Kerryon Johnson. When he gets the ball, I am impressed with his patience and his ability to get up to speed once he finds a gap. He even has the power you want to see from a running back. He practically ran through Jeff Heath of the Cowboys in week 4 to get his first touchdown.
Royce Freeman and Philip Lindsay, DEN
Didn’t I just say that I despise committee running back situations? Yes, I did, and my opinion hasn’t changed, but I have to put these two on this list together. I believe that one of these two will eventually become the starter for the foreseeable future. At some point, the opportunity is going to come when one of them cannot play in a game, giving the other the chance to step up. Royce Freeman is a larger running back, 6-foot 230 pounds, while Lindsay is smaller, 5 foot 8 inches, 190 pounds. So you can understand why most of Freeman’s fantasy points are coming from touchdowns. Essentially, it comes down to speed versus size and strength. In an article titled Broncos’ Freeman-Lindsay among NFL’s best rushing duos: Why their carries are limited by Kyle Fredrickson of the Denver Post, Fredrickson quoted Lindsay and Freeman. “It’s meant to put stress on people because you don’t know who is supposed to get the ball,” Lindsay said. “The possibilities are even higher for what we could run and being creative,” Added Freeman. You can get a take away from this article alone. You CAN NOT expect consistent fantasy output from either of these guys until one of them gets hurt or is limited. Once this happens, I predict a clear starting running back will emerge.
DJ Moore, CAR
I believe DJ Moore has a bright future in this league. Moore was the first wide receiver taken in the draft. Not that it means that he will be the best wide receiver in his draft class, but it means that Carolina intends to use him. With that, I believe this usage may be coming soon. Through the first three games of the season, he has only been targeted four times. He made two receptions for 54 yards, which is a sign that he can benefit from opportunity. Coach Rivera of the Panthers was quoted, “If there’s one thing we thought he could do, and I forgot what it was, but there’s a number where when he had the ball in his hands – yards after catch – those were pretty impressive,” Rivera said about the rookie [Moore]. “And some of those yards after catch where he was breaking tackles, he’s a good size receiver.” The bottom line is I have my eye on Moore from this point forward because he is making use of his opportunities, and he is starting to see more targets.
Honorable Mention: Christian Kirk, ARI
Unfortunately, I couldn’t bring myself to add a full section on Christian Kirk, because the situation in Arizona is overall bad. There is uncertainty at quarterback, Josh Rosen has only completed 25 passes over the past two games. So, I do think it is harder to see the true potential of Christian Kirk. Although, going into the 2019 season, I have high hopes for the rise of Christian Kirk after the departure of Larry Fitzgerald.