Durgin’s Fantasy Sweet 16: Rookie Edition

In addition to covering the draft, I will be covering fantasy as well with (hopefully) weekly Friday posts. Call it #fantasyfridays if you will. Go ahead and get that hashtag trending. For the first piece I wanted to cover the rookies. Lots of upside here but even more uncertainty as to how many will be viable fantasy options for this season. Here I have listed, in order, of the most intriguing fantasy options. Not necessarily the best players, but the ones who you should look at if you want to be a champion in your league especially in the back end of your draft. Don’t forget, the money is in the crumbs. 

P.S. Shoutout to my guy David for the inspiration. I will still beat you in fantasy. 

  1. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, KC

Edwards-Helaire is an easy #1 on this list due to the fact he is in a great position to put up big numbers and also doesn’t have much competition. Last season, Chiefs running backs had 87 catches, despite not having a reliable threat in the backfield. The Chiefs have plenty of receiving threats meaning that Edwards-Helaire will have plenty of room to operate and won’t face stiff coverage. Andy Reid said on tape that his film is better than Brian Westbrook’s and Westbrook was routinely leading running backs in receptions and receiving yards during a time where the league was much more run/pass balance. He’s going to be a three-down player and a big piece of the high-powered Chiefs offense. A good RB2/Flex option that I would expect to be a late second/third-round pick in your fantasy draft. 

88% owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Round late2/3, top 16 Running Back

  1. Cam Akers, LAR

The Rams currently had no clear-cut starter at running back, so I imagine at worst that Akers will be splitting carries with Darrell Henderson. Henderson was a hot name last preseason as many thought he’d cut into Gurley’s touches, but alas he was mostly used in a reserve role. The team has seen him for a year and still took Akers with their first pick. They aren’t going to bench him much this year and will utilize him on all three downs. This offense has shown to be successful when trying to run, but with a weak offensive line, I would expect to see more passing opportunities for Akers which boosts his value even more. 

64% owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Round 7, Top 30 Running Back

  1. Jonathan Taylor, IND

While Taylor might not have the upside in ppr leagues that Edwards-Helaire has, but no other running back in this class might get the carries Taylor will. He does have to battle with Marlon Mack for carries, but Mack has also been injury prone and never played more than 14 games in a season. He’s never been pushed by another back and all it will take is an injury or rough start to Mack’s season for Taylor to take over. On a team that has one of the best offensive lines in the league and a coach that wants to run the ball, I would guess that Taylor will start with a minimum of 12 touches a game and by years end will be the lead guy getting close to 25 touches a game. He might not be a guy you start week one, but he’s a good value in the middle rounds that will develop into an RB2/flex by year end. The Colts also face four of the five worst rushing defenses from last season (The Jags twice) and also face the Texans twice who had the 8th worst rush defense. 

71% owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Round 7, Top 30 Running Back

  1. CeeDee Lamb, DAL

If Dallas is going to fully give the reins over to Dak Prescott to be the “guy” on offense like his new contract will likely indicate, the Cowboys will look to pass more than past years. Lamb is entrenched as the slot receiver and Mike McCarthy is known to run a lot of three receiver, pass-heavy sets. Kellen Moore also did a sneakily good job last year and ran more spread sets than past years. He got Randall Cobb, an aging player whose best years are well behind him, over 800 yards receiving. Cobb is not nearly as talented as Lamb and still got 83 targets last year. Assuming he stays healthy, I would think Lamb gets close to 100.  If we use that as a similar comparison, I see no reason for Lamb to do just as well as Cobb did a season ago, with Lamb being a better red zone opinion thus increasing his fantasy value. 

62% Owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Round 10, Top 40 Wide Receiver 

  1. Jerry Jeudy, DEN

Jeudy’s success will be predicated on the emergence of Drew Lock. If Lock is who the Broncos think he is, then Jeudy will be the best rookie fantasy receiver by far. If not, he still has the talent and the playing time that you want to see. I’d assume he’ll see 7-10 targets a game with a lot of big-play possibilities. On an offense where he’s not going to be the focal point at first, he’s going to see a lot of single coverage. Also to note, the Broncos are facing a lot of great offenses this year which means they could get involved in some shoot-outs. Jeudy is as pro-ready as they come at receiver and is already an established starter. Draft him as you WR4 and bank on his consistent production with a chance with steady WR2 production. 

62% Owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Round 10, Top 40 Wide Receiver

  1. Ke’Shawn Vaughn, TB

Vaughn wasn’t the sexy name for most in this draft, but he lands in one of the most ideal situations in Tampa Bay. He’s battling Ronald Jones and Dare Ogunbowale for playing time and neither of them has proven themselves to be a #1 back so far in their careers. In Bruce Arians vertical offense, a north-south runner like Vaughn will be appealing. However, this offense’s success will depend on Tom Brady, and what Brady loves to do is throw to running backs. No quarterback over the past decade has thrown more to running backs than Brady. So, there’s a very high ceiling with Vaughn to carve out a role as a third-down back or even play on all three downs. Also to note, the Bucs face the easiest schedule in terms of rush defenses from last season, so there’s going to be chances for the team to run the ball successfully. He’s a boom or bust prospect, but I’m willing to take a risk in the later rounds and stash him on the bench until he proves to get consistent playing time. 

52% Owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Round 9, Top 35 Running Back

  1. D’Andre Swift, DET

Swift’s role on the Lions solely depends on what the team thinks about Kerryon Johnson and also if Johnson can stay healthy. John has been seen as a breakout candidate for two years but has yet to find the consistency needed to be RB1. Also, he’s missed a chunk of the last two seasons with injury. Their skills also align for Swift to see a pass-catching role right off the bat, while Johnson is better in-between the tackles. I personally like Swift, as he’s the most talented back in this class, and will be on a bad team. That means there will be a lot of garbage time points to be had and that’s something Matthew Stafford has flourished fantasy-wise in the past. I think ultimately Swift and Johnson will hurt each other in terms of playing time, but all it takes is an injury or a few big games from Swift to become a 20+ touches a game player.

77% Owned in ESPN:  Where I’d draft him: Round 12, Top 40 Running Back

  1. Denzel Mims, NYJ

The most desirable fantasy value Mims provides is the fact that he’s almost a shoo-in to be a starter. The Jets don’t have a particularly good wide receiver room, so that means for better or worse Mims will be on the field a lion share of the snaps. Jamison Crowder is still likely to be the Jets leader in targets, but Mims has to be the favorite to have the most targets in the red zone. Crowder led the team last year with 16 and he’s a 5-9 slot receiver compared to 6-3 Mims. Another stat to note is that Mims led college football last year in contested catches and Sam Darnold has the accuracy, when given time, to fit passes into tight windows. I would expect Mims to go undrafted or be drafted in one of the last rounds. In the first four games, he faces 3 of the 4 best pass defenses from a season ago. However, from week 10-14 he faces four straight bottom ten pass defenses from last year. He will be valuable during the playoff push. By the end of the season, I fully expect Mims to become Darnold’s favorite target and that gives Mims high value in dynasty leagues. 

9% owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Round 10, Top 45 Wide Receiver

  1. Joe Burrow, QB CIN

I fully expect Burrow to be a bottom third quarterback in fantasy this season, but that doesn’t mean he won’t have value. His skill position supporting cast is actually solid with AJ Green, Tyler Boyd, Joe Mixon, and fellow rookie Tee Higgins and I fully expect the Bengals to be trailing in most of their games giving ample opportunities for garbage time points. We all know Burrow is deadly accurate and is willing to push the ball down the field. He’s an option in a two quarterback league and would be a solid option as QB2. I’d expect him to go undrafted or very late in your fantasy draft, but three of his first four games are against suspect defenses so he’s somebody you want to keep an eye on. 

47% owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Round 14, Top 24 Quarterback

  1. Michael Pittman, IND

While the Colts want to be a run-first team, they have a few intriguing receivers but none have the upside of Pittman. He’ll be battling Zach Pascal and Paris Campbell for targets behind top option T.Y. Hilton, but Frank Reich has already come out and said that he believes Pittman can be the starting “X” receiver right away. Two things give me optimism, Campbell and Hilton are more deep threats while Pittman will work the underneath routes and will see a higher volume of looks and also the fact that Phillip Rivers has had some success with rookie receivers. Keenan Allen, who has a similar skillset to Pittman, had over 1,000 yards and over 100 targets as a rookie. I won’t say he won’t duplicate those numbers, but there’s hope he’ll be a fantasy option.

22 % owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Round 14, Top 60 Wide Receiver 

  1. J.K. Dobbins, BAL

J.K. Dobbins was my favorite running back in this class and has a great chance to have the most long-term success, but he’s just simply not going to get the playing time fantasy owners will want this season. Mark Ingram is firmly established as RB1 in Baltimore and finished 11th in scoring last season for running backs in fantasy. As long as Lamar Jackson is the quarterback, they will be a run-first team and more than likely lead the league in rushing attempts. A season ago, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill combined for less than 200 carries. I would expect Dobbins, barring injury, to get between 120-160 carries which just isn’t enough to take seriously as a fantasy starter. One thing that does work in Dobbins’s favor, the Ravens have the easiest schedule in the league meaning that they should be involved in a decent amount of blowouts. In those games, it’s Dobbins’s chance to see a bulk of the carries in the later portions of the game. Dobbins is the top option out of anyone listed in a fantasy/keeper league and you can take a risk by taking him in the later rounds as he’s an Ingram injury away from being a top-15 fantasy running back, but I would target him at the very end of your draft. 

31 % owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Priority waiver pick-up, Top 55 Running Back 

  1. Henry Ruggs III, LVR

Ruggs may have been the first overall receiver taken, but I don’t believe his fantasy value will reflect that in year one. He’ll be used to stretch the field, but unfortunately for him, Derek Carr was towards the bottom of the league in air yards per attempt. Throwing deep isn’t his game and likes to attack on short and intermediate routes. Luckily, Ruggs has the speed to take any touch to the house which will drive fantasy owners crazy with his boom or bust performances. I compare his game to Tyreek Hill, who is one of the league leaders in yards per reception. He’s not as valuable in PPR leagues due to the aforementioned and because Darren Waller will see the most targets, but on any given week he can breakout making him worth a spot on your bench. 

72 % owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Priority waiver pick-up, Top 70 Wide Receiver 

  1. Justin Jefferson, MIN

Jefferson will be a popular pick to have a big rookie season due to the fact he will see a lot of playing due with Stefon Diggs being traded to Buffalo. He will see the second or third most targets on this team and that could elevate if Adam Thielen gets injured again. If Thielen stays healthy, there might be a learning curve for Jefferson who lined up in the slot 78% last season, which is where Thielen spent over half his time in 2017-2018. The Vikings will have a relatively balanced offense with Gary Kubiak taking over play-calling duties, so he might not see a ton of targets. I do like him in deeper, non-PPR leagues but the Vikings schedule does feature six of the worst pass defenses in the league from a season ago, leaving the possibility for production to be had. 

45% owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Priority waiver pick-up, Top 70 Wide Receiver

  1. Zack Moss, BUF

No mistake about it, the Bills want to be a run-first football team. It almost seems like Josh Allen is slowly becoming a Cam Newton-like player (that’s honestly the best-case scenario for Allen) but the Bills will most likely use multiple running backs to keep them fresh throughout the game. Devin Singletary is going to be the lead back (and someone you should draft early this year) but I fully anticipate Moss to be the Bills RB2. Singeltary is a smaller, more elusive option while Moss is a thicker and more in between the tackles runner, which fits more with what the team wants to do. While Moss won’t be highly valued in PPR leagues, he’s someone to track on the waiver wire. He has a clear-cut role it appears to get some playing time and if something were to happen to Singletary, he would become a must-start option. 

26% owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Round 14, Top 50 Running Back

  1. Tua Tagovailoa, QB MIA

The biggest unknown on this list could very well be a top fantasy rookie. I would be surprised if he actually started the season as QB1 but by the midseason I fully expect him to be the starter. The Dolphins face the toughest schedule in the league in terms of opposing pass defenses, but things do ease up a bit down the stretch. The first eight opponents had a team pass defense of 9th in the league, while the last eight opponents are an average of 15th in the league which will make Tua someone to look out for on the waiver wire. Also, Chan Gailey’s offense is a spread system that relies a lot on play-action which will give Tua the chance to attack down the field. He’s not a draftable fantasy option quite yet, but when he becomes a starter then he has good upside as your QB2. 

13% owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Priority waiver pick-up, Top 32 Quarterback 

  1. Brandon Aiyuk, SF

By the midway point of the season (if not sooner) Aiyuk will be starting across from Deebo Samuel as the 49ers starting receiver. Put that in sharpie, it’s happening folks. While the 49ers are still a run-first team that will use that to incorporate play-action looks to Kittle mostly, Aiyuk has value because of his RAC ability. He will be used a lot in motion so that will grant him a free release at the line and since the team lacks a true deep-threat, I anticipate Aiyuk becoming that. He might not light it up for the first few games, but it took half the season for Samuel to get consistent playing time. Shanahan says the Aiyuk was his favorite receiver in the entire draft and an innovative player-caller like Shanahan wouldn’t say that if he didn’t have big plans for the youngster from Arizona State. He will get I suspect most of the targets that went to Emmanuel Sanders, who saw about six targets a game. I wouldn’t draft him, but he’s a guy you’ll want to keep an eye on once bye weeks start. 

11% owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Priority waiver pick-up, Top 70 Wide Receiver