The excitement of a new fantasy football season comes with renewed enthusiasm to tap into NFL offensive rookies who can have immediate impact. Whether you’re in a redraft, dynasty, or keeper league, rookies represent the hope of finding fresh starters providing a big statistical boost. The most hyped first-year players, like Clyde Edwards-Helaire, will cost you a high draft pick, but many come at a lower-tier discount and qualify as “deep sleepers” or “lotto tickets,” and you have little to lose by drafting one.
Some fantasy football managers get obsessed with drafting and adding rookies because they love upside. Other fantasy football managers like to avoid rookie running backs, wide receivers and quarterbacks because they represent unknown quantities — and prefer to stack rosters with “tried and true” veterans.
There’s no right answer on how many rookies a manager should target because the depth of the rookie talent pool varies across positions in a given year. Updated with what we know about the 2020 rookies and their current situations through the middle of training camp, here’s how they stack up against each other, with both short- and long-term value in mind:
Fantasy Football Rookie Rankings 2020: Draft ’em
1. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Chiefs
Edwards-Heiaire’s stock has shot up since Damien Williams’ decision to opt out for the season, putting him in prime position to be a heavy-touch lead back in a premier offense. He has higher value in PPR because of his elite pass-catching skills, but he can also help Patrick Mahomes finish a lot of drives with TDs. Draft him as a RB1.
2. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Colts
Taylor is looking at an initial timeshare on early downs with Marlon Mack, and Nyheim Hines is still there to contribute in a dedicated receiving role. That said, the former Wisconsin feature back is the Colts’ only complete option and should see an increasing amount of touches after the early spit. Taylor’s value is boosted by being in an elite high-volume rushing offense. Draft him as an RB2.
3. D’Andre Swift, RB, Lions
Swift has less competition for significant touches in relation to Taylor, given Kerryon Johnson, who’s had knee-related durability issues, is the Lions’ other young option. Previous recent Georgia backs (see Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel) also have turned their pedigree into good fantasy value early, The one issue is how well you trust Detroit to run the ball better in 2020. Draft him as an RB2.
4. Cam Akers, RB, Rams
Akers, with Darrell Henderson coming off an ankle injury as.a second-year change-of-pace and veteran Malcolm Brown being a simple power back with little upside, has a good chance to take over something close to feature duties sooner rather than later with his somewhat untapped skill set Sean McVay has said the Rams are comfortable with a committee replacing Todd Gurley, but Akers can do everything they need to lean back toward a primary one-back approach. Draft him as an RB2.
5. J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ravens
Dobbins is an extremely talented back Baltimore didn’t expect to draft. As a luxury pick for the league’s most prolific rushing offense with Lamar Jackson, the key for Dobbins’ returning rookie fantasy value close to his massive upside is getting significant opportunities along with or ahead of Mark Ingram. Because the Ravens can run so well, Dobbins has a nice flex floor with a chance to do a whole lot more. Draft him as a RB3.
6. CeeDee Lamb, WR, Cowboys
The Cowboys will continue to employ a lot of 11 personnel under offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and trust Dak Prescott to remain a prolific passer, now armed with his third top weapon to join Amari Cooper (a WR1) and MIchael Gallup (a WR3). The Cowboys have 190 vacated targets with Randall Cobb and Jason Witten gone, second-most in the NFL. There’s room for an elite talent such as Lamb to produce pleasing fantasy results, too. Draft him as a WR4.
7. Ke’Shawn Vaughn, RB, Buccaneers
Vaughn has had a tough rookie offseason because of the virtual program and beginning camp on the reserve/COVID-19 list. There’s not complete trust he can handle either the early-down or passing-down role consistently enough to the liking of coach Bruce Arians, who for now is sticking with Ronald Jones in the lead and tabbing Dare Ogunbowale for more receiving duties with Tom Brady. The team also signed fading veteran LeSean McCoy for further insurance. But it’s not like Jones inspires much confidence, McCoy has much left, or Ogunbowale is capable of an expanded role. The offense may turn to Vaughn’s versatility and fresh legs at any point, making him worth a high-end stash. Draft him as a RB4.
8. Zack Moss, RB, Bills
So much for Devin Singletary getting a chance to greatly build on his 15 rookie touches per game in something resembling a feature role with Frank Gore gone. Enter Moss to take over the power-running duties as Buffalo forms another committee. Singletary will be the receiver of choice out of the backfield, but Moss also has some viable skills in that area. Draft him as an RB4.
9. Joe Burrow, QB, Bengals
Burrow takes over Zac Taylor’s offense from Andy Dalton, who finished as QB20 in terms of average fantasy points per game last season. That offense is improved with a healthier line, more receiving depth with A.J. Green and Tee Higgins, and solid returning receiving backs in Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard. The Bengals have a defense in transition and should be throwing often, and Burrow can handle that kind of volume. He makes for a high-end fantasy backup who can creep into the back-end QB1 conversation at some point. Draft him as a QB2.
10. Jerry Jeudy, WR, Broncos
Jeudy is set to be the No. 2 outside receiver opposite Courtland Sutton, but the Broncos are breaking in a new offense with Drew Lock and have admitted it hasn’t been the easiest on the rookies. They also have tight end Noah Fant, fellow rookie K.J. Hamler and DaeSean Hamilton in the receiving mix for Pat Shurmur’s 11 personnel. They also still figure to remain run-oriented with Melvin Gordon joining Philip Lindsay and Royce Freeman. That all gives Jeudy somewhat limited upside at first. Draft him as a WR5.
11. Henry Ruggs III, WR, Raiders
The Raiders drafted Ruggs to fill the spot that was never really occupied by Antonio Brown. Ruggs is a speedy big-play receiver who doesn’t have the best big-play QB situation, but he can make it up for it with heavy starter snaps outside opposite Tyrell Williams and in the slot ahead of Hunter Renfrow in some sets. The Raiders want to use more 12 and 13 personnel with Witten joining Darren Waller and Foster Moreau. Waller returns as Derek Carr’s top target, and both Josh Jacobs and Jalen Richard will catch plenty out of the backfield. Ruggs steps into a crowded AFC West situation, so also temper your early expectations for him. Draft him as a WR5.
12. Justin Jefferson, WR, Vikings
Jefferson has a direct path to the starting lineup, replacing Stefon Diggs opposite Adam Thielen with limited competition in Tajae Sharpe and Olabisi Johnson. But the Vikings will remain an effective run-heavy team with the most limited usage of 11 personnel, which won’t facilitate the transition for Jefferson, who exploded as a dedicated slot receiver at LSU. He will make his share of big plays and be involved often — his inexperience just suggests it won’t be anything resembling Diggs’ 2019 production. Draft him as a WR5.
13. Michael Pittman Jr., WR, Colts
Pittman has gotten high praise from coach Frank Reich because of his size, hands, vertical speed and toughness. That makes him the ideal “X” receiver outside opposite T.Y. Hilton, ahead of re-signed Zach Pascal with second-year quickster Parris Campbell tabbed for the slot. The Colts, in transition at tight end with Philip Rivers, should adjust to using more 11 personnel. Regardless, given Hilton’s age and durability issues, Pittman could easily end up looking more like their No. 1 for their new QB at some point. Draft him as a WR5.
14. Antonio Gibson, RB, Washington
Is Gibson a running back or wide receiver? Ron Rivera and Scott Turner see him as a bit of both, with some of the short-area quickness and speed attributes of Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel. Without Derrius Guice, Gibson has a chance to be the top change-of-pace tailored to the passing game ahead of J.D. McKissic to replace Chris Thompson. While Adrian Peterson works to hold off Peyton Barber and Bryce Love for the main early-down work, Washington will find ways to deploy Gibson’s big playmaking, as it has little sources of that for Dwyane Haskins after Terry McLaurin and Steven Sims Jr. Gibson has a lot more intrigue in PPR formats. Draft him as a RB5.
15. Jalen Reagor, WR, Eagles
Reagor is another speedy field-stretcher from a deep wideout class. With DeSean Jackson back healthy from core muscle surgery to return as Carson Wentz’s primary deep-threat “Z” receiver, Reagor was set to be brought along behind him in that role. Reagor isnt really a slot option, and the Eagles figure to remain 12-personnel leaning with tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. With the early status of Alshon Jeffery (foot) iffy, that could give Reagor opportunities, but second-year receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside may be preferred for that “X” spot outside. Reagor likely needs Jackson to be shelved to return good rookie value, but he has a bright future beyond this season. Draft him as an WR6.
16. Brandon Aiyuk, WR, 49ers
Aiyuk may need to see a larger role in replacing Emmanuel Sanders with Deebo Samuel likely to miss some early time with a foot injury. Coming off core muscle surgery and inexperienced in a complex offense, Aiyuk may need a little time to transition into a reliable NFL big-play threat. The key for Aiyuk while Samuel is out is proving that he can be trusted outside in two- and three-receiver sets, eventually ahead of Kendrick Bourne with Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd toggling in the slot. There are a lot of mouths to feed here, however, led by tight end George Kittle. Draft him as a WR6.
17. A.J. Dillon, RB, Packers
Dillon is going nearly two rounds ahead of Jamaal Williams with the assumption he has more upside as Aaron Jones’ backup. That’s true to some degree because as a strong power runner, he can also provide the same burst Jones does on early downs. On the other hand, Dillon can’t replace Jones as a effective pass-catcher and pass-protector for Aaron Rodgers the way Williams can. As long as Williams remains on the team, Dillon is more of a stash who can only have a big role in case Jones has to miss time. Draft him as a RB5.
18.. Darrynton Evans, RB, Titans
Evans replaces Dion Lewis behind reigning NFL rushing champion and fantasy stud workhorse Derrick Henry. Evans is a capable receiver and a major upgrade in terms of being able to explosively run when filling for Henry. Evans won’t have too much standalone value, even in PPR, but he makes for a must-have, high-end handcuff for all who draft Henry — and a solid lottery ticket for those who don’t. Draft him as a RB5.
19. Joshua Kelley, RB, Chargers
Austin Ekeler had a highly efficient season in 2020, turning his average of 14 touches per game into 1,550 scrimmage yards and 11 TDs. He will be their non-traditional lead back, certain to see their primary receiving work. But with Melvin Gordon gone, the Chargers have 191 vacated carries, fifth most in the NFL. Justin Jackson, who filled in well for Gordon in stretches when healthy himself, is in line to get the first shot at the bulk of them. But Jackson isn’t the most durable back and Kelley has more big-run juice. Kelley might be a handcuff to half a committee, but he’s a worthy stash. Draft him as a RB6.
20. Anthony McFarland, RB, Steelers
The team isn’t fully trusting in James Conner as a feature back and don’t want to overload him. When Conner broke down with two injuries last season, they got limited early-down power and receiving results, respectively, from Benny Snell and Jaylen Samuels. They want more ability to reel off long runs and a fast change of pace in relation to Conner. McFarland is limited as a receiver, but like Kerryth White, his speed is a real asset that can get him opportunities behind Conner ahead of Snell and Samuels, who faces the real possibility of being cut. Draft him as a RB6.
Fantasy Football Rookie Rankings 2020: Watch ’em
21. Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Jaguars
The Jaguars have DJ Chark as the No. 1, but their No. 2 option, slot receiver Dede Westbrook, is coming off a dropoff season. Chris Conley had a decent first season In Jacksonville, and Keelan Cole is still around for now. Thompson and Tyler Eifert add two more new options in the mix for Garnder Minshew. If Shenault can shake off his injuries, he will get chances to be a big-play factor. The amount of those chances will depend on whether things break down ahead of him short of Chark, as Jacksonville doesn’t have the most durable core of veterans.
22. Tee HIggins, WR, Bengals
Higgins is expected to start in the Bengals’ 11 personnel opposite A.J. Green along with slot ace Tyler Boyd, ahead of Auden Tate and John Ross. The Clemson product has a nice combination of big-play speed and size for the red zone. Higgins is set up to produce in flashes; the substance will come only with clarity in the pecking order, where he’s currently behind Green, Boyd and the running backs.
23. Lamical Perine, RB, Jets
Adam Gase did add old friend Frank Gore behind Le’Veon Bell, the back he’s learned not to hate. But Gore is 37, coming off a season where he looked washed with the Bills, and Gase doesn’t always have the warmest feelings toward Bell, who is unlikely to be in the team’s plans in 2021. So, there’s a chance this backfield could be handed off to Perine at some point in the second half of the season.
24. Bryan Edwards, WR, Raiders
Edwards was the other very talented wideout the Raiders took behind Ruggs. He has the size, hands, and underrated speed to take over the starting role occupied by Tyrell Williams, even sooner rather than later given Williams is coming off a tough foot injury. Between Williams, Ruggs, Renfrow and Nelson Agholor, how the Raiders will exactly line up in two- and three-wideout sets has become a greater mystery. Should Edwards solve some of it by starting somewhere and getting regular snaps with Ruggs, watch out.
25. Denzel Mims, WR, Jets
Who’s excited for the Jets’ passing game with Sam Darnold? Jamison Crowder figures to remain the go-to guy in the slot while Breshad Perriman replaces Robby Anderson as a more well-rounded deep threat. Also, don’t forget about tight end, where the Chris Herndon hype train is starting to gain steam again and Ryan Griffin still can be a factor. Bell also isn’t going anywhere as a dump-off outlet. Mims needs a lot to break in his favor to be more than a production blip as a rookie.
26. Chase Claypool, WR, Steelers
The Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger coming back to throw often to JuJu Smith-Schuster, and it’s clear second-year man Dionate Johnson will be their high-upside No. 2. But because Smith-Schuster is such a dominant force in the slot, the Steelers need to find the right option opposite Johnson in 11 personnel. With James Washington fading and having limitations as a big-play threat, starting camp on COVID-19, and not always having the biggest fan in Big Ben, don’t be surprised if Claypool — with exceptional speed to go with great size (6-4, 238 pounds) — jumps him for that No. 3 deep-threat role.
27. K.J. Hamler, WR, Broncos
Hamler is dealing with same crowd Jeudy is as a rookie. Hamler is an after-the-catch and field-stretching playmaker whom the Broncos will want to deploy inside, but DaeSean Hamilton finished last season well out of the slot with Drew Lock, albeit in a different offense. Take a wait-and-see approach with Hamler’s role.
28. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Dolphins
The Dolphins’ QB competition is “open”, but Tagovailoa is fully expected to sit behind Ryan Fitzpatrick for a while. Fitzpatrick can remain the ultimate bridge with his knowledge of Chan Gailey’s offense with one year left on his contract to buy Tagovailoa time to bury his durability issues and develop as a pro passer. Watch for Tagovailoa getting a shot in the second half of the season at a time when Miami is out of playoff contention.
29. Justin Herbert, QB, Chargers
Herbert isn’t really in a competition as Tyrod Taylor will be the Chargers’ starter, given his experience with his teammates and offensive-minded coach Anthony Lynn. The Chargers are hopeful to get back into playoff contention, so if Taylor’s healthy in the final year of his contract, there would much less of a chance for Herbert to see the field in 2020 vs. Tagovailoa.
30. Van Jefferson, WR, Rams
The Rams traded Brandin Cooks and are back to elevating Josh Reynolds into the No. 3 wideout role behind Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. In reality, with tight end Tyler Higbee also being part of the passing game, Reynolds isn’t lined up for high volume. Jefferson is technically sound with good enough hands and quickness to think at some point he’ll get opportunities over Reynolds — they just may be very limited as a rookie unless injuries befall the other veterans.
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