Need proof that rookies can make an immediate impact in fantasy football? Well, you shouldn’t after last season.
The 2016 campaign was a legendary year for first-year players, especially those on the Dallas Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott led the NFL in rushing yards and Dak Prescott finished sixth among all quarterbacks in fantasy points. New Orleans Saints rookie Michael Thomas, meanwhile, was a top-10 fantasy receiver.
After such stellar rookie seasons, it’s only natural to turn to this year’s crop for the next breakout star. There are plenty of enticing candidates, too: Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey highlight a deep rookie running back class, while three wide receivers were taken in the top 10 in the 2017 NFL Draft.
But succeeding in the NFL as a rookie is incredibly hard, and first-year players make for volatile fantasy assets. So, who will rise to their potential and who will come up short? Here’s a look at five rookies who could have huge seasons and five who are candidates to fall flat.
FIVE POTENTIAL ROOKIE STARS
Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars. Sure, Fournette has taken his lumps in training camp. But the former LSU star offers a tantalizing blend of talent and opportunity. All signs point to Fournette being the starting running back over T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory, and the Jaguars might rely on him heavily if Blake Bortles continues to struggle in the passing game.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers. Fournette still could lead NFL rookies in rushing yards and finish with fewer fantasy points than McCaffrey, who’s a dynamic threat in the passing game. The Stanford product has looked great running routes out of the backfield in training camp, so if you’re in a PPR league, his ceiling is even higher.
Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals. Say what you want about Mixon’s past, but the ex-Oklahoma star can ball. Geoff Hobson, a reporter for the Bengals’ official website, sees the speedy running back getting 15 to 20 carries and three to five catches right off the bat, potentially vaulting Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard on the RB depth chart. Keep a close eye on Mixon.
John Ross, WR, Bengals. A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert should get the lion’s share of targets in Cincy’s passing attack. But that also means Ross might get lots of single coverage, allowing the NFL Combine’s 40-yard dash champion to burn defenders with his blazing speed. Ross could be an enticing home run target for Andy Dalton.
O.J. Howard, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The fact the Bucs took a tight end 19th overall suggests they’re serious about using Howard from the get-go, and Jameis Winston already has raved about the Alabama product’s ability in the passing game. Winston tossed eight touchdown passes to Cameron Brate last season, so imagine what he could do with a more athletic tight end.
FIVE POTENTIAL ROOKIE BUSTS
Corey Davis, WR, Tennessee Titans. There already was plenty of pressure riding on Davis as the No. 5 overall pick, and now the Western Michigan product is expected to miss a few weeks with a hamstring injury. Tennessee also ranked 30th in the NFL in passing yards last year, so if Davis is healthy, he’ll have to work hard to put up serious fantasy numbers.
Mike Williams, WR, Los Angeles Chargers. Another top-10 pick in this year’s draft, Williams is expected to miss most of training camp and potentially the start of the season with a back injury. The 6-foot-4 wideout certainly has upside as Philip Rivers’ newest red zone target, but this injury gives us pause. There are safer bets if you’re targeting a rookie receiver.
Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings. Cook already has leapt to the No. 1 back on Minnesota’s depth chart and is being projected as the league’s third-best rookie running back. But the Vikings have been horrible in the run game. Even with new additions to the offensive line, Cook could face tough sledding as a rookie. He’ll also face competition from veteran Latavius Murray, who was just activated off the physically unable to perform list.
D’Onta Foreman, RB, Houston Texans. Like Cook, Foreman might have to fight for yards in front of an offensive line ranked 29th out of 32 by Pro Football Focus. The former Texas Longhorn already has found off-field trouble, too, with a mid-July arrest. The upside isn’t worth the risk.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Texans. Yes, Texans coach Bill O’Brien had seriously high praise for Watson earlier this summer. But if you’re looking for the next Dak Prescott, you might want to temper expectations, as Watson will operate behind a much worse offensive line with fewer weapons. Fantasy stud rookie quarterbacks are incredibly hard to find, and we’re not taking our chances with any signal-callers from this year’s crop.
Thumbnail photo via Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports Images
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