18 Rookies Who Can Make an Immediate Fantasy Impact in 2020
With the 2020 NFL Draft in the books, most teams in the league have filled out their rosters and we can begin to speculate depth charts. In the coming days, John Paulsen will release his initial set of season-long projections. Here, I will discuss rookies from this class who should have an immediate fantasy impact.
Few rookies ever make an immediate impact in redraft and with offseason activities very much up in the air, first-year players may take longer to get up to speed in 2020 than in a typical season. Over the last seven seasons, 32 rookies have finished the year as fantasy starters in half-PPR leagues—that’s top-12 quarterbacks and tight ends and top-24 running backs and wide receivers—or fewer than five per year.
Last season, those rookies were:
The rookies who do excel in year one are hardly random and are almost always players a team spent significant draft capital on. Of the 32 first-year players to post starter-caliber fantasy numbers over the last seven seasons, 26 were taken in the first three rounds (81%)—undrafted running back Phillip Lindsay was the only player in the sample available after the fifth round of the NFL Draft. What we are typically looking for in redraft is a rookie taken early with an opportunity to see significant playing time and volume.
Four quarterbacks went off the board in the first round this year but the Packers’ draft doesn’t count, so we’ll focus on the three who went in the top 10. The number one overall pick, Joe Burrow, will start immediately for the Bengals while there’s a chance that Tua Tagovailoa redshirts in Miami and Justin Herbert will apparently be in a true competition with Tyrod Taylor for the Chargers’ starting job.
Burrow steps into about as good of a situation as possible for a quarterback taking over the worst team in the league from the previous season. Cincinnati ranked in the top five in passing rate in neutral game script in their first season with Zac Taylor at the helm and they have a promising offensive skill group. A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd lead the receiving corps and rookie Tee Higgins will battle Auden Tate for snaps as the WR3. Joe Mixon is one of the few workhorse backs in the league. There are concerns about the big men up front, but the Bengals did add guard Xavier Su'a-Filo from the Cowboys and will be getting first-round tackle, Jonah Williams, back from injury.
From a fantasy standpoint, however, don’t expect Burrow to be more than a streaming option in 2020. Over the last seven years, only two rookie quarterbacks have cracked the top 12 and those seasons were buoyed by production on the ground. In 2016, Dak Prescott rushed 57 times for 282 yards and six scores; last year, Kyler Murray used 93 attempts to accumulate 544 yards on the ground and added four touchdowns. This isn’t to say that Burrow isn’t capable of running when need be—he totaled 767 yards on the ground in two seasons as the LSU starter, but Dak had two years with over 800 yards on the ground at Mississippi State and Kyler had a 1,000-yard campaign in his junior season at Oklahoma.
Tua and Herbert will be undraftable in 1-QB leagues even if they win the starting jobs by the end of training camp (if there is one).
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