Fantasy football 2020: Talented rookies ready to contribute

Fantasy football owners love the allure of rookies, especially rookie running backs. Every season, we are fascinated by the imaginable contributions of them. In the face of perennially high rookie failure rates, though, we’re also confronted with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In all likelihood, we’ll see less production from rookies in 2020 than in recent years, due to the loss of a traditional offseason program. But that doesn't mean they can't contribute to a fantasy team's success.

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Let’s assess this year’s potential value of rookies.

Top priority

RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs: Edwards-Helaire is a bowling ball who had 16 rushing scores over only 215 carries in 2019 for LSU. He also caught 55 balls for the Tigers. Typically the first rookie back chosen, Edwards-Helaire is the backfield's clear No. 1 with Damien Williams opting out, but he'll have competition from all of the mouths to feed in this passing game. There’s risk in drafting any rookie running back, but Edwards-Helaire's upside makes him a first-round target.

Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire helped lead LSU to a national championship last season. (Photo: Charlie Riedel, AP)

RB Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams: This second-rounder has huge shoes to fill after Todd Gurley’s release. The offensive line is a concern, but the passing game is explosive enough to open holes. Most important, Akers has little proven competition for touches. Running backs have it the easiest of all rookies in this unprecedented fantasy landscape. Expect modest yardage with a chance to find the end zone at least 10 times.

RB D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions: Entering a backfield with talented but often-injured Kerryon Johnson clouds Swift’s outlook. Exceptionally gifted, he managed 2,267 rushing yards on only 359 carries (6.3 YPC) over the last two years at Georgia. Detroit’s system has helped generate several outstanding fantasy results throughout the years, albeit with Hall of Fame-caliber RB talent. Swift is dangerous enough to threaten RB2 territory.

WR CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys: In time, Lamb should develop into one of the most dangerous receiving threats in the NFL. There’s concern he’ll get lost in the shuffle some weeks, and being a rookie receiver isn’t an easy row to hoe amid the demands of a normal season. The best-case scenario for him is an injury opens up a starting spot, otherwise Lamb is likely to be an inconsistently productive fantasy asset as a rook.

WR Jerry Jeudy, Denver Broncos: Being NFL-ready isn’t a concern for Jeudy as much as whether he gets on the same page with his young quarterback. Denver underwent wholesale offensive changes, including hiring a coordinator. Luckily, rookies have fared well in Pat Shurmur’s system. The opportunity to exploit single coverage opposite Courtland Sutton could put Jeudy’s promising career on the fast track.

Intriguing roster depth

WR Henry Ruggs III, Las Vegas Raiders: Ruggs may not need a traditional offseason to exploit coverages. A go route is an easy directive to see through when you can outrun just about everyone. Look for Jon Gruden to script plays to use Ruggs’ athleticism and allow him to play fast without thinking too much about the nuances.

RB Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts: How many collegiate backs averaged more than 2,000 yards for three straight years? A fresh slate puts Taylor behind arguably the best line in the league, but he’ll share touches with a capable yet injury-prone Marlon Mack. Nyheim Hines has the third-down work locked down, so just how many handles can we expect from Taylor if Mack stays healthy?

WR Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings: The rookie is rather polished and Minnesota clearly needs someone to help replace Stefon Diggs. In any other offseason, Jefferson would be a prized fantasy addition.

WR Michael Pittman Jr., Indianapolis Colts: Pittman is a reception hog. T.Y. Hilton is no stranger to injuries, and no other receiver on the roster has any reasonable track record. PPR gamers should spend a late pick on Pittman.

RB J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens: On face value, Dobbins is unlikely to make a dent if Mark Ingram is healthy and productive. That said, the veteran is also on the wrong side of 30 and could be rested often to keep him fresh for the postseason. Dobbins is a strong handcuff and/or speculative pick.

RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ronald Jones is the only meaningful competition. Tom Brady’s entrance will immediately improve the running game, but it’s not like TB12 was brought in to hand the ball off 400 times. Vaughn has more potential for mediocrity than for greatness.

Roll the dice

QB Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals: A wealth of weaponry in an offense that derives from one of fantasy’s most lethal passing attacks. There are worse late-round QB2 gambles.

RB Darrynton Evans, Tennessee Titans: Derrick Henry’s only realistic replacement in case of an injury has to prove he can do it after a career at Appalachian State. In 2020, all things seem possible.

WR Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers: Aiyuk’s inclusion is dependent upon the latesummer health update of Deebo Samuel. We’re talking about a solid month of Aiyuk seeing a chance to start as a possible No. 1.

TE Dalton Keene, New England Patriots: Rookie tight ends often struggle, but this one is heady and versatile in an offense that is craving another weapon for new quarterback Cam Newton.

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