2019 Fantasy Football: NFL Rookies You Need to Know for Your Draft

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistAugust 26, 2019

2019 Fantasy Football: NFL Rookies You Need to Know for Your Draft

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    Similar to the real-life happenings in the NFL, rookies can play a massive role in the fate of a team's standing in a fantasy football league.

    Unfortunately for owners, there aren't many hard rules when it comes to rookies, as every class is different. Last year served as a prime example, with Saquon Barkley predictably shining with the New York Giants (finishing second in scoring at running back), while a promising prospect in Rashaad Penny ended up nowhere to be found.

    This year, owners can put themselves in favorable positions by breaking down a combination of a player's talent, situation and average draft position (ADP). The goal is to identify rookies throughout the league—almost regardless of where they were drafted—who seem poised to put up big numbers at a good value.

    This will look quite a bit different than, say, names fantasy owners have to know for long-term dynasty drafts. There, wideouts, in particular, will feature more prominently, even if they don't have an immediate rookie impact.XXX

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David Montgomery, RB, Chicago Bears

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    Mark Black/Associated Press

    ADP: 3.09

    The Chicago Bears are "in love" with rookie running back David Montgomery, according to Terez A. Paylor of Yahoo Sports, which wasn't hard to see based on the third-round pick's career path so far.

    Montgomery always looked like a prospect who was going to explode in the NFL if he landed in the right situation after rushing for 2,925 yards and 26 touchdowns on a 4.7 yards-per-carry average at Iowa State, adding 71 receptions over three seasons.

    He is a three-down back without much in the way of a challenge on the depth chart after the Jordan Howard trade. He flashed this in his preseason debut, running for a score on just three chances and catching another three passes.

    With Montgomery, fantasy owners shouldn't have much rookie fear. The 3.09 ADP is a little rich, but the 270 touches Howard got are just sitting there for the taking, and coaches haven't been shy with how much they like him.

Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals

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    Ralph Freso/Associated Press

    ADP: 9.08 

    It should be obvious to know the real draft's top pick, right?

    However, it isn't always so simple with fantasy football. Kyler Murray is perhaps the only player on this list to seem like a lock for a top-10 scoring slot at his position. But that's because of the nature of his position and the chances he'll see as the starter for the Arizona Cardinals.

    Actually drafting Murray and depending on him is going to take a little more bravery. He shouldn't be the first passer a fantasy owner takes, but he's valuable within his ADP range because of his volume work and the chance a Kliff Kingsbury offense gives him some freedom as a runner (he ran for 1,001 yards a year ago at Oklahoma).

    Murray is bound to make mistakes through the air—he went 3-of-8 in his preseason debut with 12 yards. But if he can flirt with, say, the 89 carries and eight scores Josh Allen managed in Buffalo last year as a rusher, his first-year value is immense.

    Like any quarterback, Murray will need to be evaluated on a week-to-week basis, but the allure of his versatility and upside assures him of the must-know status.

Josh Jacobs, RB, Oakland Raiders

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    ADP: 3.07 

    Oakland Raiders first-round pick Josh Jacobs is one of the scarier backs this year fantasy-wise.

    On paper, he shouldn't have any problem brushing aside 30-year-old Doug Martin and pass-catcher Jalen Richard for a massive workload, which is great because opposing defenses will be focused on stopping a passing attack that boasts Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams and others.

    But the hard rule of "opportunity equals production" is malleable. Oakland's line up front is a question mark, even after adding Trent Brown in free agency, which makes the 3.07 ADP a tough ask.

    Still, Jacobs was the only first-round back for a reason, and at Alabama facing tough SEC competition, he averaged nearly six yards per carry over three seasons and caught 48 passes.

    Jon Gruden said the following, per Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News: "He's really picked up the offense fast. He's improved in the passing game. We're really excited about him."

    With a work rate guaranteed, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the first back off the board lead the way among rookies at his position.

Miles Sanders, RB, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    ADP: 5.04

    Philadelphia Eagles second-round pick Miles Sanders might quietly end up being one of the better values in fantasy football this year.

    Sanders' current ADP sits below even Tevin Coleman's in San Francisco. He's impressed seemingly anyone who has caught an Eagles practice, with NJ.com's Zack Rosenblatt writing that he "has easily been the most impressive runner."

    Fantasy owners saw some of this in live action in Week 2 of the preseason when Sanders ripped off 31 yards on five attempts, averaging north of six yards per carry thanks to runs of 12 and 16 yards.

    Some might have hesitation with Sanders because the Eagles made the move for Jordan Howard. But keep in mind Howard's last team was comfortable letting him walk in the first place after three seasons of 250 or more carries while reducing his passing targets each year. Sanders is the guy who caught 24 passes last year at Penn State, ran for 1,274 yards and nine scores and has now already looked good against pros.

    It likely won't be long before talk of Sanders passing Howard on the "depth chart" starts popping up, inflating his ADP, so owners have to hope their drafts happen soon enough.

Darwin Thompson, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Colin E. Braley/Associated Press

    ADP: 11.01

    Darwin Thompson isn't going to be a secret or value much longer.

    It was easy to assume in the wake of losing Kareem Hunt that the bulk of the Kansas City Chiefs' workload out of the backfield would go to Damien Williams. Understandably, he's sitting on an ADP of 2.10.

    But Thompson, a sixth-round pick who ran for 14 scores on a 6.8 YPC average at Utah State last year, has already blown past Carlos Hyde on the depth chart. Coaches have started giving him first-team work in goal-line scenarios, according to the Kansas City Star's Brooke Pryor.

    Also keep in mind that Andy Reid has always been open to going with the hot hand and has admitted Thompson is further along than they had anticipated.

    Thompson has already scored a 29-yard touchdown through the air and is getting goal-line work, so he has great standalone value in leagues right now. It isn't hard to envision him taking a bigger role as the season progresses.

Darrell Henderson, RB, Los Angeles Rams

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    ADP: 8.01

    Darrell Henderson is a tough sell, which isn't to say the Los Angeles Rams' third-round pick isn't talented. He piled up 3,500-plus yards and 36 scores on an 8.2 YPC average and caught 63 passes with another eight scores over three years at Memphis.

    But the problem is Todd Gurley. The Rams seem set to move more toward a committee after Gurley had problems even getting on the field during the run to the Super Bowl last season thanks to knee issues, and he's since been on a veteran approach this summer despite only being 25 years old.

    Gurley, however, is the guy who has rushed for 30 touchdowns over the last two seasons alone, so if he gets hot, he has best-in-the-league potential and Henderson won't see the field.

    Veteran fantasy players know where this is going: Henderson is a must-have handcuff for Gurley owners. There's upside for more in a strong offense, but with Gurley and Malcolm Brown there, there's also potential for a dud. Owners must know him for handcuff purposes and situational deployment, but he's a tougher call than most notable rookie backs.


    ADP info courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator 12-team standard non-PPR leagues. All scoring info via ESPN.