While real-world football is a game of inches, fantasy football can be a game of fractions of points. Because of this, the savvy fantasy manager looks to gain an edge whenever possible.
Exploiting the uncertainty surrounding first-year players is one way to get an advantage. There's simply no way to know how rookies will perform at the pro level, which is why they can often be found in the middle and late rounds of fantasy drafts.
The trick, obviously, is picking which incoming players to latch on to. Banking on first-rounder N'Keal Harry didn't pay off last season—though injuries did play a part there—while betting on second-round picks A.J. Brown and DK Metcalf did.
Here we will examine some of the top rookie prospects for fantasy coming out of the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine. These are preliminary rankings, as a player's NFL home can play a large role in his first-year performance. They are also based on traditional PPR scoring formats—dynasty rankings are typically quarterback-driven.
1. D'Andre Swift, RB, Georgia
When it comes to rookies in fantasy, running back is the position to target. It's often easier for a first-year player to become an every-down back than it is for a rookie receiver to take over as a No. 1 target. With quarterbacks, the issue is that teams only start one per week in traditional lineups.
As good as a rookie quarterback might be, the odds of being a top-10 or top-eight signal-caller out of the gate are long.
So first up, we have Georgia running back D'Andre Swift. The top running back on Bleacher Report draft analyst Matt Miller's big board, Swift projects as an every-down back at the next level. Swift racked up 1,218 rushing yards, 216 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in 2019. He did nothing at the combine to diminish his draft stock.
In Indianapolis, Swift ran the 40-yard dash in 4.48 second and then posted a 35.5-inch vertical and a 121-inch broad jump. He measured in at a compact 5'8" and 212 pounds.
While Swift might not be a speed demon or a battering ram, he's a great all-around back who should have an opportunity to start right away.
2. Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy isn't far behind swift in terms of Year 1 potential. While the transition for receivers can be tough, Jeudy is a phenomenal route-runner who shouldn't struggle to carve out a role from the get-go.
"He's the best route-runner I've ever evaluated," draft analyst Todd McShay said on ESPN. "In 20 years of doing this, he's the best college route-runner I've ever seen.
Jeudy isn't just some "pro-ready" receiver with a savvy skill set and underwhelming tangibles, though. He showed at the combine that he is an elite prospect. Though somewhat slight at 6'1" and 193 pounds, Jeudy is long and explosive. He ran a 4.45-second 40 and posted 35-inch vertical jump and a 120-inch broad jump.
He is physically gifted enough that, with his elite route skills, he can be a high-impact receiver right away. Because of his immense PPR potential, he comes in at No. 2.
3. CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb is another elite receiver prospect, and he's likely to rival Jeudy for the honor of being the first wide receiver drafted. Miller had him going a couple of spots behind Jeudy in his latest mock draft but still had high praise for the All-Big 12 star.
"One of the best run-after-catch receivers in the 2020 draft class, Lamb is a physical route-runner with a big catch radius and the ability to make defenders pay with his contact and toughness," Miller wrote.
While Lamb might not be quite as polished a route-runner as Jeudy, he's physical, shifty and deadly after the catch—as evidenced by his 21.4 yards-per-reception average in 2019.
In Indianapolis, Lamb ran a 4.5 40, put up 11 reps in the 225-pound bench press, posted a 34.5 vertical and logged a 124-inch broad jump.
Because he doesn't possess the route-running prowess of Jeudy, Lamb could be more dependent on the big play for fantasy managers. When those big plays unfold, though, those who drafted him will rejoice.
4. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin
The knock on Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor is that he's had too many carries already in his career. He logged more than 900 carries in three seasons with the Badgers, which could affect his long-term NFL outlook.
It shouldn't be a concern in Year 1, however, which is why Taylor makes our list of top rookies. Taylor has already proved he can handle an every-down role—he averaged more than 2,000 rushing yards at Wisconsin—and has the skill set to be more than just a grinder.
At 5'10" and 226 pounds, Taylor logged a 4.39-second 40 at the combine. He also racked 17 reps in the bench press, a 36-inch vertical and a 123-inch broad jump.
Strong, fast, explosive and productive, Taylor has the potential to be this year's version of Josh Jacobs at the NFL level.
"Todd Gurley was a playmaker on the field, Zeke [Elliott] was a playmaker on the field, Saquon [Barkley] was a playmaker on the field," Taylor said, per Albert Breer of The MMQB. "Same thing with myself."
5. Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
As mentioned, first-year quarterbacks can be hard to trust in fantasy. If there's one to take a chance on this season—or you are in a keeper or dynasty league—then LSU's Joe Burrow is the guy to target.
The big-play ability is here for the former transfer from Ohio State. Burrow threw for 5,671 yards with 60 touchdowns and just six interceptions in 2019. It's difficult to imagine that the jump to NFL competition will take him by surprise after he led the Tigers to an undefeated championship season, either.
Unlike the other rookies on this list, we do have some idea of where Burrow is likely to land. The Cincinnati Bengals are widely expected to take the Heisman winner with the first pick in the draft.
If Burrow does land in Cincinnati, he will have plenty of weapons with which to work. Cincinnati is expected to use the franchise tag on wideout A.J. Green, according to ESPN's Dan Graziano and Jeremy Fowler.
This means that Burrow will have players like Green, Giovani Bernard, Joe Mixon, John Ross and Tyler Boyd at his disposal. If the Bengals can shore up their offensive line, Burrow could be a top-10 fantasy quarterback during the playoff stretch.