Rookie Progress Report
Updated: Oct 12, 2020
*ALL STATS AND RANKINGS ARE CORRESPONDING TO 0.5PPR LEAGUES*
We are officially two weeks into the 2020 season, and boy oh boy have the injuries been piling up. People are panicked, and it is justified. It's been quite a while since players have seen so many key names not only go down at the same time, but be sidelined with season ending injuries to boot. In all of the chaos that is going on right now, I bring to you a light of hope: The 2020 Rookie Class. Last year's rookie class was lauded for its season long finishes of the likes of Brown and McLaurin, and Jacobs and Sanders. But this year has the looks of a season in which rookies could finish higher than ever come January. Through two weeks there are 12 rookies who currently sit among the Top 36 at their respective positions. I'm here to tell you which ones are are the real deal for the 2020 season, and which ones are but illusions and should be left out of your lineups until they show more. I REPEAT THIS IS FOR 2020 SEASON LONG FANTASY PRODUCTION NOT DYNASTY.
Joe Burrow (QB 12)
Joe Exotic himself leads off this breakdown. The number 1 pick in this year's draft has been worth the hype thus far. Known for his accuracy and deep ball, Burrow has showcased early on the talents that made him a college football sensation just one year ago. Through two weeks he has produced a stat line of: 61% completion, 509 yards passing, 3 TD's, 1 INT, with another 65 yards and 1 TD on the ground. Unfortunately the Bengals still sit at 0-2.
His ability to avoid sacks in the pocket, and his precision on sideline throws have been what has impressed me the most thus far. He is still working on his timing with his wide receivers, and his connection with the Bengals #1, A.J. Green, is definitely a work in progress. BUT he has every tool in the book to make his career one of accolades. The things that concern me in Cincy are the offensive line, and the organizational structure around him. I'm afraid that Burrow may be subjected to the same early career treatment as Baker Mayfield. A turnstile of head coaches, a sieve for an offensive line, and a whole lot of hype to live up to. For 2020 however I think the volume is going to be there and the Bengals will be SLINGING the rock a lot. I see Burrow as QB 16-18 on the year.
Verdict: REAL DEAL
Justin Herbert (QB 31)
The man everyone wants to hear about is here early in the breakdown. Mr. Herbert put on quite a performance this past weekend. Taking it to the reigning Superbowl Champion Chiefs from the get go, Herbert ran the chargers offense to perfection. In his first start, an unexpected one at that, he put up a stat line of: 67% completion, 311 yards passing, 1 TD, and 1 INT, with another 18 yards and 1 TD on the ground.
As a KC native, and Chiefs fan myself, the amount of stress that this man put me through on Sunday was REAL. His poise under constant pressure was the thing that impressed me the most. The only true "rookie mistake" that Herbert displayed during the game was on his interception. Rolling out to his left, he had the defender beat, and rather than run for the first down he tried to force the ball to his WR in triple coverage for the big play. This kind of play is one we see all the time with young signal callers but it is easily fixed. The kid has all the weapons in the world to use, with Eckler and fellow rookie to be found below Joshua Kelley in the back field, and the likes of Kennan Allen and Mike Williams on the outside.
When I see Herbert play, I see a young Cam Newton. I'm not doing a direct comparison obviously, but the physical tools and his ability to throw darts has an identical feel to it. In a full season of work I'd expect his stats to fall somewhere between those of Josh Allen and Cam Newton during their rookie years. Hopefully, the Chargers realize their young star is ready to be the teams QB, and will allow him to retain the starting job now that he has shown what he can do. I see Herbert as QB 23-25 on the year, if he keeps the job.
Verdict: REAL DEAL
Jonathan Taylor (RB 11)
The long awaited premiere of Jonathan Taylor as the Colts lead back took all of 1 week to come to fruition. 3rd on the depth chart going into week one, Taylor saw zero snaps in the Colts offense until starter Marlon Mack went down with his season ending Achilles injury. There was much debate over what JT's workload would be after the football community watch Nyheim Hines run away with the bulk of the RB production after Mack's exit. These questions were immediately answered in Week 2. JT saw all but one of the RB touches for the Colts, totaling 101 on the ground and 9 through the air with 1 TD. Bringing his season totals to 199 yards from scrimmage and a TD.
JT is the perfect package. He has the frame, athleticism, and tenacity to be a workhorse in between the tackle, and the speed to punish defenses that give him open rushing lanes. His open field speed is something special. The one criticism coming into this season was his ability to catch the football. He has in two games silenced those critics as he has hauled in 8 receptions over two games already. JT has the tools and the situation to be a terror for defenses for seasons to come. Running behind Quenton Nelson is about the best thing a RB can ask for. Being in a Phillip Rivers led offense is ALSO about the best thing a RB can ask for. I see JT as RB 6-9 on the year.
Verdict: REAL DEAL
Clyde Edwards-Helair (RB 12)
Clyde the Glide. The man that broke fantasy twitter on the NFL's opening night. The LSU product was all that and a bag of chips for fantasy owners who put him into their lineups week one. However this last week his numbers took a nose dive. In week one Helair put up 138 yards on the ground with a TD to boot, but in week two he was limited to 38 yards on the ground and another 32 through the air. His season totals so far come out to be 208 yards from scrimmage and a TD.
His two games were polar opposites in terms of showing his strengths and weaknesses as a runner. Watching him on the ground in week one, he was impressive. He was decisive with his cuts, and was elusive in the open field. He had almost no usage in the passing game however, and was absolutely incapable of gaining yardage on the goal line situations. This week however he was great with his short yardage work and was peppered with targets, however, he seemed indecisive on most of his runs outside of that. The Chargers' defense is nothing to ignore but I believe the true issues with Helair is his size. He has tons of talent however he will never have the true goal line upside that most feature backs have. What his physical measurements lack, his offense can repair though. The system he is in creates yardage for backs similar to the way that Shanahan's does in San Francisco. If he can learn to trust his reads, and think less behind the line, we will have years to come of performances mirroring his week 1. I see CEH as RB 13-15 on the year.
Verdict: REAL DEAL
James Robinson (RB 15)
This off-season was anything but kind to the Jags fans. They lost their franchise RB in Leonard Fournette and franchise pass rusher in Yannick Ngakoue within 48 hours of each other. Little was known about how they would get offensive production out of the backfield they had left, but boy oh boy did they get some production. James Robinson, the rookie undrafted free agent from Illinois State, has been making noise in his first two games of the season. He has been a force on the ground churning out 210 yards from scrimmage and a TD over his first two games.
Robinson hasn't been flashy, and he hasn't been explosive. What he has been is steady, consistent, and sure handed. Robinson has yet to record a drop on the year and is averaging an impressive 5.1 yards per carry. The least lauded of the backs coming out of college, on paper, Robinson has actually been the most efficient RB in this rookie class through two weeks. Some will argue its been against two middle tier defenses, but if the Titans have one thing on defense, it's their ability to suffocate runners in the box with their front seven. Robinson is helping fans forget about Fournette's time in Jacksonville, and for good reason. He is my favorite back outside of Taylor to make this list, and his heavy involvement in the passing game and vice grip on the backfield touches thus far makes me confident in his long term viability, even if the Jags fall behind in games. I see Robinson as RB 16-18 on the year.
Verdict: REAL DEAL
Joshua Kelley (RB 21)
Much speculation was had during the off-season as to how the Chargers backfield would operate long term without Melvin Gordon for the first time in 4 years. Eckler was signed to a middle of the road contract and had proven himself to be an amazing weapon out of the backfield but had yet to take on a full time role. The team was set up for a backfield committee with a hammer, the only question was who was that hammer going to be: Joshua Kelley or Justin Jackson. That question has been answered soundly over the first two weeks with a resounds: Joshua Kelley. The UCLA product has put up 173 yards from scrimmage with 1 TD over the first two games of 2020
Being in the same mold as James Robinson, a Steady Eddie, Kelley has just a little bit more UMPH to his game than the Jags RB. Not putting in quite as much work in the passing game as his fellow rookies, Kelley has been churning out consistent yards against stacked boxes. His pairing with the quick and shifty Eckler reminds me of the classic THUNDER/LIGHTNING pairing that we have seen time and time again in the NFL. Kelley long term lacks some of the athleticism necessary to hold a full time role, and his position behind Eckler on the depth chart is concerning, but his overall production thus far has been promising. He is a game script dependent back on the season, and with a projected increase in passing volume with Herbert taking over for Tyrod at the moment, I see a boom bust TD dependent season for Kelley. I see a Kelley as RB 33-35 on the year
D'Andre Swift (RB 29)
Ohhhh the enigma that is D'Andre Swift. Coming out of college, Swift was neck and neck with JT and Dobbins as the fantasy communities #1 RB coming into the league this year. Ultimately he was selected as the second RB in the draft behind only CEH and the jury is still out on whether or not that will prove to be a sound pick or not. His first two weeks have been a frustrating process for fantasy owners. Over that span he has put up 95 scrimmage yards and 1 TD while playing second fiddle, and at times third fiddle behind the likes of the aging AP, and oft injured Kerryon Johnson.
Swift's rushing has left a lot to be desired. On the season he is averaging an abysmal 2.5 yards per carry. The only saving grace to his game at the moment is his receiving chops which have accounted for 79% of his total production thus far. My fear is that Swift will be little more than a satellite back in this league. His size, and shiftiness scream it, and his production against real competition hasn't done anything to dispel those notions. Unless some serious shifting in the RB snap share occurs over the next few weeks, I think Swift's fantasy stock may be dead in the water come November. I see Swift as RB 40-42 on the year.
J.K. Dobbins (RB 26)
Dobbins like Helair has been the tale of two games thus far through the first two weeks of 2020. THE Ohio State product burst onto the scene with 2 TDS in his first game with Baltimore, but his overall touches in that span has been nothing short of concerning. He has seen only 10 touches over the first two weeks of the season and has accounted for only 83 yards from scrimmage with those 2 TDS.
Buoyed by his TDS, his involvement has been scarce thus far in the offense, playing second fiddle to Mark Ingram and at times even behind Gus Edwards. Baltimore's RB 1 on the season so far is Lamar Jackson which is not all too surprising, but it creates a frustrating avenue for fantasy managers. Unless injuries pop up allowing Dobbins to show what he can do with a full or even 3/4 workload, his 2020 season is in jeopardy of being a wash. Although I believe the talent is there and in Dynasty circles he is a lock for future production, in the realm of 2020 production he is going to be disappointing for those managers brave enough, or desperate enough to put him into their starting lineups. I see Dobbins as RB 35-37 on the year.
Antonio Gibson (RB 34)
The last RB on this list is none other than the off-season hype train himself, Antonio Gibson out of Memphis. Everyone knows his collegiate efficiency with the ball in his hands, but we all had questions about his ability to carry the load in a full time role, and his actual ability from the RB position with most of his production as a Tiger coming as a receiver. Through two games Gibson's numbers are the least impressive of the bunch totaling only 96 yards from scrimmage and 1 TD. What IS encouraging, is his projected role for the remainder of the season.
Buried on the depth chart and out snapped, and touched severely in week one, Gibson was able to steal the main RB 1 role going into week two with the production he put on tape. Peyton Barber is potentially the least efficient back in the NFL and Gibson's explosiveness is something that Ron Rivera just can't ignore. Working behind a questionable at best OL, Gibson has an uphill battle to make the most of his touches in a somewhat plain Washington offense, however he is one of the few rookies with a workload worth chasing. I don't expect him to be a league winner like most, but his volume and big play potential make him a flex starter for the remainder of the season in my book. If Washington commits to the OL in the off-season I see a decent career in the cards for Gibson long term. I see Gibson as RB 24-26 on the year.
Verdict: REAL DEAL
CeeDee Lamb (WR 25)
Lamb. The guy everyone other than the Las Vegas Raiders considered to be the number one WR in this 2020 class. He has been everything we had hoped for and more. On the field Lamb has looked electric and at times like the best WR on the field, regardless of team. Over two weeks the Oklahoma man has put up 174 yards on 12 touches and has been targeted 15 times over that span.
Lamb has yet to find the end zone like every other player on this list, however, he has been doing DAMAGE in between the 20's for the Cowboys. Working primarily out of the slot, Lamb has been the chain mover for Dallas' offense this season in two shootouts. His hands have been slightly suspect as the 3 incompletions that he has have all been drops, but his ability to get open with his route running has been special to watch. Almost no one can cover him in the open field thus far through the season, and his ability to make the first defender miss has been just as good as his college tape. Lamb's continued acclimation to the offense, and building of his connection with Dak will be key to his long term success. Now although the TD's will need to increase, which I think they will, right now, I wouldn't want any other WR in the state of Texas more than I want CeeDee. I see Lamb as WR 18-20 on the year.
Verdict: REAL DEAL
Chase Claypool (WR 27)
The one catch wonder himself makes the list at WR 27. The Notre Dame big man has been buried on the depth chart thus far in 2020. Known for his contested catches in college, Claypool has done just that, coming into the games on third downs and when Big Ben wants to go deep. His stat line on the season thus far is 133 yards from scrimmage and 1 TD.
What is concerning to me about Claypool is two things. The fact that 76% of his total fantasy points on the season so far has come from one play is alarming. And the fact that he has played on 33% of Pittsburgh's offensive snaps on the year. That type of big play volatility when paired with his complete lack of consistent volume and targets is something you can not have at the WR position. His future could be bright with the Steelers' track record when drafting WRS, however for 2020, buried behind JuJu and Dionte Johnson, his outlook is BLEAK. I see Claypool as WR 50-52 on the year.
Laviska Shenault (WR 31)
The Man. The Myth. The Legend Himself. If you know me you know Shenault is my guy this year. The Colorado "Do It All" man came into 2020 injury riddled and looking for a creative offensive coach to get him the touches he needed to shine. Two games into the season and it seems like he has found the perfect fit down in Jacksonville. So far Laviska has compiled 109 yards from scrimmage and 1TD.
He is listed as a WR but Shenault has been played all over the field. Out wide, in the slot, in the backfield, and even at Wildcat. He has seen consistent touches game in and game out for the Jags and has become a favorite target on third down of The Mustache himself. Currently at a 19% target share, he has room to grow in acquiring more work in the pass game. Part of that can be attributed to Minshew's extreme efficiency over the first two weeks, but overall he just needs a bit more time. In the meantime however, his involvement on the ground will fill the void for fantasy managers. I don't expect a massive breakout this year as in WR1-WR2 range, but I do see him finishing squarely in the WR3 conversation in 2020. I see Shenault as WR 32-34 on the year.
Verdict: REAL DEAL