Every week, this column will spotlight the first-year players who are ripe for a breakout performance. Often times, rookies can provide some of the most value as under-the-radar options.
The star of the season opener, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, is a rookie himself, although his dominant fantasy performance surprised few. However, it goes to show how quickly these players can make an impact.
For dynasty leaguers, this column should help identify ideal trade targets and prized stashes. For redraft managers, this column could provide the edge necessary for a championship run. Many of the players highlighted this week are fairly well-known, but as the season progresses deeper sleepers will be described.Editor's Note: Love the strategy of season-long fantasy sports? Live for the short term gratification of DFS? Try Weekly Fantasy Sports on OwnersBox - a new weekly DFS platform. Sign up today for a FREE $50 Deposit Match. Sign Up Now!
Rookie Quarterback to Watch in Week 1
Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
After a dominant Heisman-winning season with LSU in 2019, Burrow joins a Cincinnati franchise that won just two games last year. The Bengals have no shortage of weapons though. A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, and John Ross III comprise a solid receiving corps that should aid Burrow in his professional debut against the Los Angeles Chargers. The Bengals allowed the sixth-fewest pressures and quarterback hits last season, so Burrow will have help up front against the likes of Joey Bosa. The Chargers will be without star safety Derwin James due to injury, making the matchup a little more favorable for Burrow. It will be interesting to see if Burrow's momentum from his beastly performance last season can translate to the NFL.
Rookie Running Backs to Watch in Week 1
Antonio Gibson, Washington Football Team
Little hype surrounded Gibson when he was chosen in the third round this April. However, after Washington released disgraced tailback Derrius Guice and aging runner Adrian Peterson, Gibson has captured the attention of fantasy enthusiasts. Gibson has an incredible size-speed combination, running a 4.39 40-yard dash at 228 pounds. Whether or not he can parlay that athleticism into a large role remains to be seen, but new head coach Ron Rivera should certainly make good use of him. This week's game against the Philadelphia Eagles will reveal whether or not Gibson's high expectations were warranted.
Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
Taylor dominated every season that he was at Wisconsin. Rushing for 6,174 yards and scoring 55 total touchdowns in three seasons, Taylor is used to performing well with a high workload. His first outing as an NFL player should show how the team's carries will be split between him and Marlon Mack. Mack is a very capable runner, and he has quietly rushed for 900 or more yards in each of the last two seasons. Then again, the Colts did trade up in the second round to select Taylor, which indicates their desire for another option. Indianapolis ran the ball the fifth-most times in 2019, and they also averaged the sixth-most yards per carry before contact. Even with the addition of veteran quarterback Philip Rivers, the Colts will look to run the ball behind mauling guard Quenton Nelson early and often. Taylor's matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have drawn criticism over alleged tanking, will allow him to ease into the NFL.
Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams
The Rams were clearly displeased with their backfield after last season, as they let Todd Gurley leave in free agency and drafted Akers in the second round. Akers steps into a running back room that features Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson, neither of whom gained much traction in 2019. Considering Gurley finished as the RB1 in 2018 under coach Sean McVay, the Rams backfield can be very lucrative fantasy-wise. If Akers is able to take command, potentially as early as this week against the Dallas Cowboys, look out.
Rookie Wide Receivers to Watch in Week 1
CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys
Lamb enters into an excellent situation for a wideout. Sure, the receiving room is a bit crowded, but quarterback Dak Prescott threw for nearly 5,000 yards last season. There will be plenty of opportunities to go around, and Lamb can make the most of the ones that come his way. After leading the FBS in average YAC at Oklahoma in 2019, Lamb will be looking to bring his talents to Sunday Night Football this week. Back in 2014, Odell Beckham Jr. made headlines after securing an insane one-handed catch in primetime. With his 21.4 yards per catch in college last year, Lamb is more than capable of creating a similar buzz. A strong start could lead to a move up the pecking order in Dallas.
Jerry Jeudy, Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos were looking to add another young receiver opposite Courtland Sutton this offseason. They made a great choice in Jeudy. His route running is phenomenal, and he was often described as the most "pro-ready" receiver prospect in the draft. Jeudy managed to win the Biletnikoff Award for the best college wideout in 2018 despite playing among a stacked receiving corps. The Alabama product will be looking to continue his success in the NFL, starting this week against the Tennessee Titans. With Sutton looking unlikely to play, Jeudy could receive a large share of the team's targets and make a name for himself quickly.
Laviska Shenault Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars
With such a talented crop of receivers in the draft this year, Shenault's name seemed to get lost in the shuffle. Before last season, he was considered a possible top-ten selection. After a campaign marred by injuries, though, he fell to the second round. Shenault is capable of some great performances; in 2018, he gained 1,011 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns.
Per media rules, I cannot comment on specific plays / formations, re: #Jaguars
But uh... let’s just say they’re getting creative this morning with Laviska Shenault 👀
— Mia O'Brien (@MiaOBrienTV) September 9, 2020
The Jaguars reportedly have been getting creative with Shenault in practice, and for good reason. The rookie from Colorado ran for 115 yards and five touchdowns in 2018 to go with his receiving production, so he can be effective all over the field. On a franchise that has traded away many of its best players, Shenault may receive some favorable game script as well. He will be a sleeper to watch this week against Indianapolis.
Rookie Tight Ends to Watch in Week 1
Devin Asiasi, New England Patriots
Bill Belichick's offenses have featured tight ends in the past, and he thought highly enough of Asiasi to take him in the third round this year. With 44 receptions and 641 yards last season, Asiasi was a bright spot on a lousy UCLA team. It's unclear how much of a role he will see, especially early in the season, but he has the receiving prowess to be viable in fantasy. If he manages to surpass Ryan Izzo for snaps, Asiasi could receive a decent share of targets from quarterback Cam Newton. His situation will be one to keep an eye on against the Miami Dolphins.
Cole Kmet, Chicago Bears
Kmet was the first tight end taken in this year's draft, but he arrives in Chicago the same season as fellow tight end Jimmy Graham. Graham has had some very productive seasons in the NFL, so despite his recent decline, he will still receive a fair amount of opportunities. The Bears also threw the fifth-fewest passes to tight ends in 2019, so it's likely that the team will only sustain one fantasy-relevant player at the position. Nonetheless, the Bears selected Kmet early for a reason, and it will be interesting to see how the team uses him this week against the Detroit Lions.