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.
Last week, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert had his second consecutive 300-yard performance, and Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson topped 100 yards for the first time. Both Herbert and Jefferson were first-round picks, so their quality play is not too surprising. However, it just goes to show that these players can make big impacts in their first seasons.
For dynasty leagues, 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. Some of the players in this week's article are well-known, but others are sneaky sleepers.Editor's Note: Get any full-season NFL Premium Pass for 50% off. Exclusive access to our Premium articles, rankings, projections, 15 lineup tools and daily Premium DFS research/tools including our Lineup Optimizer, Research Station and so much more! Sign Up Now!
The Rising Star
Justin Jefferson (WR, MIN)
Jefferson accumulated just five catches for 70 yards in his first two NFL games combined. His third game, though, was one for the books. Jefferson popped off for seven catches, 175 yards, and a long touchdown against the Titans last Sunday.
JUSTIN JEFFERSON’S FIRST CAREER NFL TOUCHDOWN I LOVE THE KID pic.twitter.com/lgnZ4JpeOP
— Football Analysis (@FBallAnalysis) September 27, 2020
His efficiency has been off the charts as well. The rookie averages the second-most yards per target and yards per route run in the league. Jefferson also has the fourth-best production premium among receivers, meaning that he has been the fourth-most efficient player at his position. With his 82nd percentile speed score and 79th percentile burst score, the young Viking will have a few more outstanding performances in store. His opponent this week, the Houston Texans, have allowed the third-fewest passing yards so far this year, so Jefferson could have a tough time replicating his success. If he can, it will be even more evidence of his overwhelming ability.
The Gifted Bengal
Tee Higgins (WR, CIN)
Cincinnati receiver John Ross III was a surprise inactive against Philadelphia in Week 3. In his place, Higgins rose to the challenge. The Clemson product scored two touchdowns on five receptions, helping the Bengals tie the Eagles. Higgins saw nine targets from fellow rookie Joe Burrow, which is some healthy volume. The Bengals have also thrown the most passes of any team through three weeks, so Higgins will have no shortage of opportunities to produce. He will face the Jacksonville Jaguars this Sunday, with C.J. Henderson likely to be his primary defender. Henderson has surrendered the fifth-most fantasy points per route defended of all the cornerbacks playing this week, meaning that Higgins could build upon his breakout performance.
The Smart Stash
Harrison Bryant (TE, CLE)
Bryant caught his first career touchdown last week in a 34-20 win over the Washington Football Team. Unfortunately, the rookie has only seen six total targets this season, catching three. Without an increase in his role, he will not be particularly viable for fantasy managers. However, Bryant will be up against a leaky Cowboys Defense in Week 4. Dallas has allowed the fourth-most passing yards and second-most passing touchdowns this season, so if you are strapped for tight end options, Bryant could be a solid streamer. The rookie is also a good stash for dynasty leagues. Bryant was named Cleveland's "top-performing rookie" at training camp, indicating that the team has confidence in him as a prospect. Don't be shocked if he slowly begins to become a key member of the Browns offense.
The Slim Sleeper
John Hightower (WR, PHI)
The Eagles, once again, have been devastated by injuries, especially at the receiver position. DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, and Jalen Reagor are all out for Sunday's game against the 49ers, and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside is doubtful to play. It is Hightower's time to shine with all of these absences. The fifth-round rookie is six-foot-two and 189 pounds, so he certainly has a slight frame. However, he ran a 4.43 40-yard dash and has an 86th percentile catch radius, illustrating his impressive athletic ability. Hightower will surely benefit from Philadelphia's pass-happy offense that has averaged the third-most pass attempts per game. If Hightower can parlay his excellent opportunity into a large target share, he could be one of the week's biggest surprises.
The Buffalo Baller
Gabriel Davis (WR, BUF)
Davis had a very successful effort against the Rams in Week 3, as he accumulated four receptions for 81 yards. This was his best game to date, and it came after teammate John Brown went down with a calf injury. Brown has been cleared to play this week, but Davis has proven that he can produce when necessary. We also know that he can make some incredible catches after witnessing his diving grab against the Dolphins.
Absurd go-ahead diving TD catch by Gabriel Davis 🔥
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) September 20, 2020
The fourth-round rookie has only seen seven targets this season, but he has caught all seven. He also has averaged the sixth-most air yards per target, so Bills quarterback Josh Allen is willing to push the ball downfield to him. Another solid showing this week against the Raiders would do wonders for his role going forward.