Every week, this column will spotlight the first-year players who are ripe for a breakout performance. Often, rookies can provide some of the most value as under-the-radar options.
Last week, Pittsburgh rookie wideout Chase Claypool had a monster performance. The Notre Dame product tallied 116 yards from scrimmage and four total touchdowns, helping the Steelers beat the Eagles. Claypool had previously made some big plays, but last week was his true breakout game. Anticipating and reflecting upon these breakouts are essential for fantasy success.
This week's article will dive into the prospects of five rookies who have had varying degrees of success thus far. Such analysis is critical for both redraft and dynasty leagues, so let's get to it!
The Stunning Steeler
Chase Claypool (WR, PIT)
Claypool's dominant outing was the story of the early set of games last Sunday. His astounding production came on a total of 14 opportunities (11 targets, three carries). This usage should carry over into this week as well with teammate Diontae Johnson still dealing with a back injury.
Chase Claypool has averaged 39 yards per catch on his 4 TDs this season.
Highest in the NFL. pic.twitter.com/E2Sin09Jbh
— PFF (@PFF) October 12, 2020
Counting stats are not the only part of Claypool's profile that is impressive. His yards per reception ranks fourth among receivers, his yards per target is fifth, and yards per route run is third. Other metrics paint a similar picture. Claypool's production premium, a measure of efficiency, is tops among all wideouts. Most importantly for fantasy managers, his 3.52 fantasy points per target come in at second at his position. Clearly, Claypool is a budding star, both in fantasy and reality. This week, the rookie takes on the Cleveland Browns, a defense that has yielded the third-most passing yards in the league. Look for another massive showing from Claypool on Sunday.
The Surprising Star
James Robinson (RB, JAX)
Entering the season, few expected Robinson to make any noise in fantasy. Then, the Jaguars released Leonard Fournette, Ryquell Armstead went on COVID IR, and everything changed for the rookie. Through five weeks, Robinson is the RB9 in both standard and PPR. His rushing yards are 12th among running backs, and his receiving yards are third at the position. Robinson has created 150 of his 333 rushing yards on his own, the eighth-highest figure in the league. The young tailback has been a revelation for Jacksonville so far.
The Jaguars face the Detroit Lions this week. Detroit has surrendered over 170 rushing yards per game, which is worst in the NFL. Robinson will have an excellent opportunity to continue his success on Sunday. Finishing as a top-5 fantasy RB this week is not just possible, but expected.
The Solid Successor
Tee Higgins (WR, CIN)
Bengals receiver A.J. Green has played uncharacteristically poorly this season, and his lack of effort was criticized extensively after last week's performance. Fortunately for Cincinnati, Higgins has been more than capable of stepping up. The rookie has had four consecutive games now with at least six targets, and 15 of his targets have come in the last two weeks.
Higgins is clearly becoming a larger part of the offense as time passes, which bodes well for his game this week against the Colts. What does not bode well, however, is the fact that the Colts Defense is the stingiest in the league against the pass. Should Higgins continue to produce despite the unfavorable matchup, we can be more convinced of his value going forward.
The Flashy Fourth-Rounder
Gabriel Davis (WR, BUF)
Davis had to wait until the third day of the draft to hear his name be called, but he has not had to wait long to perform well in the NFL. His diving reception made the highlight reel in Week 2 against Miami, and on Tuesday he made a leaping grab that was ultimately negated due to a penalty.
The TD was called back, but GABRIEL DAVIS OH MY
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 13, 2020
Davis has racked up the 12th-most fantasy points per target at the receiver position, illustrating his efficiency for fantasy managers. Last week, with John Brown sidelined, he saw a solid nine targets. Efficiency and volume are a deadly combination, so let's see if he can keep up his output this week against the Chiefs.
The Brilliant Backup
Anthony McFarland Jr. (RB, PIT)
McFarland sat out the first two weeks of the season with an injury, but in Week 3 he made his debut. In that game, he had seven touches and 49 total yards, good for a 7.0 yards per touch average. His performance was a bit less impressive last week, but he has shown flashes in his limited action thus far.
McFarland should be assumed to see low volume until proven otherwise, but once he sees a larger role, he will be quite valuable. Perhaps that will be sooner rather than later; Pittsburgh's number two tailback, Benny Snell Jr., has been quite unimpressive. Snell's production premium is just 81st among RBs, so an upgrade is certainly possible. Watch to see if McFarland gets an increased workload this week against a tough Cleveland run defense.