2020 Rookie Class Overview Post Draft Fantasy Style
There is something very soothing putting aside the disharmony and chaos of the world outside and focusing on football that I find cathartic. Letting the stress of the world pass by for a few moments and taking a breather while I write this article is refreshing - in a way I wish that I could make it longer than originally intended. In a world now shaped by tragedy and uncertainty, getting away from COVID-19 banter is what we all need. Time to put aside, even for the briefest of instants, concerns and worries. Before I begin and start analysis of the 2020 NFL Draft that just took place, I'd like to extend this message to all of my readers and followers.
I'm thinking of you. I hope that pray that both you and your families, wherever they may be - are safe and well. This will eventually pass, and I'm optimistic that we'll all be better for it in the end.
This past Thursday the NFL thumbed its nose at the rest of society and proceeded with its first-ever online (or virtual) draft. To their credit, things went much better than I certainly anticipated. There were few (if any) technological glitches. General managers and head coaches upon the conclusion seemed to echo their approval for the process, commending that it even brought back and old-school, human element to things. By letting viewers inside their homes to watch how selections take place, or in the case of the Las Vegas Raiders their draft board itself, it gave us a glimpse of the way that teams conduct themselves during this all-important selection process.
Changes to the process to ensure safety needed to be in place, between teams not having the ability to host prospective picks at their facilities and conducting medical tests on the athletes. This led to a number of players who had health concerns falling lower than previously anticipated - a topic that we will touch on later.
The deepest positions of the draft were at offensive tackle, wide receiver and defensive backs. From a Fantasy standpoint, the weak groups at quarterback, running back and tight end made this class less exciting than others I have covered in the past. That said the outstanding depth at wide receiver offers plenty of intriguing prospects to cover, and several landed in spots that will allow them to see meaningful roles immediately.
All that aside, here is a list by position of rookie players to consider for the 2020 Fantasy Football season - provided it takes place. Fingers crossed. To clarify, this doesn't take into account my thoughts for a long-term or dynasty angle, this is merely the upcoming season.
Three quarterbacks highlighted the 2020 class that will see the field next season - Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert. Though Jordan Love and Jalen Hurts are very interesting to me down the road, I can't envision that either plays a meaningful number of snaps next year, as neither are currently polished enough to usurp the talent in front of them barring a catastrophic injury situation.
The Cincinnati Bengals would be very foolish to not start Burrow immediately Week 1, whereas the Miami Dolphins and Los Angeles Chargers have a capable-enough player currently at the helm that they could ease their first-round selections in by midseason. In the case of Tagovailoa, the Dolphins will want to be especially careful given his checkered injury history in college. Herbert's leadership skills and assertiveness were called into question by some experts, so working with Tyrod Taylor for a few weeks before the mantle is passed would be beneficial.
Burrow is intriguing to me, not only because of his superior skillset, but the talent that the Bengals have at running back and wide receiver lends itself to him having the best chance of production as a rookie of the three prospects. Presumably, A.J. Green will be back on the field in 2020, and the team has excellent depth with Tyler Body, John Ross and Auden Tate. Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard are both receiving threats, and the team's lackluster defense and propensity to play from behind will afford Burrow with a number of opportunities to pad his statistics. Burrow is akin to Daniel Jones of the Giants from a rushing perspective - don't be surprised to see him take off with a handful of designed running plays each game. His historic season for the LSU Tigers showed his ability to read the defense and pick them apart. His pre and post-snap recognition was very impressive to me. I could see Burrow being drafted in Fantasy circles as a backup with upside, for teams willing to wait at the position.
Tagovailoa has elite-levels of accuracy and is also coming out of a pro-ready system in Alabama. Often compared to Drew Brees for his physical skillset, Tagovailoa will get by with plenty of moxie and scrap. That said, the Miami Dolphins will have to work with him on getting rid of the ball earlier than he is used to, as his smaller stature isn't capable of taking much abuse before breaking down. The team took a major risk signing him from a medical standpoint, given the ankle and hip issues that he dealt with in college. The Dolphins supporting cast is lackluster outside of DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki, so Tagovailoa will need to quickly establish chemistry with one of the tertiary options. I can't see him being drafted with much confidence in Fantasy circles outside of a flier.
It seems that we have been hearing reports about Justin Herbert forever, and it is exciting to finally have the chance to watch him live. Herbert has a big arm and is athletic enough to add a few rushing yards on each week if the situation calls for it, but don't expect him to produce much on the ground if Los Angeles can help it. With a soft-spoken personality and somewhat inconsistent footwork, Herbert has a few elements to his game that will need improvement prior to ascending the depth chart. Once he does however, his situation is absolutely fantastic from a Fantasy viewpoint. Having the options of Keenan Allen, Hunter Henry, Austin Ekeler and Mike Williams rivals the best in the league - Herbert's upside is massive if he can work out the kinks.
As the NFL has continued to shift into a committee approach at the position, even the top-tier talent at running back will immediately contend with other players from a touch and workload standpoint. As mentioned earlier, compared to other classes that had generational talents like Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey as top-tier options, the 2020 class was pale in comparison.
The most talented back overall in my opinion was J.K. Dobbins from Ohio State, and he found himself in perhaps the worst position of the upper echelon. Drafted by the Baltimore Ravens largely due to value, Dobbins will have to split carries with Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards - both accomplished in their own rights. Dobbins is the most adept pass-catching back on the team, so I envision this a scenario where he starts off as the receiving back on third downs and eventually finds a way to cut into Ingram's workload by midseason. The Ravens led the league in rushing in 2019, and the philosophy will remain the same this year - pound the other team into submission. Dobbins enters 2020 on my rankings as a lower end PPR FLEX option with upside.
De'Andre Swift was taken by the Detroit Lions atop the second round, joining Kerryon Johnson and Bo Scarbrough. Perhaps the most complete back in his class, Swift is above-average in all aspects, from speed, elusiveness, power and blocking skills. That said, none of these facts I'd classify as necessarily elite per se, which begs the question of how he will distinguish himself from Johnson. Given Johnson's inability to stay healthy it makes sense that Detroit will want to limit his touches - should Swift be able to break out early on in the season, he could find himself on the plus side of a 60/40 touches split sooner rather than later. Running behind Frank Ragnow and Taylor Decker is a major plus on a team that schematically enjoys a ground-and-pound approach. I'd classify Swift in similar company as Dobbins, a PPR FLEX with upside.
Next on the list of folks that I wanted to touch base on is Jonathan Taylor, the road-grinding back from Wisconsin. Selected by the Indianapolis Colts after they traded up to acquire him, one has to imagine that the team envisions giving him early work duties, muddling passing game work and hurry up roles to Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines instead. Though Taylor is a competent enough receiver, both Mack and Hines are clearly superior at the skill, leading Taylor to take on more of the short-yardage and early down role. Possessing enough power to run over or through defenders in the open field and the 4.39 40-yard-dash speed to blow past them, Taylor is an intriguing all-around option that will be running behind the best offensive line in football. He has a very high ceiling, but middling floor in PPR formats. In standard leagues I currently have him ranked as a low-end RB2.
Want to hear a story about the little engine that could? Clyde Edwards-Helaire was the first running back selected in the draft with the final selection in the first round by the Super Bowl defending Kansas City Chiefs. Despite his diminutive stature at only 5'8, Edwards-Helaire is a tremendous pass catching back who has drawn comparisons to Maurice Jones Drew and Ray Rice. His presence will significantly cut into the value of Damien Williams, and "CEH" will enter 2020 as the top-rated rookie at the position in PPR formats. The fact that GM Brett Veach stated on his post-draft conference call that CEH reminded both head coach Andy Reid and him of Brian Westbrook is all one needs to know. Invest.
The Los Angeles Rams selecting Cam Akers was a headscratcher, given that the team already had two promising young players in Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown on the team. Perhaps they viewed this as a best-player-available selection or tremendous value - or maybe they just thought that his overall skillset trumped the other two. Regardless, Akers is similar to Swift in the "jack of all trades, master of none" moniker. He is an above-average pass catcher who showed promise at Florida State despite a lack of talent and poor play calling around him. Akers benefitted mightily from an impressive showing at the NFL draft, catching the eye of many during his on-field drills. Though the "wait and see" approach is frustrating to Fantasy owners, Akers' value is middling to start while in the midst of a full-blown committee. He has the talent to separate himself from the pack without question, but his initial opportunities are anyone's best guess. Akers is a player that I'd keep on my watch or flag list for now.
In the case of Zack Moss, his role with the Buffalo Bills is (thankfully) fairly clear-cut. Moss is an in-between the tackles runner capable of picking up short yardage and goal-line situations with ease. He makes a nice complimentary piece to Devin Singletary, but given how Singletary performed at the end of 2019, I fail to see Moss making any sort of an impact in leagues that aren't standard in format or perhaps touchdown-bonus heavy.
There were several "What the heck are the Green Bay Packers doing" moments during the draft during the first two days, and none more memorable to me than when they selected A.J. Dillon with the 62nd overall pick. I'm not suggesting that Dillon isn't a talented player, or that he wasn't productive in college - far from it. The team already had two proven players in Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, both have enjoyed success when afforded the opportunities over the last two years. I'll assume that it was a combination of their inability to stay healthy for prolonged periods of time coupled with their contracts closing on the final years of their rookie deals that prompted this pick. Akin to Moss above, Dillon is a straight-ahead runner who is very powerfully built. The Packers have few receiving threats outside of Davante Adams, so it makes sense for them to lean upon the ground game more than ever. Dillon is another watch-list candidate whose value will increase should injuries arise to the starters ahead of him.