By: Alex Michael (Twitter: @dynastyguruNFL)
In this article, we will take a look at the highest performing rookies so far and assess their performances in comparison to expectations pre-draft, post-draft and up to our current position at Week 6. This means in essence that we will take a look at their college records upon entering the season, their landing spot and the systems that they are in and also their performances to date, in the NFL as well as a low-down of what to expect and will rate them based on the season they have had so far.
Joe Burrow – QB (Cincinnati Bengals)
The Heisman trophy winner in 2019 had big expectations to live up to in the run-in to the draft given his final monster year with the LSU Tigers. In his Senior year, Burrow threw for 5,671 yards and 60 passing TDs, through 15 games in total. With the Cincinnati Bengals owning the 1st round draft pick and having discarded Andy Dalton, Ohio-born Burrow was a guaranteed fit for the 2-14 2019 Bengals team. The Bengals after Week 6 are now 1-4-1 and Burrow’s performances have been very hit-and-miss, with his best game coming in Week 2 against the Cleveland Browns whereby he passed for 316 yards and 3 TDs. The main contributing factor to Burrow’s mediocre performances stems from a very poor offensive line who have allowed Burrow to be sacked 24 times already this season. When Burrow has the ball, he has made smart decisions and very rarely gives away possession through an unforced error. He is however without a passing TD since Week 4. Until the Bengals offensive-line improves, we can expect more of the same for this season.
Rating: 7.5 /10
James Robinson – RB (Jacksonville Jaguars)
As we all know, James Robinson went completely under the radar in the 2020 NFL draft which left him as an undrafted rookie out of college even though he amassed 4,444 yards and 42 TDs whilst being an Illinois State Redbird. The Jaguars recognized the error and signed Robinson 3 days after the draft, with Robinson named as the starting running back shortly after the 53-man roster was confirmed. The rookie has shown great contribution so far regardless of his tag as a UDFA having accumulated 4 touchdowns in total, as well as a total of 362 rushing yards and 207 receiving yards. Robinson had one slump against a tough Texans defense in Week 5 where Robinson even had a pass attempt. It is clear however, that the Jaguars believe in Robinson going forward and declined the opportunities to sign both Devonta Freeman and more recently Le’Veon Bell. Robinson has had an average of 14 rushes and 5 receptions (excluding Week 1) and it can only be envisaged that this level of production will continue as the season progresses.
Rating: 9 / 10
Clyde Edwards-Helaire – RB (Kansas City Chiefs)
The second and not the final representative of the Championship winning LSU Tigers of 2019 unsurprisingly features in this article. The former Louisiana State running-back who scored 17 TDs in his junior (and final) year was the first running-back selected in the 2020 NFL draft and by the Superbowl LIV winners who were looking for an RB to take a heavy workload, which is something they have missed since the departure of Jamaal Charles. The first-round draft pick started as we expected when he ran for 138 rushing yards and a score in Week 1 against the Houston Texans. Since Week 1, Edwards-Helaire has performed very steadily, which includes his Week 6 domination of the Buffalo Bills defense whereby Edwards-Helaire ran for 161 yards in a monster game where he had 26 rushing attempts and 4 receptions (from 4 targets). Understandably, we can’t be 100% sure that CEH’s production will continue in the same vain with the arrival of Le’Veon Bell last week. In long-term dynasty/keeper leagues, Edwards-Helaire is a hold. He has a tough match-up against the Broncos next week and in Week 8 we can be sure that Bell will be looking forward to suiting up against the underperforming Jets.
Rating: 8.5 / 10
Justin Herbert – QB (Los Angeles Chargers)
The play-caller out of Oregon, who was the 6th overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft wasn’t expected to be the starting QB during pre-season or even at Week 1. Tyrod Taylor stood to be the QB1 in Los Angeles had it not been for an injection that was administered incorrectly resulting in Taylor sitting out Weeks 2-5. However, Herbert has risen to the occasion much to the delight of the Chargers, though it is yet to turn into wins. Since being named the starter for LAC, he has improved with each performance and in his Week 5 match-up against the Saints, Herbert threw for 264 yards and 4 passing TDs as he has continued to build on his rapport with veterans Keenan Allen and Mike Williams as well as rookie Jaylen Guyton. Going forward for the rest of the season there is yet to be an indication from the Chargers camp as to whether Herbert is to be the starter going forward if Taylor is healthy again after the bye week and so at this point in time, we may need to apply some caution in redraft leagues.
Rating: 8 / 10
Jonathan Taylor – RB (Indianapolis Colts)
The rookie out of Wisconsin came into the NFL as the second picked running-back of the 2020 NFL Draft. With it came a lot of expectation and a lot of comparisons to Clyde Edwards-Helaire in that respect. This was of course understandable as Taylor in his junior year ran for 21 touchdowns as well as catching 5 receiving touchdowns. The slight difference between Taylor and CEH however, was that Taylor entered into an established backfield which included veterans Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines. Taylor has done extremely well to assert himself as the lead back (helped by Mack’s IR designation) post-Week 1. In Week 1, it looked like the Colts would opt for a running-back committee this season but, since Mack’s injury however, Taylor has taken the lion’s share of touches out of the backfield, which includes 26 touches in Week 2, where Taylor ran for 101 yards and a touchdown. The ex-Badger is currently the RB15 in the league and has 3 rushing TDs to his name as he enters his bye week, in Week 7 and the Colts go to 4-2. It serves Taylor well that he is playing in a team who are grinding out results, especially as he stands to feature frequently.
Rating: 8 / 10
Justin Jefferson – WR (Minnesota Vikings)
Justin Jefferson needs to be included in the Rookie of the Year debate, there is no doubt about that. The third representation from the 2019 LSU Tigers team built up a formidable rapport with Joe Burrow whilst in their final year at Louisiana State where Jefferson caught 111 receptions for 1,540 yards and 18 TDs. This season, Jefferson is currently the WR4 (WR7 in PPR) and fits straight into a system in Minnesota that had a vacant spot for someone exactly like Jefferson after Stefon Diggs was traded to the Buffalo Bills. Jefferson has 537 receiving yards to his name in addition to 3 TDs and has caught for over 100 yards in 3 out of 6 games so far this season. After Week 2, the jury was still out on Jefferson but in Week 3 he exploded onto the scene with 175 receiving yards from 7 receptions (9 targets) and a score. This week Minnesota are on a BYE but will return in Week 8 for a hat-trick of games against division rivals who’ve offered a lot of yards and TDs to opposition receivers. The system is perfect for Jefferson and so long as Cousins doesn’t throw 3 INTs every game, Jefferson should be on the receiving end of most of those passes.
Rating: 9 / 10
CeeDee Lamb – WR (Dallas Cowboys)
Definitely a diamond in the rough in this Cowboys team. The Oklahoma product who scored 32 receiving TDs whilst a Sooner has shown thus far why he was rated so highly in the 2020 NFL draft. In a team with a WR corps that includes both Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, CeeDee Lamb has managed to extend himself to be a very productive wide-receiver after Week 6, totalling 497 receiving yards and making it into the end-zone twice, both in Week 4 against the Cleveland Browns. With an average of over 8 targets per game he is currently the WR14 (WR9 in PPR) and only 6 receiving yards shy of his teammate Cooper. Whilst his season has started well, it must be taken into account that Prescott who after Week 5 had thrown nearly 300 yards more than any other QB was rendered out for the season. With Dalton now calling the shots, we saw in Week 6 that both Lamb and Cooper shared targets in their defeat to the Cardinals. The game against in Washington in Week 7 should indicate how we can expect Lamb to be used for the remainder of the season.
Rating: 8.5 / 10
Chase Claypool – WR (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Where to start with Chase Claypool? The former Notre Dame wide-receiver was picked up by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 49th pick of this year’s draft. In his senior year in Indiana, the Canadian scored 13 TDs in as many games and accumulated 1,037 receiving yards and attracted attention from a lot of people at the NFL combine. Claypool joined a WR corps which already consisted of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson (who has seldom featured since Week 2) and James Washington. Upon joining his new team at training camp, coaches and teammates were instantly in awe of Claypool pushing him up to the WR2 position within the Steelers offense. That faith and respect has been reciprocated with 6 touchdowns in total so far, with the highlight being Claypool’s Week 5 performance against the Eagles where he caught 7 targets (11 receptions) for 110 yards and 3 TDs, as well as adding a rushing TD. In Week 6, Claypool added another rushing touchdown and so the undefeated Steelers will more than likely look to use Claypool as a versatile piece going forward.
Rating: 9 / 10
Antonio Gibson – RB (Washington Football Team)
The third round revelation out of Memphis is exactly where a lot of fantasy managers hoped to see him at this point in the season. Gibson operated largely as a receiver whilst playing for the Memphis Tigers and in his senior year (after transferring from JUCO in his junior year) scored 8 receiving touchdowns and 4 rushing touchdowns, averaging 19.3 YPC and 11.2 rushing yards. He attracted a lot of attention leading up to the draft and when selected by Ron Rivera and the Washington Football Team, it was only a matter of time before Gibson showed his new team what he was all about. Upon his arrival, the Washington FT disposed of last year’s rushing leader Adrian Peterson and put Gibson ahead of new signings J.D. McKissic and Peyton Barber who transferred to the FT from the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, respectively. In return, Gibson has 3 rushing TDs to his name as well as 243 rushing yards and 147 receiving yards. Gibson also has a favourable schedule (with the exception of the Week 13 game against the Steelers) so, if he can stay healthy he has a chance of climbing this list even further.
Rating: 8 / 10
D’Andre Swift – WR (Detroit Lions)
The former Georgia Bulldogs running-back has had a solid introduction to the NFL so far since picked in the second round by the Detroit Lions. The Lions already had Kerryon Johnson on their roster and added Adrian Peterson and so it isn’t the easiest scenario for Swift to demonstrate and showcase the same level of production he was able to produce in Georgia (in particular his sophomore year). So far however, Swift has 3 rushing TDs and a receiving TD which puts him at RB28 (RB25 in PPR) with a big ceiling opportunity as Kerryon Johnson’s role in the team reduces each week, and Swift takes carries from Peterson. Swift maybe could have added another receiving TD in the last seconds of the Week 1 encounter against the Lions but since then has sought to redeem himself. Now that the Lions have already had their BYE it will allow the Lions to finish out the season with conviction. Swift has a major role to play in the potential success of the Lions and it is likely that his role will increase with each game as the season progresses.
Rating: 8 / 10
It is also worth mentioning a brief analysis of the highest rated rookies prior to the season start (not already mentioned on the list above):
J.K. Dobbins – RB (Baltimore Ravens) Dobbins is another back, similar to Swift entering a loaded backfield but, with each week it seems as though Dobbins’ role becomes more apparent (particularly against defences who don’t defend the run well) Ingram’s workload could be set to reduce at the expense of Dobbins after the BYE if his ankle doesn’t heal as expected.
Rating: 7 / 10
Cam Akers – RB (Los Angeles Rams) Akers was used considerably in the Week 1 game against the Dallas Cowboys but in the following game against the Eagles, Akers picked up an injury. The injury has allowed both Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown to showcase their talents. Upon Akers’ return in Week 5 against Washington, it seemed as though the committee would resume, but Week 6 proved otherwise, where Akers only played a single snap.
Rating: 5 / 10
Jerry Jeudy – WR (Denver Broncos) Jeudy has had an average season so far. Given that Courtland Sutton was rendered out for the season in Week 2 and that Sutton didn’t feature at all in Week 1, we could have expected to see Jeudy’s numbers increase a little more. Jeudy does have 266 yards and a TD to his name, but as the supposed WR1 in Denver, he is currently being outscored by Tim Patrick. Constantly changing QBs obviously hasn’t helped, so I guess time will tell on Jeudy.
Rating: 6.5 / 10
Henry Ruggs – WR (Las Vegas Raiders) Ruggs had a fantastic Week 5 game against the Kansas City Chiefs, prior to the BYE week, where Ruggs amassed 118 receiving yards and a score from 3 targets (2 receptions). Aside from this, Derek Carr has looked mostly towards Renfrow, Agholor and Waller on most plays. It is difficult to assess the role of the former Alabama receiver but so far, given the hype surrounding him prior to the season, he has underwhelmed thus far.
Rating: 6 / 10
Tee Higgins – WR (Cincinnati Bengals) Higgins is including in this list ahead of the likes of Jalen Reagor as Reagor has been on IR since Week 2. Higgins is worth a mention as he is building up a very strong rapport with Joe Burrow. Since Week 3, Higgins has averaged 8 targets per game (4.75 receptions) and in the Week 6 fixture he racked up 125 receiving yards and was unfortunate not to add to the pair of TDs he scored in Week 3 against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Rating: 8 / 10