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Best NFL Rookie Fits for Fantasy Football

May 1, 2018

Dak’s favorite target this year might end up being a rookie

The build-up toward the NFL Draft and the experience while it the selections are taking place are exceptionally fun, but let’s not kid ourselves that we’ve all been looking forward to the moment when we can actually have an idea of his redraft ADPs will look. With rookies on their rosters and virtually every relevant free agent having signed, the picture is almost as clear as it will be three months from now when we are drafting our fantasy teams. Today, I’ll give you a small glimpse of it all by naming the eight rookies who most benefited from excellent fantasy landing spots.

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Running Backs

Royce Freeman (DEN)
The former Oregon Duck was expected to be selected in the fourth or fifth round, but the Broncos made sure to grab their guy in the early third before the chance passed them up. Freeman is a 240-pound bulldozer who can actually catch the ball quite well out of the backfield. He doesn’t possess top end speed or elusiveness, but neither does Mark Ingram and he has fared just fine in the NFL. Seeing that the Broncos dropped C.J. Anderson, Freeman will only need to beat out Devontae Booker and De’Angelo Henderson in Denver’s backfield. Freeman has to be the odds-on favorite to win that battle and could be in line for 200+ touches and all of the goal-line work. Essentially, he went from being unownable in redraft leagues to a top 100 pick just because of the landing spot.

Ronald Jones II (TB)
I’ll admit that I was lower on Jones than most other experts across the industry heading into the draft. He was my RB7 in this draft class behind Barkley, Michael, Penny, Guice, Freeman and Chubb in that order. That was based on talent, however, while fantasy has much more to do with opportunity and the schemes a player falls into. Jones may have landed in the ideal spot, as he is the clear frontrunner to get the lion’s share of touches out of the backfield. They’ve got Charles Sims and Jacquizz Rodgers as well, but both are merely third down backs. Peyton Barber is his only true competition and Jones is almost certain to come out on top of that battle. Don’t be surprised if he trails only Saquon Barkley in terms of workload as a rookie running back.

Jordan Wilkins (IND)
Perhaps you’ve never heard of this name before. That alone does not tell you everything you need to know. He is clearly not a great prospect, or he would have been selected within the first three rounds of the NFL Draft. With that being said, the Colts thought enough of him to draft him when they so desperately needed an early-down back. If you think Marlon Mack or Nyheim Hines can play that role then you are mistaken. Granted, he will have to beat our Matt Jones and Christine Michael and/or DeMarco Murray for the early down role, but to go from being a fringe NFL player to having a shot at leading a potentially high-scoring offense in carries is quite the swing.

Wide Receivers

Michael Gallup (DAL)
With Gallup, you don’t exactly get the world-beater athleticism of a Courtland Sutton or D.J. Moore, but Gallup certainly comes with plenty to be excited about. The do-it-all receiver should lead all rookies in targets considering his landing spot. D.J. Moore is competing with Greg Olsen, Christian McCaffrey and Devin Funchess while Calvin Ridley gets Julio Jones, James Washington is blocked by Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. Meanwhile, Gallup has to beat out Terrance Williams, Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin and Rico Gathers. Yawn. Gallup is polished and a crisp route runner with enough speed to break a few big touchdowns this year. It should come as no surprise if he ends up leading all rookie wide receivers in fantasy points this year.

Dante Pettis (SF)
Much like Ronald Jones II above, Pettis was not among my favored prospects heading into the draft, but any time you can join a Kyle Shannahan offense with a chance to start as a rookie, you’ve got to feel pretty good about the situation. Add in the fact that Jimmy Garrpololo might just be a superstar quarterback and fantasy owners ought to be licking their chops for Pettis as a sleeper in redraft leagues. He’ll have to fight targets away from Pierre Garcon and Marquis Goodwin, but compared to many other rookies, that is a welcome challenge.

Tre’Quan Smith (NO)
Like the names above, Smith actually has a shot to start this season for his NFL team. What makes it even better is that Drew Brees would be the one slinging him passes. As it stands right now, the Saints have Michael Thomas and a whole bunch of nobodies from Ted Ginn and Brandon Coleman to Cam Meredith and Austin Carr. Now, this one is much more of a boom or bust proposition than the names above, as Smith’s game needs some refinement, but the point is that he went from being on no one’s radar in even deep dynasty leagues to someone who might even contribute in standard redraft leagues as a rookie.

Quarterback/Tight End

*I put these two under the same heading because there isn’t a single player from either position who is fantasy relevant in standard 12-team redraft leagues going into drafts this season. Instead, I will touch on the draft day winners for dynasty leagues.

Mason Rudolph (PIT)
Rudolph checks all of the boxes for a quarterback prospect. He is a four-year starter with success, all the intangibles you could want, a big body, big arm, accuracy, awareness, touch. Had this been a normal quarterback class, Rudolph would have never slipped to the third round. In fact, he may not have escaped the top 10 picks. His closest NFL comp is actually the player Rudolph will eventually replace. Big Ben should be retiring next off-season or soon thereafter, and when he does, Rudolph will receive the keys to an offense that features two first ballot hall of famers in Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, along with two up-and-coming young receivers in JuJu Smith Schuster and James Washington. Sign me up for all of the Rudolph dynasty shares.

Dalton Schultz (DAL)
This rookie class for tight ends featured four impressive prospects then a pretty substantial drop off. That does not mean, however, that none of the others can make a long career in the NFL. If any of them pulls it off, my money is on Schultz, who may not be the best blocking tight end, but has all of the skills to succeed as a pass-catching tight end. That is exactly what we’d hope to hear about a fantasy football prospect, and it only gets better considering the offense he is in and the sudden void to be filled as a result of Jason Witten‘s retirement.

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