Fantasy Football Rookie Report Year in Review
This was a crazy year for rookies. After so many quarterbacks were drafted in the first round, and fantasy owners (as well as real-life owners and general managers) debated drafting running backs high, things eventually settled down by the midpoint of the season.
Now that the regular season is over, it’s time to take a look back at this year’s rookie class to find out who is worth paying attention to heading into their sophomore campaigns. To close out the 2018 season, here’s one last Rookie Report, looking at three first-year players whose stocks rose over the course of the season, and three whose stock fell.
Phillip Lindsay (RB – DEN)
Lindsay absolutely deserves to be the first player mentioned in this column. He came out of quite literally nowhere to take hold of the Broncos’ No. 1 running back role. The undrafted rookie finished 13th out of all running backs in fantasy points per game in PPR leagues, and 12th in standard leagues.
Meanwhile, fellow rookie Royce Freeman, who was drafted in the third round, was being drafted as the No. 19 running back in fantasy leagues leading up to the start of the year, according to our average draft position rankings. But Lindsay showed elusiveness that Freeman couldn’t, eventually wrestling away the starting job from him.
Lindsay finished the year with 516 more rushing yards than Freeman and five more total touchdowns. With his outstanding rookie campaign, it will be Lindsay who is being drafted as a top 20 running back this offseason.
Saquon Barkley (RB – NYG)
Given his youth and usage, there’s an argument to be made that Barkley should be the No. 1 overall pick in 2019 fantasy drafts. He’s certainly a top three lock with only Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley in the mix.
Barkley was the No. 2 scoring running back in standard leagues this year, and No. 1 in point-per-reception leagues. The Penn State product became just the third running back all-time to eclipse 2,000 all-purpose yards in his rookie year – on a 5-11 team no less. The two other players to do it, Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James, played on teams that finished 9-7 and 13-3, respectively.
It’s truly astounding what Barkley did this season given that he played with an aging and declining Eli Manning all season, and without Odell Beckham Jr., the only other viable offensive weapon on the Giants, for the last quarter of the season. Barkley’s ceiling will only get higher if the Giants can upgrade at quarterback and along their offensive line.
Baker Mayfield (QB – CLE)
Nick Chubb also deserves a shout-out here for his performance after the Browns traded Carlos Hyde, so this entry really is more about the Browns offense as a whole. A lot of Mayfield and Chubb’s fantasy value will rely on the Browns’ head coaching hire this offseason. If Freddie Kitchens manages to stick around as offensive coordinator, or even head coach, both of their stocks’ will rise during the pre-draft process this offseason.
Regardless of what happens this offseason, it’s worth highlighting what Mayfield did this year as a rookie. He set the record for passing touchdowns in a season by a rookie, despite only starting 12 games.
Over the last six games of the season, Mayfield scored an average of 22.8 fantasy points, which would have ranked as the second highest-scoring fantasy quarterback on a per-game basis had he kept up that pace all year. After Hue Jackson was fired as the Browns’ head coach, the No. 1 overall pick had five games with 20 or more fantasy points after only having one of those games with Jackson on the sideline. Mayfield should be considered a top 12 fantasy quarterback in 2019 drafts.
Rashaad Penny (RB – SEA)
Penny was the fifth highest-drafted rookie running back in 2018 drafts, according to our ADP rankings. At the time, I wrote that he was being overvalued because of competition in Seattle. Despite being drafted in the first round of the draft, Penny couldn’t do enough to separate himself from the pack.
Penny wound up finishing third on the team in rushing yards behind Chris Carson and Mike Davis and only scored twice. He had just one game with 100 rushing yards and only two with 10 or more carries. Carson absolutely dominated Seattle’s backfield by the end of the year, finishing the year taking more than 42 percent of its total offensive snaps, while Penny was only on the field for 17 percent, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com. Barring some offseason moves by the Seahawks, Penny shouldn’t be getting much attention in 2019 drafts.
Ronald Jones II (RB – TB)
In the same Vein, Jones started the year as someone fantasy owners thought would get the bulk of the work in a thin Tampa Bay backfield, but he just usually got the opportunities. When he did, he wasn’t particularly impressive.
Jones, who was being drafted ahead of guys like Nick Chubb and Aaron Jones, was in and out of the lineup all year with a hamstring injury and only finished the year with 44 rushing yards. He did get 10 carries in Week 4 against the Bears (who had the best defense in the league, to be fair) and mustered only 2.9 yards per carry.
The Bucs’ passing offense was productive despite flip-flopping between Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick, yet the run game did nothing. Jones only had one touch over the last four weeks of the year, while Peyton Barber took on more and more of the workload.
Courtland Sutton (WR – DEN)
Everything was setting up nicely for Sutton. Philip Lindsay was moving Denver’s run game along, the offensive line had improved in the offseason, and Demaryius Thomas was traded to the Texans midseason.
However, he just never seemed to put it together. Sutton was drafted as the No. 54 wide receiver near other rookie receivers such as Calvin Ridley and D.J. Moore, but at no point was he a reliable flex player like Moore and Ridley were by the end of the year. He didn’t eclipse more than 85 receiving yards in a game and posted four games with only one catch.
After Thomas was traded prior to Week 9, he only scored two touchdowns and had five games of three or fewer catches. With the Broncos’ quarterback situation in flux, there’s no reason for owners to bank on Sutton next year.
Jon Munshaw is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Jon, check out his archive.