Rookies Outside the Top 10 That Could be Superstars (2020 Fantasy Football)
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You likely have a good sense of who you are going to take with your first-round pick in your dynasty rookie draft, or at least who you can expect to be available when you are on the clock. But what about those next few picks? Every year, rookies from outside the top 10 have a significant impact on fantasy football, either in their freshman campaign or in future seasons.
To help you navigate your dynasty rookie draft, we’ve asked our writers to provide rookies currently outside the top 10 in our consensus rankings that have the best shot at being superstars.
Q: Which rookie draft pick outside the top 10 has the best shot at being a superstar?
Tua Tagovailoa (QB – MIA)
The Joe Burrow hype is well-documented at this point, but there is a credible case that Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa could be the better long-term franchise guy. Tagovailoa was one of the signature efficiency-monster passing quarterbacks in college, tallying 11.2 yards per attempt as a sophomore and 11.3 as a junior (97th-percentile). Efficiency numbers like that are generally reserved for air raid attacks, not run-first bully offenses like Alabama. Tagovailoa has the best yards per attempt mark in Alabama history for passers with at least 100 pass attempts, a full 2.1 yards per attempt better than all-time leading passer A.J. McCarron. Tagovailoa’s 94.9 QBR in college ranks him in the 99th-percentile of college prospects, and it can in part be attributed to his well-timed runs. While Tagovailoa has not tested athletically, he tallied 133 rushing yards as a freshman and 190 as a sophomore, so the ability is certainly there. One of Tagovailoa’s best attributes is his decision-making, choosing to run at opportune moments. He has both the passing prowess and the requisite mobility to be one of the league’s signature franchise quarterbacks for many years to come.
– Mark Leipold (@LeipoldNFL)
While it would be easy to default to one of the many talented wide receivers ranked outside of our top-10, the players with the best shots at becoming superstars are Tua Tagovailoa and Joe Burrow. As good as Joe Burrow was in his historic senior season, Tua Tagovailoa is still the more talented quarterback. While Joe Burrow will head back to his home state of Ohio to play for the notoriously thrifty Mike Brown, Tua Tagovailoa will head to South Beach to play for Stephen Ross. While sometimes controversial, Ross has proven that he isn’t afraid to open up his pocketbook when needed. If I had to assign probabilities to rookies becoming true superstars in the NFL, Tua would top the list. If he can stay healthy, he should have multiple All-Pro berths in his future, and he should be in the top-five quarterback conversation by 2022. Only health or poor roster construction could hold him back from realizing his potential.
– Raju Byfield (@FantasyContext)
Michael Pittman Jr. (WR – IND)
With the 34th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Colts selected wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. out of USC. The Colts are in need of some pass-catchers in this offense, as veteran T.Y. Hilton has dealt with injuries over the last few years and is 30 years old, and he’s entering his ninth season in the NFL. With veteran Philip Rivers leading this offense, the Colts are going to need some weapons for Rivers to throw to. Eric Ebron and Devin Funchess are also out of Indianapolis, leaving the Colts with just Hilton, Jack Doyle, and second-year wide receiver Parris Campbell, who played in just seven games last year. With arguably the best offensive line in the NFL and a new rookie running back in Jonathan Taylor, this offense has the potential to be very exciting and high-powered this year. Frank Reich had some high praise for Pittman and spoke about him fitting the X role on this offense in the future. At six-foot-four and 223 pounds, Pittman has the prototypical size to be a WR1 in the NFL. He might be the most physical wide receiver in this class — he is very talented in the red zone, doesn’t drop many passes, and had an impressive Combine performance. The Colts demonstrated confidence in Pittman by taking him 34th overall, making him the eighth wide receiver selected this year in a very deep receiver class. The Colts also invested in Pittman before drafting Taylor, who was arguably the top running back in this class. The investment is clear, and Pittman is in one of the best spots for a rookie wide receiver to produce in year one.
– Aaron Schill (aaron_schill)
Ke’Shawn Vaughn (RB – TB)
Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians has made it clear that he would prefer to have a running back who can play on all three downs. Before the draft, he told Buccaneers.com “You can see them all run; I want to see them catch,” said Arians of the upcoming running back workout. “In college football, they don’t do a lot of pass-blocking, so that’s always a big step for them. Can they be a receiver? That separates guys from having to come off the field. I had Christian Okoye who led the league but he never played on third down. Edgerrin James never came off the field. Marshall Faulk never came off the field. For me, I’m looking for that type of guy.” Then the team selected Vanderbilt alum Ke’Shawn Vaughn with the 76th overall pick, a back who Arians described as “is a guy that can play every down.” Yes, Ronald Jones and Dare Ogunbowale are still around, but Vaughn is the only one of the three with the skillset that Arians desires. It’s in his range of outcomes that he controls this backfield midway through the year.
– Brendan Tuma (@toomuchtuma)
Laviska Shenault Jr. (WR – JAC)
Laviska Shenault Jr. went 42nd overall to the Jaguars in the 2020 NFL Draft. He totaled 10 receiving touchdowns and seven rushing scores in his college career. The Jaguars envision Shenault Jr. as a gadget player, and they expect the 21-year-old to play a key role in the offense right off the bat. “You can put him in the backfield. He can play Wildcat,” said Jaguars’ head coach Doug Marrone. He added that “you can put him as the F tight end. You can do a lot of things with him.” Shenault Jr. is a very physical receiver and is an explosive playmaker once the ball is in his hands. He should be able to surpass D.J. Chark and Dede Westbrook on the depth chart to become Gardner Minshew’s unquestioned number one target. If the Jaguars finish with the worst record in the league (Vegas Projected Win Total is 4.5), it gives them the best chance to land top quarterback prospect Trevor Lawrence. The talent is there for Shenault Jr., as he has a unique combination of shiftiness and strength. It might not be right away, but if everything falls into place, Shenault Jr.’s upside and skillset make him an intriguing fantasy option.
– Brad Camara (@beerad30)
Tee Higgins (WR – CIN)
Even though Higgins will join the team with the worst record in the NFL last year, he’s actually entering a very good situation. In a normal draft class, Higgins would have been a first-round pick. He is six-foot-four and 215 pounds and is both a great deep threat (career 18.1 yards per catch) and red zone threat (25 TDs in 2018 and 2019). Because this was one of the deepest draft classes in recent memory, Higgins ended up falling to the 33rd pick. That’s put him in a situation where he can start right away with an elite quarterback prospect in Joe Burrow, and he’ll have some solid veteran talent alongside him like A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd. Their presence will help him learn the position with less pressure as he adjusts to the NFL. A.J. Green is unlikely to remain a Bengal for much longer, which means that Higgins could end up being their featured receiver in 2021 or 2022. If Burrow ends up being the real deal, Higgins could become his favorite target. That combination gives him a great chance to become a superstar. He is in a much better situation than if he had gone in the first round to a team with no established quarterback and / or no other receiver depth to help him grow into the position.
– Derek Lofland (@DerekLofland)
Chase Claypool (WR – PIT)
The Pittsburgh Steelers have experienced some growing pains since the days of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. Being a year removed from Ben Roethlisberger’s injured season, the Steel City needs a resurgence on offense. While Claypool doesn’t have the glitz and glam of stars wide receivers CeeDee Lamb or Jerry Jeudy, he is a near-perfect fit for this offense. The 6’4″, 238-pound receiver is a cheeseburger or two away from being a bruising, pass-catching TE on an offense in desperate need for talent at the position. It wouldn’t surprise me if we see him fulfill the TE role in the future even though he will start as a WR on the roster. He is tied at 17th in contested catches with 15, has an impressive 5.4 yards after the catch given his size, and forced 14 missed tackles during his time at Notre Dame (per PFF). While the Steelers don’t typically rely on rookie wide receivers, we’ve seen a different identity emerge since 2018. Diontae Johnson should help stretch the field and JuJu Smith-Schuster should continue to see a heavy dose of opposing defenses. Eric Ebron is there to take the tight end targets, but Claypool has the opportunity to be used creatively as a big-bodied wide receiver. He can excel in contested catch situations by using his body alone and afford Big Ben a valuable red-zone target. Once Claypool earns his quarterback’s trust, he can accrue a bigger target share and see an opportunity to shine in 2020.
– Lauren Carpenter (@stepmomlauren)
Anthony McFarland Jr. (RB – PIT)
As a University of Maryland graduate, I have been forced into watching an inordinate amount of subpar football over the years. 2018 and 2019 were no exception, but at least I got to watch Anthony McFarland Jr. As a redshirt freshman, the five-foot-eight, 208-pound running back broke the single-season rushing record by a freshman with 1,034 yards on just 114 carries. McFarland Jr. is an electric, big-play, home-run hitter who is just waiting to pop off a long touchdown run. He did so his freshman year against Ohio State, rushing for 298 yards and two touchdowns on just 21 carries. In his two-year career as a Terp, McFarland Jr. averaged a whopping 6.7 yards per carry. Even more telling is his ability to force missed tackles, as he ranked fourth-best in missed tackles forced per rush (0.34), ahead of both Cam Akers and J.K. Dobbins. Why, then, did McFarland Jr. fall to the fourth round of the NFL Draft? The likely answer is his injury history. He suffered a broken leg in high school and a high ankle sprain last season, and he never was a true lead back at Maryland. McFarland Jr. split carries with Javon Leake, who signed as a UDFA with the New York Giants after going undrafted. Now let’s look at the situation he finds himself in with the Steelers. Pittsburgh incumbent starter James Conner has dealt with his fair share of injuries, and he’s in the last year of his rookie deal. The Steelers are likely to scale back his workload, but Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell Jr. may not be the answer. McFarland Jr., however, makes a whole lot of sense as a guy who can catch the ball out of the backfield and can also run between the tackles when asked. I see a lot of Alvin Kamara in him, but McFarland Jr. will tell you that he models his game after a different running back: Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk. “I feel like I have the versatility he brought to the game. I always felt he was the all-purpose back that I wanted to be like,” McFarland said. If anyone in this draft class has the potential to be a superstar, I’ll take my chances on a guy who will be running behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL and who compares himself to one of the greatest running backs of all time.
– Adam Koffler (@AdamKoffler)
Darrynton Evans (RB – TEN)
Darrynton Evans is a bit of a deeper sleeper, as he’s currently the 26th-ranked rookie overall (and the 11th ranked rookie running back). But his path to success is very clear: with third-round draft capital tied to him, he’s one of the few clear-cut handcuffs in fantasy football this year. Evans holds a tremendous amount of upside this year if Derrick Henry were to suffer a major injury, as he would immediately take over as a primary option in the backfield. Though he’s a bit of a smaller back, Evans demonstrated great speed with a 4.41 40-yard dash at the combine. He’s also been talked about as a change-of-pace receiving back on third downs, a facet of the game that Henry does not excel in. He’s an extremely explosive back, too, averaging 5.8 yards per carry in his senior season at Appalachian State. The Tennessee Titans also slapped Henry with the franchise tag this offseason in lieu of giving him an extension, so early indications are that he won’t be around for much longer. Evans, along with three undrafted free agents, are currently the only running backs on the Titans’ roster that are under contract past the 2020 season.
– Sam Hoppen (@SamHoppen)