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15 Early Rookie Predictions (Fantasy Football)

May 6, 2021

Projecting what could happen with every member of this rookie class is a much less complicated endeavor now that we know where everyone has landed. Knowledge of each team’s depth, scheme, and offensive talent along with knowing every rookie’s game is the only way we can make a prediction with any degree of accuracy. Most knew Justin Jefferson would make some kind of impact as a rookie given his situation, and the results were better than anyone could’ve imagined.

Needless to say, many can be wrong with all the knowledge in the world. Justin Herbert significantly outperformed the industry’s expectations and Clyde Edwards-Helaire didn’t quite have the impact most were hoping for, despite his solid season. Now it’s still early and things can change between now and the season, but this a great time for our featured analysts to take their first crack at predicting what we might see from the rookie class this year.

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Q1. Which rookie QB do you expect to have the most fantasy success in year one and how high do you predict he’ll finish?

Trevor Lawrence (JAC) 
“This has to be Lawrence. Not only will he start from day one (something you can’t say about any non-Zach Wilson quarterback), but he has the mobility factor we look for in a quarterback. He’s a big man at 6-foot-6 and 214 pounds, which makes him hard to bring down. Many are projecting him to throw for over 4,000 yards, and while I’m one of them, he should also rush for 400-plus yards and a handful of touchdowns. I anticipate him finishing right in the QB10-QB15 range.”
– Mike Tagliere (FantasyPros)

“We have to go with the quarterback who went first overall in Trevor Lawrence. Lawrence is an elite talent and will likely start Week 1 out of the gate. There is reason to believe that he could finish as a top-12 fantasy quarterback based on the talent around him. The critical factor will likely be his underrated rushing floor that he was so effective with in college. ”
– Steven Pintado (The Fantasy Coaches)

Trey Lance (SF) 
“While Trevor Lawrence is probably the correct answer here due to the fact that he’ll start right away, I’ll go a little bit outside the box and call my shot. I believe that Lance ends up starting sooner than later in San Francisco. When Jimmy Garopollo and Lance get on the practice field together at training camp, Lance is going to make jaw-dropping plays time and time again, which will make it very difficult to keep him on the bench. If a QB-needy team comes calling, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the 49ers deal Jimmy G before the season and roll right away with Lance. Once he sees the field, with the weapons he has and his rushing upside, he’ll immediately be on the fantasy football radar.”
– Kyle Yates (FantasyPros)

“The correct answer is Trevor Lawrence, but I will say Trey Lance did not get drafted to sit out for a second straight season of football. This offense is made for him, and the weapons around him should set him up for early success. The early Josh Allen returns his rookie season were more run-heavy than I think Lance’s will be. However, I think SF is going to turn the page to him soon enough for him to make a fantasy impact.”
– Joe Pisapia (FantasyPros)

Zach Wilson (NYJ) 
“Outside of the prospect himself, think of all the situational factors that have fantasy managers expecting a record-breaking year from Trevor Lawrance. Now I ask you to consider how Wilson’s situation compares. How I see it, much like Lawrence, is he’s locked in to start Week 1, has an abundance of offensive weapons, and is on a team where the phrase ‘poor defense’ is an understatement. All of these aspects are apparent on this ‘new’ Jets team that hasn’t quite blown off the stink of ex-head coach Adam Gase. With Gase gone, Mike LaFleur is likely looking to implement a similar system to Kyle Shanahan (which has been shown to be very lucrative for fantasy quarterbacks). With the potential to finish QB12-15, I would look to grab Wilson late in all two-quarterback leagues.”
– Ellis Johnson (True North Fantasy Football)

Q2. Which rookie are you most interested in drafting for redraft leagues and what are your expectations?

Travis Etienne (RB – JAC) 
“There are few names this offseason that have brought as much disappointment to the fantasy community as Travis Etienne. However, if his value is being depressed by the shell-shocked James Robinson truthers and Urban Meyer’s coach speak, he may be a very interesting player in redraft. The case for his enormous upside is ironically made by James Robinson. The reasoning is shallow, but simple — if an undrafted free agent posted an RB7 campaign last year, imagine what a first-round, pass-catching specialist (on a team with a bad defense) who was hand-picked by the new regime can do. It may be less clear, but there is a path for RB1 upside, and his draft capital would suggest he has a solid floor. If he can be drafted as your RB3 or late RB2, he is worth the gamble in redraft.”
– Ellis Johnson (True North Fantasy Football)

Travis Etienne seems like an early draft value to me. I don’t think an undrafted free agent coming off a great season is going to stop this new coaching regime from giving Etienne this starting job. Although it may take six weeks for the workload to go his way, patience will be rewarded, much like Jonathan Taylor last year.”
– Joe Pisapia (FantasyPros)

Najee Harris (RB – PIT) 
“Running backs are at their prime when they enter the NFL, which makes them the most valuable their rookie season, unlike quarterbacks, wide receivers, and tight ends. Because of that, the answer is Harris, who takes over as the Steelers’ lead back. This is a team that hasn’t been shy about giving running backs 18-plus touches per game with Mike Tomlin at the helm. You don’t draft a three-down back like Harris in the first round and put him in some timeshare. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him average 20-plus touches per game, which puts him smack dab in the middle of the RB1 conversation.”
– Mike Tagliere (FantasyPros)

Amon-Ra St. Brown (WR – DET) 
“While others might mention the top names like Najee Harris and Ja’Marr Chase — which are absolutely the correct calls — I’ll go outside the box again and throw out a fourth-round draft pick that landed in Detroit. Amon-Ra St. Brown fell in the NFL Draft compared to where his talent level is and he’s now in a fantastic spot for fantasy football. There’s practically no competition for him on this roster and the Lions are going to be throwing the ball a ton in 2021 with how bad this defense is right now. The scoring output might not be fantastic, but St. Brown should soak up targets this season.”
– Kyle Yates (FantasyPros)

Jaylen Waddle (WR – MIA) 
“What’s more interesting than explosiveness? Jaylen Waddle. He is an exciting rookie who will get a shot early in Miami to show off his skills. Will Fuller will miss Week 1, and Waddle could take full advantage to show his ability to separate from defenders. In college, Waddle had 14 20-plus-yard touchdowns in his career and will translate that to Miami and fantasy. He could end up surprising and finish as a top-30 receiver in his first season.”
– Steven Pintado (The Fantasy Coaches)

Q3. Which under-the-radar rookie is your favorite sleeper this year and why?

Chuba Hubbard (RB – CAR) 
“It’s hard not to love Hubbard, and not just because he is from a small Canadian city a few hours from where I live. It may hurt Christian McCaffery managers to hear, but I would not be surprised if the team decides to play risk-management with their star player. This is not to say he shouldn’t be the first player drafted in all formats, but I can see the Panthers potentially making CMC’s usage more dynamic by playing him in the slot or out wide more frequently. In this scenario, paired with the absence of Curtis Samuel, Hubbard could use his elite speed to open up the field and play an interesting role. It is quickly forgotten that if not for an underwhelming 2020 campaign, Hubbard could have been a second-rounder in last year’s draft. Worst-case scenario, if Hubbard does not adopt a role in the offense, Mike Davis displayed the potential value of CMC’s backup. As a result, if you draft Hubbard he should turn into an easy flip to the CMC manager.”
– Ellis Johnson (True North Fantasy Football)

Cornell Powell (WR – KC) 
“With all the information available to us, it’s hard to find ‘under-the-radar’ rookies, as everyone’s trying to find that James Robinson from last year. Truth be told, there are no obvious choices for this question, but as rosters currently stand, I’d say that Powell is someone to monitor. The Chiefs didn’t select him until the fifth round, which won’t guarantee him an opportunity right away. But looking at the Chiefs’ depth chart behind Tyreek Hill, it’s wide open. I wouldn’t be shocked if he takes Demarcus Robinson’s spot in the starting lineup before long.”
– Mike Tagliere (FantasyPros)

Nico Collins (WR – HOU) 
“Collins is an easy favorite of mine to be a sleeper in 2021. He is a large possession style receiver with tons of talent, but the numbers and off-field issues brought him down in draft stock. The 6-foot-4 receiver has a real opportunity to start opposite Brandin Cooks. While he may or may not play with Deshaun Watson, the Texans will likely be in passing situations very often, which could make Collins see impactful fantasy numbers in his rookie year.”
– Steven Pintado (The Fantasy Coaches)

D’Wayne Eskridge (WR – SEA) 
“He’s still somehow going under the radar, which is completely baffling to me, but Eskridge is set to open some eyes this season. He’s incredibly talented, has second-round draft capital to his name, and gets to play with Russell Wilson. People are completely sleeping on Eskridge, but don’t be surprised if he makes some big-time plays in the preseason this year and we see his ADP steadily rise.”
– Kyle Yates (FantasyPros)

Javonte Williams (RB – DEN) 
“Williams could be very productive in 2021 for the Broncos. Melvin Gordon has off-the-field problems along with injury and age issues. Williams as a draft-and-hold piece is very intriguing. Running back is a young man’s position, and I think he could potentially lead this backfield in touches before season’s end.”
– Joe Pisapia (FantasyPros)

Thank you to the experts for naming their early rookie predictions. Be sure to give them a follow on Twitter if you’re not already doing so and check out our latest podcast below for more great advice.

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