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By Jennifer Eakins, 4for4
Special to Yahoo Sports
Sophomore Slump is a term that’s become part of our vernacular for many things such as albums, movies, television series — and what it actually originated from, collegiate studying. I’m baffled by its roots since most freshmen party too hard their first year and make an attempt to get it together by the time sophomore year comes around, but maybe at some point, it was reversed.
In the sports world and for our fantasy football purposes, this term refers to players who come into the league hot only to fizzle out a bit and regress in Year 2. This article is not about those guys, however, and will instead focus on the second-year running backs and receivers we should be targeting in our 2021 drafts.
Thanks to a tremendously talented 2020 draft class there is a plethora to choose from.
All the talk going into last season was the depth of talent at receiver — which there was, but the rushers in the 2020 NFL draft class certainly held their own in their first seasons. Here are some of the RBs in the best spots to succeed heading into their sophomore NFL campaigns.
Antonio Gibson, RB - Football Team
Coming out of Memphis, Antonio Gibson’s dual-threat ability was well known and he was an exciting rookie prospect for fantasy purposes. Gibson was hot right out of the gate, putting up RB9 numbers in half-PPR points per game (15.1) through Week 12 until a toe injury slowed him down for the final five contests of 2020.
Healthy and more mature, according to Ron Riviera, Gibson is set up for a really solid sophomore season in Washington. He gets Ryan Fitzpatrick instead of Alex Smith and the addition of Curtis Samuel should only help the team’s scoring opportunities as a whole. The 23-year-old will have to split some of the passing down work with J.D. McKissic, but there should still be plenty of volume to go around for Gibson to stand out his sophomore year.
He’s been leaving boards as RB12 on Yahoo leagues with an ADP in the second round. Gibson makes for an excellent target for those choosing a WR or Travis Kelce in the first round at the back end of drafts, or for those who want to lock up two strong RBs from the start.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB - Chiefs
CEH didn’t have the coming-out party that some had hoped for and anticipated, but he did finish as the RB26 in half-PPR points per contest after playing in just 13 games in 2020. He’s on an offense with a propensity to throw, but Andy Reid also loves a lead back, and he’s made many of his rushers into fantasy RB1s including Duce Staley, Brian Westbrook, LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, and Kareem Hunt.
The Chiefs added Jerick McKinnon this offseason and Darrel Williams is still in the mix, but CEH should still see around 15 touches per contest in 2021, which would put him in top-15 RB territory if he can remain healthy. As a late-second rounder/top-of-the-third rounder in Yahoo ADP, CEH makes for a juicy post-hype sleeper candidate as an RB2 with RB1 upside.
A.J. Dillon, RB - Packers
The Quadfather's — or Quadzilla’s — rookie season was marred by a hot Aaron Jones to start out the year, and then COVID-19, which sidelined Dillon for over a month. His most productive game came in Week 12 where he rushed 21 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns, giving us a glimpse of his potential as an NFL back.
Dillon should slide in the complementary role Jamaal Williams left behind which makes him worth a speculative pick in the late-single to early-double digit rounds. Williams averaged 125 rushes and 31 catches per season in his four years in Green Bay, but Dillon should be mostly involved in the rushing portion based on his skill set.
If Jones were to miss any time, we could see Dillon’s massive upside come to fruition and he could enter the conversation as a fantasy RB1. For now, consider the sophomore as an RB3 with RB2 upside better served in non-PPR formats. Yahoo drafters are taking Dillon around pick 110, towards the end of the 11th round and top of the 12th.
Honorable Mention (but not really): J.K. Dobbins (ADP: RB16, 24) I didn’t want people yelling at me that I forgot him, but I really don’t love Dobbins for as high as he’s being drafted. Give me Swift, Chris Carson, or a WR such as Amari Cooper or Mike Evans in that spot instead.
Last year’s rookie receiving class was a special one and they showed up in a big way in their introduction to the NFL. There were five first-year wideouts who finished the season as WR33 or above in half-PPR points. Let’s take a look at which of these sophomores are set to repeat their hot starts and who’s ready to take a leap in Year 2.
CeeDee Lamb, WR - Cowboys
Lamb’s rookie line of 74-935-5 — plus another 10 rushes for 85 yards and a score — was impressive enough, but he did so without Dak Prescott under center for 11 of those 16 games. With Prescott in the mix for the first five contests, Lamb averaged 14.2 half-PPR points per game as WR18, and for the remainder of the season that dropped to 9.2 as WR45.
Better QB play should help Lamb take his game to another level in 2021 and this Dallas offense could throw the ball close to 600 times, meaning there'll be plenty of targets to share among Lamb, Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Blake Jarwin. Yahoo drafters are taking Lamb as WR14 at pick 42.
Jerry Jeudy, WR - Broncos
The Alabama product’s first season in the NFL was a mixed bag of big plays, plenty of drops (10), and brutally inconsistent QB play. He did lead the Denver offense in receiving yards with 856, after being thrust into the WR1 role once Courtland Sutton went down with a season-ending ACL injury in Week 2.
Last year was not highly indicative of Jeudy’s potential production and with a more capable QB under center, those targets can be more meaningful. If Teddy Bridgewater wins the job — which Denver beat writers seem to think that’s the direction it’s going — we’ll see better-timed balls which would showcase Jeudy’s knack for making defenders look foolish in his routes.
The return of Courtland Sutton isn’t too concerning because if this offense can move a few steps forward in 2021, there is certainly room for two productive WRs. Bridgewater managed to support three fantasy-relevant wideouts last year in Carolina, with DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, and Curtis Samuel finishing as WR22, WR24, and WR25, respectively in half-PPR points per tilt. Jeudy’s ADP is still pretty favorable at 105 on Yahoo.
Darnell Mooney, WR - Bears
For an NFL fifth-rounder, Darnell Mooney outperformed expectations as Chicago’s WR2 in 2020. He averaged a decent 7.6 half-PPR points per game with the underwhelming duo of Nick Foles and Mitch Trubisky throwing him the ball — or rather, attempting to throw to an open Mooney only to either overthrow or underthrow him. The rookie commanded a 17% target share (98 targets) and posted the second-most air yards (631) in Chicago behind only Allen Robinson.
This season Mooney gets an upgrade at QB no matter who ends up starting or finishing the season between Andy Dalton or Justin Fields. With Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller gone, Mooney should remain the Bears WR2 opposite Robinson. He’s pretty cheap in drafts too, which always helps.
Mooney can be easily had in the 13th round of Yahoo drafts. You’re basically getting a WR3 with WR2 upside for yard sale WR5-6 pricing.
Honorable Mention (but not really): Tee Higgins, Bengals (ADP: WR28) Higgins is a bit pricey, give me Tyler Boyd in PPR two rounds later. Brandon Aiyuk, 49ers (ADP: WR25) Aiyuk is fine as a WR3 and is being drafted as such. Chase Claypool (ADP: WR27) Ben Roethlisberger’s elbow does not inspire confidence and neither does Father Time knocking on his door. If you’re going to invest in any Steeler WR, Diontae Johnson is the guy to target instead of a value-target-dependent Claypool.
A proud alumna of the UGA Grady College of Journalism, Jennifer Eakins has been working in the sports industry for well over a decade. She has had stints with CNN Sports, the Atlanta Hawks, and the Colorado Rockies. Her first fantasy football draft took place in 1996 where she selected Ricky Watters with the first overall pick, and she has been a fantasy degenerate ever since.
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