One of the biggest keys to successful roster construction is balance. It’s important to insure high ceiling players with solid floor options. Over the last three weeks, I’ve outlined one squad teeming with upside, another rife with security, and a third ready to breakout in 2020.
This go-around, however, I’m playing with youth. Keep an eye on these first-year players, likely to emerge throughout their freshman campaigns.
Behold, my All Rookies Team:
QB: Joe Burrow
RB: Jonathan Taylor
WR: Justin Jefferson
WR: Jerry Jeudy
TE: Adam Trautman
Flex: Michael Pittman
Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
They call him Joe Cool for a reason.
The son of a college football coach, Burrow’s game is slick. He’s got the poise and processing speed of a pro, as evidenced by 3,077 air yards on the 2019 season (QB1) and his 76.3% (QB1) completion percentage. He’s also surrounded by an intriguing group of pass catchers in Cincinnati and will be working behind a healthy and revamped offensive line. By all accounts, the No. 1 overall pick has been as advertised in training camp, picking up the playbook with aplomb and commanding the huddle.
While the appeal is obvious, the rate at which Burrow can ascend — especially in such an atypical offseason — is the biggest obstacle facing his fantasy relevance in 2020. At such a deep position it doesn’t make sense to start Burrow Week 1, but as Andy Behrens emphatically argued on a recent episode of the Yahoo Fantasy Forecast, the 23-year-old has top-10 FF potential. Per 4for4, Burrow also has the fourth-best strength of schedule. He’s currently the Yahoo Consensus ranked QB17, between Daniel Jones and Baker Mayfield.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Like Sonic the Hedgehog without the turbo gear, CEH is a creative runner and savvy pass-catcher. With jaw-dropping contact balance, the Louisiana native has the ability to bowl over, between, and through defenders, as evidenced by his 2019 broken tackle percentage of 34 percent (RB9). He’s also an excellent receiver out of the backfield, having posted a top-THREE completion percentage of 84.62 percent last year.
The final pick of the first round of last April’s NFL draft, expectations are obviously high for Edwards-Helaire. With Damien Williams opting out of the 2020 season, those expectations have shot through the roof. But CEH has the talent to ROI. After all, this is a player that the aforementioned Joe Burrow claimed was LSU’s best athlete. He’ll make his professional debut on Thursday night, kicking off the NFL’s 101st season versus Houston. Given all of the positive buzz surrounding his multi-hyphenate abilities, he figures to open Week 1 with over 100 scrimmage yards and a TD.
Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts
Similar to Nick Chubb, Taylor’s running style illustrates urgency and authority. Advanced patience and power allow him to churn his way through holes and muscle his way past defenders, while a compact build (5-foot-10 and 226 pounds) and remarkable contact balance keep him upright. The Colts didn’t draft this bruiser with sub-4.4 speed and over 950 collegiate touches in the second round if they didn’t intend to lean on him.
Marlon Mack — who averaged just 3.5 YPC when facing base fronts while working behind a top-ranked run-blocking unit — isn’t going away, but Taylor figures to get dibs on early downs and the goal line. That sentiment was backed up by the team’s fast-tracking of the rookie, who received first-team reps throughout training camp. The former Badger will open the season at Jacksonville against a depleted Jags defense that gave up the second-most rushing touchdowns (23) in 2019. Pencil him in for a top-20 debut (Week 1 FF: 63 total yards and 1 TD).
Justin Jefferson, WR, Minnesota Vikings
Frequently comped to Tyler Boyd throughout the draft process, Jefferson is a high-floor player who demonstrates excellent ball skills, body control, and route-running prowess. Deployed predominantly via the slot while at LSU, the former Tiger led the nation with 111 grabs and posted the second-most scores with 18 receiving TDs. His ability to maneuver — whether tracking the ball, varying route tempo, or adjusting mid-air — is executed with seemingly effortless precision. He figures to get on the field early and often with nearly 100 targets vacated on the heels of Stefon Diggs’ departure to Buffalo.
After landing on the COVID-19 list in early August, the 21-year-old admittedly has ground to make up. He opened training camp running with the second-team offense, but as recently as last week scrimmaged with the 1s. That shows he’s working his way up the roster. While he’ll likely start the season as the team’s WR3 behind Adam Thielen and Olabisi Johnson, a player with Jefferson's pedigree and technical savvy figures to win the No. 2 job by October. He’s the Yahoo Consensus WR54.
Jerry Jeudy, WR, Denver Broncos
In the interest of transparency, I had planned to highlight Jalen Reagor in this space. However, due to a labrum tear that’s expected to sideline the rookie for four weeks, I’ve had to lower him in my rankings. While target volume is a concern for Jeudy — who is the highest Yahoo Consensus ranked rookie (WR52) — his pro-readiness is not.
From body control to boundary awareness, there’s a lot to like about Jeudy’s game. The ease with which he runs a diverse and well-honed route-tree, however, is what stands out the most. A long strider with YAC prowess and big-play potential, the 2018 Biletnikoff winner can already break fast and bend a stem like a pro. This polish and crisp route-running ability has been noted and confirmed by beat writers throughout training camp. I expect the versatile receiver to eventually leapfrog Tim Patrick and line up opposite Courtland Sutton or move into the slot on three-wide WR sets. Even with tempered expectations, Jeudy’s snap share only figures to grow as the season progresses.
Adam Trautman, TE, New Orleans Saints
We’re all aware of the “Rookie tight ends don’t produce in fantasy” trope. After all, two of the most exciting prospects at the position struggled to crack the top-15 last year. This spot could have been dedicated to Cole Kmet or Devin Asiasi, but as Emory Hunt recently reminded me, when the New Orleans Saints give up four picks to snag a player that had been drawing buzz since last October … you pay attention.
A Michigan native who was recruited by Dayton to play QB, Trautman’s experience as a tight end is decidedly limited. Yet when watching his tape, one can’t help but be wowed by his physical gifts. At 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, he presents an ideal frame for the position. Plus, he can adjust to the ball mid-air, remains aggressive after the catch, and knows how to win in the red zone.
— Garland Gillen (@garlandgillen) August 26, 2020
He also appears to be a fast learner, receiving reps with the first-team in camp and drawing praise from Jared Cook. Interestingly the 33-year-old Cook is set to become an UFA in 2021, fueling the Trautman hype-train. #AllAboard
Michael Pittman, WR, Indianapolis Colts
The Colts clearly believe they have a window with Philip Rivers at the helm and are trying their darnedest to give him some real weapons. Using their first pick of the 2020 NFL Draft on Pittman, a big (6-foot-4 and 223 pounds) and reliable (dropped just 2.8% of his career catchable targets at USC) target, is evidence of the team’s fondness for the rookie.
According to reports from training camp, the former Trojan’s toughness after the catch, as well as his ability to win in contested situations, has been on full display during practice. Getting reps with the ones, he’s been working on his timing with Philip Rivers and could emerge as a Mike Williams-like target for the veteran QB. With Zach Pascal already nursing a hamstring injury and Parris Campbell (whose rookie campaign was limited to just seven games as a result of numerous injuries) concussed, Pittman could see meaningful snaps as early as Week 1. It would not surprise me to see him lead the Colts’ WR corps in scores by the end of December.
How would you draft an All Rookies Team? Let Liz know on social @LizLoza_FF.