Loading scores...
Going Deep

Redraft Rookie Targets

by Nick Mensio
Updated On: May 8, 2020, 10:48 am ET

Draft weekend came and went 10 days ago, and I’ve spent parts of this past week and a half really contemplating a handful of my favorite rookies I’ll likely be targeting in redraft leagues this summer. This is not a Dynasty piece, so just remember that. I’m looking at players whose landing spots put them in position to produce right out of the gates in year one. Below are my six favorite rookies I’ll be queuing up in season-long drafts, listed in no particular order.


Colts WR Michael Pittman -- Taken with the second pick of the second round, Pittman landed in an ideal spot for year-one production and has already become my favorite rookie to track in this 2020 class. Big and fast enough at 6’4/223 with 4.52 speed, Pittman was a vertical beast at USC. Pro Football Focus credited over a third of his 2019 receiving yards to go routes, winning time and again on contested downfield catches. And he’s not just a deep threat. With his size and physicality, Pittman showed an ability to win with YAC as a tough-to-bring-down heavyweight in the open field. In their virtual draft setup aired after-the-fact on YouTube, the Colts couldn’t stop raving about Pittman. Everyone seemed on board with the pick at No. 34 overall, with GM Chris Ballard, coach Frank Reich, and the scouts all talking him up, and Ballard even tossed out a comparison to ex-Chargers WR Vincent Jackson. Jackson (6’5/230) was a 2005 second-rounder of the Chargers and averaged a robust 16.8 yards per catch across 155 career games. Jackson played seven seasons with Pittman’s new quarterback in Indy, Philip Rivers. Rivers has always loved throwing the ball downfield to those taller wideouts with long strides who aren’t afraid to go up and make a play. He had Jackson, and then it was Danario Alexander, Malcom Floyd, Tyrell Williams, and Mike Williams. That type of wideout wasn’t on the Colts’ roster prior to the selection of Pittman. Reich has already said the team views Pittman as their starting “X” receiver, which would then put T.Y. Hilton outside opposite him at the “Z” and sophomore Parris Campbell in the slot, with Zach Pascal as the No. 4. With Rivers in the fold, I expect the Colts to ramp up the pace of their offense and go back to throwing the ball. In 2018 with Andrew Luck, Indy was No. 2 in offensive pace, No. 9 in pass-play percentage, and No. 10 in passing DVOA. But in 2019, all those numbers declined sharply with the sudden insertion of game manager-type Jacoby Brissett under center following Luck’s retirement. The Colts were 26th in pace, 28th in pass-play percentage, and 24th in passing DVOA. I like this offense to rebound as a whole and put up more points with Reich going back to the air. And with Eric Ebron now out of the picture, nearly a quarter of the Colts’ overall targets and inside-the-10 targets are available. Pittman is my favorite to lead the Colts in touchdown catches as a rookie. Target volume may not be on his side, but the big-play ability and scoring upside is there.

Vikings WR Justin Jefferson -- The fifth receiver off the board in Round 1, Jefferson is easily my favorite to lead all rookie wideouts in year-one fantasy points. Jefferson’s 14-227-4 evisceration of the Oklahoma Sooners in last season’s playoff semifinal is burnt into my memory bank. At 6’1/202, Jefferson isn’t the biggest receiver, but he showed promising straight-line speed with a 4.41 forty and is an excellent route-runner. He does a lot of his damage in the short-to-intermediate levels of the field, and that fits perfectly with what Kirk Cousins likes to do with the ball in the passing game. Stefon Diggs is obviously gone, and the Vikings did little else at receiver this offseason, signing previous Titans No. 4 receiver and blocking extraordinaire Tajae Sharpe in free agency. Jefferson has a clear path to No. 2 receiver duties alongside Adam Thielen, and Diggs’ departure left the Vikings with 24.8% of their targets up for grabs. Thielen figures to pace the team in the target department, and Irv Smith is likely to take a step forward in Year 2 while Dalvin Cook has always been capable in the passing game. But there is still more than enough to prop up Jefferson. There’s a lot of talk about the Vikings being extremely run-heavy on offense, relying on Cook and the defense. That’s true in a perfect world, but the Vikings project to take multiple steps back on the defensive side in 2020 after saying goodbye to their top three corners from a year ago (Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, and Mackensie Alexander) while also having failed to re-sign DE Everson Griffen to this point. The Vikings are going to need Cousins to make more plays with his arm. Thielen also missed six games to a hamstring injury last season. Soft-tissue injuries can be recurring things for wideouts, so it’s something to at least keep in mind. If Thielen were ever to miss, we could easily pencil Jefferson in for 8-10 targets per game with upside for more. I like Jefferson as a top-36 WR.

Chiefs RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire -- The first running back off the board on draft weekend, Edwards-Helaire landed in a literal dream offense at No. 32 overall. Coach Andy Reid and GM Brett Veach both said how much CEH reminded them of former Eagles do-it-all three-down back Brian Westbrook, and Reid even said he thought Edwards-Helaire is better. High praise for the rookie. CEH is viewed by most as the top pass-catching back in the 2020 class and garnered some Austin Ekeler comparisons coming out of LSU after recording over 1,800 yards as a one-year starter. Joining Reid and Patrick Mahomes immediately thrusted Edwards-Helaire onto the fantasy map, and his stock has skyrocketed ever since. It’s likely going to be too rich for my tastes, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want some shares. Veach has already said Damien Williams will remain the starter in Kansas City after he balled out in the Super Bowl win. But CEH is going to be pushing for touches right away, and Williams proved last year he couldn’t stay healthy in his first season atop the depth chart. He’s never handled more than 141 touches in a single season since entering the league in 2014. There’s a path to major playing time in the league’s most lethal offense. If he takes hold of 1A duties, CEH is an easy top-20 fantasy back.

Eagles WR Jalen Reagor -- Picked one spot ahead of Justin Jefferson, the Eagles made Reagor the fourth wideout off the board at No. 21. Many expected the Eagles to prefer Jefferson at that spot, but it’s easy to see Philly coveted Reagor’s speed and big-play ability. Jefferson (4.41) actually ran a faster forty than Reagor (4.47), but Reagor really flashed on deep routes at TCU where he could put his 42-inch vertical on display. Philadelphia badly missed that element of its offense last season when DeSean Jackson went down in Week 2 and never returned to the field in a lost year. Jackson is back, and he and Reagor figure to be lid-lifters in an offense that should rebound in a big way if health cooperates. Alshon Jeffery is coming off Lisfranc surgery and is a complete unknown for 2020 who is likely to start the season on the PUP list. Zach Ertz should pace the Eagles in targets with Jackson and Reagor providing the splash plays. This offense plays up in tempo when everything is right and has the ability to put up big-time points. Volume and Reagor’s spotty production in his final season at TCU are just my major concerns here. We can easily chalk Reagor’s slip in production to horrendous quarterback play with the Horned Frogs. But there figure to be a number of mouths to feed in Philly, starting with Ertz and funneling down through Jackson, Miles Sanders, Dallas Goedert, Reagor, Jeffery, and even guys like Boston Scott and perhaps J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. Reagor owners will likely be riding the week-to-week roller coaster, but he landed in an elite offense.

Rams RB Cam Akers -- The Rams traded up to take Darrell Henderson at No. 70 last year, but Henderson was beat out by Malcolm Brown for backup duties to Todd Gurley. Henderson never seemed to grasp the Rams’ run-blocking scheme and averaged a pitiful 3.8 yards per carry with zero touchdowns on 39 attempts as a rookie. It wasn’t a promising rookie year by any means. The Rams ended up releasing Gurley earlier this offseason, leaving many to believe L.A. was ready to move forward with a Brown-Henderson combo. Instead, the Rams made Akers their first pick of this year’s draft and appear ready to let him go after No. 1 duties in what will likely be some sort of committee approach sans Gurley. Brown isn’t a game-changer at the position and should be best viewed as a steady No. 2. Akers has experience in a pro-style offense and showed he can produce when everything around him seems to be cratering like it was last season at Florida State. He was constantly drilled almost as soon as he got the ball, but Akers was able to shed tackles and create after contact. He also showed well in the passing game by catching 30 passes in his final season with the Seminoles. Offensive line is the main concern in L.A., but the Rams were able to keep LT Andrew Whitworth and C Austin Blythe and may have found something with 2019 third-round OG Bobby Evans late last season. The Rams could use a rebound year from RT Rob Havenstein. And Jared Goff needs to play much better. If those things turn around for the Rams, this backfield should pack a strong fantasy punch. The Rams have invested the most in Akers, and he’s my favorite to lead this group for coach Sean McVay, who operates at one of the fastest offensive paces. Ideally, the Rams will run a ton of plays.

Ravens RB J.K. Dobbins -- The Ravens had a first-round grade on Dobbins and felt they had no choice but to pull the trigger on him at No. 55 overall despite already employing Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, and Justice Hill. Unlike those three, Dobbins offers a true three-down skill set and was a monster producer at Ohio State, setting the school rushing record with 2,003 yards last season while finding the end zone 21 times on the ground. He isn’t just a runner, either, as Dobbins averaged 23 catches per season as a three-year starter for the Buckeyes. Ravens GM Eric DeCosta already confirmed the team views Dobbins as a three-down back. Ingram is likely entering his final year with the team and turns 30 later this year. He has a lot of miles on his tires dating back to his time at Alabama, but Ingram still showed last season he can produce at a high level. Dobbins’ upside is just so much higher. Hill was almost nonexistent as a 2019 rookie, so if Dobbins can just take Edwards’ 140 touches as a floor and push Ingram for some of his workload, then the sky's the limit for the rookie. The Ravens have the league’s No. 1 rushing offense keyed by Lamar Jackson and OC Greg Roman’s play-calling ability, and they ran the third-most plays in the league last season after coming in at No. 1 the previous year. Ingram isn’t going to be phased out completely in 2020, but if he were to get hurt, Dobbins could be a legit league-winner for fantasy purposes. Even if Dobbins becomes the 1A to Ingram’s 1B, there’s top-16 upside considering the offense he’s in and the dominant on-paper defense. Dobbins is someone we should be actively targeting in fantasy drafts.

Nick Mensio

Nick Mensio has been covering the NFL for NBC Sports Edge since 2012. He can be found on Twitter at @NickMensio.