FANTASY PLAYS: Rookies beyond Barkley to consider in drafts
Fantasy football players needn’t worry if they miss out on Giants running back Saquon Barkley. While he’s the crown jewel of the 2018 rookie class, there are a host of first-year players who will contribute to the success of those who select them.
The rookie crop did receive a significant hit when Redskins running back Derrius Guice — who had been a consensus No. 2 pick in dynasty/keeper leagues that use rookie drafts — was lost for this season with a torn ACL in the second preseason game.
Most of the top rookies that fantasy players will pursue have the spotlight on them, yet there are a handful of others who have made a jump up draft boards with their exhibition play.
Barkley: He will receive a high volume of touches and will benefit from the presence of a healthy Odell Beckham Jr. and a revamped offensive line. There will be moments where he will look like a rookie, but Barkley will fully emerge as an RB1. His value is further enhanced by his impressive receiving skills, making him a strong bet to catch 50-55 passes. Barkley looks like he will be a double-digit touchdown scorer and should begin a run of fantasy dominance out of the gate.
Royce Freeman, RB, Broncos: Based on his preseason performance, it’s hard to believe Freeman fell to the third round. Coach Vance Joseph may be saying Freeman will share time with Devonta Booker, but Freeman will be the eventual starter and will soon end any talk about sharing the job. Freeman has home run ability once he gets in the open field and is also a solid receiver that will get 35-40 passes from Case Keenum. He’s now in the top 50 range of the draft and has a reasonable chance to hit the 1,000-yard mark should he win the job outright.
Michael Gallup, WR, Cowboys: Tight end Jason Witten retired to the Monday Night Football booth and receiver Dez Bryant was released. Dallas selected Gallup in the third round and has seen him flash signs of becoming an impact receiver in a rookie class that lacks immediately ready wideouts. He’s a good play near the end of the draft and will likely start from Week 1.
Kerryon Johnson, RB, Lions: Detroit knew that Johnson had the ability to overtake LeGarrette Blount and Ameer Abdullah as the lead back. What they didn’t know was that the former Auburn star was an exceptional pass catcher. Johnson averaged nearly 5 yards per carry in the preseason and will eventually squash the Lions’ projected running back by committee. He should be drafted with the expectation of him being the lead back by midseason.
Sony Michel, RB, Patriots: If the Pats are using a first-round pick on a running back, consider him special. Michel has missed much of the preseason with a knee injury but has explosive, game-altering moves that will allow him to become the go-to back on early downs. There is risk in taking Michel in the later rounds, but there’s also a good chance he can put up more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage while offering 7-9 touchdowns.
Courtland Sutton, WR, Broncos: Already nicknamed “Megatron Jr.” by his teammates, the 6-5, 230-pound Sutton has played worthy of the nickname former Lions receiver Calvin Johnson earned. Sutton’s size and leaping ability will make him a nightmare in jump ball situations and while his catches could be limited behind Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, look for Sutton to be a sneaky good WR3/flex with 7-9 touchdown potential.
Rashaad Penny, RB, Seahawks: A broken finger in mid-August slowed down his momentum toward winning the starting job. He will open the season behind Chris Carson and is still expected to play a major role in the Seattle offense. His draft stock is low, which means Penny can evolve into a value pick.
D.J. Moore, WR, Panthers: Opens the season as the fourth receiver on the roster but has the skills to become a sneaky good stash who pays off later in the season.
Nyheim Hines, RB, Colts: An explosive element the Indianapolis offense has lacked in the backfield, Hines could be a solid third down back and return specialist who could amass over 1,000 all-purpose yards. His fantasy value is strongest in leagues where individual players are credited with return yards.
James Washington, WR, Steelers: Has earned the coveted slot position in a lethal Pittsburgh passing attack and was a big reason why the team traded Martavis Bryant to the Raiders. Don’t be shocked if Washington finishes with 7-9 touchdown catches.
Sam Darnold, QB, Jets: The third overall pick is a near-lock to start Week 1 and has an underrated receiving corps that will help him develop. His best fantasy days are down the road; however, Darnold will be an intriguing pick in two-quarterback leagues along with being a streaming option when the Jets get a favorable matchup on the schedule.
Calvin Ridley, WR, Falcons: He will start the season as the team’s third receiver while nipping at the heels of Mohamed Sanu’s starting job. Ridley will need time to develop but in one-year leagues, he should be considered in the back end of drafts.
Mike Gesicki, TE, Dolphins: Has a lock on the starting job and will become a reliable check down option for quarterback Ryan Tannehill. There is sleeper potential with Gesicki, who could become a red zone-friendly TE2 with the ability to grab 35-40 passes in his first season.
Baker Mayfield, QB, Browns: The first overall pick has looked sharp in the preseason (71 percent completion rate) but coach Hue Jackson is expected to give veteran Tyrod Taylor the starting nod. He’s more valuable in a dynasty/keeper league.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Ravens: The 2016 Heisman winner won’t see a lot of time, but Baltimore will utilize his athleticism in a variety of packages. A best case is him either getting a handful of starts later in the season or coach John Harbaugh turning him into a 2018 version of former Steelers multi-threat Kordell “Slash” Stewart.
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