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Weekly Top-10: Fantasy Football Rookies

Let me start by saying that I usually do not advise drafting any rookie early in fantasy football. I even was gun shy on Ezekiel Elliot last season and kicked my own butt over the next four months for passing on him. Making the transition from the NCAA to the NFL has proven to be a daunting task for most rookies. The list of rookie fantasy assets over the last decade or so isn’t very long. There have been plenty of talented offensive players over the last several years, but carving out a role as a fantasy asset usually hasn’t come until their second or third season.

This year, there are a few players that could be paying big dividends for fantasy owners, including one rookie in the AFC South that should be a fantasy star as soon as he steps on an NFL field in the regular season.

If you’re still in baseball mode and want to check out the last two Fantrax top-10 articles regarding breakout players in the AL and NL, they can be found here and here, respectively.

Honorable Mention: D’onta Foreman (RB – HOU), Marlon Mack (RB – IND), Kenny Golladay (WR – DET), Joe Williams (RB – SF).

10. DeShaun Watson (QB – HOU)

The only thing riskier than drafting a rookie is drafting a rookie quarterback. But, hey, half the battle in the NFL is playing time. Watson will start the season behind Tom Savage on the Houston depth chart, but that’s only a minor speed bump. Savage isn’t going to be able to hold Watson back for long

One of the most talented throwers to ever grace an NFL field had some high praise for the rookie in the Houston Chronicle:

“Listen, he’s as talented as they come. He’s played in and won a lot of big football games. He’s played extremely well against some pretty well-respected teams and defenses. Obviously, you look at that Alabama defense and what he accomplished the last few years….” – Drew Brees

Obviously, Watson isn’t going to be a guy that you’re going to want to start for your fantasy team, but with his playmaking ability, he makes for an intriguing late-round flier. Once he wrestles the job from Savage, he could become a top-15 fantasy quarterback with what he can do with his legs.

9. Corey Davis (WR – TEN)

If this were an article that ranked value in dynasty formats, Davis would be a few spots higher. He has everything you could want from a top receiver, but the opportunity will be much greater after this year. The Titans acquired veteran receiver, Eric Decker, in the offseason, but his contract is only for this season. Decker’s presence will limit what Davis can do, but that shouldn’t shy you away from taking him in the later rounds.

You’re going to get sick of hearing me say that talent always wins out, but it’s the truth. Stash Davis on your bench and monitor how the Titans utilize him as the season progresses, as could easily becoming a FLEX fantasy option later in the season. His value is even greater in dynasty and keeper leagues, as he’s the only receiver that currently looks like he has WR1/2 upside in fantasy down the road.

8. Jamaal Williams (RB – GB)

[the_ad id=”384″]After experiencing plenty of headaches in the backfield over the last few years, the Packers might have found their long-term solution in Jamaal Williams. Ty Montgomery is currently the starter, but he’s a converted receiver and is already dealing with a minor nagging injury. Williams is a physical back that should get plenty of touches, especially at the goal line, even with Montgomery healthy.

Williams isn’t going to be a major pass catching threat, but he has all the abilities to be a very good runner in this league. If you’re looking for a high-upside running back handcuff, then Williams is your man.

7. Samaje Perine (RB – WAS)

If you happen to find yourself in the path of Perine, my advice would be to get the heck out of the way. Perine is a bruising back that is going to be a touchdown scoring machine for the next decade. He’s likely going to split time with Robert Kelley, but Perine is the safer bet to have the lion’s share of red zone and goal line carries.

Know what you’re getting when drafting Perine. He’s a strong power back, and that’s it. He’s never going to rack up huge yardage seasons or be a huge pass-catching threat. That makes me sound like I don’t like his abilities as a back. I do. Just realize that he’s going to be an inconsistent option, as a lot of his value will depend on touchdowns.

6. Zay Jones (WR – BUF)

The Bills’ 2017 season is already becoming a mess. Shocking, I know. There’s a wide range of possibilities for Jones’ rookie season. In terms of pass catching options, he’s currently third behind the newly acquired Jordan Matthews and stud running back LeSean McCoy. With Buffalo being mostly a run-first team, even being third on the pecking order could mean not a lot of opportunity to become a useful fantasy receiver. However, neither of those two guys is a poster boy for durability. McCoy has played all 16 games only twice and has missed five games in his two seasons in Buffalo. Matthews missed two games last year and has never fully lived up to expectations, which is part of the reason why the Eagles let him go.

It all boils down to Jones’ abilities on the field. He’s a quick, agile receiver that has proven he can be a threat all over the field. His early season production might not be anything to write home about, but as the season progresses, Jones should become an increasingly better asset for fantasy owners, especially in PPR formats. Stash him on your bench and monitor his progress throughout the season.

5. Dalvin Cook (RB – MIN)

With Latavius Murray still recovering from offseason ankle surgery, Cook is going to get a chance to shine right out of the gates in Week 1. Murray was signed with the expectation of being the Vikings’ starter, but a few good games from Cook could quickly change that. His off-the-field issues are worrisome, but there’s not much worry about regarding his on-the-field abilities. He’s a strong back that can pick up yards in a variety of ways. With not many other healthy options on the team, Cook should get his fair share of red zone and goal line touches too.

The red flag here is his tendency to put the ball on the ground. Over his three years at Florida State, Cook fumbled 10 times, which was the third highest total in the nation over that time span. If he can keep a hold of the ball and the starting job, Cook should be a strong RB2 this season with RB1 potential long-term.

4. Kareem Hunt (RB – KC)

This situation is already in flux. Hunt, who the Chiefs traded up to select in the third round, was set to open the season as Spencer Ware’s backup. However, that plan was potentially altered when Ware went down with a knee injury in Friday’s preseason game against Seattle.

Ware is scheduled for an MRI on Saturday. If he’s out for an extended period of time, Hunt’s value is going to skyrocket. The rookie can run between the tackles, break it outside, and is a capable pass catcher. Keep a close eye on Ware’s injury and move Hunt up your draft board accordingly if Ware is going to miss extended time. You’re going to want Hunt on your team this season. It’s just a matter of when.

3. Joe Mixon (RB – CIN)

If Mixon had a full-time job, he’d be insanely close to Fournette. A first-round NFL draft talent, Mixon fell due to off-the-field issues and concerns. The Bengals (of course it was the Bengals) happily scooped him up in the second round. The problem is that they already have two serviceable backs on the roster in Giovani Bernand and Jeremy Hill. Leave it to the Bengals to make us question how well they know how to run their own team.

In the end, talent wins out almost every time. With all due respect to Bernard and Hill, Mixon is the most talented back on this roster, and it’s not even close. Mixon can do it all out of the backfield, which is something neither Bernard or Hill can do. He can run with power inside, break it around the tackles, and catch plenty of passes. He’s basically Bernard and Hill wrapped up into one. He might not provide as much value as McCaffrey early on, but as the season moves on, Mixon should become a bigger fantasy force.

2. Christian McCaffrey (RB – CAR)

I’ve gone back and forth on McCaffrey approximately 2.6 million times over the last few months. There are two reasons why I’ve warming back up to the Panther’s rookie back. First is the fact that he’s going to be on the field A LOT. The beauty of McCaffrey is his versatility to line up all over the field in all sorts of offensive formations. In addition to the backfield, he can line up both in the slot and on the outside, which will be a huge boon to his fantasy value.

I basically just covered my second reason, which is that he can provide fantasy value in multiple ways. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if he racked in 600-plus receiving yards this season. The yards will be bountiful, but I question how many touchdowns he’ll score with how many good red-zone options the Panthers have. Jonathan Stewart (while he’s healthy) will cut into McCaffrey’s value a bit, but even Stewart can see how good the Stanford product is…

“I can tell you now there’s not going to be anybody in this league that can cover him one-on-one.’’

I’d be comfortable drafting McCaffrey in the third round as my high-upside RB2.

1. Leonard Fournette (RB – JAC)

It was about three and a half years ago when I first saw film on Fournette. My initial reaction still holds true today. This kid is going to be a fantasy stud. That could very well happen this season too. Fournette has everything you could want from a fantasy running back. He’s fast, versatile, and strong. I’ve been billing him as the second coming of Adrian Peterson for a while now, and it won’t take long for Fournette to show why Jacksonville took him 4th in the draft back in April. Fournette is going to be given a heavy workload right off the bat, especially with Jacksonville’s deficiencies at quarterback.

I always try to find the downside or area of weakness for any player to fully understand their potential fantasy value. I’ve yet to find one with Fournette. The only thing that should worry fantasy owners is that Jacksonville will likely be playing from behind quite a bit this season, which usually means a lot of downfield passes and not a lot of run plays. Regardless, Fournette is going to be a fantasy monster. Not three years from now either. Right away. Draft with confidence. In dynasty leagues, I could see Fournette being drafted as high as the top four. He’s that good.

Thank you for reading another edition of the Fantrax weekly top-10. I hope you can use this article to your advantage and get a leg up on your fellow league members. Check back next Saturday as we tackle another list. Got a question about a player not covered here? Ask in the comments below or follow me on Twitter @EricCross04 and ask there.

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