Our Experts’ Favorite Rookie Targets for the 2020 Fantasy Football Season
Chris Szagola-Pool/Getty Images. Pictured: Jalen Reagor
The 2020 NFL season presents a unique challenge for rookies, who have had an abbreviated offseason and no preseason games to prep for their first year at the next level.
So which Year 1 players have the highest upside in fantasy football?
Our trio of rankers reveal their top rookie picks below. The only ground rule? They couldn’t pick Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who at seventh overall in their consensus half PPR rankings is far and away the clear favorite.
Top Fantasy Rookie Picks
Skip to a rookie by clicking their name.
Before we dig into their picks, let’s meet our trio of rankers:
- Sean Koerner was FantasyPros’ No. 1 fantasy football draft ranker of 2019, has finished as their top in-season ranker in three of the past five seasons and is Action’s Director of Predictive Analytics.
- Chris Raybon was the fourth-most accurate FantasyPros’ ranker of 2019 and has watched every NFL snap since 2010.
- Matthew Freedman is the Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs and was the sixth-most accurate FantasyPros ranker in 2017.
Jalen Reagor, WR, Eagles
Koerner: My favorite rookies this season are RBs — you can find my ranking of high-upside targets here. However, the rookie I want to focus on here is Eagles’ first-round pick Reagor.
I’ve been heavily targeting Reagor recently as he looks primed for a significant role in Philadelphia’s above-average offense. The Eagles are hurting at wide receiver — Alshon Jeffery’s foot injury is likely to keep him out of the first few games, Marquise Goodwin opted out due to COVID-19 concerns and Nelson Agholor has moved onto Las Vegas — so they’ll need Reagor to start Week 1.
Reagor has the talent to become a WR3/Flex option in plus matchups if he can adjust to the NFL quickly. If DeSean Jackson — who turns 34 in December and has missed 18 of his past 32 games — were to miss time, Reagor could offer low-end WR2 upside.
Michael Pittman Jr., WR, Colts
Raybon: Henry Ruggs III has been the rookie WR I’ve been highest on for most of draft season, but with his role somewhat unclear and the Bryan Edwards hype appearing to be real — Edwards was reportedly taking first-team reps over Ruggs in camp — Pittman provides superior value at an ADP of WR63 compared to Ruggs at WR44.
As the Colts’ likely starting X-receiver opposite T.Y. Hilton, not only could Pittman outproduce Ruggs, Pittman could finish as the top rookie WR in fantasy.
In terms of turnovers, new Colts quarterback Philip Rivers has essentially turned into Jameis Winston West over the past four years with two 20-pick seasons over that span. But like Winston, Rivers is a boon for his pass-catchers, posting gaudy yards-per-attempt marks of 7.6, 7.9, 8.5 and 7.8, respectively, while throwing for 4,300-plus yards each season over that span.
In terms of comps, the 6-foot-4, 223-pound Pittman compares to the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Mike Williams, whom Rivers connected with for 10 touchdowns in 2018 followed by a 1,001 yards and league-leading 20.4 yards per reception in 2019.
Pittman’s game — using his body to make contested catches downfield while being a low yards-after-catch threat — may be even more similar to the 6-foot-5, 231-pound Mike Evans. The Buccaneers receiver has never finished with fewer than 1,000 yards in six pro seasons with much of that production coming with Rivers’ east-coast doppelgänger, Winston, behind center.
Per The Athletic’s Colts beat reporter Zac Keefer, Pittman has seen a “healthy diet of first-team snaps,” and Keefer believes that it’s “not hard to see Pittman becoming one of Rivers’ favorite red-zone targets from the start.”
Currently going 171st overall on average, Pittman is on league-winner alert and could be the biggest steal in 2020 fantasy drafts.
Cam Akers, RB, Rams
Freedman: I am inordinately high on Akers. If not for Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Akers would actually be my No. 1 pick in rookie dynasty drafts.
Akers should contribute right away in the NFL. Right after the draft, I bet on Akers to be the 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year at +5000 odds (now +1600 at DraftKings). He might already be a top-12 fantasy back.
He entered college as a top-five overall recruit and a five-star all-purpose championship-winning quarterback who passed for 3,128 yards and 31 touchdowns and rushed for 2,105 yards and 34 touchdowns as a high school senior. And in his three years as a starting running back in college, he did nothing to suggest that the evaluation people had of him as a recruit was wrong or that he won’t be able to play in the NFL.
The average college football fan probably thinks that Akers is overrated. And it’s true that he never had an overwhelmingly dominant season. But he ran behind “one of college football’s worst offensive lines over the past few seasons” according to Pro Football Focus.
To be exact, it was the fourth-worst Power Five run-blocking unit.
That Akers was productive at all is a minor miracle — and he was productive. Even though he never had a full-on in-your-face campaign, in 2017 he broke Dalvin Cook’s FSU rushing record for a freshman, and in 2019 he returned to form after a down sophomore campaign.
- 2017: 194-1,015-7 rushing, 16-116-1 receiving in 13 games
- 2018: 161-706-6 rushing, 23-145-2 receiving in 12 games
- 2019: 132-1,144-14 rushing, 30-225-4 receiving in 11 games
And, in 2019, Akers averaged more than 100 yards rushing per game “while facing contact at or behind the line of scrimmage at the highest rate of any FBS back in the country” (per PFF).
Akers is a smooth runner, functional receiver and strong pass protector: In 324 pass-blocking snaps, he allowed only 15 pressures. And it doesn’t hurt that in college he was 5-of-8 passing for 97 yards.
And then at the combine he ran 4.47-second 40-yard dash at 217 pounds.
Over the past 25 years, there have been five 21-year-old second- and third-round rookie running backs to play at 210-plus pounds and have multiple 1,000-yard seasons in college.
Here’s how they’ve done in the NFL:
- Ahman Green (1998, 3.76): Six 1,000-yard seasons
- Bernard Pierce (2012, 3.84): Nada
- Le’Veon Bell (2013, 2.48): Five 1,000-yard seasons
- Joe Mixon (2017, 2.48): Two 1,000-yard seasons
- Alexander Mattison (2019, 3.102): Waiting
Akers might be Pierce 2.0, but it’s likelier he’s a premium version of Green.
Investors might have questions about his landing spot. Last year the Rams were just No. 26 with a 53.0 PFF run-blocking grade, and they scored only 24.6 points per game after putting up 32.9 the year prior.
I’m not worried.
The Rams have been a top-12 scoring team in each year of head coach Sean McVay’s tenure, and many of their offensive problems last season were a result of their reliance on running back Todd Gurley, who is now gone.
But in Gurley’s two pre-2019 seasons with McVay — before he developed his stuck-in-molasses running style — he was an All-Pro producer.
- 2017 (15 games): 279-1,305-13 rushing, 64-788-6 receiving on 87 targets
- 2018 (14 games): 256-1,251-17 rushing, 59-580-4 receiving on 81 targets
Even if Akers isn’t a great receiver, he still seems likely to get a decent number of targets if he’s the lead back. And even though the Rams drafted Darrell Henderson with the No. 70 pick in 2019, it’s hard to imagine that Akers won’t dominate touches given his draft capital and overall talent.
With Gurley’s departure, the Rams entered the draft with a league-high 216.5 vacated expected points at the running back position. In terms of opportunity, Akers should hit the ground running.
The Rams will need to give the ball to someone in the backfield, and Akers is a prime candidate. Starting in Week 1, he could get 15-plus touches per game.