Our Experts’ 5 Favorite Rookies with High Fantasy Football Ceilings

Jul 09, 2019 08:45 PM EDT
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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Kyler Murray

  • Which rookies should you be targeting in fantasy football? Our experts identify five players with high ceilings for Year 1.

It’s no surprise that Kyler Murray is a favorite rookie among our experts. Three of our seven panelists highlighted the Arizona Cardinals quarterback, but our roundtable likes four other Year 1 players.

See which rookies they think have the highest fantasy football ceilings in 2019.

Sean Koerner: Damien Harris, RB, New England Patriots

Kyler Murray, Josh Jacobs, N’Keal Harry and T.J. Hockenson are all the most likely, at their respective positions, to hit their ceilings — but that’s already reflected in their average draft positions (ADP).

Harris offers one of the highest ceilings at almost no cost. The talented third-rounder from Alabama is likely to beat out Rex Burkhead to claim the third-string role behind Sony Michel and James White.

Michel’s knee issues continue heading into 2019 after having to undergo a knee scope in the offseason. It’s hard to see Michel playing all 16 games, not to mention that he has a history of ball security issues, which adds even more risk playing under Bill Belichick.

Harris would be an instant RB2/flex in any games Michel could miss. There’s even a slight chance Harris could take over the workhorse role outright.

Matthew Freedman: Darrell Henderson, RB, Los Angeles Rams

The Rams traded up in the third round to select Henderson, and he was a total dynamo in college. After putting up 2,099 scrimmage yards and 20 all-purpose touchdowns (including a return score) as a change-of-pace back in his first two seasons, Henderson exploded as the lead back for Memphis in 2018, finishing second in the FBS with 2,204 scrimmage yards and 25 touchdowns.

He was also incredibly efficient, ranking first with 8.9 yards per carry, 6.0 yards after contact per attempt, 2.8 yards per route and a 70.8% breakaway rate. And he finished the season first with 71.6 expected points added and second with a 158.6 elusive rating (per Sports Info Solutions and Pro Football Focus).

Todd Gurley is likely to be the lead back in 2019 for the Rams, but it’s not hard to imagine him missing multiple games because of his knee issues. If that happens, Henderson could be a league-winning three-down back.

Jonathan Bales: N’Keal Harry, WR, New England Patriots

The biggest hurdle for any rookie wide receiver is earning enough target share to make an early-season impact.

The Patriots might not have much of a choice but to feed Harry early and often, as the retirement of Rob Gronkowski (72 targets in 2018) and indefinite absence of Josh Gordon (68), along with free-agent subtractions Chris Hogan (55) and Cordarrelle Patterson (28), leaves their offense with 223 open targets from last season.

The former high school basketball player has the size (6-foot-2), weight (228 pounds), speed (4.53-second 40-yard dash) and all-around athleticism (98th-percentile SPARQ-x athlete) to thrive in a Patriots offense that hasn’t ranked outside of the league’s top-10 scoring units since 2003. Harry flashed the ability to win contested-catch situations as well as make plays in space at Arizona State.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Josh Jacobs

Ian Hartitz: Josh Jacobs, RB, Oakland Raiders

Jacobs does everything well while possessing the type of size (5-foot-10 and 220 pounds) and speed (4.6-second 40-yard dash) of a featured back.

NFL.com’s Graham Barfield graded Jacobs as his No. 1 back in this class in yards created, while Pro Football Focus indicated Jacobs averaged a robust 4.07 yards after contact per rush and converted a nation-high 41% of his rushes into either a first down or a touchdown in 2018 (minimum 100 rushes).

Jacobs has the talent to be a breakout fantasy football star as a rookie, and the recent history of first-round running backs indicates he should receive a large workload sooner than later.

  • Saquon Barkley: 352 touches as a rookie (No. 2 among RBs)
  • Sony Michel: 216 (No. 17)
  • Rashaad Penny: 94 (No. 57)
  • Leonard Fournette: 304 (No. 6)
  • Christian McCaffrey: 197 (No. 28)
  • Ezekiel Elliott: 354 (No. 2)
  • Todd Gurley: 250 (No. 10)
  • Melvin Gordon: 217 (No. 19)

Jacobs should have the workload of a RB2 as early as Week 1 and has the talent to transform that workload into RB1 production in 2019.

Chris Raybon: Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals

He can run: 140 carries, 1,001 yards and 12 touchdowns in his final season at Oklahoma. He can gun: 4,361 passing yards, 42 TDs and seven interceptions. He breaks models. And he might break fantasy next.

As I mentioned in my piece about the myth of sitting rookie quarterbacks, most of the top scrambling QBs in the league were good right away — Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, Deshaun Watson, etc. — and recent history has shown us that even mobile QBs who can barely throw still have league-winning upside (see: Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson).

Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense is a positive, but at this point, its effect is being overstated — the best thing Kyler Murray has going for him is that he’s Kyler Murray. He will make his coach and system look good, not the other way around. Also working in Murray’s favor is Arizona’s shaky defense (cornerback Patrick Peterson will miss the first six games due to a PED suspension), which is reminiscent of what spurred Deshaun Watson’s outlier 2017 rookie campaign.

Justin Bailey: Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals

Murray is currently being drafted as the No. 10 quarterback in drafts, and of the nine quarterbacks ahead of him, I’d rather have Murray than at least four of them. I’m always drawn to dual-threat quarterbacks because they provide a solid floor, along with plenty of upside.

Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Kyler Murray, Kliff Kingsbury

Murray finished off his college career with 1,001 yards and 12 touchdowns on 140 carries, so it’s not outlandish to think the rookie will be an excellent fantasy producer the second he steps on the field. The addition of Kingsbury and his Air Raid offense should also provide Murray with plenty of fantasy-friendly opportunities.

Peter Jennings: Kyler Murray, RB, Arizona Cardinals

To me, the top rookie is clearly Murray.

What separates Kyler from a typical rookie quarterback is the rushing aspect of his game. This is also the biggest factor in his likely fantasy success. It’s been well documented for years now that the ability to run brings a rare floor/ceiling combination to the fantasy prospects of a quarterback.

Kyler’s elite athleticism and rushing should give him a solid floor that’s rarely seen out of rookies, as well as extremely high upside.

Another factor in Kyler’s favor is the man responsible for bringing him to Arizona. I’ll be surprised if the success of Kingsbury’s fast-paced Air Raid offense doesn’t translate favorably at this next level. I especially like Kyler in best ball; the offensive system and rushing upside should lead to him having elite scoring distributions, especially if he manages strong rushing TD numbers.

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