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Rookies

2020 Rookie Opportunity Series – Pre Free Agency

Opportunity and landing spot are crucial to a rookie’s success in the NFL and for fantasy football. In this article, @FF_MarvinE dives into the most ideal rookie landing spots prior to free agency.

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Recipe for Rookie Success

What factors drive a successful rookie season? A rookie’s success in the NFL, and for fantasy football, is heavily reliant on three things: talent, draft equity or team investment, and having the opportunity to succeed. In short, the recipe for fantasy success is:

Talent + Draft Capital + Opportunity = Fantasy Production

In this series, we will identify the teams that have needs at running back, wide receiver, tight end, and quarterback. In addition, we will also evaluate potential veteran players that could fill those voids, either through free agency or by trade. And as a result, we should be able to identify how many teams in total might provide a rookie the opportunity to succeed.

Running Back Opportunities

Criteria for an ideal running back landing spot:

  • Team does not have a lead running back
  • Team’s running backs are not high draft capital investments
  • Team’s lead running back is a free agent
  • Team’s lead running back is a trade target or cut candidate

Below are the teams that have an opportunity at running back:

  1. Atlanta Falcons: Devonta Freeman could be traded, creating an RB1 opportunity
  2. San Francisco 49ers: Currently a running back by committee with no lead RB
  3. Arizona Cardinals: David Johnson could be traded, and Kenyan Drake is a free agent
  4. Houston Texans: Hyde is a free agent, and team will not commit to Duke Johnson
  5. Kansas City Chiefs: Chiefs are rumored to want an upgrade at running back
  6. Los Angeles Chargers: Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler are free agents
  7. Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins are in need of a lead running back
  8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Similar to the Dolphins, the Bucs need a lead running back
  9. Tennessee Titans: Derrick Henry is a free agent
  10. Washington Redskins: Guice has been injury prone; WAS could use a lead RB
  11. New York Jets: Le’Veon Bell is a potential trade candidate

Below are the top available free agent or trade target running backs:

  1. Melvin Gordon (Free Agent)
  2. Derrick Henry (Free Agent)
  3. Kenyan Drake (Free Agent)
  4. Austin Ekeler (Restricted Free Agent)
  5. David Johnson (Trade Target)
  6. Le’Veon Bell (Trade Target)
  7. Devonta Freeman (Trade Target)

11 Opportunities – 7 Available Veteran RBs =
4 Rookie RB1 Opportunities

Wide Receiver Opportunities

Criteria for an ideal WR1 landing spot:

  • Team does not have a lead wide receiver
  • Team has a clear path to targets

Criteria for an ideal WR2 landing spot:

  • Team already has a lead wide receiver
  • Team can sustain a WR2 based on QB situation and type of offense
  • Team averaged at least 225+ receiving yards per game in 2019

Below are the teams that have a WR1 Opportunity:

  1. Buffalo Bills: The Bills need a WR1 and have plenty of vacant targets
  2. Dallas Cowboys: Amari Cooper is a free agent
  3. New York Giants: No one was able to fill OBJ’s void; they need a WR1
  4. New York Jets: Robby Anderson is a free agent; team needs a lead WR
  5. Las Vegas Raiders: Tyrell Williams is not a WR1; therefore, the Raiders need to fill that void
  6. Philadelphia Eagles: Alshon Jeffery is no longer the WR1 he once was, and has been injury pone
  7. Washington Redskins: Is Terry McLaurin a WR1? If not, WAS will need a lead WR

Below are the teams that have a WR2 opportunity:

  1. Detroit Lions: They have Golladay, but Marvin Jones has missed 10 games since 2018
  2. Green Bay Packers: Outside of Davante Adams, they have no reliable receiving option
  3. New Orleans Saints: The Saints need a reliable option opposite Michael Thomas
  4. Pittsburgh Steelers: Juju Smith-Schuster needs a consistent running mate*

*The Steelers are the outlier to my criteria because they averaged 186 passing yards per game in 2019; however, Big Ben has averaged 259.4 passing yards per game in his career. His return will not only help Juju, but also the WR2 that emerges on that team.

Below are the top available free agent or trade target wide receivers:

  1. Amari Cooper (qualifies as WR1 talent – potential franchise tag)
  2. Emmanuel Sanders (qualifies as WR2 talent)
  3. Robby Anderson (qualifies as WR2 talent)

7 WR1 Opportunities – 1 Available Veteran WR1s =
6 Rookie WR1 Opportunities

4 WR2 Opportunities – 2 Available Veteran WR2s =
2 Rookie WR2 Opportunities

Tight End Opportunities

Caveat: This analysis is slightly different since some teams are less dependent on the tight end position. Also, for fantasy football, most leagues only have one tight end slot, which makes the top 12 at the position that much more valuable. As a result, we will first attempt to identify the teams that can sustain a TE1, and then determine if any of those teams need a lead TE.

Criteria for an ideal TE landing spot:

  • In 2019, the team’s TE1 was projected to account for at least 60% of the team’s total TE targets (over a 16 game pace)
  • Team’s lead TE in 2019 was on pace to exceed 104.2 half PPR points, which is the average TE12 score since 2015

Below are the teams that can sustain a TE1:

  1. Kansas City Chiefs
  2. Baltimore Ravens
  3. San Francisco 49ers
  4. Philadelphia Eagles
  5. Atlanta Falcons
  6. New York Giants
  7. Las Vegas Raiders
  8. New Orleans Saints
  9. Los Angeles Chargers
  10. Jacksonville Jaguars
  11. Carolina Panthers
  12. Los Angeles Rams

Honorable Mention:

  • The New England Patriots did not meet the criteria listed above after they moved away from the TE offense in 2019. This can be attributed to Gronk retiring and the lack of TE talent on the roster.

Of those 12 teams, below are the teams that need a lead TE:

  1. Atlanta Hawks: Austin Hooper is a free agent
  2. Los Angeles Chargers: Hunter Henry is a free agent
  3. Jacksonville Jaguars: O’Shaughnessy was a consistent producer before injury, but they need a lead TE
  4. Carolina Panthers: Olsen has signed elsewhere; can Ian Thomas be a TE1?
  5. New England Patriots: If they do sign a top TE free agent or rookie, they will most likely revert back to a TE heavy offense

Below are top free agent or trade target tight ends:

  1. Eric Ebron
  2. Austin Hooper
  3. Hunter Henry
  4. Hayden Hurst

5 TE1 Opportunities – 4 Available Veteran TEs =
1 Rookie TE1 Opportunity

Quarterback Opportunities

Criteria for an ideal QB landing spot:

  • Team’s current QB is a free agent or trade target
  • Team has a top tier wide receiver
  • Team has established second receiving option (WR2, RB or TE)

Below are the teams with clear QB Opportunity:

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs currently have the best wide receiver duo
  2. Dallas Cowboys: If Cooper re-signs, and Dak leaves, this is an ideal rookie landing spot
  3. Indianapolis Colts: Brissett could be replaced, and TY Hilton will be back healthy
  4. Carolina Panthers: If they move on from Cam, this will be an ideal rookie landing spot
  5. Los Angeles Chargers: If they re-sign their free agents, this offense is set to dominate
  6. Chicago Bears: This offense can be dangerous, but they need a more consistent QB
  7. Cincinnati Bengals: With AJ Green returning, this is an ideal rookie landing spot

Below are the teams that are one or two draft or free agency moves away from becoming an ideal QB landing spot:

  1. Tennessee Titans: They need to resign Henry, but is AJ Brown a top tier WR?
  2. New England Patriots: If they reload their offense, they become an ideal landing spot
  3. Miami Dolphins: With plenty of draft capital, they should become an ideal landing spot
  4. Las Vegas Raiders: They are one lead WR away from being an ideal landing spot

Below are top free agent or trade target Quarterbacks:

  1. Dak Prescott
  2. Tom Brady
  3. Philip Rivers
  4. Ryan Tannehill
  5. Jameis Winston
  6. Teddy Bridgewater
  7. Cam Newton (most likely staying with Carolina)
  8. Andy Dalton
  9. Taysom Hill
  10. Derek Carr

11 QB Opportunities – 10 Available Veteran QBs =
1 Rookie QB Opportunity

Caveats: Of the free agents above, one could argue that Bridgewater, Dalton, and Hill are non-franchise quarterbacks. I could see a rookie QB joining them and eventually taking over as the QB1, while the veteran is relegated to the bench. If we take that into account:

11 QB Opportunities – 10 Veteran QBs + 3 Replaceable Vets =
4 Rookie QB Opportunities

Conclusion and Rookie Dynasty Draft Impact

Now that we have identified potential rookie opportunities at each position, how can we translate this information to your respective rookie dynasty drafts? Let’s take a look at the expert consensus rankings (ECR) on Dynasty Nerds to determine where you need to draft in a 12 team dynasty league.

Running Backs

  • Net Opportunity: 4 RB1 Opportunities
  • ECR: Going into March, Dynasty Nerds has Cam Akers as the RB4 at 6th overall

Dynasty Draft Impact: To secure a RB that lands in one of the more ideal spots (Texans, Chiefs, Buccaneers, Miami, etc.), I would secure a top 6 rookie pick to land an RB1 for your dynasty team. This assumes that Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb are drafted within the first six picks. If that seems unlikely in your league, I would try to move up to one of the top 4 picks in your draft.

Wide Receivers

  • Net Opportunity: 6 WR1 and 2 WR2 Opportunities
  • ECR: Going into March, Dynasty Nerds has 8 wide receivers going in the top 15

Dynasty Draft Impact: Assuming no quarterbacks are drafted early, a late 1st round pick should land you a rookie with WR1 opportunity. If you need a potential elite difference-maker for your roster, I would secure that top 5 pick to draft either Jeudy, Lamb, Higgins or Reagor. If you only need a WR2 or flex receiver, an early 2nd round pick should suffice.

Tight Ends

  • Net Opportunity: 1 TE1 Opportunity
  • ECR: Going into March, Dynasty Nerds has the first TE at 25th overall.

Dynasty Draft Impact: The tight end landscape is very crowded; also, rookie TE’s are not known for contributing immediately. If you are in need of a TE1, I would secure a mid to late 2nd round pick to draft the TE that lands in the most ideal spot. However, the better solution might be packaging your 2020 2nd round pick to land a “buy low target” such as Jonnu Smith, Mike Gesicki, or Dawson Knox, who could contribute to your team immediately.

Quarterbacks

  • Net Opportunity: 1~4 Quarterback Opportunities
  • ECR: Going into March, Dynasty Nerds has two QBs going in the top 18

Dynasty Draft Impact: Depending on the QB landscape in your dynasty league, it is possible that a mid 2nd round pick (~16-21 overall) will net you Joe Burrow or Tua Tagovailoa. If you are struggling to fill that QB slot in your lineup, I would use an early 2nd round pick on a QB, especially if other teams are also vying for a top dynasty QB. In a SuperFlex league, you will most likely need a top 2 or 3 pick to land Burrow or Tua.

Final Thoughts

Keep in mind that these are only projections and that the NFL landscape can be highly unpredictable. It is possible that an unexpected trade or injury could transform a team into an ideal rookie landing spot. Similarly, a veteran player landing in a non-ideal landing spot could increase the number of net rookie opportunities.

In the end, opportunity is not the only driver for rookie success. If a player’s talent does not translate into the NFL, landing in an ideal situation will not always yield fantasy production. However, identifying rookies that have a blend of talent, draft equity, and opportunity might be the tiebreaker that helps you decide between two rookie prospects in the middle of your rookie drafts. Now that the NFL Combine has concluded, the next off-season milestone will be Free Agency (Wednesday, March 18, 4 p.m. ET). Make sure to follow @DynastyNerds and @FF_MarvinE on Twitter to catch the next article in this series once free agency concludes.

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