Every fantasy football season, rookie fever hits our leagues and rookies get drafted much higher than they should be. Outside of the running back position, I really caution you in drafting rookies in your fantasy football drafts.
While everyone is running towards the shiny new objects, there are a number of them that we should be avoiding. I am going to go through each position to talk about the history of rookies at the position and what the future looks like in 2019.
Unless you are in a two-quarterback draft, avoid all quarterbacks after Kyler Murray. I say this following a great 2018 class that allowed four rookie quarterbacks to play significant time. Last season, Baker Mayfield broke the touchdown record for rookie QBs. Lamar Jackson was on pace to break the single-season rushing record for quarterbacks and Josh Allen was the number overall fantasy football QB in the last five weeks.
With all of that said, Mayfield finished as the #16th overall fantasy QB in 2018, tied with Eli Manning. Allen finished as the fantasy football QB21, Sam Darnold as QB27, and Lamar Jackson as QB29. It’s worth mentioning that most did not start all 16 games in 2018, and that could be the case with all of the QBs beyond Murray in 2019. I still say temper expectations with Murray. Dak Prescott is the only rookie QB to finish in the top 12 in the last five years for fantasy football purposes.
There is a long history that supports drafting rookie running backs. There is no Saquon Barkley or Ezekiel Elliott in this class that deserves a first-round pick in your fantasy football drafts, but there are several you should consider. There has been a rookie running back to finish in the top 12 for several years running now, and occasionally, there have been two.
Currently, the highest-drafted rookie is Oakland Raiders RB Josh Jacobs. His current average draft position (ADP) is at 3.12 (RB19). Chicago Bears RB David Montgomery is close behind him at the 4.04 position (RB21). Both of these running backs look to have the clearest paths to success and that is why they are seen as worthy of being picked in the top four rounds of your fantasy football drafts.
The next rookie running back coming off fantasy boards is Los Angeles Rams Darrell Henderson. His stock has risen all offseason with questions surrounding the health of Todd Gurley. As of now, Henderson’s ADP is at 7.05 (RB34). Should an injury occur to Gurley prior to the start of the regular season that would cause him to miss significant time, Henderson’s ADP would skyrocket.
Philadelphia Eagles RB Miles Sanders has fallen a bit as of late to 7.12 (RB36). Both him and Henderson could significantly rise by the time you do your drafts, however. I would strongly keep an eye on both of their backfields.
New England Patriots RB Damien Harris is now rising up boards as the fifth rookie RB coming off of the board at 9.08 (RB42). Behind him is Minnesota Vikings RB Alexander Mattison at 11.11 (RB51) and Baltimore Ravens RB Justice Hill at 12.01 (RB52).
All of the above running backs are well worth drafting at their respective spots as they all have stand-alone value. In addition, they all have huge upside should anything happen to those above them on the depth chart.
Buffalo Bills RB Devin Singletary is someone that could become draftable or is worthy of your last pick. The backfield in Buffalo is a mess and I am avoiding everyone right now until we get more information. His price makes him worth thinking about though. I would keep an eye on all-rookie RBs as they are one injury away from fantasy relevance, but all of the above are worth drafting in 2019.
I wouldn’t draft a rookie wide receiver (WR) in any of the top 12 rounds of your fantasy football drafts unless you are in a keeper or dynasty format. Historically, rookie WR production does not translate to the field until after the rookie season. There have been only four wide receivers in over a decade that have finished within the top 12 at their position for fantasy football purposes.
Some rookie wide receivers can show some relevance. Players like Pittsburgh Steelers’ WR JuJu Smith-Schuster finished as the WR18, and Rams’ WR Cooper Kupp finished as the WR27 in 2017. Both went undrafted in fantasy football drafts their rookie seasons, however. In contrast, NFL first-rounders Corey Davis and Mike Williams did not finish in the top 50 for fantasy football purposes.
Last year, we had Calvin Ridley from the Atlanta Falcons and D.J. Moore from the Carolina Panthers both show fantasy promise. Both were wildly inconsistent and could not be counted on to produce every week for your fantasy football team. Moore finished outside of the top 35 fantasy football WRs. Ridley finished as WR18, but he only finished in the top 24 in five weeks. On nine separate occasions, Ridley was outside of the top 40, finishing as WR106, WR70, WR56, WR47, WR49, WR55, WR78, WR93, and WR43.
There are some intriguing options for 2019 like the Patriots’ N’Keal Harry and the Indianapolis Colts’ Parris Campbell, among others, but it’s best to use a late-round flier on them or letting someone else reach for them rather than you be that player.
Quite simply, do not draft them at all unless you are in a dynasty or keeper settings. I know we had two potential superstar tight end prospects go in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, but do not make the mistake. The only rookie tight ends to ever finish within the top 12 at the position are Evan Engram, Rob Gronkowski, and Jeremy Shockey. I had to go back deep for that one.
Engram benefited when the New York Giants lost both of their top wide receivers in Week 4, resulting in him seeing 115 targets. For 2019, I don’t have any of the rookie tight ends in my top 15. Very simply, avoid them.
David Heilman is a writer and Fantasy Football co-director for Pro Football Network. You can follow him at @DynastyDorks on Twitter.