- It’s never too early to start thinking about fantasy football, so here are the five rookies (plus a few extras) who we can expect to make an impact in leagues in 2019.
The 2019 NFL Draft has come and gone, creating a new class of rookies who will influence the upcoming fantasy football season. The players who swing fantasy leagues as rookies aren’t always easy to identify after the draft. Last year at this time, the fantasy community loved Rashaad Penny, while undrafted free agent Phillip Lindsay wasn’t even a blip on the radar. We know who of the two was a rookie bust, and who ended the year ranked 12th at the position. Despite those unforeseen turns, we can still put two and two together in a number of cases, finding in advance the players who will make major fantasy impacts as rookies. Below are our five favorite rookies from a fantasy perspective, followed by quick notes on all the rookies fantasy owners should start to familiarize leading up to training camp and fantasy draft season.
Kyler Murray, QB, Cardinals
The Cardinals committed to Murray, who was selected with the No. 1 pick in the draft, as their starter when the team dealt Josh Rosen to the Dolphins for a second-round pick on Friday. Going back to 2009, Murray is the eighth quarterback taken first overall in the last 11 drafts. The previous seven started 94 of a potential 112 games, and six of those missed starts were due to a Matthew Stafford injury.
By now, you know how great Murray was in his final year at Oklahoma. What makes him most intriguing in the NFL from a fantasy perspective aren’t his 4,361 passing yards and 42 touchdowns, as attractive as they are, but rather the 1,001 rushing yards and 12 scores on the ground he put up en route to winning the Heisman. Murray’s going to have some growing pains through the air, as is the case for every rookie quarterback. That rushing ability should translate right away, and gives him a safer floor than not only all of his fellow rookies who will start this season, but a number of veterans, as well.
Murray has a young, offensive-minded head coach in Kliff Kingsbury and an admirable collection of skill players with David Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk, plus rookie receivers Andy Isabella and Hakeem Butler. In traditional one-quarterback leagues, Murray looks like at least a streamer right out of the gate. In superflex and two-quarterback formats, he’s an easy starter. Murray’s a top-20 quarterback from the moment he takes the field, and has the upside, buoyed by his rushing ability to play his way into the top 10.
David Montgomery, RB, Bears
Montgomery was the fourth back selected in this draft, but it’s possible that no runner ended up in a better spot. The Iowa State product steps onto a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, an ascendant offense led by a forward-thinking coach, and no player filling his role ahead of him on the depth chart—a recipe for instant success.
Montgomery was a workhorse for the Cyclones the last two years, carrying the ball 515 times for 2,362 yards and 24 touchdowns. At 5' 11" and 222 pounds, he’ll fill the spot vacated by Jordan Howard, whom the Bears sent to Philadelphia earlier in the offseason. Unlike Howard, Montgomery has pass-catching ability, reeling in 71 passes for 582 yards during his time at Iowa State. That makes him a better fit for Matt Nagy’s offense than Howard ever was, even if you believe the two are equally effective on the ground. It also makes him a great backfield partner for Tarik Cohen, whose role should increase even more in his third year in Chicago.
Despite not having a pick until the third round and being armed with only five picks, the Bears traded up 14 spots in the third to get Montgomery, which is proof positive that the team will expect him to contribute in a big way as a rookie. Chicago did sign Mike Davis this offseason, but they wouldn’t have prioritized Montgomery in the draft if they were committed to Davis in the power-running role. Montgomery already has easy flex upside, and if the Bears offense takes another step forward, we could be talking about him as a comfortable RB2 by midseason.
Josh Jacobs, RB, Raiders
The Raiders used two of their first-round picks on defensive players, grabbing Jacobs with the 24th overall pick in the draft in between Clelin Ferrell at No. 4 and Johnathan Abram at No. 27. They signed Isaiah Crowell this offseason and still have Jalen Richard on the roster, but Jacobs will open training camp as the favorite to handle at least a plurality of the backfield touches.
Jacobs put together an excellent college career at Alabama, running for 1,491 yards on 251 carries, racking up 571 yards on 48 receptions, and scoring 21 touchdowns across his three years. In 2018, his first season as the primary rusher, he had 887 yards from scrimmage and 14 scores on 140 touches.
Unlike Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott before him, Jacobs, the first running back off the board in this year’s draft, isn’t going to be a workhorse. Richard will have his role as a pass-catcher, and Crowell is still going to be in the mix. Still, there’s enough room in the offense and upside in Jacobs game to buy him as a starter in 12-team leagues with standard starting lineups.
N’Keal Harry, WR, Patriots
Take a look at the Patriots’ depth chart, and something should jump out at your right away: Harry’s going to have every opportunity to be a starter this season.
The fantasy community typically puts a lot of stock into what the Patriots do with their first-round pick. Forever in win-now made with a championship window that won’t close until Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are gone, the Patriots do an excellent job of targeting players who can contribute immediately with their premium selections. For proof, all we have to do is go back to last year when the team grabbed Sony Michel with the 31st overall pick in the draft, even though running back didn’t appear to be a position of obvious need. He went on to run for 931 yards and six touchdown on 209 carries, turning himself into a fantasy regular once he took over as the starter.
Now consider Harry, a big-bodied receiver who steps onto a team that just lost a generational tight end in Rob Gronkowski, and has just one receiver, Julian Edelman, locked into a primary role in the offense. Talent, environment and opportunity are the three pillars of fantasy success. Harry is in a great spot with the last two, and he proved during his three years at Arizona State that he has plenty of the first one, as well. He wasn’t the first receiver selected in this year’s draft—that honor went to Marquise Brown—but no receiver landed in a better spot than he did. That makes him this season’s most intriguing rookie receiver.
T.J. Hockenson, TE, Lions
It’s a real challenge for tight ends to transition to the NFL. Travis Kelce missed his entire rookie season because of microfracture surgery, then caught 67 balls for 862 yards and five touchdowns in his second year. Zach Ertz put up 36 receptions for 469 yards and four scores as a rookie. George Kittle had a 43-515-2 line in his first season. Those three are legitimate stars now, but it took them at least a year to get going in the pros. It’s a tough position to find immediate success.
With that said, Hockenson rounds out our five favorite fantasy rookies for 2019. Why? Matt Patricia stressed how important the tight end position is in the modern NFL in the days leading up to the draft, then the team put its money where Patricia’s mouth is by taking Hockenson eighth overall. He caught 49 passes for 760 yards and six touchdowns in his final season at Iowa, then edged out teammate Noah Fant to be the first tight end selected in the 2019 draft. The Lions will lean heavily on Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones in the passing game, but there’s plenty of room for a third option to emerge. Kerryon Johnson will likely make just token contributions through the air, and while Theo Riddick has his place, Hockenson can bring an entirely new element to the offense in the middle of the field. Golladay and Jones are going to live outside the numbers, and the Lions need someone to pick up the mantle left behind by Golden Tate. Hockenson is best suited to be that player.
If the Lions are going to compete in a stacked NFC North, they’ll need a few key players to break out along the way. Hockenson is one of the few players on the roster who can be one of those guys, which means the team is likely to give him every opportunity to prove he can buck tradition and do it as a rookie at the tight end position.
And now, quick hitters on the other rookies fantasy owners need to know heading into the summer.
Miles Sanders, RB, Eagles: Sanders was a monster in his final season at Penn State, running for 1,274 yards on 220 carries, totaling 139 receiving yards on 24 receptions, and scoring nine touchdowns. The problem for him, though, is his new team. The Eagles already had Jordan Howard, Corey Clement and Josh Adams on the roster before drafting Sanders. That they took Sanders with the 53rd overall pick is certainly an indication that he’s going to get an opportunity to contribute this year, Howard and Clement are going to have major roles in the offense. As good as Sanders could be, he simply may not get enough touches to be anything more than a depth fantasy back as a rookie.
Mecole Hardman, WR, Chiefs: We can’t discuss Hardman without addressing the disgusting actions of Tyreek Hill, who, at the very least, should never play another down of football. The Chiefs deserve plenty of blame, too, considering they turned a blind eye to his history under the guise of giving him a second chance.
With Hill possibly being placed on the Commissioner’s exempt list this week, Hardman will be tasked with filling his role in the offense. A similar player at 5’11” with blazing speed. He didn’t make any huge splashes in college, totaling 60 catches for 961 yards and 13 touchdowns at Georgia, but it’s clear the Chiefs think he can be the guy who takes the top off the defense for Patrick Mahomes. Kelce will be the top pass-catcher in this offense, and Sammy Watkins is now the No. 1 receiver, but Hardman should be a starter from the moment he steps foot on the field.
Noah Fant, TE, Broncos: Fant was the second Iowa tight end selected in the first round, going 20th overall to the Broncos. The team has invested quite a bit in Big Ten tight ends in recent years, drafting Jeff Heuerman (Ohio State) in 2015, Jake Butt (Michigan) in ’17 and Troy Fumagalli (Wisconsin) in ’18. Fant, however, is easily the best of the bunch, especially as a receiver. The Broncos are young across the board offensively, especially once they turn to Drew Lock under center, and that means Fant has a strong opportunity to carve out significant target share as a rookie.
A.J. Brown, WR, Titans: Brown went 51st overall to the Titans, another match of player and team that should result in plenty of room for the rookie to work his way into the rotation. The Titans have Corey Davis, Tajae Sharpe and Adam Humphres penciled in as their starting receivers. Davis was the fifth overall pick in the draft just two years ago, but injuries and inconsistent performance have prevented him from breaking through. Sharpe missed the entire 2017 season, and has all of 67 catches for 838 yards and four touchdowns in his other two years. Humphries is locked in as the team’s starter in the slot, but he’s not going to command a major target share. Brown, who piled up 160 receptions for 2,572 yards and 17 touchdowns in his final two seasons at Mississippi can be a game-changer for this team.
Deebo Samuel, WR, 49ers: After falling short in their pursuits of Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham, it was clear the 49ers were going to add at least one receiver in the draft. They addressed that need early in the second round, taking Samuel with the 36th overall pick. A four-year college player at South Carolina, Samuel caught 62 passes for 882 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior. He was the third receiver taken in the draft, behind only Marquise Brown and N’Keal Harry, and that suggests the 49ers are going to throw him right into the mix. Still, he begins the summer behind at least Dante Pettis and Marquise Goodwin in fantasy value, and remember that the 49ers most dangerous pass-catcher is their tight end, George Kittle.
Marquise Brown, WR, Ravens: Brown was the first receiver off the board, going to Baltimore with the 25th overall pick. He starred in two years at Oklahoma, reeling in 132 passes for 2,413 yards and 17 touchdowns. Unfortunately for him and his immediate fantasy value, he went to the most run-heavy offense in the league, with a quarterback in Lamar Jackson who isn’t likely to support a consistent starting receiver in most fantasy formats. He should open the summer in the WR4/5 discussion.
Darrell Henderson, RB, Rams: This is all about Todd Gurley. The running back already has arthritic knees, and that robbed him of his ability to contribute in a meaningful way in the Rams playoff run to the Super Bowl. He’s still easily one of the most important players on the offense, but his days as a lock for 300-plus touches may be in the rear-view mirror. Henderson will start the summer third on the depth chart behind Gurley and Malcolm Brown, but there’s a reason a team with Super Bowl aspirations, a star running back, and a capable backup took another runner in the third round. Henderson was a monster in his final year at Memphis, piling up 1,909 rushing yards, 295 receiving yards and 22 total touchdowns.
Dwayne Haskins, QB, Redskins: Haskins is going to start at some point during his rookie year. In the modern game, first-round quarterbacks generally find their way onto the field as rookies, and Washington reportedly fell in love with him during the draft-prep process. What’s more, the only people standing in his way are Case Keenum and Colt McCoy. Whether he gets enough time to make a season-long fantasy impact is another question. He likely won’t be on the draft-day radar in traditional one-quarterback leagues, but he could be a strong late-round flier in superflex and two-quarterback formats. Once he’s entrenched as the starter, he’ll have at least streaming value from week to week.