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Rookies Expected to Struggle Early in 2020

If you know how DFS football works, then you know every week you have the chance to pick the best-looking players for the scheduled slate of games. For those playing season-long leagues, that's not an option. Once you draft your team you must stick to your decisions and only make minimal tweaks through the waiver wire. That's why you need to go for the best options from day one to not lose too much ground earlier in the season. That means that some rookies, although expected to become great players eventually, might take too long to establish themselves in the league to consider them viable in re-draft leagues.

The longer you hesitate on putting a player in your starting lineup, the worse. You don't have many bench spots available, so better to fill them with the best options and make sure all of them can be used as last-minute starters any given week from the first one on. This is often the case with rookie wide receivers and tight ends that might take a few weeks to become important and trusted pieces of an offense.

Today, I'm pointing at a few rookie WRs/TEs that look good in terms of season-long projections but that might take more than a few weeks to establish themselves on their teams prior to becoming true fantasy-point producers. Avoid taking these players in your draft if you don't want to lose a very valuable amount of points during the first games of the season. Let's get to it!

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WR Henry Ruggs III - (WR, Las Vegas Raiders)

The Raiders spent a top-12 draft pick on Ruggs earlier this offseason and he surely looks poised to become one of the go-to options on offense starting in Week 1. Las Vegas isn't exactly stacked at the receiver position, featuring the likes of Hunter Renfrow, Tyrell Williams, and Nelson Agholor among their best pass-catchers, and also Darren Waller (along with Jason Witten) at the tight end position. That should make Ruggs one of -- if not the -- bests wide receivers in tow.

But Ruggs has some things going against him. First of all, he suffered an accident a few weeks ago and although he should be ready for training camp and seems to not carry any damage there are still doubts surrounding his current situation. Then, although the WR corps doesn't look deep nor features any elite talent, that could also mean that the share of targets will be more balanced than otherwise. Finally, and until he proves to be as good in the pros as he was at the collegiate level, it's fair to expect Derek Carr to target other pieces with whom he has built a rapport already (namely Waller and Renfrow) rather than throw too many balls to Ruggs.

If Ruggs doesn't rack up points for a few weeks to start the year you might be losing some precious points and putting your season in danger of falling apart before you realize. In the past five seasons, only four rookie-WRs were able to average more than 15 PPR points during the first four weeks of those years.


Justin Jefferson - (WR, Minnesota Vikings)

Another first-round draft pick, Jefferson enters the season as the potential WR2 of a Vikings offense that just lost its most productive receiver from 2019 in Stefon Diggs and is also looking at a possible holdout from stud RB Dalvin Cook to start the season. Jefferson, drafted 22nd overall, will have Adam Thielen as his main rival for targets at the receiver position. As far as tight end goes, though, he might find himself fighting for passes with the likes of Irv Smith Jr. and Kyle Rudolph in two-TE sets early in the year.

Don't forget either that the Vikings are a run-first team and that QB Kirk Cousins kept it lower-than-low last year when it came to passing volume numbers. PFF projects Jefferson to finish 2020 with 79 targets and 624 yards (four TD) for a WR57 season-end rank. That doesn't sound bad for a FLEX option, but if Jefferson (as one could expect) takes at least one-quarter of the season to establish himself in Minny then he shouldn't be more than waiver wire fodder.

Cousins' track-record with rookie WRs/TEs isn't that good, either. All of Bisi Johnson, Irv Smith, Tyler Conklin, Josh Doctson, and Jamison Crowder averaged five or fewer targets during their first four weeks in the league playing under Cousins, and none averaged more than 7.5 PPR in those games combined.


Cole Kmet - (TE, Chicago Bears)

While the Bears added TE Jimmy Graham after signing him to a rather lucrative deal (which looks like an overpayment) earlier this year, the future at the position will surely go through Cole Kmet. Chicago spent a second-round pick in the Notre Dame product making Kmet the first TE off the 2020 draft board. The problem with rookie tight ends, though, is that it usually takes them some time for them to find their footing among pros. On top of that and in Kmet's case, add a veteran tight end (Graham) starting the year as the TE1 of Chicago's offense.

Just looking at data from the last 10 years, the only two rookie TEs to play in the first four weeks of their first seasons in the NFL and average at least 10 PPR points in those games were Aaron Hernandez (10.8) in 2010 and Evan Engram (11.2) in 2017. Other 21 TEs played four games but missed on the PPG mark, and 74 other players at the position didn't even make it to four games...

Put everything together (the Bears depth chart, the ongoing starting-QB battle, Kmet's rookie year, the history at the position for rookies) and things don't look too good for Kmet to start the year with a bang.


K.J. Hamler - (WR, Denver Broncos)

If there is a word to define Hamler, that could be "burner". Hamler, one of the fastest and better deep threats of the entire 2020 NFL draft, was picked 46th overall by Denver just months ago after the team also drafted Jerry Jeudy in the first round. The Broncos are undergoing a facelift on their receiving corps, which will feature five players entering their third season or less in WRs Courtland Sutton, DaeSean Hamilton and TE Noah Fant, and three freshmen in WRs Jeudy and Hamler and TE Albert Okwuegbunam.

With such a young offense (which also includes sophomore-QB Drew Lock) it is hard to predict what will happen in Denver. The most logical path for Lock to follow would be the one going (mostly) Sutton, Fant, and Jeudy's way. Sutton and Fant are already proved players, and Jeudy should get the second-most targets among receivers. Hamler's profile as a long-pass catcher should make him the go-to option on those routes, but these are volatile plays with upside but hard to pull off.

Hamler is also one of the smallest rookie receivers of the past 20 years. In that span, only 42 rookies weighing in at 180 or fewer pounds have played at least one game, and just 13 of them logged a snap in the first four games of their rookie years. Only three among that group (Tavon Austin, DeSean Jackson, and Marquise Brown) averaged more than 7.5 PPR points in those four games.


Antonio Gibson - (RB/WR, Washington Redskins)

Gibson was Washington's second pick in the 2020 draft (66th overall) after selecting DE Chase Young with the second overall pick. It is still unclear which role will Gibson play in the NFL, as it is not clear if he's a running back, a receiver, or a true hybrid capable of taking on both positions' duties. PFF has Gibson projected to receive 57 targets, which are the third-most in Washington's offense behind Terry McLaurin and Steven Sims Jr.

As it is the case in Denver (read above), Washington has a very young receiving corps in which second-year options should be those getting the most chances, even more considering second-year man Dwayne Haskins Jr. will be the starter at QB.

The doubts surrounding the role of Gibson in the offense, the use Washington will make of him (running back in an already clogged backfield? receiver? one-off specialist returner?...), and the fact that he's a newcomer doesn't bode well at least for Gibson's first few weeks as a pro. He could be a boom option in your lineup, but the high chances at an early set of "bust" performances cut his upside in half.

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