Class of 2020: Rookie Recap – AFC East
This latest series of articles looks at each NFL team’s 2020 Draft picks – and whether those rookie picks provided great fantasy value to drafters.
DRAFTED PLAYERS ONLY
This article series will look at only those who were selected in the 2020 draft.
Now, as we have seen this year, undrafted rookies can produce incredible talent . For example, Jaguars Running Back James Robinson went undrafted – but clearly helped to set the bar high for those who were selected in the draft with his 2020 performance.
But doing it this way narrows down the large field of rookies who entered the league this year. It allows us to see the value that teams gave fantasy players from their draft picks.
ROOKIES ACROSS THE BOARD
Each article will focus on a separate division. The opener looks at the AFC East, with the other divisions to follow.
Scoring and rankings are based upon 1-point PPR.
In addition, this review series will not just look at rookies for offensive positions, but will also look at defensive personnel. Their contributions can be just as vital to a team, and there are fantasy leagues who use IDP formats.
However, as there is no set method of scoring tackles and assisted tackles, I have decided against providing scoring for those aspects of a defensive player’s game. While those tackle numbers will be looked at, removing the tackle scoring leaves just scoring for those big defensive plays, such as interceptions and forced fumbles.
I have then removed the fantasy point scale for NFL points conceded, allowing us a clearer view on how those rookie plays contribute to the team’s defensive stats.
After all the rookie picks were considered, each team was ranked. This ranking reflected the level of value I felt each team’s rookie draft picks gave fantasy drafters in 2020. Each rank gets its own title:
First: TOP OF THE CLASS Second: GETTING A PASS
Third: MOVING ON FAST Fourth: DEAD LAST
It is important to remember that these rankings are my own opinion, and discussion on your thoughts will be welcomed!
THE AFC EAST
So, let’s get to it, and start with the AFC East. On the whole, the division didn’t produce the feast of riches that some of the others did. For starters, ALL of the teams drafted a member of personnel involved with kicking. And this was from a division that didn’t seem to have that many picks to begin with. As such, this was probably one of the closest divisions to decide.
We start from the bottom. In terms of providing that fantasy value in 2020, whose rookie picks ended up with them finishing DEAD LAST in the AFC EAST?
DEAD LAST: THE NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Not only was the season itself one of the hardest that New England fans had to endure, but their draft picks didn’t exactly set the world alight for fantasy drafters.
Picks: Devin Asiasi (TE, UCLA: 3rd round, 91st pick); Dalton Keene (TE, Virginia Tech: 3rd Round 101st pick); Jason Rohrwasser (K, Marshall: 5th round 159th pick)
There were a lot of high expectations of Devin Asiasi coming out of the 2020 Combine. Held up in the same regard as Cole Kmet and both Harrison and Hunter Bryant, all that was needed was a team that would utilise him. And the pick for the Patriots seemed like a perfect fit – they needed a new Tight End after Rob Gronkowski’s retirement.
But then they picked Dalton Keene later the round…and that clarity disappeared. Who would be the one to come out on top?
Well, the answer is ‘neither’. The two third-round picks saw 12 targets between them. Instead, Ryan Izzo ended up with the TE1 2020 stats in New England – with 20 targets. Hardly anything to write home about.
Asiasi did find himself with a touchdown against the Jets in Week 17 – that sole score setting him apart from Keene. But neither provided any fantasy relevance in the regular season. Predicted Sleeper points clearly showed that both Tight Ends failed to live up to expectations. Asiasi beat his predicted score just once in 9 games, and Keene only 2 times out of 6.
The Patriots also selected Jason Rohrwasser, a Kicker, in the 5th round – sacrilege in itself. But to then sign him to a futures contract and not use him? Unforgivable. This by itself should put the Patriots in dead last.
Picks: Kyle Dugger (S, Lenoir-Rhyne: 2nd round, 37th pick); Josh Uche (LB, Florida: 3rd round, 78th pick); Cassh Maluia (LB, Wyoming: 6th round, 204th pick)
The Patriots did slightly better when it came to defensive picks. And they likely got more game time due to a large number of Patriots players opting out for the year due to COVID. In fact, 2nd round pick Kyle Dugger saw action in 14 of 16 games, and was involved in 505 defensive snaps – the second highest in the division.
Sadly, only one of the new draft recruits contributed any fantasy points to their defensive unit scores – Josh Uche picked up a solitary sack.
However, Dugger’s 48 solo tackles and 22 defensive stops were also the highest in the division from a rookie. So, with many established defensive players returning to the team for 2021, it will be worth watching to see if Dugger keeps his spot for next year.
MOVING ON FAST: THE NEW YORK JETS
While many Jets fans will be cursing how this year ended up, their 2020 draft picks didn’t fare as badly for fantasy players as the Patriots – so that’s something.
Picks: Denzel Mims (WR, Baylor: 2nd round, 59th pick); La’Mical Perine (RB, Florida: 4th round, 120th pick); James Morgan (QB, FIU: 4th round, 125th pick); Braden Mann (P, Texan A&M: 6th round, 191st pick)
Many fantasy drafters expected big things from Mims this year, hoping that he would inject a spark into their rosters. The second-round pick was the first Wide Receiver to be drafted by this division, and the second offensive player after Tua.
However, his season was marred by injury, and he scored no touchdowns. His highest fantasy points total in a game barely reached double figures, and he ended up outside the top 100 WRs in PPR rankings. With reports of drafters using first round rookie picks to take the Jets wide man, this season was a disappointing one for Mims and his fantasy owners.
At least fourth-rounder La’Mical Perine managed to score touchdowns! However, opportunities were restricted by the evergreen Frank Gore – with the timeless Running Back keeping Perine on the periphery. Combining that with an injury picked up three-quarters through the season, the rookie 5th round pick saw only an average of 3.9 points a game.
James Morgan and Braden Mann added no extra value to the lineup, with no fantasy points produced between them.
Overall, better than the Pats – but still a disappointing return.
Picks: Ashtyn Davis (S, California: 3rd round, 68th pick); Jabari Zuniga (EDGE, Florida: 3rd round, 79th pick); Bryce Hall (CB, Virginia: 5th round, 158th pick)
The defensive side of the draft ended up producing a few big plays for the Jets defensive unit. Ashtyn Davis recovered a fumble and Bryce Hall bagged himself an interception. But altogether the draft picked rookies added just 4.08% of all fantasy points to their team’s overall haul. By comparison, recently-tagged Marcus Maye added 2 sacks, 2 interceptions and 2 fumbles all by himself.
GETTING A PASS: THE MIAMI DOLPHINS
Scraping second place are the Dolphins. Head Coach Brian Flores got his man in the first round.
Picks: Tua Tagovailoa (QB, Alabama: 1st round, 5th pick); Blake Ferguson (LS, LSU: 6th round, 185th pick); Malcolm Perry (WR/QB, Navy: 7th round, 246th pick)
There was no doubt the left-handed Quarterback was an exciting talent. But there were a lot of questions about how much involvement Tua would get after his injury recovery. Would he get any at all, particularly with Ryan Fitzpatrick available? This speculation caused Tua to drop down the 2020 draft board – Joe Burrow replaced him as the number 1 pick. And the same thing happened to him in fantasy drafts.
This could have paid fantasy dividends later in the season, with drafters finding themselves a bonus option alongside their regular QB. In fact, Tua was able to reward fantasy managers in the playoffs with a points high of 28.04 in Week 14, and an average score of 18.7 points over Weeks 14-17 (I have included Week 17 for posterity as playoff games did happen in that last week). Those points could have been key to helping some players pass through their fantasy knockout matches.
However, away from Tua, the other two choices were not as inspiring. Malcolm Perry, the ultimate gadget player, provided less fantasy value than his utility suggested. A long shot for most, Perry produced his highest fantasy point output in Week 17 – when the majority of leagues had finished.
And the Dolphins continued the division’s confusing draft strategy, with a 6th round pick being used on a long snapper. Is this something that is valuable for fantasy? No. In my opinion, is this someone that a team should be using a draft pick on? No.
Picks: Noah Igbinoghene (CB, Auburn: 1st round, 30th pick); Raekwon Davis (DT, Alabama: 2nd round, 56th pick); Brandon Jones (S, Texas: 3rd round, 70th pick); Jason Strowbridge (DE, North Carolina: 5th round, 154th pick); Curtis Weaver (EDGE, Boise St.: 5th round, 164th pick)
All eyes were on Xavien Howard for his strong return year, and Kyle Van Noy’s appearance in a Dolphins uniform. But there were other players looking to get involved, and Miami’s first three rookie picks just got on with business. Igbinoghene, Davis and Jones played in every game, and produced a sack, a fumble and a fumble return between them. Amazingly, this was less than 3% of the Dolphins’ final defensive points haul – but every little counts!
The 4 Dolphin rookie picks who played that season also produced 79 tackles, equal to 11.5% of the team’s total number – highest in the division.
TOP OF THE CLASS: THE BUFFALO BILLS
This might seem a little surprising to some. The Bills utilised their veteran players and offseason signings to help them run away with the division. So why are the Bills top of the class?
Picks: Zack Moss (RB, Utah: 3rd round, 86th pick); Gabriel Davis (WR, UCF: 4th round, 128th pick); Jake Fromm (QB, Georgia: 5th round, 167th pick); Tyler Bass (K, Georgia Southern: 6th round, 188th pick); Isaiah Hodgins (WR, Oregon State: 6th round, 207th pick)
We have to discount Fromm and Hodgins, who didn’t take a snap all season. Other than that, the rookie offensive plays for the Bills did reasonably well! At least, compared to other teams in the division.
Firstly, Gabriel Davis managed to make himself a good role in the team. The fourth-round pick from UCF saw 62 targets in his first year, and picked up a very impressive 599 yards and 7 touchdowns (joint-9th in the NFL, and 2nd in rookies behind Chase Claypool). This return outstripped players picked several rounds before. Perhaps had it not been for Cole Beasley having a barnstormer of a season, this could have been more. And it’s likely that anyone who held Davis saw some good returns when putting him in the FLEX.
While fantasy drafters found good value with Davis, perhaps they didn’t get as much luck with Zack Moss. The Running Back had a shed-load of hype around him when he was drafted in the third round. However, the news that Josh Allen was to focus more on passing the ball, and that Stefon Diggs had joined the team, may have dampened expectations somewhat.
Still, when compared to offensive players in the other divisional teams, Moss did well. He even managed to pick up three touchdowns in two weeks – with a high of 20.1 PPR points in Week 8. The only other players to get higher than that were Tua and…Tyler Bass.
Yes, it is strange when I have to use a kicker to separate teams! Bass’ fantasy output didn’t start out strong- mainly because he didn’t get a chance to kick. The Bills were doing that well offensively.
But the second half of the regular fantasy season saw his average points per week go up to 11.8. That was the highest for an offensive rookie in this division. Bass was also the PFF’s highest-graded rookie kicker in the NFL.
Picks: A.J. Epenesa (DE, Iowa: 2nd round, 54th pick); Dane Jackson (CB, Pittsburgh: 7th round, 239th pick)
Only two defensive players picked by the Bills this year – but each was able to add in their own way. Epenesa played 284 snaps over 14 games and got himself one sack. But he also managed to make defensive stops on 10 of his 12 tackles (10 solo, 2 assist) – a strong effort to stop the opposition’s offense.
On the other hand, 7th round selection Jackson barely played five games, used primarily as a backup. But he still managed to get a fumble return and an interception for his team. The definition of an effective back-up.
AFC EAST RANKINGS
Those rankings once again…
TOP OF THE CLASS: Buffalo Bills
GETTING A PASS: Miami Dolphins
MOVING ON FAST: New York Jets
DEAD LAST: New England Patriots
In the next article, we head to the AFC North. Which team’s draft picks provided the best fantasy value for drafters?