Class of 2020: Rookie Recap – AFC West
Into the third of four AFC divisions, and it’s the rookie picks from the AFC that head under the microscope this time.
You can find the process for eligible players, point scoring and ranking system here.
So, who comes in last place?
DEAD LAST – LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
Coming up the rear are the recently relocated Raiders. With a new city bringing new hope, 2020 was the prime opportunity to start out the new era with a bang. However, for the majority of the Vegas rookies, the stats were as barren as the Nevada desert.
Picks: Henry Ruggs (WR, Alabama: 1st round, 12th pick); Lynn Bowden (WR, Kentucky: 3rd round, 80th pick); Bryan Edwards (WR, S.Carolina: 3rd round, 81st pick)
The Raiders’ offensive picks in the draft suggested they meant serious business. First rounder Henry Ruggs was a searing hot spark coming out of college, and Vegas’ twelfth overall pick went on the wide man. With Derek Carr getting his shiny new weapon, Ruggs’ value shot through the roof. The intense demand saw his average ADP on fantasyfootballcalculator.com rocket. Mock drafts made on the website from June through July saw him taken as the third rookie Wide Receiver. Only CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy remained ahead of him. In fact, data collected at the end of August saw him leapfrog Jeudy into second place.
That only made things much worse for those who grabbed Ruggs when it came to their actual drafts. 2020 busted for the wide man – and the drafters who took him. The Alabama man averaged just 6.32 points per week, and only 2.32 during playoff weeks. His game high of 19.8 points was a quarter of his points across the fantasy season. And, when it came to predicted Sleeper points, he failed to reach the mark in 11 of the 13 games he played (84%). A truly awful season.
Instead, Josh Jacobs and Darren Waller ended up being the big players on the Raiders offense, at the expense of Ruggs and the other rookie pick Bryan Edwards.
Edwards’ third round pick should have also justified far better returns than he ended up with. It could be contested that it was worse than Ruggs. He played in one less game, but averaged less than half the average points of his team-mate (3.03 ppg). Games in weeks 8 to 13 produced a measly 1.03ppg. Finally, he failed to meet predicted Sleeper scores in 91.6% of his games (11 of 12) .
With two of the Raiders offensive picks being serious busts, what happened to the third – Lynn Bowden Jr.?
The third round selection out of Kentucky didn’t even make the final Raiders final roster. Bowden was traded to the Dolphins, packaged with a sixth-round pick in exchange for a future Miami fourth-round pick. An instant loss of value, mere months after Las Vegas drafted the utility player.
Based on solely offensive rookie picks, this ranking was an easy decision. But did the defensive picks make the choice any harder?
Picks: Damon Arnette (CB, Ohio State: 1st round, 19th pick); Tanner Muse (S, Clemson: 3rd round, 100th pick); Amik Robertson (CB, Louisiana Tech: 4th round, 139th pick)
Another three players – and another first round pick. This time, in the form of Ohio State Cornerback Damon Arnette. The ninteenth overall off the board, Arnette played nine games over the season. This could have been more, but the rookie dealt with a variety of injuries over the campaign. A thumb injury ensured an extended period of time out in the first half of the year. And missed games due to concussions meant further time off.
The games he played didn’t produce anything of note either, managing just 25 solo tackles. No big defensive plays mean no fantasy points added.
With third-round safety Tanner Muse hitting both COVID and injured reserve lists in 2020, that ensured a bust season for him. And Amik Robertson played just 34 defensive snaps over 8 games.
All in all, a terrible return for fantasy owners who pinned their hopes on Raiders rookies.
MOVING ON FAST – DENVER BRONCOS
This position was quite a tough one to settle on, but ultimately – it’s the Denver Broncos in third position.
Picks: Jerry Jeudy (WR, Alabama: 1st round, 15th pick); K.J. Hamler (WR, Penn State: 2nd round, 46th pick); Albert Okwuegbunam (TE, Missouri: 4th round, 118th pick); Tyrie Cleveland (7th round, 252nd pick)
As already mentioned, Jerry Jeudy’s ADP on fantasyfootballcalculator.com was high before the season. Mock drafts consistently placed him as one of the top three rookie wideouts. June and July saw Jeudy hold 2nd position above his Alabama team mate Henry Ruggs – August saw Ruggs jump above him.
In a way, that slight value drop could have been a good thing for Jeudy, as expectations wouldn’t have been as soul-crushingly high. Unfortunately, when your team’s alpha receiver goes out very early in the season, that’s a whole new level of pressure.
Courtland Sutton’s injury thrust Jeudy into Denver’s WR1 role very early on. And that lead to a microscopic examination of his play. As such, issues with his performances might not have been as big of a deal.
As it was, Jeudy was looked at often – his 110 targets were the second highest for rookie receivers in 2020 (Justin Jefferson 121).
However, his catch percentage came out at 47.3% – one of the worst out of the 2020 WR draft class. Out of that group, PFF.com rank him as second bottom for drops. This could have been down to poor Quarterback play, and the incresed pressure of leading a wide receiver group in your rookie year. But the number of drops will have had fantasy owners tearing hair out.
The 52 receptions he did make became 856 yards and three touchdowns. Those yards rank him fifth in rookie receiving yards at the position. But the number of touchdowns drops him to joint ninth – with his team-mate KJ Hamler.
This took its toll on Jeudy’s Sleeper points. Finishing as WR47 overall, the first-round pick went under his predicted points on 11 out of 16 games (68%). He averaged below 9 PPR points for the regular fantasy season (Weeks 1 – 13). The playoff weeks saw a lift to 12.05ppg, but, by then, it may have been too late. Fantasy owners invested in the Wide Receiver early on, or those who had traded for him after the Sutton injury, will have been sore.
KJ Hamler, himself a second-round pick, did get those three touchdowns. And his catch percentage, at 55.6%, fared better than Jeudy. But Hamlet only picked up 30 receptions off 56 targets, along with 381 yards and three touchdowns. That meant very inconsistent fantasy returns. He averaged 5.31ppg during the fantasy season, and his high week of 22.6 points accounted for 25% of his total. This led to underachieving on Sleeper points in 69% of games, another far from encouraging stat.
The stats aren’t promising away from the first two. Fourth-round Tight End Albert Okwuegbunam ended up playing in just 4 games, getting 11 receptions for 121 yards and a touchdown. And, although Tyrie Cleveland featured in 10 games, he saw even less. Just 6 receptions meant 63 yards for the seventh-rounder.
Circumstances meant so much promise on the cards for Hamler, and particularly Jeudy, in 2020. So it must be frustrating for Denver, and fantasy fans, for that not to come to expected fruition.
Picks: Michael Ojemudia (CB, Iowa: 3rd round, 77th pick); McTelvin Agim (DT, Arkansas: 3rd round 95th pick); Justin Strnad (LB, Wake Forest; 5th round, 178th pick); Derrek Tuszka (EDGE, North Dakota State: 7th round, 254th pick)
While there are similarities between Denver and Kansas’ offensive rookie picks, there is not between the defensive picks.
Only cornerback Michael Ojemudia made any defensive plays of note in 2020. His four forced fumbles over his 16 games were the only contributing factor to the Bronco DST fantasy points. Defensive tackle McTelvin Agim played sporadically across 10 games, while seventh round rusher Derrek Tuszka made just 27 defensive snaps (6 games).
And Fifth round linebacker Justin Strnad didn’t play a game all season. However, this was due to wrist surgery before the campaign started. Still, in terms of Broncos’ defensive fantasy points, he added the same as Agim and Tuszka.
GETTING A PASS – KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Pick: Clyde Edwards-Helaire (RB, LSU: 1st round, 32nd pick)
Like Jeudy at the Broncos, circumstances pushed Clyde Edwards-Helaire to the forefront. The COVID-19 pandemic lead to Superbowl winner Damien Williams announcing that he was sitting out of the season.
As it was, the announcement didn’t have much effect on Clyde’s ADP. Mock drafts show him getting picked consistently in the end of the 2nd round from June until August. It seemed that many fantasy fans expected Edwards-Helaire to be in the mix straight from the start.
This proved to be the case. The rookie Running Back saw double digit carries at a minimum over the first six games of the season. His highest point total came in Week 6, which saw a season-high 26 carries and 161 rushing yards. That, along with 4 receptions for 8 yards, accounted for 20.9 PPR points.
However, only one rushing touchdown in that time was cause for fantasy concern. And the Chiefs’ midseason signing of Le’Veon Bell threw a huge spanner in the works. It instantly split the workload between the two backs, and Helaire’s volume took a HUGE hit. He managed three more rushing touchdowns after the Bell signing. But the rookie’s fantasy ppg was virtually halved in the second half of the fantasy season, down from 15.5 to 8.6.
Combine that with his lack of involvement in fantasy playoff finals (both Weeks 16 AND 17), and it doesn’t look as good. However, I put it on a par with how much of a let down Jerry Jeudy was for fantasy owners.
Now, when it comes to the Chiefs’ defensive rookies…
Picks: WIllie Gay Jnr (LB, Mississippi State: 2nd round, 63rd pick); L’Jarius Sneed (S, Louisiana Tech: 4th round, 138th pick); Michael Danna (EDGE, Michigan: 5th round, 177th pick)
This is where the difference is made. The Chiefs got a huge amount of use out of their rookie picks – all of them played more than 250 snaps.
Second-round linebacker Willie Gay Jnr. featured in all 16 games, and contributed a sack and a forced fumble to the points total. Edge rusher Michael Danna saw action in 13 games, and made 2.5 sacks – a decent return from the Michigan man.
But it was L’Jarius Snead, the fourth rounder from Louisiana Tech, that added the most. He contributed two additional sacks, and his 3 interceptions made up nearly 20% of ALL Chiefs picks in 2020.
In the end, Kansas City ended up with 115 fantasy points, enough for 13th in the NFL. But the rookies contributed 10% of the total. And that was the highest percentage in the division.
TOP OF THE CLASS – LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Something would be amiss not to have the Chargers at the top of the division. After all, they took the Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Picks: Justin Herbert (QB, Oregon: 1st round, 6th pick); Joshua Kelley (RB, UCLA: 4th round, 112th pick); Joe Reed (WR, Virginia: 5th round, 151st pick); K.J. Hill (WR, Ohio State: 7th round, 220nd pick)
There were a lot of doubt on whether Justin Herbert was ready for the NFL. And there were a lot of doubters. And, were you to ask at the start of the season “who will be the breakout rookie of 2020?”, nobody would have mentioned Herbert’s name.
But the first round pick from Oregon was called into untimely action in Week 2 – and he hasn’t looked back. And, to be honest, neither have his fantasy owners. Those who took a shot on him have been paid back in full, and more.
The rookie QB averaged 22.3 ppg over the season, with his weekly high of 38.48 points accounting for only 11.49% of his total. And it was even more pleasant for fantasy owners in the playoffs. Herbert averaged 23.1ppg in Weeks 14 – 17, with a huge performance of 32.98 in Week 17 to top it off.
When compared to the players at the position who were drafted around him, only Herbert managed to far exceed any expectations. And that’s as good a reason as any to put him at the top.
Fourth-round pick Joshua Kelley also managed to get a little slice of the pie, likely getting a little more value than his draft pick would suggest. Compared to the other three Running Backs drafted in that round (LaMical Perine, Anthony McFarland and Deejay Dallas), Kelley stacks up very well. He had more targets, receptions and yards through the air compared to the other three. On the ground, he had far more rushing attempts than any of the others – with 111 carries nearly double that of Perine’s 64. Dallas and McFarland are far behind with 34 and 33 respectively.
This could have been much higher, especially in Ekeler’s injury absence. But the Chargers took on perennial spoil-sport Kalen Ballage and stifled the opportunity for the rookie.
Away from the first two, the fantasy value drops off. Fifth rounder Joe Reed had virtually no part to play in 2020. K.J Hill had a small role to play in Herbert’s passing machine. His 7 receptions off 11 targets was a small cog in a larger machine, but irrelevant for fantasy owners.
Picks: Kenneth Murray (LB, Oklahoma: 1st round, 23rd pick); Alohi Gilman (S, Notre Dame: 6th round, 186th pick)
Focusing on the defensive rookies, there is not as much fantasy relevance when compared to the offensive picks. First round Linebacker Kenneth Murray found himself with the most opportunity of any defensive pick in the division. Over 16 games, he saw 927 defensive snaps. That produced 79 tackles, of which 32 were defensive stops. However, the only fantasy relevant play he managed was a sack against the Patriots.
Alohi Gilman featured in 15 games himself, but the 68 snaps were well spread out across the season. And, with just one solo tackle to his name, he wasn’t able to help the Chargers defense in that regard, let alone in any fantasy relevance.
So it was lucky that the Chargers’ offensive rookie picks managed to make the difference!
DEAD LAST – THE LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
MOVING ON FAST – THE DENVER BRONCOS
GETTING A PASS – THE KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
TOP OF THE CLASS – THE LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
For the final instalment of the AFC divisions, we head to the South.