Class of 2020: Rookie Recap – NFC North
We’re rolling around to the North once again on the rookie recap. Which of the NFC teams made the most of their 2020 picks? And which were left ruing their decisions?
DEAD LAST: GREEN BAY PACKERS
There was really only one choice for the last-placed team.
Picks: Jordan Love (QB, Utah St: 1st round, 26th pick); A.J. Dillon (RB, Boston College: 2nd round, 62nd pick) ; Josiah Deguera (TE, Cincinnati: 3rd round, 94th pick)
Many fantasy players with Aaron Rodgers on their rosters will have inhaled sharply on Day 1 of the draft. The Packers went some way to signalling their intentions with the veteran Quarterback in taking Jordan Love with their first-round choice. Could this be the beginning of the end of Rodgers’ time with Green Bay?
The answer was a definitive ‘NO’. Rodgers cleaned house, throwing his highest number of touchdowns, with his fantasy point total the highest since 2011. He thrived on the competition, and the veteran left no room for Love to make even a solitary start.
Those who had taken Love in rookie drafts will have been left frustrated that the newcomer didn’t even get a look in. But, when the league MVP is on that kind of form, you suck it up and understand why. As such, Love offered no fantasy value at all. And, as long as Rodgers is in place, that will continue.
DILLON AND DEG-WHERE-A?
The same could be said for AJ Dillon. The Boston College Running Back was taken in the second round. As Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams were both on the final year of their contracts, this move could also have been significant.
And indeed it might but, as we know, the 2020 season was a strange one for many players. Dillon was only seeing a handful of carries a game, but he contracted COVID around Week 8, and missed five weeks. His return to the team saw a benchmark game in Week 16 once the Packers had made the playoffs. The 25.9 PPR points he made in that game constituted 65% of his total points. And, if you played him in that week’s final, he could have gone a long way in helping you out. He just didn’t do anything to get you there.
Green Bay’s other offensive rookie was Josiah Deguera. The Cincinnatti Tight End was well known as a formidable pass blocker, but could also handle himself in a pass. Sadly, he was only able to show off one reception off two targets, as an injury cut his season short.
All in all, there was virtually no fantasy value in the Green Bay offensive rookie picks.
Picks: Kamal Martin (LB, Minnesota: 5th round, 175th pick); Vernon Scott (DB, TCU, 7th round, 236th pick); Jonathan Garvin (EDGE, Miami: 7th round, 242nd pick)
The Packers’ defensive players output was marginally better. After all, the first defensive pick came in the fifth round – itself not normally that promising.
That fifth round draft pick, Kamal Martin, did add a sack to the defensive unit’s point total. So did Vernon Scott, the seventh-round Defensive Back from TCU. But that was it – equal to 1.94% of the final amount.
When combined with the rookies on the offense, this was a disappointing return for the Green Bay rookies.
MOVING ON FAST: CHICAGO BEARS
It wasn’t hard for the fantasy value to go up after the Packers. In third place, I’ve put the Chicago Bears. The title of ‘Moving On Fast’ might be a tad undeserved, as there were players here who definitely helped the Bears in their first year.
Picks: Cole Kmet (TE, Notre Dame: 2nd round, 43rd pick); Darnell Mooney (WR, Tulane: 5th round, 173rd pick)
Ah, a Tight End taken in as the Bear’s first draft selection. Totally understandable, as the Bears love the position, with many on the roster. Four of them were passing targets in the 2020 season, including second-round pick Cole Kmet. The Notre Dame player was highly rated and it was no surprise to see him taken as the first in the position.
His landing spot, a team that rostered a whole bunch of Tight Ends already, tempered fantasy expectations. And the signing of veteran Jimmy Graham dampened them further. Rather than having a shot, Kmet was forced to ply his trade behind one of the league’s most experienced players at the position.
It was only in the latter stages of the fantasy season that the rookie finally got his chance. The games after the Week 11 bye saw Kmet’s snap percentage consistently above 75 percent. His week 12 game against the Lions had him go above 10 PPR points for the first time in the year.
Aside from that, however, returns were mixed compared to his snaps. And none of the games in the playoffs gave those who played him any value. And he only performed above Sleeper point expectations three times out of the 16 games he played.
RIGHT ON THE MOONEY
Instead, it was the other offensive rookie that provided the results – and the value. 5th round selection Darnell Mooney started quietly, much like Kmet. But his value was instantly realised by the Chicago staff. As a result, he was put in on over 60% of offensive snaps from Week 2 until the end of the season. More importantly, his skill allowed him to become one of the preferred targets for his Quarterbacks. The accuracy of throws sent his way was a concern, but Mooney made the most of the opportunity.
It was likely his skills that allowed him to overperform his Sleeper points predictions in 7 of the 16 games he played in. That included huge weeks 8 against the Saints (17.9 points), and 15 against the Vikings (16.5 points).
Considering his draft position, Mooney was able to offer great fantasy value to those who picked him in drafts. He gave even more for those, like me, who were able to pinch him from the waiver wire.
With an established starting Quarterback, and signs that Bears WR2 Anthony Miller could be on the way out, the skies are opening up for Mooney.
Picks: Jaylon Johnson (CB, Utah: 2nd round, 50th pick); Trevis Gipson (DE, Tulsa: 5th round, 155th pick); Kindle Vildor (CB, Georgia Southern: 5th round, 163rd pick)
Unlike their offensive counterparts, the Bears’ defensive rookie picks failed to make any impact on their unit’s score. Cornerback Jaylon Johnson featured on over 800 defensive snaps (824) in 13 games. But, as his 42 tackles don’t count towards a unit’s point total, he was unable to add anything of note.
GETTING A PASS: DETROIT LIONS
Coming in at second is the Detroit Lions, who got themselves a Running Back gem in the draft…
Picks: D’Andre Swift (RB, Georgia: 2nd round, 35th pick); Quintez Cephus (WR, Wisconsin: 5th round, 166th pick); Jason Huntley (RB, New Mexico State: 5th round, 172nd pick)
Sadly, it wasn’t Jason Huntley, as he ended being waivered in final roster cuts. The New Mexico State rookie ended up playing for the Eagles, making four appearances for the offense and getting five carries for 19 yards.
No, I was talking about D’Andre Swift. The Georgia Bulldog made it to Detroit in the second round. After a myriad of Running Backs featured for the Lions in the 2019 season, the selection looked like a concrete call for a feature back.
Sadly, Adrian Peterson happened. The veteran signed for the Lions and promptly took a significant amount of early carries. Still, Swift produced effective returns with what he had. Four rushing touchdowns and a receiving touchdown helped Swift to a respectable 13.95ppg over Weeks 1-7 of the season.
Thankfully, the Lions recognised the contribution that Swift was making, and upped his involvement. Peterson still lingered in the background, taking the lead on the ground for some games. But Week 10 against Washington saw Swift get his highest carries to date (16) and get a receiving touchdown for 25.9 PPR points.
BACK FOR THE PLAYOFFS
A three week lay off with migraines saw a significant gap in production, but the rookie Running Back returned for Week 14 – just in time for the fantasy playoffs. Those who had rostered Swift got three rushing touchdowns in the run up to fantasy finals, with two of them helping a 21.2 PPR points haul in Week 15. A Week 16 game against Tampa Bay could have been disastrously quiet for some fantasy finals. But Swift likely assisted those with Week 17 finals with another rushing touchdown and 16 PPR points.
Considering the limited early week exposure, Peterson’s continued intrusion AND those three missed games, Swift’s returns were fantastic. He overperformed his Sleeper predicted points on 9 of his 13 games, and finished as the PPR RB18 on the season. There could have been a lot of fantasy value picked up from Swift.
The only other offensive rookie taken by the Lions was Quintez Cephus. Kenny Golladay’s injury could have helped Cephus get more exposure. But the rookie from Wisconsin only played a bit part in proceedings. He made 20 receptions across 13 games – with 6 of those coming in the first 2 matches.
Picks: Jeff Okudah (CB, Ohio State: 1st round, 3rd pick); Julian Okwara (EDGE, Notre Dame: 3rd round, 67th pick); John Penisini (DT, Utah: 6th round, 197th pick); Jashon Cornell (DT, Ohio State: 7th round, 235th pick)
The Lions’ defensive rookies helped out more than the Bears’ and Packers’ picks. Two of the four taken contributed fantasy points to their team’s total – with 5 points equalling 6.33% of the total haul.
But the contributions were sparse.
Jeff Okudah, the first round pick out of Ohio State, added only one interception in 9 games. A Week 11 groin injury took him out for the rest of the year, and he was unable to add more.
John Penisini, a Defensive Tackle from Utah, added a sack and a fumble recovery – a good return for the sixth-rounder.
But Julian Okwara was injured early on in the season. He made only 65 defensive snaps, with the majority coming in the closing weeks of the season. And Jashon Cornell picked up a nasty Achilles injury and was out for the season.
So, while the Lions’ rookies only added a small amount, it was still better than the two teams before them.
TOP OF THE CLASS: MINNESOTA VIKINGS
With a contender for Offensive Rookie of the year in their midst, it was hard to overlook the Vikings for top spot. And, when that player is breaking rookie records, the choice is blindingly obvious.
Picks: Justin Jefferson (WR, LSU: 1st round, 22nd pick); K.J. Osborn (WR, Miami: 5th round, 176th pick); Nate Stanley (QB, Iowa, 7th round, 244th pick)
Let’s get the other two offensive rookies out of the way first.
Nate Stanley didn’t make an appearance for the Vikings. And K.J. Osborn ended up with MINUS fantasy points for the season after two fumbles on kick returns. No fantasy value there.
THE REAL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR?
Right, onto Justin Jefferson. The first round pick from LSU was a very good prospect coming into the season. But all eyes seemed to be on players like CeeDee Lamb and Jalen Reagor. And Stefon Diggs’ departure seemed to be great news for Jefferson’s team-mate Adam Thielen. Surely the move, and the limited practice and game time for rookies, meant Thielen would feast in 2020.
And he did – but so did Jefferson. Sure, the veteran Thielen was the redzone darling for Kirk Cousins. But Jefferson was carving up the yards and running his touchdowns in from further out. His first six games saw three games of over 100 yards, and he averaged 17.4 yards per reception. With three touchdowns in that time, he came out with 16.98ppg from weeks 1-7. It was a spectacular introduction.
And his output just got better as the season continued. Jefferson lit up in Weeks 11-13, with four touchdowns in three games. This purple patch of 17.6, 26 and 27.3 PPR points could have propelled a fantasy team from outsiders to contenders. it may have even snatched a playoff berth in the dying stages.
But Jefferson had not finished yet. While there were no touchdowns scored in the playoff weeks, he still averaged 16.02ppg. Two of those weeks got him over 100 yards (7 for the season!) Players who scored touchdowns in that time still couldn’t beat that.
In the lead up to the season, Jefferson was a contender for the leading pack of rookie receivers. We even wrote about him in a 5 Yard Writers’ showdown. But he dazzled fantasy players with his yardage and his output. Perhaps the lack of redzone touchdowns led to Herbert being favoured over him. But we all know that the race for OROY should have been a lot closer…
Picks: Jeff Gladney (CB, TCU: 1st round, 31st pick); Cameron Dantzler (CB, Mississippi State: 3rd round, 89th pick); D.J. Wonnum (EDGE, South Carolina: 4th round, 117th pick); James Lynch (DE, Baylor: 4th round 130th pick); Troy Dye (LB, Oregon: 4th round, 132nd pick); Harrison Hand (CB, Temple: 5th round, 169th pick); Josh Metellus (S, Michigan: 6th round, 205th pick); Kenny Willekes (DE, Michigan State: 7th round, 225th pick); Brian Cole (S, Mississippi State: 7th round, 249th pick)
It’s quite overwhelming to look at this group of players.
That list has enough defensive players on it to comprise the takings for an entire division. And they all went to the Vikings.
Not only that, but a lot of them managed to feature significantly in the Minnesota defense for the 2020 season. Four of them played in 10 games or more. In addition to this, five out of the nine rookies added point value to the Vikings’ final score. Their contributions accounted for 21.4% of the DST total.
Standing out among them was Cornerback Cameron Dantzler. The third round pick forced and recovered a fumble, as well as two interceptions.
EDGE rusher D.J. Wonnum also forced a fumble, as well as adding three sacks. Surely a great return for the fourth-round South Carolina rookie.
The output for first-round pick Jeff Gladney was not as prominent. The cornerback cemented his first team slot after featuring on over 900 defensive snaps over the 16 games. However, he only added a forced fumble to the total. Despite his 75 solo tackles, and 25 of those being defensive stops, he was unable to give more. Was this due to task assignment, or Quarterbacks actively throwing away from him? We can only see if this pattern continues next year. But 2020 did not see big returns for the TCU draftee.
So, here’s a quick look at those rankings once again…
DEAD LAST: GREEN BAY PACKERS
MOVING ON FAST: CHICAGO BEARS
GETTING A PASS: DETROIT LIONS
TOP OF THE CLASS: MINNESOTA VIKINGS
The Vikings reign supreme, while the Packers rue their first round pick.
Join me for the third rookie recap as we head out West for the second time.