Class of 2020 Rookie Recap

Class of 2020: Rookie Recap – NFC West

Class of 2020: Rookie Recap – NFC West

As we get closer to the draft, we’re also nearing the end of the Rookie Recaps. Our second-last stop has us hitting the NFC West – a hotly contested division. But which team came out on top for their rookie picks?


It was similarly close in the division for rookie picks as well. And, bringing up the rear in a tight contest – the Cardinals. 


Picks: Eno Benjamin (RB, Arizona State: 7th round, 222nd pick)

Benjamin failed to make a single start for the team. Due to Kyler Murray’s abilities, Kliff Kingsbury used a tight group of Running Backs in the season. Only three saw carries and, out of those, D.J. Foster made just two attempts. The rest were shared between Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds. So, while it’s not common for a seventh-round pick to make headway in a team, you would have expected at least a smattering of carries. Sadly, no rookie value was gained from drafting Benjamin. 


Picks: Isaiah Simmons (OLB, Clemson: 1st round, 8th pick); Leki Fotu (DT, Utah: 4th round, 114th pick); Rashard Lawrence (DT, LSU: 4th round, 131st pick); Evan Weaver (LB, California: 6th round, 202nd pick)

Thankfully, the defensive picks proved to be marginally better. First-round pick Isaiah Simmons repaid the faith in him with several huge plays. The Linebacker forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and got an interception for the unit. Those, as well as two sacks, contributed 7 out of the 8 fantasy points amassed by the defensive rookies. The other point came from Defensive Tackle Leki Fotu, who got a sack for himself. 

Both players saw over ten games for the team, with Simmons featuring in every regular season match. Fourth round pick Rashard Lawrence made 9 appearances, while Linebacker Evan Weaver failed to get a game. 

While their defensive picks did relatively well, the lack of offensive value put the Cardinals in the division’s dead last position. 


In third place, with only slightly better fantasy results for their rookie picks, are the Seahawks. 


Picks: Colby Parkinson (TE, Stanford: 4th round, 133rd pick); DeeJay Dallas (RB, Miami: 4th round, 144th pick); Freddie Swain (WR, Florida: 6th round, 214th pick); Stephen Sullivan (TE, LSU: 7th round, 251st pick)

The main contributor to the offensive rookie group was DeeJay Dallas. The fourth-round Miami man got stuck behind Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde in the competition for carries. However, with Rashaad Penny seriously injured for the year, Dallas managed 8 appearances. The Running Back was quite efficient with his contributions, resulting in three touchdowns for his efforts. In fact, Dallas overperformed his Sleeper predictions in 5 of those 8 games. The bar wasn’t very high, but the fact still stands.

One of those games was Dallas’ two touchdown game against the Niners in Week 8. It was his high point of 22.8 PPR points. He followed that up with another score against Buffalo. This two game-streak may have been a difference maker in those fighting for a playoff spot. 

Freddie Swain also helped the Seahawks out with two receiving touchdowns. But they came on receptions that were few and far between. The sixth round selection made only 13 catches over the season. Colby Parkinson fared even worse, with just two receptions.

Seventh-round Tight End Stephen Sullivan went one step further and failed to make an appearance, being waived in roster cuts. Sullivan was later picked up by the Panthers. There, he made one snap on special teams before having hernia surgery in November. 

So, Seattler were better than Arizona on the offensive rookie front. Was it a similar story with the defensive rookies?


Picks: Jordyn Brooks (LB, Texas Tech: 1st round, 27th pick); Darrell Taylor (DE, TennesseeL 2nd round, 48th pick); Alton Robinson (EDGE, Syracuse: 5th round, 148th pick)

All in all, the Seahawks must be disappointed with the results from their defensive rookie group.

Their first round Cornerback Jordyn Brooks failed to make any big defensive plays. And, in 14 games, he made only 40 tackles. It was no wonder that the Seahawks were one of the best teams for Wide Receivers to score against in 2020. 

To follow up, second round pick Darrell Taylor, the Defensive end from Tennessee, had issues as well. He was on the non-football injury list all season, and failed to get back in time to make any appearances. 

Despite those disappointments, there were promising signs from Alton Robinson. The EDGE rusher made 4 sacks over 15 games. It was certainly unexpected to have Robinson be the player who contributed the most fantasy points to the unit. 

Sadly, they were the only points that were added in by the rookie picks. And it can only be by the offensive rookie performances that we rank the Seahawks ahead of the Cardinals. 


There is a distinct split between the bottom two and top two in this division. And it’s the Rams who get a second place finish – but only just. 


Picks: Cam Akers (RB, Florida State: 2nd round, 52nd pick); Van Jefferson (WE, Florida: 2nd round, 57th pick); Brycen Hopkins (TE,  Purdue: 4th round, 136th pick); Sam Sloman (K, Miami Ohio: 7th round, 248th pick)

The top performer from the group was undoubtedly Cam Akers. The Florida State Running Back certainly made an impact when he was consistently on the field.

But this impact only came towards the latter stages of the season. Before that, there were several factors limiting his involvement and production.

First, he was plagued by an injury that kept him from consistent involvement in the first half of the season.

Second of all, there was severe competition coming from fellow backs Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown. Both backups fought hard for their spots. It was an exciting position for Sean McVay to be in, but certainly not a nice one for those with Akers on their fantasy team.  

As such, the rookie only saw 10 carries or more twice in the first 11 weeks of the year. Once Week 12 came around, it was a different story – and Akers took both the starting role and majority of carries. As a result, the Running Back had a three week hot streak in Weeks 12 – 14, where he averaged 17.4ppg. Week 14’s performance against the Patriots was a particular highlight. There, Akers smashed out 171 rushing yards and a further 23 yards off 2 receptions. 


But it could be recency bias which makes us think that Akers’ overall fantasy value in 2020 is much higher than it actually is. We have to take the circumstances before those high-performance weeks, and consider the season as a whole. 

And when we do that, Akers’ fantasy value in 2020 does drop some way – and, for me, puts it below that of Brandon Aiyuk – at least for that year.


The Rams did make other offensive rookie picks in the draft. Van Jefferson, who was taken only five picks after Akers, struggled to get past the starting duo of Kupp and Woods. Instead, he battled with Josh Reynolds for playing time – and was left wanting. Reynolds finished the season with 81 targets; Jefferson ended with just 31. It was a middling rookie season for the second-round pick. 

But at least he got receptions! Tight End Brycen Hopkins also found it difficult behind the starting players at the position. While Gerald Everett, Tyler Higbee (and Johnny Mundt to some extent) reaped the rewards, Hopkins saw nothing. 

Seventh round kicker Sam Sloman did score points for the Rams but eventually got waived by Los Angeles. He then got waived AGAIN by the Titans, who played him for two games. If getting released once was bad enough, that must have been tough for Sloman. 


Picks: Terrell Lewis (EDGE, Alabama: 3rd round, 84th pick); Terrell Burgess (S, Utah: 3rd round, 104th pick); Jordan Fuller (S, Ohio State: 6th round, 199th pick)

Much like Akers on the offense, the defensive unit rookie picks also struggled with some injuries. But, like Akers, they too managed to contribute points when they played.

The third round selection Terrell Lewis played just 8 games spread out over the year, but managed to add two sacks to the total. And Jordan Fuller, who had to deal with a neck injury mid-season, added three interceptions over 12 games. 

Fuller’s fellow safety Terrell Burgess also got injured, managing just 4 appearances before needing ankle surgery. Unlike the other two rookie picks, he wasn’t able to add any points to the total. 


So, scraping the top spot are the Niners, whose top performing rookie helped salvage the integrity of their picks with a strong second-half season performance. 


Picks: Brandon Aiyuk (WR, Arizona State: 1st round, 25th pick); Charlie Woerner (TE, Georgia Southern: 6th round, 190th pick); Jauan Jennings (WR, Tennessee: 7th round, 217th pick)

The list of injuries to the Niners team over the course of the season was substantial. As a result, there was opportunity for rookies to take a large step forward in their involvement.

One such rookie was Brandon Aiyuk, who took full advantage of Deebo Samuel‘s injuries and made a mark. In the 12 games he played, Aiyuk was electric. The seven total touchdowns (5 receiving and 2 rushing) were welcome relief to those who drafted him. After worries he would be limited behind Deebo, this was the statline that drafters hoped for. 

After a slow start, Week 7 was where Aiyuk took off like a rocket. Some significant scores came after, and a particularly important set of fantasy results came in Weeks 13 – 15. There, the rookie consistently posted over 20 PPR points – vitally important for teams fighting in playoff matches. 

This is crucial element for Aiyuk’s fantasy value – and the primary reason why the Niners head this list. I was part of several leagues where impatient and dis-satisfied owners dropped Aiyuk to waivers after those initial slow performances. And those who then picked him up soon reaped the benefits – particularly in those later weeks. 


So, Aiyuk was a game changer for many fantasy players. And there were two other picks used on Niners offensive players.  Those were used for Tight End Charlie Woerner and Wide Receiver Jauan Jennings.

But their fortunes were far worse than Aiyuk. Seventh-round pick Jennings didn’t make the step up, playing no offensive snaps for the Niners.

Woerner, on the other hand, did see small but consistent amounts of game time. It was, for the majority, in a blocking role, But his five targets towards the tail end of the year might show promise for next year. However, it was not fantasy relevant for 2020. 


Picks: Javon Kinlaw (DT, North Carolina: 1st round, 14th pick)

After having such a strong defensive unit in 2019, it was understandable that just one rookie was added to strengthen the area. It was the first-round pick though, and Javon Kinlaw was the one selected. 

Kinlaw, a Defensive Tackle out of North Carolina, featured in the first 14 games, and played over 500 snaps. He was able to add 1.5 sacks to the total – as well as a pick six against the Rams! 

Unfortunately, as is the story with many Niners players, Kinlaw picked up an injury late on in the season. He sat out the last two games of the year. 

This injury crisis affected the Niners across the board. After a superb 2019 season, defensive injuries weakened the unit enough to knock the team down from 3rd in overall scoring for 2019 – to 18th overall in 2020. 

However, this meant that Kinlaw’s contributions counted for over 10% of the total points. Not bad for the output from one player!






In the last of the series, we look at my team, the Panthers – and the rest of the NFC South.

Until then, 

Keep Rushing!

Rob @5YardRob

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