Who was the best rookie of the 2020 Fantasy season? James Robinson has a pretty good case, obviously, but so does Jonathan Taylor, who actually outscored him in PPR in the end. Plus, there was Justin Herbert and Justin Jefferson rewriting the rookie record books at QB and WR. Side note: It was a pretty good year for rookies whose names started with a J.
You all ended up choosing Robinson as the top rookie in our Fantasy Awards voting, and it's hard to make a case against him: If you had him on your team, you probably had a pretty great year. Was it enough to make him the Fantasy MVP? We went over the full results of the voting on Tuesday's episode of Fantasy Football Today, and you can read my thoughts on those results here -- I didn't agree with all of your calls, FYI. Go check that out, and then read on in today's newsletter for my breakdown of the rookie wide receivers and tight ends (or just tight end), with an eye on what 2021 might hold for them. Plus, we've got the results of our first mock draft of the offseason here, and I break down my strategy and some of my key picks further down.
Check that out and let me know where you disagree with the wisdom of the crowds -- or with my draft picks -- by emailing me at Chris.Towers@CBSInteractive.com, and you can go ahead and send me any other questions you might have about your Keeper or Dynasty teams or anything else you want to send my way. Now, let's check in on this incredible group of rookie pass catchers.
Rookie Report Card: WR/TE
Justin Jefferson - Grade: A+
It would be hard to have a better rookie season than the one Jefferson just had; Randy Moss is probably the only player who ever has. Jefferson broke out in Week 3 and was still behind Adam Thielen in the receiving hierarchy for a while, but the Vikings treated the rookie like a true No. 1 WR in the second half of the season when he averaged 10.1 targets per game over the final eight, compared to 7.1 for Thielen. With Thielen entering his age-31 season, I see no reason why Jefferson won't continue to be the main option, and a 100-catch season seems entirely within the realm of possibility. I've got Jefferson as my No. 7 WR for the 2021 season right now.
Brandon Aiyuk - Grade: B+
When Aiyuk got the chance to be the go-to receiver for the 49ers, he filled the role extremely well, racking up 94.7 yards on 7.5 catches per game, with four touchdowns in six games from Weeks 7 through 15. However, most of that came with Deebo Samuel and George Kittle sidelined, which makes it a bit tough to judge his actual Fantasy appeal moving forward. I believe in Aiyuk's talent, and in the right situation, he could be a must-start Fantasy WR. But the 49ers treated Kittle like their No. 1 option as soon as he returned from his foot injury in Week 16, and it's not like Samuel is appreciably less talented than Aiyuk. That means it could be a bit tough for him to live up to his considerable potential.
CeeDee Lamb - Grade: B+
Here's what Lamb's 16-game pace was in the five games Dak Prescott played: 93 catches, 1,386 yards and six touchdowns. He was looking like an absolute star, and that's what he should be when things get fixed for the Cowboys. The only issue I can see is that Dallas' offense is pretty crowded, which might make it tough for Lamb to see a huge target share, though if Michael Gallup leaves in free agency, that could send Lamb's value shooting up like a rocket ship. If Prescott is back, Lamb could be a top-20 WR.
Tee Higgins - Grade: B+
Higgins wasn't expected to make much of an impact for Fantasy, but he was playing extremely well before Joe Burrow's injury, averaging 88 yards on 5.3 catches per game from Weeks 4 through 10. That would be the high point, but it's hard to blame him for struggling with Brandon Allen and Ryan Finley in at QB; it's not like A.J. Green or Tyler Boyd was any better. Green seems likely to leave as a free agent and Burrow is aiming for a Week 1 return, which could put Higgins in position to be a breakout star in 2021. Don't be surprised if Higgins is the Bengals' No. 1 receiver and a must-start Fantasy WR.
Jerry Jeudy - Grade: C
Drops are overrated. Terrell Owens always struggled with drops, and it didn't exactly hurt him. Drops only really matter if they cause your team to lose faith in you, but it's telling that the Broncos gave Jeudy 22 targets in the final two games despite six drops in Week 16. Jeudy is an exceptional route runner who got open consistently, and that matters more to me than the drops or the low catch rate more generally. My concern with him for 2021 is the same as it is with the rest of Denver's extremely talented pass catchers: Is Drew Lock good enough to get the most out of them? I don't think so, but if he can just be passable, Jeudy could have a big Year 2 breakout. He's a buy low in Dynasty and a worthwhile target as your No. 3 WR in 2021.
Chase Claypool - Grade: B
Pittsburgh's receiving corps was awfully crowded, so it's a testament to Claypool's talent that he was able to break through as quickly as he did. There is a non-zero chance that Claypool is the team's most productive receiver in 2021, with JuJu Smith-Schuster set to leave as a free agent. Claypool will be competing with Diontae Johnson for that honor, and Johnson will likely continue to dominate targets if Ben Roethlisberger returns as QB. But Claypool's big-play ability could make him a star with a more consistent role.
Michael Pittman - Grade: B-
Pittman could be in line to be the Colts No. 1 WR in 2021 if T.Y. Hilton walks in free agency, as seems possible. Pittman never quite broke out as a rookie, but he was playing 80% or more of the team's snaps pretty consistently when healthy, and that shows the faith they already had in him. There are questions about what the offense is going to look like with Philip Rivers' future up in the air, and it will probably be tough for Pittman to put up huge numbers in an offense that wants to funnel targets to running backs and tight ends as this one does, but he caught 65.6% of his targets and averaged 8.2 yards per target, solid numbers in a pretty conservative offense. He could emerge as a viable No. 2 Fantasy WR in 2021, but will be drafted as more like a No. 4 option. That's just fine by me.
Laviska Shenault - Grade: B
There's an alternate universe where Shenault is coming off a big rookie season, but it would have required much better QB play from the Jaguars options. Hopefully they'll get that from Trevor Lawrence, the expected No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft. Shenault's unique skill set garnered strong reviews in camp and the Jags tried to find ways to get the ball in his hands early and often, but it was just hard to do much in this offense. He can be a playmaker in the passing game and as a rusher, and hopefully the new coaching staff will recognize that and make him a priority in 2021. Shenault will be a popular breakout candidate this offseason for good reason, and he could be in line for a big step forward.
Denzel Mims - Grade: C
It's hard to know what to make of Mims, given the Jets disaster of an offense. He definitely showed plenty of upside, especially during a midseason stretch that saw him average 66.7 yards per game over three weeks. But he didn't even make his debut until Week 7 due to a hamstring injury and had just six catches from Week 13 on, so there's a lot left to prove. The bigger questions for the Jets come in the form of QB Sam Darnold and their vacant head coach position, but I'll just say this: Things probably can't get worse than they were under Adam Gase. That alone makes Mims an interesting sleeper.
Jalen Reagor - Grade: C-
Reagor battled through a shoulder injury in training camp and then suffered a torn ligament in his thumb in Week 2, which we have to keep in mind when thinking about his rookie season. We also have to keep in mind how poorly Carson Wentz played before he gave way to rookie Jalen Hurts in the final weeks. Reagor is still a 22-year-old with first-round pedigree, so it's way too early to give up on him, even if he didn't show much as a rookie. The Eagles will have a new coaching staff in place and possibly no Zach Ertz or Alshon Jeffery, so Reagor very well could be the No. 1 option heading into 2021. Hopefully he can stay healthy and get a bit better QB play.
Henry Ruggs - Grade: D
Ruggs was the first wide receiver taken in his draft class, but he wasn't even close to the most impactful as a rookie. He did miss some time with an injury, but for the most part was healthy and played a significant role for the Raiders. They just didn't look for him much -- he had just two games with more than four targets and none with more than five. His big-play ability was on display at times, but Ruggs' lack of targets is a significant red flag moving forward. He'll just be a late-round flier for me in 2021; I might prefer each of the following two players to him.
Darnell Mooney - Grade: B
Mooney didn't come with much hype, but he established himself as the Bears No. 2 receiver as a rookie, and their No. 1 receiver seems likely to walk in free agency. He had 98 targets as a rookie, and that could be a floor if Allen Robinson leaves. It's not a great offense, and Mooney did average a pretty paltry 6.4 yards per target, but if the volume is there, he could emerge as a sneaky starting option in the mid-to-late rounds.
Gabriel Davis - Grade: B+
I want to see Davis have a bigger role, but that could be tough with Cole Beasley and John Brown under contract for 2021. However, he showed he can be a playmaker in a limited role, scoring seven touchdowns and racking up 599 yards on just 62 targets. If the Bills opt to move either Beasley or Brown for some cap flexibility, that should be viewed as a vote of confidence for Davis, who showed his big-play ability with 85 yards on four catches in the Bills' wild card win over the Colts. He could be the kind of WR4 with big upside every week if he can earn more targets.
And, here's a rookie tight end …
Cole Kmet - Grade: C
The cavalry's not coming. Kmet was the only rookie tight end with more than 25 receptions, and even he didn't exactly stand out while playing next to Jimmy Graham. Harrison Bryant was the only other rookie tight end with more than 20 receptions, and he'll be behind Austin Hooper for the foreseeable future in Cleveland. Kmet is the only tight end from this rookie class who was taken in the first 90 picks anyway, and he's the only one who needs to be anywhere close to your radar for 2021.
Between now and the start of the 2021 season, I reckon I'll probably do something like 50 mock drafts of all shapes and sizes; Dynasty startups and 14-teamers and Best-Ball, oh my. We did our first draft of the offseason last week and Jamey Eisenberg wrote about that here -- and you can see the full results and how every team approached the draft there. Here are a few thoughts from my draft:
In doing my first draft of rankings over the two weeks since the end of the season, two things became clear to me: 1) Running back seems unusually deep at the top; and 2) I'm going to draft one of the top three tight ends in as many leagues as I can. To the latter point, it's fairly simple: The biggest edge you can have in Fantasy right now is an elite tight end, because they stand out from the rest of the position like nobody else can. I'm comfortable drafting any of Travis Kelce, George Kittle or Darren Waller in the first round, and knowing I had just two spots between my picks after the first round, I knew I would end up with at least one of Kittle or Waller available to me in the second round. Hence, my Ezekiel Elliott pick.
The former point about the running backs makes me a bit less comfortable. I have 24 running backs ranked inside of my top 30 overall for 2021, and I'm usually not a heavy RB drafter in the early rounds. However, right now, it looks like there are 24 young (or young-ish) backs with three-down potential out there, and that's exactly the kind of running back you want to target early if you're going to do it. That means there's a decent chance I'm going to end up with two backs in my first four picks, and possibly my first three picks in a lot of drafts. Historically, the non-elite RBs are the worst investment you can make in Fantasy, hence my discomfort.
However, I wanted to try it out in the first draft, and I think it worked out OK. I'll point out a few picks I may have done differently, but for the most part I'm happy with this squad:
- 1.11 - Ezekiel Elliott, RB, DAL
- 2.2 - George Kittle, TE, SF
- 3.11 - David Montgomery, RB, CHI
- 4.2 - Terry McLaurin, WR, WAS
- 5.11 - Courtland Sutton, WR, DEN
- 6.2 - Brandin Cooks, WR, HOU
- 7.11 - Aaron Rodgers, QB, GB
- 8.2 - Antonio Brown, WR, TB
- 9.11 - Leonard Fournette, RB, TB
- 10.2 - Mike Williams, WR, LAC
- 11.11 - Cole Beasley, WR, BUF
- 12.2 - Darnell Mooney, WR, CHI
- 13.11 - Marlon Mack, RB, IND
- 14.2 - Darrynton Evans, RB, TEN
- 15.11 - Chiefs, DST, KC
The WR group is full of upside, but also question marks. You'll live with that when you can get an elite TE and QB and two three-down backs to start your team. Fournette is going to be a fascinating player to track this offseason as a free agent because he's still just 26 and just had 132 yards and a touchdown in the Buccaneers wild card win over Washington. If he lands somewhere with a three-down role -- Arizona, Seattle, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, San Francisco or Miami would all be fine by me -- he could be a fifth-round pick by the summer.
My Favorite Pick
- 5.12 - D.J. Chark, WR, JAC
- 6.1 - Raheem Mostert, RB, SF
- 6.2 - Brandin Cooks, WR, HOU
- 6.3 - Melvin Gordon, RB, DEN
- 6.4 - David Johnson, RB, HOU
Cooks always invites skepticism, but 2019 is the only season where he hasn't been a must-start Fantasy WR. Maybe the skepticism this time around comes from a belief that he took advantage of Will Fuller's absence late in the season, but Cooks averaged six catches for 83 yards per game with three touchdowns in seven games between Bill O'Brien's firing and Fuller's suspension. A receiving corps built around Terry McLaurin, Courtland Sutton and Cooks might not have the week-to-week consistency you might hope for, but there's huge weekly upside there, and I'd be OK with that combination if I hammer TE and RB early.
My Least Favorite Pick
- 3.9 - Keenan Allen, WR, LAC
- 3.10 - J.K. Dobbins, RB, BAL
- 3.11 - David Montgomery, RB, CHI
- 3.12 - Cam Akers, RB, LAR
- 4.1 - Julio Jones, WR, ATL
In retrospect, I would rather have had either Akers or Jones instead of Montgomery. It's not that I don't like Montgomery there -- 35th overall is actually a very reasonable spot for him, and I'm surprised he lasted that long -- but the extent to which Akers has dominated work for the Rams when healthy in the second half of the season and in the wild-card round makes me think he probably should be ahead of Montgomery. My biggest question about Akers is whether the receiving work will be there, but we saw with Todd Gurley that Sean McVay is more than happy to include his No. 1 RB in the passing game. Another way to look at it is like this: I took Montgomery and Terry McLaurin with my two picks on this turn, while the sandwich picks between mine were Akers and Jones, and I'd rather have the combination the other drafter got.