Written by Ryan Lippert
With fantasy football right around the corner, it’s time for fans to start thinking about who they want for their respective teams this season. One of the biggest parts of selecting a fantasy football roster is trying to figure out who will be the “sleepers” or “gems” in drafts this season. I strongly believe that there are several rookies this season who will be able to contribute to fantasy teams and be one of those sleepers. Running back Saquon Barkley is an obvious choice as he will be selected in the late first/early-second round in most fantasy drafts, so I’ve decided to leave him off the list and focus on players you will be able to find in later rounds.
Rashaad Penny — Running Back, Seattle Seahawks
Ever since the departure of Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks have struggled to find a true feature back for their offense. With their first round selection out of San Diego State, I believe they’ve found their star back.
Penny is a player that I’ve been very high on throughout his senior season and throughout the draft process. He was one of the most electric players in college football in his senior season at San Diego State, as he was a threat in the running game, passing game, and as a kickoff returner. On offense, Penny finished his final season with 2,248 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns, along with 135 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He was also very explosive in the return game as he finished with 521 yards and two touchdowns as a senior.
Fantasy owners should fall in love with Penny! I strongly believe he will be the feature back in the Seahawks offense and he provides versatility as a runner and catching passes out of the backfield. He could also bolster the Seahawks D/ST as he is always a threat to take a kick return back for a touchdown. I believe he will be an excellent mid-round pick as he can be a solid flex or backup running back option.
Ronald Jones II — Running Back, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Much like the Seahawks, the Buccaneers were in need of a solid running game. With Doug Martin out, second round pick Ronald Jones II out of USC should fill in as the feature back in this offense.
Jones had an outstanding career at USC, good enough that he was able to forego his senior season and still be a solid draft pick. In his senior season, Jones finished with a career high 1,550 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also showed that he can be reliable in the passing game as he finished with 14 receptions for 187 yards and one touchdown.
Jones should be drafted in all fantasy leagues this season. He will be the feature back in the Buccaneers offense, meaning he should receive a heavy workload of carries. His value will also go up due to the fact that quarterback Jameis Winston is facing a three game suspension. With Winston out, I expect the Buccaneers to rely more on the run, opening up more carries for Jones, thus creating more opportunities for fantasy points. Like Penny, I believe Jones is a player to look for in mid-late rounds and use as a flex or backup running back option.
Calvin Ridley — Wide Receiver, Atlanta Falcons
Next, I will focus on two wide receivers who will make huge impacts in fantasy in their rookie seasons. With that being said, Ridley is the best wide receiver in the class. Drafted in the first round out of Alabama, Ridley will join an already dangerous Atlanta passing attack and, hopefully for the Falcons, take some pressure off of Julio Jones.
As I said, Ridley was the best wide receiver available in this class. He was a stud at Alabama as he was a key contributor in each of his three seasons with the Crimson Tide. In his final season, Ridley helped lead Alabama to another National Championship victory, accounting for 63 receptions for 967 yards and five touchdowns.
In Atlanta, I believe that Ridley will be a huge piece of the offense as a rookie. He will likely start off the season in the WR3 spot behind Jones and Mohamed Sanu. However, I believe that he will eventually take over the WR2 spot over Sanu. Ridley is a player that I would draft in a late round in fantasy and store as a backup wide receiver on my roster with the possibility of moving him into the starting lineup based on his performance.
James Washington — Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers
For my final spot on this list, I know a lot of people would probably have DJ Moore as one of the top rookie wide receivers. However, I wanted to focus on a player that will be under the radar for a lot of fantasy owners. Second round pick James Washington is exactly that type of player. With the loss of Martavis Bryant, Washington should see immediate playing time and be a huge threat this season.
In his last three seasons at Oklahoma State, Washington was consistently one of the most dominant receivers in college football. As a senior, Washington put up outstanding numbers, finishing with 74 receptions for 1,549 yards and 13 touchdowns.
With the Steelers, Washington will be in the WR3 spot as the Steelers already have two outstanding receivers in Antonio Brown and Juju Smith-Schuster. Luckily for Washington, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger loves to spread the ball around. With most of the attention on Brown and Smith-Schuster, I look for Washington to have a ton of opportunities for receptions and touchdowns this season. He will be a tremendous deep threat in this Steelers offense. For fantasy owners, Washington will come cheap. I see him either being a very late round pick or being a player that owners can pick up out of free agency later in the season in most leagues.