Some big names emerged from last year’s draft class as major threats to the rest of the league. Some of them are in position to have break out seasons and some of them have already accomplished impressive feats. As fantasy season approaches, here are 5 sophomores worth getting on your team:
5. N’Keal Harry, WR, NE
Okay, this might be controversial, but hear me out. N’Keal Harry didn’t make much of a splash in his rookie season. The numbers certainly don’t point to anything special, as he finished with 12 catches on 24 targets, and it’s fair to say that last year was a disaster. But, if anything, we need to completely forget about last year, because N’Keal Harry was put in a remarkably difficult situation following a preseason injury that sidelined him until week 10.
Wide receivers typically take time to develop in New England. When you mix one of the most complex playbooks with the pressure of performing for the greatest of all time, it’s unfair to expect big numbers from guys fresh out of college. This, combined with his injury, left Harry fighting for an opportunity to show off his game. But I’m still extremely high on him.
Harry was one of my favorite prospects to come out of last year’s draft, and I believe he will be an essential piece of a new offense starring Cam Newton. He’s got the size, power, and catch radius to turn off-target throws into completions, and he’s likely the only big-bodied receiver with significant upside in New England. He’s got some serious talent, and with some experience under his belt and a new MVP under center, look for N’Keal Harry to make leaps in production. He will certainly be overlooked, as well, so he will be a great bargain come draft day.
4. Kyler Murray, QB, ARI
According to Revenge of the Birds, Kyler Murray was the 13th best quarterback in 2019. As a rookie. He was also the 2019 Offensive Rookie of the Year, as well as the cornerstone of a revamped Cardinals offense that made an all-time turnaround from 2018-2019. He finished the season with 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, along with 544 rushing yards and 2 rushing touchdowns.
Though Murray had his fair share of turbulence during his debut season, such as 7 games with a sub-80 passer rating, this should be viewed as beneficial towards his overall development. There’s absolutely a slow learning curve in the NFL, so these obstacles shouldn’t damage his resume but rather demonstrate his ability to overcome them and succeed. Murray was the best quarterback of his draft, and he’s certainly not fighting for the QB1 spot. With the offseason addition of DeAndre Hopkins, look for Murray and the Cardinals offense to put up some serious numbers moving forward. He will definitely be overshadowed by the more high profile QBs in fantasy drafts this season, so don’t be afraid to pick him up a little later. His ceiling is extremely high.
3. D.K. Metcalf, WR, SEA
D.K. Metcalf is soon to be unstoppable. He was arguably the best rookie wide receiver, raking in 58 receptions for 900 yards and 7 touchdowns, yet this is only the tip of the iceberg. Standing at 6’4”, 229 pounds, Metcalf is a physical beast! He’s got outstanding strength (27 bench press reps in the 2019 combine), yet his speed and explosiveness rank at the top of the league as well. At the combine, he finished in the 99th percentile of 40-yard-dashes and speed scores, and the 97th percentile of burst scores (via PlayerProfile).
His physical attributes, blended with his high football IQ, additionally indicate that he will be rewarded with more and more snaps and targets this season. I wouldn’t be that surprised either if Metcalf grows to become the first place Wilson looks as he continues to challenge Tyler Lockett for the WR1 role.
With a fantastic quarterback and some of the best coaching in the league, expect Metcalf to easily surpass 1000 receiving yards this year and put up some substantial points. He should be a major target for your fantasy team, so be willing to draft him high because I’m certain he will impress.
2. Miles Sanders, RB, PHI
MVP YEAR! Miles Sanders may not have the numbers to back this up just yet, but let me tell you something… Miles Sanders is coming. Last season, Sanders may have slipped under your radar. Despite a few outstanding performances, the Eagles’ rookie back posted respectable, but very underwhelming numbers, totaling 818 rushing and 609 receiving yards and 6 total touchdowns. But Sanders was being held back, forced to play behind Jordan Howard for the first half of the season.
In his breakout games, Sanders showcased his ability to be a premier dual-threat back. Following Howard’s injury, Sanders was one of only eight backs to average more than 5 yards-per-carry, and one of only two to do this while racking up significant receiving yards. Additionally, he was one of just six players to accumulate 500 yards both on the ground and through the air. While his fantasy numbers only show one side of the story, know that he demonstrated some serious potential.
Like I said, Miles Sanders was held back last year. This year, with Jordan Howard finding a new home in South Florida, Darren Sproles finally deciding he’s ready to retire, and Boston Scott’s unconvincing numbers having cemented him as a depth piece, Sanders sits alone atop the Eagles’ RB depth chart. In addition, the Eagles had 10 draft picks this year, none of which they utilized to add another back, further promoting the notion that Sanders is their guy moving forward and setting the stage for him to have a breakout season. This, combined with the Eagles having the eighth easiest schedule in the league, puts Sanders in prime position to show out.
1. A.J. Brown, WR, TEN
D.K. Metcalf was arguably the best rookie receiver last year, but the vast majority would argue A.J. Brown was undoubtedly the best rookie receiver last year. And I’m inclined to agree with them. There’s a reason we opted out of writing a “Making the Leap” about A.J. Brown, and that’s because A.J. Brown has already made the leap. Brown exploded at the beginning of the season, racking up 100 yards in the season opener and 94 yards with 2 touchdowns in week two. He experienced a slight drop in efficiency as the Titans transitioned quarterbacks from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill, but once Tannehill found his footing, Brown returned to wreaking havoc on opposing defenses.
He finished the season with 52 receptions on 82 targets and totalling 1051 yards (the only rookie receiver to surpass the 1000 yard mark). He finished second in the league in yards per pass route (3.46), yards per target (12.5), fantasy points per pass route (.71), and fantasy points per target (2.58). He also finished third in yards per reception (20.2) and yards after catch (447). And he did this all with Marcus Mariota and Ryan Tannehill under center.
There is no doubt in my mind that A.J. Brown will be an absolute monster this season and in the future. As the Titans franchise-tagged Derrick Henry and plan to continue with Tannehill, their offense should pick up where they left up and put up serious numbers. Brown should crack the top 10 receivers, and should be high on your list of draftable receivers. Brown had a breakout season last year, and will only show improvement as he continues to grow into full form.
Drew Lock, QB, DEN
In his limited appearances at the end of the 2019 season, Drew Lock proved himself to be one of the best quarterbacks of the 2019 draft and demonstrated his potential to become one of the league’s most transcendent players. To avoid beating around the bush, the Broncos were not good last year. While they may have finished tied for second in the AFC West, their 7-9 record is not reflective of their early season struggles, and they lost to some pretty embarrassing teams. The Broncos limped along to a 3-8 record with Joe Flacco and Brandon Allen under center while rookie QB Drew Lock stayed on the IR with a thumb injury. But entering December, Lock emerged with something to prove.
To end the season, Lock led the battered Broncos on a 4-1 run (their only loss coming from the soon-to-be Superbowl champ Chiefs), complete with a shocking upset against the Texans in Houston. During this run, Lock threw 7 touchdowns and 3 interceptions, and cemented himself as the solution to the quarterback qualms in Denver. With the trust of his teammates and now the offensive support added through the draft, Lock is in the position to make a major leap in the 2020 season.
Denver has a talented offensive line and a number of solid receiving weapons that pose a serious threat to defenses around the league. While nobody should expect Lamar Jackson or Patrick Mahomes numbers, on a whim, Lock has a high ceiling and should impress as the Broncos look to have a breakout season.
Noah Fant, TE, DEN
Also from Denver, Noah Fant surfaced at the end of the season as one of Lock’s favorite targets. He’s kind of an enigma. He certainly had a shaky start to the 2019 season, yet it’s hard to blame him considering the weak situation the Broncos faced before Drew Lock emerged as their clear-cut starting quarterback. Following Flacco’s injury, though, Fant established himself as a very solid tight end option.
The rookie tight end thrived in the second half of the season, totaling 377 receiving yards on 18.9 yards per carry (ranking 6th in the league during this span). He cemented himself as a key part of the Broncos’ evolving offense, building chemistry with Drew Lock and becoming an integral part of their game plan. Noah Fant is a certified playmaker, and as the Broncos continue to make leaps in offensive production, expect some results out of Noah Fant.
Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, WR, BAL
Marquise Brown is in position and has the skills to be one of the best receivers in the league. He exploded out of the gate to begin the 2019 season in big wins against the Dolphins and the Cardinals, but he followed these performances up with injury struggles. Brown finished the season with 7 touchdowns and a secured WR1 spot on one of the best offensive powerhouses in the league, but this position is still iffy at best.
I love Hollywood Brown, I really do. And I would love to see the Ravens’ offense be just as destructive if not more this coming season. But in drafting Brown, it is essential to understand just how boom or bust he is. If he fulfills his potential, Brown could certainly be one of the best receivers in the league (and an absolute fantasy steal), but there is significant risk in drafting him. If he can go without injury, I have no doubt Brown will improve in every metric and statistic, but this is a big if, and why he remains out of my top 5.