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Sophomore Slump or Surge

The 2019 NFL rookie class was very intriguing. It did not have nearly the amount of hype the 2020 class is generating, yet it was extremely productive from a fantasy football standpoint. Some rookies, like Kyler Murray, Josh Jacobs, and DK Metcalf, did what everyone expected and had above average rookie campaigns. Others, like Miles Sanders and AJ Brown, succeeded despite their projections and became a hot commodity in the fantasy football world. While the fate of the 2020 season is still uncertain given the current state of the world, we can still attempt to predict whether these rookies will fall victim to the infamous “sophomore slump” or whether they will surge into fantasy greatness.

Miles Sanders

Sanders finished his rookie year with 179 rushing attempts for 818 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also had 63 targets with 50 receptions for 509 yards and 3 receiving touchdowns. These are some great numbers for a rookie who had to earn a role on that offense. Doug Pederson is notorious for running an offense with multiple backs, which is a nightmare scenario for fantasy owners. With Jordan Howard departing for Miami in free agency, it's looking more likely that Sanders could be the bellcow in Philly. Sanders has a thick frame to withstand the beating of being a workhorse running back and also has the physical abilities to be a very productive one. Additionally, Philly did not draft a running back, which leaves the door open for Sanders to run away with the workhorse role. Miles was very efficient with limited touches, and even if a rookie is brought into the backfield it seems like Sanders is poised to pick up where he left off.

Prediction: Sophomore Surge

Projection: 1,180 rushing yards, 6 rushing touchdowns, 42 catches, 440 receiving yards, 3 receiving touchdowns

AJ Brown

Coming out of Ole Miss, AJ Brown was already one of the best route runners in the 2019 rookie class. He is the all-time leader in receiving yards and 100 yard games at Ole Miss. As productive as he was in college, he was constantly overshadowed during the NFL combine by his own teammate DK Metcalf. Brown had a decent 40 time (4.49) and tested with a 109.7 Speed Score (90th percentile). Drafted by the Titans in the 2nd round in the 2019 draft, Brown earned a role early on and slowly became a player worth watching. Brown had 52 catches for 1,051 yards and 8 touchdowns. In PPR leagues, AJ Brown scored 235 fantasy points. Brown was incredibly efficient when he played, but his numbers are also very deceiving. More than half of those points (120) were scored in 4 weeks, meaning Brown’s remaining 12 games were below average. Even with AJ Brown’s magical rookie season, the Titans are still very committed to being a run-first team after franchise tagging Derrick Henry. Brown's future looks bright, but stepping up to be a true number one receiver on a run-first team is an uphill battle.

Prediction: Sophomore Slump

Projection: 66 catches, 991 yards, 5 touchdowns

Kyler Murray

The number one draft pick of 2019 didn't disappoint in his rookie season. Although he was criticized for being a smaller QB at 5’10 and 206 pounds, Kyler Murray proved that he belongs in the NFL. He finished off his rookie year with 542 throwing attempts, 349 completions, 3,722 yards and 20 touchdowns. He also had 93 rushes for 544 yards and 4 touchdowns. It’s hard not to be excited by those numbers. Arizona’s acquisition of DeAndre Hopkins provides an additional weapon for Murray, and there has been speculation that he could surpass 600 passing attempts this season. With his rare combination of speed and agility, he could possibly exceed last season’s rushing attempts as well.

While Arizona’s terrible offensive line was a concern, the Cardinals addressed that issue by drafting offensive tackle Josh Jones in the third round. Kyler should improve this upcoming year and flirt with QB1 numbers on a consistent basis.

Prediction: Sophomore Surge

Projection: 4,348 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, 17 interceptions, 611 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns

Daniel Jones

Many fans thought the Giants over-drafted Daniel Jones by selecting him 6th overall in the 2019 draft. Surprisingly, he gave Giants fans hope after throwing for 3,027 yards, 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions through 12 games. Jones has the talent to be a consistent QB2 in fantasy leagues, but there are some concerns. The Giants have addressed their offensive line over the last two drafts and in free agency, but they are very vocal about being a run-first team. Saquon Barkley is one of the best running backs in the league, and his presence will limit the amount of times per game Jones will throw. Daniel Jones also has some questionable receivers around him. Golden Tate is getting older, and Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram can’t stay healthy. Darius Slayton picked up the slack last year, but can he pick up where he left off? Jones should improve year to year, but he doesn't have the best supporting cast to help him truly succeed right now.

Prediction: Sophomore Slump

Projection- 3,673 passing yards, 23 touchdowns, 18 interceptions

Diontae Johnson

Diontae Johnson finished the 2019 season with 59 receptions, 680 yards, and 5 touchdowns, which are some respectable numbers for a rookie. However, it’s hard to see him carving out a clear role with the Steelers (and being fantasy relevant) going forward. He played well when Juju Smith-Schuster was injured, but he caught a majority of his passes from backup QBs and likely lacks chemistry with Ben Roethlisberger, who went down in Week 2 with a season-ending injury. This year, he’ll have a healthy Juju and James Washington in his way, and if he doesn’t build chemistry with Roethlisberger he may see a lack of targets.

Pittsburgh also drafted Chase Claypool in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft and added Eric Ebron in free agency, which makes the target share in Pittsburgh even more murky. Diontae may have the talent to be a serviceable fantasy player, but he may not reach his full potential in Pittsburgh.

Prediction: Sophomore Slump

Projection: 46 catches, 590 receiving yards, 3 touchdowns

Only time will tell if these predictions are accurate. Regardless, many of these rookies have a bright future in the NFL. Some will have their ups and downs (as most players do), while others will quickly rise to fantasy success. The 2020 season should be an interesting one, and we look forward to seeing how these predictions pan out.


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