Pre-NFL Draft: Young Players With Something To Prove in 2020 (Fantasy Football)
The position groups these players are in all nearly made my list of position groups that could use an upgrade during the 2020 NFL Draft. However, despite uncertainty, there is still hope as all of these young players have a chance to be granted immense opportunities this season.
These opportunities could simply be given due to a lack of talent around them on the depth chart or it could be earned even if rookie competition is brought in. We all should be very interested in which rookies, if any, end up as teammates to these players. Either way, these young guys have a lot to prove this coming season.
Darrell Henderson – Rams RB
The Rams released Todd Gurley, who is now an Atlanta Falcon. Gurley leaves behind 18.1 opportunities per game from last season (Tied for 15th most in the league). That means a ton of opportunity is up for grabs for the current Rams RB depth chart of Darrell Henderson, Malcolm Brown, and John Kelly.
Brown is a former undrafted free agent, will be 27 years old this season, and has never received more than 69 carries of seen more than 11 targets in any year through five NFL seasons. Kelly was a sixth-round draft pick back in 2018 who has only received 30 carries and three targets total through his first two seasons.
That leaves Darrell Henderson, a third-round pick in last year’s draft. Henderson’s profile coming out of college was fantastic. He piled up 2,204 total yards and 25 total TDs on only 233 total touches as a Junior in 2018 and looked consistently electric while doing it. Henderson actually averaged 8.9 yards per carry in back-to-back years as a Sophomore and Junior.
If the Rams don’t draft a high profile RB, Henderson’s value will continue to skyrocket as the projected main RB option in a Rams offense that ranked seventh in yards per game and 11th in points per game in 2019.
Blake Jarwin – Cowboys TE
Jason Witten and Randall Cobb both departing this offseason were significant storylines because they leave a total of 10.7 targets per game up for grabs over the middle of the field in Dallas. Other players are sure to benefit from increased opportunities in a Cowboys offense that ranked first in yards per game, sixth in points per game, second in passing yards per game, and second in Offensive DVOA in 2019.
Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup are obvious choices to benefit but their roles are already significant. Dallas didn’t bring in a single WR in Free Agency so we need to turn our attention to the TE position. And Blake Jarwin immediately pops out as a 2020 breakout candidate.
Although Jarwin wasn’t very productive in college, he does have prototypical NFL TE size at 6’5″ and 246 pounds. And he has shown flashes over the past two seasons in limited playing time, totaling 58 receptions, for 672 yards, and six TDs over that span. The Cowboys showed us they believe in Jarwin taking the next step by giving him a four-year, $24.25 million deal this offseason after letting Jason Witten walk. So as long as the draft goes in Jarwin’s favor, we should believe as well.
Parris Campbell – Colts WR
Newly acquired Philip Rivers provides an exciting upgrade at the QB position in Indy. Yes, Rivers is 38 years old and that must be considered. Still, Rivers has thrown for over 4,000 yards in 11 of his last 12 seasons whereas 2019 starter, Jacoby Brissett, has never crossed the 4,000-yard threshold.
T.Y. Hilton is now 30 years old and dealt with injuries last season. Still, he’s the Colts’ clear WR1. The depth chart behind Hilton is wide open though. Nine WRs saw playing time for the Colts last year and five of them are no longer on the team. Devin Funchess is now on the Packers, Deon Cain is on the Steelers, and Marcus Johnson, Chester Rogers, and Dontrelle Inman are all Free Agents as of this writing. And Indy didn’t bring in any WRs in Free Agency.
That leaves Hilton, Zach Pascal, Parris Campbell, and Ashton Dulin as the only returning WRs that saw the field in 2019. Dulin went undrafted and only caught two passes as a rookie last year. So essentially, Zach Pascal and Parris Campbell are the only returning WRs battling it out for the WR2 spot. Pascal also went undrafted but has managed to catch 68 passes for 875 yards and seven TDs in his first two seasons so we certainly shouldn’t just brush him off. However, the time could be now for Parris Campbell and I am so here for it.
Campbell’s rookie season in 2019 was a disaster as he suffered through multiple injuries that included a bad hamstring, sports hernia, broken hand, and broken foot. Campbell only appeared in seven games due to these issues but still finished with the fifth-most targets (24) and the third-most receptions (18) at the WR position on the team.
Players are injury-prone in the NFL..until they aren’t. Campbell was drafted in the second round and is an electric athlete. He has 4.31 wheels and 97th-percentile ranks in both Speed and Burst according to Player Profiler. No high profile upgrades for the Colts during the draft at WR would mean the breakout door is wide open for Campbell in 2020.
Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin – Ravens WRs
It’s truly remarkable Lamar Jackson led the league in TD Passes with 36 last season when taking a look at Baltimore’s WR depth chart. Here’s who received playing time at the position in 2019: Rookies Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin, Willie Snead, Seth Roberts, Chris Moore, and Jaleel Scott. That’s it. That’s the list.
Seth Roberts is now in Carolina and no other WRs were brought in during Free Agency. Snead is a serviceable WR in the slot, where he lined up on 78.8% of his snaps in 2019, but he’s no threat on the outside. That leaves Brown and Boykin as the clear-cut current outside options.
If it stays that way after the draft, the values of both Brown and Boykin should be increased. Hollywood Brown was a first-round draft pick in 2019 after posting consecutive 1,000-yard seasons at Oklahoma. Brown battled through injuries as a rookie and still led all Baltimore WRs in targets (71), receptions (46), receiving yards (584), and receiving TDs (7). He’s a freak athlete who can get even better in year two.
However, Hollywood Brown has stolen enough spotlight already. It’s really Miles Boykin who I’m most excited to highlight here. Boykin wasn’t able to find the same rookie success, posting only 13 receptions on 22 targets for 198 yards and three TDs. However, he still finished with the fourth-most targets, receptions, and receiving yards on the team at WR and his main competition for playing time on the outside is now gone.
It is concerning Boykin really didn’t produce much at all in college until his senior season at Notre Dame. However, he’s an incredible athlete with prototypical size for an outside WR in the NFL. At 6’4″ and 220 pounds, Boykin ranks in the 89th-percentile or better in every single one of these metrics according to Player Profiler: 40-yard dash, Speed, Burst, Agility, Catch Radius, and SPARQ-x. A second-year leap of some degree seems imminent.
Steven Sims, Kelvin Harmon, and Trey Quinn – Redskins WRs
Terry McLaurin has already proven he’s a superstar so we’ll pay him respect by leaving him out of this conversation. Point is, the remainder of the WR depth chart in Washington is up for grabs and multiple young players will be competing for significant roles, especially with Paul Richardson and his 4.2 targets per game from last season no longer on the team.
The main players here are Steven Sims, Trey Quinn, and Kelvin Harmon, who ranked second, third, and fourth at WR on the team in targets last season, respectively. This will be an intriguing situation to monitor depending on what happens in the draft since none of the three has a significant draft capital advantage. Quinn was a seventh-round pick in 2018, Harmon was a sixth-round pick in 2019, and Sims went undrafted in 2019.
Sims and Quinn were primarily slot WRs last year, playing in the slot on 78.9% and 76.9% of their offensive snaps, respectively. Meanwhile, Harmon is more of a prototypical outside WR at 6’2″ and 221 pounds. All three are intriguing holds in dynasty as we await the draft.
Jace Sternberger – Packers TE
Jimmy Graham is now a Chicago Bear, which leaves 3.8 targets per game from last season up for grabs. It also leaves Marcedes Lewis and Robert Tonyan as the only returning TEs on the roster that caught a pass last season. Lewis will be 36 years old in 2020 and Tonyan, who went undrafted, will be 26 years old this season and only has 14 career receptions to his name.
Enter 2019 third-round pick, Jace Sternberger. Sternberger’s rookie season was derailed by an ankle injury that put him on Injured Reserve for the majority of the year. He was able to return late in the year and received playing time in five regular-season games but did not catch a pass. He did, however, catch three passes and one TD in Green Bay’s two playoff games.
At 6’4″ and 251 pounds, Sternberger has the size and for now, the opportunity, to be a factor in 2020. Especially since the Packers’ WR depth chart also continues to look thin heading into the draft.
Dawson Knox – Bills TE
Young TEs typically need some time to develop so it was nice to see Dawson Knox play a significant role for Buffalo in his rookie season last year. Especially since Knox only amassed 605 receiving yards during his entire collegiate career. Knox was the Bills’ clear TE1 and ranked third on the team in targets (50), fourth in receptions (28), and third in receiving yards (388). The Bills made no TE additions during Free Agency and if that correlates with the draft, Knox will have room to continue growing in 2020.
Josh Oliver – Jaguars TE
Josh Oliver already has some competition on the roster as James O’Shaughnessy will return from a torn ACL after posting serviceable production on four targets through the first five weeks of the 2019 season. However, O’Shaughnessy is 28 years old and has never caught more than 24 passes in a season.
Jacksonville also brought in Tyler Eifert. Once a promising player, Eifert’s career has been derailed by injuries as last year was the first season since 2015 in which he played in more than eight games. That 2015 season in which he posted 615 yards and 13 TDs feels like centuries ago at this point. Cincinnati reduced Eifert to a part-time player in 2019 and similar circumstances for him should be expected moving forward.
And Oliver only caught three passes as a rookie as his season was derailed by hamstring and back injuries. Still, Oliver, a 2019 third-round pick with prototypical size for an NFL TE at 6’5″ and 249 pounds, has a chance to fade the memories of O’Shaughnessy and Eifert into the background. Oliver is athletic for his size as he has 87th-percentile ranks in both the 40-yard dash and Speed Score metrics according to Player Profiler.