Fantasy Football: 2020’s Rookie Class is Ready to Explode in Year 2

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Heavy doses of sophomore breakouts are coming to your fantasy football league this year. An amazing rookie class that took the NFL by storm is entering its second season. 2020 saw a dramatic shift in the fantasy football landscape as seven rookie running backs were significantly fantasy relevant, as well as seven or eight rookie wide receivers.

Rookie QBs Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts burst on the fantasy scene, and fellow QBs Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa both had their moments as streaming options.

The class took significant hits twice already this year with the losses of RBs Cam Akers and J.K. Dobbins to season-ending injuries. Despite the loss of two top-20 RBs, the sophomore production you will see in 2021 will be off the charts.

Here are some of my favorite year two fantasy breakout picks across the league.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire – RB, KC

The CEH hype train went a little off the rails last season. Edwards-Helaire climbed into the top 5 picks of many fantasy drafts, and his RB22 PPR finish in 13 games stung his investors. But I’m all in on CEH in 2021, and here’s why:

Edwards-Helaire posted exactly 1,100 scrimmage yards in a “disappointing” rookie year. I would call that an objectively successful season for a rookie under normal circumstances. If it weren’t for the drastic overpay in 2020 drafts and his late season injury, Edwards-Helaire would’ve been a fine RB2.

In 2021, I expect Edwards-Helaire’s targets and catches to increase from 54 and 36, respectively. The Chiefs didn’t add a single pass-catcher of note this offseason, and Kansas City’s inconsistencies from their second wide receiver position is well-known. I’m comfortable slotting in Edwards-Helaire as the Chiefs third option in the passing game.

The Chiefs project to have five new starters across their offensive line, and there’s a very good chance that all five of them are upgrades. Edwards-Helaire will reap rewards running behind LT Orlando Brown Jr. and LG Joe Thuney. And needless to say, former MVP QB Patrick Mahomes will put the Chiefs in plenty of scoring positions.

D’Andre Swift – RB, DET

Whereas my CEH love largely stems from his situation, my love for Swift is all about his talent. Swift is the most talented and fantasy-friendly RB of the 2020 class. His combination of speed, agility, elusiveness, size, and power is so fun to watch.

Before seeing significant carry and snap shares in 2020, Swift was eating in the receiving game. In fact, he had accumulated 31 catches on 39 targets in his first nine games before a concussion and an illness sidelined him for three weeks. Those numbers are sweet for PPR fantasy football, and even more impressive from a rookie.

I know what you’re thinking: the Detroit Lions are bad. Sure, there’s no avoiding that. But first-year head coach Dan Campbell wants to bite kneecaps and play old school football. The Lions drafted generational OT prospect Penei Sewell to add to an already decent offensive line anchored by C Frank Ragnow. I expect the Lions to run the ball way more than they should, and for QB Jared Goff to heavily target Swift when they’re inevitably trailing in a ton of games.

There are some minor injury concerns with Swift, but I’m willing to take on some injury risk for a back with his talent. He’s been priced at an affordable ADP recently as well, which makes the risk all the more enticing.

Tee Higgins – WR, CIN

Higgins was slept on by a large portion of the fantasy community last year. He was also slept on by real-life Super Bowl contenders. Most notably, Green Bay passed on Higgins in the NFL Draft to take QB Jordan Love, who is in line for a second straight year of taking zero snaps.

Kansas City passed on Higgins for Edwards-Helaire, and although Edwards-Helaire makes for a fun fantasy RB, taking an RB over a WR was poor real-life process by one of the top teams in the NFL.

Higgins instead found himself paired with #1 overall pick QB Joe Burrow. Higgins produced double-digit PPR points in six of nine games before Burrow’s season-ending knee injury. He was slightly overshadowed by the likes of fellow rookie WRs Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, and Chase Claypool, but Higgins had a very strong fantasy football season by normal rookie standards.

I expect the Bengals to be one of the highest-passing volume offenses in 2021. #5 overall pick WR Ja’Marr Chase struggled in the preseason. I still prefer Chase in dynasty formats by a good margin, but Higgins could lead the Bengals high-volume passing attack in 2021.

Chase Claypool – WR, PIT

Built. In. A. Lab.

Chase Claypool is so big that many people wondered if he would convert to tight end at the NFL level. Not only is that notion now laughable, but I think he has a chance to become one of the best receivers in the entire league.

Claypool looks like a carbon-copy of Seattle WR D.K. Metcalf’s year two breakout. The two share a nearly identical physical profile and rookie year production. Check this out:

  • D.K. Metcalf: 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, 4.33 40-yard dash. 58 catches, 900 yards, and 7 TDs as a rookie
  • Chase Claypool: 6-foot-4, 238 pounds, 4.42 40-yard dash. 62 catches, 873 yards, and 10 TDs as a rookie

Sometimes fantasy football is easy. We just watched D.K. Metcalf emerge in the Seattle passing attack when there were question marks about whether he was a better fantasy option than Tyler Lockett. This year, Claypool’s teammate Diontae Johnson is sometimes being drafted ahead of him.

To me, Claypool is one of the most obvious breakout picks in a long time, and his ADP isn’t reflecting that. There’s still time to draft or trade for this sleeping giant before he wakes up.

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