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Saquon Barkley leads top 20 fantasy rookies for 2018


If we have learned anything in recent seasons, it's that rookies can often make an instant impact both in the stat sheets and in fantasy football. Owners who fielded Kareem Hunt, Alvin Kamara, Leonard Fournette or Christian McCaffrey last season can attest. So, who has the most potential for future fantasy success? Here are the 20 rookies with the best chance to make some noise in your fantasy leagues.

1. Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants

The best player in the 2018 NFL Draft, Barkley should make a massive impact both for the Giants and fantasy fans. He'll have the advantage of playing with Odell Beckham Jr., whose presence in the pass attack should keep stacked fronts to a minimum. The Penn State product is a three-down back with a complete skill set who will dominate the backfield work for Big Blue. Barkley is a cinch top-12 pick in drafts.

2. Rashaad Penny, RB, Seattle Seahawks

One of the biggest surprises of the first round, Penny now projects to be the top running back in Seattle. While he does have the skills to be a three-down back, the San Diego State product needs to work on his pass protection to fulfill the sleeper label he'll be given in the world of fantasy football. Even with Chris Carson on the roster, Penny figures to project as a No. 2 fantasy back or flex starter.

3. Ronald Jones II, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jones, who has drawn a lot of comparisons to Jamaal Charles, lands in a great spot to find fantasy success right out of the gate. The Buccaneers had a void atop their depth chart with Doug Martin out of the mix, and I like RoJo to move ahead of Peyton Barber and Jacquizz Rodgers sooner rather than later. While he does need to work on his pass protection, Jones has the playmaking tools needed to make an impact.

4. Derrius Guice, RB, Washington Redskins

Guice slid in the NFL draft, but he landed in a nice spot for his future fantasy value. The Redskins clearly weren't sold on Samaje Perine or Rob Kelley, so Guice will slide right into a prominent role. While he will lose some PPR appeal with Chris Thompson in the backfield, I like the LSU product to lead the Redskins in carries as a rookie. He will be on the RB2/flex starter radar in 2018 re-drafts.

5. Royce Freeman, RB, Denver Broncos

If you're looking for this year's version of Kareem Hunt, Freeman fits the bill. A potential three-down back who is built to be a workhorse at the next level, he was a four-year starter in college and averaged six yards per rushing attempt in 2017. While Devontae Booker is also in the mix for touches, the smart dough is on Freeman leading the Broncos backfield in opportunities and fantasy points next season.

6. Sony Michel, RB, New England Patriots

One of the most electric playmakers in the 2018 draft class, Michel has drawn comparisons to Alvin Kamara due to his skill set. While he caught just nine passes in his final collegiate season, he had 48 combined receptions the previous two years. What's more, Michel averaged almost eight yards per attempt in 2017. While the Patriots backfield is crowded, the rookie is now the New England runner to draft.

7. Kerryon Johnson, RB, Detroit Lions

Johnson looks to be the future of the Lions backfield, but whether or not he can make an impact as a rookie remains to be seen. The Lions added LeGarrette Blount to a backfield that also includes Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick, so there are a lot of mouths to feed. Johnson will be worth a late-round look in re-drafts as a result, but I like him more in dynasty leagues ... unless Detroit dumps Abdullah this summer.

8. Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns

Talk about landing in a terrible spot. Chubb, who might have pushed for RB2 value in a different situation, will have to compete with Carlos Hyde for early- and goal-line work in the Browns crowded backfield. He won't do much as a pass catcher either, as Duke Johnson will fill that role and Hyde caught 59 passes last year. Unless he can pass Hyde on the depth chart, Chubb's re-draft value will be limited.

9. Calvin Ridley, WR, Atlanta Falcons

Ridley entered the draft as one of the top wide receivers in the class, but he landed in a place where his statistical ceiling could be limited as a rookie. That's due to the presence of fantasy superstar Julio Jones, not to mention Mohamed Sanu and a pass-catching runner in Devonta Freeman. With a lot of mouths to feed, Ridley would do well to catch 50 passes in 2018. He's a late rounder in most re-drafts.

10. Anthony Miller, WR, Chicago Bears

Miller will have some low-level sleeper appeal as a rookie if he can make an impression in camp. The Bears did add Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton in the offseason, but letting Cameron Meredith walk opens a chance for the rookie to contribute. If Miller can push injury-prone Kevin White down the depth chart, the Memphis product could be worth a late-round flier in seasonal fantasy drafts.

11. Christian Kirk, WR, Arizona Cardinals

A sure-handed wideout who figures to thrive out of the slot at the next level, Kirk is an interesting option for fantasy owners. The Cardinals have only J.J. Nelson and Brice Butler on the depth chart behind Larry Fitzgerald, so the Texas A&M product could see meaningful snaps during this rookie campaign. His true value will be greater in re-drafts, but Kirk is a prospect to watch. He'll be a late rounder.

12. D.J. Moore, WR, Carolina Panthers

The first wideout picked in the 2018 draft, Moore could become a PPR asset for fantasy fans in dynasty leagues. Unfortunately, his impact as a rookie will likely be minimal. The Panthers have no shortage of receivers, as Devin Funchess, Greg Olsen, Torrey Smith, Curtis Samuel and pass-catching running back Christian McCaffrey are all in the mix for targets. At best, Moore will be a late-round, re-draft choice.

13. Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State

Few wide receivers landed in a better spot than Gallup, as the Cowboys cut Dez Bryant and don't have a true No. 1 at the position. That's not to suggest that Gallup will make a huge impact as a rookie, but he will not be short on opportunities. In fact, owner Jerry Jones suggested he could start in Week 1. That makes the Colorado State product a player to watch during camp. He'll have re-draft value in 2018.

14. James Washington, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

The reigning Fred Biletnikoff Award winner as the top collegiate wideout, Washington finished his Cowboys career with the second-most receiving yards in Big 12 history. He'll have a shot to slide into the third spot on the Steelers depth chart after the trade of Martavis Bryant, but it'll be tough for Washington to make a big impact behind Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. He has more dynasty-league appeal.

15. Hayden Hurst, TE, Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens have overhauled their pass attack, and Hurst could be a big part of the movement. With no clear-cut starter on the roster, he should push the likes of Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams and Vince Mayle for targets as a rookie. While I don't expect him to be this year's Evan Engram, I do think Hurst can become a viable red-zone option for Joe Flacco. With a strong camp, he'll be worth a late flier in re-drafts.

16. Mike Gesicki, TE, Miami Dolphins

A star at the NFL Scouting Combine, Gesicki landed in a terrific spot in terms of his fantasy potential for 2018. The Dolphins lacked a tight end after the release of Julius Thomas, so the Penn State product figures to come right in and be a Week 1 starter. While he lacks as a blocker, Gesicki can make noise as a pass catcher and potential red-zone threat for Ryan Tannehill. He'll have some late-round appeal.

17. Nyheim Hines, RB, Indianapolis Colts

Marlon Mack was a bigger veteran "winner" as a result of the draft, but he is by no means a lock to lead the Colts in backfield touches. In fact, I expect Hines to compete with Mack and Robert Turbin. A good pass catcher, the N.C. State product could etch out a role as a third-down option in an offense that hopes to have Andrew Luck back under center. At worst, Hines is a player to watch during training camp.

18. Courtland Sutton, WR, Denver Broncos

Sutton has a ton of long-term value in Denver, making him a valuable option in dynasty leagues. However, the presence of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders in the pass attack will likely limit his statistical ceiling as a rookie. If Sutton can push 2017 third-round pick Carlos Henderson down the depth chart, he'll have late-round appeal in re-drafts. But again, his fantasy value is in the long term.

19. Kalen Ballage, RB, Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins showed a lot of faith in Kenyan Drake this offseason, and he looks to lead their backfield with veteran Frank Gore also in the mix. But fantasy fans in dynasty leagues might still want to keep tabs on how Ballage looks in camp. Gore might have just one more season left, which could open up a chance for Ballage down the line. A talented pass catcher, Ballage could etch out a role in the not too distant future.

20. D.J. Chark, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars

I could have gone with a quarterback here, but it's hard to rank anyone at that position in the top 20 due to depth. In short, most re-drafts will not see a rookie field general drafted. That leaves Chark and San Francisco's Dante Pettis, who will be close in value heading into 2018. While neither figures to be on the re-draft radar, fantasy fans should be keeping tabs on their showings in training camp.