Kerryon Johnson could bust out in a big way as Detroit's lead back
The 2018 draft class certainly had its fantasy gems, as Saquon Barkley and Calvin Ridley both lived up to their first-round billing, and those who stayed patient with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel were rewarded handsomely.
Not every rookie was on their level, but there are several second-year players who are ready to impress and should definitely be highlighted on your cheat sheet as you prepare for your fantasy draft.
1. Baker Mayfield, QB, Browns
This may be considered cheating since Mayfield finished as a borderline top-15 fantasy quarterback last season. However, he didn't really hit his stride until Freddie Kitchens took over as offensive coordinator midway through the season, posting a 17:7 TD-to-INT ratio and 108.4 passer rating during Cleveland's 5–2 finish. Kitchens is now the head coach, and Mayfield has a new No. 1 target in Odell Beckham Jr. Those two developments alone are enough to indicate that Mayfield has a chance to finish among the top 5 at his position.
2. Kerryon Johnson, RB, Lions
Johnson showed flashes of brilliance last season, including ending the Lions' 70-game streak without a 100-yard rusher. Unfortunately, a knee injury suffered in Week 11 ended his rookie season early. Prior to the injury, Johnson had assumed the lead role in Detroit's backfield, and there's really no reason to believe anything has changed. As long as Johnson stays on the field, a 1,000-yard season is possible considering he averaged 5.4 yards per carry as a rookie.
3. Derrius Guice, RB, Redskins
Guice has yet to play a snap in an NFL regular-season game after tearing his ACL last preseason. The timing means he's had plenty of time to recover and rehab. Right now, 34-year-old Adrian Peterson appears to be his primary competition for carries. The Redskins may ease Guice into the game plan, but as long as his knee is ready, expect him to get plenty of work. He's an RB2 with risk but also RB1 upside.
4. DJ Moore, WR, Panthers
Devin Funchess is now in Indianapolis, and Greg Olsen missed seven games last season because of a foot injury. Christian McCaffrey can't catch all of Cam Newton's passes, which is where Moore comes in. Last season, he finished second among rookies to Calvin Ridley in receiving yards (788) while showing a knack for making the big play (nine catches of 20-plus yards). If he and Newton build on what they started, Moore can be a no-doubt WR2 who produces like a WR1 on occasion.
5. Christian Kirk, WR, Cardinals
Kirk is entering his second season — but in some ways is starting over again. Arizona has both a rookie head coach and quarterback, and Kirk should be one of the primary beneficiaries of Kliff Kingsbury's and Kyler Murray's arrivals. Kirk's skill set seems to match up well with Murray's big arm and throwing ability. And even with Larry Fitzgerald and a trio of rookie wide receivers along for the ride, Kirk should emerge in short order as the No. 1 option in Kingsbury's version of the Air Raid offense.
6. Rashaad Penny, RB, Seahawks
It took Penny a little bit of time, but he eventually found his rhythm and was a bigger part of Seattle's game plan by the end of last season. Chris Carson will continue to serve as the primary ball carrier, but only one team had more rushing attempts than the Seahawks last season (Ravens), so there should be plenty of handoffs to go around. Penny is a relatively safe flex option with upside, especially if he becomes more of a factor in the passing game or should Carson go down with an injury.
7. Courtland Sutton, WR, Broncos
Joe Flacco's strong arm may be just what Sutton needs to take a big step forward this season. Sutton averaged an impressive 16.8 yards per catch with 16 grabs of 20 yards or more. Emmanuel Sanders is coming back from a torn Achilles, so he may not be at full speed right away, which gives Sutton even more opportunity to claim a leading role in the Broncos' new-look passing attack.
8. Dante Pettis, WR, 49ers
Over a three-game stretch (Weeks 12-14), Pettis turned 12 catches into 255 yards and four touchdowns. And he did that with Nick Mullens, the guy who started the season on San Francisco's practice squad, as his quarterback. Imagine what Pettis can do if Jimmy Garoppolo, last year's preseason darling, bounces all the way back from the torn ACL he suffered in Week 3. There are plenty of options to throw to in this offense, but you have to figure that Pettis will be near the top of the pecking order among the wideouts. That could mean WR2 production, with upside.
9. Ronald Jones, RB, Buccaneers
It was a rookie campaign to forget for Jones, who played in just nine games because of injury (hamstring) and ineffectiveness (1.9 yards per carry) after being drafted in the second round by Tampa Bay. The good news is that Jones gets a clean slate with Bruce Arians now in charge, and the early reports are that the second-year back has made a good first impression on the new coaching staff. There's plenty of risk in banking on Jones to break out, but the potential reward could be well worth the investment.
10. Keke Coutee, WR, Texans
Coutee played in only seven games (including the playoffs) last season because of a nagging hamstring injury. When he was on the field, though, he produced, catching 39 passes (on 55 targets) for 397 yards and two touchdowns. Coutee has to compete with All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller for targets in Houston, but the latter has had just as much trouble staying healthy as Coutee. The potential is there for Coutee to be a WR2. Just make sure you have a solid backup on your bench.
11. James Washington, WR, Steelers
Washington is not Antonio Brown, so let's just get that out of the way. But Brown is now in Oakland, so there are 168 targets there for the taking, and they can’t all go to JuJu Smith-Schuster. Even though Pittsburgh signed Donte Moncrief in free agency and drafted Diontae Johnson in the third round, Washington should have a leg up on both in terms of knowing the playbook. Opportunity is knocking for Washington with the chance to become a WR3 (with plenty of upside) on the other side of the door.
12. Kalen Ballage, RB, Dolphins
Over the last three games of the 2018 season, Ballage averaged a healthy 6.4 yards per carry (28 total attempts). Kenyan Drake is still in the Dolphins backfield, but Frank Gore is not, so Ballage is in line to be the No. 2 option, or perhaps the lead back since there's a new coaching staff calling the shots in Miami. Watch the competition in training camp and the preseason, as Ballage could go from a flex option to a sleeper RB2 pretty quickly.
13. Michael Gallup, WR, Cowboys
The competition in Dallas to be Amari Cooper's sidekick is wide open with Cole Beasley now in Buffalo. Gallup looked more comfortable as the season progressed, capping off his rookie campaign with his best effort of the season — six catches for 119 yards in the playoff loss to the Rams. Dak Prescott isn't a gunslinger, but he throws it enough that Gallup could end up being a reliable WR3.
14. Royce Freeman, RB, Broncos
Freeman averaged just 4.0 yards per carry last season, as a high-ankle sprain that cost him two games in the middle of the campaign hindered his effectiveness the rest of the way. Phillip Lindsay took full advantage of Freeman's struggles, and Lindsay remains in the driver's seat. But look for new head coach Vic Fangio to utilize both backs. Freeman may not be the lead dog, but he’ll get his touches and is just an injury (or coaching decision) away from an even bigger workload.
15. Mike Gesicki, TE, Dolphins
What is a guy who caught 22 passes for 202 yards and no touchdowns doing on this list? Gesicki is here mainly because he has a new coaching staff and a new quarterback to work with, and he also put in the work this offseason to get in better shape. It won't matter until he produces on the field, but last year's second-round pick should get plenty of chances to combine his appealing size (6'6", 245) with his athletic ability to make plays downfield. If it all comes together, there’s a TE2 with upside lurking.