*The following rankings are based on 2018 projections and are not dynasty rankings*
1. Saquon Barkley – RB, New York Giants
Outlook: While Saquon Barkley sustained a hamstring injury that kept him out of the Giants’ second preseason game, he is still by far the best rookie out there. We saw a glimpse of what he can do as he took a carry that should have gone for 0 yards for 39 yards in his first touch of the preseason. Expect the second pick to be a centerpiece of the Giants offense, catching a ton of passes to go along with 275+ carries. The improved offensive line of the Giants should help Saquon as well.
2. Royce Freeman – RB, Denver Broncos
Outlook: I wasn’t high on Royce Freeman going into the preseason, but he’s proved me wrong thus far. In his first game, he had 4 carries for 38 yards and a touchdown and in his second game, he had 6 carries for 20 yards and a touchdown. Freeman is looking more and more like he’s going to be the lead back in the Broncos offense, and with all the other rookie running backs dealing with tougher competition (except Saquon Barkley) or injured, the 2018 third round NFL draft pick from Oregon moves up to the second-ranked rookie on our list.
3. Kerryon Johnson – RB, Detroit Lions
Outlook: I was a huge Kerryon Johnson fan when he was at Auburn due to the fact that his running style/elusiveness reminded me of Le’Veon Bell. Detroit’s backfield is crowded with Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, and LeGarrette Blount also there, but I don’t think that any of them are good enough to be much of a threat to Johnson. Kerryon’s versatility was put in display in the Lions’ first preseason game as he ran for 34 yards on 7 carries, and also caught 4 passes for 33 yards.
4. Ronald Jones – RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Outlook: I loved Ronald Jones going into the 2018 season, but I’m hearing that Peyton Barber will still get a bunch of carries to begin the year. This has caused me to pump the brakes a bit on Jones. Ronald Jones has a ton of potential with his speed, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he had full possession of the starting running back job by the end of the year. However, his preseason stats certainly haven’t given the Bucs a reason to give him the job right now as he has 12 carries for 11 yards thus far. It’ll take some time with Jones which is why I have him ranked at 4 and not higher, but I like this guy a lot.
5. Sony Michel – RB, New England Patriots
Outlook: Sony Michel is a player who had tons of hype attached to his name going into the season, but a knee injury has sidelined him for most of training camp. Once Michel comes back, there’s no guarantee for him to get many touches. The Patriots backfield is crowded with James White, Jeremy Hill, and Rex Burkhead all there, and knowing Bill Belichick, a different one can be the lead back each week. However, I expect Sony Michel to be especially valuable in PPR leagues as he will catch many passes, and potentially takeover the role Dion Lewis had when he was in New England. Michel caught 64 passes over 4 seasons at Georgia, including over 20 in his sophomore and junior years.
6. Rashaad Penny – RB, Seattle Seahawks
Outlook: The Seahawks reached when it came to drafting Rashaad Penny in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, and early indications say that it won’t pay off. Yes, Penny hasn’t even played a game in the NFL yet, but Seattle’s offensive line is absolutely horrendous, and that’s something they didn’t address at all in the offseason. I don’t think Penny has the edge to start over Chris Carson in week one, but even if he did, I don’t expect Seattle running backs to produce at all this year.
7. Michael Gallup – WR, Dallas Cowboys
Outlook: Dak Prescott no longer has Dez Bryant or Jason Witten to throw to, which has to mean a new number one target is going to emerge in Dallas. My pick for this role is Michael Gallup, a rookie third round pick who had 100 receptions and over 1400 yards at Colorado State last season. Gallup has a lot more upside than guys like Allen Hurns and Cole Beasley in my opinion, as we already know what they bring to the table. Dak Prescott has already connected with Gallup for a 30-yard TD this preseason, and expect that to happen a lot more during the regular season.
8. D.J Moore – WR, Carolina Panthers
Outlook: D.J Moore was the first receiver off the board in the 2018 NFL Draft, and comes into the season with a chance to grab hold of the number two wide receiver spot in Carolina. The Panthers have lacked good wide receivers in recent years despite the emergence of Devin Funchess in 2017. Moore impressed in the Panthers’ first preseason game as he had 4 receptions for 75 yards vs. the Bills. Look for the former Maryland wide receiver to see a great amount of targets during his rookie season.
9. Calvin Ridley – WR, Atlanta Falcons
Outlook: I think that Calvin Ridley is the best wide receiver in the draft, but fell into a situation that might not allow him to thrive right away in Atlanta. Julio Jones and Mo Sanu will probably be the top-two wide receivers on the team, so Ridley won’t see as many targets as Gallup will in Dallas or Moore will in Carolina. I’m also not high on Steve Sarkisian’s offense, as all of Matt Ryan’s stats were down a tremendous amount in 2017. Despite all of this, I still expect Ridley, who had 3 receptions for 49 yards and a touchdown in the Falcons’ second preseason game, to be a top-three rookie wide receiver.
10. Nick Chubb – RB, Cleveland Browns
Outlook: Many had high expectations for Nick Chubb going into 2018, but the reality is that he’s the third best running back on his team. Duke Johnson Jr. and Carlos Hyde are definitely going to get a lot more touches than Chubb this year. If you’re in a dynasty league, maybe buy stock in Chubb as he can be valuable after this season, but for 2018 I don’t expect much production out of him.
11. James Washington – WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Outlook: James Washington has looked outstanding this preseason, making great catch after great catch. This has likely secured him as the third wide receiver in Pittsburgh. The Steeler offense is so good that their third wide receiver will have some fantasy value. Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster are both a handful for opposing defenses, and James Washington will only add to that.
12. Anthony Miller – WR, Chicago Bears
Outlook: Anthony Miller is a guy that is probably the fourth wide receiver on his team right now, but will have every opportunity to play his way up to as high as the second. With Taylor Gabriel and Kevin White ahead of him, there’s a lot of competition, but definitely an opportunity. White is always injured, and Gabriel is definitely not a true WR2 on an NFL roster. Miller caught 3 passes for 33 yards in the Bears third preseason game, and has wowed in training camp. Keep an eye on Miller to emerge later in the 2018 season.
13. Courtland Sutton – WR, Denver Broncos
Outlook: Courtland Sutton has mile high potential in Denver, but probably not until Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders is no longer there. Unfortunately, both of them will be there this season, so Sutton is likely to be a third or fourth wide receiver on the roster. If Denver decides to move Sanders to the slot to get Sutton more playing time, then he will move up a lot in these rankings. Sutton is a huge receiver at 6’4,” and caught his first touchdown in the Broncos second preseason game.
14. Jordan Wilkins – RB, Indianapolis Colts
Outlook: Indy’s running back situation is pretty much disaster right now as Marlon Mack is injured until week one and the other running backs consist of two rookies, Robert Turbin, and Christine Michael. The rookie I expect to emerge as the clear backup to Mack is Jordan Wilkins out of Ole Miss. Wilkins has 13 carries for 47 yards thus far in the preseason, and has also caught 3 passes. If Mack’s injury winds up carrying over into the regular season, Wilkins is definitely the name to watch.
15. Christian Kirk – WR, Arizona Cardinals
Outlook: I expect Christian Kirk to benefit from the lack of wide receivers in Arizona. Unfortunately for him, I also don’t expect the Cardinals to be too reliant on the passing game this year with either Sam Bradford or Josh Rosen at QB. Kirk is going to be a solid receiving target for the Cardinals in the future, but I just can’t see him playing a tremendous role in 2018. When Kirk is on the field though, he is going to catch a lot of passes, as he caught over 80 balls in 2/3 years in college. Kirk had 4 receptions for 49 yards and a TD in the Cardinals’ second preseason game.
16. Sam Darnold – QB, New York Jets
Outlook: Sam Darnold is the top-ranked rookie fantasy quarterback because he’s the most likely out of all of them to start in week one. It’s as simple as that. I don’t think he’ll be worthy of being owned in fantasy leagues unless it’s a 16-20 team league, or a two QB league. I see Sam Darnold as a guy who has a similar season to the one Carson Wentz had in his rookie year, showing flashes of of great play and showing tremendous potential, but not worthy of being owned. Darnold has played well this preseason completing 72% of his passes for 158 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception.
17. Mike Gesicki – TE, Miami Dolphins
Outlook: Mike Gesicki was my favorite tight end in the 2018 draft class, but fell into an unfortunate situation in Miami. The rest of the NFL is lucky he didn’t get drafted to a great offensive team like the Saints. Despite the Dolphins’ QB woes, I still expect Mike Gesicki to be the best rookie tight end statistically this season. Gesicki is a freak athlete, as he is 6’6″, ran a 4.55 at the combine with a 40+ inch vertical. Expect Gesicki to develop this season into a nice red zone target for Miami.
18. Josh Allen – QB, Buffalo Bills
Outlook: It’s looking like Josh Allen has a very good chance to land the Bills’ starting quarterback job week one. A.J McCarron is injured, and Nate Peterman isn’t a good NFL quarterback. Allen received reps with the first team in practice this week after he had an exceptional second preseason game throwing for 60 yards and a touchdown on 9/13 passing. Allen has the size and arm strength, the question will be whether or not he can be accurate enough to be a good NFL quarterback.
19. Josh Rosen – QB, Arizona Cardinals
Outlook: Josh Rosen likely isn’t going to see playing time until Sam Bradford gets injured or plays badly, so I expect that to be around week four or five. Rookie quarterback fantasy rankings are largely based on who I think will get the most playing time, as Rosen is third on my list in that category. However, I’m a huge fan of Josh Rosen, and I think he can put up the best performance on a points per week basis of any rookie quarterback. Rosen looked good in the Cardinals second preseason game, completing 10 of his 16 passes for 107 yards and a TD.
20. Baker Mayfield – QB, Cleveland Browns
Outlook: If Baker Mayfield were starting week one, he’d be my highest ranked rookie quarterback. The Browns have so much talent on the offensive side of the football, which is why I’m itching for Baker to play sooner rather than later. However, the Browns have made it clear that Tyrod Taylor will likely be the starter for most of the 2018 season. If Baker does somehow get onto the field though, don’t be surprised if he lights it up. Mayfield is 18/33 with 287 yards and 2 touchdowns thus far in the preseason.
21. Tre’Quan Smith – WR, New Orleans Saints
Outlook: Tre’Quan Smith could be a hidden gem in this draft class. The wide receiver from Central Florida was the Saints third round pick, and will have every opportunity to be the second or third wide receiver in New Orleans this season. Right now, Ted Ginn Jr. and Cameron Meredith remain ahead of Tre’Quan Smith on the depth chart, but that could change as the season goes on. Smith runs a 4.49 40-yard dash, has a 37+ inch vertical, and caught 3 passes for 60 yards in the Saints’ second preseason game.
22. Dante Pettis – WR, San Francisco 49ers
Outlook: Dante Pettis was a second round pick of the 49ers, who have an extremely shallow wide receiver group. Marquise Goodwin and Pierre Garcon will certainly be ahead of Pettis on the depth chart for the entire season, but that third wide receiver spot is looking wide open. Pettis is known for making big plays, so don’t be surprised if he catches a few long touchdowns this year. However, don’t count on much consistency from him. Pettis has 3 receptions for 85 yards in the preseason.
23. Kalen Ballage – RB, Miami Dolphins
Outlook: Kalen Ballage is the third running back in Miami right now, but with one of the running backs in front of him being 35-year-old Frank Gore, you never know when he can move up the depth chart. Ballage had 10 carries for 37 yards to go along with 3 receptions for 23 yards in the Dolphins’ first preseason game. The fourth round pick out of Arizona State should provide nice depth for the Dolphins at the running back position.
24. Chase Edmonds – RB, Arizona Cardinals
Outlook: Chase Edmonds could be an important name to know for David Johnson owners in 2018. The fourth round pick out of Fordham will be David Johnson’s backup in Arizona. Considering David Johnson has been hurt more than once in the past, it will be worth taking Edmonds if you have David Johnson. Chase Edmonds has 7 carries for 19 yards and a touchdown this preseason.
25. Hayden Hurst – TE, Baltimore Ravens
Outlook: Hayden Hurst was the first tight end taken in the 2018 NFL Draft, and will likely see a lot of playing time right away due to his all-around play. Hurst has 5 receptions for 41 yards thus far in the preseason, and will be a big target for Joe Flacco and the Ravens in the future. His production probably won’t be great in 2018, but I expect it to be the second best of out all rookie tight ends.