News & Analysis

Fantasy football stats: Putting the 2018 rookies into historical perspective

By Tyler Loechner
Jan 25, 2019

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Oct 7, 2018; Charlotte, NC, USA; New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) scores a touchdown as Carolina Panthers free safety Mike Adams (29) defends in the fourth quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

How did this year’s rookie class match up against previous years in terms of fantasy football production? Saquon Barkley was hyped up in a big way, but how did his 2018 campaign compare to every other high-touted rookies from previous season?

This article will take a look through every rookie from the PFF era (since 2007) and see how the 2018 class stacks up.

(We’ll figure out the 2018 rookie quarterbacks separately.)

Running backs

Barkley was the best rookie running back for fantasy purposes since 2007. In fact, it wasn’t even close. His 24.0 points per game were by far the most among all rookie running backs who played at least 10 games.

year player team position PPG
2018 Saquon Barkley NYG RB 24.0
2016 Ezekiel Elliott DAL RB 21.8
2017 Alvin Kamara NO RB 19.7
2012 Doug Martin TB RB 19.6
2008 Matt Forte CHI RB 19.2
2017 Kareem Hunt KC RB 18.6
2007 Adrian Peterson MIN RB 18.4
2017 Leonard Fournette JAX RB 17.7
2008 Steve Slaton HST RB 17.5
2012 Trent Richardson CLV RB 17.0
2013 Le’Veon Bell PIT RB 16.8
2008 Chris Johnson TEN RB 16.8
2013 Eddie Lacy GB RB 16.3
2015 Todd Gurley LAR RB 16.2
2012 Alfred Morris WAS RB 16.1
2017 Chris Thompson WAS RB 15.5
2016 Jordan Howard CHI RB 15.5
2018 Phillip Lindsay DEN RB 14.9
2007 Marshawn Lynch BUF RB 14.6
2017 Christian McCaffrey CAR RB 14.4
2018 Kerryon Johnson DET RB 14.1

Barkely topped Ezekiel Elliott’s record, which was set just two years ago. We knew Barkley would be good, but he exceeded even the loftiest expectations with 1,307 rushing yards and 11 rushing scores to go along with 91 receptions (!), 721 receiving yards, and four scores through the air. Yes, he had over 2,000 total yards and 15 touchdowns as a rookie.

It was an overall strong season for rookie running backs. Three 2018 rookies — Barkley (24 PPG), Phillip Lindsay (14.9), and Kerryon Johnson (14.1) — made it to the top 21 in rookie running back fantasy PPG.

This marks the second straight year that rookie running backs were big in fantasy; the 2017 class has five members in the top 20.

Nick Chubb (12.2), Sony Michel (10.9), and Nyheim Hines (10.1) also averaged in the double-digits, giving the 2018 rookie running back class six solid fantasy performers. Others, like Gus Edwards, really game on down the stretch, too.

Wide receivers

Here are the top 20 rookie wideout performances in terms of fantasy PPG since 2007 (minimum 10 games):

year player team position PPG
2014 Odell Beckham Jr. NYG WR 24.8
2016 Michael Thomas NO WR 17.3
2014 Mike Evans TB WR 16.3
2007 Steve Smith CAR WR 15.7
2011 Julio Jones ATL WR 15.7
2008 Eddie Royal DEN WR 15.3
2013 Keenan Allen SD WR 14.9
2011 A.J. Green CIN WR 14.5
2014 Kelvin Benjamin CAR WR 14.2
2014 Brandin Cooks NO WR 13.9
2017 JuJu Smith-Schuster PIT WR 13.7
2015 Amari Cooper OAK WR 13.4
2018 Calvin Ridley ATL WR 13.0
2014 Martavis Bryant PIT WR 13.0
2014 Jordan Matthews PHI WR 12.7
2009 Percy Harvin MIN WR 12.6
2016 Tyreek Hill KC WR 12.6
2014 Sammy Watkins BUF WR 12.5
2007 Dwayne Bowe KC WR 12.5
2012 T.Y. Hilton IND WR 12.1

First — holy smokes, the Giants have had some wildly good rookies in the last five years.

Keeping the focus on the 2018 class, though, only Calvin Ridley cracked the top 20 rookie receiver performances with 13.0 fantasy PPG. He ranks 12th.

Ridley had some massive, week-winning games as a rookie. He dropped 7-146-3 in just his third-ever game and followed it up with a 4-54-2 line the following week. That Week 3 game was his only 100-yard receiving effort of the season, but he did top 90 yards (with a score) in two other games.

While no other rookie cracked the top 20 in the PFF era, Christian Kirk (10.3) and D.J. Moore (10.1) averaged double-digit fantasy points. Dante Pettis (9.4) had several strong weeks as San Francisco’s No. 1 and looks promising with Jimmy Garoppolo returning next season. Courtland Sutton (8.5) failed to step up when given No. 1 duties, but he was overall decent with room to grow.

Michael Gallup will surely be one of the most talked-about sophomore wideouts leading into 2019, but his 6.0 PPG ranked 11th among this year’s rookies.

Tight ends

2018 was a bad year for tight ends as a whole, and there were certainly no rookie standouts, but a few 2018 newcomers — Chris Herndon and Mark Andrews — did crack the top 20 (min. 10 games):

year player team position PPG
2017 Evan Engram NYG TE 11.6
2009 Zach Miller OAK TE 11.0
2010 Aaron Hernandez NE TE 10.1
2010 Rob Gronkowski NE TE 9.8
2008 John Carlson SEA TE 9.2
2013 Tim Wright TB TE 8.8
2016 Hunter Henry SD TE 8.8
2010 Jermaine Gresham CIN TE 8.2
2015 Will Tye NYG TE 8.2
2010 Tony Moeaki KC TE 8.0
2017 O.J. Howard TB TE 7.5
2008 Dustin Keller NYJ TE 7.5
2012 Dwayne Allen IND TE 7.2
2009 Brandon Pettigrew DET TE 7.1
2017 George Kittle SF TE 7.1
2018 Chris Herndon NYJ TE 7.1
2018 Mark Andrews BLT TE 6.7
2013 Zach Ertz PHI TE 6.7
2010 Jimmy Graham NO TE 6.5
2007 Greg Olsen CHI TE 6.4

Herndon caught 39 balls for 502 yards, giving him a healthy 12.9 yards per reception. With Sam Darnold entering Year 2, Herndon is definitely a name to watch.

Andrews emerged as Baltimore’s best tight end over the second half of the season, and he also has big-play ability with at least one reception of at least 17 yards in six of Lamar Jackson’s seven regular-season starts. The athletic tight end can take a big step forward next year.

Dallas Goedert saw his usage in Philadelphia increase down the stretch, but Zach Ertz is coming off a NFL record-setting performance in terms of target volume, so Goedert’s path to fantasy-relevant playing time remains cloudy.

Ian Thomas, meanwhile, will become very interesting should Greg Olsen decide to hang them up. Thomas averaged 6.4 targets, 5 receptions, 49.2 receiving yards and 0.4 touchdowns per game over the final five games with Olsen sidelined.

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