A Look Back at 2018 Rookie Drafts: Hits and Misses

Michael Moore

Playing in a dynasty league is all about the long game, but one year can still make a big impact. Unlike MLB or even the NBA, NFL rookies are expected to contribute right away and an entire career can be determined from that rookie season. It’s no different in dynasty leagues where countless trade offers will happen based on these rookie seasons.

With that in mind, and the 2019 NFL Draft just weeks away, we looked back at the 2018 rookie class and which players were hits and which ones were misses based on their first seasons. Below are four hits and misses along with their final rookie draft ADPs.


Saquon Barkley, RB NYG (ADP: 1)

After years of hype that culminated in being the first running back taken second overall in the NFL draft in a decade, Barkley more than delivered on his ADP. He totaled more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage and scored 15 times to finish as fantasy’s top back and win the NFL’s Rookie of the Year award.

It’s not often that the top pick in rookie drafts actually ends up being the best rookie, but Barkley was just that. Good thing too, as several dynasty players began trading for rookie picks the year before Barkley entered the league in the hopes of winning the chance to draft him. That doesn’t happen often and there won’t be another player like him for a while.

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Sony Michel, RB NE (ADP: 3)

Any time the Patriots take a skill position player early in the draft, it’s sure to perk the ears of dynasty players and Michel was no different. The Patriots selected him towards the end of the first round of the 2018 draft after moving on from Dion Lewis, their 2017 leading rusher, which immediately made Michel a popular pick in rookie drafts.

Routinely taken as the second player behind only Barkley, Michel just missed out on 1,000 yards and would have easily eclipsed it had he not missed three games. His 209 carries were also good for 14th most in the NFL.

Nick Chubb, RB CLE (ADP: 5)

If this article was written after the first six weeks of the season, Chubb would clearly be on the miss list. He saw no more than three carries in any game during that span and scored just twice (albeit in the same game he ran for 105 yards on just three carries).

Luckily, head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley saw the light during their last two weeks in Cleveland and provided a template to new OC Freddie Kitchens on how to properly use Chubb. He saw 18-plus carries in seven of the Browns’ last ten games, totaling over 800 yards and six scores. He was projected to enter 2019 as a clear-cut RB1 but the arrival of Kareem Hunt has thrown that into serious doubt.

Baker Mayfield, QB CLE (ADP: 10)

It didn’t take nearly as long to get Mayfield involved in the Browns offense as it did Chubb, as he rode the bench for only the first two weeks. But once Mayfield was let loose on the NFL he never faltered, throwing multiple touchdowns in nine of the 14 games he played in and setting the all-time rookie record with 27 touchdown passes. Not bad for a player taken towards the end of the first round of rookie drafts.


Ronald Jones, RB TB (ADP: 4)

When Jones wasn’t even active at the beginning of his rookie season, it was not only odd but disappointing. Jones’ ADP settled at fourth in rookie drafts and he was routinely selected second and third in plenty of drafts.

Upon further review, however, it appears the Bucs were on to something. His ‘best’ game was week four when he carried the ball ten carries for 29 yards. Both would end up being season-highs until a hamstring injury mercifully shut him down towards the end of the season. He ended 2018 with just 23 carries for 44 yards. All in all, Jones took the title of biggest rookie miss from 2018.

Rashaad Penny, RB SEA (ADP: 2)

If you knew the Seahawks would end up rushing the ball the second-most times of any team this season, Penny seemed like a great pick. After years of shifting towards the pass, the Seahawks made it known that they’d go back to basics by not only hiring offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer (who has called plays for four teams that finished in the top seven of rush attempts) but taking Penny as the first running back not named Saquon Barkley.

However, incumbent running back Chris Carson never let up, finishing the season in the top-five in rushing and scoring nine times. Penny, meanwhile, didn’t have a bad season. He totaled 85 carries for 419 yards but was a distant second to Carson in the pecking order and just not worth the second rookie pick. For now.

Mike Gesicki, TE MIA (ADP: 14)

Despite being the second tight end taken, Gesicki was widely expected to be the best rookie available at the position. With no competition for snaps in Miami and a good draft pedigree, the stars were aligned. Alas, the old fantasy football adage of rookie tight ends taking longer to develop was apparent in Gesicki, who ended up just seventh on his own team in targets with 32. And this on a team that was third-lowest in the league in pass attempts.

Kalen Ballage, RB MIA (ADP: 19)

Ballage wasn’t taken early in the NFL draft but he started climbing rookie rankings in pre-season and ended up being a regular second-round pick in rookie drafts. Much like Gesicki, the thinking was that there was little competition at the position and Ballage could break through to see significant snaps. However, between Frank Gore defying space and time and Kenyan Drake taking advantage of what little opportunity former coach Adam Gase gave him, there just wasn’t room for Ballage.

He ended the 2018 season with just 45 touches and one score. Ballage will be a good bounce-back candidate with a new regime in town and Gore heading to Buffalo.


michael moore