Gauging just how quickly high school recruits -- even the best of them -- will adapt to the college game is a very difficult thing to do, and makes finding gems from the 2019 freshman class who will have a fantasy impact difficult in its own right. Take last year’s No. 41 receiving prospect on 247Sports’ composite, a skinny, undersized kid from Louisville who measured 5-foot-9, 175 pounds. That would be Purdue’s Rondale Moore, who went on to post a 103-1164-12 receiving line in his first year with the Boilermakers while adding rushing and kick-return value, to boot. Moore landed in a perfect situation, with an offense which fit to his skill set. Those are the kinds of guys we’re looking for now that the dust has settled on the first day of the early signing period. Without further adieu, the signees from the 2019 class who we believe have the best chance of making a fantasy impact in their first season on campus. All ranks referenced will be from Rivals unless otherwise noted.
We will be examining quarterbacks, running backs and receivers, here. Drafting a freshman tight end is not advised for redraft leagues. Even in dynasty and keeper formats it’s a dicey proposition. We would advise targeting veteran, reliable tight ends in most formats.
Take a look at North Carolina QB Sam Howell (No. 100 overall for 2019) -- No need to take back the jokes we made behind Mack Brown’s back after he was lured out of retirement by the Tar Heels. Howell’s flip from Florida State to UNC on Wednesday represented a clear win not for Brown, but for Brown’s OC, Phil Longo. Longo turned Jordan Ta’amu into a star and you can’t help but dream on what he might do with Howell, whom 247Sports analyst Charles Power refers to as a “highly creative player” who is an instinctual runner, if not a blazer. Power compares him to Baker Mayfield. Whoa. What we love, here, is not only Howell’s obvious talent, but also his place with the program. He will be competing for the starting job immediately, and his opposition will be Cade Fortin and Nathan Elliott.
Let somebody else take that chance on Oklahoma QB Spencer Rattler (No. 27) -- The appeal of Rattler is immediately obvious, as he has a chance to be the best quarterback in this class, playing for the best offensive mind in the country. Unlike Howell, who enters an awesome situation, Rattler enters a less palatable one. He will come to Norman with Austin Kendall blocking his ascension to the starting job. And maybe Rattler jumps over Kendall and burns down the universe next season. We don’t think that’s going to happen. Kendall -- himself a former four-star recruit -- has waited patiently through Heisman runs from Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. This will be his team next year barring a major, major push from Rattler. For those playing in redraft leagues, there’s little value, here.
Take a look at Arizona State QB Jayden Daniels (No. 107) -- Daniels enters into an even better situation than Howell, as the Sun Devils will be looking for an immediate replacement for Rotoworld fave Manny Wilkins, who is set to exit stage left in graduation. The 6-foot-3, 185-pounder should be in thick of starting competition come August. We’ll be watching the situation closely, to see just how open old dog Herm Edwards is to learning new tricks. We see a little Kellen Mond in his game, and he’s drawn comparisons to Deshaun Watson. To us, it just depends on whether Herm will be willing to unleash him in earnest as a true freshman.
Let somebody else take that chance on Wisconsin QB Graham Mertz (No. 64) -- Mertz will presumably be trying to push Alex Hornibrook for starting honors in the summer. And we’ve seen heralded freshman quarterbacks supplant veterans in the very recent pass, most notably at Clemson, where Trevor Lawrence pushed Kelly Bryant out the door. Mertz is not Trevor Lawrence (who himself had very little fantasy value this year). He profiles as a tall (6’3), mostly stationary pocket-passer, who will be playing in an offense which values running the ball more than all else.
Take a look at: Mississippi State QB Garrett Shrader (No. 250) -- Shrader should be of particular interest to those in dynasty leagues, maybe less so in redraft formats. Keytaon Thompson is going to enter the offseason as the favorite to replace Nick Fitzgerald. Don’t count Shrader out as a potential immediate starter, though, especially if he shows a little something something in Joe Moorhead’s offense in the summer. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Charlotte native is a better passer than Thompson -- or could be a better passer -- and that’s something Moorhead should value after a year of the Nick Fitzgerald Experience. We’ll be stashing Shrader in multiple dynasty leagues come drafts this spring/summer.
Take a look at Nebraska APB Wandale Robinson (No. 98) -- Categorizing Robinson can prove difficult, because he does everything, but perhaps a good way to view the 5-foot-9, 179-pounder as the running back version of Rondale Moore. Like Moore, you’re not wowed by his size, but then he touches the ball and things happen. Expect to see him used like a Swiss Army Knife in Scott Frost’s system over in Lincoln. A perfect marriage between player and team. If there’s any member of the 2019 class we’re going to be buying heavy fantasy shares of in the offseason, it’s Robinson. Robinson coupled with Maurice Washington is going to cause all sorts of headaches for the rest of the Big Ten. Also, your fellow fantasy combatants. Keep this name in the back of your head.
Let somebody else take that chance on Alabama RB Trey Sanders (No. 2) -- Nope, can’t do it. Not on an Alabama team which tends to spread out its carries. Sanders said during his commitment ceremony that he would win the Heisman in 2019. That’s fine bravado, but bravado will not replace Najee Harris, who will almost certainly enter August camp as the team’s No. 1 back. Remember, Harris was considered an all-universe talent when he first signed with Alabama two years ago. Only in 2020 will he actually have a serious starting shot. For fantasy purposes, we’re more intrigued by Alabama’s passing game than its running game at this point in the Crimson Tide’s offensive evolution. Harris will change that, by the way. We can’t wait to see how he performs with a starting opportunity.
Take a look at Michigan RB Zach Charbonnet (No. 39) -- With Karan Higdon off to try his luck in the NFL and Chris Evans a possibility to follow him out the door, there will be a void in the running backs room in Ann Arbor next autumn. Couple that dearth with the possibility that Shea Patterson likewise takes his talents to the pros, and suddenly Charbonnet looks all the more appealing for fantasy purposes, in what could be an immediate opportunity for early work. Whatever you think of Michigan’s offense, it’s one which was very very rewarding for Mr. Higdon and one which we know leans upon the run. The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder is already built for the college game on a physical level and runs with an angry determination.
Let somebody else take that chance on Penn State RB Noah Cain (No. 73) -- Cain enters a similar -- though less turbocharged -- situation to that of the aforementioned Sanders, as he will at the very least be competing with Ricky Slade for work in 2019. And possibly Miles Sanders, depending on whether Sanders declares for the draft. Regardless, it’s not a situation we love. And we’re at least slightly concerned that this offense might completely fall off the rails without the outgoing Trace McSorley. Now, Michigan is facing similar potential overhaul, but Shea Patterson never felt like the driver of that offense, more just of a piece. McSorley has always felt like the beating heart of the Nittany Lions. Without him, we just don’t how well the offense clicks. All of which is to say that Cain is stepping onto uncertain ground. For the record, we’d prefer Cain to Sanders in redraft leagues (so much as we’d want either) and Sanders to Cain in keeper formats.
Take a look at Stanford RB Austin Jones (No. 75) -- We are kind of iffy on Stanford’s rushing offense after what looked to be a good line and what looked to be a potential Day 1 running back in Bryce Love just sort of collapsed this season. But Love’s exit to the draft -- one year late -- leaves a fine opportunity for Jones, on a team which has consistently built its offense around the run. The roster is currently stocked with veterans like Cameron Scarlett. We think Jones blows by the Scarlett’s of the world in relatively short order. The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder lacks the top-end speed which made Love (at his best) a momentarily transcendent player, but he makes up for it with a physical edge which should allow for more consistency than some of the shinier prospects ranked above him.
Take a look at Oklahoma WR Theo Wease (No. 3) or Trejan Bridges (No. 17) -- At 6-foot-3, Wease has a two-inch height advantage over Bridges and may well end up the more targeted of the two in the red zone early on (assuming both can crack the field), but we prefer Bridges by the slightest of margins, not only because he has shown success working on jet sweeps and the like -- always a comfort when you’re talking about youngsters like these, who won’t necessarily get consistent targets -- and just a little bit more oomph as a downfield runner. 247Sports analyst Gabe Brooks refers to Bridges as a “long-striding galloper” and notes that he’s a player who needs a few steps to get going but can begin to pull away once he begins to motor. Wease profiles as more of a possession receiver. We’d prefer Bridges, but both have an opportunity to make early waves in this offense.
Let somebody else take that chance on Ohio State WR Garrett Wilson (No. 33) -- The 6-foot, 181-pound Wilson is an athletic dude (you’d expect nothing less from the Buckeyes), but we’ve oft been frustrated when we’ve spent fantasy capital on Ohio State receivers. Goodness only knows how many times we drafted Austin Mack or Binjimen Victor thinking “this time, this time it will be different.” It was never different. That’s not to say that Ohio State does not develop receivers, more to say that we’d prefer to hold off on playing roulette with the Buckeyes corp, especially a completely unknown, new member of the Buckeyes corp. Toss in quarterbacking uncertainty if Dwayne Haskins pushes off into the sunset, and we’re going to pass on Wilson.
Take a look at Ole Miss WR Dannis Jackson (No. 181) -- We would like Jackson even more if OC Phil Longo was in the fold, rather than “nobody.” Still TBD on what direction the Rebs will try for on that front. Interested fantasy owners will have a far more complete picture of this offense and what it might become once we’ve hit the spring. By then, presumably, the program will have hired a Longo replacement. Working with incomplete information, though, we think Jackson is in a dynamite spot. D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown are both draft-bound, leaving targets available for the opportunistic. While Ole Miss does already have some young talent at receiver -- notably Elijah Moore -- the cupboards are notably more bare than they were coming into season. Jackson is an athletic, well-rounded prospect. We just hope that the offense does not drop off sans Longo.
Let somebody else take that chance on Miami WR Jeremiah Payton (No. 139) -- Oh mercy Miami. The Hurricanes entered Wednesday with Rivals’ No. 40 class -- poor enough in its own right -- and exited with the outlet’s No. 45 class. They also lost former four-star QB Jarren Williams to transfer on the day. We feel for Mark Richt, who churned out consistently good teams at Georgia only to see the fan base tire and bore of consistent quality (Kirby Smart was a pretty good replacement?), at which point Richt was hired at Miami and almost immediately made the program relevant -- like fringe Playoff relevant for a stretch -- before everything collapsed into a black hole of sadness in 2018. We have no idea where this program is at right now. We’re not touching any of its offensive pieces. We have no idea who will be throwing Payton the ball, and while the 6-foot-3, 175-pounder possesses remarkable poise in his routes and his ability to make controlled catches in tough situations, it’s impossible to project this offense for fantasy relevance at this point. The U is not back.
Take a look at West Virginia WR Ali Jennings (No. 78 WR) -- Our deepest cut in this column, Jennings is the only signed receiver in WVU’s class at this point. That speaks to the coaching staff’s trust in the 6-foot-2, 186-pounder. What we really love about Jennings in this spot is that West Virginia is losing both David Sills and Gary Jennings this offseason, with little flash remaining on roster at the position. This won’t be the hella fun 2018 offense led by Will Grier, and it’s very to easy see the Mountaineers struggling in 2019. We still love Jennings as a player to watch for fantasy purposes upcoming. There’s little else there.