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Where to Select Fantasy Football’s Biggest Rookie Risers

Bryan Armetta looks at the biggest offseason risers for fantasy football among this year’s rookie class: Dameon Pierce, Chris Olave, George Pickens and James Cook.

Bryan Armetta looks at the biggest offseason risers for fantasy football among this year's rookie class: Dameon Pierce, Chris Olave, George Pickens and James Cook.

We are less than two weeks away from real, meaningful NFL football, which means we’re in the middle of the most wonderful time of the year: draft season. Here’s the catch: Players you were itching to draft in July have begun to creep up draft boards, to the point where getting value from what were once sleeper picks can be difficult. 

This is especially true for rookies, who can be league winners or massive busts. The following first-year prospects are shooting up draft boards, but there’s only so high managers should be willing to go before looking elsewhere. 

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RB Dameon Pierce, Houston Texans: Round 6

The breakout star of the preseason, it’s hard to determine how high Pierce can skyrocket up draft boards before becoming too costly. The rookie has control of the starting RB spot in Houston, and the offense’s lack of overall skill position talent means he’ll get plenty of touches and targets. While Pierce was never used as a workhorse at Florida (82 touches per season), he was one of the nation’s most efficient rushers, with a career 5.5 yards per carry. Given the opportunity, there’s every reason to believe that Pierce can be a reliable RB2/Flex for your team. Once your team has most of its starters on the roster, feel free to select him as early as the sixth round.

WR Chris Olave, New Orleans Saints: Round 9/10

Although they’ve been relatively run-dependent in recent years, the Saints should have a much-improved passing game this offseason. Much of that has to do with the return of Michael Thomas and the continued growth of Jameis Winston as a pocket passer. However, the Saints front office also decided to trade up in the draft last April to select Chris Olave with the twelfth overall pick. Olave, one of the smoothest route-runners in all of college football last year, is seen as a pro-ready prospect, which should be music to the ears of fantasy managers. The offense is crowded with Thomas, Alvin Kamara and Jarvis Landry, but New Orleans didn’t trade major draft capital just to keep their first round pick on the bench. Even if the veteran wideouts above him on the depth chart remain healthy for the whole season, there’s still a clear path towards flex-level production for olave. Bank on the upside and feel free to draft Olave in the 9th/10th round range.

WR George Pickens, Pittsburgh Steelers: Round 9/10

Unlike Olave, the talented Pickens slipped all the way into the second round of the draft, largely due to a torn ACL he suffered last year. However, as far as pure talent, the Georgia product can hang with the best of them. That’s been the story throughout the preseason and training camp, as Pickens has left both coaches and analysts in awe over his blend of athleticism and body control. Will that translate to immediate year one production? The Steelers will look a lot different with either Mitch Trubisky or Kenny Pickett at quarterback, and there is receiving talent all over the field. Still, Pickens is simply too talented not to earn some kind of role for Mike Tomlin. Olave has the edge due to playing in a superior offense, but Pickens should also be considered as soon as the 9th round.

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RB James Cook, Buffalo Bills: Round 8

The most notable addition to the Bills offense this offseason, Cook will probably start the season behind Devin Singletary. While that does cap his upside, the draft’s best pass-catching ‘back is sure to be a factor in Buffalo’s offense. Will that translate to red-zone opportunities? It’s hard to say, since he’ll have to compete with both Singletary and Josh Allen inside the 20. Still, any running back that can grab some passes in an offense of this caliber needs to be rostered, especially in PPR leagues. There may be a fairly even timeshare, but Cook has strong flex potential and also can act as a handcuff to Singletary. The eighth round might be a good time to take him, but managers should be patient.