Rookies are a long-term investment in fantasy football, but some require more patience than others. Instead of contributing to a playoff push, some neophytes need another offseason before catching up to the speed of the NFL.
For savvy Keeper and Dynasty league managers, there’s no better time than the offseason to buy low on talent. Here are three names that could be poised for a significant sophomore leap.
RB Chase Brown, Cincinnati Bengals
Any Bengals fan can tell you that Joe Mixon’s time in Cincinnati is coming to a close, which opens the door wide open for Brown. To be fair, the fifth-round pick from Illinois didn’t impress right out of the gate; he had two carries over his first five games before landing on injured reserve with a hamstring injury.
But since Brown returned from IR in Week 12, it’s been a different story. Brown has accumulated an average of 44 scrimmage yards in six games, highlighted by a 54-yard screen to the house against the Colts. It was refreshing to see major improvements in the rookie’s efficiency and receiving as the season went on, as both skills were considered to be weaknesses when he was in college.
Brown only got to play five games with Joe Burrow before the franchise quarterback suffered a wrist injury that would keep him out for the rest of the season. Still, he flashed the big-play ability that both NFL coaches and fantasy managers crave. Once you factor in Mixon’s imminent departure, it’s not hard to envision Brown leading a revamped Bengals backfield in 2024.
WR Michael Wilson, Arizona Cardinals
It’s understandable if you didn’t catch many Cardinals games this year, but they’ve shown signs of life since Kyler Murray’s return in Week 10. Last weekend’s miraculous 35-31 upset of the Eagles wouldn’t have been possible without Wilson, who caught a game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter.
That’s not to say Wilson has thrived since Kyler’s return; in the four games they’ve played together this year, he’s caught just seven passes. However, plenty of that can be blamed on a shoulder injury that kept the Stanford alum out for a month. Marquise Brown and Greg Dortch are set to leave as unrestricted free agents, depleting an already weak Arizona receiving corp.
Even if the Cardinals acquire a big-name wideout in the offseason, there should be plenty of targets to go around with a full season of Murray under center. Wilson could easily be a top option in a quality offense next year, but a lower profile should make him available in most leagues.
TE Michael Mayer, Las Vegas Raiders
Nicknamed “Baby Gronk” coming out of Notre Dame, Michael Mayer showed flashes of talent, but never really put it together during his first year in the NFL. The Raiders’ quarterback situation certainly did Mayer no favors, but he did see a modest boost in production with fellow rookie Aidan O’Connell, rather than Jimmy Garoppolo. Las Vegas could have a brand-new quarterback room next season, but it doesn’t matter. Going back to his days in South Bend, Mayer has proven he can produce with almost anyone under center.
At 6’4″ with polished route-running skills, it doesn’t take a genius to see why Mayer went at the start of the second round. Davante Adams’ days on the strip are numbered, but even a league-average quarterback could do wonders for this offense. Rookie tight ends usually take several years to develop, but 2023 seems to be an exception to that rule. All that means is Mayer is more likely to go under the radar compared to his peers, making him the perfect tight end to target this summer.