Antonio Gibson, Ke'Shawn Vaughn highlight potential fantasy football rookie sleepers

We’ve spent countless hours grinding tape on CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy. We’ve bantered over how to rank Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Jonathan Taylor. We’ve mulled the Joe Burrow comps and contemplated the exactitude of #TuaTime.

But what about the lesser-known players? The ones drafted after Round Two? What about the guys from smaller schools or hybrid players with less traditional positional experience?

Could they be fantasy relevant in 2020?

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Except for a certain running back in Tampa Bay, most of these rookies will go undrafted. But there’s a likelihood that they might find fantasy relevance at some point during the season or in 2021.

Put them on your radar now and be ahead of the game then. 

Bryan Edwards, WR, Las Vegas Raiders 

After graduating from high school in 2015, Edwards decided to stay local and committed to the University of South Carolina, about 130 miles from his hometown of Conway. He made an immediate impact as a Gamecock, starting all 12 games as a true freshman. By 2019 he had appeared in 48 consecutive contests with at least one catch in each game ... and even managed to break Alshon Jeffery’s school record for career receiving yards with 3,045.  

What stands out the most about Edwards on tape is his physicality. At 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds, he’s an imposing presence with solid game speed and strong hands. Utilizing terrific body control, he isn’t afraid to highpoint in traffic or box out DBs (just ask C.J. Henderson). There have been a few unfortunate focus drops, and he’s not the most agile dude on the field, but his ability to work all three levels of the defense makes him a venerable “X” or “big slot” receiver at the next level.

Edwards reminds me a lot of Brandon LaFell. A productive workman and capable No. 2 that does the dirty work so that the star on the opposite side of the field can shine. It’s pretty obvious the Raiders want that star to be speedster Henry Ruggs III, which makes Edwards the perfect compliment to this offense. He’s got the grit that Gruden loves, and the culture-building character that Mayock covets

His initial fantasy impact may only be secondary in that it further depresses whatever value Tyrell Williams (who averaged 4.4 looks per game from Weeks 8-16) and/or Zay Jones (2.7 targets p/g from Weeks 8-16 after being acquired from Buffalo) theoretically presented. But there’s no doubt Edwards is an important piece of this emerging offensive puzzle.  

Devin Duvernay, WR, Baltimore Ravens 

Both Kyler Murray’s cousin and the 2015 Texas 100-meter state champion, Duvernay is equal parts stout and speed, which — given his cv — makes a lot of sense. At 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, the former Longhorn posted the fifth-fastest 40-yard dash time among participating WRs (4.39). But he’s more than just a beefy slot receiver with breakaway speed. He’s also incredibly sure-handed. In fact, per PFF, Duvernay recorded just three drops over 128 total targets in 2019.

He may not be shifty or agile, but his ability to find separation and rip after the catch is impressive. Think of his skill set as being more dukes than jukes. That’s what makes him such an ideal fit for the Ravens’ offense, which is arguably the strongest and fastest in the league (I see you, Chiefs fans). It also sets him up for some real playing time this season.

Willie Snead (who drew 45 looks in 2019) is only signed through 2020. Sure, he’ll remain the starter for now, but Duvernay has a real shot of taking over in 2021. Furthermore, Hayden Hurst’s departure frees up another 40 targets, which could additionally work in Duvernay’s favor. Even if sixth-round selection James Proche sees the field, Duvernay is in line for 45+ targets in 2020. Assuming he maintains a solid catch percentage (yes, I do anticipate a regression from 82%) throughout his rookie effort, he could end up being one of Lamar Jackson’s most trusted weapons over his sophomore campaign. 

Ke'Shawn Vaughn, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

Like the coach that selected him, Vaughn’s ascent to the NFL has been rife with detours. Vaughn initially committed to the University of Illinois. Despite starting as a true freshman, the Nashville native slipped down the Illini’s depth chart and decided to return home at the close of his sophomore year. After redshirting in 2017, he became Vandy’s lead back in 2018 and produced two 1,000+ rushing yard seasons in back-to-back efforts.

Could Ke'Shawn Vaughn break out in TB alongside TB12? (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

A complicated study, Vaughn does a lot well but doesn’t seem to be exceptional at any one thing. At 5-foot-10 and 214 pounds, he owns a compact build that keeps him low to the ground and helps him absorb contact. He’s also hella fast, which makes sense given his high school track history, and is evidenced by the fact that a third of his touchdowns at Vandy (24 in total) went for 60-plus yards.

However, he’s neither creative nor elusive, which dampens his overall athleticism. He did reel in a career-high 28 balls (for 270 yards and 1 receiving TD) in 2019, suggesting that he has the hands to effectively work on passing-downs in a Bruce Arians offense. 

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The Bucs’ backfield is ripe with opportunity, and Vaughn has certainly displayed the effort necessary to retain the starting gig. He’s still going to compete with Ronald Jones for carries — and with Dare Ogunbowale for targets — but there’s a world in which he delivers RB26-30 fantasy production, earning an average of 10-12 opportunities per game. 

Antonio Gibson, RB/WR, Washington Redskins 

Pour one out for Yahoo Sports’ Product Manager, who’s been saddled with setting Gibson’s position eligibility for the upcoming fantasy season. A three-sport athlete in high school, the Georgia native’s athletic profile is brimming with explosive upside. Grinding it out as a receiver in the JUCO ranks, Gibson arrived at Memphis in 2018 where he played both RB and WR. In his final year as a Tiger, the hybrid talent finished with 38 receptions (for 735 yards and 8 TDs) and 33 rushing attempts (for 369 yards and 4 TDs). 

While he primarily lined up as a receiver in college, it’s expected that Gibson will contribute largely as a running back in Washington. In fact, Ron Rivera recently compared Gibson’s skill set to Christian McCaffrey’s, citing both players’ exceptional versatility. There’s no denying that Gibson is an electric player in possession of mind-bending elusiveness, contact balance, and big-play ability. After all, per Eric Edholm, this is a talent who scored 14 touchdowns on only 77 offensive touches. But he’s also a raw talent whose game is in need of refinement and patience.

Right now Washington’s backfield is expected to be led by a 35-year-old and a guy who’s only made it onto the field for a total of five regular-season games. That means Gibson is going to get some run. He won’t have consistent value in redraft just yet, but he will make some folks a bundle of money in DFS at various points throughout the winter. Heck, he may even be worth a late-round flier in Best Ball. Gibson has homerun potential and a coach that believes in him … and that usually amounts to something. Eventually. 

Adam Trautman, TE, New Orleans Saints

We’re all aware of the rookie tight ends don’t produce in fantasy trope. After all, two of the most exciting prospects at the position last year struggled to crack the top-15. But when the New Orleans Saints give up four picks to snag a dude that had been drawing buzz since last October … you pay attention. 

A Michigan native who was recruited by Dayton to play QB, Trautman’s experience as a tight end is wildly limited. But when you watch his tape you can’t help but be wooed by his physical gifts. At 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, he presents an ideal frame for the position. Plus, he can adjust to the ball mid-air, he remains aggressive after the catch and knows how to win in the red zone. Oh, and he also gives A+ effort as a blocker. 

Is he polished? Nah. But under Sean Payton’s tutelage could he become a stud? Yeah. 

And that’s a likely scenario given the fact that Jared Cook is 33-years-old and set to become an UFA in 2021. Heck, even Josh Hill truthers have to admit that while the Saints offense has plenty of questions beyond 2020 … Trautman isn’t one of them. 

Which rookie do you think will make the most immediate fantasy splash? Engage with Liz on social @LizLoza_FF.

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