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Fantasy football: Which rookies, new starters should you draft?

Rookie Saquon Barkley and veteran Jimmy Garoppolo enter the season as likely fantasy starters for the first time.

Saquon Barkley deserves to be drafted in the

Saquon Barkley deserves to be drafted in the first round, but closer to the end than the beginning. Photo Credit: Brad Penner

Team managers returning to the fantasy football grind for the 2018 season surely remember some of last season’s standouts.

Russell Wilson (Seahawks) and Cam Newton (Panthers) were the top two QBs, Todd Gurley (Rams) and Le’Veon Bell (Steelers) shined at RB, Antonio Brown (Steelers) and DeAndre Hopkins (Texans) led all WRs, and Travis Kelce (Chiefs) and Rob Gronkowski (Patriots) topped all TEs. All remain top five — top two in most cases — in many pundits’ preseason rankings.

But this year, as happens every year, new names join the mix — players with high expectations thanks to a new situation. That goes for rookies as well as old-timers who enter the season as starters for the first time.

But, at this point, nothing is certain. Heck, we’ve only seen one (poor) exhibition game thus far. So here’s a look at some of the players who may find themselves enjoying real fantasy value for the first time.

Jimmy Garoppolo (QB)

The Texans’ Deshaun Watson will go top 10 despite seven previous games, but his pre-injury run as a rookie last year looks repeatable given his supporting cast — his top option is Hopkins — and abilities as a runner.

On the other hand, Garoppolo will be a borderline top-10 QB who should be approached with more caution. He did look good down the stretch for the 49ers (5-0 record, 67.4 completion percentage) after the Patriots finally traded him somewhere that didn’t already feature Tom Brady under center. But questions remain about his supporting cast, which is led by receivers Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin, and the fact that his TD-to-INT ratio was a pedestrian 7-to-5.

The talent is there, and he’s had a full offseason this time to familiarize with San Francisco’s offense. It’s OK to pull the trigger as the 11th or 12th QB off the board, but it woudn’t hurt to pick someone safer as a backup. More stable options include Alex Smith (Washington) and Philip Rivers (Chargers).

Running backs

Plenty of RBs who will go early come with question marks, several of which are rookies.

Saquon Barkley (Giants) may be a tad overhyped right now, but he’s in a great position to succeed out of the gate. Don’t let him slip into Round 2. Derrius Guice (Washington) and Rashaad Penny (Seahawks) are being drafted as late RB2s, but both pose more risk than the likes of lower-rated veterans Derrick Henry (Titans) and Lamar Miller (Texans).

Dalvin Cook (Vikings) was terrific in four games before injury cut his rookie season short. I’m not ready to consider him an RB1 year, but he’s a great choice near the end of Round 2.

JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR)

The receiver pool always produces a ton of under-the-radar success stories, but much of the top 30 this preseason is comprised of known commodities. Smith-Schuster is about as close as it gets to an unproven WR.

In his rookie year, he started seven of 14 games for the Steelers and snagged 58 of 79 targets for 917 yards and seven scores. He enters 2018 as the definitive second option after the dominant Brown, and there’s no reason to believe he’ll be any worse than last year. Feel free to make him your third — even second — WR.

Trey Burton (TE)

Near the bottom of the TE1 level are a few who’ve yet to prove themselves, but new Bears starter Burton stands out as the most risky.

Entering his fifth season after going undrafted, he did next to nothing for two seasons before serving as the secondary tight end to Eagles stud Zach Ertz. While he caught five TDs last season, he did so on 31 targets. That rate will be hard to sustain while playing with unproven passer Mitchell Trubisky in Chicago.

If you have to gamble on a 10th-best TE, aim for David Njoku (Browns) or George Kittle (49ers) instead.

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