Jesse Pantuosco

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Roundtable: Rookie Check-In

Friday, December 1, 2017


Jesse Pantuosco (@JessePantuosco): I know we’ve discussed rookies before—it’s always been one of my go-to Roundtable subjects—but I think it may be time to take another crack at it. I always thought the “rookie wall” was sort of a myth, but this year it feels real. Just ask Kareem Hunt and Leonard Fournette. Hunt was an early MVP candidate, bursting onto the scene with six touchdowns over his first three games. Since then … crickets. Fournette has hit a similar rough patch, though at least he has a valid excuse—he’s been playing through a sprained ankle for the better part of two months.

 

While Hunt and Fournette have lost some of their luster in recent weeks, others like Christian McCaffrey and Joe Mixon are just hitting their stride. This year’s crop of wide receivers hasn’t given us much to talk about, though JuJu Smith-Schuster and Cooper Kupp have both had their moments. Did I miss anyone? Oh yeah, Alvin Kamara. Seems like he could be a thing (I may be underselling him just a bit).

 

So I’ll open it up to you guys—which rookies have stood out to you (good or bad) and who do you see as difference-makers down the stretch?

 

Rich Hribar (@LordReebs): This rookie running back class has been reminiscent of the 2014 wide receiver class in terms of fantasy impact. You mentioned Hunt, Fournette, Kamara, McCaffrey and Mixon, but Dalvin Cook, Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, D'Onta Foreman, Samaje Perine and Tarik Cohen have also had RB1 weeks this year. We’ve seen a much-needed infusion of young talent at the position.

 

Even though it hasn’t been a huge year for tight ends, the trio of Evan Engram, O.J. Howard and David Njoku have still combined for 10 TE1 fantasy weeks to go with 12 touchdowns. Howard set a season-high with routes run in Week 12 while Njoku’s snap share last week was also a season-best, so those two seem to be gaining some momentum.

 

We had an idea this year’s receiver class was a suspect one heading into the draft and it’s played out about as advertised. Only five wideouts have logged 20 or more catches this year with just two eclipsing 30, while Kupp and Smith-Schuster have been the only rookies to surpass 300 yards receiving. Did anyone know that Trent Taylor is third among rookie receivers with just 26 receptions? This entire receiver class has just 17 touchdowns combined compared to 19 for this year’s crop of tight ends. We still have five weeks to go, but it’s already a sure thing that the wide receiver class of 2017 will fall short of the 58 touchdowns put up by last year’s rookie class. Fourth-round pick Josh Malone has more touchdowns than the entire first round—that includes Corey Davis, Mike Williams and John Ross—and he only has one.

 

Now, some have dealt with injuries and this isn't suggesting death for any careers here. There's still a chance for some of these guys to contribute down the stretch. Dede Westbrook is playing behind Keelan Cole right now, but his opportunities have increased every game and he ran just two fewer routes than Cole last week at Arizona. Jacksonville still has upcoming games with soft pass defenses in Tennessee and San Francisco, so that should help.

 

Corey Davis has had a few "this is the week" opportunities that he's failed to deliver on, but the Titans also have a game coming up against San Francisco. Kenny Golladay is finally healthy, has reclaimed the WR3 position on a pass-heavy team and has a 40-yard reception in three straight games. Zay Jones hasn't caught many of them, but he still has seven or more targets in four of his past five games and should keep it up with Kelvin Benjamin questionable to return this season. Are these guys you're going to play in seasonal lineups in money moments like the fantasy playoffs? The answer is largely no, but I'd like to see if they can finish their rookie campaigns on a high note.

 

Patrick Daugherty (@RotoPat): I thought Zay Jones was a guy who was going to close strong — he had been running better routes, averaging more yards per catch and actually finding the end zone. But he had another really inefficient game in Week 12, catching just 3-of-10 targets. That's hard to do, especially in a plus matchup like the one he had against Kansas City. Jones does have an attackable slate down the stretch with upcoming games against the Colts, Patriots (twice) and Dolphins (also twice). We'll see what he's all about. 

 

Corey Davis hasn't made as much progress as I expected. The Titans forced the issue with him in Week 10 (team-leading 10 targets), but his targets have gone down each of the past two weeks. He's still someone whose big-play ability I believe in, but he needs to show me something in a plus matchup with Houston this weekend. Rishard Matthews (hamstring) seems poised to miss another game, ceding the floor to Davis. 

 

At running back, I would like to see Jets sixth-rounder Elijah McGuire get a little more run down the stretch. And if Samaje Perine closes strong, he could put himself on the second or third-round draft radar next year.

 

Raymond Summerlin (@RMSummerlin): All the names have been hit, so I will focus on two players. The first is O.J. Howard, who Rich mentioned ran a season-high number of routes last week and has seemingly closed the gap with Cameron Brate. Perhaps that changes with the return of Jameis Winston, who has shown a connection with Brate in the past, but I am optimistic Howard can become a fantasy asset with upcoming games against Detroit and Atlanta. The Falcons’ defense in particular has been worse against tight ends than their overall numbers would suggest. 

The second is Corey Davis despite everyone else seemingly jumping ship. First of all, noting he has seen fewer targets each of the last three weeks is technically correct but misleading considering Marcus Mariota's attempts fell from 44 in Week 10 to 33 in Week 11 and 25 last week. His target share was essentially the same in Weeks 10 and 11, and while it fell last week, it is tough to make sweeping judgments based on a game when the quarterback attempted just 25 passes.

 

More concerning than opportunity, which I confidently believe will rebound this week if Rishard Matthews sits again, is his lack of efficiency. Over the past four weeks, Davis is dead-last in yards per route run among qualifying receivers according to Pro Football Focus. That is not surprising, however, for a rookie who missed five games, and he actually had his best performance since Week 1 in that category last week, even though it didn’t amount to much fantasy significance. A talented young player who is likely to improve with experience and whose opportunity has not decreased as dramatically as the raw target totals suggest, Davis is someone the fantasy public is giving up on too quickly, and there is a reasonable chance he breaks out in a great matchup against Houston this week. 

 

Pantuosco: I guess I’ll just state the obvious, which is that Alvin Kamara has been nothing short of remarkable. He wasn’t high on my list entering the year because of workload concerns, but now Adrian Peterson has left the nest and the Saints have gone run-heavy with Kamara and Mark Ingram. Kamara has been an absolute juggernaut since the Peterson trade, averaging an absurd 123.4 yards from scrimmage with seven touchdowns in his last seven games while taking over the league lead in receiving yards by a running back with 548. He’s a big-play machine and exactly the boost New Orleans needed after a lethargic string of 7-9 seasons. If you had the wherewithal to draft Kamara or lucked into scooping him off the waiver wire when he was still available, your team is probably in excellent shape heading into the fantasy playoffs.

 

The other rookie who has impressed me also plays for the Saints. Throughout the Drew Brees Era, New Orleans has never struggled to put points on the board. But for the last few years (at least), the Saints’ defense, especially their Swiss-cheese secondary, has been a major liability. That’s changed this year with the addition of Marshon Lattimore, who has already emerged as a legitimate shutdown corner. There are only a handful of cornerbacks in the league that I actively look to avoid in fantasy—Casey Hayward, Josh Norman, Patrick Peterson, Jalen Ramsey and Aqib Talib all come to mind—and Lattimore has quickly entered that conversation. Lattimore holds PFF’s No. 4 coverage grade this year and was sorely missed last week against the Rams when Jared Goff torched New Orleans for 354 yards and two touchdowns. I think he’s an easy choice for Defensive Rookie of the Year and a huge reason for the Saints’ rapid turnaround.



Jesse Pantuosco is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld. He has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JessePantuosco.
Email :Jesse Pantuosco



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