by Nick Ercolano
August 31, 2017
Rookies, rookies, rookies. In the ever-adapting interweb us civilian folk use these days to do our fantasy football research, there's so much noise it's hard to decipher if what you're reading is the truth, or on some fraud shit like Charles Ponzi byke byke in the day. This is more apparent than ever when it comes to rookies in fantasy football. You can read 10 lists of rookie breakouts, and find 30 different players listed. That's literally no help to anyone. Sure I can list out 12 rookies that could possibly, maybe have an impact if someone ahead of them gets injured, but for every Jordan Howard or even Tevin Coleman, there are 20 Matt Jones', Alex Collins', Devonta Booker's, Bishop Sankeys, Andre Williams, Jerick McKinnons' that get the most amount of unnecessary offseason buzz because some asshole wants to act like he "knew". You wouldn't even know these guys names if it weren't for fantasy football.
But there's a time and place for everything. Including rookies. Like every other player, rookies don't need there own category, you should still draft them based on value. What value based drafting does is not only take into consideration a rookie's upside, which almost everyone of them has, but also the (AND THE KEY WORD HERE) LIKELINESS of them hitting that upside, or coming anywhere near it. When people write these "rookie breakout" pieces, they make it seem as though everyone of them have a clear path to breakout, when i reality, a very small % of them do.
So, today, I'm going to help you out with this. Here's my top 5 rookies to draft this year, based on value of where they're being picked.
After watching the preseason, it's say to safe the risk around Mixon is warranted. Jeremy Hill has been consistently starting with the 1's while Mixon, and now even Giovani Bernard mix in. From the eye test, it's nothing we didn't already know about Mixon. The guy looks fantastic, great patience, ball skills and the ability to run past or run over guys. The Bengals backfield is going to be a true committee to start the season. Marvin Lewis simply doesn't love letting rookies rock until they've proven themselves. We saw this back in Jeremy Hill's rookie year. During the first seven weeks of 2014, Hill averaged just over 7 carries a game, compared to 19.1 over the final nine games.
I've gone over what I project Mixon's outlook to be plenty of times on my channel, a clear RBBC to start the season, while Mixon slowly takes more and more of a roll. At 6-1, 225 pounds, a back who runs a 4.41 40-yard dash and has ridiculous hands out of the backfield, I'd bet the mortgage on Mixon leading the team in touches in 2017, and getting closer to 18-20 touches a game by the time Week 6 or so rolls around. A better trade target than draft target if you need to reach into the 3rd, or probably even fourth to get him.
I really love both of these guys. I think they both have major upside and will both get a shot at some point this year to show it. With Carson, he's done nothing impress all offseason, doing just about everything and taking advantage of Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise's injuries. Initially number four on the depth chart, and probably still technically is, Carson was getting just as much work if not more with the 1's as Eddie Lacy, and much more impressive at that. In three preseason games, Carson has racked up 156 total yards on 25 touches, 64 of them coming by way of the air on four catches. He's averaged 4.4 yards per carry, best of any SEA back this preseason and an impressive 3.4 yards after contact. HC Pete Carroll came out yesterday and said that this backfield is completely up for grabs at this point. With Eddie Lacy still fat, and Rawls and Prosise seemingly always injured, the 6-0, 218 pound back (88th percentile burst score, 74th percentile SPARQ score) will get his chance at some point this season and I think he work himself into at least a committee. I've been drafting a lot of Rawls in the 8-10th round and Carson with a last round pick in my drafts.
A lot of the same can be said about Marlon Mack in Indianapolis. I'm erring on the side that this is Frank Gore's going away party, he's going to fall off. He's faded over the second half of both of the last two seasons and just looked horrible at the end of 2016. With an awful offensive line and the possibility of Luck missing games, I couldn't imagine starting Frank Gore in any of my lineups. Common sense would preside that, if he starts slow, and finishes slow... he's probably pretty slow. Turbin, while effective last year, has proven to be nothing more than a goal-line back for Gore. At this point it wouldn't surprise me if Turbin became the starter at some point. Regardless, he's not the long-term solution to their backfield. That's Marlon Mack. In two games so far this preseason, Mack's totaled 94 yards on 15 touches (3/31 receiving), with a juicy 5.3 yards per carry and 4.1 yards after contact. I'm not sure I even want to draft Mack to be completely honest with you, but I think he could be a possible league winner down the stretch. He's shown he can work in at all three downs and is by far the best pass catcher out of this backfield. Over the last three seasons, Indy Colts running backs have seen around 110 targets per season. Mack could have PPR value early in the season, but I expect a heavier workload as we go down the stretch.
I'm not sure why it took this long for Dalvin Cook's ADP to creep up into the late 3rd, but the stage has been set for the rookie to get all the opportunity he can handle in Minnesota. The two red flags with Cook are the offensive line woes and the free agency signing of Latavius Murray. I had no doubt in my mind that the Vikings second round pick would win the starting job in a matter of milliseconds, but there's a gooooood chance Murray retains the goal-line role. And I think people might be underestimating how big of a role that is in this offense. In 2016, David Johnson (22) and LeGarrette Blount (24) were the only running backs in the NFL that had more carries inside an opponent's 5-yard line than Matt Asiata (17).... Matt Asiata. Jerick McKinnon was the only other halfback that had an attempt (3) at that part of the field on Minnesota's roster.
It could mean 1-of-2 things for Cook... a huge opportunity lost, or major major upside if he can beat out Murray for goal-line carries. The most likely scenario is Cook dominates early down work, and receiving work, while Murray takes 70-80% of short yardage and goal-line carries. Murray, while ineffective most of the time, has scored 13 times on 24 attempts (54.1%) inside the 5-yard line over the last two years with Oakland. For what it's worth, I know it's college and I couldn't find out how many of these were even goal-line rushes, but Cook scored 14 redzone rushing scores for the Seminoles in his final year. He is on the smaller side (5-10, 210) but he has nearly an identical build to another former Seminole whose game I think Cooks' resembles to a tee... Devonta Freeman. Pretty damn good near the endzone.
As for their offensive line, they'll enter 2017 with a better line than they finished 2016 with, which isn't say much, seeing as how they were 29th per PFF and 30th in run-blocking per Football Outsiders in 2016. It's area that'll limit Cooks' yards per carry and overall efficiency, but he should see enough volume to counter-balance it.
Among rookie wide receivers, Jones has the clearest path to targets. I'm not arguing that his upside is on par with Corey Davis or Mike Williams, but both are banged up, the latter much more heavily and both, along with fellow rookies John Ross, Taywan Taylor, among others all have better and more weapons than just them on their rosters.
My admiration for Jones has been a roller coaster ride this summer. At first I loved him as the clear WR2 behind Watkins. Anquan Boldin signs and his value takes a hit. Watkins is traded.. wooo.. Jordan Matthews joins the team... boooo... Boldin retires and Matthews gets injured. Jones is back in business baby. I've covered Jones as an actual prospect on my channels before, his college production and measurables speak for themselves.
Jones set the FBS reception record with 158 catches in 2016 which landed him as a second round pick. The Bills are cleaning house and see Jones as a key piece of that. After all their deals this offseason, they now own (2) 1st round picks, (2) 2nd round picks and (2) 3rd round picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, safe to say they're rebuilding that offense. With Watkins gone, at least for 2017, their offense will be mainly comprised of short passes, where Jones excels. Jordan Matthews is slated to play in Week 1, but he's had about 12 minutes of practice time and will definitely lack timing with Tyrod Taylor. It'll most likely be a 1A/1B situation here. I think Jones is the A, for what it's worth. He's a great bet to lead this team and all rookies in targets and receptions. I'll take that in the 13th round all zay. I mean day.
Hunt easily has the clearest path to touches among any rookie in this year's class following Spencer Ware's season-ending knee injury. You could argue Dalvin Cook, maybe, but I'd much prefer my running back to be part of an Andy Reid offense than this Vikings team, who's offensive line has been among the worst for rushing for a couple of years now. The Chiefs line is PFF's 15th ranked line entering the year, and were 17th per FO in run-blocking last season, but improved steadily as the year went on.
Both backs have a strangle-hold over early down work and receiving work. Where the two differ is on the goal-line. I already explained Asiata's usage and their tendency to use the bigger back near the endzone. Kareem Hunt (5-11, 218), is much closer in size to Spencer Ware (5-10, 228) than Charcandrick West (5'10, 205). Size isn't the end-all be-all, but Reid has shown a tendency to use his bigger back near the endzone. Over the last two seasons, Ware has out-rushed West 16-10 on the goal-line. It doesn't hurt that the Chiefs averaged just about four points per game more on offense than the Vikings.
If you're worried about Hunt staying upright, don't be. He dealt with a minor ankle injury in college (2014 - sophomore season) - but has averaged over 21 touches per game from his sophomore year through senior year, including an injury-free 303-touch season in 2016.
You look at the other guys you can draft in front of Hunt (assuming his ADP is around 26-30), I'd gladly take him over Todd Gurley, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey & Isaiah Crowell. Game script, scoring opportunities, 3rd down/passing work, goal-line work are a few of the concerns that everyone of those backs has that Hunt does not. If Hunt can stay healthy, you're getting him at his floor and there's no reason he can't finish as a top-8 running back in fantasy this season.
by Nick Ercolano
November 12, 2018
by Nick Ercolano
November 11, 2018
by Noah Pires
November 09, 2018