Hi everyone, and thanks for checking in to the first Rookie Report article of the season.
I don’t know about you, but for me rookies are one of the most exciting parts of fantasy football. Every year we rely on established veterans for consistent performances on our fantasy teams. We know Le’Veon Bell is going to be one of the top running backs, and we know Antonio Brown is one of the best wide receivers in the game.
We draft players like Bell and Brown highly because we know what they’re capable of.
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With rookies, we don’t know what they are capable of doing. Sure, most rookies don’t amount to much in their first seasons. But some far exceed our expectations. As time passes, some might even become the next Bell or the next Brown. We just don’t know, and dealing with that unknown is exciting.
As we saw this past weekend, you don’t even have to be a dynasty player to get excited about rookies. Rookies posted some of the most explosive performances across the fantasy landscape in Week 1, and today we will be breaking down some of those performances.
The Kareem of the Crop
Kareem Hunt posted not just the best running back performance of the week, but also the best fantasy performance of any position. His 246 yards from scrimmage set an NFL record for rookies.
Though he fumbled on his very first NFL carry, Hunt immediately bounced back. On the whole, he looked electric throughout the night, routinely gaining yards after contact. As we expected from his 74th-percentile passing target-share in college, Hunt acted as a dual threat rushing and catching passes.
This is exactly what we like to see out of a running back. In an ideal situation, a running back will see a dominant share of his team’s rushing attempts while staying on the field on third downs to catch passes.
I’ve seen on Twitter that some are pointing to Hunt’s snap shares as a reason to pump the brakes. At 58 percent of offensive snaps Hunt significantly outpaced his competition in Charcandrick West (35 percent). For true workhorse running backs we would like to see that number go a little higher, so that worry makes sense at first.
That being said, Hunt dominated his team’s rushing attempts, toting the rock 17 times to West’s single carry. In addition, Hunt was so frequently breaking off chunk gains that it made sense to give him snaps off to rest. You just can’t sprint every down of every game.
Hunt had five plays for gains of 10 or more. West’s touchdown came only because Hunt had been taken off of the field after rushing for 58 yards. They were giving Hunt a breather, so don’t worry about West taking goal line carries or about West cutting into Hunt’s workload.
Going forward, Hunt should be a locked and loaded start every week due to his every-down capability and Andy Reid’s usage of the running back position. The Eagles will be a challenge next week after they shut down Rob Kelley and the Washington passing game, but Hunt should still be a start for your fantasy team.
Tarik Cohen: Forte-Lite?
Cohen finished Week 1 as the RB3 in PPR formats by posting 66 yards on five rushing attempts and eight receptions on 12 targets for 47 yards and a touchdown. Twelve targets is a crazy number. For reference, only five players in the NFL had as many targets as Cohen this week, and all of those players are established wide receivers.
For a small guy (he’s 5’6″ and just 179 pounds), Cohen was able to rumble with the big boys. Though given just five carries, he was able to create some big plays, breaking tackles and showcasing his 4.42 speed. He averaged an absurd 13.2 yards per carry and will likely continue to be an electric player out of the backfield.
Unfortunately, what we just saw was likely Cohen’s ceiling. He is not going to unseat Jordan Howard as the Bear’s first- and second-down pounder, and history would indicate that the 12 targets he saw will come back down to earth.
Twelve targets extrapolated over 16 games would add up to 192 targets. With Cohen’s catch rate of 66.6 percent, he would shatter Matt Forte‘s NFL running back record of 102 receptions in a season by over 20 receptions. That’s just not likely to happen (though coincidentally Forte did achieve that record with the Bears).
The bright side for Cohen is that while his numbers last week were closer to his ceiling, the circumstances in Chicago are such that he could hit that ceiling again over the season while maintaining a decent floor. Jordan Howard doesn’t catch passes and Benny Cunningham is out for the next few weeks. With both of Chicago’s top receivers (Kevin White and Cameron Meredith) now out for the season as well, that bumps up the potential target share for Cohen and gives him a safer floor for fantasy.
The Bears will also be in negative game scripts frequently, which are conducive to pass-catching running back production. With little competition within the position on the roster and a damaged wide receiver corps, Cohen should see at least six to nine targets per game. He won’t outright replace Howard, but he should still be a viable fantasy option for PPR leagues.
The next-best rookie fantasy performance came from Kenny “Babytron” Golladay and his 4/69/2 stat line on Sunday. Golladay collected seven targets during the game and logged a 60.27 percent snap share. His snap share cemented him as the Lions’ number-three receiver, which is a valuable position to hold on the team that ran the third-highest percentage of snaps with three receivers.
Without the touchdowns, Golladay’s day would look more pedestrian and it could be easy to dismiss the touchdowns as a fluke. While the seven targets he drew were nice, they paled in comparison to Golden Tate‘s 15 targets. But Golladay’s targets were frequently more valuable than Tate’s.
While Tate drew passing volume on short passes between the 20s, Golladay’s height and large catch radius make him a more appealing option in the red zone. When the Lions attempted a two-point conversion, the play was a quick, lofty throw to Golladay in the back corner.
That pass was unsuccessful, but the Lions ran almost exactly the same play in their next red zone possession, which resulted in Golladay’s first NFL touchdown. The way Stafford looks for Golladay in the red zone is a good indication of how the Lions will use him going forward. Touchdowns are the biggest factor in fantasy production, so a reliable red zone threat is valuable for your fantasy team.
Golladay’s second touchdown was a highlight-reel diving grab into the end zone on a long bomb from Stafford. The play perfectly demonstrated how Golladay could translate his size, speed and catch radius into NFL and fantasy value.
While we can’t expect two touchdowns every week, I see Golladay as a must-add on your waiver wire this week. Though he is a rookie, the Lions are already making use of him in the most fantasy-relevant region of the field. If any rookie wide receiver were to finish in the top tier of receivers by the end of the season, Golladay is my bet to be the one.
Cooper’s Kupp Runneth Over, For Now
The last entry on this list is Cooper Kupp. Kupp made good on the connection he showed with sophomore quarterback Jared Goff in the preseason, posting four receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown on six targets on Sunday.
Kupp played the second-most snaps among wide receivers on the Rams, with just four fewer snaps than Robert Woods and one more than Sammy Watkins. His six targets also led the team (tied with Todd Gurley). At least for one game, Kupp acted as the lead receiver for the team.
While Goff and Kupp seemingly had a connection in the preseason that carried over into regular NFL season, it’s hard to see Kupp maintaining fantasy relevance. Kupp played just one more snap than Sammy Watkins. Watkins is a very recent addition to the Rams and figures to earn a greater percentage of the snaps as he learns the playbook.
It wouldn’t even take Watkins supplanting Kupp for Kupp to lose value over the season. The Rams played the Colts on Sunday and while the Rams as a whole looked good in the victory, the Colts are going to make a lot of teams look good this year.
The Colts were already a weak defense before Vontae Davis’ injury, and were demonstrably worse without him. Against a real NFL defense Goff’s yards per attempt could easily swing more towards the 5.3 yards per attempt he averaged last season (literally the worst in the league among starting quarterbacks) than to the 10.6 he averaged against the Colts.
We should want to root for Jared Goff and the Rams to become a fantasy-relevant team, but we cannot take a one-game sample as an indication that Sean McVay has completely turned the team around.
One of the first lessons you learn in baseball is never to swing at the first pitch. Wait to see how the Rams and Kupp fare against Washington before leaping aboard the Kupp train. The Rams have an easy early-season schedule, but keep in mind that their end-of-season schedule is daunting for the pass attack. You can get excited about the Rams and Cooper Kupp without putting him on your fantasy team.
That does it for the first week of the Rookie Report. I hope you were able to come away with some perspective on each of these top rookies from Week 1 and on how to evaluate them for your fantasy teams.
I’ll be back next Thursday going over the results from Week 2. Good luck in your games this weekend and I’ll see you on the other side.
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Aidan Mcgrath is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Aidan, check out his archive and follow him @ffaidanmcgrath.