Fantasy Football Rookie Report: Kerryon Johnson, Rashaad Penny, Sam Darnold
Welcome to Rookie Report, a weekly column I’ll be writing covering the best (and worst) of rookies in the NFL, complete with analysis of what it means for your fantasy team.
I’m starting off the season taking a look at the preseason. While some of the big rookies (Saquon Barkley, Josh Rosen, Rashaad Penny) didn’t see much of the field this preseason, there was enough action from other guys to project how their 2018 fantasy seasons may go.
Below, as I’ll be doing every week, there are three guys whose stocks went up during the preseason, and three whose stock dropped. Expect to see different names in this column every week, complete with advice on what to do with each player as the season rolls on.
Sam Darnold (QB – NYJ)
Out of the five quarterbacks selected in the first round of this year’s draft, Darnold will likely be the only one to take the field in Week 1 (barring any injuries). He performed so well in the preseason that the Jets elected to name him the starter, and shipped presumptive backup Teddy Bridgewater off to New Orleans. Darnold didn’t blow anyone away with his stats – he completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 244 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception – but he displayed poise, accuracy and mobility throughout the preseason. He’s not worth rostering in redraft fantasy leagues at this point, but keep an eye on Darnold and his weapons as the year goes on.
Kerryon Johnson (RB – DET)
All the focus was on Barkley this offseason in terms of the rookie running back class, but by the time the year is over, Johnson could very well be the starter in Detroit and an impact player for fantasy. He displayed breakaway speed throughout training camp and the preseason, and could finally be the consistent running back the Lions have been searching for for years. He appeared in three preseason games, averaging 4.53 yards per carry (not including a 57-yard touchdown that was called back on a penalty). He also caught five passes for 43 yards, showing that he could work his way into the passing game, as well. Johnson’s average draft position has skyrocketed and is now being drafted No. 62 overall, according to our ADP rankings, which is a perfect spot for him. I’d rather have him than any other rookie running back not named “Saquon.”
The Packers Defense
OK, I know this seems ridiculous on the surface, and I never give fantasy defenses the time of day, but the Packers’ rookies on defense were so good this preseason I can’t leave them out. Green Bay’s defense is currently owned in only 30 percent of Yahoo! Leagues, making it a great streaming option going forward. The team’s obvious weakness was in the secondary last year, and the team addressed that in the draft, which so far is paying off. Jaire Alexander (a first-rounder out of Louisville) had one interception and showed he can be a difference-maker.
Josh Jackson (a second-rounder from Iowa) had one pick-six, and a second one that was called back. This young talent could cause a lot of turnovers, which means a lot of fantasy points.
Rashaad Penny (RB – SEA)
As soon as Penny was drafted by the Seahawks late in the first round, nearly everyone assumed this meant he was a lock to be the starter in Seattle. But Chris Carson wrestled the job away from him and figures to be the starter in the early part of the season. Carson averaged 4.1 yards on 22 carries and had a 27-yard touchdown in Week 2 of the preseason that was called back due to a penalty that didn’t affect the play. Meanwhile, Penny broke a finger, missed the last two weeks of the preseason entirely, and is listed as the backup on Seattle’s first unofficial depth chart. Penny went from being the second rookie running back off fantasy draft boards to being behind the likes of Johnson and Sony Michele in New England.
Nick Chubb (RB – CLE)
Similar to Penny, everyone assumed that the Browns were taking Chubb in the early part of the second round of the draft to take over the starting job, despite the fact that Cleveland had signed Carlos Hyde in free agency. But during training camp and the preseason, it was clear that the Browns see Hyde as their starter. Hyde was the one who would play with Tyrod Taylor and the other offensive starters and then immediately went off the field, a clear sign that there was no competition for the starting job. Chubb also wasn’t particularly impressive with his touches (although he was playing behind second- and third-string offensive linemen), averaging 2.8 yards per carry and scoring one touchdown. Meanwhile, Hyde averaged 6.75 yards per carry and scored twice.
Ronald Jones II (RB – TB)
And thus completes the trifecta of disappointing rookie running backs. Jones, at one point, was sniffing a draft slot in the sixth and seventh rounds. Now, his ADP has him barely inside the top 100 overall. He is already buried on the Bucs’ depth chart, being slated behind Peyton Barber and Jacquizz Rodgers. Jones appeared in three games, carrying the ball 22 times for just 29 yards and a touchdown. He also struggled mightily in the passing game, which led to Rodgers becoming more involved. The USC product has a long way to go now before he has a meaningful role in this offense.