Monday - Jan 21, 2019

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Hey Rookie

Keeper and dynasty leagues notwithstanding, few rookies merit serious consideration on draft day. Those few, however, are well worth a look for exactly two reasons:  first, at least one or two rookies are either studs or at least viable starters every year; second, since they’re totally unproven NFL-wise, they tend to be a relatively cheap buy. In short: upside.

Last year was unique in that no rookie truly dazzled, but several provided enough production to be viable starters.  Led by Knowshon Moreno, who posted modest, but notable totals of about 1,100 total yards and nine touchdowns, while a few others like Chris ‘Beanie’ Wells and LeSean McCoy also made some noise.

You might notice they’re all runningbacks; that’s no accident, as the draftable rookies are almost always runningbacks, with wide receivers and tight ends only occasionally meriting a look. Quarterbacks should almost never be drafted, as it usually takes at least a year or two before they provide even respectable production.  Rookie kickers might occasionally be worth a look, but they’re so unpredictable (and frankly dull) that I won’t address them here.

So, who merits a look this year and how worthy are they? Who are the potential studs? Will a non-runningback like Jermaine Gresham or Dez Bryant make the list? Will Bryant end up taped to a goal post? Let’s get to it.

RYAN MATHEWS, RB,

SAN DIEGO
:
Mathews is almost always the first rookie off the board (or most expensive, for you auction drafters), and rightfully so. He has the ability, supporting cast and opportunity to do big things this year. Even without holdout wide receiver Vincent Jackson, Philip Rivers is a top quarterback who should keep opposing defenses from stacking the box. Still, it’s clear the Chargers desperately want to restore balance to their offense, something that’s been sorely missing since LaDainian Tomlinson fell off a cliff. This translates into a lot of touches for Mathews, who’s also an underrated receiver, ensuring Darren Sproles will remain a mere change-of-pace guy.
Outlook:  Mathews’ value seems to be slightly inflated, going as high as low-end RB1 levels, ahead of guys like Ryan Grant and Cedric Benson. I think that’s a mistake, as his risk-reward indicates clear RB2 value, but no more. Draft him with confidence as such.

JAHVID BEST, RB,

DETROIT
:
The Lions offense might actually be ready to (dare we even think it?) break out this year, as they have highly talented people at most if not all of the so-called “skill” positions. Further, an improved defense will give the offense more chances, and running back Kevin Smith, who wasn’t tearing it up in the first place, is rebounding from a bad ACL injury. Best should therefore have every chance to be the go-to guy. The downside: the Lions’ offensive line is iffy and Best has an injury history … an unappetizing cocktail of risk. And remember: this is the Lions we’re talking about.
Outlook:  Best has perhaps the biggest boom-bust gap of all rookies. He has the talent – and, I daresay, the support – to blow up. He could also tweak an ankle on opening week and end up worthless, or simply be one of the many promising talents somehow absorbed by that mysterious black hole over

Detroit
. His perceived value is well below Mathews’, but varies widely beyond that.  Unless you feel unusually lucky or find yourself desperate for runningbacks, I wouldn’t reach; wait until about the middle of the draft/auction draft equivalent.   

BEN TATE, RB, HOUSTON: Tate is very similar to Montario Hardesty (below), in several ways: he has every chance to win the starting job due to disappointment from runningbacks already in place (Steve Slaton in this case, who was highly disappointing last year and is coming off a serious neck injury to boot), he has decent speed despite being known more as a bruiser and he is a capable receiver, despite not being used much that way in college. Slaton could rebound and force a “1A-1B” situation, but I think Tate is complete enough to take the job outright. 
Outlook: He is almost always a dirt-cheap buy that can be had near the end of the draft, and worth a shot as such.  

C.J. SPILLER, RB, BUFALO: There’s no doubt Spiller has the talent, as the Bills faithful hope he ends the streak of disappointing runningbacks the team has cranked out lately (e.g., Marshawn Lynch, Willis McGahee). Unfortunately, he has nowhere near the supporting cast or opportunity that Mathews or even Best have; despite adding Spiller, the Bills’ offense again looks like a mess. He also has the talented and underrated runningback Fred Jackson (as well as possibly Lynch) to play ‘sharesies’ with.
Outlook: Spiller is also often available late and worth taking a flyer on; just keep in mind that while he has upside, there are too many limitations to expect much more than modest production this year.

MONTARIO HARDESTY, RB, CLEVELAND: Hardesty recently tweaked his knee, something he has a history of. It doesn’t sound serious, but given that history, I’d be very cautious here. That said, Hardesty is still an interesting late-round possibility at your draft(s). True, like Spiller, his offense looks weak and the dreaded runningback by committee tag is a real possibility. But knee injury notwithstanding, I think Hardesty wins the job outright. The Browns didn’t trade up in the second for a part-time guy; it’s clear they don’t think Jerome Harrison is the answer, despite his flurry at the end of the year. Further, he can’t catch; Hardesty can.
Outlook:  If Hardesty can stay healthy – granted, no small if – I think he has a good chance of getting more touches than any rookie not named Mathews. Like Best, I see him as a real boom-or-bust guy. Like Tate and Spiller, he’s typically available late and at least worth gambling on over washed up guys like Tomlinson or never-was guys like Laurence Maroney.

DEZ BRYANT, WR, DALLAS: Despite “Padgate” and his recent injury, welcome the only non-runningback to the list I consider worth a look … barely. He certainly has the talent and supporting cast; his future in

Dallas
is bright. But, rookie wide receivers tend to produce modestly, and he has a lot of sharing to do with Miles Austin, Jason Witten, Roy Williams, and even the likes of Patrick Crayton and Martellus Bennett. He should be able to blow by the last two soon enough, but Williams and company are another story. Couple that with (count ‘em) three capable runningbacks, and his touches look very limited.
Outlook: A fairly deep sleeper who appears to be going way too high in most drafts, often gone by the mid-rounds or sooner. Trust me, there are better buys at that point. If he lasts till late, however, he’s worth a look, especially in leagues that mandate starting three wide receivers.  

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