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Rookie Round Up

I know how you feel. You took a player in the first round of a fantasy draft and it didn’t work out. You now spend the rest of the season looking at all the better value that went after you selected. It’s a really crummy feeling. But take how you feel, times it by about 600 billion, and you can get a feel for how NFL clubs are feeling right now. Take some time and look back at some past NFL drafts and I guarantee you’ll start to feel a little better.

Let’s leave the obvious Ryan Leaf examples aside and take a peek at a few not so notable ones: The New England Patriots took Terry Glenn in the draft when Marvin Harrison was still available, Maurice Jones-Drew wears No. 32 to remind everyone that’s how many teams skipped over him on draft day, the San Francisco 49ers took Alex Smith about 20 spots ahead of where Aaron Rodgers went, and (one of my favorites) the Atlanta Falcons traded Brett Favre in 1994 because he was an injury concern. When it comes to this year’s draft class, the jury is still out. You never know when someone will hit their stride and start to pick things up. It’s taken about two seasons for Darren McFadden to round into form, Cedric Benson never reached his potential the entire time he was with Chicago, and Jonathan Stewart is still waiting to supplant DeAngelo Williams in Carolina. It’s impossible to predict someone’s career by their first season. But, it does offer a small window to peek through to see what could come.

Here’s a five player positional breakdown on rookie values so far. Many leagues are now keeper formats, and many of those take rookies into consideration. We’ve seen a lot of good stuff from some and a lot mistakes out of others. In some cases, they haven’t even seen the field and their values have been affected. Here’s my impressions so far based solely on what I’ve seen in the first five weeks.

Quarterback

Sam Bradford, St. Louis

One word, WOW! I haven’t been this impressed with a rookie quarterback since Matt Ryan took over for the Falcons. He’s not posting record-breaking numbers, but he’s being effective with a group of no-name wide receivers. The Rams long for the days where Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce would stretch the field on each play. But those days are gone, and the Rams now have Danny Amendola and Laurent Robinson running the routes. Bradford looks like he’s worth the first pick billing and if the Rams can get a wide receiver, either via free agency or the draft, Bradford could turn into an elite quarterback in the league. Especially when you take the division he plays in into consideration.  

Rookie Five Game Grade – A+

Jimmy Clausen, Carolina

One word, BOO! No one was higher on Clausen coming out of Notre Dame than this guy. He had the best starting situation out of any of the drafted quarterbacks. He gets to come into a revamped offensive line, two stud running backs and one of the best wide receivers in the game. And how does Clausen respond? He face plants on almost every opportunity he’s been given. I know that Steve Smith is out with a sore ankle, but did you see their chemistry before the injury? I actually thought that Smith was going to jump down Clausen’s throat and then punch his way out. And please, don’t use the wide receiver corps as an excuse for the lack of production. Are you telling me that Amendola and Robinson are tremendous upgrades over Smith and Brandon LaFell? I understand that rookie quarterbacks are kind of expected to stink it up their first year. But, by stink it up, I think we mean more of a Mark Sanchez-ish style of play. You know, like Matthew Stafford did. Throwing for more interceptions than touchdowns, but the yardage is there and you can see the potential. There is nothing Stafford/Sanchez-ish so far from Clausen. If you took Clausen in a rookie keeper league, you’re in trouble. Smith isn’t getting any younger and the Panthers are going to lose one of those running backs to another team as early as next season.

Rookie Five Game Grade – F

Tim Tebow, Denver

Is it possible to lose value when you haven’t even started a game yet? The answer is yes. Not that Tebow has done anything wrong. The problem is that Kyle Orton has done everything right. Orton handled the drafting of Tebow and the trade for Brady Quinn very professionally. Then he comes out and places in the top of the NFL in passing yards. Orton has turned Brandon Lloyd into a fantasy freak. I have a hard time seeing Orton not being in Denver in the long term. It seems like it was supposed to be a one-year band-aid but he could turn into a franchise player. Now, it is true that coach Josh McDaniels does what he wants to do, and has traded away better quarterbacking talent from that very team before. But to argue that Tebow would improve on Orton’s numbers would be foolish. The Tebow project may take a few more years than expected before it’s ready for the grand opening.

Rookie Five Game Grade – D+

Colt McCoy, Cleveland

Perhaps this entry would be best suited to be done next week, but I’ll go ahead anyway. Even if McCoy is the best quarterback from the 2010 class, his situation is the worst. Though the Browns do have a decent running game with Peyton Hillis, their receiver group is terrible. Joshua Cribbs needs to have his role reversed in Cleveland for McCoy to have any relevance. This means that Cribbs needs to go from a great returner and an average receiver, to an average returner and a great receiver. And that doesn’t seem terribly likely. McCoy could eventually be a very productive NFL signal caller, but until he has someone to throw to, he won’t impress.

Rookie Five Game Grade – D

Max Hall/John Skelton, Arizona

Both of these rookie quarterbacks have everything working in their favor. They have a solid running game supporting them in Chris ‘Beanie’ Wells and Tim Hightower, both the quarterbacks in front of them fizzled out, Ken Whisenhunt is an offensive wizard and Steve Breaston with Larry Fitzgerald is one of the better receiving tandems in the league. Both will most likely have a small shot at the starting spot, but one thing stands in their way. I have a gut feeling that the Cardinals will finish in the bottom of the league at year’s end. This would translate into an early draft pick, which will most likely be used on a big rookie quarterback. I’ve got two big questions for you to keep in mind. Question one: Do you really think that Hall or Skelton can achieve in an offense that has eaten up and spit out Matt Leinart and Derek Anderson? Question two: Can you say “Jake Locker?”

Rookie Five Game Grade – F

Running Back

Ryan Mathews, San Diego

Don’t get nervous, yet. Injuries in the beginning of the season have kind of limited what we were expecting from him. One thing that owners should be excited about is that he is such a big part of their future that they are babying him a little. That’s OK to see as a rookie, but you better hope that doesn’t continue later on down the road. The last thing that any owner wants to see is a running back by committee formed with Matt Tolbert. Mathews has shown flashes of potential, and as a rookie that’s all we can really ask for. Anyone who took Mathews in the same crowd as Peyton Manning during draft day, you get what you deserve. Don’t plan your team now based on a rookie’s production. The recent signing of the Chargers’ disgruntled offensive tackle makes things better. Now you just need Philip Rivers to pump the brakes a little bit so Mathews has a chance to run.

Rookie Five Game Grade – C

Jahvid Best, Detroit

Say it. I know you want to. Best is the second-best running back talent-wise in the history of the Detroit Lions behind only Barry Sanders. This guy is the real deal. He can burn you for 100 yards rushing or 100 yards receiving. A lot of similarities exist between him and Matt Forte. The only issue that has been brought up so far is his durability. It really hasn’t been that big of a deal so far, but again we’re only a third of the way into the season. If Best can hold up for an entire pro year without injury, his value will get even higher next season. If (and believe me these are four big ifs); Calvin Johnson stays healthy to draw coverage; Matthew Stafford stays healthy to provide efficient play; Brandon Pettigrew stays healthy to take some dump off passes; and Best proves to be effective and durable, then the Lions could have one of the most talented, yet young offenses in all of football. But given Best’s turf toe, Johnson’s shoulder injury, and Stafford’s shoulder injury all of this will have to wait until next year. But Best’s play has been great so far, even with Shaun Hill.

Rookie Five Game Grade -A-

C.J. Spiller, Buffalo

Two things point to how great Spiller really is. The first point is his lofty draft position. Buffalo had two starting running backs and zero starting quarterbacks and still went with Spiller. Secondly, once Spiller showed exactly what he’s capable of the Bills sat him to showcase Marshawn Lynch, and then moved Lynch across the country. Have you seen this guy make a play? It’s like Reggie Bush after a dozen Red Bulls. The only road block is that of Fred Jackson. These speedy, elusive backs have a history of getting dinged up, so Jackson will be kept on to keep Spiller fresh. Regardless, Spiller is a game-changing back. He’s one of these players that only need to touch the ball once to make something happen, and now between being a bigger part of the running game and the return game, he’ll have about 20 chances a game to breakout.

Rookie Five Game Grade – B+

Montario Hardesty, Cleveland

A season-ending knee injury isn’t good for anyone’s value. But to top it all off, Peyton Hillis is becoming a featured back. I’m not sure if Hillis put something into James Davis’ and Hardesty’s food, or if he convinced the Browns that Jerome Harrison was a fluke, but he’s worked his way up from the No. 4 back on the roster to one of the better backs in the league. In a best case scenario for Hardesty, he bounces back Wes Welker style and returns to his previous form. Even in this best case scenario, his job may not be there. Hardesty had a chance to be the feature back on the team, and now has to work his way into a running back by committee. How much do you think that Josh McDaniels is regretting moving Hillis right about now? Hardesty isn’t completely out of it yet because he’s so early in his career that he can bounce back. But looking at the immediate future, this year is obviously shot and next year looks like 50-50 split. We’ll have to wait and see how this one plays out.

Rookie Five Game Grade – F+

Toby Gerhart, Minnesota

Well, he didn’t exactly pick up where Chester Taylor left off. It’s also worth noting that he hasn’t been given any real shot on a goal line attempt either. Adrian Peterson seems to be the do it all back for the Vikings. He’s one of the leading receivers, he’s the leading rusher, he’s the goal line back and he’s attempting to pick up the blitz. Luckily we don’t get fantasy points for that last one, because Peterson is terrible at it. Gerhart is a bigger body and may be used more on passing plays to help take pressure off of Brett Favre. He’s not a true receiving back though, so his value is extremely limited. The only way that Gerhart is worth a look is if Peterson misses any considerable time. That will remain true for both this year and moving forward.

Rookie Five Game Grade – F

Wide Receiver

Dez Bryant, Dallas

Everyone was excited when the Cowboys selected Bryant in the first round. Well, everyone but Roy Williams. Dallas may have unintentionally woke Williams from his production slumber and returned him to fantasy relevance. We really haven’t seen Tony Romo look for Bryant too often due to the effectiveness of Miles Austin and Williams. Romo’s security blanket is Jason Witten, so Romo has to go through three reads before even trying to find Bryant. Now that Austin is under a long-term deal, you have two wide receivers ahead of Bryant on the depth chart for the next five years or so. Sadly, Bryant’s expected role of a No. 2 split out receiver could be reduced to a slot receiver role. The talent is there and he’s been working through injuries, but the roster is working against him. Williams will need to return to hibernation in order for Bryant to have full value. Bryant does have added value in leagues that reward for return points.

Rookie Five Game Grade – C

Demaryius Thomas, Denver

I thought Jahvid Best was the injury risk coming out of the draft, but it’s Thomas that has had some serious issues so far this season. He initially broke his foot, had screws put in, and then needed the surgery redone. Once he finally got on the field, he had a great day with about 100 yards and a score. Then he gets smashed returning a kickoff. Thomas is a big, fast wide receiver who was brought in to replace Brandon Marshall. So far the one replacing Marshall is Brandon Lloyd. It’s far too early in his career to label him injury prone. The foot problem was an issue that the Broncos were aware of before drafting him. Once healthy and on the field on a consistent basis, expect Kyle Orton to find him often. Jabar Gaffney isn’t chipping away at his future job so he’ll have a shot to bounce back this year and perform at a higher level next year.

Rookie Five Game Grade – C-

Arrelious Benn, Tampa Bay

This guy had enough talent that he was a borderline first round pick in the NFL draft. He’s got great size and all the opportunity in the world to perform. The only knock is that he either hasn’t adjusted to the pro speed yet or possibly he hasn’t established chemistry with Josh Freeman. I love what Tampa Bay has done over the past few seasons. They went from a Jeff Garcia and Joey Galloway-led offense to a young yet productive offense. The ground game is good enough to get by, but in order to make a jump offensively either Carnell ‘Cadillac’ Williams needs to return to form or the Buccaneers have to invest in someone else. Hypothetically, let’s plug Mark Ingram into that offense. You would now have a first-round tight end in Kellen Winslow, a first-round quarterback in Josh Freeman, a first-round back in Ingram, and Benn and Mike Williams starting at receiver. They seem like the poor man’s Lions right now in terms of “big names” roster wise, but they are being more effective with the formula. In terms of Benn himself, he has fallen from the No. 1 receiver to the No. 2 and risks falling behind Winslow completely and becoming the third option. His talent is there, but he needs to focus more and pick up the pro pace in order to maintain his value.

Rookie Five Game Grade – D+

Mike Williams, Tampa Bay

This fourth-round pick with first round talent is a distraction just like people thought he would be. First off, he was one of the first rookies to sign in order to begin practicing and gain chemistry with his offense. Second, he performs at such a high level during training camp that he moves from the bottom portion of the depth chart to the No. 1 option at the position. Third, he walks into the sixth game of the regular season with numbers almost equal to Calvin Johnson. Boy, did scouts have this one pegged. Williams has done nothing but impress since being drafted. He leads his team in targets and receptions and has an obvious chemistry with Josh Freeman. His three touchdowns in four starts are hard to ignore as well. One thing to be aware of is that history tends to repeat itself. But, if Williams is done with all the juvenile stuff that got him in trouble in college then the Buccaneers may have gotten the steal of the draft. His value only continues to rise due to his gaining experience along with the maturing offense. His raw skills are easy to see, but so is his lack of focus. Dropped balls and fumbles are mind lapses that he needs to get a handle on. Once he fully gets a grip on the NFL routine he could be a very productive receiver for a long time.

Rookie Five Game Grade – B+

Jordan Shipley, Cincinnati

Let’s face it, this wasn’t exactly the deepest wide receiver class we’ve ever seen drafted. Regardless, Shipley did have high expectations coming in. With Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens drawing coverage, it was believed that Shipley would be able to chew up the middle of the field. That hasn’t been the case yet. It’s most likely due to Carson Palmer’s inability to establish himself this season. It also doesn’t help that Jordan got demolished on a rough (perhaps even illegal) hit. Whatever the reason is, the situation may get a lot worse before it gets better. Owens and Ochocinco are on the outs of their respective careers while Palmer may not last through the season. Hopefully the Bengals are smart enough to replace the position and don’t end up like the Arizona Cardinals. But if the Bengals do try to make it through with table scraps like the Cardinals tried to this year, then next season for Shipley could mirror this season for Steve Breaston.

Rookie Five Game Grade – D-

All of these grades are based on what we have seen so far and trying to establish potential value for the long term. Leagues that have rookies factored in add a tremendous amount of different strategy. Do you draft a rookie to try to win now like Ryan Mathews or wait for a player to mature like Tim Tebow? It all depends on how long you get to keep that rookie for and how much roster space you have. To those who took Mathews in hopes of selecting a win now and win later running back, you may have to just win later. Can Jimmy Clausen bounce back and become an elite quarterback? Absolutely he can. But going on what we have seen so far the probability of that happening is smaller now. But if the Panthers move DeAngelo Williams and pick up an elite wide receiver, he could recover just fine.

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