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The Rookie Report: Week 17

Welcome, everyone, to the Week 17 installment to the 2008 Rookie Report. Each week during the season, the report will cover trends, news items and analysis of notable performances by the NFL’s 2008 rookie class to assist in your pursuit of dynasty championship gold.

As we approach the final week of the 2008 season, this week’s edition of the rookie report will look back at the trends of the year by position. So sit back and let’s begin ….

Quarterbacks

In 2008, both Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco started all of the games for their respective teams and performed above expectations for rookies. The quarterback position has the largest learning curve at the professional level, and both Ryan and Flacco were surprisingly consistent for much of the season. With two rookie starting quarterbacks playing so well, it has been a very unusual year in the fantasy world.

Ryan has thrown for 3,280 yards, 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions to-date thi season. These numbers have made him a quality QB2 option this season for fantasy owners. With a strong running game, another year to develop rapport with his receivers and a full offseason workout program, Ryan’s prospects for 2009 and beyond are very bright for his fantasy owners. It would not surprise me to see him in the Top 10 at the quarterback position in 2009.

Flacco also benefitted from a strong running game in 2008, which helped him throw for 2,674 yards and score 16 touchdowns. Flacco is ranked in the 18-20 range at his position in most standard scoring leagues. I was a doubter of Flacco adapting quickly from a small pass-happy system at

Delaware to the NFL, but his strong play has silenced most of his critics in 2008. In the immediate future, I still believe as long as

Baltimore‘s defense remains as strong as it is now, the Ravens will continue to be a run-first team, setting up Flacco to be more of a consistent game manager on most days. Fantasy wise in 2009 and beyond, Flacco should remain a solid QB2 option, especially if

Baltimore ever adds a consistent viable receiving threat to replace the aging Derrick Mason.

Running Backs

Every year, there are typically a handful of rookie running backs that excel in their first year as a NFL player. This year was no exception as the 2008 rookie class might have been one of the best in recent memory at the running back position.

In leagues that reward points per reception, the 2008 running back class had three players ranked within the Top 10 at the position: Matt Forte (second pending Monday Night’s Game), Steve Slaton (seventh) and Chris Johnson (ninth). All three backs ended up in offensive systems complemented their respective running styles. Forte’s great hands and shifty running ability between the tackles gave the Bears a consistent weapon that Cedric Benson could not provide in prior years. Going into Monday’s game, Forte currently has 1,539 total yards, 58 receptions and 11 touchdowns.

Slaton’s explosiveness returned after a lackluster senior year in college. As the season went on, Slaton carved out a bigger role in each game and displayed his ability to find cutback lanes and explode down the field for big gains. The Texans’ young offense should continue to improve this offseason and will likely bring in a complementary back to keep Slaton fresh in 2009.

Much like Slaton, Johnson’s explosiveness has been off the charts. After wasting a pick on Chris Henry, the Titans finally found their guy in 2008. Chris Johnson has proven he can do it all in his rookie year and will continue to be a force in the future.

In 2008, there were also two other rookie backs in the Top 30 at the running back position. Kevin Smith was a somewhat inconsistent RB2/RB3 in 2008 for an awful Lions team. While he still has a lot to prove, if given the opportunity and if the Lions’ defense ever improves, Smith looks like he could be a solid back in the future.

The Cardinals’ Tim Hightower also is in the Top 30 at the running back position in most PPR leagues. The Cardinals pass-intensive offense hurt Hightower’s value in 2008 along with a weak run blocking offensive line. Hightower showed his crushing style that resembles Marion Barber in the first half of the season and he is definitely a candidate for a breakout 2009 season if the Cardinals ever find the right mix on offense and improve their offensive line.

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Wide Receivers

Much like the quarterback position, wide receivers typically take a little bit longer to develop in the NFL into consistent weapons. In 2008, the Broncos’ Eddie Royal and Eagles’ DeSean Jackson were the lone breakout rookie wideouts in 2008. Both of these players were significantly more valuable in points per reception leagues than non-PPR.

Going into Week 17, Royal has 80 catches for 904 receiving yards along with five receiving touchdowns. Given his shifty style, Royal is a great complement to Brandon Marshall in the middle of the field. With a young quarterback in Jay Cutler to grow with, Royal will likely be a Top 15-20 receiver in PPR formats in 2009.

Jackson is ranked in the Top 30 at the wideout position to-date in 2008 in PPR leagues. He has been a consistent threat for Donovan McNabb in the middle of the field; however, seems to disappear around the end zone. With speculation involving McNabb’s future with the Eagles this offseason swirling,

Jackson‘s value could take a hit if Kevin Kolb takes over as the starting quarterback. This is yet another thing to watch this offseason.

Tight Ends

Similar to wide receivers, the tight end position had two fantasy worthy players emerge in 2008. Seahawks TE John Carlson was one of the few consistent receiving threats for

Seattle. He has shown off his good hands and ability to find separation from defenders throughout the season. Through Week 16, Carlson ranks seventh overall at the tight end position in leagues that are PPR with 53 catches for 613 yards and five touchdowns. It is difficult to get a gauge on how Carlson will do in the future with so many injuries at WR for

Seattle in 2008; however, based on this year’s performance, he has earned a consistent role in their offense and should continue to produce decent fantasy numbers.

TE Dustin Keller emerged onto the fantasy scene mid-season after earning the trust of quarterback Brett Favre. Keller remained somewhat inconsistent throughout the year, but ended up with 46 receptions for 511 yards and three scores. Keller’s skills as a receiver and quickness gives the Jets plenty of options to use him all over the field in the future. He still needs to improve on his ability to block to become a more consistent every-down player though.

Well that wraps up this week’s edition of the Rookie Report. If you have any comments on this week’s article, please see the Article Discussions forum in the Shark Tank.

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