Time to step up, rook! So many first-year players have heard that in the recent days or weeks from teammates or coaches after the litany of injuries that have, in some instances, left gaping holes in offenses. Time will tell if the messages were received and if those rookies turn opportunity into expanded roles and more production on the field — and fantasy points.
Let’s take a look at some of those rookies who may be ready to roll, while leaving out three obvious choices who have graduated to every-week-starter roles: C.J. Stroud, Bijan Robinson and Puka Nacua. It would be too easy to include these players in this space, so we’re focused on several players who have seen fewer words written about them here.
There’s no need to get into how crushing Justin Jefferson’s hamstring injury and IR stint are going to be for fantasy teams. But it’s a next-man-up league, and the 2021 Fred Biletnikoff Award winner is going to have to jump into an expanded role with the all-world Jefferson rehabbing.
Addison is fourth on the team in routes run with 151, though in Week 5 he was second with 33 (just behind K.J. Osborn’s 40). After seeing nine targets, catching six for 64 yards and a touchdown, it appears that Addison is improving to the point that he could contribute in Jefferson’s absence. Mind you, contributing is far from replacing Jefferson’s tremendous gifts, and Addison now might see the opposition’s top corners more often. Matt Harmon has charted Addison for Reception Perception, and has shown where he’s succeeded and where he needs improvement.
Against the Bears and their pass defense that has given up a league-high 1,476 yards, Addison may have some room to operate this week. He’s a definite start.
Fantasy managers spent plenty of FAB this week to acquire the undrafted free agent from TCU, and it appears there’s potentially a four-week runway for him to get some work. After seeing just nine touches through the first four games of the season, Demercado drew 10 rush attempts for 45 yards and caught one of three targets for 12 yards. He had an 11-yard touchdown run.
All this was after James Conner, just went on IR, got hurt.
Whether Demercado gets the same workload as Conner received through the first four weeks — 71% snap share, according to Fantasy Points Data — is to be determined. It appears that he may be the main option in the backfield early on. Keaontay Ingram has missed the past two games, and was limited in practice on Wednesday (though he is listed as the RB1 on the Cardinals depth chart). Demercado faces a Rams defense that is 20th in the league with 603 rushing yards allowed. If people spent up to nab him, he’s very start-worthy.
Every week it appears there’s a new drum beat for a Chiefs receiver to step forward as the secondary option behind Travis Kelce. Kadarius Toney and Skyy Moore have had their turns in the sun. Fantasy managers are now pleading for more work for Rice, similar to the cries for more targets for Marvin Mims Jr.. Both players may have to wait a while if the starring role is to come.
Rice ran eight routes against the Vikings in Week 5, and earned five targets that he turned into four catches, 33 yards and a score in the third quarter that broke up a tie game. What is tempting for fantasy managers with Rice on their roster is the upcoming schedule for the Chiefs. Before its Week 10 bye, Kansas City faces the Broncos twice, Chargers and Dolphins. All of those pass defenses have been beatable.
It may be inconsistent — even the best receivers have clunkers — but this could be a run where Rice is at least a flex play and/or bye-week fill-in.
The Tulane product scored the first touchdown of his career on a 19-yard end-around play against the Colts last week. That’s a reward for him becoming a bigger part of the offense as the season has gone on. On the season, Spears has logged a snap share of 50.9%, with workhorse Derrick Henry at 56.8%. Where Spears’ role is growing is in the touch count. In the Colts matchup, Spears drew 11 touches, good for 69 combined yards and the score.
This is a very positive sign for Spears to remain a part of the offensive game plan, especially in games where the Titans are in need of passing-game work. On the season, Spears has run more routes than Henry, 69-44, and seen more targets, 19-9. This week in London against a strong Ravens team, there could be more work in the passing game. Spears is a decent flex play, and for the time being the only Titan to start other than Henry and DeAndre Hopkins.
After being added to the point he’s now on 61% of Yahoo Fantasy rosters, McLaughlin has looked like the best back for the Broncos. With De’Von Achane making small, speedy backs more en vogue for the NFL, there might be a place for the undrafted McLaughlin, who ran a 4.44 40-yard dash at his pro day. That speed definitely translated in his first NFL touchdown against the Commanders.
Against the Jets, McLaughlin put up 89 yards and a receiving score on 12 touches to reward those fantasy managers who acquired him.
It gets a little cloudy for Week 6’s game against the Chiefs, however. Javonte Williams does not have an injury designation going into the matchup, so it would appear that he will go back into his lead role in the backfield. But McLaughlin has earned a role, nonetheless. With the Chiefs 10.5-point favorites, it would seem that there will be some garbage time carries that could go the rookie’s way.
Alvin Kamara gave Miller’s progress report after the rookie turned 13 touches into 90 yards in the Saints’ 34-0 dismantling of the Patriots. Kamara is still very much the focal point of this backfield, but is the New England game offering a trend?
The Saints have liked to employ multiple backs in the past, and when I interviewed John Hendrix of Sports Illustrated and Saints News just before training camp, he talked about how this offense was trying to lessen the rushing load on Kamara and employ him more as a hybrid back like his early years. A matchup against the Texans’ No. 24 defense against running backs could mean some meaningful carries for Miller. Travis Etienne Jr., Najee Harris and Zack Moss all put up over 100 total yards against Houston.
When Downs was selected in the NFL Draft, Colts wide receivers coach Reggie Wayne made no secret about Downs being a favorite draft target. Downs has begun to live up to the expectations placed upon him by the Colts’ legend, catching all six targets for 97 yards in Week 5. Both were career highs.
With Anthony Richardson going on IR with a shoulder injury, it’s time to take a look at Downs’ Week 3 production, when Gardner Minshew started in place of Richardson. Downs ran 34 routes, which was third on the team with Michael Pittman Jr. leading the way with 46. Downs led the Colts with 12 targets, so Minshew has already shown trust in the rookie. A trip to Jacksonville is up next, and the Jaguars have allowed 100-yard games to Stefon Diggs (121), Gabe Davis (100) and Tank Dell (145) in the past three weeks.
And do yout think Minshew will want to pass against his old team?
With bye weeks now here, we’re going to take a weekly look at certain rookies who might be able to take steps forward after their teams have a respite. This week, it’s first-round picks Quentin Johnston and Jaxon Smith-Njigba in the spotlight.
Johnston is going into what should be a high-scoring affair on Monday Night Football against the Cowboys. With a 50.5 over/under on the fast track at SoFi Stadium, Johnston is a player to watch as a flex play. Running 21 routes in the first game after Mike Williams’ season-ending injury before the bye, it’s going to be interesting how the Chargers expand Johnston’s role behind Keenan Allen and Josh Palmer.
Smith-Njigba has a high of 34 receiving yards through four games; not exactly an inspiring start. The Seattle passing game as a whole has not started well, with Geno Smith as the QB23 in fantasy points per game. Even with improvement in the passing game, Smith-Njigba is third in the pecking order behind DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. He’s a hold with the hope that his role expands in the back half of the season.