Austin is the king of the five-yard catch this year.
Not every NFL draft produces tons of fantasy football superstars. Even the big-time talents taken in the first round are no sure things to prosper.
This year’s first-round draft class has been nowhere near the dominant fantasy force last year’s crop was. Washington’s Robert Griffin III, Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin and Cleveland’s Trent Richardson all helped fantasy owners immensely. Their impact was immediate.
But that has not been the case with the first-round skill position players this year. These highly touted rookies have been average at best and in some cases have been fantasy failures.
Here are the fantasy grades for five first-rounders from this year’s NFL Draft:
Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams (WR)
Here is the question many fantasy owners, football experts and NFL fans are asking: How is one of the fastest players in football only averaging 6.7 yards per catch?
Blame Austin for going to the Chad Ochocinco School of How to Not Grasp a Playbook. Blame St. Louis for turning him into the poor man’s Julian Edelman and not designing more plays to get him downfield or out in space. No matter who is at fault, the fact remains that Austin has been a fantasy bust.
You cannot teach sprinter speed or game-breaking ability. Austin has both in spades. There were reasons NFL general managers were tripping over themselves to trade up in the first round to draft him back in April, right?
So a lack of talent is not the reason why Austin has just 31 receptions for 207 yards and two touchdowns and has been utterly worthless fantasy-wise over the past two months.
Hopefully this slow start to Austin’s career is an anomaly and not an omen. Hopefully over the second half of the season he becomes more involved in the offense, but without Sam Bradford passing to him, Austin’s fantasy value should continue to be barely above zero.
Final grade: F
EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills (QB)
The Florida State product has shown flashes of brilliance when he has been on the field. Keeping Manuel on the field has been harder than keeping Dez Bryant calm on the sidelines, though.
A preseason knee injury slowed Manuel down at the start of the season, and a second knee injury has now forced him to miss Buffalo’s last four games. This causes the fantasy jury to still be out on Manuel because we have just not seen enough of him yet.
Manuel failed to throw for 200 yards in three of the five games he suited up for, and only once did he have more than one touchdown, so he has not been a fantasy god by any means. But he has not killed fantasy owners with turnovers like fellow rookie QB Geno Smith has. Manuel only threw three interceptions in his five contests.
Manuel might return as soon as this weekend. It will be interesting to see how he fares when Buffalo’s wintry weather plays havoc with his passes. He cannot be regarded as any better than a No. 2 QB on any fantasy roster at this time with what we have seen up to this point.
Manuel has a bright future ahead, but his impact in fantasy leagues this year has been minimal at best. Fantasy owners who drafted him thinking he would have a rookie campaign like RG3, Luck or Seattle’s Russell Wilson had last year are surely disappointed.
Final grade: C
Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals (TE)
Eifert is athletic and has a lot of ability. The problem fantasy-wise is that he is not even the top tight end on his own team, so it is difficult for the No. 2 tight end on any squad to have any fantasy impact except for the occasional exception like when New England trotted out Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez before the latter went to jail.
Eifert has 27 receptions for 307 yards and one touchdown. He has not had more than five catches in a game and has only been targeted more than five times one time. Since he is arguably the sixth-best option in Cincinnati’s passing attack, it is almost amazing he has put up the numbers he has.
Eifert cannot be counted on for much more production this year unless Jermaine Gresham misses games due to injury. But in dynasty leagues Eifert can be thought of as a keeper since he has the potential to be a 65-reception, 800-yard, six-TD player down the road.
Final grade: C-
DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans (WR)
Houston has finally found a No. 2 receiver to help limit the double-teams that superstar Andre Johnson has to fight through every weekend.
The speedy Hopkins has 31 receptions for 470 yards and a pair of touchdowns through the first half of the season. For those of you at home who are as good with math as Darren McFadden is at staying healthy, that means Hopkins is on pace to finish with 940 yards and four scores.
The trouble is Houston is still Johnson’s team. And because the Texans still balance their offense with plenty of Arian Foster and Ben Tate runs, that does not leave many targets for Hopkins after Johnson gets his.
Hopkins only has 13 catches over Houston’s last five games, due primarily to him being targeted less than five times per week. He was being thrown to more often earlier in the season when Johnson was banged up, but now with Johnson rounding into Pro Bowl form (229 yards and three TD in Houston’s last game), Hopkins has been reduced to ignore-unless-needed status.
Hopkins has all the tools to become a 1,200-yard receiver who can score six to eight touchdowns a season. And Johnson has a checkered injury history that could eventually open the door for more targets and touchdowns for Hopkins. For now, though, Hopkins is a backup receiver in regular fantasy league or a No. 2 WR in deeper leagues.
Final grade: B
Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings (WR)
Patterson is a flat-out burner with raw talent that is unmatched by most young receivers. He is leading the NFL with 35.2 yards per kickoff return thanks to two long touchdowns, so his breakaway speed and big-play ability have been evident.
Minnesota is not the team to be with right now if you are a wide receiver, however. Just ask Greg Jennings. The combination of Adrian Peterson needing his carries and the Vikings’ three quarterbacks all throwing dying quails into the ground or floaters out of bounds is not good for any pass-catcher, let alone a rookie receiver.
Patterson has not had a 50-yard receiving game yet this season and only caught his first touchdown pass this past Thursday night. Veterans Jennings and Jerome Simpson have gotten more looks from Vikings quarterbacks, as have Minnesota’s tight ends.
The good news is Patterson is getting targeted more and more each week. He has been targeted 17 times over Minnesota’s past four games. He was only thrown at 11 times in his first five contests. While that is progress, it is not enough opportunities to make him effective for fantasy.
But with the aforementioned Simpson possibly missing games due to his recent DUI arrest, even more passes could be headed Patterson’s way. He could be a fantasy sleeper down the stretch.
Final grade: D