Talk about value: For the second year in a row, we’re seeing a slew of rookies produce solid fantasy numbers on a consistent basis.
The best thing about rookies is that they come at a cheap price in August because they have no NFL track record heading into the season. As we learned last year with owners who drafted running backs Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, and Steve Slaton—not to mention Adrian Peterson in his 2007 rookie explosion—evaluating the right players, coaches, and schemes heading into your fantasy draft could lead to a big payday in December.
Three rookie running backs, as well as three rookie wideouts, are currently ranked in the top 35 in fantasy scoring this season. None of the running backs (Knowshon Moreno, LeSean McCoy, Beanie Wells) started for their respective teams at the beginning of the season, and all of the wide receivers (Percy Harvin, Jeremy Maclin, Hakeem Nicks) are playing either second or third fiddle to established veterans.
Let’s take a look at some of the key rookie performances of Week 11:
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford had the best game of his young career as the rookie out of Georgia completed 26-43 passes for 422 yards and five touchdowns, with two interceptions, for a QB rating of 112.7. More importantly, the Lions beat the Browns 38-37 for their second win of the season
In the same game, Stafford’s former Georgia teammate and current Cleveland receiver Mohamed Massaquoi hauled in five passes for 115 yards and one touchdown—the first of his career—on 12 targets while Stafford’s current teammate, tight end Brandon Pettigrew , caught six balls for 72 yards and one score.
Speaking of career firsts, San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree scored his first NFL touchdown in the Niners’ 30-24 loss at Green Bay. Crabtree finished with four receptions for 77 yards on six targets.
The aforementioned top rookie wideouts—Percy Harvin, Jeremy Maclin, and Hakeem Nicks —all posted solid fantasy numbers. Harvin caught five passes for 79 yards and a touchdown in Minnesota’s 35-9 win over the Seattle Seahawks, Maclin hauled in six passes for 64 yards on nine targets in Philly’s 24-20 win over the Chicago Bears, and Nicks racked up 65 yards on five receptions with seven targets in Big Blue’s 34-31 win over Atlanta. Notice how all three of these guys came away with victories on Sunday?
While the receivers put together another fine weekend, the running backs were busy making their own splash as well. Knowshon Moreno (the third rookie from Georgia mentioned so far) rushed for 80 yards on 10 carries in Denver’s 32-3 loss to the Chargers while LeSean McCoy carried the rock 20 times for 99 yards and a score. Former Ohio State standout Beanie Wells was at it again, picking up 85 total yards on 16 touches with one touchdown in Arizona’s 21-13 victory at St. Louis.
Finally, Bengals backup Bernard Scott stepped in admirably for the injured Cedric Benson as the sixth-round draft pick out of Abilene Christian (the same school that produced Bears rookie wideout Johnny Knox) rushed for 119 yards on 21 carries while adding 32 yards on three receptions in Cincy’s 20-17 loss at Oakland. Larry Johnson may have to wait in line to get some carries as Scott was one of the lone bright spots in the Bengals’ humiliating defeat.
Speaking of rookie running backs…
I had a hot debate with some of you heading into the 2009 season about which rookie rusher would have the better fantasy season, Wells or Moreno. I went with Moreno, who currently holds a slight 75-70 lead in standard-scoring formats. In PPR leagues, Moreno leads 89-78, but don’t look now because McCoy checks in with 95 points in PPR leagues and 72 points in standard-scoring formats.
Despite the fact Moreno has led Wells the entire season, Beanie looks to be the better choice at this point as the bruising running back has been getting more touches as of late, not to mention the fact that he’s scored three touchdowns in his last two games while Moreno’s Broncos have dropped four straight games and are spiraling down the drain.
MBP Award (Most Beastly Performance)
Matthew Stafford, Quarterback, Detroit Lions: I mentioned him above so we’ll keep this short and sweet. I don’t care if it came against Cleveland, the rookie delivered Lions fans their second win of the season and threw for 422 yards and five touchdowns in the process. Great game, Matt.
Players on the rise
The New York Giants offense: After losing four straight games, the G-Men came off their much-needed bye week in a big way, taking down the Atlanta Falcons 34-31 in a very important NFC showdown. More important, the offense finally got clicking with several solid performances at the Meadowlands:
Eli Manning: 25-39 for 384 yards, three touchdowns, one interception
Mario Manningham: Six receptions for 126 yards on 10 targets
Steve Smith: Four receptions for 79 yards on eight targets
Kevin Boss: Five receptions for 76 yards and two touchdowns on eight targets
Brandon Jacobs: 52 total yards on 14 touches with one touchdown
Owners are advised to be cautious with this group as the Giants have a very difficult schedule to close out their season. After traveling to Denver to play the Broncos on Thanksgiving, Big Blue’s final five games are against Dallas, Philadelphia, at Washington, Carolina and at Minnesota.
Remember, the win over Atlanta was impressive, but the Falcons rank 29th in the NFL against the pass (253.4 yards per game) and are a miserable 1-5 on the road.
Chris Chambers, Wide Receiver, Kansas City Chiefs: The Chargers must be thrilled to see Chambers thriving in Kansas City after producing close to nothing for the better part of four years in southern California. The former Wisconsin Badger was at it again, hauling in four passes on six targets for 119 yards. He now has 249 yards on 10 catches and two touchdowns in three games since being acquired by the Chiefs. The good news is that Chambers has produced more receptions, yards, and touchdowns in three games with the Chiefs than he did in his last seven with the Chargers.
Jason Snelling, Running Back, Atlanta Falcons: Turner owners who were lucky enough to land Snelling as an insurance policy were treated to a hell of a performance at New York as the relatively unknown rusher carried the rock 25 times for 76 yards and two touchdowns. Snelling now has three touchdowns on the season and is averaging 4.2 yards per carry.
Recommendation: If you have some depth at the running back position, put Snelling on the open market and see if there are any takers after his two-touchdown performance. After hosting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this weekend, the Falcons take on the Eagles, Saints and Jets.
LaDainian Tomlinson, Running Back, San Diego Chargers: I mentioned LT last week so I’ll keep this brief. All you need to know is this: Tomlinson has five touchdowns in his last four games and has games against Kansas City and at Cleveland coming up.
Steve Smith, Wide Receiver, Carolina Panthers: Check out the comparison below and you’ll know exactly what I’m getting at:
First six games: 27 receptions for 388 yards and zero touchdowns
Last four games: 18 receptions for 211 yards and four touchdowns
Falling down the boards…
Pittsburgh Steelers offense: Don’t push the panic button just yet, but the value of Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Heath Miller, and Rashard Mendenhall could be taking a hit if Pittsburgh doesn’t get some positive quarterback news in the next few days. Backup QB Charlie Batch is out for six weeks with a wrist injury he suffered after filling in for starter Ben Roethlisberger, who left Sunday’s loss at Kansas City after taking a knee to the head.
The Steelers have already reached out to free-agent quarterback Jeff Garcia. We’ll keep you in the loop.
Big-name wide receivers: The following three names have been coming up short lately:
Vincent Jackson: The least alarming of the three, Jackson has caught just five passes for 66 yards with no touchdowns in his last two games.
Marques Colston: Another lackluster week from the Saints’ top wideout as Colston has hauled in only eight passes for 136 yards and no touchdowns in his last three outings.
Roddy White: White has also been held out of the end zone over the past three weeks while catching just 14 passes for 170 yards.
Cadillac Williams, Running Back, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Williams has scored just two touchdowns in his last nine games, is averaging only 3.8 yards per carry and hasn’t topped 60 yards rushing in a game since Week Six. While most of these issues are the result of his supporting cast and the fact that Tampa has been forced to abandon the ground attack because they're usually playing from behind, Williams’ fantasy value has tanked since he got off to a surprisingly hot start.
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