The Fantasy Footballers 2021 Rookie Review (Fantasy Football)
The NFL season has officially ended, but that doesn’t mean the Ballers are on Bye. Andy, Mike and Jason will be with you all offseason, so remember to listen to The Fantasy Footballers Podcast, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and YouTube! On today’s show, the guys recap the rookies from the 2021 season and ponder what it would take to get to 10,000 career shows (spoilers: it may or may not involve a cryo-chamber).
Cam Akers has had a unique season with the Los Angeles Rams. He suffered a devastating Achilles injury early, miraculously returned for the postseason and showed plenty of juice, but ultimately sputtered over the final stretch. The question: what is Cam’s outlook for 2022 and in Dynasty leagues? Mike noted his low yards per carry (YPC) mark of 2.5, a rate that doesn’t inspire volume moving forward, although Andy caveated that the offensive line wasn’t pulling their weight either. Jason, who had Akers in his top five at the position coming into the year, sees the 22-year old at around the RB15 in terms of ADP. In general, the guys agree that there is optimistic upside – a young, talented player in a prolific offensive system – but things could sour quickly. It will be important to monitor his progress this offseason.
First-year players are separated into three categories. First, the Impressive rookies helped their fantasy managers ‘withstand victories’. The OK players weren’t stupendous, but didn’t necessarily disappoint; the Disappointing players certainly did, posting minimal fantasy production. These will be broken down by position.
In a year with highly-touted rookie quarterbacks (there were five taken in the first 15 picks of the NFL draft) not one of them was Impressive for fantasy! Mac Jones was the only player who earned the label of OK: he had an impressive year leading the New England Patriots back to the playoffs, but ended as the QB18 (consistency rank of 15) in fantasy. Andy pondered if Mac Jones or Justin Fields was the better dynasty prospect: Mike is taking Fields, although Jason noted that, while Fields has significantly more upside thanks to his rushing ability, Mac is the more sure bet to have a longer, more reliable career.
Speaking of Justin Fields, he was, unfortunately, Disappointing, along with Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Trey Lance. Decision-making was suspect over the year for all of these QBs, although most of them were not in ideal offensive situations. Lawrence, the highly-touted 1.01 in the NFL draft, had an especially difficult year: among rookie QBs to start at least 12 games, his 2% TD rate is the lowest of all time. It was a toxic environment in Jacksonville this year, but the guys aren’t very bullish on Lawrence going forward, especially given his mediocre receiving weapons.
Zach Wilson showed some flashes at the end of the season, but finished at QB30 overall. According to PFF, Wilson led all signal-callers in sacks where the QB was deemed ‘responsible’ (17). Andy appreciated how Wilson was playing behind a flimsy offensive line, and Mike noted that he is paired with Elijah Moore, who has the potential to be a top WR in the league.
Trey Lance didn’t get as much time as we had expected but has an intriguing future. Jason ranks him as the highest QB prospect going forward. He has the rushing capacity, a creative scheme and elite weapons on offense (Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle). As Andy noted, though, there’s just not a lot of ‘tape out there’ to evaluate Lance; Kyle Shanahan had always been up front about wanting to sit and develop Lance for a year, similar to the Patrick Mahomes model (behind Alex Smith).
Unsurprisingly, Najee Harris was the most Impressive rookie RB: he finished fourth at the position and was one of four rookie RBs ever to lead the NFL in touches. Javonte Williams joins Najee, although Andy mentioned that this rating is more from the ‘eyeball’ test: Javonte flashed when he did get the opportunity, but finished as the RB17. If Melvin Gordon isn’t in Denver next season, Javonte has the potential to go in the first round of fantasy drafts. Finally, Elijah Mitchell (‘the Missile’) fills out the triumvariate. An early-season FAAB darling, Mitchell finished as the RB25 in just 11 games played. He clearly earned the trust of Kyle Shanahan, averaging 26 opportunities in seven straight games this season. Injuries were a bit of a problem: as Jason noted, the Missile missed games for three separate injuries this year, especially concerning given the carousel that is the 49ers backfield.
New York Jets RB Michael Carter was OK overall on the season, ending as the RB29 after being drafted as the RB34. A fond memory will be his overall RB1 performance in the ‘Mike White‘ game against the Bengals. Unfortunately, as Jason observed, Carter’s best stretch came with Mike White dumping the ball down to his backs; Zach Wilson showed less of this tendency. Rhamondre Stevenson jointed an elite list (including Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, Jonathan Taylor) of rookie RBs with multiple games of 100+ rushing yards and two rushing TDs. He had two huge games (Week 10 and Week 17) and passes the eye-test as a well-rounded running back. Andy prefers Rhamondre to Carter, especially given the path: Damien Harris is in the final year of his contract.
The Disappointing category was highlighted by Trey Sermon, who was basically irrelevant after being supplanted by Elijah Mitchell. Chuba Hubbard was also an unfortunate tale: he saw plenty of time with Christian McCaffrey sidelined but didn’t really take advantage. Travis Etienne Jr. will be returning after suffering a pre-season injury that kept him out for the 2021 campaign.
Clearly, Ja’Marr Chase and Jaylen Waddle were extremely Impressive on the year. The guys have discussed Chase and Waddle in detail; simply put, Ja’Marr Chase gives you a chance for a touchdown on every single play. Waddle ended up at the WR16, and the new coach in Miami, Mike McDaniel, seems to be planning on getting him even more volume. Amon-Ra St. Brown won the coveted Footie for “Playoff King.” He ended as the WR21 overall, but split up it was WR59 in the first half and WR10 in the second half of the season! Andy’s ‘eye test’ sees a good, not great, player who caught a bunch of touchdowns and is attached to a questionable offense. Jason, scarred by the Brandon Aiyuk year two experience, agrees that the future isn’t necessarily rosy; Mike sees the Detroit Lions making a splash in the draft, taking a top WR and dampening Amon-Ra’s prospects.
Elijah Moore was solidly OK this season. He was heating up and, unfortunately, missed the final five games with a quad injury. Mike is excited for the future with a pass-happy QB: he’s taking Moore over DeVonta Smith in redraft leagues. Speaking of Smith, he was right on the line between OK and Disappointing: Mike and Andy see Disappointing, Jason sees OK. He was able to garner over 900 yards with Jalen Hurts at quarterback, but was basically irrelevant from Week 12 on, and it was hard to know when to start him. Going forward, the Ballers do see the path for improvement for the former Heisman winner.
Kadarius Toney, Rashod Bateman, Rondale Moore, Terrace Marshall Jr. and company all fill out the Disappointing list. Rumors have been floating around that Toney could be traded, while Bateman is still a TBD and has the potential to overtake Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown.
Generational talent Kyle Pitts finished as the TE7, and is hoping for some positive TD regression going forward (he caught just one score this season). All told, he was Impressive this year, along with The ‘Muth’ (Pat Freiermuth), who scored seven times. Even Jason admits that Freiermuth’s uncertain QB situation may cast a shadow on his prospects, but is still betting on the talent of The ‘Muth’ (compared to, say, Cole Kmet).
We’ll see you next week with the ’10 Things To Remember’ episode!