This is the first article in a weekly installment dedicated solely to the rookie class of 2012. The goal is to provide everyone with a list of rookie players who should be on your dynasty roster or radar and track their progress throughout the season. You won’t typically find weekly updates on players like Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III. We know their roles in the offense and the rookie quarterbacks’ debuts were already covered extensively in the Monday Hangover article. Rather, this weekly installment will focus on the players who are working to carve out a role for themselves in the offense.
While updating the progress of certain players and highlighting the emergence of others, you can expect this article to cover players with big weeks, value rises and declines, depth chart movements, waiver suggestions and other recommendations.
Here is the rookie report from Week One:
David Wilson, RB NYG
Wilson’s NFL premier in Wednesday night’s game was brief following a first quarter fumble in Dallas territory. In addition to kickoff return duties, it appeared as though he would be mixed in as a change of pace back behind Ahmad Bradshaw. Following the fumble, Wilson was benched for the remainder of the game, although he would continue to return kicks. With his subsequent benching, it is clear that he will have to earn Coughlin’s trust before gaining a more prominent role in the offense. Until then, he figures to be a change of pace back behind Bradshaw, who clearly starts the 2012 campaign as the lead dog in the Giants backfield. Bradshaw looked comfortable as a three down back, and as long as he remains healthy, the Giants won’t rush to force Wilson into a larger role should his ball security issues continue.
Alfred Morris, RB WAS
Morris got the week one start for the Redskins and had a full workload of 28 carries for 96 yards and two touchdowns. Fellow running backs Roy Helu and Evan Royster didn’t figure into the plans much and only received two carries apiece. I don’t have to cover Shanahan’s “hot hand” approach with his running backs, but Morris could be worth a pick-up if you are struggling at the running back position and he’s somehow available in your league. Late in the season you never know what your options may be, or what news may present opportunities from week to week. I won’t even try to predict how this situation will unfold, but Morris has shown he can handle a full workload and be productive if called upon. There is the possibility he could be useful as a plug-n-play option from time-to-time, but obviously be aware of the risk and monitor the situation with fickle-minded Shanahan behind the helm.
Alshon Jeffery, WR CHI
He may not have been listed as a starting wide receiver on the official depth chart, but he was worked in nicely and consistently. He was second only to Brandon Marshall in targets and receiving yards. He totaled three receptions on five targets with 80 yards and a touchdown – not bad for his first NFL game.
Blair Walsh, K MIN
Of the Minnesota rookies, the player who might be most worthy of a roster spot right now is none other than the kicker. He was perfect in their season opener against the Jaguars, knocking in all four of his field goal attempts and adding two extra points. This includes a 55 yard field goal to tie the game as the clock expired in the fourth quarter, as well as a 38 yard field goal in overtime to seal the victory. Given Christian Ponder’s tendency to be unable to finish off drives, Walsh could see plenty of opportunities. If you want a young stud to replace your aging veteran kicker, this guy has a strong boot and can clearly handle the pressure.
Daryl Richardson, RB STL
Richardson was the only St. Louis running back to receive carries other than starter Steven Jackson. While that only gave him two, he was able to procure 20 yards. More importantly, however, it is notable because he received work over second round pick Isaiah Pead. Going into the off-season, it was assumed that Pead would be a change of pace back behind Jackson, and could immediately eat into his workload. Week one suggests that Pead’s unimpressive preseason has potentially given way to Richardson as the Rams number two running back. At this point it is hard to determine if either is a sure handcuff, but Richardson could be worth a stash.
Greg Zuerlein, K STL
There was the second rookie kicker who recorded a perfect opening game. Zuerlein was three-for-three on attempts from 48, 29 and 46 yards, respectively. He also added two extra points.
Ryan Lindley, QB ARI
In the preseason, neither John Skelton nor Kevin Kolb really seemed to win the starting quarterback job – it was more like choosing the lesser of two terrible evils. With the injury to Skelton, an opportunity arises in Arizona. Although Kolb was somehow able to produce a game winning drive, it is pretty clear that the Cardinals organization has little faith in him, as he lost his starting job despite receiving a $7 million roster bonus. No action is yet warranted, but keep your eye on the Cardinals quarterback situation because Kolb will be on a short leash. With Skelton out for at least two to four weeks, rookie Ryan Lindley is next in line – it looks like he may get his opportunity sooner rather than later.
Doug Martin, RB TB
It is quite evident that Martin is the unquestioned number one running back in Tampa Bay. Originally it was thought he would be in a committee backfield with LeGarrette Blount, but Martin clearly won this positional battle. He finished the day with a full workload of 24 carries for 95 yards as a three down back. Blount only had three carries the entire game. Martin already appears to be an every week starter in fantasy.
Stephen Hill, WR NYJ
After starting the game with a drop on his first target, Hill managed to catch all of his remaining five. He finished the day with 89 yards and two touchdowns. This is quite a start for a receiver labeled as too raw and in need of extended development in an offense deemed as impotent.
T.J. Graham, WR BUF
Alright, so we didn’t see anything on Sunday, but he’s a guy to watch for next week and beyond. Slot receiver David Nelson went down with a torn ACL and was declared out for the season. It should be interesting to watch who steps up to fill the void and after a solid preseason, Graham could be worth a stash.
Travis Benjamin, WR CLE
The fourth round selection had the second most targets against the Eagles – he had six targets in comparison to fellow rookie Josh Gordon’s four. The Browns also showed creative use of Benjamin with a successful reverse. Unfortunately, not much of this matters when your quarterback has a 34% completion rate. Brandon Weeden had a dismal opening performance, and will have to show he can make a single receiver relevant in fantasy before recommending taking a chance on a guy like this. Gordon has a much higher upside of the rookies.
Rod Streater, WR OAK
Who would have thought an undrafted rookie wide receiver would lead the Raiders in targets in week one? After some injury concerns, Streater had the opportunity to start and was able to take advantage. Even though he only finished with 27 yards on four receptions, he caught the attention of quarterback Carson Palmer, totaling ten targets. He also notched a touchdown catch and the following two-point conversion. It means a lot that Palmer is willing to trust him in the red zone with the game on the line. If Streater is still on waivers, he is definitely worth a roster spot. He has followed up an impressive preseason with a solid performance and has an opportunity in Oakland.
Justin Blackmon, WR JAX
As expected, he started the game for the Jaguars. However, he did not produce much for fantasy owners as he totaled just three receptions on six targets for 24 yards. Blackmon did have a wide open end zone look and Blaine Gabbert just couldn’t deliver a catchable pass. Wide receivers Laurent Robinson and Cecil Shorts both had more targets, receptions and receiving yards. I would expect this to change as the season progresses, but for the moment he remains a lower end fantasy start until he proves some consistency and develops chemistry with Gabbert.
Kendall Wright, WR TEN
Following Kenny Britt’s suspension, Kendall Wright was able to get a fair number of looks in his rookie debut. He had six targets, five of which were secured for catches, but only recorded 37 receiving yards. Though his looks were all on shorter routes, this shouldn’t alarm owners as his yards after the catch ability will help future production. Wright’s level of talent, combined with Britt’s inability to stay on the field from injury and his well-documented legal trouble tendencies, makes him an important part of the Titans’ offense for the future. My advice is to make a good offer for him now before his value skyrockets once he proves what we all know he is capable of at the NFL level.
Keshawn Martin, WR HOU
He is listed as the third wide receiver on Houston’s depth chart, but is competing for snaps with emerging receiver Lestar Jean. Martin had just one target in Sunday’s game and that came on the opening drive, which resulted in a drop. It will take some time for one of these players to earn the trust of quarterback Matt Schaub, but a drop on Martin’s only target doesn’t help. Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels were the only two players who received a significant amount of targets.
Vick Ballard, RB IND
The fifth round pick had four carries for only six yards in his NFL debut. This doesn’t seem like a lot of work, but running was a very small part of the Colts offense. Ballard’s carries represented over 30% of rushing attempts by their running backs, as starter Donald Brown only had nine attempts. While Brown’s production was much better, it is still encouraging that the Colts are starting to work Ballard in this early in the season. At the moment, they are clearly not sold on Brown being the long term answer – this means that Ballard has a decent opportunity in Indianapolis and is definitely worth a waiver addition.
Coby Fleener, TE IND
The rookie tight end had team second highs of ten targets, six catches and 82 yards receiving. It was pretty clear the college connection with Andrew Luck carried over in their NFL debut. In comparison, fellow rookie tight end and third round pick Dwayne Allen was not worked into the offensive scheme at all.
LaVon Brazill, WR IND
There has been a lot of sleeper appeal this preseason, but it does not appear he will be worked into the offense much right away. He had only one target, while Reggie Wayne and Donnie Avery both received plenty more. Austin Collie is also now active and should draw some targets as well. It is my opinion that Brazil is the rookie wide receiver to own in Indianapolis, but that there may be more intriguing waiver moves out there while we wait to see if he will actually have an opportunity to contribute in this offense more than in the return game.