In my weekly column, we will take a long look at two or three rookies. I will compare their performance to date against my original expectations of them. Let’s start this series off by looking back at my two highest ranked fantasy rookies after their very successful week two campaigns:
Andrew Luck, QB IND
Here were my original thoughts on Luck in college: He has great arm strength, good down-field vision, shows great poise, mobility and accuracy on the run. Unlike most rookie quarterbacks, Luck has learned in a true pro style offense under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford and has learned the game from his father, Oliver Luck, who was an NFL quarterback himself.
Keep in mind, Luck’s collegian production came without much wide receiver help. He used his tight ends and fullbacks at Stanford to cause mismatches, but will greatly benefit by throwing to a seasoned receiver like Reggie Wayne. Do not underestimate his athletic ability as he can run like John Elway did in the 80s and 90s and much like Aaron Rodgers does now. This will open up the secondary for his receivers. I compared him to a young Elway.
This past week against the Vikings, I saw a maturing Luck. Unlike his college years, he dealt with defensive end terrors in Jared Allen and Brian Robison. Both players took turns being draped all over him without either registering a sack. Yes, he was sacked twice, pressured the entire day, and yet still managed to complete over 64% of his passes.
His pocket presence and core strength made a huge difference in the game as he stepped up in the pocket when he felt pressure and got rid of the ball when he had would-be tacklers on his legs. Luck did show, at times, bad mechanics under pressure as he threw without using good footwork and a solid base.
He built some great repoire with wide receiver, Donnie Avery, who caught nine of his ten targets for 111 yards as the game developed. Wayne wasn’t far behind in targets either with seven, but it seemed that his college teammate, Coby Fleener, who caught two of his four targets, was not on the same page today – Fleener dropped a short pass on a second and goal.
This gave the touchdown conversion to the other rookie tight end, Dwayne Allen, on third and goal. Allen lined up all over the field spending time at fullback, wing back, and split out as a wide receiver. The touchdown reception was his only target as Allen got low and made a catch only he could make in the middle of the field.
Luck’s second touchdown pass, a 30 yarder to Wayne, was a thing of beauty. He manipulated the safety to bite on his pump fake. This cleared the lane for Luck to get the ball cleanly to his receiver. It usually takes a quarterback a few seasons to fool a defense instead of the other way around.
While he flashes the signs of the franchise quarterback I expect him to be I am not ready to start him as a QB1 at this time. The reason I write that is the Colts running game cannot protect Luck yet. When you look at the rushing attempts, Donald Brown’s 16 carries for 45 yards are unimpressive along with rookie Vick Ballard’s six carries for 15 yards. If the Colts continue to run the ball this poorly, Luck will get knocked around even more than he already has.
An effective running game will slow down a pass rush and I am not convinced the Colts have the right running back on the field yet. Delone Carter is a better fit for the smash mouth style that the Colts would prefer to run. All in all, Luck’s performance is still in line with my prediction of 3,400 passing yards and 25 passing touchdown totals for his rookie season.
Trent Richardson, RB CLE
Here were my original thoughts on Richardson in college: He is the best rookie running back to come out since Adrian Peterson with his power, vision, hands, and speed. Richardson can handle 25+ touches a game and has played well despite not having much of a threat in the passing game (sounds familiar?). His college teammate, Mark Ingram, struggled his rookie season, but keep in mind that Richardson started over Ingram in their last season together at Alabama.
There is no ordinary part of Richardson’s game. He gets a solid, talented offensive line to run behind and the Browns have a few weapons to distract teams with second year wideout Greg Little and their band of tight ends (Watson, Smith, and Cameron). He compares to a quicker Jonathan Stewart.
This past week against the Bengals, I saw the smart, powerful, quick running back from Alabama. Richardson looked like himself, unlike his week one game against the Eagles. In the first quarter, he ran a bit high and towards contact similar to last week. A funny thing happened in the second quarter – Richardson decided to make defenders miss instead of trying to truck over them. He took an off-tackle play originally designed to look like a passing play, broke it outside, and raced down the sideline 32 yards for his first touchdown.
After that play, you could see the confidence was booming in him as he started to run a little lower to the ground, and instead of seeking contact, he made defenders miss. The Browns quarterback, Brandon Weeden, was starting to wear down the secondary so he targeted Richardson underneath to slow down the pass rush.
He took a check down pass 23 yards to score his first receiving touchdown. The run after the catch was a thing of beauty. He kept his legs churning, broke four tackles and glided into the end zone. I saw that back before in a hard-fought game against LSU last year. Now some fantasy owners will get very excited about this game, but keep in mind the Browns were trailing for the entire game. The Cincinnati defense was playing more of a prevent look than an aggressive defense that is usually played in a tight division game.
Richardson will have the opportunity to play in more games like this as I expect the Browns to be trailing often as this young team struggles to find their footing. If you want to sell him, this is your chance. I wouldn’t trade him, even though this could be his highest fantasy day in his rookie season. I will stand by my original prediction of 1,200 total yards and somewhere between seven to nine total touchdowns.
We’ll see you next week as we break down more rookies in this weekly series. You can follow Andy on Twitter – @AndrewMiley.