In this weekly column, I explore some young players who haven’t made much of an impact to date. Some players may be available on your waiver wire, some may be available via a cheap or moderate trade. Acquiring any of these players could decide how well your dynasty or keeper team does for the next few years.
Joique Bell, RB DET
This third year running back from Wayne State is certainly making an impact for the Lions in 2012. Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan has annotated Bell as the designated “closer.” As such, the majority of his work has come in the fourth quarter where he serves mostly in the passing game. While he won’t make anyone forget Kyra Sedgwick, he has kept the Lions offense from sputtering with his receptions and pass-blocking. This is a big departure from his role in college, as he was considered a strong, powerful runner who had good balance. He was thought more of an in-between the tackles, straight ahead type of back and not a pass catching specialist.
The Lions use him in a Jahvid Best role as a pass protector and outlet receiver. While he has not been very effective as a rusher (13 carries for 40 yards and a touchdown), his 12 receptions for 175 yards are fourth on the team through the first four weeks. He does a good job in space and has shown more wiggle getting away from defenders. While Mikel Leshoure is getting into game shape, I would expect Bell’s production in the passing game to continue as the Lions are not trusting Kevin Smith to get these closer touches.
Bell is a great set up type of back for Detroit and your dynasty team as he does a bit of everything. Unfortunately, he is not great at anything. Considering the injury risk of every back in Detroit, chances are he will see significant time outside of the fourth quarter. I would be happy with him as a RB6-8 in deeper leagues. He is worth the roster spot if you have Leshoure, as he seems to be his handcuff now. However, I wouldn’t try to acquire him if I didn’t have any other Lions back unless it is a very deep league.
Andre Roberts WR, ARI
Wow, what a difference a year makes in Arizona. Last year when Roberts came from the Citadel, he was an exciting prospect who didn’t have anything but raw potential. Fast forward to this year and Roberts is leading his receiving corps in yards per catch (15.3) and touchdowns (four) after as many games. Even back in college, he was an excellent route runner who was elusive in space.
Learning from Larry Fitzgerald in every game, practice and meeting is paying off for him. He has a knack for adjusting to the ball in the air, even a poorly thrown one from Kevin Kolb. Once thought of as only an inside slot receiver, Roberts is lining up in all four receiver positions. Fitzgerald is a great magnet as he demands double and triple coverage which allows the smaller Roberts (5’11” and 195 pounds) the ability to get open with single coverage. He is still learning, though, as indicated by a recent fight with the ball in which he almost bobbled an interception to the cornerback covering him.
He is getting more physical as a run blocker and with press corners. Last year, he was rarely lined up on the outside, but he improved his first step and can slip contact off the line. On his first touchdown against the Dolphins, he got behind a Miami cornerback and safety to catch a 46-yard bomb. Roberts caught the Dolphins by surprise as his team seemed content grinding the ball down the field. His quickness and sharp route running made that play work. He came alive when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter. On two separate fourth down plays, he converted first downs on the last drive in regulation. My favorite conversion was the touchdown catch he made with less than 25 seconds left. Without that catch, the Cardinals may have gone right back to quarterback John Skelton.
Since Arizona continues to struggle to run the ball with any authority, both Roberts and Fitzgerald will continue to attack the flat with wheel routes and short crossing patterns that can be broken for big gains – this is creeping Roberts up to WR3-4 territory, especially when owners are facing bye weeks. I would be very comfortable using him in a three receiver slot or as a flex. He might be on the waiver wire on shorter bench leagues, and I would be ecstatic if I had him as a WR5. When pursuing a trade with the team he is on, try to get him as a throw-in, but wait until week six. His recent two touchdown performance may be still too fresh in your trade partner’s mind.
Jonathan Baldwin, WR KC
This second year wide receiver has certainly seen an uptick in his value from the beginning of the season. Coming out of the University of Pittsburgh, Baldwin could always pluck the ball with amazing ease at its highest point. His 4.4 speed helps him generate separation from defensive backs while being elusive in the open field.
However, his weaknesses outweigh his talents on most days as he is a lazy route runner. Baldwin tends to round off the pass patterns and doesn’t always come back to the ball. Relying on his raw athletic talent was fine in college, but this is professional football. Baldwin lines up mostly in the slot; this is because he is not good getting off the line with a physical defensive back in front of him. For a 6″ 4″, 230 pound guy, this makes me question his toughness, both physically and mentally. At that size, he should dominate the smaller defensive backs on the line of scrimmage and in the defensive backfield. This lack of physicality was crystal clear on a deep pass in last week’s second half of the Chiefs game. When bumped by a safety, he lost track of a pass which should have resulted a 75 yard touchdown.
Baldwin is getting better at reading the defense as he split two defenders on a 25 yard reception for a key first down. On a third and long later in the game, he came back to Matt Cassel on a short crossing route. Baldwin didn’t convert the first down, but he came back to help his quarterback make a play. During his rookie campaign, he would have run his route and wondered why he wasn’t thrown the ball. On the last drive, he took the ball away from a Charger and sped down the sideline for a first down to keep the drive alive. It was encouraging to see his quarterback seems to trust him when time was running out. Baldwin is hopefully a WR5, at best, on your dynasty team. The quarterback and coaching controversies in Kansas City don’t help his value, but they might help a fantasy owner that might be trying to buy him cheap. He is worth the add, if the price is right.
Check back next week as we cover more young players and track their dynasty progress.