Usually this article features a weekly report on the rookies making headlines from week-to-week or plodding their way up the depth chart, but this week I’m going to do something a little bit different. Most leagues just finished their last regular season game and everyone fighting for a playoff spot knows whether they’re in or they’re out.
This edition will mostly help those who ended their season on a disappointing note and are not in contention for this year’s title. While the contenders are looking for immediate production they can use for a playoff push, those who find themselves out of the race are likely looking for younger players with more upside for the future. Now is the time to ditch that aging player who is falling out of the offensive scheme and find someone younger with upside to increase their role following the off-season.
Here are some rookies who are potentially still on the waiver wire or could be acquired relatively cheaply who are good stashes for next season.
T.J. Graham, WR BUF
His contributions have been minor, but consistent. He is mixed into the game on a regular basis, and there is no doubt he is the third wide receiver three into the off-season. Usually he just has a reception or two, but there is certainly room for improvement on a team lacking consistent receiving options outside of Stevie Johnson.
Josh Cooper, WR CLE
At Mid-season, the injury bug rattled the Browns’ receiving corps giving Cooper an opportunity to show some of the college chemistry he developed over the years with fellow rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden. He didn’t have many opportunities or snaps, but when he was on the field he produced modestly. The Browns still need consistency from their receivers and there are definitely roles to be won, although there are a number of players competing for them. Going into next preseason, as long as Weeden remains the quarterback, Cooper has a decent shot to prove himself as targets are sure to come his way. The only question is, if the Browns aren’t winning games, what will prevent them from selecting another quarterback early in the 2013 draft? This would significantly minimize Cooper’s value.
Ladarius Green, TE SD
Green has been one of the nearly invisible talents of the 2012 rookie class. Antonio Gates has uncharacteristically managed to stay healthy for the great majority of the season leaving little window for the fourth round rookie pick to emerge. The truth, however, is Gates will be 33 years old by the start of next season and his lingering health problems are unlikely to have disappeared for good. The Chargers organization no doubt drafted Green in hopes he would be the heir to Gates. He is an athletic tight end who fits the new breed shaping offenses in recent years. He possesses all of the physical tools to eventually be a full-time starter in the NFL, and after a full-season of development he could be in line for a larger role next season. He has infinitely more long-term upside than the other Chargers tight ends. Randy McMichael is actually older than Gates and Ladarius Green has already been playing in Dante Rosario’s stead. With injuries consistently plaguing Gates, it is more likely than not Green will have a shot to help fill an important role in the Chargers’ offense next season.
Keshawn Martin, WR HOU
Martin is another rookie who has had a small, but consistent role in the offense. From the beginning of the season he has been getting snaps, but because of the veterans on this team, his role has been limited. With the current receiving core aging, the Texans will certainly be looking for players who can step up in the future. So far this battle has been between Martin and Lestar Jean for playing time, and to this point Martin has had the upper hand. Another off-season and camp should go a long way in determining playing time for next season.
LaVon Brazill, WR IND
Ever since T.Y. Hilton started blowing up, people have quickly forgotten about (and probably dropped) fellow rookie LaVon Brazill. Rookie sensation Andrew Luck has already proven he can put up statistics worthy of supporting multiple fantasy options. Although Reggie Wayne has had a sensational season, he is already a senior in football years. Brazill is definitely a flier, but the upside is there.
Taylor Thompson, TE TEN
Coming into the 2012 season, Titans starting tight end Jared Cook had high expectations. He has held value in fantasy leagues for some time due to his potential, but at some point you have to reach the conclusion that what you see is what you get. That is the point I’m at with Cook, and what I’ve seen is a player who has failed to emerge despite the team’s need for a playmaker to step up. Although he has modest statistics, he has not achieved much consistency, nor has he developed into a top tight end option. He, too, has been unhappy and even went as far to request a trade before the league’s deadline this season. Enter Thompson. He is a commanding 6’6″ player who played defensive end in college. Due to his athletic profile matching the Rob Gronkowski prototype, he was drafted in the fifth round as a tight end. This is one reason he has never received much press, making him a definite sleeper in dynasty leagues. This off-season he will get the chance to develop his blocking and create some chemistry with young quarterback Jake Locker. Due to his lack of playing time in 2012, there is a chance he’s still out there on waivers.
Damaris Johnson, WR PHI
Johnson is a very talented player who has yet to develop a true role in the offense. When given the opportunity he has shined, but this offense definitely has some depth at the position. The Eagles have talked about finding different ways to get him the ball, so he could be worth an add purely on playmaking ability.
Jarius Wright, WR MIN
Wright has been a player who has shined as the season is winding down. In the absence of Percy Harvin, he has stepped up as a top receiver for the Vikings. It is unclear if he will have value with Harvin in the lineup, but it is definitely possible the Vikings begin to spread out some touches amongst the receivers following his development in the off-season. This could potentially help Percy as well if someone could emerge across from him and demand some attention of opposing defenses.
A.J. Jenkins, WR SF
Jenkins has yet to take the field all season, but you must remember he was a first round pick. Although most consider San Francisco’s decision a bit of a reach, they must have envisioned him fitting into their scheme and future plans. The 49ers have youth at the position, but Jenkins will eventually have a shot to prove he is worthy of his draft pick. A lot can happen in an off-season, and you better believe the Niners’ staff wants their top pick to succeed.
LaMichael James, RB SF
James was finally active for the first time this week, but it is quite plausible he was drifting on the waiver wire prior to this week’s game in some shallow leagues. The recent achilles tear to change-of-pace back Kendall Hunter opens a void in the San Francisco offense. As I mentioned in last week’s edition, there is no question Frank Gore is the lead back, but Hunter had a consistent amount of carries each game. While James’ work will most certainly be limited if he is activated in the final weeks of the season, he is a candidate to gain a larger role in the offense next season. Achilles tears take about a full year to heal, and even then recovery is not always 100 percent. Hunter’s workload will need to be accounted while he embarks on the long road to recovery and Gore isn’t getting any younger.
Travaris Cadet, RB NO
Cadet has shown enough to get the attention of most dynasty owners due to his impressive pre-season performances, however, given the depth at the position he has yet to have the opportunity to step into any type of role for the Saints. If no one owns him yet in your league, he is a must add. It’s not certain things will be any different in 2013, but his skill is evident and anything is possible in the off-season.