In my weekly column, we will take a long look at a few more rookies. I will compare their performance to date against my original expectations of them. Let’s continue this series off by looking back at Chicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, and St. Louis Rams running backs Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead after their Week Sixteen Games:
Alshon Jeffery WR, CHI
My original thoughts of the wide receiver during his time in college: After re-watching Jeffery’s games against Nebraska and Kentucky, he made quite an impression. He is a physical play-maker who fights the jam well with his hands, but he sometimes gets too caught up with battling the defensive backs and not enough concentration on the ball. Jeffery attacks the ball at its highest point, has good balance, and does a great job contorting his body to make the difficult catch.
He can run block well which will help him stay on the field for all three downs. Jeffery takes a long time to get to full speed, has issues gaining separation from defenders, and moves his head a lot to see the field. Hopefully, Jeffery’s transition to playing in the NFL will motivate him to stretch out and dive for the longer throws that Cutler can toss.
Here is what I saw from Jeffery against the Cardinals: As in most Chicago games, Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte were the focus of the offense. In this contest, Jay Cutler decided to give the young wide receiver the chance to make an impact. Defensive backs were trying to bait Jeffery with slight grabs and tugs to throw him off his routes. This tactic sometimes works as it gets inside the rookie’s psyche and throws him off his game.
On his first target of the afternoon, the former Gamecock was held to keep him from making a big play. His second target of the game was a poorly thrown pass that was a few feet behind the rookie. For his only reception of the day, Jeffery brought in a 35 yard pass using his out-stretched finger tips with less than two minutes left in the first half. This play demonstrated his amazing wingspan and soft hands. He is known to be a very physical receiver who does not shy away from contact with his defenders. Cutler also threw a 40 yard bomb to him that was a yard too far. It was encouraging that he was targeted for the big play, but the throw might have been more about the coverage that Marshall had. Jeffery almost muffed the Cardinals attempt on an onside kick near the end of the game, thankfully for him he hung onto the ball.
Jeffery has caught (20) less than half of his targets (41) for 291 yards and three touchdowns on the year. This is not outstanding production, but he has missed seven games due to injury, so that production could have easily been doubled if he was healthy throughout the year. I like him as a dynasty WR4, who has the skill to grow into a WR3 within a year or two.
Daryl Richardson RB, STL
My original thoughts of the running back during his time in college: I saw a very explosive back who can stop and start on a dime. Richardson shows superior quickness and speed to get on the perimeter in the blink of an eye. He does a great job of not giving defenders not much to hit, but shows little power once a defender gets a hold of him.
He has good downfield vision and is extremely dangerous in open spaces. Richardson has the qualities to become a very good returner and a good third down back if he becomes a more accomplished blocker. He is not built to take the week to week physical pounding, so I have my doubts that he will ever become an every down back. It is encouraging, though, to know that two of his older brothers, Bernard Scott and Clyde Gates, have found some success in the NFL.
Here is what I saw from Richardson against the Bucs: Ever since the resurging Steven Jackson came back healthy, the Rams have used the speedy young running back sparingly. He showed good lateral movement and was quite patient on his carries, maybe too much so. His five carries for nine yards was very pedestrian, but Tampa has a strong run defense. Richardson’s slight size and power was clear as he went down once he was in the clutches of most defenders. The rookie running back tended to most of his damage on delays or when the offensive coordinator designed plays to get him in space.
Richardson was effective when Jackson was injured earlier in the year. During that time, he did most of his damage carrying the ball 96 times for 475 yards and catching 22 passes for 149 yards on 34 targets. His two fumbles on the year are concerning, but he is adjusting from a small school to the NFL so I think fantasy owners can give him the benefit of the doubt. He is a dynasty RB4-5 at best right now, but not much higher unless Jackson signs somewhere else and the Rams do not invest in another running back.
Isaiah Pead RB, STL
My original thoughts of the running back during his time in college: Pead was very explosive in the return game during the East/West Shrine Game where he caught many a coach’s eye. I went back and re-watched his 2011 games against Tennessee and West Virginia to get a better idea of his full skill set. The young running back shows quick acceleration and decision-making to find creases in the defense. He tends to take his carries outside often as he struggles running inside unless his offensive line puts hats on hats. Showing tremendous long speed and sideline awareness makes him extremely dangerous in the open field.
Pead has good vision and seems to see most of the field. The few times he was in pass protection, he struggled by barely laying a finger on the blitzing linebacker. If he wants to be a feature back, he will need to work on this because Fisher will not allow the investment in Bradford to be put in jeopardy. The young running back seems to lack physical toughness which was clear when he had to run inside. He did not move the pile in short yardage situations . If Pead becomes a three down back, the Rams may need to invest in a short yard/goal line back.
Here is what I saw from Pead against the Bucs: There was not much to gleam from his one carry for zero yards on Sunday. The rookie looked hesitant and did not turn up field quickly. Pead’s entire rookie season has been a disappointment. He lost the backup job to Richardson and has seen just a few touches. The former Bearcat running back has five attempts for 33 yards and has caught three passes for 16 yards in 15 games. There was talk that he would get more meaningful touches as the season went on; however, one turnover on nine total touches does not install confidence in any ball carrier. He is strictly an end of the roster player right now.