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Rookie Report Card: Week Seventeen

In my weekly column, we take a long look at a couple 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 Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jarius Wright and San Francisco 49ers running back LaMichael James after their Week Seventeen Games:

Jarius Wright, WR MIN

My original thoughts of the wide receiver during his time in college: Wright’s best attribute is his ability to see the entire field and choose the best angle to exploit the defense.  He does a good job protecting the ball and himself from big hits.  The rookie has decent hands and is able to fight for the tough catch down the middle. Wright can avoid defenders that do not take good angles against him and demonstrates good balance to keep moving forward.  He is an asset blocking in the running game and shows enough physicality to  keep up those blocks downfield and can break a tackle or two once he has a head of steam.  Wright shows the determination to fight for extra yardage if the situation calls for it.

The rookie wide receiver definitely has his struggles, too.  Wright does not separate well from coverage as it always seems like he has a defender in his back pocket.  The routes he runs are not impressive as he tends to round them off and he does not run deep –  this makes it easier to defend against him.  He also tends to concentrate on what he is going to do with the ball before he catches it.  Hopefully, he can work on that.  Wright may start his NFL career as a returner and work on refining his weaknesses.

Here is what I saw from Wright against the Packers:  With Adrian Peterson’s pursuit of Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record, the Minnesota passing game has taken a backseat. Then again, it could be that Christian Ponder has been inconsistent throwing the pigskin.  Wright’s ascension to fantasy relevance began in week ten as a replacement for the injured Percy Harvin.  He has been the only dependable downfield threat outside of Peterson breaking free from eight and nine man fronts.

Wright was targeted early in the end zone, but ran out of room and the ball slipped out of his hands as he hit the ground.  I liked that he ran a crisp route and got enough separation to be in position to make the play.  Wright has a flair for the dramatic as he caught a tipped pass in the middle of the field that was less than two inches of the ground.  He contorted his body and kept amazing focus to bring in the ball.  His flexibility was also on display on his eight yard touchdown grab as he reached behind to secure the ball.  On his most impressive reception of the night, he caught a 65 yard bomb with a step on his cornerback and streaked past the free safety.   His concentration was impeccable this game, as Wright knew a playoff berth was on the line.

Wright continued to struggle with physical coverage as he got manhandled a few times, but he kept on giving full effort despite his lack of physical strength.  He is also lacking on the run blocking front which may heed his playing time if Harvin returns to the Vikings next season.  The rookie had an impactful game catching three of his five targets for 90 yards and the before mentioned score.  I have a hard time ranking him higher than a dynasty WR5 due to his quarterback, the Vikings commitment to running the ball and his role in the offense.

LaMichael James, RB SF

My original thoughts of the running back during his time in college: There wasn’t a more explosive playmaker in their class than James.  Yes, Trent Richardson was bigger and stronger, but the former Duck could score from anywhere.  He has the quickest acceleration in his class and gets faster with each stride.  His downfield vision might be the best among all skill position 2012 rookies.  James sees the best running/receiving lane and uses his freakish elusiveness to set up blocks ten yards in front of him.

The young diminutive running back has good balance and takes care of the ball in traffic.  While he might not be the fastest athlete on the field, James can get away from most defenders and has avoided any major injuries.  He was not a focus of the Oregon passing game, but he is an adequate receiver.  If a team asks him to block, they may be disappointed as James generates little power and does not have the necessary technique to be effective.  He might have to make his mark initially in the NFL as a returner to exploit his acceleration, vision, and lateral dexterity.  I have my doubts he will become a 250+ touch back as he is so slightly built.  If he attempts to bulk up, James might lose much of his breakaway quickness.

Here is what I saw from James against the Cardinals: If all you do is look at the box score of seven carries for 49 rushing yards, you missed out on some outstanding tackle to tackle running.  On his first carry of the game (a 26 yarder), James looked like a jitter bug bouncing around in the middle of the field.  He was weaving in and out looking like he was skiing downhill and avoiding slow-moving trees.  Later in the first half, he was given a delayed handoff.  Once the ball was in his hands, he appeared to be shot out of a cannon for a 12 yard gain.  His effective inside running was surprising with his skinny frame and lack of power.

On the other hand, James was bottled up on the four sweep plays he ran.  When the defense forced him outside, he did not have the acceleration to burst past the front seven.  I’m not convinced he will ever be more than a change of pace back, but he is an impressive runner.  He might be able to become a lesser Jamaal Charles in time.  I like him more in return yardage leagues as he should see limited carries with the other backs San Francisco has.  He is an RB3 in return yardage leagues and an RB4 everywhere else.

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wood chipper
9 years ago

I am holding Lamar Miller and LaMichael James right now as my future backs. My current backs are Green-Ellis, William Powell, Mike Tolbert, and Forte. Should I be looking for another back in this years draft?

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