Each week throughout the season, I’ll cover at least two rookies in the Rookie Report Card and try to always include the biggest performers from that particular week. On top of reviewing my expectations for each player coming into the league and covering how he’s performed at the NFL level to this point, I’ll actually give him a grade in three categories. Those categories are performance to date, 2016 potential and long term upside.
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Tajae Sharpe, WR TEN
Week Ten Stats: three receptions, 68 yards, one touchdown reception (four targets)
Sharpe was an interesting prospect coming out of UMass. Tall (6’-2”) and lanky (194 pounds), many questioned whether he’d be able to handle the physicality of the NFL. With a very average 40-yard dash time at the combine (4.55 seconds) and uninspiring bench (11 reps), vertical jump (33.5 inches) and broad jump (114 inches), even more questioned whether he had the talent to carve out a role on Sundays despite impressive numbers with the Minutemen including leading college football in receptions as a senior with 111 catches for 1,319 yards and five touchdowns.
Sharpe was so productive in college because of his impressive route running. Incredibly intricate at the top of his route, he showed the ability to shake a defender with head fakes and change directions in a blink. Regularly putting his foot in the ground and snapping his body around with lightning quickness on a comeback or dig route, he proved himself as a very strong short to intermediate route runner while at Massachusetts.
Sharpe was labeled by many while in college as a possession receiver due to his strong route running. It was also predicted by many during draft season that he’d be limited to slot duties in the NFL due to his lack of strength but Sharpe proved himself as more than just a slot guy while in college.
On top of his strong underneath route running, Sharpe also showed a knack for making plays down the field. Deadly on the double move due to his quick feet and subtle head fakes, he makes up for average overall speed with savvy jukes and the ability to run under rainbow throws.
A true all-around route runner, it was surprising (at least it was to me) to see him last until the first pick in the fifth round of the NFL draft, where the Titans selected him. Nonetheless, he made an immediate impression in training camp and forced his way into the Titans’ receiver rotation by catching nine balls for 163 yards in the preseason, including three plays of 20-plus yards.
Now through ten games of his rookie season, Sharpe has hauled in 30 passes for 385 yards and touchdown. Although those numbers haven’t made him very useful to fantasy owners as he’s only reached ten points in PPR leagues twice this year, there are a couple things dynasty owners can take away from his play to this point.
First, the impressive route running Sharpe displayed while at UMass has translated without a hitch to the NFL and his footwork is especially impressive considering where he was drafted. Additionally, he gives maximum effort on every play, has shown an ability to get open in both zone and man coverage and has displayed good hands to make catches in traffic.
Secondly, Sharpe is making strides as a more physical player. Although it’s still not a strength of his, he is getting better at avoiding the jam at the line of scrimmage and he’s had a few instances in recent weeks where instead of avoiding contact after the catch, he’s taken on a defensive back in an effort to make him miss and get extra yardage.
On Sunday against the Packers, Sharpe had his most productive fantasy game of the year, but it had little to do with the steps he’s made to be a more well-rounded receiver. His touchdown came on a busted coverage where Quinten Rollins got caught looking in the Titans backfield and allowed Sharpe to get behind him.
All things told, Sharpe isn’t trustworthy enough to put in a starting fantasy lineup in the short term. Despite playing more snaps than any other Titans wide out, his numbers are very average because Tennessee is a run first team and Marcus Mariota spreads the ball out well between Sharpe, Rishard Matthews, Kendall Wright and Delanie Walker.
As a long term dynasty asset, Sharpe certainly has more upside than most fifth round NFL draft picks. Although he may never be a WR1 – or perhaps even a WR2 – for your fantasy team, his route running and hands should keep him on the field no matter what offense he plays in which already makes him a good depth piece and bye week/injury fill in. Additionally, if he continues to develop his strength and becomes more of playmaker with the ball in his hands, Sharpe could carve out a bigger target share in Tennessee which could propel him as high as WR3 consideration for his fantasy owners. Selected late in most rookie drafts, dynasty owners should be very pleased if he reaches that potential.
C.J. Prosise, RB SEA
Week Ten Stats: 17 carries, 66 yards, seven receptions, 87 receiving yards (seven targets)
I wasn’t a very big Prosise fan the first couple times I watched him play while scouting this year’s rookie class. He appeared at times to be a one trick pony, catching the ball well but lacking quick decision making and power as a runner. Also fumbling too much and appearing to lack determination and tackle breaking ability in the small amount that I had watched him, I had him pegged as a third down back who could be a nice change of pace due to his ideal size and quick feet but nothing more.
Then I watched a rookie profile that featured Prosise on NFL Network in the days leading up to the NFL draft and decided I better revisit my thoughts on the former Golden Domer.
At second glance, Prosise looked less and less like a one trick pony and more like an every down tailback. The more I watched him play, the more I realized that what appeared to be slow decision making was actually good patience to allow running lanes to develop and the power I wished he would show simply didn’t show up on the 50 carries that I had the chance to watch but was actually there in spades. Add a wicked spin move and impressive slide step and Prosise looked the part of a full time runner coming out of Notre Dame.
Needless to say, I changed my tune on Prosise just in time to grab him in a few rookie drafts. Sitting here a few months later, I’m so glad I did because showed exactly how dynamic he can be on Sunday night in New England.
Much of his fantasy value in week 11 came from his pass catching ability and we’ll get to that, but despite the inconsistent play of the Seattle offensive line, Prosise was impressive as a runner. His best runs came on stretch plays where he was asked to find a running lane, make one cut, and bust to the second level. Once again showing good patience, strong decision making and reading blocks well, he got everything that was blocked, broke a few tackles, and always fell forward to pick up extra yardage. It was perhaps the best performance I’ve seen this season from a running back that averaged less than four yards per carry.
So, if Prosise’s rushing statistics didn’t look that impressive to his dynasty owners that didn’t watch the game, rest assured he ran much better than the 3.88 yards per carry would suggest. Meanwhile, his receiving numbers perfectly showed how dynamic he was against the Pats.
Making quick breaks in his routes and catching everything thrown his way, Prosise was far too quick for linebackers to cover and too big for defensive backs to bring down in the open field. His biggest catch came third and six from the New England 40 yard line early in the fourth quarter. Lined up in the slot with rookie linebacker Elandon Roberts covering him in man coverage, he blasted past the overmatched defender on a fade route, ran under the throw perfectly and held on to the ball while taking a Devin McCourty hit at the point of the catch. It was a picture perfect 38-yard gain that set the Seahawks up to take the lead.
The only true blemish for Prosise in the game came on the two plays after that catch. Handed the ball twice at the goal line, he was unable to push the pile into the end zone to cap the drive. Instead of running behind his pads, he ran very upright into the line of scrimmage and was stuffed twice. It was disappointing considering how he ran with grit and determination to that point.
Overall, it’s unknown as of now just how Prosise will be used for the rest of 2016. Christine Michael has now been jettisoned to Green Bay and Thomas Rawls is returning from a fractured leg. Prosise has looked very explosive with the ball in his hands but has struggled in pass protection (he’ll improve) and failed in short yardage which leaves the window open for committee approach going forward and that certainly caps Prosise’s short term upside to no more than flex consideration. However, cutting Michael indicates the Seahawks are more and more comfortable using Prosise moving forward.
As for his long-term dynasty potential, the sky is the limit for Prosise. Talented enough to be a true three-down back and explosive enough to make big plays from anywhere on the field, he has RB1 upside if he can improve as pass protector and prove himself in short yardage.
Find Dan on Twitter at @dmeylor22
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