The Player or the Pick?

Ryan McDowell

Each year, as the NFL season winds down, we witness breakout games from young players. It can be an exciting time for fantasy and dynasty players as we begin to extrapolate those surprising performances to a full season the next year. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way and a random big game proves to be just that. For dynasty owners, making the decision if that game is the beginning of a solid career and assessing the new value for the young player can be critical.

This week in my ‘The Player or the Pick’ polls, I featured three rookie receivers who have seen their role and production increase in recent weeks, but has their price jumped as well?

[am4show have=’g1;’ guest_error=’sub_message’ user_error=’sub_message’ ]

Of the three young pass-catchers included in this week’s polls, one entered the NFL with some substantial value. As a college star for Pittsburgh, wide receiver Tyler Boyd was once viewed as a potential top three dynasty rookie pick, but some deep analysis of his game and a subpar sophomore season pushed his stock down just a bit. While many seemed to sour on Boyd, he was still a popular pick in the late first round of last spring’s rookie drafts, though he did sometimes fall to the early second round.

Boyd was viewed as the favorite to earn the Bengals second receiver spot and with tight end Tyler Eifert recovering from multiple off-season injuries, it seemed Boyd would have a huge opportunity. Instead, Cincinnati signed veteran receiver Brandon LaFell late in free agency and he saw most of the snaps through the first half of the season.

Through the first ten weeks of the season, Boyd’s best effort by far was a four catch, 79-yard game against the Patriots. After star receiver AJ green suffered a hamstring injury early in Week Eleven though, Boyd became the go-to option for quarterback Andy Dalton. In that game, Boyd caught six balls for 54 yards and his first career touchdown. In the following game, Boyd led all Bengals receivers in targets (tied with LaFell), receptions and yards. While Eifert should serve as the team’s top target moving forward, Boyd should certainly continue to play a larger role.

Considering Boyd was valued by most as a late first rounder in the recent draft, pitting him against an early second round pick in the upcoming stacked draft seemed fair. Not only did the large majority of people prefer the pick, but it can be assumed that Boyd is the least valuable of this trio of rookies since all were paired with the same draft pick and he received the smallest percentage of the vote. This is a major surprise to me and tells me Boyd should be on my list of players to target early this off-season.

The next poll features another surprising rookie claiming a larger role for his team.

The injury bug has not been kind to the New England Patriots, but as they often do, they continue to find players to step up and take on a larger role. With recent injuries to wide receiver Chris Hogan and tight end Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots have asked rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell to be that player and step up he has.

After Mitchell suffered what appeared to be a serious elbow injury early in the season, he played sparingly through the team’s first nine games, totaling just seven receptions for 95 yards until his week eleven breakout. In the past two games, Mitchell has easily outperformed his early season numbers, catching nine passes for 140 yards and three touchdowns.

With Gronkowski now done for the season and Julian Edelman seemingly slowing down, some dynasty owners are viewing Mitchell as Tom Brady’s eventual number one target. That chance is enough to give up an early second round pick in what looks to be a deep and talented rookie class, at least for half of the respondents. This split result means it is safe to assume we’ve nailed Mitchell’s current value, but it would only take one more big game to see his value jump up even more.

Our final poll included yet another breakout star from recent weeks.

Chiefs rookie receiver Tyreek Hill is similar to both Mitchell and Boyd in that he has seen his value spike in recent weeks, but there are also plenty of differences. Unlike those two and many others, Hill was mostly off the radar of dynasty owners during rookie drafts. Part of that had to do with a checkered past that saw him playing for multiple schools, while falling to the fifth round of the NFL Draft was not necessarily a good sign for his future either. There was also the question of what position Hill, a college running back, would play in the NFL.

As we know now, Hill has evidently overcome all of these issues and is proving to be a major force for the Chiefs and fantasy players alike. One other difference between Hill and the other two rookies is that he didn’t need an injury to a teammate to shine. While he has really burst onto the scene in the past three games since veteran Jeremy Maclin has been sidelined, Hill showed some explosion prior to that. In Week Four, Hill caught five passes for 24 yards and a touchdown, good enough to rank as the WR26 that week. In week eight, it was a 5/98/1 line that really put him in the limelight with a WR8 showing. Since Maclin has been out, Hill has two more top 14 games and is averaging nearly ten targets per contest. While some are concerned Hill could see a dip in production when Maclin is back on the field, but the two play different roles for the team and should be able to work as a productive duo.

While Hill could not match the pre-season value of Mitchell, Boyd or many others, he is clearly in that conversation now, earning nearly half of the vote against the valuable second round pick. While some continue to doubt Hill due to his size, off the field history or the presence of Maclin, I’ll be buying as many shares as I can come this off-season.


ryan mcdowell