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, 2018 potential, and long-term upside.
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Christian Kirk, WR ARI
Week Five Stats: three catches, 85 yards, one touchdown reception (four targets), one carry, five rushing yards
Those of us that play in devy leagues have had Chrisitan Kirk on our dynasty radars for quite some time. One of the top high school recruits in his class, his upside was through the roof and he showed it as soon as he got on campus – catching 80 passes for 1,009 yards and seven touchdowns as a freshman. Building on those stats over the next two seasons, he entered the NFL a year early.
Coming out of Texas A&M, Kirk had a reputation as a shifty slot guy. Strong and quick, he showed in college that he could make up for a lack of long speed with power off the line of scrimmage against the press and shiftiness at the top of his routes. One of the best route runners in his rookie class, he shines when changing directions in an effort to create separation against man defenders.
That route running combined with very good hands and above average skills after the catch made Kirk a top-three wide receiver in my rookie rankings entering the NFL draft. Once Kirk landed in Arizona in the middle of the second round, he was cemented there.
Since being drafted by the Cardinals, Kirk has followed up an uneven preseason that saw him catch eight passes for 59 yards and a score with a strong start to his rookie campaign.
With the exception of week one against Washington, Kirk has been a relatively big part of the Cardinals’ offense over the first month of the season. Currently leading the team in catches (19) and receiving yards (234), and third on the team in targets (24) behind Larry Fitzgerald (27) and Ricky Seals-Jones (24), his impact is becoming noticeable in the box score. When you consider Kirk is fourth on the team in snaps among pass catchers with 185, behind Fitzgerald (220), Chad Williams (219) and Seals-Jones (208), a case could be made that the rookie is already the most effective pass catcher on the roster.
Along with his encouraging usage and production, Kirk is passing the eye test on a regular basis. In week three, he mixed in quick crossing routes with an impressive out-and-up that got him wide open and created big plays for the Arizona offense. Then on Sunday, he hooked up with fellow rookie Josh Rosen on the first play of the game for a 75-yard touchdown on a go-route out of the slot to the left that featured nice patience to bend the route to the outside that created space in the middle of the field to run under a perfectly thrown rainbow pass.
Although dynasty owners probably shouldn’t get used to seeing Kirk make plays deep downfield, it was certainly encouraging to see that the coaching staff is willing to use him at times in such a role. What we should probably get used to seeing, however, is Kirk running quick routes out of the slot and making short to intermediate receptions and racking up yards after the catch.
It appears to me that Kirk will continue to get opportunities as a rookie and should contend to be one of the top targets of Rosen on a weekly basis. While he’s sure to have ups and downs in his first season, his potential to be an 80-plus catch receiver is already showing in spurts. Considering Fitzgerald’s advanced age and the lack of other playmakers on the perimeter in Arizona, it shouldn’t be surprising if he realizes his WR2 upside in PPR leagues as soon as 2019.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR GB
Week Five Stats: seven catches, 68 yards, one touchdown (10 targets)
When the Packers selected Valdes-Scantling late in the fifth round of the NFL draft back in April, I – like many Green Bay fans as well as dynasty owners – said, “who?”
I had never heard of MVS.
A quick internet search revealed a big (6’-4”, 205 pounds) receiver with good speed (4.37 40-yard dash) and despite relatively modest overall numbers in his four years of college, he appeared to have a habit of making big plays – averaging 17.3 yards per reception and catching 11 touchdowns in his Junior and Senior years at South Florida.
Watching Valdes-Scantling play in college, he appeared to be a man among boys in stature and bigger and more powerful than most defensive backs. Blessed with great long speed, he used long strides in college to gain separation from defenders. Although he lacked sharp route running and appeared plagued by drops at times, he showed promise to develop into a field stretcher and big-play receiver if he could progress as a route runner.
The fact that he landed in Green Bay with a chance to play with Aaron Rodgers was also enticing to dynasty owners. Even with that upside, however, I still preferred Green Bay’s fourth-round pick, WR J’Mon Moore and sixth rounder, WR Equanimeous St. Brown slightly if the chance presented itself to select a Packers wideout in early rookie drafts.
That changed as training camp the preseason started to play out, however.
It took only one preseason game for Valdes-Scantling to separate himself from the other rookie wideouts in Green Bay. His five catch, 101-yard effort in week one of the preseason was highlighted by an above-the-rim touchdown catch where he ripped the football away from a defensive back who was in good position to make a play.
Despite catching just four more passes for 56 yards for the rest of the preseason, it was obvious from all reports coming out of Green Bay that MVS was next in line to play with Rodgers behind Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, and Geronimo Allison.
Fast forward to week five of the regular season when Cobb (hamstring) and Allison (concussion) were unavailable, and Valdes-Scantling got that chance and took advantage.
Playing 95% of Green Bay’s offensive snaps and catching seven passes 68 yards and his first NFL touchdown, MVS was open throughout the second half. He nearly caught a second touchdown as well, but replay revealed he was down a half-yard short of the goal line.
Overall, it doesn’t appear Valdes-Scantling has improved dramatically as a route runner just yet, but he has shown an ability to get open at times against both man and zone coverage and his drops haven’t reared its ugly head just yet.
Considering Cobb is playing out the final year of his contract as well as Allison’s lack of pedigree and big play ability, there appears to be an opportunity for regular playing time alongside Rodgers in the near future. There’s certainly no guarantee MVS is the next Packers wideout to make a fantasy impact, but dynasty owners should have hope that he could potentially develop into a useful asset and outperform his third or fourth round rookie ADP of the off-season.
Find Dan on Twitter at @dmeylor22