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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Chris Herndon, TE NYJ
Week Six Stats: two catches, 56 yards, one touchdown reception (two targets)
While scouting tight ends in the off-season, I probably spent more time on Chris Herndon than any other in the 2018 NFL Draft. More than Mike Gesicki, Dallas Goedert, Hayden Hurst and all the rest of them.
A big-time tight end recruit coming out of high school, Herndon spent most of his college career in the shadow of David Njoku. Despite that however, he still managed to catch 46 passes for 571 yards and three touchdowns in his first two seasons on the field behind the starter. When Njoku left for the pros, Herndon used his senior year to catch 40 passes for 477 yards and four scores.
You may be wondering the reason why I spent so much time watching Herndon in the off-season. The simple reason was that a player with his size (6’-4”, 255 pounds) and athletic profile, it seemed to me that he possesses the potential to develop into a pass catching dynasty asset. His flashes of upside at times while at Miami were especially appealing considering that very few were high on him through the draft process.
Showing excellent burst off the line of scrimmage, Herndon gets into his routes quickly. Too quick for most linebackers to keep up with and far too big for most defensive backs to re-route, he’s able to give his quarterback a large target immediately after the snap no matter the coverage.
Herndon also displayed on a regular basis while at Miami great hands and run after catch ability. Able to get to full speed in a couple steps is impressive for someone his size and seeing him break tackles after the catch is eyebrow-raising. His college highlight reel is full of seam-stretching (51-yard touchdown against North Carolina), great catches (43-yard jumping catch and run against Virginia Tech) and tackle-breaking on nearly every grab.
In the weeks leading up to the NFL Draft, I ranked Herndon as my seventh tight end, but that didn’t give justice to my feelings towards him. When he landed with the Jets, who needed a tight end desperately, I became even more interested.
Despite his athletic abilities and a relatively strong landing spot, Herndon’s dynasty stock didn’t rise much. He was a fourth (or even fifth) round draft pick throughout the summer – and one of my favorite late round stashes.
After a quiet preseason that saw him go without a catch, Herndon hasn’t been heard of much as the regular season has begun. Hauling in just five passes for 47 yards and fumbling once through week five despite starting four games, even the biggest Herndon supporter would have been hard pressed to find much to showcase his long-term upside.
That changed slightly in week six, though, when he caught a 32-yard touchdown.
On the play, which was brilliantly designed, Herndon and fellow tight end Jordan Leggett lined up wide to the left along with wide receiver Robby Anderson. The two tight ends faked blocking in front of Anderson before releasing downfield as quarterback Sam Darnold pump faked the screen pass to Anderson. Wide open, Hendon collected the pass down field and used Leggett as a chaperone into the end zone.
All things told, the play didn’t demonstrate much. Nevertheless, it’s encouraging that Herndon made an appearance in the stat sheet.
While nobody should be rushing to get their hands on Herndon – unless he’s for some reason on the waiver wire – I still feel strongly that Herndon is a quality developmental tight end for dynasty owners. His dynasty value certainly hasn’t gone up over the first month-and-a-half of the season, but there’s also no reason for it to have gone down. He should remain squarely on dynasty owners’ radar.
Damion Ratley, WR CLE
Week Six Stats: six catches, 82 yards, (eight targets)
For those of you who regularly read these report cards, you probably know that I frequently start one of these by writing something like, “To be honest, I never heard of this guy until he was drafted.” Believe it or not, this one won’t be one of those.
Damion Ratley was squarely on my radar throughout the off-season. Sure, it’s only because I’m a Christian Kirk fan which gave me the opportunity on a relatively regular basis to eyeball the “other” wide receiver from Texas A&M, but it still counts.
Despite catching just 47 passes for 920 yards in three seasons at College Station, Ratley made an impression on those that got a chance to see him play in college. With a great mix of size (6’-3”, 190 pounds) and speed (4.43-second 40-yard dash) along with smooth route running which features quick changes of direction at the top of his routes and excellent hands to pluck the ball out of the air, he burst onto the scene as a senior by catching six touchdowns and averaging 23.1 yards per catch. Adding a 38-inch vertical and 126-inch broad jump at his pro day, he started getting the attention of talent scouts in the months leading up to the draft.
All of that lead to Ratley being selected with the first pick in the sixth round of the draft which lead to him catching six passes for 68 yards in the pre-season and making the Browns’ roster. For the first five weeks though, Ratley has been inactive three times and silent in the other two games.
When I saw a report on Sunday morning from ESPN NFL Insider Chris Mortensen that Ratley was expected to have a role in the Cleveland offense, I briefly flirted with the idea of picking him up in my deep leagues. Unfortunately though, I ignored those thoughts.
Ratley went on to lead the Browns in catches (six), targets (eight) and receiving yards (82) against the Chargers. Although his biggest play came on a double move, out-and-up that featured an over the shoulder catch and went for 27-yards late in the first half, his most impressive play came on a go-route early in the fourth quarter. With the Los Angeles defense in a zone coverage, Baker Mayfield delivered a high pass between the corner and safety. Ratley skied for the catch while taking a shot from Jahleel Addae at the one-yard line. Showing a knack for getting open, impressive leaping ability, great hands and a killer instinct to come down with the ball on Sunday alone, Ratley should have made an instant impression on all dynasty owners in his first opportunity at playing time.
Sure to be on waivers in all but the deepest dynasty leagues, it’d be a mistake to overlook him when making FAAB bids this week. A very good – although raw – athlete with an excellent opportunity at playing time, every dynasty owner with any kind of roster space should be looking to add him – especially considering his free price tag.
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