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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Lamar Jackson, QB BAL
Week 14 Stats: 13/24 passing, 147 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, 13 carries, 71 rushing yards
Jackson was one of the toughest rookies to rank leading into rookie drafts this off-season. Although I loved watching him play at Louisville, I wasn’t sure if his talents would translate to the NFL and honestly, I was incredibly leery of his landing spot.
Baltimore’s history of traditional drop-back pocket passers, as well as the lack of creativity on offense, made me extremely hesitant to want to invest in Jackson in the week’s following the draft. It was a tremendously odd fit so Jackson went from being my top QB before the NFL draft to my fourth-ranked signal caller after the selection. Later though, I returned to my draft moto of elite talent outweighing landing spot in rookie drafts and he returned to the number two spot among rookie quarterbacks.
Elite was the best way to describe Jackson’s play in college, but not in the traditional way you’d describe a quarterback. Elite speed, throw power and playmaking ability outside the pocket both with his legs and his arm became the expectation in his time with the Cardinals. A nightmare for defensive coordinators, he’d burn you with his rocket arm on one play, blaze past defenders with his legs on the next, and escape the pocket, force defensive backs to commit to stopping him run only to lob a pass over their head for a touchdown on the following snap.
Again, he was incredibly impressive in college, but it was scary to predict his NFL future – mostly because of his strengths.
Being so dynamic as a runner, Jackson took an incredible amount of big hits in college due to his insisting on thinking he could make something out of nothing and holding the ball as long as possible. His insistence on trying to make the absolute most out of every play rather than throwing the ball away of sliding made anyone watching him cringe and wonder how long he could stay healthy playing that way – particularly in the NFL. When you compound that with his problems with turnovers and his accuracy – mostly outside the pocket or on downfield throws – it wasn’t difficult for dynasty owners to question if he could be consistently productive on their rosters.
As I wrote above, I couldn’t resist the temptation of Jackson in rookie drafts despite those weaknesses and the questions I had about his landing spot. And I was recommending him as a second-round pick over the summer.
Since taking over as a starter a month ago, Jackson has completed 42 of 89 passes (47.2%) for 150 yards per game and three total touchdown passes, which are not particularly impressive numbers to fantasy owners. But when you add the 84 rushing yards per game and two touchdowns on the ground, they become much more fantasy-friendly. And each time you’d watch him, you’d come away impressed.
That said, I believe strongly that it’s very unlikely a passer of Jackson’s size (6’2”, 212 pounds) can handle the beating that he’s endured every week since taking over for the Ravens over his entire career. And if he can’t, that means he’ll have to improve his accuracy as well as his ability to stand in the pocket and deliver the ball on time drastically to become and stay a top-12 option at the position for an extended time.
Although I’m still mesmerized with his athletic talent and feel Jackson could be an elite fantasy quarterback, I remain incredibly nervous about him approaching and consistently delivering his dynasty upside. While I believe he has high-end QB1 potential, I’d be just fine selling him high in dynasty leagues if the price is right – particularly in single QB leagues and especially if that league is a six-point passing touchdown league.
DaeSean Hamilton, WR DEN
Week 14 Stats: seven catches, 47 yards, one touchdown (nine targets)
Coming out of Penn State, I wasn’t sure how I felt about Hamilton. Despite watching him play some of his biggest games as a Nittany Lion – including his nine-catch, 122-yard, three-touchdown effort against Indiana and five-catch, 110-yard, two-touchdown game v.s. Washington as a Senior, as well as the 118-yard game on eight catches against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game as a Junior, I felt uneasy about how his game would translate to the next level.
A quality Big Ten receiver, he didn’t have a lot of problems creating space out of the slot against inside corners due to sharp routes and the ability to use his size (6’-1”, 205 pounds) to position himself in front of smaller defenders. Having created a lot of his production on third downs and over the middle, he was known as a tough receiver with grit and determination to get everything out of each opportunity.
Despite those positives, however, Hamilton appeared to me to lack NFL-level quickness and speed. Although his sharp routes would create space to catch passes, he struggled to create more separation after the break and regularly allowed defenders to catch him from behind which made me question if he’d regularly be able to separate from NFL caliber defensive backs. Those speed restrictions along with shaky hands at times and his lack of physicality at the line of scrimmage gave me pause when trying to value him entering rookie draft season.
Even with those weaknesses though, Hamilton’s mid-fourth round ADP in dynasty rookie drafts kept me moderately interested. And when he landed in Denver when as a fourth-round pick that ADP didn’t change, most likely due to the presence of Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and first rounder Courtland Sutton. Not surprisingly, I ended up with a few shares of Hamilton in the fourth, and even fifth round of rookie drafts.
Up until week 14, he was playing a limited role, catching just five catches for 61 yards. But with Thomas moving on to Houston at the trade deadline and especially the injury to Sanders last week, Hamilton’s role grew – having the slot role nearly exclusively to himself against the49ers and turning his opportunity into seven catches for 47 yards and a late one-yard touchdown.
Most of Hamilton’s production came underneath on crosses and by using rubs to create separation to get him the ball. His one-yard score came on a rub route to the front pylon that got him wide open, so to call his performance in San Francisco a breakout is completely premature. With that on the record, however, he did make the most of his opportunities and at the very least, we saw that he can catch passes and get what’s available against NFL defenses.
The truth about Hamilton at this point is that he’s a bit of an unknown. But with three more weeks of getting a regular slot guy’s workload, he should be considered somebody worth watching closely as we prepare for 2019.
If he continues to take advantage of this one-month audition and can work his way into a completion for regular work next year – as well as improve his separation skills – there’s a chance Hamilton could make an impact down the road especially considering Thomas is gone and Sanders is at least questionable to be himself to start next year. To be fair, however, there’s also a chance that week 14 along with next three Sunday’s could be the most productive month of his career.
Outside of Sutton, there are no givens among Denver’s wide receiver group next season so Hamilton has a chance to gain value over the next few weeks. We should all be paying attention.
Find Dan on Twitter at @dmeylor22
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