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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Sam Darnold, QB NYJ
Week 16 Stats: 24/35 passing, 341 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions, three carries, four rushing yards
Along with Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold was one of two quarterbacks I liked most during draft season. Possessing the size (6’-3”, 220 pounds), accuracy and arm strength to make the leap from the Pac-12 to the NFL, he and Mayfield appeared to be the only quarterbacks able to make multiple reads and deliver the ball with anticipation. Those traits along with the guts to stand in the pocket against the rush and deliver the ball as well as the ability to come back from mistakes without hesitation made him the quarterback I most wanted to be drafted into a prime landing spot and my number one passer in the weeks leading into draft weekend despite his gunslinger mentality that led to far too many turnovers in college.
When Mayfield landed in Cleveland and Darnold ended up with the Jets, the two signal callers flipped in my rankings but that didn’t mean I wasn’t high on his upside. It just meant I’d likely have to be a little more patient with him due to the lack of talent around him.
After winning the starting job out of training camp, dynasty owners didn’t have high expectations of Darnold in his rookie season due to the likes of Robby Anderson and Isaiah Crowell being among the biggest playmakers on the offense. He started the first nine games of the season, completing just under 56% of his passes for 215 yards per game while throwing 11 touchdowns and a league-leading 14 interceptions. Then a foot injury sidelined him until week 14.
In three games since getting back on the field, Darnold has completed 64 of 97 passes (66%) for 255 yards per game and six touchdowns. Most importantly, he’s turned the football over only once.
Having seen each of those 97 passes, I’ve come away impressed with Darnold’s progression since early this season. His rushed demeanor and willingness to put the ball in harm’s way far too often from earlier in the season has given way to a calm pocket passer willing to take a check down or throw the ball away over the last three games. While he’s made a few throws that were questionable through this stretch including one that should have been intercepted against the Packers on Sunday, it appears the game may be slowing down for the rookie and that can mean nothing but good things for dynasty owners looking towards 2019.
Recently on the DLF Dynasty Podcast Ryan, Matt and myself did a mock super flex draft of the 2018 rookies and I chose Darnold fourth overall because I believe he has the talent to be a top-six fantasy quarterback. He just needs more experience and some talent around him, particularly at the skill positions.
While I’m always leery of young quarterbacks having to endure coaching changes early in their careers – which is likely for Darnold – I believe very much that the sky is the limit for him. His arm strength, accuracy and willingness to go through progressions have translated nicely already to the NFL. If there’s a rookie quarterback from this class that can make a leap similar to what Jared Goff and Mitchell Trubisky have done over the last couple of years, Darnold is that rookie. All the Jets have to do is put some pieces in place to help him make that leap.
Sony Michel, RB NE
Week 16 Stats: 18 carries, 116 yards, one touchdown, no catches (one target)
Of all the picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, Michel was the most surprising to me when it was announced.
Don’t get me wrong, I liked Michel as much as nearly anybody, but considering the rumors leading up to the draft of a “bone on bone” knee condition that was described as potentially being “chronic”, it was almost shocking that a team like the Patriots would make the leap of taking him in the first round.
That injury concern along with his enhanced age (23) and the questions surrounding his abilities catching the football gave much of us in the dynasty community pause when considering Michel in rookie drafts despite his incredible vision, burst and power that he displayed while at Georgia. Nevertheless, he remained a top-eight pick in most rookie drafts.
When he started training camp with a knee injury, dynasty owners everywhere cringed and when that same injury kept him off the field in the pre-season and even in week one, many of us really began to question if injuries would be something we’d regularly have to worry about with Michel. Despite playing 11 of 13 games since however, it doesn’t feel that he’s dispelled those concerns as injuries cost him most of the Patriots’ week seven game at Chicago as well as the week ten contest at Tennessee and he’s been listed weekly on New England’s injury report.
When Michel has been on the field he’s been quite effective as a runner, totaling 881 yards and six touchdowns on 195 carries (4.5 YPC). And those numbers don’t even tell the whole story of his rushing production. If you remove the three games that were directly affected by injury (the two mentioned above as well as week two when he was getting his feet wet at Jacksonville) he actually averaged 88 rushing yards per game (4.7 YPC) and scored six times in nine contests which is equal to the rushing production of a top-ten fantasy runner.
For the most part, Michel’s been decisive and has looked explosive. His downhill running style has blended perfectly with James White’s change of pace style to create a dynamic duo for New England. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, however, the Pats’ coaching staff appears to have little faith in the rookie as a pass catcher, as he’s caught just seven passes for 50 yards on the year. That lack of usage has caused Michel – who is the RB25 in standard scoring leagues – to fall to a low end RB3 in PPR leagues on the season as he’s 35th at the position in scoring through 16 weeks. So we may be to the point that, at least in PPR leagues and likely in any scoring format, Michel is a much better NFL running back than he is a fantasy running back.
While I like Michel as a runner, it feels like there are too many bright red flags for me to be on board with his ADP of 30.75 from December. In fact, that ADP appears absurd for a tailback that contributes nothing as a pass catcher and has never shown the ability to do so while also being labeled as injury prone and old for a rookie.
Needless to say, I’ll be shopping Michel in the leagues I own him this off-season. With names like Amari Cooper and Aaron Jones sandwiched around him in ADP, I’m sure to find a fellow owner willing to give a player I’m much more comfortable with for his services.
Find Dan on Twitter at @dmeylor22
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