Throughout the season, the Rookie Report Card has covered some of the biggest rookies and not only looked at their performance to date – but also their long term upside. Now that the regular season has wrapped up and fantasy owners are looking towards the future, we have an opportunity to take one last look at the 2016 season and assess the rookies – A final report card if you will.
We covered 34 rookies throughout the season, including 13 running backs. We have covered eight rookie tailbacks already. Let’s look at the rest of them by taking one more look at their first season, as well as a quick glimpse into their futures.
Kerryon Johnson, RB DET
Season Stats: 118 carries, 641 yards, three touchdowns, 32 receptions, 213 receiving yards, one touchdown reception
Rookie Report Card: Week Seven
Johnson was a player I wasn’t sold on during draft season due to his eager running style which I saw at times to be a lack of patience to let rushing lanes develop. Although he showed explosiveness, his questionable decision making at times when choosing running alleys made me leery that his game may not translate smoothly to Detroit.
That appears to have been a mistake on my part.
Johnson was explosive and decisive in his ten games as the primary runner and offensive weapon for the Lions. He ran downhill between the tackles, showed good long speed on the perimeter and displayed good hands and run after catch ability in the passing game.
Although he missed the end of the year with a knee injury, there are no indications Johnson wouldn’t be ready to return to his role as the best player on the Lions’ offense and dynasty owners have taken notice. Currently the RB13 in DLF’s most recent ADP, he’s already valued as a fringe RB1 and it wouldn’t be surprising to see that grow a few spots over the off-season.
Ronald Jones, RB TB
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Season Stats: 23 carries, 44 yards, one touchdown, seven receptions, 33 receiving yards
Coming out of USC, I saw Jones as one of the more explosive tailbacks in the class. And when he landed in Tampa Bay, which I saw as one of the premiere landing spots for an RB in the draft, I was ready to move him up my rookie rankings – particularly considering the Bucs used a top-40 pick on him.
The honeymoon ended quickly however as negative reports out of Tampa Bay from day one were forcing Jones-apologists everywhere to back away slowly.
Appearing to lack the burst and change of direction ability that he was known for in college for his entire rookie season, Jones never got going in 2018. Regularly stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage and posting a long run of just nine yards, he appeared overmatched, sluggish and disinterested throughout his first season as a pro.
Because of the draft capital the Buccaneers invested in him, Jones most will most likely get another opportunity to carve out a role but it’s difficult to imagine that role being a big one after watching his opportunities as a rookie.
Phillip Lindsay, RB DEN
Season Stats: 192 carries, 1,037 yards, nine touchdowns, 35 receptions, 241 receiving yards, one touchdown reception
Rookie Report Card: Week One
As far as I’m concerned, Lindsay was the most impactful rookie in dynasty leagues in 2018.
A complete unknown who had no expectations when owners added him to their rosters, he posted high-end RB2 numbers consistently as a rookie and was a big part of playoff runs everywhere.
Despite that success however, many dynasty owners are questioning if his rookie production can be repeated, and are considering selling the young Bronco due to his current ADP of RB18.
I’m not one of them. And honestly, I feel like that ADP can rise.
Although Lindsay is small (5’-8”, 190 pounds) he is also extremely explosive and proved as a rookie that he can be very productive despite not always getting a big workload and shouldn’t be pigeonholed into being only a perimeter runner as he regularly showed his quickness and overall speed was enough to make an impact between the tackles as well.
Although he’s unlikely to ever be a top-five option at running back, nobody should be surprised if Lindsay picks up right where he left off next year as the Broncos top runner and playmaker. Even with the coaching change in Denver, he’s one of the best young runners to have on a dynasty roster.
Sony Michel, RB NE
Season Stats: 209 carries, 931 yards, six touchdowns, seven receptions, 50 receiving yards
Rookie Report Card: Week 16
I concluded my thoughts on Michel back in week 16 by saying I would be shopping Michel this off-season and got some negative feedback on it. Nevertheless, I still feel confident that everything we know about his situation in New England screams that we should be fading Michel.
For years, dynasty owners have complained about the usage of Patriots’ running backs and nothing’s changed. Their coaching staff obviously sees James White as their pass catcher and Michel as their thumper between the tackles. And while that will no doubt create great games at times for both, it will also create awful weeks (and stretches) for both as well.
Michel’s five touchdowns over the last couple of playoff games make me even more confident that selling him – especially in PPR leagues – is the thing to do. You may be best off waiting until he scores a couple more in the Super Bowl, however.
Rashaad Penny, RB SEA
Season Stats: 85 carries, 419 yards, two touchdowns, nine receptions, 75 receiving yards
I hesitated to get on the Rashaad Penny bandwagon during draft season despite the Seahawks spending a first round pick on him. Though he showed in college to be an elusive runner for a guy his size (5’-11”, 220 pounds) with good speed, his tall running style and lack of vision to find running lanes gave me pause when other dynasty owners were ranking him among their top-six rookies.
As a rookie, Penny averaged 4.9 yards per carry and had a couple bright spots including a 12-108-1 performance against the Rams that included a very nice 38-yard run, but was mostly overshadowed in the box score by Chris Carson. Despite that, however, he looked good.
Penny showed good burst at the line of scrimmage, the power to break tackles (which he lacked at times in college), and excellent cutback ability (which was also a problem at times at San Diego State). Though many dynasty owners feel Penny was a disappointment as a rookie, I feel the opposite and saw him as a pleasant surprise.
Although Carson was very impressive in 2018, nothing is guaranteed to him next year and nobody should be surprised if Penny takes over that backfield (or at least a bigger share of it) in his second season. Currently the RB26 in January ADP, dynasty owners should expect that to rise in the coming months.
Jaylen Samuels, RB PIT
Season Stats: 56 carries, 256 yards, 26 receptions, 199 receiving yards, three touchdown receptions
Rookie Report Card: Week Ten
I was hesitant to show any confidence in Samuels when I wrote about him in week ten and still am – despite his monster performance on the ground (19-142-0) against the Patriots late in the season.
Although he displayed throughout his rookie season that he can be a weapon for the Steelers in the passing game, Samuels appears to be a pass-catching running back at his best in space which makes it unlikely the Steelers ever give him a regular workload as a runner. And while the role as receiver out of the backfield in Pittsburgh will create fantasy points in PPR leagues, it’s difficult to envision much consistency from it without regular work as a runner.
Samuels appears to be the kind of running back that will always be worthy of a roster spot but difficult to pinpoint when to start which is maddening for dynasty owners. He has the upside to put up RB2 numbers in spurts when asked to fill in for an injured starter but may not have a lot of value on weeks when he’s playing Robin to the starter’s Batman.
Ito Smith, RB ATL
Season Stats: 90 carries, 315 yards, four touchdowns, 27 receptions, 152 receiving yards
Rookie Report Card: Week Nine
Buried behind Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman to start the year, Smith was a pleasant surprise in the first half of the season to many dynasty owners who drafted him in the third or fourth round of rookie drafts last summer. After scoring four times in five games between weeks four and nine, many felt Smith – who was outplaying Coleman in some’s eyes – might take over the role as lead back in Atlanta but that never materialized.
Finishing the year with just 3.5 yards per carry, Smith limped to the finish of his rookie season both figuratively and literally as he failed to reach the end zone the rest of the year and didn’t post more than 34 rushing yards in five of his last six games before going on injured reserve with a knee injury.
With Coleman sure to leave in free agency, Smith will likely battle a new face in the Atlanta backfield for backup duties behind Freeman in 2019, but his role is far from set in stone. While he showed well as a pass catcher and could find his way onto the field that way, dynasty owners should expect the Falcons to look for a better runner to pair with their starter next year.
Jordan Wilkins, RB IND
Season Stats: 60 carries, 336 yards, one touchdown, 16 receptions, 85 receiving yards
After starting the season carrying the ball 24 times for 101 yards while catching five passes for 21 yards in the opening two weeks of the season, Wilkins took a back-seat to Marlon Mack after he returned from injury. And although Wilkins had a couple big runs over the course of the season, it was obvious that Mack (and fellow rookie Nyheim Hines) deserved to be on the field over him.
Wilkins was very inconsistent as a rookie. A slasher that likes to make a single cut and run downhill, he looked indecisive at times when searching for running lanes which caused him to be caught at or behind the line of scrimmage far too often. And with little ability to break tackles – particularly for a guy his size (6’-1”, 216 pounds) – he put his team in a bad situation too much for them to count on him, which they didn’t down the stretch of the year (11 touches in his final eight games including playoffs.)
It appears to me that the Colts don’t have big plans for Wilkins going forward which makes me question whether dynasty owners should.
Check back next week as we start covering the wide receivers.
Find Dan on Twitter at @dmeylor22
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