Rookie Report Card: Benny Snell, David Blough and Kaden Smith

Dan Meylor

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 how well he’s lived up to those expectations at the NFL level to this point, I’ll grade the player in three categories. Those categories are performance to date, 2019 potential, and long-term upside.

The series continues this week as we shine the spotlight on rookies Benny Snell, David Blough, and Kaden Smith.

Benny Snell, RB PIT

Week 13 Stats: 16 carries, 63 yards, one touchdown, one reception, 4 receiving yards (one target)

Coming out of Kentucky, Snell was known for his rugged running style and for being a between-the-tackles workhorse with a nose for the end zone. His 48 career touchdowns with the Wildcats were spread out between three 1,000 yard rushing seasons and nearly every one of them included a broken tackle or a lunge for the goal line with defenders draped on his back.

Ideally sized to handle a big workload at 5’-10” tall and 225 pounds, he appears on tape to mix good power with enough finesse to make tacklers miss in the open field and excellent balance to bounce off tackles. Despite those strengths, however, many questioned if Snell had the speed to be an impact player on Sundays. His 4.66-second 40-yard dash at the combine left much to be desired and subpar explosion numbers (7.07 three-cone, 4.33 20 yard shuttle) forced even the biggest Snell supporter to think twice about investing in Kentucky’s all-time leading rusher.

Most expected Snell, to be a day three selection but when the Steelers grabbed him in the fourth round to add him to a backfield that already featured James Conner and Jaylen Samuels many dynasty owners’ interest was piqued – myself included – because he fit the mold of many of the recent draft picks Pittsburgh has invested in the position including Conner, Samuels and even Le’Veon Bell. All four of which entered the league with subpar explosion test scores but with college tape that suggested they were quicker than those tests indicated, excellent tackle-breaking ability and a body type that made many think they may be able to lose weight to increase their overall speed.

Although it remains to be seen whether Snell can make an impact in the same way Bell or even Conner has, he’s already making strides to show he can be a useful dynasty asset if given the opportunity. So far in his rookie season, he’s had three games with at least 17 touches. In those games, he’s averaged 18 carries for 78.7 rushing yards (4.4 YPC) and has a rushing touchdown. While it’s concerning as a dynasty owner that he has just one catch in each of those three games which he was featured for a total of just 23 yards, it’s fair to say he’s proven to be a competent runner (at the very least) when relied on.

What may be most impressive is that Snell has done his damage in those three games with very erratic quarterback play from Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges that saw the duo throw for just 186 yards per game, so defenses were allowed to key in on the run.

Through his first 65 carries as a pro, Snell Jr. has tallied 279 yards (4.3 YPC) with a touchdown and three receptions for 23 yards. While his juke rate at Fantasy Data (which Isolates a running back’s on-field elusiveness and tackle-breaking power by dividing the total number of evaded tackles by the total number of touches) is a solid 17.6% and he already has three explosive plays of 15 yards or more (6.1% of his carries) is encouraging for a back known to have questionable explosiveness, the small sample size would suggest dynasty owners should take it with a grain of salt.

Overall, Snell has made a good impression in his first few games and according to his usage over the last couple of weeks has already leapfrogged Samuels on the depth chart. He hits the hole with authority, breaks tackles and always falls forward for extra yardage. To this point, he’s gotten what was blocked plus some which is encouraging. The problem for dynasty owners at this point is projecting his effectiveness and role going forward.

Personally I trust the Pittsburgh coaching staff with running backs so my gut tells me Snell will continue to become more elusive and work diligently to become a useful pass-catcher out of the backfield so I’m confident that if given the chance down the road to be a featured part of a Steelers offense with above-average quarterback play (which they haven’t had this season due to the injury to Ben Roethlisberger) he’ll be a very good fantasy running back with mid-to-low RB2 upside. With that said however, Conner is clearly ahead of him on the depth chart so without an injury to him (which has been very common), it’s difficult to count on him as a weekly fixture in your lineup.

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David Blough, QB DET

Week 13 Stats: 22/38 passing, 280 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, one carry, one rushing yard

Those who have read the Rookie Report Card over the last handful of seasons know I’m not as much of a college football fan as I am a Big Ten fan. I regular choose to watch an unranked matchup between Northwestern and Indiana over a top-ten battle between Auburn and Alabama. I grew up a Wisconsin fan and love the Big Ten Conference because of it. So I’m pretty confident when I say that there are few dynasty analysts that saw David Blough play in college more than myself.

Simply put, in the multiple of times I watched Blough play in college I always thought he was an above-average Big Ten starting quarterback but I never once believed I was watching an NFL caliber prospect. Although he threw for nearly 10,000 yards and 69 touchdowns and showed good arm strength in his four-year career as a starter for the Boilermakers, he never displayed the anticipation and accuracy necessary to make the transition to the NFL while in West Lafayette.

After signing with the Browns as an undrafted free agent and being traded to Detroit in a swap of seventh-round picks in August, Blough spent most of the season as a third-stringer but got a chance on Thanksgiving due to injuries to both Matthew Stafford and Jeff Driskel. His performance was uneven as he started out hot but faded as the game progressed, completing 58% of his passes while throwing for 280 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. Much like he did in college, he showed a strong arm at times (like on the opening drive touchdown pass to Kenny Golladay) but displayed questionable decision making throughout the game and was fortunate to escape with just one interception.

Typically all potential starting quarterbacks should be owned in super flex and 2QB leagues but Blough doesn’t qualify. Even if he gets another NFL opportunity, the expectations will be extremely low.

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Kaden Smith, TE NYG

Week 13 Stats: six receptions, 70 yards (eight targets)

Although Stanford is known for producing playmaking tight ends in the NFL, Smith entered the league without the same pedigree as Zach Ertz or Austin Hooper. Instead, he profiled as an above-average blocker with the potential to play the part of security blanket for his quarterback in the short passing game. His lack of speed (4.92 40-yard dash) made him unlikely to be a field stretcher like his Cardinal predecessors.

After being selected by the 49ers in the sixth round of the draft, Smith was released and signed by the Giants and until recently, wasn’t a part of New York’s offensive game plan. But after injuries to both Evan Engram and Rhett Ellison, he was thrust into action and has been a modest surprise, catching 11 passes for 87 yards and a touchdown over the last two weeks.

Even with the recent success, however, it’s clear that Smith is nothing more than depth for the Giants. Averaging just 7.3 yards per reception, he’s been a check down option for Daniel Jones, therefore offering very little upside to dynasty owners.

If you’re scouring the waiver looking to fill the last spot on your roster going into the off-season, there are likely better options than Smith.

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dan meylor