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Broken Hearts Club: Dealing With Underperforming Rookies in Dynasty

Every summer we become obsessed with rookies who are going to take the fantasy world by storm. We tune into preseason games or watch highlights and get excited by the Amir Abdullah big runs, the Mike Boone shiftiness, or the Deon Cain receptions. We all swear we see the rookie that is going to take us to a fantasy championship.

Sometimes we're right. We grab the Terry McLaurin before anybody else does. Other times, we draft Tre'Quan Smith and wonder what happened. However, just because a rookie doesn't deliver after his first season, doesn't mean it's time to give up. In fact, oftentimes the best value in fantasy drafts is on the second-year players who people have unfairly maligned after one bad season. You can take advantage of people's recency bias and scoop up a talented player who is ready to make good on his experience.

With that in mind, and while the performances are fresh in our heads, I'm going to look at some of the hyped rookies who failed to deliver this season and help you decide whether you should still have eyes for them or finally come to your senses and find another player to dream over.

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Stay the Course

Darwin Thompson (RB, Kansas City Chiefs)

There was perhaps no rookie with more drooling fantasy fans over the summer than the Utah State rookie. He had an ADP of 118 in August, which put him in the 10th round in 12-team leagues; yet, he finished with just 171 total yards and one touchdown in 12 games. His inability to break the lineup over Darrel Williams was concerning, and the Chiefs chose to bring in Spencer Ware off the street at the end of the season rather than give Thompson extended run. However, the Chiefs' decision to make LeSean McCoy a healthy scratch in the final few weeks suggests that they might be beginning to see more value in Thompson. With Damien Williams still the lead back, Thompson could push for a role next year as part of a multi-back committee that Andy Reid likes to employ.

On the season, Damien Williams operated as the lead back, but only averaged 45% of the team's carries, and he saw over 66% in only one game the entire season. If Darwin Thompson could get at least the 35% of team rushing attempts that McCoy got this year, he could become a valuable fantasy asset with the chance to push for more due to the effectiveness he showed when he was on the field. He had a 10.8% percent broken tackle rate, which is well above average, an 81.1% positive rush rate, an elite 90% catch rate, and amassed an impressive 64.8% of yards after contact. Given his impressive open-field speed and clear value in the receiving game, the fact that Thompson was able to handle the physicality of the NFL and show value on the ground raises his floor considerably. With McCoy likely gone after this season, Darrel Williams is all that stands between Thompson and valuable fantasy touches.

Justice Hill (RB, Baltimore Ravens)

If you listened to fantasy chatter in late August it was easy to assume Mark Ingram was a fraud and Gus Edwards had retired from football. There was so much certainty in Justice Hill eventually taking over the Ravens' starting running back job that his ADP settled at 149, which put him as a 13th round pick in 12-team leagues. Much of the process that got people to that place proved correct. Greg Roman designed an offense that effectively made use of Lamar Jackson's scrambling and the team ran the play 56% of the time, which was the highest percentage in the NFL. The issue was that Mark Ingram saw 37% of those carries and Lamar Jackson saw 32%, which left little for other players. When the Ravens did decide to turn to another back, it was almost always Edwards, who handled 21.5% of the tam's touches, leaving only 9% for Hill on the season. However, there is some silver lining.

For starters, Edwards is limited as a running back and is not under contract with the Ravens for next season. Despite his relatively high number of touches, Edwards only saw seven total targets in the passing game; Hill doubled that in far less time on the field. Mark Ingram may have dominated touches this year, but he's also a 30-year-old running back with a bruising style who often gets nicked up during the season. Hill is a far more dynamic pass-catcher, with an average of 10 yards after the catch, and had an 86.2% positive run percentage this season. He is a play-maker who is also proving that he can get hard yards when he needs to, which makes him more than qualified to move into the team's number two back role. It's feasible that the Ravens decide not to bring Edwards back next season, or that some team offers the 25-year-old a chance to come in and compete for a starting job, which would put Hill right behind Ingram in the most run-heavy system in the league.

T.J. Hockenson (TE, Detroit Lions)

When the Lions drafted Hockenson in the lottery, many fans forgot that we just did this with Eric Ebron years ago and salivated over what Hockenson could do in that offense. Mix that with the lack of clear depth at tight end, and Hockenson wound up with an ADP of 161, making him the 13th tight end off the board, ahead of guys like Greg Olsen, Mark Andrews, and Darren Waller. He then exploded out of the gate with six catches for 131 yards and a touchdown, and everybody expected records to be broken. That would wind up being the highlight of the season as Hockenson finished with only 367 yards and two touchdowns. However, it's not all bad news.

Tight end is among the hardest positions to transition to in the NFL given the speed/athleticism of coverage linebackers and the size/strength of the players that tight ends are required to block. Expectations for Hockenson were likely already exaggerated. The rookie also was banged up multiple times during the year and wound up missing the final four games of the season. Of the 12 games he played, only nine of them were with Matthew Stafford, who was also injured for the second half of the season. Despite that, Hockenson produced an above-average 3.4% drop rate and an average of 6.3 yards after the catch, also above average for a tight end. He's a young player with elite measurables who dominated the snaps at his position, playing an average of 64% when he was healthy, despite his deficiencies as a blocker. If Hockenson can get stronger as a blocker, as many tight ends do during their first few years, he will see even more time on the field. With a healthy Lions offense, he could easily see a delayed breakout.

Andy Isabella (WR, Arizona Cardinals)

Andy Isabella was a favorite of the online scouting community after a productive career at UMass. He was given high scores on most evaluating systems and was recently revealed to be the third-most valuable non-quarterback in Pro Football Focus' College Football Wins Above Average stat. Arizona clearly saw something it liked when it made him the 62nd overall selection in the draft, and fantasy owners scooped him up at an ADP of 188 in drafts this season. Then he finished with 189 yards and a touchdown on only 13 targets and saw a decrease in total snaps over the last four weeks despite his team never really being in playoff contention.

So why am I still bullish on Isabella? Well, he didn't lose any of his elite speed, showed tremendous yards-after-the-catch ability on his few catches, dropped zero passes all season, and had a strong 70% catch rate. He will also benefit the most from Larry Fitzgerald's likely retirement. At 5'9" 190 pounds, Isabella is not built to play on the outside; however, he saw 56% of his snaps at left outside receiver. This was almost surely due to Fitzgerald playing 84% of his snaps in the slot. Additionally, the highest slot percentage on the team belonged to Pharoh Cooper, who played 85% of his 231 snaps from the slot. Cooper does not have the talent to match Isabella, so if Fitzgerald does retire, there is a prime opportunity for Isabella to move into a heavy-slot role on a team that threw to ball on 60% of their plays this season.


Temper Expectations

Darrell Henderson (RB, Los Angeles Rams)

A prolific big-play threat coming out of Memphis, Henderson was the rookie sleeper with the highest ADP, with an average of 93.4, making him a popular 8th round pick in 12-team leagues. With reports that Todd Gurley was dealing with a degenerative knee condition, many thought Henderson would feature prominently in an explosive Rams offense. As the season unfolded, it was clear that this wasn't the same Rams offense and Todd Gurley wasn't just going to give up his hold on the top job. Now, Gurley did have his snaps monitored and wasn't nearly as effective as years past, but that also had to do with the Rams poor offensive line, which ranked 31st according to Pro Football Focus.

With Malcolm Brown still second on the depth chart, Henderson only saw 45 touches on the season; although, he did raise eyebrows with some elite peripherals: a 20.5% broken tackle percentage, 82.3% of yards after contact, and 3.1 average yards after contact. However, he played behind Brown when Gurley was out, and Brown is under contract for another season. Gurley may still have a chronic knee issue, but he also played 80% of the Rams' snaps over the final four weeks and came out unscathed, so he's not a lock to get hurt. While Henderson is still an intriguing talent, the Rams backfield is currently too crowded and the offensive line is currently too porous to imagine he will have much fantasy value next year. Dynasty leagues should still value him highly because he has legit talent once he takes over a starting job - somewhere.

N’keal Harry (WR, New England Patriots)

A big-bodied play-maker from Arizona State, Harry seemed like the logical solution to the Patriots boundary receiver issue when the team took him with their first-round pick. His ADP shot up to 127, which made him an 11th round pick, and many people expected him to ride Tom Brady's coattails to fantasy success. Then Harry was placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury, the Patriots signed Antonio Brown, the Patriots re-signed Josh Gordon, and Harry's time seemed like it was over before it started. Yet, weeks later, the Patriots cut Antonio Brown, and they'd go on to cut Josh Gordon, and Harry would be activated to a depth chart short on experience behind slot receiver Julian Edelman and trade acquisition Mohamed Sanu. Still, Henry wasn't able to make much of an impact, totaling 12 receptions for 105 yards and two touchdowns on the year.

It's just not all doom and gloom. For starters, Harry saw the field on 40% of the team's snaps over the final four weeks, third on the team behind Edelman and Sanu. He also has a solid 4.3% drop rate and remains a natural athlete with impressive ability after the catch. He is young for the rookie class and was a prospect who needed to clean up some technical issues with his route running and hands. He was also drafted to a franchise that historically does not run rookies out onto the field and saw targets from Brady in a year where the veteran signal-caller looked like a shell of his former self. The ceiling is still high for Harry in a well-run organization with only Sanu ahead of him for boundary snaps. It's not time to give up on him yet.

Miles Boykin (WR, Baltimore Ravens)

At 6'4" 22o pounds, when Miles Boykin ran a 4.42 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, he sealed his fate as a fantasy darling. Then he got drafted by the receiver-needy Ravens in the third round and everybody started to see the pieces fall into place. Boykins's ADP landed at 197, so he wasn't drafted in many leagues, but many analysts believed a second-half breakout was likely. Instead, Boykin played 38% of the team's snaps and finished with 13 catches for 198 yards and three touchdowns. He also had a catch rate of 59% and received only 5% of the overall targets on a team that threw the fewest passes of any in the league. However, it's not all bad news.

Boykin played exclusively on the outside, where the team's leader in snaps was Seth Roberts, a 28-year-old Raiders re-tred who was only signed to a one-year contract. If Roberts is not brought back, it will open up a much larger role for Boykin. Perhaps more importantly, Boykins also popped during his limited red zone usage this season, corralling three of his four total targets, each for a touchdown. With his size, Boykins could emerge as the team's top red-zone option, or second behind Mark Andrews, even if Marquise Brown continues to operate as the team's true WR1. Brown has also not been a beacon of health, needing surgery on his foot after his final year at Oklahoma and then battling an ankle injury for much of this season. Foot injuries for speed receivers can be particularly damaging, and Boykin would be in a prime position to move to the top of the depth chart if Brown ever missed any time.

Kelvin Harmon (WR, Washington Redskins)

Kelvin Harmon wasn't high on fantasy radars this year given people's concerns about the team that drafted him. With the Redskins rolling out a below-average offense, Harmon went off the board 286th on average. He saw 10 snaps or less in four of the first eight games, and it seemed like it would be a lost year for the North Carolina State receiver. However, injuries and the firing of Jay Gruden led to more opportunities, and over the last four weeks of the season, Harmon led the Redskins with 86% of the team's snaps. While he never topped 58 yards in any of those games, he boasted an impressive 68.2% catch rate and seemed to be the victim of the team's poor quarterback play.

In college, Harmon was a refined route runner with the upper body strength to make contested catches, but he lacked the speed to create consistent separation against NFL defensive backs. He likely would thrive with an accurate quarterback who he worked with to create passing windows where he could use his strength and intelligence to win. Instead, he got Dwayne Haskins. With Terry McLaurin on board to take the top off of the defense, Harmon can thrive in the middle of the field if he gets paired with a capable quarterback. With Ron Rivera taking over in Washington, it's possible that McLaurin occupies the Curtis Samuel role of soaking up air yards and catching screens in space, while Harmon could be a slower DJ Moore, taking advantage of the gaps in the middle of the field. As of right now, he has too much natural talent to simply turn away from.


Abandon Ship

Damien Harris (RB, New England Patriots)

Well, we lost another one to the Patriots running back shuffle. Despite always being part of a committee at Alabama, many people saw the Patriots' selection of Harris in the third round as a sign that Sony Michel's knee injuries were a concern. The Patriots had surely drafted a successor, which was why fantasy owners scooped Harris up at an ADP of 132, good for an 11th round pick. What they got instead was a whopping four carries and a healthy scratch in all but two games this season. The truth is that no running back in the current Patriots system will ever be a fantasy lock. Belichick and his disciples love to play guys in specific roles. But even on another team, I'm not so sure Harris would thrive.

He's not an especially fast running back or one who wins with strength. He's not particularly big or with outstanding agility. He has some explosiveness and a little bit of wiggle, but he's more of a safe option than a true threat. He could very well carve out a solid career for himself, but he strikes me as more of a committee back and one you won't want to roster while he's on a team that loves to give every running back a little taste of the action.

JJ Arcega-Whiteside (WR, Philadelphia Eagles)

Despite coming into the season with an ADP in the mid 200s, Arcega- Whiteside was a bit of a fantasy darling given his standing as a second-round pick and his 28 touchdowns on 10.5 yards per target during his three years at Stanford. With good size and long arms, many people thought JAW would make a smooth transition into the NFL. He was expected to be buried on the depth chart behind Alshon Jeffrey, DeSean Jackson, and Nelson Agoholor, but was a strong receiver who could make catches in traffic and had a safe floor. Then the Eagles options in front of him started dropping like flies, the rookie's snaps rose to almost 70% over the last four weeks, and he wasn't able to capitalize on the opportunity. In fact, he got passed by a converted tight end and a wide receiver who had been a quarterback in college just a year ago.

Arcega-Whiteside's lack of speed and inability to create consistent separation hurt him as he was unable to win with strength against NFL corners. He struggled with a 45.5% catch rate and averaged only 2.1 yards after the catch. If he wasn't able to produce as a safe, high floor prospect in the situation he was thrust into this year, how can we expect him to produce when his team has a full complement of options?

Dwayne Haskins (QB, Washington Redskins)

Haskins was a force in his one season as a starter at Ohio State, throwing 50 touchdowns to only eight interceptions. He added four rushing touchdowns on top of that which was meant to be an indication that his legs would give him a safe fantasy floor. He was meant to be the second quarterback off the board, and people watching the draft laughed at the Giants for picking Daniel Jones over him. Then Haskins was thrust into action with the Redskins and the allure seemed to wear off. He threw three interceptions in his first outing against a bad Giants secondary and then threw another in his next performance against the Vikings. He compiled a well below-average 23.2% bad pass rating, an even worse 12.5% sack rate, and fumbled the ball six times. While some of that could be attributed to his supporting cast, Case Keenum only had a 5.7% sack rate playing behind the same offensive line.

Keenum also propped up the Redskins best receiver, Haskins' college teammate Terry McLaurin, who averaged 12.8 fantasy points in half-point PPR leagues and had five touchdowns in the seven games that Keenum was his quarterback while averaging 10.4 fantasy points and hauling in two touchdowns in seven games with Haskins at quarterback. This discrepancy is despite Haskins playing against the Jets, Lions, Eagles, Giants, and Panthers - all teams that ranked 22nd in the NFL or worse in fantasy points allowed to wide receivers. Sure, the Redskins supporting cast could have been better, but Haskins didn't instill a lot of confidence in his first go-round and on a franchise that just hired a new coach and GM, it's possible that his time in Washington may be short-lived.

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