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Fantasy Football Rookies to Watch - Darius Slayton, Alexander Mattison, Ryan Finley


By Week 10 of the NFL season, it almost feels a bit disingenuous to still refer to first-year players "rookies." After all, most of them have seen plenty of on-field action at this point. But hey, the term is still technically accurate and therefore will continue to be used in this column. Just know, for any first-year NFL players who are definitely reading this over breakfast, that I mean no disrespect.

In case you are new to this column, each week we highlight a few first-year players who are worth keeping your eye on. Not all of the players listed below are must-starts, but all of them are in a position to be viable fantasy options.

If any of these names are sitting out on your waiver wire, you should strongly consider picking them up to play this week or stash for your fantasy playoffs if you have space. Ideally, some of these names will help fantasy players get some roster depth which can minimize the negative impact of injuries and bye weeks.

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The Red Zone Phenomenon

Darius Slayton (WR, NYG)

The Giants' fifth-round pick hasn't had a consistent target share to work with this season, but he's produced like a stud when he's gotten the ball. Slayton turned his two receptions into two touchdowns a couple of weeks ago against Detroit, proving he has a nose for the end zone. His opportunities will likely be amplified this week, as Sterling Shepard will once again go back into the concussion protocol and Evan Engram will sit out with a foot injury.

Aside from Saquon Barkley, it will be up to Golden Tate and Slayton to move the chains this Sunday in a prime matchup with the Jets, who are allowing the seventh-most fantasy points to wide receivers. They've also given up 11 touchdowns to the position, though I expect that number to bump up by at least a couple after Slayton is done with them.

 

The Shiny New Dolphin

Patrick Laird (RB, MIA)

If we've learned one thing this year from the 2019 Miami Dolphins that we should've already known from reading The Outsiders, it's that nothing gold can stay. Anything even approaching fantasy relevance from this team has quickly been shut down. Preston Williams is out for the season with a torn ACL. Kenyan Drake was traded to the Cardinals. Mark Walton was suspended for four games for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

Those last two bits have now cleared the way for two rookie running backs to gain opportunities. With only Kalen Ballage ahead of them on the depth chart, seventh-round pick Myles Gaskin and undrafted free agent Patrick Laird are sure to see plenty of work in the passing game. Ballage has Teflon oven mitts for hands, while both Gaskin and Laird are comfortable catching the ball out of the backfield. Laird, in particular, has pass-catching built firmly into his resume, as he notched 96 receptions over his last two years at Cal. Look for Laird to handle the bulk of the receiving work in this one against Indianapolis, which can be a very valuable position in an otherwise mired offense.

 

The Post-Hype Breakout

Keesean Johnson (WR, ARI)

"Who's been hyping up the Cardinals sixth-round pick?" you ask. I have. I have been hard in this column. But there came a breaking point -- after the fourth plus matchup on his schedule yielded yet another extremely meager fantasy stat line -- where I cut ties with Johnson for the year. Naturally, the very next week against the 49ers, who are arguably the best defense in the league, he came out and scored his first touchdown of the season. So guess what folks...I'm back on him.

Johnson has now matched Christian Kirk's targets in the red zone and gets an inviting matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this week. The Bucs have over-committed to stopping the run, which has left them extremely susceptible to chunk plays by receivers. In fact, they've allowed the most fantasy points to receivers on the season. In what Vegas projects to be the highest-scoring game of the week with a 52.5 point over/under, Johnson should see enough work to make him a person of interest.

 

The Understudy 

Alexander Mattison (RB, MIN)

Prior to the start of this season, it was believed by many that Mattison could be one of the most valuable running back handcuffs in fantasy football. Entering Week 10, that notion remains clear. Dalvin Cook currently leads all running backs in rushing attempts (177) and is ninth at his position in receptions. Despite Cook's relatively excellent health so far this season, those numbers for an oft-injured back should start to make fantasy owners a bit nervous.

Mattison has spelled Cook on occasion, to the tune of 71 rushing attempts and a handful of targets. As the Vikings head into the second half of their season, it wouldn't surprise me if that number starts to creep up, if for no other reason than to keep their talented No 1 back healthy. The Dallas defense started the year very solid against the run, though the past few weeks have exposed some cracks. The Cowboys are currently 2nd-best against wide receivers, and with Adam Thielen set to miss this week with a hamstring injury, Minnesota could try to run it early and often. If that's the case, expect Mattison to see a significant number of snaps.

 

The Extreme Underdog

Ryan Finley (QB, CIN)

The Bengals' fourth-round selection will get his first career start this week against Baltimore, and no one could be happier/more terrified for him than I. Finley will start under center behind an offensive line ranked 27th in the league by PFF coming into this season, and who have done everything to prove they actually deserved to be ranked much worse than that. It's worth noting that Finley stands at 6'4" and weighs just barely over 200 lbs, officially qualifying him for the nickname "string bean."

While that would typically be a recipe for great amounts of pain and disappointment for a first-time starter, the Ravens have been surprisingly inept at getting after quarterbacks this season. Baltimore ranks 27th in sack percentage, which at least gives Finley an outside chance of not getting carted off the field with a broken everything on Sunday. Granted, they've also allowed the ninth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks, but you have to look for silver linings where you can find them.

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