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Fantasy Football Rookies to Watch in Week 11: Najee Harris, Michael Carter, and more

Najee Harris - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Injury News, DFS Lineup Picks

Every week, this column will spotlight the first-year players who are ripe for a breakout performance. Oftentimes, rookies can provide some of the most value as under-the-radar options.

Through 10 weeks, Bengals receiver Ja'Marr Chase has been the most impressive rookie in fantasy. The LSU product has 44 receptions, 835 yards, and seven touchdowns in nine games, making him the WR4 on the season in standard leagues. However, while Chase may be following in the footsteps of former teammate Justin Jefferson by dominating from the get-go, other rookies deserve attention as well. This week's edition of this article will focus on these non-Chase options.

For dynasty leagues, this column should help identify ideal trade targets and prized stashes. For redraft managers, this column could provide the edge necessary for a championship run. Most of the players in this week's article are well-known, but a few are sneaky sleepers.

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The Blooming Passer

Justin Fields (QB, CHI)

The last time I wrote about Justin Fields, I emphasized that he would need to improve as a passer before fantasy managers could trust him. Well, that week he put up his best passing yardage total as a pro, accumulating 291 yards on just 29 pass attempts in a valiant comeback effort. While he did throw an interception and take three sacks, this development was encouraging to see; his previous high-water mark for yards was just 209. His 10.0 yards per attempt was also the second-highest average he has reached and the highest out of games where he threw at least 20 passes.

Additionally, the first-round rookie out of Ohio State ran for 45 yards in that game versus Pittsburgh, the second-best rushing total of his young career. His stat line was good enough for him to finish as a top-10 QB for the second consecutive week. Now coming off of his bye week, Fields will take on the Baltimore Ravens. Make sure to tune in on Sunday to see if Fields can continue his momentum and further establish his fantasy value.

 

The Reliable Workhorse

Najee Harris (RB, PIT)

The Pittsburgh Steelers are using their new toy at running back at an astronomical rate. A first-round rookie from Alabama, Najee Harris has toted the ball 176 times on the ground, behind only a now-injured Derrick Henry. Harris also has the second-most receptions among running backs with 44 catches, trailing just D'Andre Swift with 50. In total, Harris has the most weighted opportunities, highest opportunity share, highest route participation, most routes run, and highest snap share at his position. The first-year runner is clearly the focal point of the offense.

Harris has parlayed his massive workload into remarkably consistent production. He has finished as a top-14 RB in PPR every week except for Week 1. Harris is as reliable as they come, and he should be considered a top-5 RB for both the remainder of the season and dynasty. Harris and the Steelers take on the Los Angeles Chargers this week, a team with a particularly porous defense when it comes to stopping running backs. The Chargers have surrendered the second-most fantasy points to opposing RBs in 2021.

 

The First-Year Veteran

Michael Carter (RB, NYJ)

Despite being a fourth-round pick in this year's draft, Jets running back Michael Carter was quoted this week saying that he has "never really felt like a rookie. Ever." As of late, he hasn't been producing like one either. Since his Week 6 bye week, Carter has gained at least 80 scrimmage yards in each game, including a 172-yard eruption against Cincinnati. The first-year player from North Carolina has been the RB3 over the last four weeks, behind just Jonathan Taylor and James Conner.

An intriguing aspect of Carter's profile is that he has been putting up points despite the Jets running the second-least frequently in the league with just 21.3 run plays per game. Carter has been overcoming this because of his increased usage in the passing game. In his first five games, he ran 54 total routes. In his last four, that number was 100. Carter is facing a Miami defense this week that has yielded the sixth-most fantasy points to running backs this year. Look for him to put up another top-20 RB finish.

 

The Promising Pass-Catcher

Rashod Bateman (WR, BAL)

Baltimore's first-round pick this year, receiver Rashod Bateman, didn't see the field until Week 6, but since then he has been playing quite well. Last week he set a new career-high with six receptions, and he matched his best yardage total with 80. Bateman has seen at least six targets in all four games that he has played; he has been targeted on 27.7 percent of his routes run, 17th among all wideouts. The rookie from Minnesota also has gained 2.39 yards per route run, the 18th highest average at his position.

The problem is that Bateman just isn't running enough routes. His route participation rate of 66 percent is just 77th among receivers. Until the Ravens get him more involved, Bateman's fantasy value will be capped. Still, his efficiency is solid, and a favorable matchup this week against the Chicago Bears makes Bateman worthy of consideration as a flex play in many leagues. The key to watch for is if he plays more snaps or runs more routes than in previous weeks; if so, his fantasy value will continue to rise.

 

The Bright Spot

Amon-Ra St. Brown (WR, DET)

The fact that the Lions tied the Steelers last week wasn't the only aspect of that game taken from the 1940s. Detroit's quarterback Jared Goff mustered a measly 114 passing yards despite playing the full game and overtime; the Lions simply let their rushing attack take the reins. Even with the lack of passing production, one receiver on Detroit managed to stand out: fourth-round rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown. On a day where tight end T.J. Hockenson was invisible, St. Brown gained 61 receiving yards, or 54 percent of Goff's passing, on four catches.

St. Brown has three games where he played at least 70 percent of his team's snaps, and all three came in the last five weeks. Unfortunately, the Lions will be breaking in a new quarterback this week due to a Goff injury. Tim Boyle will be at the helm, and that could disrupt the progress St. Brown has been making. Or, by contrast, Boyle could favor him over Hockenson like Goff did last week. The uncertainty with this situation, as well as his solid showing despite adverse circumstances last week, makes St. Brown a rookie to watch this Sunday.

 

The Boise Baller

John Bates (TE, WAS)

With tight ends Logan Thomas and Ricky Seals-Jones both injured last week, Washington turned to fourth-round rookie John Bates to fill in. Bates, who played his college ball at Boise State, is generally more known for his blocking abilities than his receiving prowess, but he did make three catches for 25 yards last week. Both figures were career-highs.

Now with Seals-Jones ruled out for Week 11 and Thomas listed as doubtful, the franchise will again need Bates to step into the vacancy left behind. Considering Thomas and Seals-Jones have both achieved fantasy relevance in this Washington offense, we can't rule out the possibility that Bates does the same. He does have an 88th percentile agility score to his credit, and his 64.8 percent snap share last week was higher than those of Kyle Pitts and Dallas Goedert. Under the right set of circumstances, Bates could be productive this week against Carolina.



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