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Fantasy Football Rookies to Watch in Week 17: Trey Lance, Josh Palmer, and more

Joshua Palmer - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

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.

Last week's Monday night matchup between Miami and New Orleans was defined by two rookies. Due to injuries and a COVID-19 outbreak in the quarterback room, the Saints were forced to start fourth-round rookie Ian Book under center. Book struggled mightily in his professional debut, passing for just 135 yards while tossing two interceptions and taking eight sacks. On the other hand, Miami's Jaylen Waddle, a prized first-year wideout out of Alabama, caught 10 of 12 targets for 92 yards and a score. While only Waddle put up impressive numbers, both performances were noteworthy because of their real-world and fantasy implications. It's games like this that prove why so many rookies are worth watching each week.

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 you to win your league's championship. This week's article includes both prominent fantasy options and those that are less well-known. 

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The Hyped Athlete

Trey Lance (QB, SF)

Despite San Francisco GM John Lynch's Twitter activity, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was not left stuck in Nashville last weekend. However, he is likely to be stuck on the sideline with a thumb injury for this Sunday's game versus Houston. That leaves rookie Trey Lance in line to start for San Francisco in a crucial matchup for the team. Lance already has NFL starting experience, as he filled in for Garoppolo in Week 5. That week he completed 15 of 29 passes for 192 yards and ran 16 times for 89 yards, finishing as the QB20 despite not scoring a touchdown.

This week's outing provides a great opportunity for Lance to produce for fantasy managers. His rushing volume gives him significant upside, and Lance has also demonstrated an ability to make plays through the air as well. Dynasty managers with stock in Lance will of course be watching how he performs, but redraft managers should as well. Houston's defense is far from formidable this season, and Lance's upside makes him worth a look as a starter in fantasy championships. This game will be a glimpse of the future for this year's third-overall pick.


The Busy Back

Najee Harris (RB, PIT)

Steelers rookie running back Najee Harris has been featured in this column several times already this season, and one fact has remained constant each time: Pittsburgh gets him the ball a lot. His efficiency has admittedly been lackluster; he has scored just 0.74 PPR fantasy points per opportunity, 54th among running backs. However, he gets so many opportunities that he is a must-start. In fact, he has the most targets and third-most carries at his position this year.

Harris failed to produce to his standard in Week 15, totaling just 26 scrimmage yards. However, any of his fantasy managers who survived that round of their playoffs ought to be encouraged by his showing last week. The rookie out of Alabama had 19 carries for 93 yards and also tacked on five catches for 17 yards. There's no reason to expect anything different this Monday night despite a fairly tough matchup versus the Browns defense.


The Enticing Pickup

Jaret Patterson (RB, WAS)

In the second half of last week's primetime debacle against Dallas, Washington running back Jaret Patterson saw a solid number of garbage-time carries. Patterson finished the game with nine totes for 33 yards, and he may be looking at even more work this week. That's because starter Antonio Gibson was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Friday, leaving a vacancy in the team's lineup. Jonathan Williams and Wendell Smallwood will also factor into the team's gameplan, but Patterson is likely to be the primary beneficiary of a Gibson absence.

In Week 8 versus Denver, Patterson saw an extended amount of work with Gibson hampered by a shin injury. In that opportunity, the rookie from Buffalo turned his 11 carries into 46 yards, a solid yet unremarkable average of 4.2 yards per carry. Unfortunately, Patterson has yet to see any meaningful work in the passing game, as evidenced by his mere five targets on the season. Because Washington runs the ball the 12th most times per game, Patterson is an intriguing sleeper should Gibson be forced to sit, but his upside is capped. Nonetheless, don't miss the opportunity to see what Patterson can do in his chance against Philadelphia.


The Budding Talent

Josh Palmer (WR, LAC)

The Chargers' receiving corps has been decimated by both injuries and COVID-19 in recent weeks, but one constant has been rookie Josh Palmer. In Week 14 with star wideout Keenan Allen sidelined, Palmer set career highs with five catches on seven targets for 66 yards. Last week, Mike Williams and Jalen Guyton were both on the reserve/COVID-19 list; Palmer turned in five catches again, this time on six targets for 43 yards. He found the end zone in both games, and he finished as a top-25 fantasy WR both weeks as well.

Guyton and Williams have both been activated already this week, so Palmer's path to targets will return to its baseline. The storyline to watch here though is if Palmer did enough with his chances to surpass Guyton as the team's WR3. Guyton had out-snapped Palmer in each of L.A.'s first 10 games, but in the four that they've played together since he's done so just once. With Williams on track to be a free agent in the offseason, this development has lots of significance for dynasty managers. Make sure to find out if Palmer can continue his ascension against Denver on Sunday.


The Unpredictable Option

Rashod Bateman (WR, BAL)

A first-round pick out of Minnesota, Rashod Bateman has been very inconsistent since his midseason debut. In 10 games played, Bateman has had three with 80-plus receiving yards and two with fewer than 10. In addition, his target numbers over the past five weeks have been four, one, eight, two, and five. His production even fluctuates within games. Last week he caught four passes for 26 yards, including his first career touchdown, on Baltimore's first drive of the game. He failed to make another grab all day.

While Bateman's volatility can be attributed to both his inexperience and the team's revolving door at QB, it certainly makes for a frustrating state of affairs for fantasy managers. The team's quarterback situation remains up in the air this week with former MVP Lamar Jackson's status for Sunday unclear. Bateman has produced a seven-catch, 103-yard stat line with backup Tyler Huntley at the helm though, so he cannot be counted out as a fantasy option regardless of who is running the offense. He is a risky play versus the Rams this week. 


The Expectations Exceeder

John Bates (TE, WAS)

Tight end John Bates was one of the few bright spots for Washington in their blowout loss to the Cowboys last week. While the rookie from Boise State did make just two catches, they went for 45 yards and a score. His performance drew praise from offensive coordinator Scott Turner, who said that Bates "has exceeded [their] expectations" and "catches everything." The momentum is clearly building for Bates; after having been out-snapped by Ricky Seals-Jones over the first 15 weeks of the season, the rookie turned the tables by a 45 to 27 margin last Sunday night.

Bates isn't seeing enough volume to be a reliable fantasy option, and his touchdown last week was the first of his career. Still, he checks a lot of boxes as a sleeper. With his Week 17 opponent, the Eagles, yielding the fourth-most fantasy points per game to TEs this season, Bates could be an option for more daring redraft managers or DFS players.

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