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Waste of Talent? NFL Rookies in Bad Landing Spots for Fantasy Football

kenneth walker fantasy football rankings NFL draft rookies draft sleepers

Performing well in the NFL is quite a difficult task. Now, imagine trying to perform well in your first ever season in the NFL. Simply put, it ain't easy, folks. Historically, most rookies take a while to establish themselves at the NFL level regardless of their prospect pedigree. Now, between Justin Jefferson, Ja'Marr Chase, Justin Herbert, and others, there are exceptions to this rule. However, it takes the perfect combination between a talented player in the right situation for that potential to be maximized.

That being said, ending up in the "right situation" is very rare. After all, the teams that are relying on rookies to contribute often don't have very productive offenses, while the talented offenses usually have many more barriers to immediate playing time. Even worse, sometimes a player ends up with a team that has a lot of competition for opportunity AND doesn't project to be in a very stable offensive environment.

In terms of long-term value, landing spot can be a little less indicative of future success; talent ultimately can win out. That being said, there are cases where the landing spot can be enough of a positive or negative to alter a player's chances of succeeding, particularly in the short term. Unfortunately for these players, they are facing a steep battle in terms of finding instant success, mainly due to where they were drafted. Which players didn't get the better end of the stick on draft day? Let's take a closer look.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association including Baseball Writer of the Year, Football Writers of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year and many more! Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!


Kenneth Walker III, RB, Seattle Seahawks

With front offices becoming sharper and football continuing to shift to more of a passing league, it is becoming immensely challenging for a running back to be selected in the first round. That was particularly the case this year; a lot of teams picking at the back end of the first round had no opening for a young half back.

In terms of pure rushing talent, few prospects can rival what Kenneth Walker brings to the table. After shining at Wake Forrest, Walker transferred to Michigan State, where he was arguably the best running back in the country. Overall, he ran for 1634 yards on 262 attempts (6.2 yards/attempt), while his underlying data was off the charts:

  • 4.46 yards after contact/attempt
  • 0.34 missed tackles forced/attempt
  • 90.7 PFF rushing grade
  • 53.9% breakaway rate

Even if you're not familiar with these numbers, just know that they're truly off the charts. Walker is an absolute menace when it comes to evading tackles and thriving after contact, and as he demonstrated with his college production and 4.38 40-yard dash at 211 pounds, he is also remarkably explosive. It's hard to craft a better pure runner of the football; from a statistical standpoint, there are no warts to be had in that department.

Now, nobody's perfect, and for Walker, his weaknesses are attached to the passing game. In college, he mustered just a 5.4% target share (32nd percentile), and also was well below-average when it come to yards per route run (0.45). Based on his usage of college, this is a player who is going to be extremely limited to passes behind the line of scrimmage, which hurt his ability to produce from a fantasy perspective.

Making matters more complicated, Walker was selected by the Seahawks, not an ideal landing spot, at the top of the second round. The 21-year-old enters an offense quarterbacked by some combination of Drew Lock and Geno Smith, as well as a team with one of the lowest projected win totals (5.5) and who ran the least amount of plays per game last season (56.1%). Yes, Seattle historically likes to utilize a run-heavy offense, but how many opportunities are they going to have the game scripts to operate that sort of gameplan?

For a running back to hit in fantasy, they often need to catch a lot of passes or score an absurd amount of touchdowns, and for Walker, neither is there. Plus, let's not forget that incumbent running back Rashaad Penny just led the league with 6.3 yards/carry last season.

Even long-term, it's unclear how much of a leash this current regime has, while they historically have not valued draft capital as is. At the end of the day, there are so many moving parts here, and for what reward? Walker will be a tremendous running back, but for fantasy, the output may not be worth the investment.


Jahan Dotson, WR, Washington Commanders

At the end of the day, talent tends wins out over one's landing spot (unless extreme), making draft capital a significantly more important variable. After all, a higher draft capital not only means that the player is viewed by the NFL as a supreme prospect, but also means more opportunities to thrive. In fantasy, it's all about where talent meets opportunity, so when you are selected in the first round, that cannot be ignored.

Thus, from a real-life and fantasy perspective, it's hard not to view Jahan Dotson as a clear winner. After all, most betting odds pegged him as someone likely to be drafted at the end of the first round or the top of the second round.

Instead, though, he ultimately ended up being the 16th overall pick in the draft, ahead of Treylon Burks, who had a significantly higher projection in terms of where he was expected to be taken. Thus, it came as a surprise to see Dotson taken where he was, but the Commanders are counting on him to be the #2 option in the passing game that they have been lacking opposite of Terry McLaurin.

On the surface, it is easy to see why Washington was attracted to Dotson. Not only did he break out during his senior year in college with an 87.2 PFF receiving grade, but he averaged 2.59 yards/route run over his final two years despite having subpar quarterback play at Penn State. As Ian Cummings of Pro Football Network points out, there is a lot he can bring to an offense:

"When he’s at his best, Dotson is a pure playmaker. As a catcher, he has the vertical athleticism, body control, hands, and laser focus to make eye-popping plays down the field. And as a ball carrier, the Penn State WR is explosive, agile, and he can sink his hips effortlessly when evading defenders. He doesn’t always play to this maximum, but the potential is there. And his success as a punt returner only reaffirms that."

Nevertheless, there are some red flags with Dotson's profile. For starters, the hit rate of senior wide receivers isn't strong, especially when they do not perform as an underclassman.

Meanwhile, whether it was performing after the catch, making big plays, or any of his main underlying metrics, there any specific strength that showed out in college, which is a bit concerning for an upperclassman. At just 178 pounds with a 42nd percentile speed score, the potential concerns in terms of production aren't mitigated by a strong athletic profile, and it is unclear where he fits in at the NFL level.

If he had a chance to develop in Green Bay, Kansas City, or Buffalo, a lot of these worries would be overlooked. Instead, Dotson will head to Washington, where he'll at best be a distant #2 to Terry McLaurin, who also looks likely to receive a long-term extension, while catching passes in a not ideal quarterback situation.

As is, it has been difficult for McLaurin to consistently produce in this offense, and while Carson Wentz is at least somewhat of short-term over previous quarterbacks, not to the extent where multiple pass catchers can be expected to produce high-caliber numbers. It is great to see the Commanders look to finally add depth to their receiving corps, but it's unclear if this is the right fit for both sides.


Garrett Wilson, WR, New York Jets

Who is the real "Wide Receiver University?" Many colleges have a strong claim for that title, but for my money, Ohio State has to be near the top of the list. Few colleges can match the wide receiver output they have had in recent years:

Of course, there is also Garrett Wilson, who helped Ohio State accomplish something they had been lacking in 15 years: a first-round wide receiver. Considered by many to be the top wide receiver in this draft, Wilson has the type of skillset that translates very well to the NFL level, as Natalie Miller of The Draft Wire points out:

"Wilson’s biggest and most obvious strength is his elite explosiveness and acceleration. He consistently blows past defenders on both long routes and comebacks, leaving defenders looking dazed. He hits a second gear quickly out of his breaks, and is able to use that to beat any sort of soft coverage.

Beyond his second gear used in the initial route running, Wilson is able to use that same acceleration to generate massive yards after the catch. He did so often on screen passes, where defenders were left with dead feet as Wilson turned up field and left them in the dust. He is truly special with the ball in his hands.

Wilson’s ability to catch the ball is smooth and effortless, as he cleanly shifts from snatching the ball out of the air to moving his focus back to his feet. He has excellent body control, and is able contort his body into ideal positions in order to catch the ball and keep his feet moving."

Evidenced by his strong athletic testing numbers, Wilson certainly is a tremendous athlete. Plus, it translated into production. Wilson eclipsed an 82.5 PFF receiving grade in back-to-back seasons, while also averaging three yards per route run or higher in those two years despite playing with multiple high-end receivers (Olave and Smith-Njigba).

Furthermore, he has demonstrated the ability to perform both outside and from the slot, and outside of average production after the catch, there wasn't one area where he didn't shine. Outside of some slight concerns about his size (183 pounds) or minor qualms about his route-running polish, it's a very well-balanced, low-risk profile.

Unfortunately, as is the case with most highly-drafted skill players, Wilson did not end up in a situation to immediately succeed. Only Trevor Lawrence averaged fewer yards per pass attempt (6.1) than Jets quarterback Zach Wilson, while only Ben Roethlisberger and Sam Darnold earned a lower PFF passing grade (54.8). Could a second-year breakout come?

Sure, but that's a complete unknown to this point, while offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur comes from a coaching tree that does not like to operate with a pass-heavy attack. Overall, this isn't likely to be an efficient offense with an extensive amount of passing volume, meaning he's going to need to command a very strong target share.

Yet, with Elijah Moore, who shined as a rookie with a 73.8 PFF receiving grade and 18.6% target share, in the picture, as well as Corey Davis, it's going to be difficult for Wilson to garner the volume needed to make up for some of the other issues here. Plus, from a long-term viewpoint, he's entering an unstable quarterback situation with another very young, talented receiver on the roster.

From a pure landing spot situation, there wasn't a worse spot for a wide receiver to be drafted than the Jets, and sadly, it is Wilson who drew that card. This is a very talented receiver who should show his skillset at the NFL level, but we could be looking at a situation where his potential ceiling doesn't come to fruition right away.


Trey McBride, TE, Arizona Cardinals

Short of Kyle Pitts, it's becoming very rare for a tight end to be drafted in the first round, and for multiple reasons. After all, the overall amount of talented playmakers at the position has seemingly declined, which has led to tight ends not getting paid a significant amount on the open market. Thus, the value of drafting a tight end high in the draft decreases.

Still, as a pure prospect, Trey McBride has a lot to offer. How many tight ends can match the production he had the past two seasons?

  • 2020 (Junior): 90.8 PFF Receiving Grade, 2.60 yards/route run
  • 2021 (Senior): 95 PFF Receiving Grade, 2.78 yards/route run

Although not particularly strong as a big-play threat or producing after the catch, McBride has all the makings of a high-end possession tight end, which is all you're looking for at the position.

In terms of playing in-line, in the slot, or out wide, he showed the capability to perform in all three alignments, and specifically thrived in the intermediate (10.69 yards/route run) and deep (15.93 yards/route run) of the passing game. He seemingly separated himself as the clear top tight end in this draft, and it was exciting to see if he'd land in a spot where he'd have some sort of clear role.

With the Cardinals selecting him with the 55th overall pick, however, that did not happen. Now, tight ends can take multiple years to develop, which, by then, Zach Ertz will likely be out of the picture. That being said, Ertz was just re-signed to a three-year, $31.65 million deal that they essentially can't get out of until after the 2023 season, meaning it's unlikely we see McBride earn significant playing time until then.

While the reward may be worth it, there is a lot of unknown during that time, which hurts his value from a long-term fantasy perspective as opposed to, say, Pat Freiermuth. McBride's value is going to be suppressed simply because there won't be many data points at the NFL level for multiple years.

By then, who knows what will happen? While it's not a disastrous landing spot by any means, it's still not as ideal for McBride as ending up with, say, the Bucs, Giants, or Packers, where the path to shining would be more obvious. Hopefully, there is a specific role for him to contribute, though his college production cannot be overlooked.

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