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NFL Rookies to Watch for Fantasy Football Week 18 Including Desmond Ridder, Kenneth Walker III, Drake London, Sam Howell

Desmond Ridder - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

As the NFL community continues to support Bills safety Damar Hamlin during his recovery process, the league will play its 18th and final week of regular-season games this weekend. With playoff spots, seeds, and byes on the line, the importance of this slate of games is matched only by the entertainment it is sure to provide.

Although many fantasy leagues have already crowned their champions, others have not. Regardless of how far your league has progressed, quite a few rookies helped fantasy managers last week. While some of the key contributors had big expectations, such as Kenneth Walker III and Tyler Allgeier, others like Trey McBride and Jalen Nailor did not.

Clearly, whether you're a redraft manager or a dynasty manager, being ahead of the curve with rookie players is vital to your team's success. For that reason, each week I have broken down which rookies you should be watching out for. This column is split into two parts: one pertaining to players most relevant in redraft leagues, and the other for rookies particularly worth watching in dynasty formats.

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!


NFL Rookies to Watch in Fantasy Football Redraft Leagues

Kenneth Walker III (RB, SEA)

Seahawks rookie RB Kenneth Walker III is the current betting favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year, and for good reason. Walker has 936 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on 199 carries, and he's added 26 catches for 155 yards through the air. Not only have his efforts helped the Seahawks remain in playoff contention, but they've also led to him being the RB19 in PPR leagues and the RB15 in points per game. The second-rounder from Michigan State is having a great first season as a pro.

Walker has had two consecutive 100-yard performances in the past two weeks. In Week 16, he gained 107 yards on 26 rushing attempts, and last Sunday he picked up 133 yards on 23 carries. Interestingly, this impressive production has come despite Walker having his two lowest snap shares in a full game since Week 5. That's because the team used him less often in the passing game in those two weeks. He ran just 10 routes in each of his past two games, again his lowest such numbers since Week 5.

Walker and Seattle will host the Rams on Sunday in a must-win situation. The Rams pose an average matchup for Walker, as they have allowed the 13th-most fantasy points to opposing running backs this season. A key thing to watch will be if Walker's usage in the passing attack rebounds to what it had been earlier in the season. This is a crucial thing to monitor as the season comes to a close and as managers look ahead to 2023.

James Cook (RB, BUF)

After a slow start to the season, Bills first-year running back James Cook has had a handful of strong performances since the team's Week 7 bye. Cook totaled at least 75 scrimmage yards in four of his past nine full games, and in Week 16 he gained 99 yards on 11 carries, good for an impressive mark of 9.0 yards per carry. His four highest snap shares this year were in Weeks 13 through 16. Cook has been a major factor in Buffalo recently.

Cook's efficiency has been extremely impressive. The rookie is averaging 6.5 yards per touch and 5.3 true yards per carry, both the second-highest figures among running backs. Cook also leads the league's RBs with a 13.4 percent breakaway run rate; despite having just the 48th-most carries, Cook is 15th in runs of 15 or more yards. He is putting his impressive speed to good use in the NFL; he ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine, a 94th-percentile time.

The Bills will face the New England Patriots this weekend in an important matchup for both teams. Cook will be looking to build on his recent performances and end the regular season with an exclamation point. Watch to see if Cook can maintain his excellent efficiency against a tough New England defense. The Patriots allow the fifth-fewest yards per attempt in the league, and they are the fourth-best defense against running backs in half-PPR scoring.

Drake London (WR, ATL)

Atlanta's prized rookie WR Drake London has seen a resurgence in his volume lately. After having just 30 targets in seven games in Weeks 6 through 12, London has had 40 passes thrown his way in his past four appearances. Three of those four games have come with fellow rookie Desmond Ridder starting at quarterback instead of previous starter Marcus Mariota, so the switch to Ridder under center seems to have revitalized London.

The primary reason that London has not been as productive this season as other standout rookies like Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave is that the Falcons are too run-heavy. Atlanta is second in team run plays per game; this offsets the fact that London is fifth among all WRs in target share and third in target rate. London is 20th in yards per team pass attempt but has just the 35th-most yards among wideouts. London would be much closer to Wilson and Olave in a league-average offense.

As the Falcons face off against Tampa Bay on Sunday, check out if London can put forth another quality stat line catching passes from Ridder. The Buccaneers have surrendered the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing receivers this year, and teams also throw against them the seventh-most frequently. London will have a strong chance to produce this week and leave a positive impression with next year's potential starting quarterback.


NFL Rookies to Watch in Fantasy Football Dynasty Leagues

Desmond Ridder (QB, ATL)

Falcons rookie QB Desmond Ridder didn't get an opportunity to play until Week 15, but over the course of his three starts, he has already shown improvement. His debut against the Saints did not go as planned, as he completed just 13 of 26 passes for 97 yards in a 21-18 loss. However, his two most recent appearances have been better. Although he has still not thrown a touchdown pass, his completion percentage rose to 69.5 percent over the past two weeks, and his yards per attempt increased to 6.6.

We have also seen progress from Ridder in more advanced metrics as well. His bad throw rate dropped from 19.2 percent in Week 15 to 16.1 percent the following week, and it fell even further to 12.0 percent last weekend. Contributing to his increased success is the offense's adjustment to suit his needs; although his intended air yards per pass attempt fell from 7.9 in Week 15 to 6.3 over the past two weeks, his completed air yards per pass attempt rose from 1.6 to 3.2.

Ridder's opponent this weekend will be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There are two things to watch for from Ridder on Sunday. The first is if his rushing numbers can return to what they were in his first start when he gained 38 yards on the ground. He has only run for 17 yards since. The other thing to keep an eye on is if Ridder can toss his first touchdown pass. The Buccaneers have allowed 27 touchdown passes this year, tied for the third-most in the league.

Sam Howell (QB, WAS)

After being eliminated from playoff contention last week, the Washington Commanders will be turning to a new starting quarterback on Sunday: rookie Sam Howell from North Carolina. Howell, who was a fifth-round draft choice, will make his regular-season debut against Dallas. The Commanders clearly want to give the young passer a chance to lead the offense before heading into the offseason in order to have a clearer picture of where the team stands at the quarterback position.

Howell is definitely not the most athletic quarterback out there. His 40-yard dash time of 5.07 seconds is at just the eighth percentile for quarterbacks, and his vertical jump of 24.9 inches is at the third percentile. However, Howell was a prolific passer with the Tar Heels. He broke out in 2019 as a freshman, throwing for 3,641 yards and 38 touchdowns in 13 games. He posted his most efficient season as a sophomore, completing 68.1 percent of his passes and gaining 10.3 yards per attempt.

Howell had significant NFL hype before disappointing as a junior in 2021. The Commanders are hoping that he can regain the magic that had him earning first-round buzz. Perhaps he can show flashes of that against Dallas on Sunday. It will be a tough matchup for him though; the Cowboys have surrendered the 10th-fewest passing yards and have intercepted the sixth-most passes. If Howell demonstrates promise, he will be an intriguing dynasty target for subsequent seasons.

Treylon Burks (WR, TEN)

Last week, the Tennessee Titans decided to start Joshua Dobbs at quarterback rather than rookie Malik Willis. This turned out to be an excellent change for first-year wideout Treylon Burks. Burks ran a career-high 33 routes in Week 17 and matched his personal best with eight targets. He ended up catching four passes for 66 yards, with one of his catches being on an incredible play that earned Tennessee a field goal attempt just before halftime.

Burks has had 100 or more air yards in three of his last five games. One of the other two featured Willis as the quarterback, and the other exception was when Burks got hurt early against the Eagles. He also has averaged 13.3 yards before the catch in his last five games, compared to 6.0 in his first five appearances. Burks has become more of a threat for the Titans as the year has progressed, and the team has rewarded him with elevated usage; his three highest snap shares have come in his last three full games.

Burks will be looking to make a statement in the team's regular-season finale on Saturday night against Jacksonville. The Jaguars have been near the league average in both yards and catches allowed to receivers this year, but they have given up the fourth-most touchdowns to the position. If Burks sees the route and target numbers he's been getting recently, he should be able to put up another quality performance and encourage dynasty managers moving into 2023.

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