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NFL Rookies to Watch in Week 12: Fantasy Football Dynasty and Redraft Leagues

Keaton Mitchell - Fantasy Football Rankings, Waiver Wire Pickups, Draft Sleepers

Week 11 featured quite a few strong rookie performances. Giants quarterback Tommy Devito put forth a career-best stat line, passing for 246 yards and three touchdowns without an interception against the Commanders. Detroit rookie RB Jahmyr Gibbs continued to dominate with 95 total yards and a rushing touchdown. Houston wideout Tank Dell also made a splash by making eight catches for 149 yards and a score.

The Thanksgiving slate set a promising tone for first-year players this week too. Former Iowa tight end Sam LaPorta made five grabs for 47 yards and a touchdown for Detroit, and Green Bay rookie TE Tucker Kraft scored his first career TD reception on the other side of that matchup. Seahawks first-year receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba wowed with a one-handed grab versus San Francisco, although the team did come up short on the scoreboard.

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 been breaking 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.

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NFL Rookies to Watch in Fantasy Football Redraft Leagues

Keaton Mitchell (RB, BAL)

Keaton Mitchell began the season on injured reserve with a shoulder injury, so the undrafted rookie from East Carolina did not have his first touch until Week 7. He quickly became a home-run hitter out of the backfield after that, though. In Week 9, Mitchell carried the ball nine times for 138 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown. He followed that up with just a three-carry outing versus Cleveland, but he took one of those attempts 39 yards for a TD. He also added two catches for 32 yards.

Mitchell was less explosive last week; he toted the ball eight times for 33 yards with his longest carry being "only" 21 yards. The hyper-efficient rookie is becoming increasingly involved in the offense, though. His snap shares have improved every game, and he got his first two red zone carries last week. Gus Edwards remains prominent in Baltimore, however, limiting Mitchell's usage thus far. Edwards has had 10-plus carries in all but two games this year, and he has had at least two red zone carries in each of his last six outings.

While Mitchell has put his elite speed (4.37-second 40-yard dash) to good use on his touches this season, he needs to get more volume to be a reliable fantasy starter. Could this be the week that happens? It is important to keep an eye on the Ravens-Chargers matchup for this reason. It is not likely that Mitchell ever becomes an every-down back simply due to his small stature at 5'8" and 179 pounds. Still, his dynamic skillset means a small increase in touches could result in a large increase in fantasy points.

Puka Nacua (WR, LAR)

Unlike Mitchell, Puka Nacua spent the first weeks of the year shredding defenses on a regular basis. With star teammate Cooper Kupp injured, Nacua averaged 9.8 receptions, 125.3 receiving yards, and 23.9 PPR points over his first four games. He was a top-10 wideout on three occasions over that span, including two top-five finishes. Nacua's start was absurdly impressive, particularly for a fifth-round rookie.

Since Kupp's return, though, Nacua has predictably become a bit less productive. He has still been solid as the WR21 since Week 5, but he was the WR4 before. Moreover, Nacua has had at least seven targets in every game this season regardless of Kupp's availability. His floor is definitely lower now, however. Nacua has scored fewer than 10 PPR points in three of his past five games, although starting quarterback Matthew Stafford was sidelined for one of those.

Nacua and the Rams will take on the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Fantasy managers will have the opportunity to see if last week's 18.7-point showing was indicative of a return to his former place as an elite fantasy option. Kupp suffered an ankle injury last week, but after some uncertainty about his status, he has now been cleared to play this weekend. With Stafford, Kupp, and Nacua all set to play an entire game together for the first time since Week 7, the Rams-Cardinals match should provide some valuable insights.

Josh Downs (WR, IND)

Josh Downs has been a very useful weapon for the Colts this year, but lately, he has been hampered by a knee injury he suffered in the offseason. In Week 9, Downs caught just one pass before being ruled out for the remainder of the game. The following week in Germany, the North Carolina product had just a 35.7-percent snap share and ran only 15 routes. The limited playing time did not prevent Downs from making an impact, though, as he still gained 40 receiving yards.

Before this recent set of games, Downs had been picking up significant steam. He accumulated a then-career-high 97 yards in Week 5 against Tennessee, and two weeks later he topped that mark with 125 yards. In Week 8, he had a personal-best 84.5-percent snap share and caught seven of nine targets for 72 yards. Downs has been a talented option out of the slot all season, though, to be clear; he has the eighth-best route win rate at his position, and he is the fifth-best versus man coverage.

The good news is that Downs is now off of the injury report entirely ahead of this Sunday's game between Indianapolis and Tampa Bay. Additionally, the Buccaneers are yielding 199.6 receiving yards per game to WRs this season, the highest such figure in the league. They have also surrendered the most PPR points per game to slot receivers since Week 6. Look for Downs to regroup and regain the momentum he had been gathering in October.


NFL Rookies to Watch in Fantasy Football Dynasty Leagues

A.T. Perry (WR, NO)

A.T. Perry was a sixth-round pick out of Wake Forest this offseason. He did not play at all until Week 8, but in Week 10 he finally got a real opportunity. When teammate Michael Thomas injured his knee, Perry stepped up. The rookie caught two of his four targets for 38 yards and scored an excellent touchdown over a Vikings defender. Perry ran 40 routes; before the game, he had run 11 all season.

Standing at 6'3" and possessing 33-inch arms, Perry can leverage his size and length to beat defenders on contested catch opportunities. His 4.47-second 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine also demonstrated the decent speed that his long strides give him. His ball skills were inconsistent during his time in Winston-Salem though, and he also had major issues with drops. His profile definitely makes him worth keeping an eye on, however.

The Saints will play at least their next four games sans Michael Thomas, as the veteran was placed on injured reserve this week. This means Perry will be able to put his talents on display, starting with this week versus Atlanta. Watch to see if Perry can begin this stretch by improving upon his most recent game's output. Doing so by a significant margin would give his dynasty stock a big boost.

Jalin Hyatt (WR, NYG)

Jalin Hyatt had a prolific season with the Tennessee Volunteers in 2022. Hyatt led the SEC in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns with 1,267 and 15, respectively, and he helped the Vols finish sixth in the final AP poll with an 11-2 record. Hyatt won the Fred Biletnikoff Award, and then he went on to run a 4.40-second 40-yard dash at the combine and posted a 40-inch vertical jump. Needless to say, Hyatt had some hype as a prospect, resulting in him being drafted in the third round.

Unfortunately, Hyatt has been barely a footnote in the Giants' offense this year. He has played all 11 of the team's games, yet he has only 12 catches on 22 targets. Even this past week when quarterback Tommy Devito started to find his stride, Hyatt caught just one pass for seven yards. He has been used as a deep threat and little else; 13 of his 22 targets have been 20 or more yards downfield, and his aDOT is a massive 26.0 yards.

Dynasty managers have not seen much from Hyatt to encourage them this season, especially with fellow third-round rookie receivers Tank Dell, Josh Downs, and Michael Wilson all finding much more success. The pressure will be on Hyatt to be more productive over the final six games of his rookie campaign. That effort will begin on Sunday when the Giants face the New England Patriots.

Michael Mayer (TE, LV)

While TEs Sam LaPorta and Dalton Kincaid have been great, it is important not to overlook what Michael Mayer is doing in Las Vegas. A second-round pick this year, Mayer's stock has been on the rise in recent weeks after a sluggish opening to the season. Mayer caught his first NFL touchdown two weeks ago versus the Jets, and last week he caught four passes for 46 yards. His last two outings mark the first time he has had five-plus targets in consecutive weeks, and he has also surpassed an 80-percent snap share in each of his past four appearances.

Mayer was a very trustworthy receiving option while he was at Notre Dame, posting consecutive 800-yard seasons before entering the NFL. Mayer was lauded for his ability to make contested catches during the scouting process, and that trait has shown up in the NFL too; Mayer has caught six of his seven contested targets this year, giving him the second-best rate among tight ends. Mayer also ranks ninth at his position in yards per reception (11.2) and yards per target (7.7).

With Mayer coming into his own, it will be important to monitor his stock for the remainder of the season. Can he continue to progress and have a true breakout stretch like Kincaid has had, or will his production stagnate? These next several weeks will be crucial for assessing Mayer's value. The Raiders will be pitted against the Kansas City Chiefs this weekend; the Chiefs have been tough against TEs this year, allowing the second-fewest yards to the position.

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