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Waste of Talent: Rookies in Bad Landing Spots for Fantasy Football

kenneth walker fantasy football rankings NFL draft rookies draft sleepers

The NFL Draft is a glorious moment for most players. It marks the well-deserved celebration of hard work in the NCAA as players transition to professional football, sign their first paycheck, and get to play for the teams they grew up adoring.

Not every draft pick is destined to succeed, though. Oftentimes, teams will draft the best player available, avoiding positional need altogether and leaving their new rookie fighting to climb up the depth chart.

Here are six rookies at the three offensive skill positions who find themselves in bad landing spots and therefore could underperform in 2022.

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Garrett Wilson

WR, New York Jets

Wilson was a beast in college, commanding a 28 percent target share in 2020 and 20.9 percent in 2021. During his final year at Ohio State, he broke free for 1,058 yards, 12 touchdowns, and a 68 percent catch rate, all while getting involved as a returner. His price was quite high heading into the draft, and without a clear-cut top receiving prospect, there was some speculation that Wilson could be the first receiver off the board.

When draft day arrived, Wilson was the second receiver to hear his name called; the Jets selected him at No. 10, two picks after the Atlanta Falcons took Drake London. He joined a Jets offense that has been busy replenishing its skill positions via the draft and free agency over the last two years.

The problem with Wilson's outlook is that, although he is an uber-talented player, his path to immediate fantasy success is relatively bleak. He will almost certainly start the season as the No. 2 behind Elijah Moore, and New York is also going to feed fellow rookie Breece Hall. All the while, players like Corey Davis, Michael Carter, and others will carve out noteworthy roles.

Not only does Wilson face plenty of competition, but questions persist about his quarterback play. Zach Wilson struggled as a rookie and now isn't expected to be ready for Week 1 due to a knee injury.

Wilson has eventual stardom written all over him, but for the time being, his fantasy upside is drastically capped.

 

Kenneth Walker

RB, Seattle Seahawks

Walker turned in a phenomenal 2021 campaign at Michigan State, rushing for 1,636 yards while adding 19 total touchdowns. There was little doubt that the Seahawks would draft a running back, and the Heisman candidate looked like a strong fit. Indeed, the Michigan State product went to Seattle with the 41st overall pick.

Even though Walker fills a need for the Seahawks, it's fair to have some concerns about his fantasy football outlook. The Seattle offense was quite bad last season, finishing dead last in time of possession, and that was before the Russell Wilson trade. Now, with a woeful quarterback room consisting of Drew Lock and Geno Smith, it seems likely that the offense will get even worse.

Pete Carroll does like to run the football (Super Bowl XLIX notwithstanding), but the offense will be forced to pass more if they're losing games as often as expected. Walker doesn't have too much allure in the passing game, and as a result, he might see fewer snaps in the second half when the Seahawks are playing from behind and need to throw.

Walker has the talent needed to thrive in the NFL, but the offense he plays in looks absolutely horrible. For the time being, his placement on the Seahawks' roster hurts his fantasy value.

 

James Cook

RB, Buffalo Bills

Cook took a big step forward with Georgia in 2021, totaling 728 rushing yards and 284 receiving yards. Of his 11 touchdowns, four came via the passing attack. While he didn't quite finish in the Hall or Walker tier, Cook's strong season made him a top running back prospect in the draft. He ultimately found his way to the Bills, who are looking to round out their elite offense with stability in the backfield.

The problem for Cook lies in the fact that "alpha running back" may never be a real title in the Bills' offense, regardless of how much or little the organization tries. Josh Allen throws the football with enough poise to negate the need for a three-down back, and he uses his legs enough that giving the football to an actual running back is merely an afterthought.

Additionally, Cook faces competition in the Buffalo backfield. Devin Singletary closed out 2021 on a positive note, boasting talent as a downhill runner while also improving in the passing game. Meanwhile, the Bills seem intent on keeping Zack Moss around, even refusing to entertain trade offers for him this past month. Cook might still be the best pass-catcher of this trio, but he is not the best runner and will still lose reps to the other two.

Cook has some PPR allure given his role in the passing game, but the concern is that his production may become unpredictable. Sometimes, when pass plays are dialed up, Allen will simply throw downfield or scramble and take the ball himself, voiding the need for a receiver in the backfield.

 

Isaiah Likely and Charlie Kolar

TE, Baltimore Ravens

Likely broke out at Coastal Carolina, catching 59 passes for 912 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Perhaps most impressive was his 24.3 percent target share and 76 percent catch rate. Kolar, meanwhile, hails from the Iowa State program. He turned 96 targets into 62 receptions, 756 yards, and six touchdowns last season.

The Ravens took both Likely and Kolar in this year's draft, giving them young depth behind star tight end Mark Andrews. Therein lies the concern: Likely and Kolar are talented players, but they're going to be blocked by Andrews for quite some time.

With the Ravens operating as a rush-heavy team, there aren't enough targets to go around to feed Andrews and Rashod Bateman, then also distribute targets to Devin Duvernay, Likely, and Kolar. It would take an injury to Andrews before the two young tight ends see an increase in usage, and even then, there's no guarantee they would be targeted heavily in the Lamar Jackson-led system.

 

Pierre Strong Jr.

RB, New England Patriots

The Patriots selected Strong in the fourth round of the draft after he registered 1,686 rushing yards, 150 receiving yards, and 18 touchdowns at South Dakota State last season. He demonstrated great explosiveness and burst at workouts and the Combine, turning in an otherworldly 4.37 40-yard dash.

Strong has a great track record up to this point, but he suddenly finds himself blocked in the New England backfield. He offered minimal allure in the preseason, failing to emerge as the new pass-catching back following James White's retirement.

Instead, those duties went to Ty Montgomery, who should have some fantasy appeal in deeper leagues when he returns from his ankle injury. Even then, both Montgomery and Strong remain behind Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson, two players who have shown immense promise to this point.

With a great final collegiate season and impressive draft capital, there was some hope that Strong would have a clear path to fantasy success. However, the Patriots' crowded backfield will delay any potential breakout for some time.



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