Rookies make impact

Rookies are making an impact in the NFL and in fantasy football this year, and that impact is being felt the most at the wide receiver position. This is actually the continuation of a trend. Over the last decade, 33 rookie receivers (including 15 in the last three seasons) have finished in the top 40 at the position. No other position in fantasy has this kind of an impact by rookies.

After the record-setting rookie seasons of Justin Jefferson and JaMarr Chase the past two seasons, we entered the 2022 season wondering who would be the next wideout to burst on the scene. Entering Week 10, no one had broken out. And then on a cold November night at Lambeau Field, with the temperatures dropping below freezing, Christian Watson happened.

As the sun set around 4:30 p.m., even the hearty Green Bay Packers began to shiver under their winter coats as the cold wind whistling through the stadium. But the rookie wide receiver looked like he was frolicking on a summer day. I guess playing college football in Fargo, North Dakota, had prepared him for the Frozen Tundra games at one of the most famous NFL venues.

In the previous weeks, the Packers faithful had seen their hopes fade with the continued struggles of Aaron Rodgers. Patience was running thin as Green Bay had slipped to 3-6. Fantasy managers had turned on Rodgers. He continued to struggle, his receiving corps wasn’t getting better and they were always hurt. Managers were retreating from the Packers’ passing game.

Then came the Great Christian Watson Emergence. Watson has been banged up much of the season — nursing various injuries and missing three games. There was no signal foretelling of the Great Emergence. Watson had managed six single-digit fantasy games, and his roster percentage in fantasy leagues had dropped to single digits to match his dismal PPG average.

Then in one scorching game on a chilly night in Green Bay, Watson emerged. As the Packer faithful cheered, fantasy managers took note. But, wait. As the coaches would say, “let’s review the film.” Watson had three touchdowns (and 32.7 PPR points). He had 107 receiving yards. That’s outstanding, but he did it on just four catches. We all know this TD rate is unsustainable.

 Watson’s four catches on eight targets is a 50 percent catch rate, which isn’t great. It makes you wonder if Watson is a one-week wonder instead of the 2022 breakout. Well, not so fast. Though it is important to acknowledge these troubling points, please consider that he got eight targets from the future Hall of Famer. That is twice as much as he had in any game this year.

Whether Watson a flash in the pan or breakout remains to be seen. But I can tell you that I am heading to the waiver wire tonight, prepared to spend up to $25 of FAAB on Watson. Unless you’re in a shallow league or loaded at WR, I’d recommend you do the same because there won’t be many players with this kind of upside in the last weeks of the regular fantasy season.

If you don’t have enough FAAB money available and miss out on Watson, there are other rookie wide receivers that you might obtain. Some of these you will need to trade for, and you should be aware of the approaching trade deadline in your leagues. Others, will be available on the waiver wire and could be obtained for little or no FAAB dollars. Here are five names to consider.  

CHRIS OLAVE, WR, NEW ORLEANS

When Michael Thomas went down with a toe injury in Week 3, Olave stepped up to be the Saints’ No. 1 receiver. I picked him up with a few FAAB dollars after he was targeted 13 times in Week 2 by quarterback Jameis Winston. He only caught five of those targets, but his average depth of target (aDOT) was off the charts. ADOT is a representation of his air yards per target.

 Olave led the league in this category until Winston lost the starting job to Andy Dalton.  He posted seven straight double-digit games, averaging 14.6 fantasy PPG in his first eight games. Olave was WR16 in fantasy with a 27.0% target share (15th) and 41.4% air yard share (fourth) through Sunday. He’s been held back by Dalton, and might be acquired in a trade on the cheap.

GARRETT WILSON, WR, NEW YORK JETS

Wilson was selected by the New York Jets No. 10 overall pick right ahead of Olave. Like his former Buckeyes teammate, he’s also been held back by inferior quarterback play.  Wilson did catch a career-high eight passes from Zach Wilson in Week 9 and has growing chemistry with him as the pair as hooked up for 14 catches on 16 targets for 207 yards the past two weeks.

The fact that Wilson still has not connected on a touchdown with his quarterback puts him in line for positive regression. He has not scored since his two-touchdown performance in Week 2 with Joe Flacco under center. Wilson has become the only viable fantasy option in the Jets’ receiving corps and is certainly worth acquiring. If you could trade Ezekiel Elliott for him, do it.

DRAKE LONDON, WR, ATLANTA

How about a third quarterback held back by a lousy quarterback? London, drafted No. 8 overall by a Falcons team totally bereft of wide receiver talent, seemed to be a lock for stardom. But Marcus Mariota is so bad that even Thursday Night Football analyst Richard Sherman called for Mariota to get benched after the atrocious showcase against Carolina last Thursday night.   

While teammate Kyle Pitts was getting the worst that Mariota had to offer, London was running numerous shallow routes. He caught five balls for 38 yards and only a touchdown saved him from his seventh straight single-digit game in a row. Rostered in 75 percent of ESPN leagues and 62 percent of Yahoo leagues, and I wouldn’t trade for him but would pick him up off waivers. 

GEORGE PICKENS, WR, PITTSBURGH

When Pickens scored a rushing touchdown on Sunday, he saved the day for fantasy managers who started him. Pittsburgh has had a good track record drafting wide receivers, so hopes were high for Pickens heading into his rookie season. After a slow start he was targeted eight times in Week 4, catching six balls for 102 yards. That was good for 16.2 FP without even scoring a TD.

Pickens followed the Week 4 game with an even more impressive performance against at Buffalo. Again, he caught six of eight balls for 83 yards against an elite defense. By that time, he was widely owned across all leagues. But then there was the Philadelphia game where he had no catches on only three targets. Pickens has talent, but the Steeler offense isn’t trustworthy.

TREYLON BURKS, WR, TENNESSEE

Another first-round draft pick, Burks was taken No. 18 overall by Tennessee with the pick the Titans obtained when they traded away A.J. Brown. Some analysts expected Burks to step into Brown’s shoes as his 6-foot-2, 225-pound physique reminded them of the superstar wideout. But the rookie receiver had just 16 targets through the first four games before getting injured.

Suiting up for the first time since a Week 4 injury, Burks caught 3-of-six targets for 24 yards against a tough Denver defense on Sunday. He only had 3.9 FP but had a 16.6% target share and 75% route participation. The Titans’ passing offense has struggled and could rely on Burks’ big-play capabilities with his return. Consider adding this high-ceiling wideout from waivers.     

Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about football and baseball for CreativeSports. Be sure to follow Thomas on Twitter@ThomasLSeltzer1.

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