THE ROOKIE IMPACT
When Fantasy GM’s are making their draft lists out each year there are always questions about when you should draft a rookie and if you can trust them. There have been many examples of rookies breaking through and having amazing seasons, and you don’t have to look back far to find one of those in the form of Cam Newton last season. Newton blew up as a rookie throwing for 4,051 yards, 35 total TD and 706 rushing yards. That performance last season may have made owners more willing to take a chance on a rookie this year. So if you made the move to go after a rookie, the question remains, did you chose the right one?
Before I get into the rookies from this season and the impacts that they have had and will have going into next season, let’s first look at some of the greatest rookie seasons of all time. When I looked back on the greatest rookie seasons I found that the players who dominate this list all ended up dominating the NFL and many of them are or will be Hall of Famers. Let’s take a quick look at these outstanding rookie performances of the past.
BEST ROOKIE CAMPAIGNS OF ALL-TIME
Earl Campbell – Campbell is a great player to start with as many of you reading this never had the privilege to watch him play. In his rookie year of 1978, Campbell led the NFL in rushing with 1,450 yards on 302 carries and scored 13 rushing touchdowns. Campbell averaged 4.8 yards per rush as a rookie and was an absolutely bruising runner. Over the next 3 seasons Campbell rushed for 5,007 yards and scored 42 TD. He was the real deal.
Eric Dickerson – Dickerson may have had one of the most impressive rookie seasons for a running back and was an absolute workhorse who carried the ball an astounding 390 times for 1,808 yards and 18 rushing TD. Dickerson was not just a threat running ball as he added 51 receptions for 404 yards and 2 more TD. Dickerson was a well rounded stud and he, like Campbell lit up the NFL. Over his next 3 seasons Dickerson rushed for 5,160 yards, scoring 37 rushing TD and adding 67 receptions for another 537 yards.
Randy Moss – Moss had the most amazing season for a rookie wide receiver as he caught 69 passes for 1,313 yards, with an astounding 17 TD grabs. Moss also showed his dominance as he averaged 19 yards per catch. Moss would set an NFL rookie record with those 17 touchdowns as a receiver. Over his following 5 seasons Moss put up 7,062 receiving yards with 60 more TD grabs.
Adrian Peterson – Peterson only played in 14 games in his rookie season, but he still ran for 1,341 yards on 238 carries. Peterson averaged an insane 5.6 average yards per carry. Peterson also scored 12 rushing TD and caught 19 passes for 268 yards and adding another TD. Since then All Day, Purple Jesus…whatever you want to call him…has been a beast and is currently the leading rusher in the NFL this season.
Curt Warner – No this is not the quarterback Kurt Warner, but rather the running back Curt Warner. Warner for 1,449 yards and had 13 rushing TD and caught 42 passes for 325 yards with another TD. Warner may be best known for dominating in the original Tecmo Bowl, and while he had an outstanding rookie season he was not able to continue the dominance throughout his career as he was only able to surpass that rookie season with nearly the same stats in 1986, his 4th season.
Peyton Manning – Manning passed for 3,739 yards and threw 26 TD in his rookie season of 1998. Manning did also throw 28 interceptions and completed only 56.7 percent of his passes. This, though, at the time was one of the best performances ever by a rookie quarterback. I am not going to go into detail on the rest of Manning’s Hall of Fame career, as he is still proving his dominance today.
Clinton Portis - Portis ran for 1,508 yards and averaged a stout 5.5 yards per rush, while adding 17 rushing TD, and also caught 33 passes for 364 yards and 2 TD grabs. Portis would show that his rookie season was no fluke as he continue to produce. Over his next 3 seasons Portis had 4,422 yards rushing and scored 30 TD on the ground, while adding 108 receptions for another 765 yards and 2 TD
Edgerrin James – James was the reason the Colts felt comfortable letting Marshall Faulk go to St. Louis. This was a point of much contention as Faulk ended up going off for the Rams and won a Superbowl. James, though, showed his worth and helped himself to one impressive rookie season. James had 369 carries for 1,553 yards and 13 rushing TD. James also caught 62 passes for 586 yards and 4 more TD. James had a monster second season as well finishing with 2,303 yards from scrimmage and scored 18 TD.
Dan Marino - Marino only played in 11 games in his rookie year, starting nine of them. Marino completed 173 of 296 passes (58.4 completion percentage) for 2,210 yards and threw 20 TD passes and had only 6 INT, which was quite an accomplishment for a rookie. Marino then went on to rewrite the record book for quarterback passing starting with his 5,084 yard and 48 TD season of 1984.
Barry Sanders – Sanders ran for 1,470 yards on 280 carries with an impressive 5.3 yards per rush and adding 14 rushing TD. Sanders also caught 24 passes for 282 yards. Barry Sanders was a beast in college and is in the argument for the greatest running back of all time. Sanders never had a season with less than 1,115 yards rushing, and he only played 11 games that year.
ROOKIES THIS SEASON (2012 Draft Class)
Now that we have a little historical perspective we can move on to the current rookies that are making impacts. While I will discuss what these players have done to this point, I think it is also important to be weary of these rookies as we head into the Fantasy Playoffs. There is such a thing as the rookie wall and Cam Newton was a prime example last season as the finish to his season was not nearly as impressive as the start. The reason for the rookie wall is that in college these players only played 12 games in a season and we are quickly approaching that time for these rookies. This is where the rookies will get put to the test mentally as well as physically, and many end up running out of gas, because they have been going full steam all season long. That being said, let’s take a closer look at this season’s top rookies.
RGIII – RGIII was the talk of all rookies after his 4 week outbreak to start the season where he had 1,070 yards passing with 4 TD passes and added another 234 yards rushing with 4 rushing TD. RGIII is currently the 3rd best quarterback in ESPN standard scoring leagues. Griffin is the player that I am most concerned about hitting the rookie wall, much in the same way Cam Newton did last season. In week 4 RGIII threw for 323 yards, but since then has only averaged 185 yards passing per game. It seems that the league is catching up to this rookie, but he can still break a big play at any time.
Vision for the Future – As I just mentioned, I think the rookie wall is coming fast for RGIII. Running quarterbacks seem to be able to have early success, but also have dramatic drop offs. I think that RGIII is still going to be a top 10 quarterback at the end of this season, but I am not expecting him to have the dominant 4 game stretch that he started the season with. Next year will be an interesting season for Griffin and will draw a lot of comparisons to Cam Newton. How RGIII is able to deal with the adjustments the league makes will go a long way to determining how successful he is going to be. I am still a believer in him, but feel he will go too high in drafts next season for him to be on one of my teams.
Doug Martin – Martin has been the talk of all rookies over the past 3 weeks. Martin had the most dominant back to back performances that the league has seen from a rookie since Adrian Peterson. Martin rushed for 386 yards with 5 rushing TD and added another 100 yards receiving with a TD catch against the Vikings and Oakland in weeks 8 & 9. Those huge performances have Martin as the 3rd ranked running back in ESPN standard scoring leagues. Martin has made the impact as those games he had won weeks for their owners.
Vision for the Future – Martin, the Muscle Hamster, has shown that he has the speed and power to be a dominator in this league. Martin is a sure fire #1 RB the rest of the way this season and has some tasty matchups for you in your semi finals and championship games going up against New Orleans in week 15 and St. Louis in week 16. Martin also looks like he is going to be a back to be reckoned with next year and years to come. Martin is a do it all back and is on a team with a young nucleus on offense that should continue to get better and better. The future is bright for the Muscle Hamster.
Andrew Luck – Luck has been having a very nice rookie season averaging 292.33 yards passing per game with a modest 1.67 TD per game. Luck is currently the 8th best quarterback in the NFL, based on ESPN standard scoring. Luck has had 3 monster games this season against Jacksonville, Green Bay and Miami where he totaled 1,108 yards with 6 passing TD, 1 rushing TD and only 2 INT. All of those games were at home, where Luck has been a much better quarterback.
Vision for the Future – Luck looks like the real deal and will be a top tier Fantasy quarterback in this league before too long. You have to love the fact that he is producing with a ton of other rookies surrounding him on offense (TY Hilton, Vick Ballard, Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener). Luck has shown that he has a load of poise, as evidenced by his late game heroics against Green Bay, Tennessee and Miami. Luck looks like the real deal to me and while he is still going to be inconsistent the rest of this season, with his better games coming at home, he will be a great pick next year in Fantasy drafts.
Trent Richardson – Richardson was the consensus #1 rookie to make an impact before the season began. Richardson has had a tough time finding running lanes in the Browns offense and has only averaged 3.8 yards per carry on the year. Richardson has shown that he is a reliable receiver out of the back field and has 31 receptions for 240 yards and a TD. Richardson has yet to set the Fantasy world on fire as he only has three 100 yard rushing games, with a high rushing game total of 122 yards. He is still the 10th best running back based on ESPN standard scoring.
Vision for the Future – Richardson has demonstrated that he has all the skills to be dominant in this league, but he can’t do it alone. The rest of the year I expect to be like the season has been to this point. I feel that he does have a big breakout game that will show up before the season is over, but the best is yet to come from Richardson. The Browns are a very young team, but for once it looks like they have some good young players and with a solid offseason could become a playoff contender before too long. Richardson will be the center point of this offense for years to come and look for him to have a big step up year next season.
Alfred Morris – Morris has overcome all odds and Mike Shanahan to become the lead back for the Washington Redskins. Morris has been an extremely effective runner this season as evidenced by his 4.8 yards per carry. Morris has also had 3 games where has rushed for more than 100 yards and has 5 TD on the year so far. Morris is not used very much in the receiving game and only has 5 catches for 35 yards on the year. Morris is also not going to go crazy in the TD category as long as RGIII continues to run the football as much as he does. His style of running should allow him to be effective in the late season games when they will need to rely on the running game.
Vision for the Future – Morris looks like he should be the back of the future for the Redskins, but you never know with Mike Shanahan making the calls. RGIII stealing TD runs from him will also be a problem that Morris is going to have to deal with the rest of this season and in the years to come. It would be nice to see Morris become a weapon in the passing game, but that does not look like it is going to happen this season, so expect him to continue to be spelled on 3rd downs this year and for the future until he adds that skill to his repertoire.
Those are the rookies that have made the biggest impact so far this season. Now there are other rookies out there that have made an impact in a game or two, but have not had the impact of the rookies that I have already discussed. A lot of these players have the potential to breakthrough on the Fantasy scene next season. So I am just going to take a quick look at these players and give my insight into what I see in the future for these players.
Kendall Wright – Wright is currently leading all rookie receivers with 43 receptions and has added 4 TD grabs. He is still inconsistent, but he is showing all the signs of being ready to break out next season. I am a fan of Mr. Wright.
Russell Wilson – Wilson is currently the 20th ranked quarterback based on ESPN standard scoring. Wilson has thrown for 2 or more TD passes in 5 of the 10 games he has played, but he has only had 3 games where he has thrown for more than 200 yards. There is a lot of depth at this position, and I am not a believer that Wilson will crack the top 15 anytime soon.
Josh Gordon – Gordon has been a pleasant surprise this season, after being selected in the supplemental draft by the Browns. Gordon only has 19 receptions on the season, but has more yardage than Kendall Wright, who has more than doubled him in receptions. His 4 TD are very nice for a rookie, but the 21.4 yards per catch is the stat that stands out. He is going to have a chance to be the next Mike Wallace, starting next season.
Brandon Weeden – The old man rookie has done a decent job, without much help from veterans as he is the old man on a young team. He is only the 26th ranked quarterback in ESPN standard scoring leagues. Weeden has shown signs of life throwing for 2 TD or more in 4 games, but has slowed down over the past 2 games failing to throw for more than 200 yards and has 0 TD in those 2 games. Weeden, like Wilson, has potential, but there is too much depth at the position.
Chris Givens – Givens has only started to make his impact over the last 3 games where he has 9 catches for 221 yards and TD. There is room for Givens to grow with the Rams, as they are a young team that is looking for playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. Givens looks like he is going to be the deep threat for the Rams with his 25.6 yards per catch average. Although, it may take a few years before Givens makes his real impact on Fantasy.
Justin Blackmon – Blackmon was the top receiving prospect coming into this season, but he ended up in Jacksonville and that has proved to be a downfall for his Fantasy prospects. He only has 26 receptions for a mere 250 yards. Blackmon has ability, but the knock on him was for a lack of speed and a 9.6 yards per catch average has not changed that. Blackmon is not going to be a dominator in Fantasy and is more in line to be a receiver like Amani Toomer.
Ryan Tannehill – Tannehill has shown the ups and downs that a rookie goes through, with some great games (431 yards passing against Arizona) as well as some stinkers (141 yards and 2 INT vs. Buffalo). Tannehill, like Weeden and Wilson is lacking a lot of playmakers on his team to really help him out. Like Weeden and Wilson, Tannehill is really not viable as a starting quarterback in Fantasy until he gets some help around him.
TY Hilton – Hilton has been an interesting player this season. Hilton has been hit or miss, which should not surprise you as a rookie wide receiver, but he has carved out a spot for him in the Colts offense. He is the slot receiver of the present and the future for the Colts and is also being used in gadget plays and on reverses. Hilton will have a chance in the next year or two to make a real impact in Fantasy, but I think 2 years from now is the real breakout for him.
The fact is, especially by looking at the top rookie performers of all time, that rookies are usually more miss than hit. The other problem is that the rookies everyone likes coming out of college are not always the ones that make the biggest impact. This year’s rookie class has a lot of talent and some of that is rising to the top quickly (Martin, RGIII and Luck) and others are just starting to find their groove. For the players who are further down the list you should temper your expectations for them to help you in your Fantasy Playoffs, and for those players who have been producing you just need to be aware of the rookie wall and have alternatives to go to if they indeed hit that wall.
BY HOUDINI (email me)