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Fantasy Roundtable

Roundtable: Top Rookies

by Jesse Pantuosco
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Jesse Pantuosco (@JessePantuosco): The youth movement is upon us. I think we can all agree Todd Gurley has been the league’s most impressive rookie. In fact, he might be the most impressive running back period. He leads the league in rushing yards per game (110.5) and is second in yards per carry (6.0). Pretty good for a 21 year old coming off a torn ACL.


So if Gurley is the consensus No. 1, who comes after him? Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon have to be in the conversation, right? Cooper is singlehandedly making the Raiders relevant again while Yeldon is getting a ton of work for Jacksonville and has a good chance to reach 1,000 yards rushing.


Rich Hribar (@LordReebs): In the context of this question, it's definitely Cooper. Since the merger, only Anquan Boldin and Randy Moss had more receiving yards as rookies through six games than the 519 Cooper is sitting on right now. The last rookie to have three 100-yard receiving games through his first six games was Mike Ditka back in 1961. Oh, and Cooper has only been legally allowed to consume alcohol for five and a half months.  


Now, that's all great and he's bonafide for sure, but there's so much bizarre underlying data underneath his production. The first is that he's only sitting around 8.3 targets per game, which is fine, but not even as many as teammate Michael Crabtree. No biggie, he's had two harder matchups in his past two games. The second is 58 percent of his receiving yards are actually after the catch. That's a high number. Out of all the receivers with 300 yards this year, only Golden Tate (61.6%) and Randall Cobb (58.9%) have relied more heavily on yards after the catch. The third is that he has only one red zone target all year. Five other Raiders have more. Consistently producing while relying on yards after the catch and long touchdowns is a tough way to live week to week in fantasy. Either we're going to see positive regression from those ancillary numbers and usage, or we're going to start to see some declination in his counting stats.


Now this is about as good as it gets for return on a rookie receiver outside of Odell Beckham, so I'd be more than happy to keep swimming along and taking what Cooper gives me. But I also believe he's a mighty fine trade carrot right now if you have depth at the position. If I was a running back needy team, I would explore turning Cooper into someone like Doug Martin. But more often than not, he's a fine chip in 2-1 deals. Still, I wouldn't be looking to sell for the sake of selling because he's a weekly WR2 and clearly the answer to your question.


Patrick Daugherty (@RotoPat): What's so impressive about both Gurley and Cooper is how big they play. Gurley is marble-sculpture ripped, and Cooper looks so much bigger than his 6-foot-1 frame. Gurley is just a grown man with the ball in his hands. So big, so hard to take down. He might rip your arm off if it's all you use trying to tackle him. 


Someone else who just pops off the page is Tyler Lockett. Obviously he hasn't had a ton of involvement on offense, but he's proven beyond a reasonable doubt that his play-making ability is going to translate from the Big 12 to the NFC West. 


Jeff Brubach (@Jeff_Brubach): After Todd Gurley, who is an absolute monster, I do think Amari Cooper is the next best rookie right now and has been incredible considering his age. I also think we owe a bit of love here to Stefon Diggs, who has shredded opposing defenses since finally getting a chance to show his skills in Week 4. Although he isn't swimming in All-Pro competition, Diggs leads Teddy Bridgewater's receivers in yardage and has played just three games. Diggs isn't on the level of Gurley or Cooper but has been a nice surprise as a waiver addition this season.


Pantuosco: Yeldon isn’t a freak of nature like Gurley but he’s coming along. He’s averaged 4.75 yards per carry over his last three games, a noticeable improvement from the 3.21 he averaged during his first three outings. Jacksonville’s offensive line is mediocre at best, yet Yeldon has found enough space to reach 100 yards rushing in two of his last three contests. Blake Bortles is also starting to target him more in the passing game (nine targets in his last two games) and coach Gus Bradley even hinted Yeldon could start to see goal-line carries. Anyone would be better than Toby Gerhart, who was stuffed on the goal line four times in a row last week against Buffalo. Yeldon has emerged as an every-week RB2 in fantasy.


Let’s shift gears. Which rookie has been the most disappointing? I think Nelson Agholor has a pretty compelling case. Out of 107 qualifiers on Pro Football Focus, he ranks dead-last among wide receivers. Despite playing 263 snaps in five games, Agholor has caught a grand total of eight passes for 105 yards. Agholor’s rookie season was in the tank well before he suffered a high-ankle sprain in Week 5.


Hribar: In general, just about the entire rookie receiver class has been a letdown for various reasons. 2014 was a once in a lifetime class that had an immediate impact. But when you look at the receivers that teams used premium draft capital on, the return out of the blocks has been disappointing even for an expected reality check. Kevin White and Breshad Perriman couldn't get healthy. DeVante Parker is buried on the depth chart and still can't hurdle Rishard Matthews, a guy who asked to be cut this summer. Dorial Green-Beckham is getting Whizzed on. Phillip Dorsett is now hurt. Nelson Agholor has been ineffective and stylistically is a poor fit with Sam Bradford. Devin Funchess is … well, Devin Funchess. Devin Smith was a package player coming out and is being used in that capacity now. All of those guys were selected within the first 40 draft slots this spring. 


Still, I would have to say the most disappointing rookies have been Ameer Abdullah and Melvin Gordon when you factor in the real and fantasy capital invested and the return thus far with the opportunity each was presented. We know the Lions’ and Chargers’ offensive lines are part of the equation, but both have been largely ineffective in their own right. Both were top 60 picks this spring and both cost you a 4th round fantasy pick or higher by the end of the summer. 


Abdullah had 94 yards from scrimmage Week 1 and has 241 since, all while Joique Bell has been exactly who we thought he’d be. Gordon has had just two top-40 scoring weeks and now is losing snaps to Branden Oliver. There's hindsight here, but these are backs that had no measured floor or ceiling going over the likes of Brandon Marshall, Chris Ivory and others. Neither guy really has a trade market but nor can be outright cut as well based on perceived upside, meaning owners who have them will likely be in a state of fantasy purgatory for the rest of the season.


Evan Silva (@evansilva): Agholor has definitely been a disappointment, dropping too many passes and failing to clearly move past Josh Huff and Riley Cooper. Kevin White and Breshad Perriman have been injured all year. DeVante Parker came back from his injury, but can't get on the field. Dorial Green-Beckham flashes big time potential but still doesn't know the playbook. Devin Funchess has just been plain awful.

Jesse Pantuosco
Jesse Pantuosco is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld. He has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JessePantuosco.