Heading into Week 4, it’s past the one-quarter turn of the fantasy football regular season and the newness has faded off NFL rookies. Bijan Robinson amassed “only” 60 total yards against Detroit, so maybe he’s not the second coming of Earl Campbell (fellow Texas alum, BTW). It’s also not time to worry that Robinson might flop. There will be plenty of good fantasy football times coming from the Atlanta rookie.
But now that we have a few games under our collective belts, some patterns have begun to develop with the rookies. Routes run and target shares are taking shape for pass catchers. Running back opportunities are still a work in progress, though what happened in Miami was akin to Haley’s Comet. It’s probably not happening again for a very long time.
The Rookie Rundown is here to take a deeper look at how some first-year players are doing and how they project for fantasy football production both this week and the near future. There are a few first-timers in here, and others who are getting another look after something changed in either opportunity or production.
Time to dive in.
C.J. Stroud, Houston Texans
After back-to-back games with two touchdowns, Stroud is starting to make fantasy managers sit up and take notice. The 37-17 victory in Jacksonville was shocking to Duuuval faithful who were putting the AFC South title on ice. Stroud, behind a makeshift offensive line because of injuries, coolly passed for 280 yards against the Jaguars.
It will take more than a pair of good games for Justin Herbert 2020 comparisons to begin to make sense, but Stroud is very much in fantasy managers’ collective radar because of plays like this one:
At the very least, he's on the Superflex-league radar. His matchup against the Steelers this weekend will see him going against an elite front seven. The offensive line will have a tough time keeping T.J. Watt out of the backfield, though Pittsburgh's defensive backs have been burned by Davante Adams (172 yards and two touchdowns) and Brandon Aiyuk (129 yards and two scores) already this season.
Nico Collins and another receiver further down this article may help Stroud continue his hot run.
OK, the lead needs to be buried no longer. What Achane did was unprecedented. How does a player go from having two NFL touches for 9 yards to 233 total yards and four touchdowns in one game? This is why football and professional sports are so awesome. Players can come out of nowhere to surprise the masses.
Seemingly diminutive (5-foot-9, 188 pounds) by NFL standards, but track-speed fast when he hits top gear (4.32 40-yard dash), Achane is in the perfect zone-read Mike McDaniel offense that emphasizes speed. He’s not being used running just on the outside. He rushed between the tackles and still broke free for long runs where he could reach max velocity and run away from defenders with ease. Watch his routes to see if they creep up, because if the Dolphins start to get him out in space, it could mean some big plays.
The Bills are up next, and they gave up some big plays to Breece Hall en route to 10 carries for 127 yards in the opener. After that are two defenses in the Panthers and Giants that are 27th and 29th in rushing yards allowed in the early going. Achane should continue his liftoff.
Gibbs' Week 3 workload is more of what fantasy managers were looking for. The 59.4% snap share against the Falcons is a big step up from the 27.1% in Week 1. Gibbs acted as the featured back. The rushing attempts (17) were more than double the remaining Lions running backs combined. His routes run (16) were double that of the nearest backfield mate. Gibbs turned those into 18 touches for 82 yards.
On a short week, he gets the Green Bay defense that in Week 2 allowed 172 total yards to Bijan Robinson. The Packers are 27th in rushing yards allowed with 410, continuing a trend of not emphasizing rush defense. Even with David Montgomery trending toward playing — though he’ll possibly be on a pitch count — Gibbs could be looking at a breakout spot.
Miller was a popular pickup off the waiver wire and in daily fantasy lineups last week, with what looked like a smash spot waiting for him. Jamaal Williams had just gone on the IR, and Alvin Kamara was serving the last game of a three-game suspension.
What played out was a mixed bag for Miller, who made his NFL debut. He led the team in rushing attempts with nine, going for 34 yards. However, Tony Jones Jr. led the team in snaps (29) and ran more routes than Miller, 17-11.
It looked like the Saints were easing Miller into real NFL action.
That may be the bulk of his role for the time being, as Kamara returns this week to take over as the lead back. If the Saints limit Kamara's rush attempts to get him more work in the passing game, that could mean more work for Miller. For the time being, he’s likely a bench stash with Tampa Bay and New England, both good run defenses, coming up in the next two weeks. Make sure to look at his snap share and touches, compared to Kamara. Miller is still available in 75% of Yahoo leagues.
Usually, a 25% target share shows that a pass catcher is getting an elite workload. Flowers is at 32%, with 10 targets in two of three games. In the last game, the rookie saw more passes than the other Ravens wide receivers combined.
Flowers may be the top receiver, but Mark Andrews is still the incumbent target hog on a team where Lamar Jackson is averaging nearly 29 passes per game. With a trip to Cleveland this weekend, even though Flowers is entering must-start status, keep in mind the Browns have allowed 408 passing yards, lowest in the league. More forgiving matchups are coming for Flowers in ensuing weeks at Pittsburgh and Tennessee.
Tank Dell, Houston Texans
As Stroud has improved, so have the prospects for Dell. After he went 5-145-1 against Jacksonville, his second game with a touchdown and first 100-yard game, Dell is at least a player to start in a good matchup. With Stroud averaging 40 pass attempts per game, there will be plenty of footballs to go around for Dell, Nico Collins and Robert Woods.
No need to reiterate that the Steelers have given up some big games to receivers. The Texans are home, so it’s time to get Dell off the fantasy bench.
Marvin Mims Jr., Denver Broncos
Denver head coach Sean Payton has bigger fish to fry, but if Mims doesn’t begin to run more routes fantasy managers may begin to petition for more involvement for the electrifying rookie. He ran 13 routes, but drew five targets for three catches and 73 yards. His Yards Per Route Run is an incomprehensible 7.22 (2.5 is elite).
Rookie wide receivers sometimes take a while to expand the types of routes they run. That could be what is happening with Mims. He’s rostered in 38% of Yahoo leagues, so if there’s a player worth dropping on your team, Mims is worth the add.
Sam LaPorta, Detroit Lions
This is not Andy Behrens hijacking the keyboard. That 45-yard touchdown bomb against Atlanta was more than just LaPorta’s first score. It was a sign of things to come for the Iowa product, who may be breaking the trend of rookie tight ends needing years before they’re fantasy contributors.
LaPorta has been acting as the second option in the Lions’ passing game behind Amon-Ra St. Brown. He has 29 and 27 routes run, respectively, in his past two games. With 18.40 fantasy points and a TE1 finish last week, LaPorta had better get ready for more weeks among the top point scorers at the position.
He has a tough task in Week 4 against the Packers, who have yet to allow a tight end more than 47 receiving yards in a game
This is more of a speculative mention, as Johnston has just eight targets through three games. However, someone is going to have to step into the large void left behind by Mike Williams missing the rest of the season.
Initially, it will be Joshua Palmer getting more targets, but Johnston was a first-round draft pick for a reason and drew rave reviews from Derwin James in OTAs and minicamp. Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times recently pointed out that Johnston is still earning Justin Herbert’s trust after some early drops (something scouts were worried about before the NFL Draft).
Rostered in just 46% of Yahoo leagues, Johnston is worth the add, though he's probably someone to consider using after the Chargers’ Week 5 bye.