Quite a few first-year players have already made great impacts as professionals. Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Puka Nacua has been a standout, averaging 20.4 PPR points per game. Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud has been impressive too with 1,660 passing yards and nine passing touchdowns through six starts. Miami running back De’Von Achane has also demonstrated his immense talent when healthy with some electric performances.
It has not been a productive campaign so far for every rookie, though. This was shown this Thursday in the Jaguars-Saints matchup. Jacksonville running back Tank Bigsby received some preseason attention, but opportunities for him have been sparse this season. Saints running back Kendre Miller has had his moments, including a solid Week 5 showing, but he played only three offensive snaps this week.
Whether you’re a redraft manager or a dynasty manager, being ahead of the curve with rookie players is vital to your team’s success. For that reason, each week I will be breaking down which rookies you should be watching out for. This column will be split into two parts: one pertaining to players most relevant in redraft leagues, and the other for rookies particularly worth watching in dynasty formats.
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Jahmyr Gibbs (RB, DET)
When the Detroit Lions selected former Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs with the 12th pick in this year’s draft, fantasy managers immediately began salivating over his fantasy prospects. Gibbs not only possesses great speed (4.36-second 40-yard dash) and explosiveness, but he also provides elite versatility; he caught 104 passes in his three seasons in college. That skillset, a quality offensive landing spot, and excellent draft capital made Gibbs a highly-touted fantasy option this preseason.
Sadly, Gibbs has been somewhat disappointing so far. He has had just one game with more than a 50-percent snap share, and he is 34th at his position in weighted opportunities. Additionally, Gibbs has not been as efficient with his chances as many fantasy managers wished for, averaging only 0.68 fantasy points per opportunity (46th among RBs). Still, he has shown flashes of his ability, ranking ninth in breakaway run rate, and he is eighth in target share among tailbacks.
Gibbs will have a great chance to shine this week. Starter David Montgomery is injured and out for Sunday’s matchup in Baltimore. In the previous game Gibbs played without Montgomery, he had a season-high 17 carries. Backup Craig Reynolds is also questionable with hamstring and toe ailments, so the backfield will be dominated by the rookie this weekend. Gibbs is returning from a hamstring issue of his own, but he should still vie for a season-best performance against the Ravens.
Zach Evans (RB, LAR)
Second-year running back Kyren Williams has been having a breakout season for the Rams. Williams has had four top-10 finishes in PPR formats already, including one last week when he ran for 158 yards. Unfortunately, Williams sustained an ankle injury that will likely sideline him for multiple weeks. To make matters worse, backup Ronnie Rivers sprained his PCL and has been placed on injured reserve. The team may need sixth-round rookie Zach Evans to rise to the occasion.
Evans began his college career at TCU, totaling 1,269 scrimmage yards and 10 touchdowns in 15 games with the Horned Frogs. In 2022, Evans transferred to Ole Miss, where he ran for 936 yards and nine scores in his final collegiate season. He averaged an impressive 6.5 yards per carry last season, and he boasts solid speed and power. However, Evans had an issue with fumbling in college, and scouts also noted that his vision needed improvement.
This week, the Rams signed Royce Freeman from their practice squad, added Darrell Henderson from free agency, and poached Myles Gaskin from Minnesota’s practice squad. Reports are murky, but Evans may still be the team’s top running back on Sunday versus the Steelers. Evans was a quality waiver addition this week, but how effective he will be during Williams’s absence remains to be seen.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba (WR, SEA)
Between picks 20 and 23 in this year’s draft, four wide receivers were taken consecutively. The highest-drafted of the bunch, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, joined a Seahawks receiving room that already featured D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Smith-Njigba has below-average speed for a receiver, and his 2022 season at Ohio State was marred by injuries, but he still was drafted highly because of the skills he showed in 2021. Smith-Njigba caught 95 passes for 1,606 yards and nine scores that year.
Smith-Njigba has had a slow start to his rookie campaign, unlike fellow first-rounders Zay Flowers and Jordan Addison. Smith-Njigba has averaged just 22.0 receiving yards per game through five outings, and he is yet to reach 10.0 fantasy points in a game. However, his best showing so far this season came last week versus Cincinnati when he caught four passes for 48 yards on five targets. He also set new season highs in snap share, routes run, and route participation rate.
A big development for Smith-Njigba is Metcalf’s new hip injury. Metcalf returned to the game after sustaining the injury against the Bengals, but he is listed as questionable for this weekend’s matchup versus Arizona. If Metcalf cannot play, both Lockett and Smith-Njigba will step up for quarterback Geno Smith. Watch to see if Smith-Njigba can achieve new personal bests for the second straight week on Sunday.
Tyson Bagent (QB, CHI)
Small-school prospects can often generate buzz during the NFL draft process, and one such player this year was quarterback Tyson Bagent. Bagent put up monster numbers in college for the Shepherd Rams of Division II. He passed for 5,000 yards and 53 touchdowns in 2021 and accumulated 4,580 more yards and 41 more touchdowns the following season. Bagent went undrafted, though, as his profile was hurt by his lower level of competition, inconsistent mechanics, and at times questionable decision-making.
Bagent signed with the Chicago Bears as an undrafted free agent, and he soon earned the job as the primary backup to Justin Fields. When Fields suffered a thumb injury last week, Bagent entered the game to lead the offense. He finished the 19-13 loss with 10 completions on 14 attempts, 83 passing yards, an interception, a rushing touchdown, and a lost fumble. The ugly pick sealed the win for the Vikings in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
Fields has already been ruled out for this week due to his injured thumb. Thus, Bagent will have an opportunity to redeem himself this Sunday versus the Las Vegas Raiders. Redraft managers would have to be truly desperate to start Bagent this week, but dynasty managers should monitor this game to determine if Bagent is worth a stash on their bench. This may be the best look at him one will be able to get for the rest of the season.
Luke Musgrave (TE, GB)
While Detroit’s Sam LaPorta has been the most productive rookie tight end through six weeks, Luke Musgrave has also been effective. Musgrave caught three of four targets for 50 yards in his debut; he also should have had a walk-in score had he not stumbled on a 37-yard catch. In Week 3, the rookie made six grabs on eight targets for 49 yards, and two weeks later he had six receptions for 34 yards on seven targets.
Musgrave stands at 6’6″ and weighs 253 pounds, giving him a massive catch radius. He runs a 4.61-second 40-yard dash too, resulting in a truly impressive 94th-percentile Speed Score. Musgrave has also consistently shown reliable hands throughout his career at Oregon State and his nascent tenure with the Packers. Plus, his 7.7 aDOT ranks seventh so far among tight ends this year, and his two highest target totals have come in his last two full games.
Musgrave has had an extremely promising start to his professional career. It is time to see if he can solidify himself as a bona fide TE1 for dynasty managers. Continuing the momentum he started to pick up before Green Bay’s bye week would be a strong way to boost his stock. The Packers face the Broncos on Sunday; Denver has allowed the most receiving yards to opposing tight ends this season.
Michael Mayer (TE, LV)
Las Vegas Raiders rookie tight end Michael Mayer entered the league with an excellent outlook. He was a consensus All-American at Notre Dame in 2022 thanks to his receiving prowess. Mayer caught 67 passes for 809 yards and nine touchdowns last year, and the season before he made 71 grabs for 840 yards and seven scores. Mayer can make contested catches and is a capable YAC threat, and he received first-round hype before the draft.
Las Vegas selected him in the second round, but it took him a few weeks to make an impact. Mayer had just two targets in his first four games, contrasting his performances with the successes of LaPorta and Musgrave. He has been gaining steam lately, though. He has set a new personal-best snap share mark in each of his past four games, and he exceeded the 50-percent route participation rate threshold for the first time last week. Mayer is coming off a five-catch, six-target, 75-yard performance against the Patriots.
It has been good to see Mayer emerge over his past several games. Will he be able to keep up with his peers like Musgrave? The Raiders face the Chicago Bears on Sunday, and the Bears have surrendered the second-most catches to opposing tight ends this season. This weekend should provide Mayer with another great opportunity to continue his rise and bolster his value for dynasty managers.
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