|ESPN.com: 2011||[Print without images]|
Those pesky freshmen, they think they know everything.
Actually, considering the statistics, that might be because they do.
The 2011 season might, so far, be labeled the "Year of the Quarterback" -- not merely because we've declared it such but also because the actual returns confirm it -- but, so far, it also might be worthy of a second label: "Year of the Rookie."
And that's not said solely as an excuse to heap more love on Cam Newton, the star of the Week 3 Consistency Ratings, though Newton's performance, so far, certainly is the leading rookie storyline. Since Newton was profiled in this space three weeks ago, he has continued to pile on the statistical accomplishments:
• He is the first player in NFL history with at least five passing and five rushing touchdowns in the first five games of a career.
• He has the Nos. 1 and 2 single-game passing yardage performances by a rookie in NFL history (432, Week 2; and 422, Week 1).
• He has been a "Stud" by this column's definition four times, something only four players in the entire NFL -- Aaron Rodgers (5), Drew Brees and Calvin Johnson (4 each) being the others -- have done.
• He's ninth in the NFL in terms of VBD (value-based draft score), with 54, and second among quarterbacks, and his "Stack" score (32) is 20th-best in the NFL and third-best among quarterbacks, meaning he's hardly a matchups product.
But although Newton might be the poster boy for 2011 rookie breakouts, there are plenty of other freshmen off to meaningful starts. Consider this: As a whole, 20 rookies have managed 37 "Start"-worthy fantasy performances and 14 Stud-worthy efforts. And two of them are quarterbacks, six of them running backs, 10 of them wide receivers. Today, let's examine five -- besides Newton -- who are off to the most meaningful starts:
A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals: He hasn't gotten nearly the press Newton has, but did you know that he has been worthy of your fantasy start every bit as often (4) as the Carolina Panthers quarterback? Green has been a sensation for the Cincinnati Bengals in spite of the preseason questions about the statistical limitations of a rookie-rookie quarterback-to-wideout connection, managing the 10th-most fantasy points (56), third-most Stud efforts (2) and 12th-best Stack score (21.6) among wide receivers. (Not rookie wide receivers, all wide receivers.) Green finds himself on pace to crack the 1,200-yard and 10-touchdown plateaus, benchmarks that only four players achieved in 2010. Best yet: His next two matchups -- Week 6 versus the Indianapolis Colts and Week 8 at the Seattle Seahawks -- come against defenses that have allowed the third- and 10th-most fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers.
Of course, Green's schedule after that gets tougher: His Weeks 9-13 matchups come against teams among the stingiest 13 in terms of fantasy points allowed to wideouts.
Andy Dalton, Bengals: What of Green's rookie quarterback? Dalton might not strike you as a meaningful fantasy option in the slightest, and we annually caution you to tread carefully when it comes to rookie passers. But look closer: Twice in five games he turned in a Start-worthy performance, giving him the 17th-best Consistency Rating (40.0 percent) among quarterbacks -- meaning, at the bare minimum, value in two-quarterback leagues. He also has the 20th-most fantasy points among quarterbacks (61) yet ranks 42nd in Stack score (minus-21.1), which, though a negative in terms of evaluating his every-week potential, does demonstrate his propensity for exploiting matchups. (Remember, it's a sliding scale; the greater the fantasy points and lower the Stack, the more the player capitalizes on matchups.)
Sure enough, Dalton's two best fantasy efforts -- 21 points in Week 2 at the Denver Broncos and 18 in Week 4 versus the Buffalo Bills -- came against defenses that have allowed the most and seventh-most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks. So here's this heads-up, if you play in a two-quarterback league or have a quarterback with a pending bye: In Week 6, Dalton faces the Colts, who have allowed the 13th-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks.
Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons: I'll state up front, he's my favorite of the rookie class, and I say that primarily because I've been saying it since August, whereas I didn't feel quite as strongly about, say, Newton back then as I do today. Surprisingly, despite his solid start, Jones' Consistency Rating numbers are somewhat poor; he hasn't yet had a Stud performance, and has been a "Stiff" (2) as often as a Start (2). In his defense, he might have avoided Stiff territory in Week 5 if not for a hamstring injury that cut his night short, but, as always, my Consistency Rating formula does penalize for injuries. (The thinking: Injuries hurt fantasy teams' planning, so players shouldn't get a free pass simply because they missed games.)
Jones' hamstring injury could remain an issue come Week 6, so watch his practice reports closely, but remember that only 19 wide receivers have been Start-worthy more often than the rookie through five weeks.
Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks: He is one of those 19 wide receivers, having on three occasions turned in a fantasy point total worthy of having had him in your lineup, yet, incredibly, remains available in 99.2 percent of ESPN leagues and was started in 0.2 percent in Week 5. Baldwin also ranks 26th in terms of Stack (7.1), remarkable for a player who ranks 47th among wide receivers in targets (27) and has yet to make his first career start. That his Seahawks are now on a bye might temper his pickup value this week, but this is a name to keep tucked away, tracking the potential expansion of his role in coming games. After all, he has two favorable matchups remaining, versus the St. Louis Rams (Weeks 11, 14), and other "plus" matchups against the Chicago Bears (Week 15) and Arizona Cardinals (Week 17).
Daniel Thomas, Miami Dolphins: He has played in only two of the Dolphins' four games, but is 2-for-2 in terms of Start-worthy fantasy efforts, with his 17-point Week 3 a true Stud performance, and he's 18th among running backs in terms of his Stack score (11.6). According to The Miami Herald, Thomas' hamstring should be healed coming out of the bye, in which case he might have a stronghold on the starting running back job for the next 12 weeks. Remember, the Dolphins don't seem to know what to do with Reggie Bush, awkwardly pushing him into the featured-back role at times and failing to roll him out wide at others, and Steve Slaton is even less equipped to be the team's featured back. This is a situation in which Thomas could get 15 carries a week assuming the Dolphins aren't so brutally bad that they're already 21 points behind and passing at the beginning of the second quarter.
Given that Thomas' team is fresh off the bye and a favorite pick in the "Suck for Luck" sweepstakes, this is the ideal time to pounce on a buy-low trade. If he comes as cheaply as a piece from your bench, there's every reason to act.
As always, exercise caution with rookies, who typically don't fit the description of "consistent" types. But in comparison to preseason expectations -- remember that fantasy owners as a whole have increasingly shied from rookies in recent years -- all six players above should be useful pieces in your playoff push.
Each position has two charts below: one for 2011 statistics alone and one for the past 34 NFL weeks (Week 6 of 2009 through Week 5 of 2011). All categories are sortable both ascending and descending; just click on the headers to sort.
(Note: Because of the byes in Weeks 4-5 of 2009, and Week 5 of 2011, certain players could have appeared in as many as 33 games or as few as 31, instead of just 32. You can tell which teams had more or fewer than 32 scheduled games by looking at the defense/special teams chart for the past 34 weeks.)