NFL DFS Rookie Analysis
NFL DFS Rookie Analysis presents a challenge as rookies are a difficult group to handicap prior to the season starting when there is only their college and preseason data to work on. Fantasy owners are forced to make their best guess on a player using a combination of their skill sets, previous data, projected role and beat writers giving helpful hints. This article will help try and make sense of who these rookies are and how the DailyRoto tools view them in Week 1. Once their role and skill set are identified, it is easy to classify them as a RB1, RB2, FLEX, etc., and the DailyRoto tools do a great job of breaking them down by market share. Here are seven intriguing rookies broke down including their projections for the opening week of the 2018 NFL season:
The Giants drafted Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick after an incredibly promising college career (5.7 yards per carry) and an impressive showing at the combine…and who can blame them for loving the talent? Barkley produced an impressive 96th percentile performance on the bench press, a 97th percentile 40-yard dash (4.40 seconds) and a 99th percentile SPARQ score and that is all after a highlight-filled tenure at Penn State University. Only six teams averaged fewer rushing yards per game than the Giants in 2017 so they were desperately seeking balance in the offseason (especially considering they are loaded with pass-catchers: Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram, etc.).
According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), the Giants’ offensive line is still below league average, but at least they feature a staple in Nate Solder (the highest paid tackle in football). The team drafted guard Will Hernandez so the left side of this offensive strong while the right side leaves much to be desired (none of the guys on the right side graded inside the top 40 at their respective positions last year). If there was any question as to how his game would translate to the pros, he temporarily silenced the critics by breaking off a 39-yard run on his first touch in the preseason. As per usual, there are mixed feelings within the industry on a rookie running back (RB), with some suggesting rookie backs are overvalued and others believing he is worthy of a top pick because of his combination of skills and “guaranteed” role.
Our projections judge players based on their situations, market shares and matchups, and they are bullish on Barkley’s early-season market share. We have him projected for 68-percent of the rushing market share, 72-percent of the rushing touchdown (TD) market share, 13-percent of the target market share and 12-percent of the receiving TD market share. By comparison, Kareem Hunt is only being projected for 65-percent of his team’s rushing market share, so our system treats Barkley like a true workhorse from the get-go. If being objective, such a market share for any player will lead to a valuable fantasy commodity in the backfield, especially if the player is talented and the offense is balanced. Barkley comes in as our RB12 for Week 1 against a Jaguars team who ranked first in Football Outsiders’ defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) versus the pass in 2017 but 27th versus the run.
Judging by reports from Broncos beat writers, Royce Freeman has looked like by far the best back on the team all throughout training camp and the preseason. ESPN’s Jeff Legwold speculated Freeman would be the Broncos “primary back before too long” and then Freeman went out and scored a 24-yard TD in the team’s third preseason game. Unlike Barkley, Freeman will have some competition at the position in the form of Devontae Booker. Per Denver Post writer Mark Kiszla, Booker is a significant obstacle for Freeman, and he is worried the presence of Booker limits his chances of reaching the 1,000-yard mark as a rookie.
Freeman cannot be mistaken for being a similar sort of athlete to Barkley as he only managed a 27th percentile showing in the bench press, a 66th percentile showing in the 40-yard dash (4.54 seconds) and a 62nd percentile SPARQ score. For what it is worth, playerprofiler.com believes the best comparable player to his skill set in the modern NFL has been Steven Jackson (the former RB who played for the Rams, Falcons and Patriots). The Broncos offensive line is nothing special either as PFF ranked them 19th heading into this season which is a four-spot improvement from their end of season rankings last year. Lastly, it remains to be seen how Case Keenum fares under center. In 2017, Keenum took the reins for a Vikings offense that featured the dominant receiving duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs and he produced a 98.3 QB rating over the course of 15 games (14 starts). Luckily for him, the Broncos also features a talented duo of receivers (Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders) so there is a reason for optimism.
In Week 1, Freeman rates as a nearly identical per-dollar value to Barkley on DK, mostly because of his ridiculous inexpensive price point: $4,500. Here are some players priced in the similar tier: Rex Burkhead, Javorius Allen, Carlos Hyde and Chris Thompson. Of the bunch, Freeman’s projected 50-percent rushing market share is the highest of anyone not named Burkhead, and Freeman is not dealing with a knee issue like the Patriots’ back. Freeman will match up against a Seahawks defense that took a step backward last season as they only finished 13th in DVOA versus the pass and 14th versus the run. There is a chance the Broncos commit to Freeman as the workhorse from the start and they have been sugar coating it all along so his market share could exceed our projection. Since there is a great deal of uncertainty around his workload, he is best left for tournaments in the opening week of the season.
Marlon Mack is no lock to suit up Week 1 which leaves Christine Michael and Jordan Wilkins competing for the starting RB job (assuming he were to sit). Nyheim Hines was initially in the conversation, even though his skill set is better suited for third downs, but he has struggled mightily with fumbles this preseason (four already). That has virtually eliminated him from this competition. Michael is a career journeyman and Wilkins has taken first-team reps all throughout the preseason according to team beat writers. On Jul. 31, “1070 The Fan” reported Wilkins was “in the mix” for the starting job, George Brenner reported on Aug. 16 that he was receiving first-team reps and Rotoworld reported Wilkins should at least begin the season as part of a committee. Our projections below still have Mack as the starter but when they are refreshed for Week 1 we’ll reflect the true color of the backfield. In the meantime, you can customize them by adjusting MS Rush as you see fit.
Is Wilkins worthy of starting? His athletic profile is nothing more than mediocre: 34th percentile in the bench press, 51st percentile in the 40-yard dash (4.58 seconds), 55th percentile in speed score, 55th percentile in burst score and a 48th percentile SPARQ score. He mostly projects as a ground-and-pound type runner whose athletic profile most closely resembles Mike Gillislee (per player profiler). Wilkins did not exactly dominate in college (24.7-percent of his team’s total yards) and he was drafted in the fifth round. He just sort of has a chance to be the guy for a short period by default if Mack is unhealthy.
Since there is no real clarity to the situation at this point, Mack is still our highest projected Colts back for Week 1 (11.54 DK fantasy points). Assuming he is healthy enough to suit up, he is expected to earn 47.5-percent of the rushing market share with 22-percent going to Wilkins and 15-percent going to Hines. If Mack were to sit, his percentage would be divided between Wilkins, Hines, and Michael, with Wilkins likely benefitting most if preseason is any indicator. The problem is he is unlikely to be the workhorse even if Mack is out so he is tough to trust at his $3,700 price tag regardless of health in this backfield. Quarterback (QB) Andrew Luck reportedly has lost velocity on his “fastball” so the team is legitimately motivated to pound the run as much as possible until their franchise player heals fully. Wilkins is a strange case and it will take guts for a fantasy owner to deploy him especially considering he is a Gillislee/Marshawn Lynch type who is heavily reliant on scores for value. No thanks.
The number two overall pick reportedly is expected to start Week 1 against the Lions which would make sense considering the alternatives are 39-year old Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater trying to return to his pre-ACL surgery form. In the team’s third preseason game, Darnold completed just 8-16 passes for 86 yards (5.42 yards per attempt (YPA)) and a score. In college, the knocks on him were his tendency for turnovers (22 interceptions in 27 games) and the tendency to hold onto the ball too long (sacked 29 times his senior season). The pass-catchers on the Jets are nowhere near elite (Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa, Jermaine Kearse, Clive Walford, etc.) and the offensive line is ranked 31st according by PFF. Basically, the same sort of issues are likely to plague him as a NFL freshman.
Even the matchup against the Lions and their 16th ranked defense in passing DVOA from a year ago could salvage Darnold’s projection for Week 1. Darnold is not much of an athlete so our algorithm is only giving him credit for seven-percent of the rushing market share and eight-percent of the rushing TDs. He is such a volatile asset as a rookie making his first start, and his supporting cast is so subpar, that he is only being projected to score around 15 fantasy points in his first game. Not only are the Jets listed as 6.5-point road underdogs in a game with a 6.5-point total but the juice is also on the Lions as favorites. Neither Vegas nor our projections have much faith in the kid but he is not featured on the Week 1 main slate. Therefore, fantasy owners will be able to observe him for a week before having to take a stand on his DFS prospects.
The most talented receiver in the class landed with a QB known more for his legs than his arm…but it is not like his arm is not strong. In four NFL seasons, Newton has produced a 10.2-yard average depth of target, which, by comparison, only three QBs outproduced in 2017 alone: Deshaun Watson (11.5), Jameis Winston (11) and Russell Wilson (10.4). Since Newton’s weapons were drastically depreciated by the end of the season (Greg Olsen injury, Kelvin Benjamin traded and Devin Funchess playing through a shoulder issue), Newton completed the fewest downfield passes of his career last season. Enter D.J. Moore and his 4.42 40-yard dash speed, his 88th percentile catch radius and his 92nd percentile SPARQ score to complement the weapons already in place. Moore was the best receiver in this class and he was drafted as such to help a QB who needed a downfield receiver to supplement his plethora of short field option: Olsen, Funchess and Christian McCaffery.
Due to the overload of potential targets for Newton to throw to, our model only projects Moore for 14-percent of the target market share in Week 1. In comparison, Funchess and Olsen are both projected for 21-percent of the target market share and McCaffery is projected for 20.3-percent. Moore is also being projected for 15-percent of the receiving TD market share on a team that has caught only 43 TD passes over the last two years combined. Despite his amazing talent, especially after the catch (which he put on display in the preseason), it is tough to expect Moore to emerge as the top receiver on a team with a WR1 in the backfield and a tight end (TE) who is heavily involved. Moore is a guy to watch as the season progresses and is nothing more than a large-field GPP flier against the Cowboys.
In stark contrast to Moore, Christian Kirk‘s athletic profile is nothing to write home about: 13th percentile catch radius, 14th percentile agility score, 74th percentile 40-yard dash (4.47 seconds) and a 68th percentile SPARQ score. When he plays, Kirk will have to compete for targets with Fitzgerald the target monster and also David Johnson who caught 80 passes in his last healthy season (2016). The QB situation is not great either with Sam Bradford starting off the year before he either gets hurt or Josh Rosen potentially steps in. However, Kirk appears to have a chance to earn the number two WR spot out of camp with the Cardinals having Larry Fitzgerald and not much else at the position. Either way, Kirk has “left an impression” on his Coach Steve Wilks, especially his work out of the slot. According to beat writer Josh Weinfuss, Kirk has played himself somewhat in the mix for a WR2 spot.
Our model is taking a wait-and-see approach on Kirk as he is only projected for 9.3-percent of the target market share out of the gates. As Adam Levitan pointed out in DK Playbook Kirk did not take any first team snaps until Larry Fitzgerald sat, with Chad Williams Greg Little playing on the outside. Even at his $3,700 price point on DK, he rates as a significantly negative value. If he does win a number two receiver role our Week 1 projections will be updated to reflect.
In terms of athleticism, Mike Gesicki was the cream of the crop in this rookie class for any player not named “Barkley” and it has not translated to success in the preseason. Hell, Gesicki had not caught a pass in the preseason until the third game in which he hauled in one pass for 10-yards. In the offseason, the Dolphins lost Jarvis Landry and that is no small void to fill. Dating back to 2014, Landry has been targeted at least 111 times in each season, including 131-plus targets in three straight. DeVante Parker has been disappointing and is battling a finger injury and his Week 1 status is “up in the air.” The team added Danny Amendola, who can fill the slot role, but there are still plenty of targets to go around. Gesicki will compete with Amendola for Ryan Tannehill‘s attention in the short field; a role that has proven to be quite lucrative in past seasons.
Gesicki’s 10.5-percent projected target market share ranks fifth amongst the team’s pass-catchers and basically assumes his mediocre production from the preseason will continue into the regular season. Nevertheless, Gesicki has been impressing in practice since he joined the team, and he should at least be as involved in the passing offense as Albert Wilson (projected to garner 12-percent of the target market share). Our projections do view him as a threat in the red zone as he already owns the team’s second highest projected receiving TD market share which makes sense for a 6’6” TE with a 100th percentile catch radius. Like the aforementioned Kirk, fantasy owners looking to get ahead of the curve on a young, talented player could boost Gesicki’s projection around 20 percentage points to get him to start showing up in some of the optimal lineups (especially at just $2,900).