Mitchell, Cook and other future fantasy values
As I’ve written many times on this site, rookies are important dynasty pieces to keep tabs on, even after rookie drafts have taken place. They are volatile assets who can be improperly valued very easily. The same can be said of college prospects, where even more variables need to be considered in order to see the forest through the trees. A keen dynasty player is always aware of the incoming college talent. Intermittently this season, I’ve been checking in on these young dynasty and developmental assets to keep you updated on recent developments, both on and off the field.
Malcolm Mitchell is shaping up to be New England’s first legitimate home-grown talent at the wide receiver position in over a decade by doing what most before him have failed to do: earn Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s trust. The coach and quarterback have continually spoken about Mitchell’s football IQ, which has translated into box-score production in the last three weeks. Over that span, the rookie is the fourth-highest-scoring receiver in all of fantasy, reeling in 17 of 22 targets for 222 yards (13.1 YPR) and three touchdowns while playing 73.0 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. Brady looks better than ever, and there are going to be plenty of targets to go around for the foreseeable future in this offense given the injury-prone nature of New England’s other passing-game weapons. I would not be treating him as a sell-high, but instead a solid dynasty WR4/5 with upside to progress into more, which is something worth holding onto for those who took him in the late second round of a thin rookie class.
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Headlining the middling nature of this class (beyond a select few players) is Jared Goff, the first overall pick and three-year starter at Cal who needed until Week 11 to overthrow the hapless Case Keenum and make his NFL debut. While the coaching staff’s role in his development could be in question on multiple levels, Goff’s play since he’s taken the field hasn’t inspired much confidence. He showed the natural arm talent that made him such a high pick in his second start against New Orleans (20-of-32 for 217 yards, three touchdowns, one interception), but in his two other starts is a combined 31-of-63 (49.2 percent) for 295 yards (4.7 YPA) with one touchdown and two interceptions. More importantly, his pocket presence has looked shaky, especially last week in New England. Superflex and two-QB-league owners should continue to hold with confidence, but it’s hard to see him being fantasy relevant anytime soon in single-QB, 10- and 12-team leagues.
On the other end of the spectrum, Dak Prescott continues to defy all odds as he currently sits as the fifth-best overall fantasy quarterback with a ridiculous 19:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio through the air and an additional five touchdowns on the ground. While he hasn’t been asked to do much with a dominant offensive line in front of him and Ezekiel Elliott behind him, Prescott’s efficiency has been stellar when Dallas has called his number. Per PFF, he leads the league with 0.61 fantasy points per dropback. He is a rock solid dynasty QB1 given his age, talent, and situation.
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I wrote up Jordan Howard in the last edition of this post, but his performance in the four games since has warranted additional commentary. He has turned a combined 82 carries into 378 yards (4.6 YPC) and three touchdowns, adding four catches for 65 yards over that span. He has now played a commanding 70.3 percent of Chicago’s snaps this year, and there shouldn’t be any lingering doubts about his status as both the Bears’ future in the backfield and a fantasy RB2 with RB1 upside in any given week. If the owner in your league is worried about the Bears using a high draft pick on a “more talented” back despite all the other holes they have on their team, I’d take advantage.
Other rookie notes: Kenneth Dixon has earned a steady role in the Ravens’ offense, exceeding a snap percentage of 31 in each of the last four games. He has been efficient with his opportunities, turning 31 carries into 183 yards (5.9 YPC) while catching 13 balls for 94 yards during those contests. He remains the best bet as the future of Baltimore’s backfield… Wendell Smallwood has played his two highest snap percentages in the last three weeks and is averaging a solid 4.2 yards per carry, but isn’t being used near the goal line and hardly sees any passing down work behind Darren Sproles. He is a strong hold due to Sproles’ advanced age, however. I’d be looking to buy at a discount from frustrated owners if given the chance…Leontee Carroo scored his first career touchdown in Week 12, but still hasn’t seen more than two targets in a game despite two games where he has exceeded 50 percent of snaps. This season is lost, but he is one of my favorite trade targets heading into the dynasty offseason.
Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
Most will have Leonard Fournette as their top 2017 running back, but I currently have Cook atop my ranks heading into the draft process due to a versatile skillset that lends itself excellently to the way offenses are trending in today’s pass-happy NFL. The 21-year-old junior ended the regular season on a high note, turning a combined 54 carries into 378 yards (7.0 YPC) and five touchdowns against Syracuse and Florida. On the season, he now has 1,620 yards and 18 touchdowns on 268 carries (6.0 YPC) to go with 30 receptions for 426 yards and another score, which isn’t far off from Fournette’s three-year career receiving total of 526 yards. His weight at the combine will be worth monitoring.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
Seemingly lost in the shuffle of the aforementioned stacked running back class of 2017, McCaffrey has kept producing at a historic rate in his junior season, including a recent two-game stretch where he parlayed 61 carries into 484 yards (7.9 YPC) and four touchdowns, eclipsing the 200-yard mark in both contests. His yards per reception has dipped from the lofty range it was in during his freshman and sophomore campaigns, but he still has 37 receptions for 310 yards on the year and has more than proven himself as a passing-game asset on his NFL resume. Much like Cook (but in a smaller body), McCaffrey’s versatility make him an appealing option at the next level.
Taywan Taylor, WR, Western Kentucky
Taylor has been posting monster efficiency numbers all season. After reeling in seven grabs for 194 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday, the 6-foot-1 speedster now has 89 catches for 1,586 yards (17.8 YPR) and 16 touchdowns. That includes a game on the road against Alabama with nine receptions for 121 yards. It’s the senior’s third season in a row with greater than a 17.0 yards per catch average and second in a row with over 15 touchdowns. His combine speed numbers will be something I’ll be watching closely.
Bowls to watch
No. 20 LSU vs. No. 13 Louisville
Fournette reportedly will try to play in this one, showcasing his elite combination of size, speed and power one last time at the collegiate level. His backup, Derrius Guice, isn’t far behind him in terms of prospect caliber and will be one of the top names to monitor in 2018. LSU receiver Malachi Dupre is another 2017 player to watch. Lamar Jackson is a finalist for the Heisman and despite Louisville’s recent struggles remains favorite to be the first quarterback selected in 2018.
No. 9 Southern California vs. No. 5 Penn State
Top-tier 2017 receiver prospect Juju Smith-Schuster headlines a talented Trojan offense in a game that features two of next year’s best running back prospects in Saquon Barkley and Ronald Jones II. Barkley, in particular, has already earned blue-chip status along with LSU’s Guice heading into 2018.