The Current Outlook
Rookies everywhere are dominating. It’s only a month into the season, but sometimes that’s all it takes to gain a foothold and make your mark. After an 0-2 start, the much-maligned Eli Manning was benched in favor of No. 6 pick Daniel Jones. Marquise Brown, A.J. Brown, and Terry McLaurin all lead their respective teams in receiving yardage. Josh Jacobs is 6th in the NFL in rushing yards.
With the hype that surrounds the obvious break-outs in the rookie class, it can be challenging to identify the next great set of rookies to emerge. These rookie sleeper candidates are not must-starts right now but are well worth an early stash. Stay ahead of the curve now, that way these guys don’t burn you later.
Benny Snell Jr. (RB – Pittsburgh Steelers)
“Running back by committee” is a foreign concept to Mike Tomlin, but it’s something he’s certainly trying. After splitting carries with James Conner in Week 4, Jaylen Samuels left Week 5’s match against the Ravens with a knee injury, which was later scoped. While Samuels is sidelined, Snell is the next man up, and he could certainly see some work.
Samuels has played almost 25% of the offensive snap count in Steeler games this season, a percentage that Snell could realistically inherit. With Conner’s history of injury woes and time already missed in practice so far this season, Snell is in a terrific position to succeed, should something happen to the lead back.
He won’t make much of an impact immediately, but he’s worth investing in if you’re the Conner owner, and is a nice handcuff to hold onto while Samuels is out. Grab him and stash him.
Darius Slayton (WR – New York Giants)
6 weeks ago, I wouldn’t have bothered to write this blurb. Eli Manning was starting for the Giants, Daniel Jones was on the bench, and once again the Giants were on their way to a losing record.
While the latter part of that sentence may ring true, things have certainly 180’d, especially for Fantasy purposes. Jones has helped to dig the Giants out of the perpetual hole that they’ve been living in for the past few years, and in the meantime has shed light on rookie 5th round pick Darius Slayton.
Jones’ go-to receiver for the past couple of weeks, Slayton has seen 5 targets in two games with Jones, with only 2 looks (both of which he caught) in Week 4. His snap count rose from 44% in his first two games (Weeks 2 & 3) to 65% last week. It’s clear that Shurmur is trying to get the young wideout involved, and with Sterling Shepard out for the foreseeable future, Slayton is likely to step into the No. 2 position behind Golden Tate.
He’s not a must-start right now, but keep an eye on this one. He’s interesting to watch as his rapport with Daniel Jones grows.
Preston Williams (WR – Miami Dolphins)
I know, the Dolphins. The Josh Rosen–led Dolphins. Gross. But not everything is as gross as it may appear.
A surprisingly sound player on a not-so-surprisingly bad team, the first-year wideout is currently sitting at WR 58. With the bye week already past, Williams is already a decent flex option. He’s tied with Devante Parker for the team lead in receiving yards and has demanded at least 6 targets in his last three games.
I expect an increase in targets and reception as the year goes on, especially as he builds a rapport with Rosen. He’s a nice stash and is already a plug-and-play that won’t goose you (looking at you Mike Evans). If you need to own any Dolphin, this is the one.
A.J. Brown (WR – Tennessee Titans)
That Tennessee schedule has been rough.
After a hot-than-cold start to the season, Brown came alive once more in Week 4 against the remains of the Falcons secondary. Bringing in 2 touchdowns on only 3 receptions, he returned to Earth (and by returned I mean Clark Kent crashed into it) last week against a shrewd Bills defense.
His schedule for the rest of the season looks promising, however. With Adam Humphries being out-played and Corey Davis just a complete bust, Brown is the prettiest receiver in the ugliest locker room. He gets to face the beat-up Broncos and Chargers over the next two weeks and is sitting nicely with a solid 20.8 yds per reception, all while leading his team in receiving yards.
He may be a bit of an unknown, but I truly believe in his ROS potential of being the No. 1 target for Marcus Mariota. He’s only rostered in 14% of ESPN leagues, but that number will jump soon.
Bonus: Auden Tate (WR – Cincinnati Bengals)
I know he’s not a rookie, but I couldn’t pass on a chance to talk about him.
The Bengals are off to a terrible start to the year. 5 weeks in and A.J. Green has yet to play a single snap. Tyler Boyd is the De Facto WR1 for his team, but he cannot do it alone, especially with John Ross now on IR and Tyler Eifert a shadow of his former self.
Enter Auden Tate.
After being inactive for the first game of the season, his snap count has risen significantly in the following weeks, jumping from 36.2% in Week 2 to 100% last week against the Cardinals. With the trade rumors swirling around the sidelined Green, it’s not out of the question that this is the new normal for Tate.
With a veteran signal-caller throwing to him every week, I fully expect his workload to increase. It’s literally impossible for him to receive more snap counts, but it’s not impossible for him to receive at least 6 or 7 targets each and every game. Get him where you can.
What you should know moving forward
These rookies (and Tate) are not must starts, and they may not be starts for awhile. What they are, however, are players that are in a prime position to move forward with the opportunities that are slowly presenting themselves. These players have bright futures, and if you add them to your roster, so might your fantasy team.
Zach Hargis is a writer for Dynasty Football Digest, enjoys playing the drums, doing voice impressions, and quoting The Office. If any of those things interest you, he welcomes you to follow him on Twitter @ZachFFDrummer and to check out his personal interests on Instagram @zakktastic.