Injuries continue to wreak havoc on Fantasy Football stars, but the rookie class keeps impressing. Are there rookie walls to keep your eye on as we near the midway point? Sure. But for now, you can’t argue with the numbers several of this year’s debutants have produced. Two of our three — yes, three — superstars weren’t even expected to be starters this year. Here’s how the first-years are performing through six weeks.
Superstars: Kareem Hunt, Leonard Fournette, Deshaun Watson
Last week, it was Fournette joining Hunt in the upper echelon. Now it’s Watson and the suddenly lethal Texans offense.
Watson’s first start was nothing special. He struggled throwing the ball in a miserable Thursday night affair at Cincinnati. He scored on a long touchdown run to bring home a Houston win, but that was really the extent of it. He did enough to win in real life. He followed up his starting debut with a pair of scores and a 301-yard day through the air, but we noted that everyone’s been able to throw on New England (something that still holds true). Then came five total touchdowns against Tennessee in a game that Marcus Mariota. At that point, he was worth a start on your fantasy team. Then, in the past two weeks, he’s had two marvelous fantasy performances (five touchdowns in a loss to the Chiefs and three more in a win over the Browns) and solidified his spot as a fantasy stud.
There are a ton of reasons why Watson’s a star. He’s been phenomenal with the deep ball, and the Texans continue to give him opportunities to let it fly: He was second in the league in deep passes coming into Week 6. He’s already the league’s best rushing quarterback. And he has the weapons around him — a complete star in DeAndre Hopkins, a deep-ball threat in Will Fuller, a versatile back in Lamar Miller and several other complementary playmakers — to continue to be successful, even as teams gather more and more film on him.
Hunt and Fournette are models of consistency. Hunt’s surpassed 100 total yards every week. Fournette’s scored every week. You can’t go wrong with either. Either of those streaks come to an end soon, but that doesn’t make them any less of a superstar.
Clear starters: Alvin Kamara, Evan Engram
There’s lots of moving here, but for good reason. Both guys were in the “solid contributors” role last week but because of roster movement around them, they’re worth the start more times than not, especially with bye weeks beginning to hit hard.
We’ll start with Kamara, who is quickly becoming one of the most efficient per-snap scorers in all of fantasy and is the reason Adrian Peterson is now in Arizona. The University of Tennessee product played just 30 snaps on Sunday per Josh Katzenstein, but he turned those 30 snaps into 14 touches for 87 total yards. It was a really strange game Sunday that saw the Saints go up 45-10, the Lions get it back to 45-38 and ultimately fall 52-38. If the Saints are in games that stay closer for more of the time, there will be more opportunities for Kamara. Either way, he’s been fantastic and deserves a start, especially in PPR formats.
Engram, coming off the best performance of his career (five receptions, 82 yards, one touchdown), is going to be the go-to guy for Eli Manning going forward. There simply aren’t enough reliable guys for Manning to go to with Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall out. Engram can get open no matter where he lines up, and once he gets the ball in his hands, he’s a major issue for defenses. The Jordan Reed comparisons looked accurate on Sunday night against a very good Denver defense.
Solid contributors: Christian McCaffrey, Joe Mixon, Tarik Cohen, Marlon Mack
Out of this group, McCaffrey is the closest to being a starter. The Panthers’ inability to run the ball, though, is what’s holding him back. He’s yet to top 16 yards on the ground this year, something that’s borderline insane considering his production through the air. He’s averaging over six catches per game, and both of his professional scores have come via reception. If the Panthers can somehow get going on the ground, McCaffrey’s fantasy profile will be much more well-rounded. As is, though, he’s a solid contributor and certainly a viable play in PPR formats.
Mixon has a hold on the Cincinnati backfield. He faces some weak run defenses coming out of his bye this week. Expect about 20 touches per game for the talented former Sooner, who seems to make legit progress every week under new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.
Cohen‘s opportunities have dwindled over the past few weeks. After playing on at least 40 percent of the Bears’ offensive snaps in Weeks 1-3, he’s reached 30 percent in just one of the past three games. And in Mitchell Trubisky’s two games, he’s been targeted twice, total. That’s a big issue. Cohen did have the honor of being the shortest player to throw a touchdown in 83 years, but other than that, it was another nondescript game from the diminutive rookie. He’s in danger of becoming a fringe roster guy.
A week after setting the fantasy world ablaze with his electric nine-carry, 91-yard, one-score Week 5, Mack fell back to Earth with just two carries for 18 yards. But with Robert Turbin going down with a shoulder injury late, Mack should remain on your roster, though not in your starting lineup. We’ll see if his snap share rebounds to what it was two weeks ago. If it does — and if he performs well in an increased role — he’s definitely worth keeping around.
Fringe roster guys: Samaje Perine, Aaron Jones, Cooper Kupp, Kenny Golladay, Corey Davis
Perine keeps getting opportunities to impress and take the starting job with Rob Kelley out, but he’s not taking advantage of said opportunities. Perine got 12 total touches against the 49ers while typical third-down back Chris Thompson got 20. That wouldn’t be surprising if Thompson had a ton of receptions. But Thompson out-carried Perine 16 to nine. Once Kelley’s back, Perine will likely be the odd man out. But until Kelley’s ribs heal sufficiently, Perine, who scored his first pro touchdown, is still worth a look.
There are a couple of things working against Week 5 breakout Jones. One is that Ty Montgomery is back. The other is that Aaron Rodgers’ absence will likely lead to a lot of packed boxes. Jones is still worth having on your roster if you’re short on running backs because he’s a really solid player who will continue to see plenty of opportunities. But he’s no longer a necessary piece of your plan week-in and week-out.
Kupp hasn’t done much in recent weeks, but his status as a starting slot receiver in a slot-friendly offense means he’s still relevant on the edges of rosters. He has a pretty limited ceiling, but his numbers should return to normal in the coming weeks after a couple of brutal matchups (the Seahawks and the Jaguars) in the past two weeks. If you’re short on wide receivers, Kupp’s a low-risk add going forward.
And finally, as I wrote last week, Golladay and Davis remain in this group and will until they get healthy. Both are talented enough and both have good enough quarterbacks to be on every roster when they can play again.
Keep an eye on: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Matt Breida, Mike Williams, D’Onta Foreman George Kittle, C.J. Beathard, John Ross
Both Smith-Schuster and Breida are on this list because of the guys around them. Martavis Bryant reportedly wants out of Pittsburgh. There are trade rumors regarding Carlos Hyde in San Francisco. Neither are putting up big numbers — in fact, Breida dropped a tier after Hyde’s big day against Washington — but with uncertainty surrounding other players at their position, they’re both worth monitoring.
Williams made his NFL debut and, though limited, had an important catch for the Chargers, who have now won two in a row. You’re really playing the long game here with Williams, but he should only be better and better as the year goes on. He doesn’t belong on a roster just yet, but that doesn’t mean he won’t in a couple of weeks.
Foreman ran for a team-high 59 yards on just 12 carries Sunday. His limited workload behind Lamar Miller is why Foreman’s fantasy upside is limited, but remember: Miller broke down late last year. If he does again, Foreman is an immediate plug-and-play guy.
Kittle caught passes Sunday from his college teammate Beathard, who is making his debut on this list. Obviously Beathard won’t continue to enter games down 17-0 and be forced to throw a lot, but he’s the starter on a team that will have to throw a lot, and he performed well when called upon after Brian Hoyer’s awful start. That’ll pay dividends for Kittle, who continues to grow and become an important part of this offense. He saw eight targets on Sunday, second-most on the team, and has a good rapport with Beathard from their days at Iowa.
The fastest player in NFL combine history, Ross returned to practice this week. That’s enough to warrant tracking, especially on a Cincy offense that’s begun to find its footing after a slow start.