It always seemed like a matter of time before Deshaun Watson would take over in Houston. Sure, Bill O’Brien runs an intricate scheme and sure, the Texans had made the playoffs two seasons in a row with poor quarterback play. But Watson, fresh off a national title at Clemson, was always believed to be an outstanding talent. Once he got the system down, he’d be the guy.
It happened by Week 2. He looked very much like a rookie making his first start against the Bengals, but since, he’s been outstanding, from both a real-life and a fantasy perspective.
In the fantasy realm, Watson is a superstar. He leads the league in touchdowns, touchdown percentage and yards per completion. To one side of him is the otherworldly talented DeAndre Hopkins, and on the other side is speedster Will Fuller, who opens up everything and scores basically every time he touches the ball. The Texans — who for so long had yearned for a quarterback — have a guy who allows them to really open things up. And when things aren’t there, Watson has shown the propensity to create with his legs. He’s a natural runner who knows when to extend the play to throw versus extending the play to run. And because of that, Houston’s once-cooped up, conservative offense is all over the place, with Watson third in the NFL in deep balls attempted and seventh in air yards, per Player Profiler.
If there was one place you didn’t think you could start him, it’d be at boisterous Seattle, with Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman looming behind a ferocious pass rush. Instead, he aired it out with confidence, took what he could get with his legs, and finished the day with 402 and four touchdowns through the air and 35 yards on the ground. He made a ton of spectacular plays — and, like all rookies, some mistakes too — but the spectacular far outweighs the gaffes, especially in fantasy. You can start him anywhere with confidence.
With the season roughly halfway through, it’s worth narrowing our focus from all the rookies to just a handful that should or could be part of your roster conversation as you narrow down you squad for the playoff push. Here are four other rookies that have been making moves over the past few weeks and warrant your attention.
Before the season started, people wondered what Kamara’s role would be with incumbent starter Mark Ingram and former superstar Adrian Peterson both in the Big Easy. He played on half of the offensive snaps on opening weekend, but then just a quarter the next weekend, and no one was really sure what to make of the University of Tennessee product.
We know what to make of him now. His snap percentage has risen every single week since Week 2, and he played in 50.8 snaps against the Bears, a new career high. Factor in two Mark Ingram fumbles and Kamara is in line to continue to do good things going forward. Something else to like? The Saints are giving Kamara plenty of looks in the red zone: He has 11 total touches inside the opponent’s 20 in the last four weeks. Out of the backfield, he’s an incredibly difficult cover for linebackers, and the Saints are quite willing to split him out wide as well. If you’re short on running backs or want a solid flex option, especially in PPR leagues, Kamara is your guy to shop for.
Mack, much like Kamara, came into uncertain circumstances. Ageless wonder Frank Gore remained in Indy, and guys like Robert Turbin and Josh Ferguson were there too. And in Week 2, Mack collected dust, playing just 11 snaps in a woeful loss to Arizona.
But Mack, again like Kamara, has seen his production turn into playing time: He, too, has played in a higher percentage of snaps every week since that second game. And against Cincinnati, he played 52.3 percent of the snaps, a career high. It’s not as if Gore struggled — he had 82 yards on 16 carries — but Mack is a more dynamic presence in the passing game and showed just that on a 24-yard catch-and-run score late in the third quarter. Mack’s currently owned in just 45 percent of leagues. If his role grows more, he could certainly become a viable second running back with byes continuing for the next few weeks. Even if there isn’t a place for him in your starting lineup, he’s a worthwhile investment as a backup.
Here’s a name you might not have expected here, but he’s one worth monitoring nonetheless. Breida is a superior pass catcher to Carlos Hyde, and with Jimmy Garappolo in the fold now, that matters more than ever. When Garappolo started two games last year, his second favorite target was running back James White. The 49ers are going to have to continue to throw it a ton as they search for their first win, and having Garoppolo there boosts the value of all San Francisco pass catchers. No, Breida is not a guy you’ll want to plug in and play immediately. Breida scored his first career touchdown last week, and he could be a sneaky add to boost your depth. He’s owned in just nine percent of leagues.
You didn’t really think we wouldn’t mention JuJu, did you? He’s been everything the Steelers have needed and then some for a once-struggling offense. Smith-Schuster, at just 20 years old, plays like a veteran. At 6-foot-1, 215-pounds, he’s big and strong enough to win individual matchups against smaller corners, but still fast enough to beat safeties from the slot. He also just went off for seven catches for 193 yards and a touchdown in Detroit. For those of you in shallow leagues, he’s still available in 50 percent of leagues, so put in a waiver claim this instant. For those who hadn’t seen him before, Smith-Schuster showed the world on primetime why Martavis Bryant is fading out of this offense quickly. He’s emerging at just the right time to be a key part of any championship run.