I might sound like Joan Rivers, but can we talk about second-year players for a moment?
Free agency is not quite over yet, and with the draft about a month away there is going to be a lot of discussion of this year’s rookies. But I refuse to get excited about any rookie until I know what team is drafting him. It often takes a rookie a year to get acclimated to his coach’s scheme, the playbook, or just the general rigors of playing football on the professional level.
Of course, some rookies do make a big splash. Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, or even DeShaun Watson are examples from this past year. But I want to talk about those that had a disappointing year last year.
Whether they are “post-hype sleepers” whose rookie hype exceeded their chances or just players who went under the radar, second-year players who were disappointments often present a ton of value. Think Jared Goff. After one year, everyone was ready to write him off as a bust. But having “not Jeff Fisher” as a coach, he immediately saw a dramatic jump in his numbers. Now he is suddenly a QB2 at worst.
Or remember how much everyone loved Christian McCaffrey last year going into the season? I never argued against his talent. I just knew it was not a situation that would enable McCaffrey to reach the ROY expectations that were being put on him in the industry. This year, however, is a different story.
Second Year Players I Like in 2018
Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
We might as well start with McCaffrey. Of all the 2017 rookies I like more this year, McCaffrey probably had the most success. He did catch 80 passes and had seven total touchdowns. However, he had just one game rushing or receiving over 100 yards and that was early in Week 3. And we all knew he was a better receiving back than rushing back, but he didn’t even have 500 yards rushing last year. His meager 435 yards and 3.7 average yards per carry left his owners, especially those in traditional leagues, wanting much more.
So what’s different in 2018?
For one, McCaffrey will no longer have to share the backfield with Jonathan Stewart. Stewart and his nearly 200 carries have left the Queen City and are now in the Big Apple. Additionally, Panthers OC Norv Turner is already on record saying that he’s going to “find ways to keep getting him the ball” this upcoming year. Don’t be surprised if McCaffrey’s total yardage increases by over 50% this year, including the rushing totals.
Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
O,f course if Cook’s yardage totals increase by 50%, that’s still not even 700 combined yards. An ACL injury ended Cook’s season in Week 4 after he was averaging nearly five yards per carry. Cook will be ready to go before Week 1 this year.
If that had not been the case, I highly doubt that the Vikings would have allowed Jerick McKinnon and his over 900 yards of offense sign with San Francisco. Even if Cook only gets McKinnon’s 150 carries and Cook’s average drops to 4.0 YPC, that’s still an additional 600 rushing yards. That will put him over the century mark for combined yards.
Yet one of the things I like about Cook is that unlike a lot of other RBs, he offers “three-down ability.” That means he could easily get 250 or even 300 carries plus another 60 receptions. If Cook can avoid injuries, he should easily be a Top 10 back next year.
D’Onta Foreman, Houston Texans
Everyone and their mother were predicting that Foreman would take over Lamar Miller’s starting role last year. Guess what? Didn’t happen. But guess what? Despite Lamar Miller still being on the Texans, it will happen this year.
No, Old Man Winter did not free my brain. First off, Miller is owed nearly $14 million over the next two years, and the Texans might still release Miller as they can save nearly $6 million if Miller is a post-June cut. Even if Miller does stick with the team this year, expect Foreman to be their primary rusher and Miller more of a receiving option.
Foreman’s YPC was 4.2 compared to Miller’s 3.7 YPC. Miller had only one more rushing touchdown than Foreman. That was despite Foreman missing the last six weeks of the season and having just a third of the carries that Miller had. At a minimum, expect Foreman to be Houston’s goal-line back as Miller had 21 rushes inside the red zone and scored on only three of them.
Foreman is the bigger (and younger) back. With his rookie year now behind him, he should see the majority of touchdowns in the Texans backfield. Let’s move on to some of the other positions.
Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
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Yes, it is a bit of a Captain Obvious pick. But he absolutely has to be on your radar this year.
The Chiefs traded Alex Smith to the Redskins, leaving Mahomes as the Chief’s number one quarterback. In his lone NFL start accompanied by a cast of back-ups, Mahomes still managed to complete 22 of 35 pass attempts for 294 passing yards. That is simply a taste of what Mahomes can do. Expect Mahomes to continue the rise of the second year quarterback.
But most know about Mahomes. Let’s go to the opposite end of the spectrum and give you a player few have heard of:
Malachi Dupre, Buffalo Bills
First off, Dupre was drafted by Green Bay, who happens to be pretty good when it comes to drafting wide receivers. Yet the odds of Dupre seeing the field much ahead of the multitude of talented Packer wide receivers was pretty slim.
Secondly, let’s fast forward a year and Dupre is now with the Bills. Look who Dupree currently needs to pass on the depth chart to get playing time opposite Kelvin Benjamin: Andre Holmes and Rod Streeter, Brandon Reily and Quan Brey. The two most accomplished receivers in that group are probably either Andre Holmes or Rod Streeter.
Holmes has 15 touchdowns … over his six year career; Streeter had 888 yards receiving in 2013 … and less than that his other four years combined. And don’t worry, I didn’t forget the “troubling” Zay Jones. Jones has had his share of off-field issues this off-season including surgery in January and an arrest in March. Let’s just agree that Dupre does not need to jump skyscrapers to bolt up the depth chart.
Furthermore, Dupree does have good hands. He also had the third highest vertical jump during the combine last year. He’s not going to catch 100 balls or have 10 touchdowns. But you can draft him in the last round. And don’t be surprised when he becomes a red zone threat and catches half a dozen touchdowns. We will wait to see how everything shakes out, but Dupree is a deep sleeper amongst the many second year players I like in 2018.
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