Jonathan Taylor gave us a preview of his overall RB1 potential down the stretch of his rookie season in 2020.
Perhaps we should have believed more in the player who ran for 253 yards in Week 17 of his rookie season and ran for 2,000-plus yards three years in a row at Wisconsin. But with all that information available, we still allowed Taylor to fall to the end of the first round in most 2021 drafts.
Taylor didn’t exactly come out of nowhere this season. His production down the stretch in 2020 was a sign of his successful adjustment to the NFL game, something we’ve seen more often over the last few years among rookies. Now that the fantasy season is over comes the obligatory quest to find the next Taylor-esque player who can take that extra leap and finish among the leading scorers in 2022.
Just like no one had to tell you to buy into Justin Jefferson this year, I won’t try to sell you on Ja’Marr Chase going into 2022. I shouldn’t have to. But I am going to make the case for three promising rookies who should avoid the sophomore slump and breakout in their second year in the NFL.
Amon Ra St. Brown, WR, Lions
Who would’ve thought a Detroit player not named T.J. Hockenson or D’Andre Swift would be viable down the stretch of the Lions’ 3-13-1 campaign? St. Brown, a fourth-rounder out of USC, ended the season by gobbling up targets and racking up catches regardless of whether it was Tim Boyle or Jared Goff behind center.
St. Brown logged six consecutive games with eight-plus catches, 10-plus targets and 70 or more yards to end the season. He also caught all five of his touchdowns during that period, which led Detroit. He even added a score on the ground.
The first few games of St. Brown’s career were forgettable. In Weeks 1-12, St. Brown was the WR62 with 39 catches for 352 yards. From Week 13 on, he was good for 560 yards on 51 catches and was only outscored by Cooper Kupp. He finished as a low-end WR2, ahead of the likes of Terry McLaurin and Amari Cooper.
St. Brown showed Lions head coach Dan Campbell what he can do when he sees 100-plus targets and it should happen again in Year 2. Michael Fabiano already has St. Brown ranked 24th among wideouts in his way-too-early 2022 rankings. He could quickly go from waiver wire darling to a reliable WR2 next season.
Jaylen Waddle, WR, Dolphins
The Dolphins rookie won a war of attrition in his first year in the league. Waddle had breakout games here and there—10 catches for 70 yards and two scores, nine for 137 and one—but he really just showed up every week and racked up catches. Miami’s first-round pick set the rookie catch record in 16 games (104) and narrowly surpassed 1,000 yards.
Waddle had late-round fantasy appeal after being the sixth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and he more than surpassed his ADP, finishing just outside WR1 range as the 13th-highest-scoring receiver. From Weeks 9-13, the best stretch of the season for Waddle, he was the WR5.
Tua Tagovailoa, Waddle’s teammate at Alabama, and Jacoby Brissett both peppered Waddle with targets—140 of them to be exact, tied for 11th-most in the league. Waddle is not a big-play threat for Miami and he wasn’t asked to be. He averaged 9.8 yards per catch and only logged eight 20-plus yard receptions. Still, he caught everything thrown his way. Waddle’s 74.3% catch rate was third among players with 100 or more targets behind only Hunter Renfrow and Cooper Kupp.
Waddle was drafted to be a key component of the Dolphins’ offense and he played like a No. 1 in his first year despite injuries to DeVante Parker and Will Fuller. His price will be much higher in drafts this summer but he can surpass his ADP if he can match the volume of his rookie season and rip off a few more big plays.
Javonte Williams, RB, Broncos
Williams never took over Denver’s backfield the way some hoped. He and Melvin Gordon split the backfield work very evenly. But Williams showed the kinds of flashed dynasty managers hoped for as a rookie and he could be unleashed as a sophomore without Gordon around to limit his workload.
In two games without Gordon, both coincidentally against the Chiefs, Williams totaled 242 scrimmage yards on 43 touches. He racked up 903 rushing yards, the 13th-most this season, and added 316 yards through the air on 43 catches, fourth-most on the Broncos.
There were some disappointments for Williams, who scored 4.2 PPR points in Week 17 when most managers were playing for their championship. But his peak was glorious. From Weeks 12-14, Williams was the RB2 and scored 20 or more PPR points in each game. He finished the season as the RB17, outplaying his RB25 ADP.
It’s difficult to say if Williams will explode, or even get the opportunity to do so by seizing the backfield next season. But it’s certain that managers will have to pay up for him one way or another. Fabiano has Williams ninth among running backs in his 2022 rankings, which isn’t far from what Taylor’s ADP was heading into this season.
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