By Duncan Smith
Let me start this week by saying I hope you all had a very merry Christmas and to those of you who won your championships, congratulations.
With that said we find ourselves at the turn of the year, a time of new beginnings and new starts. It’s time to look forward and not back to Alvin Kamara ruining my hopes in one league before I had a single-player start.
This week it’s a rookie only special, we don’t need no vets around here, no broken, worn down toys, we want the latest thing, the new must-haves.
I’ve tried to avoid the rookies who have already broken out and mentioned some guys you may have forgotten about or have slipped you by completely.
So all that’s left to say is “lang may yer lum reek”.
It’s time for my snap decisions.
Eighth overall pick Isaiah Simmons made a slow start in the league, while he played every game up until Arizona’s week 8 bye, he failed to crack 30% of snaps (29% in week 1 was his closest).
That all changed when the Cardinals returned to the field in week 9. He immediately jumped up to 53% of snaps and has never gone under 30% of the action since. He recorded 3 solo tackles and a fumble recovery on 38% of snaps this week against San Francisco.
The Falcons first-round pick A.J. Terrell became the week 1 starter in Atlanta, no surprises there for the 16th overall pick. He has gone on to hold onto that job, only seeing under 90% of snaps once, although he did miss weeks 3 and 4.
Against Kansas City this weekend he had a late opportunity to ice the game with an interception of Patrick Mahomes, unfortunately, he was unable to keep a hold of the ball and the Chiefs went on to win. He ended the day with a pass defended and 1 solo tackle.
We should all be aware of Patrick Queen by now, so I’m going to talk about another rookie. Linebacker Malik Harrison, the fourth-rounder out of Ohio State has been working in as part of the inside linebacker rotation this season, he even managed a start against the Colts for his best game of the season. He then managed 85% of snaps against New England in week 10. Since then his snaps have fallen away, down to 14% each of the last two weeks. He did manage 3 solo tackles this week against the Giants and see’s a lot of special teams work. Consistently getting on the field can’t be a bad thing.
Buffalo selected two defensive players in 2020 second-round defensive edge A.J. Epenesa and seventh-round cornerback Dane Jackson. Jackson is unlikely to amount to anything more than a special teamer who occasionally mixes in but Epenesa has worked his way into the edge rotation.
Against New England, in week 16 he contributed 2 solo tackles on 54% of the snaps.
The Panthers drafted defensively every round, with all of them bar Kenny Robinson making the full team roster. It’s a lot to run down on a quick rookie glimpse, so I will just mention Yetur Gross-Matus was the top rookie this week with a sack, 1 solo tackle, and 2 QB hits on a 52% snap share.
Jeremy Chinn also did his thing but that’s not the point of this week’s article.
With fellow rookie Jaylon Johnson leading the way at cornerback for the Bears, fifth-rounder Kindle Vildor had to bide his time for a shot in the team. That opportunity arose when Johnson suffered a shoulder injury in week 14.
Vildor has seen his snap share since week 14 go 21%, 44%, and 100% this week against the Jags. This week that translated into 6 combined tackles (4 solo).
With the Bears currently occupying the third wild card spot in the NFC, Vildor may continue getting opportunities to impress in the post-season.
The Bengals drafted three defensive players in 2020, inside linebacker Logan Wilson, defensive edge Khalid Kareem, and linebacker Markus Bailey.
Third-rounder Wilson is the only one who has started a game (2) and so far this season has translated it into 33 combined tackles (23 solo, 4 for a loss), 2 interceptions, 2 QB hits, and 3 passes defended.
Cleveland doesn’t have any rookies worth looking at right now. Jacob Phillips landed on the Covid list if you’re desperate for Browns’ defense news.
Third-round defensive tackle Neville Gallimore has over the last two weeks made meaningful contributions for those of you who play DT or DL required leagues.
In week 15 against the 49ers he logged 5 combined tackles (2 solo, 1 for a loss), and a pass defended on 49% of snaps. In week 16 he recorded half a sack, 2 combined tackles (1 solo, 1 for a loss), and a QB hit.
He has been on the field consistently for the position, look for him to take the next step in 2021.
Third-round cornerback Michael Ojemudia has quietly built a solid rookie career for the Broncos. He quickly won the starters role in week 2 of the season before losing it again mid-season. After a couple of games on the sidelines, he regained the role and started to show improvement in his confidence and playmaking.
A week 15 ejection for punching an opponent might have led to a spot on the bench again but he played 100% of snaps in week 16 and recorded 7 solo tackles.
Detroit’s defense hasn’t been great this year. In a mauling at the hands of Tampa Bay, their best performing rookie was defensive lineman John Penisini. He registers 4 combined tackles (3 solo) on 73% of snaps.
While he hasn’t been an every-week fantasy play, he hasn’t been terrible at a position that typically scores poorly each week. He’s worked his way into a starter’s role and maybe a fantasy bargain in 2021 if Detroit can improve on defense.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
There’s nothing to see here, Green Bay makes it almost impossible for any of their players to have regular IDP value, you’re certainly not finding it from their rookies.
For article consistency safety Vernon Scott recorded 3 combined (2 solo) on 47% of snaps.
Cornerback John Reid had his biggest game of the season against the Bengals at the weekend. The rookie out of Penn State enjoyed 79% of snaps and turned that into 4 combined tackles (3 solo), and a pass defended.
Julian Blackmon was the Colts’ highest defensive selection in the 2020 draft. The third round safety out of Utah immediately worked into a starter’s role in Indianapolis.
He hasn’t quite translated that into fantasy relevance yet, he put his best numbers up in weeks 4 and 6 when he secured an interception. He has only managed 5 combined tackles once. Against Pittsburgh this week he managed 2 solo.
Seventh-round selection Chris Claybrooks has sparked on occasion in a terrible year for the Jags. The cornerback has made 10 appearances during a bad season for Jacksonville, including 2 starts.
This week against Chicago he made 56% of snaps and 2 solo tackles. His total for the season is 31 combined tackles (28 solo), and 3 passes defended.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Fourth-round safety L’Jarius Sneed, out of Louisiana Tech, is the rookie to watch in Kansas City. He played the first three games of the season before breaking his collarbone. He came back slowly once he returned in week 11 but over the last few weeks has started to emerge as a key piece in this Kansas defense.
Against Atlanta, he recorded a sack, 7 combined tackles (6 solo, 1 for a loss), and 2 QB hits.
LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
Cornerback Damon Arnette has been graded out as one of the worst rookies in 2020. PFF has him at 43.5, fourth-worst in the first round. He has already dealt with a broken thumb and multiple concussions (Yikes!) this season, then when he gets a shot in week 16 his blunder costs the game-winning score.
While Las Vegas will make all the right noises during the off-season, the multiple concussions alone should be enough to make you wary.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Zipping straight past first-round selection Kenneth Murray, we arrive at LA’s only other defensive selection, sixth-round safety, Alohi Gilman.
It has been a quiet year for Gilman, he saw his first snap in week 13, 2 snaps in week 14, none in week 15, and 22 (29%) in week 16, which he turned into 1 combined tackle.
It does look a bit like LA is kicking the tires here to see what they’ve got but with starter Rayshawn Jenkins struggling to play again in week 17, he might get a real opportunity to show his ability.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
Sixth-round safety, Jordan Fuller recorded two interceptions of Tom Brady in week 11 and hasn’t missed a snap since. He followed that bombastic entrance to the footballing limelight with another interception the following week.
He has yet to record a fourth interception but did log 7 combined tackles (5 solo) against Seattle in week 16.
Safety Brandon Jones was Miami’s top-performing rookie against Las Vegas. He recorded 3 combined tackles (2 solo) on 25% of snaps. His snap percentage was his lowest since Week 9 and had dropped significantly from over 50% in the last three weeks.
The third-rounder from Texas hasn’t found much fantasy success this year but has had a solid real-life rookie season. One to keep an eye on, on a defense that performed to a much higher level than many expected this season.
Cornerback Harrison Hand was the Vikings’ top-performing rookie against the Saints, largely thanks to hauling in one of two interceptions for Minnesota. The fifth-round selection out of Temple also recorded 2 passes defended and 3 combined tackles (2 solo). At a 21% snap share, this was his lowest amount of snaps in the four games he has played on defense this season.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
I’ve already spent time talking about one of the Patriots’ second-round picks, safety Kyle Dugger this season so I will talk about their other second-round pick, linebacker Josh Uche. Uche made his first start of the season against Buffalo and recorded 2 combined tackles (1 solo). However, in a disastrous turn of events, he suffered a foot injury and ended the game with only 31 snaps (43%). He was likely to have seen a significant workload in week 17 to close the season out and now that looks in trouble.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
With only 4 picks in the 2020 draft and an already solid defense, it shouldn’t be surprising that New Orleans didn’t draft any defensive players. They did, however, sign undrafted free agent, defensive tackle Malcolm Roach to the roster and while he has seen action in 9 games this season, with around 35% of snaps in those games, he’s not been fantasy relevant. Against the Vikings, he logged 1 solo tackles and 1 QB hit on 38% of snaps.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Second-round safety out of Alabama, Xavier McKinney didn’t see a snap until week 12. From week 14 he has started every game and will likely make it 4 starts in a row against Dallas in week 17.
This week he secured 8 combined tackles (7 solo), which left him tied for most on the team. If you have space on your roster now the fantasy season is done, he might be a nice stash.
NEW YORK JETS
While a lot of the talk regarding Jets rookies focussed on Bryce Hall taking over from Pierre Desir after his benching against New England in week 9, then subsequent cutting. Another rookie, third-round safety Ashtyn Davis was starting to make an impression on the team himself. He took over the starter’s job in week 8 and looked like he would have a nice second half to the year.
Unfortunately, a foot injury against Las Vegas saw him land on IR and he has missed every game since. He has nice upside as a stash though, this Jets team could be vastly improved next year, or they could be the Jets again. But hey, it’s better to find out for nothing now, rather than have to pay later.
Philly has, by and large, kept their rookies on special teams this year. The only two that even flutter across the fantasy landscape is safety K’Von Wallace and linebacker Shaun Bradley. You don’t need to pick these guys up or hold them, just have a vague recollection of their names.
Bud Dupree’s knee injury opened the door to a starter’s role for rookie Alex Highsmith at defensive edge. This saw his average snap percentage jump from 21% through the first 11 games to 88% over the last 4. While he was slow to get going in his first three starts he put in a much better performance against the Colts. He recorded 8 combined tackles (4 solo), and 2 passes defended.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
The 49ers’ only defensive rookie of note is Javon Kinlaw and he was unable to suit up against the Cardinals with a knee injury.
With the Seahawks’ second-round pick they selected defensive edge, Darrell Taylor. Unfortunately, he has yet to see the practice field for Seattle, he has spent the whole season on the non-football injury list after having surgery on a leg injury sustained at Tennessee.
Seattle hopes to get him on the practice field very soon but will need to make room on the 53-man roster if he were to see any game time.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Second-round safety Antoine Winfield Jr has been one of the most successful rookie players of this season. Against Detroit, he logged 4 solo tackles, however, he saw his least amount of snaps this year at only 74%. If you are playing week 17 watch out for a low-scoring week.
As this is a weekly round-up I have nothing to report here as no Titans rookie has seen a snap this week.
Second-round cornerback Kristian Fulton hasn’t played since week 7 but doesn’t carry an injury designation.
Fifth-round defensive tackle Larrell Murchison also returned from injury but was listed inactive and seventh-round cornerback Chris Jackson returned from the Covid list and also missed with no injury designation.
WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM
I’ve tried to avoid talking about stud rookies in this article and focus on lesser-known guys so I don’t want to talk about Chase Young here. Likewise, even though Kamren Curl was a seventh-rounder I feel like anyone who reads this far into my brief should know his name by now.
Instead, I will mention fifth-round linebacker, Khaleke Hudson. After being limited to 1 snap in 13 games he has suddenly found himself in a starter’s role thanks to a build-up of injuries in the Football Teams secondary.
In week 15 he played 49% of snaps for 8 combined tackles (4 solo, 1 for a loss), and a QB hit. In week 16 he played 25% of snaps for 3 combined (1 solo).
Duncan Smith – IDP and Dynasty Writer
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