It is pretty well known that NFL players generally take their biggest step forward from their rookie year to their second season. The reasoning is pretty obvious really.
Think about the grind that last year’s rookies endured from the point they started training camp of their final year at the college level. They went from training camp, to their college regular season, to possibly a bowl game and then immediately into the draft preparation process, which is far different than any offseason they had dealt with before in their lives.
After they leave their college program, they find an agent then heavily begin training for combine drills and interviews as well as often participating in the all-star circuit such as the Senior Bowl. Then the Combine rolls around and team visits ensue. Finally the player is drafted and he immediately has to move to a new city and try to learn a new scheme and compete against full-grown men that have done this for a living for quite some time.
Then there is an NFL training camp, four preseason games, 16 regular season games and possibly playoffs for a young man that is just swimming mentally and has never played so many games in one season, let alone vs. NFL talent. That is the most strenuous 16-month stretch that any football player will deal with over his career. Finally after his rookie year, that young man finally gets to relax, catch his breath and settle in a little.
So taking that into strong consideration, who are a few fantasy assets that could be primed to take a nice jump forward in their second season? Look at this from a dynasty perspective, but it also obviously has redraft ramifications and several of these young pups are well worth your time to take a flier on at the end of your annual fantasy draft. Four of those youngsters are highlighted in alphabetical order below with an honorable mention list that has some longer shots as well as some obvious sophomores that could be ready to breakout.
Devontae Booker, Denver
This may or may not be true, but lets just operate under the assumption for one moment that Jamaal Charles will never be the player he once was and isn’t in line for many touched in Denver. That isn’t all that far fetched, right? Denver traded Kapri Bibbs on draft weekend and C.J. Anderson not only has never played all 16 games in a season, but appeared in just seven contests in 2016. The Broncos did use a sixth round pick on DeAngelo Henderson, but John Elway used a fourth rounder just one year ago on Booker. Even after a disastrous rookie year, has Booker fallen out of favor that much? In fact, with the new coaching staff in place and presumably more man blocking being implemented, the scheme change should fit Booker’s style much better. Plus, Denver has invested into their offensive line. Also, was Booker truly all the way back to health in 2016 after his college injuries? But here is the kicker that several of you might have forgotten about: Booker is an excellent receiver. He could easily be the most valuable receiving back on this roster and a very safe outlet for either Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch, both of whom will need such help. Remember how new Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy used to feed Danny Woodhead in the passing game?
Austin Hooper, Atlanta
Gone is Kyle Shanahan, but you have to think that Dan Quinn will not allow the offense to change all that much in Atlanta. If it aint broke…well, you get the idea. In the passing game, we all understand what Julio Jones brings to the table. Clearly, he is the top option. The Falcons running backs catch the ball extremely well too and are major assets in the passing game, but is it crazy talk to think that Hooper could become Atlanta’s second leading receiver as soon as 2017? Jacob Tamme is gone and there is little to speak of besides Hooper at tight end for the Falcons right now. Hooper is plenty talented, had a strong rookie season as tight ends go and should never leave the field going forward. Last year, Hooper played less than 50% of Atlanta’s offensive snaps and showed big play ability as well as the traits needed to consistently move the chains and score touchdowns. Are Mohamed Sanu or Taylor Gabriel so impressive that they will demand more targets than Hooper? Matt Ryan targeted tight ends a combined 83 times last year, which resulted in 10 touchdowns. Hooper might see as many or more targets just by himself. He has talent, opportunity and possibly very good volume as well as big play potential.
Jonathan Williams, Buffalo
Mike Gillislee is now in New England. LeSean McCoy is about to turn 29-years-old and has touched the ball 2,327 times in his fantastic career and has fought hamstring issues the past two seasons. Although there is a new coaching staff in Buffalo, it is hard to imagine them changing one of the most effective rushing attacks all that much in 2017. The Bills have featured one of the NFL’s most effective run blocking offensive lines over the past few years. Plus, the Bills scored 29 rushing touchdowns last year, eight of which went to Gillislee. Williams is a bigger back than McCoy and should at least take over some short yardage duties, although Mike Tolbert is in the picture now. Williams surely will be spelling the veteran from time to time as well. Williams also should be finally back to full health after missing his entire final season at Arkansas with a foot injury. Williams has feature back traits and is in a sneakily excellent situation. Not much has to occur before Williams is an every week fantasy starter. And for dynasty purposes, remember that McCoy is not only up in age, but he is making an awful lot of money.
DeAndre Washington, Oakland
We are all pulling for Marshawn Lynch. We are all very excited to see Lynch back in action. But Lynch is 31 years old, didn’t play football last year, and only averaged 3.8 yards per carry in 2015 while appearing in just seven games. The last time Lynch was racking up numbers was back in 2014. Folks, Lynch is not a sure thing to return to greatness. But the situation is great in this Oakland offense. The passing game is high-powered and the massive offensive line is amongst the best in football. Plus, no team used a sixth offensive lineman with more regularity than the Raiders last year. Also, even if Lynch does come back strong, over his great career, he averages just under two receptions per game and his high water mark for a season is just 47 receptions back in 2008 for the Bills. Jalen Richard is in the mix and if Lynch were not in the equation, Richard and Washington surely would split carries. But not only is Washington the better receiving option, but he is the better all around talent of the two. Washington did somewhat quietly average 5.4 yards per carry in his rookie season. Also, Oakland’s defense might be better than a year ago, but it is far from perfect. This is a team that could be primed for a lot of shootouts, which certainly favors a back with Washington’s skillset.