Rookie Watch: Week 1
Some years, rookies struggle to find their feet until partway through the season -- if they find them at all. 2019 is not one of those years.
At least, not if Week 1 is any indication. Rookies broke out all over the place this past week, littering the top of the fantasy leaderboards.
In this column, we'll be analyzing the 2019 batch of rookies through numberFire's metrics -- specifically Net Expected Points (NEP), which measures how much value a player adds to or subtracts from his team's expected points total, using historic down and distance data as a reference point. You can read more about that metric and others in the Terms Glossary.
Week 1 Rookie NEP Leaders
Terry McLaurin, wide receiver for Washington, currently leads all rookies with 12.84 Total NEP. He had an explosive Week 1 performance, unexpectedly dominating snaps (93%), targets (7) and air yards (143) for the team. He posted an impressive line of 5 receptions for 125 yards and a score this Sunday, and appeared to have already secured a significant role in Washington's offense.
Marquise Brown clocks in just behind McLaurin with 12.56 Total NEP in Week 1. He torched the Miami Dolphins secondary for 4 receptions, 147 yards and 2 touchdowns on 5 targets. Unlike McLaurin, Brown played on just 15 snaps as the Baltimore Ravens eased him in -- he suffered a lisfranc injury in his final collegiate season and missed most of the offseason programs. If the Ravens ramp up Brown's workload, he'll absolutely be a name to watch.
T.J. Hockenson had himself a monster week. Hockenson finished Week 1 with the second-most Total NEP across the entire tight end position -- not just rookies -- and only Ravens stud Mark Andrews added more value to his team's expected points total. According to the NEP data, Hockenson did more for the Detroit Lions offense than Danny Amendola and Marvin Jones combined. His record-breaking debut puts him on the map in both fantasy football and the Offensive Rookie of the Year race.
Kyler Murray's debut had its ups and downs. I outlined the striking splits of his performance this past Monday, but it's worth noting again that his play drastically improved in the fourth quarter and beyond in the Arizona Cardinals tie against the Lions. Still, his -1.15 NEP cost the Cardinals expected points that could have swung the game -- his head-scratching interception lost them 1.88 NEP by itself. Murray remains the favorite in the OROY race, but he'll need to step up his play and become more consistent to maintain that lead.
Miles Sanders had a very rough week, costing the Philadelphia Eagles a whopping 4.33 net expected points with his performance this Sunday. His concerning performance resulted in large part due to his lack of success as a runner -- of his 11 carries, just 2 added points to the Eagles expected points total (18.18%). He also only managed to secure one of his two targets, and failed to add value with his lone reception. Expectations are high for the second-rounder and former backup to last year's OROY, but he has quite a ways to go -- and a committee to overcome -- if he wants to have a chance at fantasy relevance or at the title this year.
The third column of the chart above lists the betting odds on the FanDuel Sportsbook for each potential OROY (if a rookie is not listed on the above chart, their odds were at +5000 at the time of writing).
Kyler Murray (+170) is currently listed as the favorite to win the award this year. The first overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft is already the starting quarterback for the Cardinals, which bodes well for his prospects -- in the 15 seasons since Ben Roethlisberger won his respective OROY award in 2014, 7 of the awards have been won by quarterbacks. Each of those quarterbacks played in at least 14 games, which Murray projects to do assuming he stays healthy.
Josh Jacobs (+550) is also an early frontrunner. Dating back to 1970, 33 of the 49 Offensive Rookies of the Year have been running backs. However, things have changed drastically over the past few seasons -- just four backs have won the award over the last ten seasons. He's off to a good start with his two-score finish against the Denver Broncos in Week 1, but will need be more efficient on his carries -- and hopefully add more in the receiving game -- going forward. Outside of his two scores, he actually lost a total of 0.58 NEP on his rushes for the Oakland Raiders, so his efficiency will be something to monitor this season.
McLaurin (+2,900) and Marquise Brown (+1,300) are high-upside bets at their respective odds, but keep in mind that no wide receiver drafted outside the top 32 picks has won the award since Sammy White did so in 1976. That bodes well for Brown, who was the 25th overall pick this year, but means that McLaurin would have to be a pretty extreme outlier to win the award this year.
Hockenson (+1,700) strikes me as a value heading into Week 2. While no tight end has won the award dating back to 1970, he has similar NEP numbers to both McLaurin and Brown -- as we noted earlier, he was both efficient and productive in his debut. Unlike McLaurin, he has significant draft capital behind him as the eighth overall pick this year. And unlike Brown, he already has a heavy workload in the Lions offense.