Class of 2020: Rookie Recap – AFC South
In the last stop on the AFC circuit, the Rookie Recap series travels down South. Which of the four teams made the biggest impression with their 2020 picks?
DEAD LAST – HOUSTON TEXANS
Holding up the rest of the division are the Houston Texans. At present, the Texans seem to be determined to collapse in on themselves. Their 2020 draft picks did not do much to inspire me in determining otherwise.
Picks: Isaiah Coulter (WR, Rhode Island: 5th round, 171st pick)
Coulter was the only offensive player that the Texans took in the draft. And, being a fifth round selection, perhaps not a lot was expected of him. And yet, the Rhode Island Wide Receiver still managed to deliver worse than expectations. Maybe the lack of pre-season action was something to do with it, but Coulter didn’t get a single target. He featured on 9% of offensive snaps in a Week 14 game against the Bears. But that was it.
As such, he undershot predicted Sleeper points on the three games he was expected to get some.
Picks: Ross Blacklock (DT, TCU: 2nd round, 40th pick); Jonathan Greenard (EDGE, Florida: 3rd round, 90th pick); John Reid (CB, Penn State: 4th round, 141st pick)
Before Coulter, all of the Texans’ earlier picks in the 2020 draft went on defensive players. And results were unimpressive. Second round defensive tackle Ross Blacklock featured in 15 games for the team. Underneath the surface, however, his 243 defensive snaps suggests sporadic use in the unit. And with just 11 solo tackles and 2 assists to his name, he didn’t contribute any fantasy points to the Texans DST.
Nor did fourth-round pick John Reid, the Penn State Cornerback.
It was only Jonathan Greenard that managed to add any fantasy points to the final Texans total. The EDGE’s solitary sack was the only addition. And, of the teams in the division, the Texan rookie effort gave the smallest contribution to their team’s total – just 1.37%.
So, poor returns on both sides of the ball. It’s no wonder that the Texans find themselves bottom of this group.
And the Texans currently have only one pick in the first three rounds in the 2021 draft. So I don’t imagine the situation will be getting any better for any fantasy owners that want to get a piece of the Houston action.
MOVING ON FAST – TENNESSEE TITANS
Above the beleaguered Texans? The Titans. And, unfortunately, this includes one of the players I picked to be THE hot take in 2020.
Picks: Darrynton Evans (RB, App. State: 3rd round, 93rd pick); Cole McDonald (QB, Hawaii: 7th round, 224th pick)
Yes, I made a huge deal about Darrynton Evans in the 5 Yard Rush Hot Takes article. He came out of college with a great stat-line for rushing and receiving. And he looked to be the perfect compliment to Derrick Henry’s rampant running style. I even made comparisons to Austin Ekeler.
Things were looking good for the rookie as the season approached. Evans and Henry were the only two Running Backs on the starting roster, and there were reports of Evans having a strong training camp.
But disaster struck and, heading into the latter stages of the season, an injury had kept Evans out of all games but two. An extended stint on IR ended in Week 15. That wee, Evans made the most of garbage time to score a receiving touchdown. But by then, the season was nearly over and the rookie ended up as RB113.
If you drafted Evans on the back of that glowing endorsement in the Hot Takes article, I truly am sorry!
But at least he got some points – the Titans’ other offensive draft pick was Cole McDonald. The seventh-round selection was dropped by Tennessee before the season even started. He has now been picked up by the Cardinals, but 2020 saw no action for the former Hawai’i QB.
Picks: Kristian Fulton (CB, LSU: 2nd round, 61st pick); Larrell Murchison (DT, N Carolina State: 5th round, 174th pick); Chris Jackson (DB, Marshall: 7th round, 243rd pick)
In comparison to the defensive players picked up by the Texans, the Titans’ picks didn’t feature as much. However, in terms of fantasy contributions, they delivered more.
Second round take Kristian Fulton was the leader of the pack. The Cornerback only played six games in the season due to a knee injury. But he managed 15 solo tackles, a sack and an interception in the games he did play. More games next year could lead to bigger numbers, but it was a decent 2020 return nonetheless.
Sadly, although the other defensive picks saw more time, they weren’t able to add anything extra. Larrell Murchison and Chris Jackson saw 10 and 11 games respectively. However, Fulton’s contributions remained the only ones added to the Titan DST total.
Even so, both offensive and defensive fantasy contributions were better than the Texans, so Tennessee claims third spot.
GETTING A PASS – INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
The ranking of the third and fourth-placed teams was easy. But who was to head the division – the Jags or the Colts? That decision was significantly more difficult.
Ultimately, it was circumstances, and good fortune, that swayed the vote. And, in the end, I ranked the Indianapolis Colts as second in the division.
Picks: Michael Pittman (WR, USC: 2nd round, 34th pick); Jonathon Taylor (RB, Wisconsin: 2nd round, 41st pick); Jacob Eason (QB, Washington: 4th round, 122nd pick); Dezmon Patmon (WR, Washington State: 6th round 212nd pick)
I have a confession – before I sat down to write this article, I had forgotten that Jonathan Taylor was drafted in the second round. For some reason, I thought he had been taken in the first round.
SECOND ROUND PICK, FIRST ROUND STATS
Was this down to mock drafts picking Taylor an average of four rounds before his team-mate Marlon Mack? Even in June, mock drafts had him being taken in the early fourth round, with Mack picked up in the early eighth round. That pattern shrank slightly in August – Mack’s ADP moved up to an early 7th round. Taylor stayed where he was. And it seems that, looking at the results, fantasy owners were rewarded for their optimism.
Perhaps another reason for my mistake was that he finished as RB6 overall. The rookie beat off far more experienced players to scale the fantasy scoring charts. And this is with that initial uncertainty about the Colts RB1 position. Up until Week 11, Taylor had only seen above 15 touches in two games. The last six games he played in, he had cemented his spot as the lead back. And he saw below that 15-touch figure just once.
Maybe it was Taylor’s blockbuster performances in the playoff weeks that was the reason I forgot. Taylor averaged 26.95 points over those crucial games. A small fraction of league winners could attribute his huge 38.4 point game against the Jaguars to their success.
Several of these reasons put me in the mindset that Taylor was deserved of that first round pick.
But we must take heed. And we must remember that Marlon Mack’s achilles injury in Week 1 was likely the primer for Taylor’s early opportunities. Without that unfortunate incident, it may have taken far longer for the Wisconsin rookie to make his mark on that backfield. And those hopeful fantasy owners might have been ruing those early draft picks.
Thankfully, the talents that many saw when drafting him came to the fore. And those fantasy drafters will not have been disappointed to see he was allowed to use them.
PICKING OUT PITTMAN
I also forgot that Michael Pittman was taken several picks before Taylor. Pittman also demonstrated a high level of skill coming out of Southern California. However, an injury early on in the year provided a setback. On his return, the depth of the Wide Receiver group at the Colts made it difficult for him to make inroads. Pittman saw a large percentage of snaps on the field, but was unable to turn that into consistent targets and receptions. As a result, he underachieved on Sleeper points in 69% of his games (9 of 13). He ended the year with only 40 receptions, 503 yards and a touchdown. While these numbers were decent, fantasy owners will not have been happy with the return.
With several receivers hitting free agency, and a new Quarterback behind the line, there might be hope for Pittman in 2021. But the volume just wasn’t there in 2020.
As far as the other two picks go, they had no impact. With Jacoby Brissett as the backup to Philip Rivers, fourth round QB pick Jacob Eason did not feature at all. And Dezmon Patmon featured in just one game – getting 3% of offensive snaps against the Jaguars in Week 17.
Picks: Julian Blackmon (S, Utah: 3rd round, 85th pick); Rob Windsor (DT, Penn State: 6th round, 193rd pick); Isaiah Rodgers (DB, Massachusetts: 6th round, 211st pick); Jordan Glasgow (LB, Michigan: 6th round, 213th pick)
It was a close call between the two offensive units. And it was a similar story for the defensive picks as well. The Colts’ first defensive selection came in the third round – Utah safety Julian Blackmon. The rookie played in 15 games, taking 883 defensive snaps. In that time, he managed two interceptions and 1 forced fumble.
However, away from Blackmon, the defensive rookies could not find their way into the team. Defensive back Isaiah Rodgers saw 48 snaps over 6 games. Rob Windsor made just nine snaps over two appearances, and Jordan Glasgow featured the majority of the time on special teams.
As the Colts finished fifth overall on fantasy points, this was not surprising. But it still means that the rookies weren’t able to make a meaningful contribution to that final amount. And that gives the advantage to the Jaguars in this regard.
TOP OF THE CLASS – JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
So, why are the Jaguars at the top of this division?
These articles are about fantasy value from rookie picks. And, when your best performing rookie isn’t getting taken in mock drafts, there’s got to be something in that…
Picks: Laviska Shenault Jr. (WR, Colorado: 2nd round, 42nd pick); Collin Johnson (WR, Texas: 5th round, 165th pick); Jake Luton (QB, Oregon State: 6th round, 189th pick); Tyler Davis (TE, Georgia Tech: 6th round, 206th pick)
Laviska Shenault can be defined as a versatile player – a lot of people recognised this when watching his college tape. However, unlike other second-round draft picks (Higgins, Pittman), Shenault wasn’t a huge fantasy uptake. Perhaps there was uncertainty about how exactly the Jaguars would utilitse Shenault in the offense. No pre-season games and limited off-season camps didn’t shed any light on this either.
As such, fantasyfootballcalculator.com had him undrafted in the first fifteen rounds of mock drafts through the pre-season. Which, on looking back, could have turned out to be a big mistake for many who didn’t want to risk pulling the trigger.
Shenault started the season well, building up his target share and on-field presence. A hamstring injury disrupted his time mid-season, but fantasy owners will have appreciated him down the stretch. The Wide Receiver scored a touchdown, and 15.8 PPR points, in Week 13 – maybe helping to clinch a playoff berth. He then scored a further three touchdowns in the last two games – coninciding with fantasy finals. These could have helped some owners to their league titles.
It would have been perfect for any league winners who gambled a low draft pick on Shenault. Even better for those who picked him up off a waiver wire!
This is one of the reasons why I have ranked the Jaguars higher than the Colts. From the two teams, only Jonathan Taylor and Shenault were able to show significant fantasy value. Both would have helped fantasy owners win championships.
However, owners could have picked up Shenault for a low pick – or even nothing in some cases! Taylor would have cost far more throughout the season, particularly at the start. For me, their returns relevant to their initial value makes Shenault the better value.
Unsurprisingly, fifth round pick Collin Johnson also went unchosen in mock drafts. The Wide Receiver saw a much smaller role than his fellow rookie, although injuries to the group did help his chances. And he did manage to make an impact in Weeks 12 and 13 – with two double figure returns. Anyone taking a shot on Johnson could have felt the benefit in those weeks.
And, unlike many other late-round Quarterbacks, Jake Luton managed to make the field as well. The rookie from Oregon State made three appearances, and started out hot with 21.46 fantasy points against the Texans (one pass TD, one rush TD, one interception). However, that was the best we saw from Luton. A further five interceptions followed, including four against the Steelers. Luton was promptly dropped from the starting role – and his remaining fantasy relevance shrivelled up.
This coincided with the revival of Shenault and Johnson so, in a way, Luton’s loss was their gain!
Finally, sixth round pick Tyler Davis featured in 8 games. Four of those included offensive starts, where he failed to catch his two targets against the Lions in Week 6. He didn’t feature on offense for the rest of the season.
Picks: CJ Henderson (DB, Florida: 1st round, 9th pick); K’Lavon Chaisson (EDGE, LSU: 1st round, 20th pick); Davon Hamilton (DT, Ohio State: 3rd round, 73rd pick); Josiah Scott (CB, Michigan State: 4th round, 137th pick); Shaquille Quarterman (LB, Miami FLA.: 4th round, 140th pick); Daniel Thomas (S, Auburn: 5th round, 157th pick); Chris Claybrooks (CB, Memphis: 7th round, 223rd pick)
The Jaguars spent a huge amount of draft capital on their defensive picks. Yet only one of them played in every game – EDGE rusher K’Lavon Chaisson. The LSU product saw over 500 defensive snaps, and picked up 13 solo tackles (4 assisted). But the only fantasy relevant contribution he made was a sack in Week 2.
Fellow first round (and 9th overall) pick CJ Henderson only managed 8 games due to a groin injury. But the Defensive Back saw more snaps per game. He also contributed some fantasy points to the unit – ending the season with a forced fumble and an interception.
And Davon Hamilton also added a sack and a fumble return to the Jaguars’ total. The third-round Defensive Tackle played in 11 games. Away from those first three, the remainder of the picks played very minor roles in the Jaguars’ porous defense. As such, they didn’t add any further fantasy relevance.
However, those first three players were enough to tip the balance. It ensured that the Jaguars’ rookies contributed more (6 points) to their teams anyone else in the division. The percentage of points contributed by the rookies was also the highest (7.3%).
And the value in that area is a further reason why the Jags’ rookie picks top the division.
DEAD LAST: HOUSTON TEXANS
MOVING ON FAST: TENNESSEE TITANS
GETTING A PASS: INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
TOP OF THE CLASS: JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
So perhaps this was a surprise result for you! Let me know what you think using my twitter handle below!
Next time, we move onto the NFC conference. Keeping it consistent, we’ll start by looking at the rookie picks in the eastern division.
Until next time,