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Whether we’re talking about an incoming rookie or a veteran in the league, few players have proven themselves to the point of being explicitly trusted. Tom Brady? Absolutely. Derek Henry? Yes, of course. But if you are not the cream of the crop, I want to see you perform at a high level for more than one season. Or, in some cases, after up-and-down performances over the last couple of seasons, it’s time to show who you really are.
Here are a few players at each position who need to show me more before trusting them. Are they a star in the making, or will they fall flat like so many other promising players?
Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles
We saw good from Jalen Hurts in his first games as a starter. But, unfortunately, we also saw bad in those games. With Carson Wentz out the door and the team firmly in Hurts' grasps, it will be imperative for him to take a significant step forward if the Eagles hope to return to Super Bowl form any time soon.
The supposedly accurate Hurts only managed 52% completions with six touchdowns to four interceptions in four games. These numbers are not good. More encouraging was his 265.8 yards per game average through the air. Although, this too was misleading. His stats were inflated by 338 yards and three touchdowns in one game against the Arizona Cardinals. He put up those numbers despite only completing 24 of 44 pass attempts. He will need to improve his accuracy and consistency to become the quality player that many project him to be this season.
The Eagles have given him a new weapon in former Alabama teammate DeVonta Smith. After an incredible Heisman Trophy-winning season in 2020, Smith will have to bring all of those skills to the field to help Hurts have the season fans want him to.
Miles Sanders has yet to break out truly, and it is unclear if the Eagles can depend on him to keep defenses honest. So it is entirely on Hurts at this point. Will he excel, or will the Eagles be forced to use their two, possibly three, 2022 first-round draft picks to move up and take a new franchise quarterback?
Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
After a 2019 season of 36 passing touchdowns, more than 1,000 yards rushing, and a league MVP award, Jackson took a significant step backward in 2020.
With 26 touchdowns to nine interceptions, Jackson showed that his progress in the passing game in 2019 might have been more a fluke than a new chapter. With Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews there, the offense still did not take a step forward in year two.
COVID played a significant part in the landscape the past year, so 2021 will be the year we find out if Jackson is an actual elite quarterback in the NFL or a running quarterback who will go only as far as his legs take him. See Cam Newton.
Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings,
We did not know what to think of Dalvin Cook coming into the league. Much like Cam Akers after him, he was being judged by his college team in Florida State. A team that has seen better days and did not have an offensive line worthy of blocking for the talent behind them. We knew Cook had talent, hence why he went in the second round of the NFL draft and was eventually given a huge second contract by the Minnesota Vikings.
His first season started strong. He looked like the next rookie to break into the Top 10 at the fantasy running back position. Unfortunately, after an ACL injury, that season ended abruptly. Year two was a shadow of what it could have been. His ACL did not fully heal, and his tentativeness showed in his play on the field. After getting marginally better in 2019, he broke out in a massive 2020.
Like many running backs in the NFL, he is not a sure bet to play in all 16 games. Even in his remarkable 2020 season, he only played in 14 games. But his statistics in those weeks were undoubtedly great. He finished with 312 rushes for 1,557 yards and 16 touchdowns. Despite Kirk Cousins throwing for 35 touchdowns, he was able to put up these numbers. Those stats on a team that failed to make the playoffs is an excellent season.
Cook has come back with two excellent years after starting his career strong before the injury and a depressed second season. After 1,137 rush yards in 2019, he raised this number to 1,557 in 2020. The team has lost coaches in the last few years, but they have been replaced internally. This continuity probably means a new offensive scheme will not be incoming. Cook is very close to absolute trustworthy, but another good season in this new situation will put him over the top. Of course, no injuries would help too.
Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders
Coming into the league, Jacobs was projected as a star. He played at Alabama under all-time great Nick Saban. So, he must be good. But he was also relatively lowly utilized due to the surrounding talent. "Could he be a bell-cow back?" was the real question. He proved in his rookie season he could. Despite dealing with shoulder issues, he still managed to gain over 1,000 yards rushing. Things were set for another good season in year two. But it did not come to pass.
Despite his rushing volume increasing from 242 rushes to 273, his yardage dropped from 1,150 to 1,068. His rushing touchdowns did improve from seven to 12, but with the entire offensive line traded, released, or in some cases both this offseason, he will find it hard to match these numbers again. Another thing working against him is the Raiders adding Kenyan Drake to the backfield. If Jacobs can see this as a challenge and take over the backfield, he will be great going forward. However, if he blends into a committee with Drake and does not overtake him, we might just be looking at another mediocre fantasy running back. Not what we were hoping for after his rookie season.
Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons
We are relatively confident Ridley is a star. With Julio Jones out of town, the Falcons had better hope he is.
Over his first three seasons, Ridley has compiled 217 receptions, 3,061 yards, and 26 touchdowns. In the 2020 season, with Jones missing a lot of time with leg injuries, he had 90 catches for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns. These numbers are comparable to what Jones did on average during his career, and the nine touchdowns are more than Jones averaged, even as the number one receiver.
We know the talent Ridley has, and we know Matt Ryan is going to throw the ball. What is the unknown is new head coach Arthur Smith. Smith’s MO is lean on his running back, but he would be wise to use his best player. In Atlanta, that is Calvin Ridley. He had Derrick Henry on the field in Tennessee, so why wouldn’t you prefer your running back? But Mike Davis is not Derrick Henry. Despite this, Smith might try to get the rush game going to protect his aging quarterback.
Curtis Samuel, Washington Football Team
After two seasons of mediocrity and almost being released by Carolina, Curtis Samuel had a breakout season in 2020. A season that allowed him to cash in during free agency. In Washington, he reunites with former head coach Ron Rivera.
Coming out of Ohio State as a running back, Samuel immediately transitioned to wide receiver. This move was primarily due to being drafted the same season as Christian McCaffrey. It took a few seasons for him to get going, but he finally did in 2020.
His 77 receptions doubled his previous career-high, and his 851 receiving yards gave him 11.1 yards per catch. This yardage is a stat the Washington Football Team will look to exploit with Ryan Fitzpatrick behind center. We know he can do it, and we saw it last season. But we have also seen years of bad play. So, only time will tell what he can do on a new team?
Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia Eagles
As a rookie, Dallas Goedert had five touchdowns playing behind Zack Ertz. He was seen as a tight end who could make a massive leap in an offense that used the position more than just about any team in the league. However, with Ertz’s best days behind him, it is time for Goedert to take over. After a season in which he and Ertz dealt with injuries and a new starting quarterback, it will be interesting to see what he can do in the new offense.
In 11 games last season, Goedert had 46 receptions for 524 yards and three touchdowns. After his five touchdowns as a rookie, his totals have dropped by one in each of the following seasons. This trend will have to reverse if he does not want to disappoint his managers.
New head coach Nick Sirianni came from working under Frank Reich in Indianapolis. Reich was the offensive coordinator for the Eagles during the Super Bowl season of 2017. A season in which both Ertz and backup Brent Celek had good seasons. Reich and Sirianni were also willing to use the tight end position with the Colts. Whether it was Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox, or getting the most out of Eric Ebron, Reich, and by association Sirianni, know how to use the position.
If Goedert can stay healthy and develop a rapport with quarterback Jalen Hurts, there is a good chance he regains his rookie form and even improves on it. However, it could be an exceptionally long season if he cannot connect with Jalen Hurts that this offense requires between quarterback and tight end. Not just for the Philadelphia Eagles but also Dallas Goedert’s fantasy managers.
Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons
He is only a rookie. So, of course, we do not know what to expect. But based on hype, he is a mixture of Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Gates, Travis Kelce, with a little bit of Calvin Johnson mixed in. This hype is the reason he makes my list.
At 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, Pitts is a big man. He had great hands at Florida, leading to him becoming the highest-drafted tight end in NFL history. However, unlike college, Pitts will not be far and away better than the players opposite him. I hope Pitts proves all of his hysterical fans correct, and he is the next star tight end. But for the time being, I have to say: Prove it, rookie.