NFL Midseason All-Rookie Team: Mac Jones, Creed Humphrey, Micah Parsons and Nate Hobbs lead first-year standouts

So often, we spent an entire year, if not multiple years, scouting players as they prepare to enter the NFL. Then, we seem to lose track of them unless they are quarterbacks or top-tier performers. I know I am very guilty of this.

This year, I wanted to take a little extra time to appreciate the rookies who have performed well out of the gate. I know we are a bit past the midseason point, but there is still a lot of football left to be played, so this team is bound to look very different by the time we reach early January.

Here is my all-rookie team through 10 weeks of NFL action.

QB – Mac Jones, Patriots
This is a no-brainer. Jones has unquestionably been the best rookie quarterback of the bunch so far. Through 10 games, he has over 2,300 yards and 13 touchdowns. Trevor Lawrence has the second-most touchdown passes with eight. Jones’ completion percentage is significantly higher than all other rookie passers as well. He is in the running for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

RB – Elijah Mitchell, 49ers
While Najee Harris has the gaudy usage numbers, Elijah Mitchell has been much more efficient this year. Perhaps that is because he has a much better line, but Mitchell has been one of the fun surprises from this draft class. He is averaging 90 yards from scrimmage per game on a healthy 4.7 yards per carry. Mitchell is in line for a solid second half.

RB – Najee Harris, Steelers
While Harris has had some ugly games this year, evidenced by his 3.7 yards per carry on the season, he is a workhorse for the Steelers. He leads all rookies in rushing yards and actually ranks second in receptions, trailing only Jaylen Waddle. It would be nice to see him be a bit more efficient as a runner, but much of that comes to running behind a poor offensive line.

WR – Ja’Marr Chase, Bengals
Chase has lit up the NFL so far. He ranks fourth in receiving yards per game and tied fifth for touchdown receptions this season among all receivers. He also has 229 more yards than the next rookie in this class. His big-play ability is unrivaled so far and he has to be the front runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

WR – Jaylen Waddle, Dolphins
While he has not been the deep threat that Chase has proven to be so far, Waddle is the main fixture in Miami’s offense. He has 60 receptions this season, by far the most of any rookie and sixth-most for any player in the league this year. If the Dolphins have some more consistent quarterback play in the second half, Waddle should see some of those yardage totals increase.

TE – Kyle Pitts, Falcons
While the scoring plays have not been there, Pitts is still making a large impact. He trails only Ja’Marr Chase for the most receiving yards among rookies. He has unquestionably benefited from increased volume with Calvin Ridley out for the Falcons. It is only a matter of time before Pitts starts to figure things out in the red zone and adds to his one touchdown on the season.

OT – Rashawn Slater, Chargers
Physically dominant barely begins to describe Slater this season. He is the third-highest rated rookie by PFF, posting a dominant 82.2 grade. He has only allowed two sacks this season and continues to shine as a run blocker. He honestly deserves some rookie of the year consideration.

G – Alijah Vera-Tucker, Jets
In the midst of a rough season for the Jets, Vera-Tucker has been a bright light. He has only allowed one sack in 617 snaps this season. He is a bit uneven as a run blocker, but has shown flashes of truly dominant play. The upside he has displayed with his movement skills and instincts is impressive.

C – Creed Humphrey, Chiefs
One of my favorite offensive linemen in this past draft, Humphrey has slotted in nicely as a Day 1 starter for the Chiefs. He honestly deserves some consideration for Offensive Rookie of the Year. He is PFF’s top-ranked center through 10 weeks of play. That’s every center in the NFL, not just rookies. Bradley Bozeman is the only center in the league with a higher pass-block win rate at this point. It is obviously early, but it looks like Kansas City landed a steal. 

G – Trey Smith, Chiefs
If Creed Humphrey was a home run, I don’t even know what that makes Smith. A fifth-round pick out of Tennessee, he has taken the league by storm. Ranking sixth in both pass-block and run-block win rate, Smith is proving that he has what it takes to compete in the NFL at a high level. PFF credits him with four sacks allowed, so there is clearly still room for improvement, but he is off to a hot start.

OT – Penei Sewell, Lions
Finding another tackle across from Slater proved to actually be difficult. Had Samuel Cosmi stayed healthy, this likely would have been his spot. Instead, I will go with Sewell. He has been fine so far, definitely a bit uneven in his play, but that should be expected from one of the youngest prospects in the draft. He has now started on both sides of the line with Taylor Decker returning to action, dominating in his first start at right tackle. Sewell is showing the versatility needed to thrive in the NFL.

DL – Osa Odighizuwa, Cowboys
While Micah Parsons has, deservedly, gotten most of the press clippings this year, Odigizuwa has had a solid start to his NFL career. He is providing some interior pass rushing for the Cowboys on a defense that desperately lacked it. With nine QB hits and a pair of sacks so far this season, he is making his presence known. However, he definitely still has room for improvement as a tackler.

DL – Christian Barmore, Patriots
While it is clear Barmore is still finding his footing, there is no question he has been one of the most impactful interior rookie linemen so far this year. He is tough to move and shows the occasional flash of pass rushing prowess. Putting it all together on a more consistent basis is key, but Barmore seems to be getting better as the year rolls on.

DL – Kwity Paye, Colts
If you haven’t watched Paye play much this year and just look at the one sack he has recorded, you might question his inclusion. But if you have watched his explosive play off the edge, particularly in recent weeks, it is clear to see he is going to be a problem in the league. He is clearly still trying to figure out how to excel as a pass rusher at this level, but his physical tools have been on full display and he should continue to be disruptive.

LB – Azeez Ojulari, Giants
In what proved to be a very weak class for edge rushers, it is hard to find too many players that have stood out. While it has been a little bit of feast or famine for Ojulari, he is second in the draft class with 5.5 sacks so far this season. What’s more is he is getting on the field, a lot. He has played at least 50 percent of New York’s defensive snaps in every game this season.

LB – Micah Parsons, Cowboys
The top dog in the race to win Defensive Rookie of the Year, Parsons has done a little bit of everything this year. He has earned the most plaudits for his scary ability as a pass rusher. He leads all rookies with six sacks on the season. What makes Parsons a lock for this list though is his versatility. He can play on the edge with his hand in the dirt, or he can drop back and play as an off-ball linebacker. That makes it really difficult to account for his whereabouts on a play-to-play basis.

LB – Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Browns
A surprising slide on draft day saw Owusu-Koramoah slip into the second round. The Browns have greatly benefited from his fall. JOK was ramping up into a large role within Cleveland’s defense before missing a pair of games. Now, it seems the coaching staff wants to work him back in slowly, make no mistake though, when he is on the field, he is a difference maker. 

LB – Odafe Oweh, Ravens
You knew this was going to happen. The supremely athletic edge rusher that everyone knocked for his lack of college production has flourished with the Ravens. He has four sacks already in his rookie season, trailing only Parsons and Ojulari among first-year players. Add in 11 quarterback hits and a steady presence on the field, and you have one of the top rookies in the league.

CB – Nate Hobbs, Raiders
Most of the players on this list are first- or second-round picks that I was very familiar with by draft day. Even Trey Smith and Elijah Mitchell were more widely known because of their participation in the Senior Bowl. Hobbs was notably left off the Senior Bowl roster, and yet has been one of the top cover corners in the league this season. He came back down to Earth a bit when Patrick Mahomes picked on him in Week 10, but has been one of the league’s stingiest corners on a yards allowed per completion basis.

S – Jevon Holland, Dolphins
I remember a time where Jevon Holland was regarded as a lock to be a first-round pick. It is looking more and more like that should have been the case. I know, I know, it is way too early to make those conclusions, but Holland has been one of the most dynamic rookies on the defensive side of the ball this year. He is excellent as a pass rusher and has no problem laying the wood. There is unquestionably room for improvement in coverage, but he is best used down in the box, wreaking havoc on opposing offenses. 

S – Trevon Moehrig, Raiders
Man, the Raiders really hit it out of the park with defensive backs in 2021. Early returns from Moehrig might not be quite on the same level as Hobbs, but he has been a valuable member of Las Vegas’ defensive backfield. He is the opposite of Holland, excelling in coverage, especially as a deep centerfielder. He has only missed a few snaps this whole season and even has an interception to his name.

CB – Patrick Surtain II, Broncos
While he hasn’t quite reached lockdown corner status yet, Surtain is off to a strong start to his career. Opposing teams have gone after him a few times, but Surtain has largely held his own. The three touchdowns given up aren’t great, but he is one of just seven starting corners to allow fewer than 50 percent of passes thrown his way to be completed. What’s more is he has seen the eighth-most targets of any defensive player this year. He is under fire a lot, but he has won more than he has lost this season.

Fantasy Football 2021 Waiver Wire Pickups: Mitchell, Shepard popular options heading into Week 2

Fantasy Football is finally back in full swing. If you are like me, you spent much of Sunday swiping through the scoreboard pages of your various teams and questioned why you didn’t start Jalen Hurts over Aaron Rodgers. Seriously, all the reigning MVP needed to do was not have the worst fantasy output of any starter in Week 1 and I would’ve won. I lost that matchup by 0.4 points.

But I digress, because whether you feel like you crushed your draft or really messed it up, you now have a second chance to build your fantasy team. Welcome to the waiver wire. Every year, there are a few great fantasy options that slip through the cracks and wind up going undrafted. Usually, the fantasy managers who scoop those handful of players up tend to be the ones that make deep playoff runs.

Don’t believe me? Alvin Kamara went undrafted in most formats back in 2017. He finished the year as RB3. Perhaps you rode James Robinson or Justin Jefferson to a championship last year after both started the year widely available on the waiver wire. The point is, your season is not over because you had a bad Week 1 or lost a couple players to injury.

A quick reminder of how I go about this column. I am looking at players who are available in at least 50 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues as a guide for who will be available. Of course you should pick up star players if they are somehow sitting on the waiver wire, but that won’t be the case for most people.

Going beyond simply looking for players to add to your roster, working the waiver wire requires a bit of strategy. Different leagues have different policies for how waiver claims are awarded. Some have the waiver order reset in reverse order of the standing after every week. Some move teams to the back of the queue after a successful waiver claim. Some have allotted budgets of real or fake money for managers to allocate on players throughout the season. It is important to check which set up your league has and know the best way to work within those parameters.

There is also no chance you will see me advocating for you to use a waiver claim on a defense or a kicker. That does not mean that you should not pick one up if let’s say you have the Panthers defense going up against the Saints this week, but don’t waste a valuable waiver claim on a position that likely will not offer you any long term value.

With all of that in mind, let’s dive into my top additions heading into Week 2. These are listed in no particular order, simply broken up by position.

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, DEN
It didn’t take long for Bridgewater to settle in. The former Panthers quarterback carved up the Giants defense for 264 yards and a pair of scores on his way to a QB14 finish. Those aren’t gaudy numbers, but solid nonetheless. On top of that, Bridgewater will face a Jaguars defense that gave up 291 yards and two scores to Tyrod Taylor in Week 1. Even without Jerry Jeudy, the Broncos still have plenty of talented receivers and backs to work with. It doesn’t hurt that Bridgewater can add a bit more value with his legs as well. He rushed for 19 yards this past week and could be in line for more as the season rolls on. I think he is a solid spot starter this week if you are in the market for one.

Mac Jones, QB, NE
I am a lot less sure about this one. Mac Jones looked really good in his NFL debut, but he did not do much from a fantasy perspective. However, he plays a very young Jets defense in Week 2 on the heels of throwing the ball 39 times against the Dolphins. That bodes well for some increased fantasy success against a weaker opponent. Jones is going to be incredibly efficient and will likely avoid turnovers. If you are searching for a fantasy option with a decently high floor, he feels like someone worth a look this week.

Elijah Mitchell, RB, SF
I’m ready to get burned again! I targeted Trey Sermon in a lot of my fantasy drafts this year under the assumption he would start if anything happened to Raheem Mostert. The latter has a lengthy injury history, so it felt pretty likely he would miss some time. Low and behold, Mostert is out of the season, but it is Elijah Mitchell who seems poised to take over the majority of the work in the backfield. He ran the ball 19 times for 104 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut. The red flag? He did not have a single target in the passing game. Now, Sermon is likely to see some touches this week and Kyle Shanahan is notorious for rotating his running backs. JaMycal Hasty and eventually Jeff Wilson Jr. will definitely see some work. That being said, Mitchell absolutely should be rostered in every fantasy league. He will be my top waiver wire target this week.

Kenny Gainwell, RB, PHI
He didn’t light it up or see anywhere near the same volume as Mitchell, but Gainwell had a solid NFL debut. The rookie out of Memphis had 11 touches for 43 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons. He seems well positioned for about 10-15 touches per game. Normally, I wouldn’t feel great about him facing the 49ers in Week 2, but San Francisco gave up the most fantasy points to opposing running backs in Week 1. This definitely has some risk reward potential, but if you are looking for someone to stash with upside, Gainwell is a good pick.

Mark Ingram, RB, HOU
Dare I say it: Mark Ingram looks fantasy relevant again. The former Ravens running back ran the ball a staggering 26 times against the Jaguars. He only averaged 3.3 yards per carry, but if he is going to see that much volume this season, he will be worth tracking. The Texans travel to Cleveland in Week 2. That’s not a great fantasy matchup for Ingram, but he should have a relatively high floor if he is going to see that much usage. I wouldn’t drop anyone you really like for him, but Ingram could be a great injury replacement for Mostert, Rashaad Penny or others.

Sterling Shepard, WR, NYG
We talked all offseason about the big additions to the Giants offense. They signed Kenny Golladay, drafted Kadarius Toney and brought in Kyle Rudolph. That was in addition to Evan Engram and Darius Slayton with Saquon Barkley finally back from injury. Turns out we forgot about Sterling Shepard. After a frustrating and injury-riddled 2020 season, the former Oklahoma receiver reasserted himself in New York’s offense with a seven-catch, 113-yard performance capped off by a touchdown. He scored the ninth most points of any fantasy receiver in Week 1. He might not be a weekly starter, but Shepard will definitely be a matchup-specific flex option.

K.J. Osborn, WR, MIN
Not a name I was overly familiar with heading into Week 1, Osborn showed a lot of promise against Cincinnati. He caught seven of his nine targets for 76 yards. I’m not ready to call him a breakout player yet, but with Minnesota lacking depth at tight end and struggling to run the ball, Osborn could be involved a bit more in the offense than we expected. It is tough for me to start him at this point, especially facing a Cardinals defense that just shut down the Titans, but he might be worth stashing on your bench if you have room.

Tim Patrick, WR, DEN
Injuries are a part of football. Every year players go down and that opens up new opportunities in fantasy. Unfortunately, Jerry Jeudy will miss some time with a high-ankle sprain. That opens the door for Tim Patrick to be fantasy relevant again. He only saw four targets in Week 1, but he turned them into four catches for 39 yards and a touchdown. I think he will see a few more throws his way with Jeudy out. Plus, he faces an abysmal Jaguars secondary in Week 2. Patrick feels like a speculative flex play or WR3 option in PPR formats. If you are in non-PPR leagues, K.J. Hamler is definitely worth a look.

Nelson Agholor, WR, NE
I’m still a little skeptical of Agholor, but he had a solid debut for the Patriots. He caught five of his seven targets for 72 yards and a score. There is a good chance he finishes the year as New England’s top receiver. On top of that, he faces a Jets secondary that struggled to contain the big play and is overall very unproven. Agholor is worth a look as a flex option in Week 2.

Jared Cook, TE, LAC
A change of scenery seems to have worked well for the veteran Cook, at least through one week. He caught five passes for 56 yards in his debut with the Chargers. That was against a talented Washington defense as well. Cook will face a Cowboys defense that gave up eight catches for 90 yards and two touchdowns to Rob Gronkowski in Week 1. I don’t think you should expect that type of production out of Cook, but he is definitely a streaming option this week and has the potential to be a regular starter in your lineup if you need a tight end.