Fantasy Football Rookie WR Report: Jordan Addison and Josh Downs breakouts are happening

When Justin Jefferson went on IR just about two weeks ago, aside from the collective groans in the fantasy community over one of the sport’s biggest stars sitting out at least four games, the NFL media was downgrading what Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings could do without Jefferson. It didn’t help that the first game was outdoors against the NFC North rival Bears.

The result was a sloppy 19-13 victory that hardly advanced the narrative for the modern-day passing game. Yet, rookie Jordan Addison was able to poke through to score a touchdown, catching three balls for 28 yards on the day. That was just a warm-up act for a command Week 7 performance against the 49ers.

Addison came into the game with four touchdowns, though he was held off the scoresheet in Week 4 against the Panthers. That inconsistency is typical for rookie wide receivers. Yet, with Jefferson sitting, the 2021 Fred Biletnikoff Award winner was easily the most talented receiver on the Minnesota roster. Taking on the 49ers, Addison stepped onto the Monday Night Football stage and literally ripped a touchdown away from a defender in what turned out to be a 22-17 upset victory for the Vikings.

The rookie may be coming into his own, because he very much looked like a WR1 for the Vikings. He ran 29 routes, just behind the 31 that tight end T.J. Hockenson ran. He was targeted 10 times, again just behind Hockenson’s 12. The final tally was seven catches for 123 yards and the two scores.

Addison is one of several rookie receivers who are blossoming into weekly starters in fantasy, and that’s a trend that’s been happening in recent seasons.

A.J. Brown and DK Metcalf made waves in the second half of their rookie years in 2019. A year later, Jefferson was great from the very early weeks of the 2020 season. His LSU teammate, Ja’Marr Chase, was brilliant a year later, and in the latter portion of that season, Amon-Ra St. Brown was a waiver-wire pickup who became a league winner. Last season, Ohio State teammates Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave headlined a talented rookie class that saw several contributing by the end of the season.

Addison has at least two more games to continue his own rookie breakout where he can be the Vikings’ top wide receiving option, taking on Green Bay’s injured secondary this week followed by Atlanta’s No. 6 defense against wide receivers.

Then, if Jefferson is ready to return, Addison gets to attack defenses’ No. 2 cornerback options. There could be more games like the one against the 49ers.

This year’s rookie class has some standouts itself, and we’re highlighting several in this week’s Rookie Report.

Josh Downs, Indianapolis Colts

It sounds like fantasy managers have finally listened to Andy Behrens, who has been like a carnival barker urging people to pick up Downs. Since waivers ran on Tuesday night, Downs jumped from 36% to 59% rostership in fantasy leagues. So your work is done here, Andy.

It helped that Downs has become a reliable target in the Colts’ passing game, catching 16 balls for 243 yards and two touchdowns in the past three games. The highlight play was a 59-yard bomb from Gardner Minshew down the right sideline that gave the Colts their first touchdown.

Michael Pittman Jr. remains the top target for the Colts, but this offense is showing it can support multiple receivers as well as a great running game. Downs will have to face tough defenses like the Saints’ No. 13 unit against wide receivers, but the Colts have several beatable pass defenses on the schedule like the Panthers, Steelers, Titans and Raiders.

Now that Downs is on a majority of rosters, maybe Andy shifts his message to actually starting Downs.

Rashee Rice, Kansas City Chiefs

This one has been building for a few weeks. Rice has graduated from being a model of efficiency to an important part of the Chiefs’ passing game. In Week 5, he ran just eight routes, but was targeted five times, catching four for 33 yards and a touchdown. Week 6 saw him go out on 18 routes, catching all four targets for 72 yards. This past week, he caught his third touchdown of the season on a day when he ran 25 routes, just third behind Travis Kelce and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Rice caught five of six targets for 60 yards in the Chiefs’ 31-17 victory over the Chargers.

The scary part is the Chiefs are just finding their rhythm on offense, after Patrick Mahomes threw for 424 yards and four scores vs. the Chargers. A trip to Denver is upcoming, and it was against them in Week 6 that Rice became a full-time player in the offense. If there are any fantasy managers who are not starting Rice when the Chiefs and Dolphins clash in Germany in Week 9, well, congratulations for having such a super-loaded roster.

The rest of us will start the rookie and look for fireworks.

Puka Nacua, Los Angeles Rams

Remember way back when people were having some doubts about whether Cooper Kupp’s return to the Rams’ starting lineup was going to negatively impact Nacua’s output? You know, a week ago when he was coming off a quiet afternoon with four receptions for 26 yards. Were there actually people out there looking to sit Nacua after that game? Hopefully, they did not.

Getting targeted 12 times, catching eight for 154 yards made Nacua the WR5 in torching Pittsburgh this past week. Again he made an absurd toe-tap highlight-reel play. That’s been familiar territory for Nacua, as he’s finished top five in weekly scoring twice and top 12 a third time. To show that he can be very good alongside Kupp, both receivers were top 12 when the 2021 Offensive Player of the Year was first active. Nacua is third in the NFL with 752 receiving yards. He’s made it look so effortless, it’s sometimes easy to forget that he’s still a rookie.

Dallas is a tough foe this week, especially with the game in Jerry World. The Cowboys are third in the NFL allowing just 24.7 fantasy points per game to wide receivers. But Nacua is an every-week starter, especially when he has three 100-yard games among his first seven in the NFL.

Zay Flowers, Baltimore Ravens

Another early breakout among the rookies, it’s almost easy to overlook that Flowers had a stealthful 4-75-0 line in the Ravens’ 38-6 onslaught of the Lions. This game was Lamar Jackson operating at the peak of his powers, passing for 357 yards and three touchdowns. Flowers got them going with a 46-yard catch-and-run that almost went to the house.

Flowers has been consistent in an offense that has been searching for consistency all season and may have found it in Jackson’s breakout game. Flowers has at least 48 receiving yards in all seven games and been targeted at least eight times on three occasions. He’s put himself in Jackson’s circle of trust alongside Mark Andrews, so big games could be on the horizon. Arizona has allowed monster receiving games to Ja’Marr Chase (192-3) and Cooper Kupp (148-1), so that horizon for Flowers could be this week.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Seattle Seahawks

The top wide receiver drafted first this year — yes, not the first time that factoid has been brought up — has seen his role grow since coming out of the Week 5 bye. JSN has been among the route leaders in both games, and in Week 7 he led the Seahawks in targets, turning them into 4-63-1. The touchdown was the first of his career, with big ups for the 7-11 moniker.

While the absence of DK Metcalf played a part in JSN’s larger role last week, he was on the field plenty the previous week alongside Tyler Lockett and Metcalf. The rookie ran 36 routes to Lockett’s team-high 39, so plenty of three-wide-receiver sets seem to be in the future for Seattle.

A home clash coming up against the Browns is going to be interesting, whether Metcalf suits up or not. Cleveland is allowing a league-low 170.7 passing yards per game, but it gave up a big game to Downs, as mentioned above. JSN is a borderline start as a flex.

Jalin Hyatt, New York Giants

There are two truisms in sports. You can’t teach height (basketball); You can’t teach speed (all sports). Hyatt is blessed with game-changing speed and is beginning to tap into it. Last week, he caught two balls, but they went for 42 and 33 yards, respectively. He has nine receptions in the NFL, with four of them going for at least 30 yards.

While Hyatt may just be a field stretcher at this point, he’s seeing the field a lot. Against Washington in their most recent game, the Giants ran Hyatt on 22 routes, right behind Darren Waller’s team-high 28. He’s rostered in just 5% of Yahoo leagues, but the Giants are going to take shots with him whether it’s Daniel Jones or Tyrod Taylor under center.

A date with the Jets’ stifling secondary probably means that Hyatt is riding the pine on the rosters of fantasy managers who’ve taken a chance on him, but that speed is game-changing and defenses like the Commanders, Eagles and Patriots are coming up. Anyone into throwing darts, it’s good to throw one with 4.40 speed.