In this weekly column, I explore some young players who haven’t made much of a consistent impact to date. Some players may be available on your waiver wire, some may be available via a cheap or moderate trade. Acquiring any of these players could decide how well your dynasty or keeper team does for the next few years. I will focus on their most recent matchup to draw the majority of my insight.
Doug Baldwin, WR SEA
What a long strange trip it’s been for Mr. Baldwin. Last year, he was a dynasty wildcard that paid dividends as he went undrafted in the NFL and signed later with the Seahawks. His 51 catches for 788 yards and four touchdowns led Seattle in 2011. Many of his fantasy owners, myself included, had hoped he would pick up where he left off.
When watching him play, it is easy to see he runs crisp, sharp routes and is very sure-handed. During his Thursday night game against the 49ers, the trust and chemistry he developed with rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, was clear. He was primarily lined up in the slot so he could get a free release off the line of scrimmage. This is because he is not a physical receiver at all. The young receiver depends on his quickness and vision to find seams to exploit. I did see him downfield blocking which is quite beneficial in this run oriented offense.
Baldwin was plagued with injuries this season that started in mini camp which limited his use so far. An ankle injury shortened his game vs. the 49ers to only the first half and will prevent him from playing this week. He is well off his 2011 statistical pace accounting for only 11 receptions, 149 yards and one touchdown after seven games. He was just beginning to show signs of life against the New England Patriots with two catches for 74 yards, including a 24 yard touchdown reception. Wilson seemed to struggle in the second half without Baldwin as his “Mr. Reliable” was gone. I think the world of the Wilson’s prospects, but he needs more weapons than Marshawn Lynch at his disposal. The former Stanford Cardinal, when healthy, can help. He is more of a dynasty WR5 than anything else with his injury situation, but in time I believe he can grow into a WR3 role.
Shane Vereen, RB NE
In my rookie report about Vereen I simply stated “remember Bill Belichick is not to be trusted in life or with running backs.” Fantasy owners need to realize that once you try to delve into the Patriots way of running the ball, you might get lost, confused, or both. If you are a Stevan Ridley dynasty owner like me, it only makes it worse. To keep the Jets on their toes in their first meeting this year, Vereen started the game and showed effectiveness in their hurry-up offense from the first snap. He took his initial two touches for first downs, one was a sweep and the other was a wheel route that put the Jets defense on alert.
Vereen seemed to have a bit of a mean streak that is very clear on game film. He likes to run over defenders at times, but was content to do more of the finesse running on Sunday. The young running back did a good job avoiding contact by showing an innate ability to take the correct angle. At times, he looked more agile than Danny Woodhead. He brought a great blend of speed, quickness, downfield vision, balance and power against their AFC East rivals.
The Patriots went back to the rugged Ridley when they needed short-yardage help as Vereen looked a little hesitant running the ball up the gut. I liked that he continued to keep his legs churning which was more of a factor as the game went on. Woodhead came in for a few series as well to keep all three running backs fresh – this is because Vereen does not catch the ball naturally and he struggles at times with pass protection. I was a bit surprised to see him getting carries towards the end of the Jets game. He received nine touches, one reception and eight carries, for a total of 59 yards which were all season highs for him.
Vereen seems to be in Belicheck’s good graces, which Ridley is not. I would try to buy him while his value is still low. He may never end up more than a RB5 on your dynasty team, but could have value if injuries or confidence issues strike their other running backs. For now, he might be the cheapest New England running back in a trade or perhaps a waiver wire pick in a small roster league. His lack of touches in two NFL seasons is concerning, so he is more of a speculative add than a sure thing.
Jonathan Dwyer, RB PIT
This third year back has adjusted well from his spread offense days at Georgia Tech without a fullback. The first thing that stood out to me was his commitment to running the ball up the middle of the defense. He did a good job of picking up his feet and running with a head of steam right into the line. The Steelers makeshift offensive line is not the easiest to read, but Dwyer did well following his blocks. I agree with the Sunday Night Football announcers comparisons to Jerome Bettis as they both have the same potato shaped body and quick feet.
There was great play calling that used Dwyer on draws. These decisions caught the defense by surprise. He showed a quick burst to the line, lowered his center of gravity, and gashed the Bengals front seven. Cincinnati’s rushing defense is in the bottom third of the NFL, so don’t break the bank trying to acquire him. Rookie speedster running back Chris Rainey also did a good job of keeping the defense on their toes, which made it easier for Dwyer to find room with their drastic contrast in rushing styles.
Dwyer struggled at times with pass blocking and this is a big concern with a team that throws as much as Pittsburgh. He got stronger as the game went along and his last carry was the back breaker. His 31 yard jaunt with 78 seconds gave the team the victory and him a second career 100 yard game. He finished the game with 17 carries for 122 yards. With Rashard Mendenhall and Issac Redman in front of him on the depth chart, some dynasty owners may be concerned with his lack of playing time. I would buy him on the cheap in a week or two once every Steelers running back looks healthy. Mendenhall and Redman could both be free agents next year. The team has offensive line and defensive back field concerns that supersede running back draft concerns so Dwyer may get his shot next year. I would value him as an RB5 this season who could develop into a RB2-3 if things fall in his favor.
We’ll focus on more young players in next week’s edition. You can follow Andy on twitter.
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