It’s been said that youth is wasted on the young. It’s been suggested that experience is wasted on the old.
Both age pockets were heard from in the final week of the NFL regular season.
The Week 18 leaderboard had plenty of rookies showing their stuff. Bijan Robinson, Tyjae Spears and Kendre Miller were all among the top-10 fantasy backs when the first window ended. Breece Hall, a second-year star, had the top spot to himself, collecting an absurd 39 touches in the snow at New England (good for 190 total yards and a score).
If you needed to dig deep at wide receiver, A.T. Perry and Andrei Iosivas both scored twice. Dontayvion Wicks, one of several young and emerging Green Bay wideouts, also found the end zone. Jordan Addison scored at Detroit, his 10th touchdown of the season.
Neither Puka Nacua nor Jahmyr Gibbs had their best games of the season, but both of them scored in Week 18. Nacua also broke Jaylen Waddle’s rookie record for receptions in a season. He also broke the rookie single-season receiving yardage record.
It stung watching Sam LaPorta get hurt (knee injury) against Minnesota. LaPorta finished as the TE1 this season and had a 5-29-1 line before departing.
You don’t need an introduction to C.J. Stroud, who was terrific (264 passing yards, 20 rushing yards, two touchdown passes) in the Saturday win that clinched Houston’s playoff spot. The Texans’ playoff spot became a division title on Sunday when the Jaguars fell to Tennessee.
Some of these kids are going to be pricey fantasy picks in 2024, as rising sophomores. Nacua and Gibbs probably won’t get out of the second round. Robinson might be chased into the first round again, depending on how the Falcons address their coaching situation. Rashee Rice, Jayden Reed and Addison all look like proactive picks. A healthy LaPorta is going to be a destination selection.
Hall, entering his third year, probably lands in the first round. The Jets could be a fun team if Aaron Rodgers can provide even league-average quarterback play.
Hopefully, Stroud has a healthy Tank Dell at the front of the 2024 season, but no matter who Stroud is throwing to next season, I’m in. Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Dalton Kincaid were both handed modest roles in 2023, but impressed; improvement isn’t always linear, but that’s still a reasonable way to bet for 2024.
It’s generally more fun to bet on the young talent, the players still on the escalator. But what do you do when a player is on the back nine of his career? In Week 18, some veteran backs reminded us they’re not running on empty yet. Still, the future remains cloudy.
Derrick Henry knew it was probably his final game for the Titans and he made the most of it, dump-trucking the Jaguars for 153 yards and a touchdown. It was a vintage Henry performance, filled with power running and a couple of breakaways, but he enters his age-30 season next season, and that’s scary days for a player at this attrition position. With Henry a limited receiver, I can’t imagine he’ll be one of my proactive picks next summer.
Joe Mixon had a day for the out-of-contention Bengals, racking up 117 yards and two total touchdowns against a makeshift Browns defense. Mixon restructured his contract last summer, so he’s likely to get at least one more year in Cincinnati. He turns 28 in July, often a tricky year for a running back.
James Conner has been terrific over the final third of the season, scoring touchdowns in five straight games and passing the 20-point mark three times. He turns 29 in May. Is he part of the long-term plan in Arizona? His fast kick to end 2023 probably swung a lot of fantasy titles.
Those were my thoughts as we hit dinner time on the East coast, Sunday night. I will add some Monday morning light-of-day observations when the day flips.
• The Arthur Smith dismissal felt inevitable, and it became official Monday. You can’t collect that much high-end skill talent, underachieve with it and survive. Bijan Robinson was the RB9 in half-point PPR but still felt like a minor disappointment. Drake London was WR39 (it was not a good year for the sophomore wideouts) and perhaps the biggest strike against Smith was watching Kyle Pitts have a TE14 season.
• Derrick Henry led the league in carries for the fourth time in five years. It’s going to be an awfully long time before we see someone do that again. It’s interesting that Henry had 378 carries in 2020 (just 16 games) but 280 was enough to pace the league this year. Obviously, the shape of offense and usage is constantly changing.
• It’s funny how the Steelers always seem to have the answers when they draft receivers, but they’ve been misfiring at quarterback since Ben Roethlisberger retired. At least they stumbled into Mason Rudolph late, and found a way to sneak into the playoffs. I understand the occasional complaining about Mike Tomlin, but it’s ridiculous the man can coach in the NFL for 17 years without a single losing record.
• It will be interesting to see who the Panthers can land as a head coach, because you’re working with an erratic owner and you’re trying to fix Bryce Young, who was lost as a rookie. Young did one thing better than league average this year — avoid interceptions. The rest of his indexed stats were miles and miles below code.
• Jordan Love goes down as one of the winners of the year, and he was practically at MVP-level over the last eight games: 18 touchdowns, one pick, 112.7 rating, 7,7 YPA, only 11 sacks taken. These are elite stats. And remember — Love did all this with the youngest receiver room in the league, and with two of his best missing time.
• Jalen Hurts was once the MVP favorite, largely because the Eagles kept winning and he kept scoring short touchdowns. Over the last eight weeks, Hurts is 33rd in QB rating, 30th in YPA. To be fair, he is probably playing hurt. Hurts is a lot better than this. But his 2023 peak was always overrated.
• If I needed a tight end for the next five years, I’m taking Sam LaPorta. If I needed someone for the next five weeks, I’m taking George Kittle with zero hesitation.
• The Saints running a surprise run out of victory formation is a poor look for Jameis Winston, who should know better. If he has an issue with the New Orleans coaching staff, okay, that’s one thing. Respect the Falcons. It was a total bush-league move. Teams never have to apologize for playing a full 60 minutes, but this isn’t the way to do it.