Fantasy Football Rookie Fact or Fluke: Is Isiah Pacheco the Chiefs' version of Tony Pollard?

Back in September, I wrote a bit about Novelty Bias, the inherent preference we have for all things new. In fantasy football, it applies mostly to rookies, but can also affect our evaluations of players on new teams (Allen Robinson), under new coaching regimes (Daniel Jones, et al.) or less strongly when a player gets some other new upgrade (like a better center or a different QB).

Our brains tell us this new person or situation could be the key to winning it all because part of the allure of novelty bias is that we don’t yet know how it plays out … and it hasn’t burned us before. Newness is an opportunity, and biased choices toward novelty can be observed in every animal that has been studied, even bacteria.

Somewhere around Week 5 or 6, perhaps — depending on your fantasy roster’s injury status or bye week woes — the novelty may have worn off. It’s fun and exciting to draft rookies, but they’re often the first to go when they don’t make an immediate fantasy impact. As rational people, we know that not everything that glitters is gold. And we had to make tough choices to win in those weeks, many of us not having the luxury to patiently wait for talent and opportunity to emerge together.

That’s totally fine. But if you had the patience and ability to hold your rookies this long, you finally got some of that promised reward in Week 11.

Rookies tend to break out at different points, but it seems like it’s always around Weeks 11-12 that we see a major turning point. Injuries to veterans pile up, teams with nothing to lose want to see what they just drafted and others want to make sure their rookies are ready for bigger roles in the playoffs.

Let’s check in on some big rookie performances — and a few veteran surprises — from Week 11.

Isiah Pacheco, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

After an electric preseason, Pacheco climbed draft boards in best ball tournaments, dynasty leagues and even deeper seasonal leagues. The Chiefs were stubborn about sticking with Clyde Edwards-Helaire to start the season, and given that they rely on Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce to move the ball, it didn’t really hurt the team. Pacheco got the start a couple of weeks ago but hasn’t done much other than disappoint those who trusted him.

Sunday Night Football, however, looked like it could be a turning point for the rookie back. The Chargers are a cure for a lot of run games, but Pacheco looked like the Kansas City version of Tony Pollard. He is a quicker and shiftier back than CEH, with better vision. He carried 15 times for 115 yards on the ground. I believe Pacheco has the talent to be a fantasy asset, but I also believe the Chiefs are a pass-first team. The upcoming schedule is tough, but circle Weeks 15 and 16 when the Chiefs play the Texans and Seahawks; Pacheco could re-emerge as a fantasy star for the playoffs.

Skyy Moore, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

Sticking with the Chiefs for a moment, there was consensus that Kadarius Toney would be having a big game with both Mecole Hardman and JuJu Smith-Schuster out Sunday night. However, Toney saw just one target before leaving the game with a hamstring injury. Marques Valdez-Scantling was also a non-factor (one catch on four targets).

Instead, Moore got his biggest chance of the year. After totaling 14 targets the first 10 weeks of the season, he saw six Sunday night, catching five passes for 63 yards. This could be the beginning of a breakout second half of the season for Moore, given that no KC wide receiver has really caught on (JuJu was building before his concussion, admittedly) to fill Tyreek Hill’s shoes so far.

Treylon Burks, WR, Tennessee Titans

Burks wasn’t exactly invisible to start the Titans’ season, as he had an average of four targets per game through the first four weeks. Then he missed four games with a turf toe injury. Since returning in Week 10, Burks has seen 14 targets, of which he caught 10. He had his first 100+ yard receiving game on Thursday Night Football in Week 11.

Treylon Burks #16 of the Tennessee Titans is gaining fantasy value
Treylon Burks had his best fantasy game of the season in Week 11. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Unfortunately, Tennessee ranks 30th in the league in pass attempts per game. On the plus side, the overwhelming amount of pass attempts is directed to the Titans wide receivers (as opposed to TE or RB). Expect some stiff competition as people race to stash Burks ahead of the fantasy playoffs. His upcoming schedule is neither super easy nor super hard, but should his talent be given free rein, he can only make his — and your — team better.

Christian Watson, WR, Green Bay Packers

We touched on him last week as a potential fluke after his electric 3-TD game in Week 10. I’m doing it again after another flukey 2-TD game in Week 11. Watson caught four passes for 48 yards and two scores. This is an unsustainable scoring rate; if you recall my article on regression, it showed even the best of the best wide receivers score an average of one touchdown per 14 targets. Watson has scored five touchdowns on 14 targets in the last two games.

Yes, he’s worth holding and starting in fantasy leagues, but expect some negative touchdown regression to catch up with him soon.

George Pickens, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

Pickens has been the Steelers’ lead receiver in the two games since the team was on bye. We knew that Kenny Pickett had something cooking with fellow rookie and name-twin Pickens earlier in the season, and it looks like that relationship, derailed temporarily by injury, is back on. He’s put up back-to-back double-digit fantasy games, but Pickens has caught only seven passes for just over 100 yards and one touchdown. He also rushed in a score in Week 10.

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The Steelers pass game is a tough one to figure out. On the one hand, Pickett enjoys outstanding protection, has the second-highest completion percentage when pressured and has suffered very few dropped passes. On the other hand, he doesn’t attempt many deep passes and has a mediocre completion percentage on those (31.4 percent). His air yards per attempt are low at 3.11 and, worst of all, he leads the league in interceptable passes per game (3.96).

Nonetheless, I’m holding Pickens, with the hope that Pickett will keep getting better; he hasn’t thrown a pick since returning from the bye, which is huge progress.

Chris Olave, WR, New Orleans Saints

Olave is the rare rookie who made pretty much an immediate fantasy impact for those who were lucky enough to draft him. The Saints offense has been frustrating this season, but Olave is one of the positives. He is WR11 in PPR scoring, despite catching only three touchdowns all season. Expect some positive TD regression from Olave down the stretch, and per FantasyPros, he has the third-best remaining schedule for WRs.

Dameon Pierce, RB, Houston Texans

Like Olave, Pierce was a guy we trusted almost from the get-go. By Week 3, he was regularly carrying the ball 20-plus times and returning great efficiency and yardage, if not touchdowns. Concerning is that in the last four games, he’s only surpassed that 20-attempt mark once, culminating in his season-worst effort in Week 11: Ten carries for eight yards and two receptions on three targets for nine yards. That’s way too many spelled-out numbers.

I expect a bounce-back from Pierce, but he may not be a magic ticket to win leagues; his offense is a disaster. Davis Mills was sacked five times in Week 11, and it took until the second half for him to get positive yards after throwing two picks. Houston couldn’t sustain a drive to save its life, and when it finally got close, Pierce was vultured by Mills for the rushing score. It was a dismal day, but hopefully, his worst fantasy performance is firmly behind him.

Quick Hits, Running Back Edition

Jamaal Williams, Detroit Lions

Williams is the player everyone debates starting every week, especially with D’Andre Swift getting healthier. Then he goes and scores all the touchdowns again and we shake our heads. Williams currently leads the league in rushing touchdowns with 12 and is ahead of guys like Jonathan Taylor, Najee Harris, Dameon Pierce and Alvin Kamara in PPR fantasy points per game. Note that he’s not a pass catcher, with only 12 targets on the season. I find it hard to believe that Amon-Ra St. Brown and Swift will continue to go down on the one-yard line infinite times per game forever, but I said that six weeks ago, too.

The reason to start Williams is that he leads the league in red-zone carries (34) and red-zone scores (11 of his 12 TDs). He’s behind only Austin Ekeler in red-zone fantasy points (PPR) despite only one red-zone target this season. It’s clear that the Lions are going to go with Williams at the goal line, so we should too.

Samaje Perine, Cincinnati Bengals

Perine was outstanding in a receiving role against the Steelers in a very exciting and competitive game, catching four passes for 52 yards and three touchdowns. That will likely be the pinnacle of his fantasy career. Even if Joe Mixon misses the next game against Tennessee, I’m not rushing to spend all my FAAB on Perine. He’s been in the league long enough that we know what he is and isn’t. There are no Week 12 byes, so everyone should have better choices at RB or FLEX than Perine next week. Mixon should be back for a matchup with the Chiefs in Week 13, if not sooner.

Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers

Lest we end on a sour note during Thanksgiving week, Harris finally did something!

I had to start him in two leagues in Week 11, and it made for a pleasant surprise when he actually showed up with two scores. It also marked the second game in a row that he carried the ball 20 times and the third time this season he saw six targets. I guess the foot injury is behind him, and I think we can breathe a sigh of relief and expect decent numbers going forward. Not saying we get to first-round value, but hopefully, he can stay in the double-digits for the next few weeks.

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