PFM Round Table: Which Play Made You Realize A Star Was Born?

Alvin Kamara

Jake Rajala @rajala_jake

When Alvin Kamara was drafted in 2017 the third round, not a soul in sight expected the Tennessee “Skat Back” to become the force he is today.

In the 2017 preseason, the stage was set: The Saints were battling the Los Angeles Chargers on the west coast. Alvin Kamara had his first touchdown as a Saint in the featured matchup. And the score couldn’t have come in more high fashion. Kamara hit the hole with fresh legs, supreme explosiveness, and “excellent” vision, right before bouncing off safety with ease. Boom. 50-yard rushing touchdown.

At that point, I knew Sean Payton drafted a player with Pro Bowl potential. Kamara may not have displayed a superb resume or any regular-season action up to that point, but we’re talking about back showing unique talent in a scheme notorious for developing undrafted RBs like Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory, and Khiry Robinson.

A.J. Brown: The Next Franchise-Changing Weapon

Daniel Racz @Danny___Dimes

During the lead-up to the 2019 draft, A.J. Brown made waves from a series of workout photos where both he and D.K. Metcalf looked like gladiators. Brown was widely viewed as a top-five receiver in his class, and his combine performance only boosted his stock. Brown ran a 4.49 forty-yard-dash, which is in the 90th percentile of weight-adjusted speed score. His comparison, via player profiler, based on athleticism and college profile was the great Andre Johnson. 

When the Tennessee Titans drafted A.J. Brown with the 51st pick in the draft, he was expected to be a meaningful contributor and a key piece for the Titans offense. However, few expected him to dominate during his rookie year. During week four of the 2019 season, Brown put the league on notice. His breakout performance included three receptions that totaled 94 yards and two touchdowns. 

Within three minutes of the opening kickoff, Brown took a 55-yard reception to the house. A.J. followed it up with a beautiful, back shoulder 11-yard toe-drag catch in the corner of the end zone. Brown’s final catch of the game, a 28-yard reception, capped off a superb game from the Ole Miss product.

From the moment A.J. Brown stepped off the field in Atlanta in 2019, he has been a premier receiver in the National Football League. His combination of size, speed, contested-catch prowess, and tackle-breaking ability is unmatched. Brown has all the skills that the modern NFL demands, and his play-action heavy offense has maximized his talents. Brown has been my favorite receiver since early on in his rookie year, and I think he will be regarded as the best receiver in the league sooner rather than later. 

Romeo Okwara

Rachel Maries @rachmaries

In what was a decidedly uninspired season for the Detroit Lions defense, one player rose above and had the breakout season of his career. That player…defense end, Romeo Okwara. Okwara finished the season with 61 quarterback pressures, 10 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles.

Those 10 sacks were tied for 10th in the league and the 61 quarterback pressures were tied for 9th. “His pass-rushing grade of 85.4 was a top-10 mark at the position. Okwara’s previous career high was just 58.3 in 2019”, says Ben Linsey of Pro Football Focus.

Okwara displayed the rare combination of traits that make an elite pass rusher in the league: speed AND power. The video below shows him using both to get to Alex Smith versus The Washington Football Team.

Okwara is officially an unrestricted free agent as of 5 days post Super Bowl. He will command a decent chunk of change. It will be interesting to see whether the Lions make an offer to keep this special talent around. New head coach Dan Campbell specifically mentioned Okwara as one of the defensive pieces he was impressed with.

Trey Hendrickson

Tayyib Abu @tayyibabu1

Cast your mind back to Week 1 of the regular season. The New Orleans Saints met the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a clash sold as Brees v Brady. Instead, a third-year pass rusher finally broke out. Trey Hendrickson from Florida Atlantic came to crash Tom Brady’s welcome party. Hendrickson harassed Brady all game long as he notched a sack for himself on the stat-sheet.

That kickstarted a breakout year for Hendrickson. The Saints pass-rusher would go on to total 13.5 sacks, that tied him with DPOY Aaron Donald. Hendrickson did that in fewer games than Donald due to an injury late in the year. Hendrickson’s speed and skill to beat offensive tackles came to the fore in 2020. He finished his season with 48 quarterback pressures to his name, Hendrickson established himself as a premier pass rusher in 2020. He heads into free agency looking for a big new contract.

Brandon Aiyuk

Rod Villagomez @rjvillagomez

Ironically enough, the day Brandon Aiyuk burst on the scene didn’t come from his natural position. The rookie took a backwards lateral and painted a masterpiece of a touchdown run. He zigged when defenders zagged. And when he couldn’t swerve to miss an oncoming attacker, he simply chose to take to the skies. It was only one of three times he touched the ball that day, but it signaled what 49ers fans were getting in their new wide receiver.

Despite having to deal with inconsistent quarterback play all season, Aiyuk still managed to accrue nearly 750 yards. In only 12 games, he led his team at the end of the season in all major receiving categories. He became a young leader on an already young corps of wide outs. Even with his success right out of the gate, his talent still remains fully unlocked. Given the right signal caller for San Francisco next season, we are primed for a monster season from Brandon Aiyuk.

James Robinson

Courtney Burrows @luvtractor3

The Virtual 2020 NFL Draft was different than any other draft, and there were surprises and disappointments.  For James Robinson, it presented a challenge.
He was an undrafted running back from Illinois State where his senior year, he rushed for 1,899 yards and finished his collegiate career with the second-most rushing yards in the school’s history at 4,444 yards.
Robinson signed as an undrafted free agent with the Jacksonville Jaguars on April 27, 2020, and a few days later was named the starter.
No one in the fantasy world knew his name or how he would perform, and he wasn’t drafted on many fantasy teams in August… he was flying under the radar. 
September 13, 2020, Week One of the NFL, The Jaguars took on the Colts for their home opener and Robinson took the field.   It was a slow start to his career as he rushed for 62 yards on 16 attempts. 
The turning point that Robinson was special came in the 4th quarter when he leapt over Colts Safety Khari Willis on a reception from Minshew for 28 yards.  Watching it live was incredible.  He cleared Willis and slipped through a tackle running like a man on a mission.  That play was a turning point for the Jaguars, and they ended up winning their first game.   
Now, we know how the remainder of the season went for the Jags, but Robinson was the bright spot.  Week two, he rushed for 102 yards on 16 attempts and a touchdown, and now people were noticing. 
He was getting snatched up on the wavier wire by those that were paying attention because he was starter and fantasy managers were beginning to realize that he could be a real deal.  Turns out, he was. 
Week three in primetime on Thursday Night Football versus the Dolphins, he had 129 total yards and two rushing touchdowns.  Now, those that were sleeping on the wavier wire, were battling to secure him on their team. 
Robinson ended the season with 1,070 rushing yards and 344 receiving with 10 total touchdowns.  He won Offensive Player of the Month for September and is one of four undrafted rookies to rush for over 1000 yards in an NFL debut season.  What a season it was, and he will continue that in his second year under new Head Coach Urban Meyer. 
The Jags are suspected to take Trevor Lawrence with the 1st round pick, and the 2021 season for the Jags is going to be electric.  I for one will be hoping to draft Robinson in all my redraft leagues, as he has earned it! 

Justin Herbert

Rich Maletto @bodaciousbeer

Justin Herbert now looks like one of the best quarterback prospects in quite some time. My question is, why wasn’t he talked up more before the draft and even through the preseason? There is no disputing the arm strength and even Herbert’s accuracy, so it appears he should have been one of the most talked-about quarterback prospects like Joe Burrow was, but he wasn’t.

Herbert’s biggest concern leading up to the NFL draft was that he never ran a pro-style offense and never took a snap under center in college. Both of these things concern NFL coaches, and rightfully so because, in the NFL, those are two things you will be doing. Running a pro-style offense and taking snaps from under center the majority of the time. Herbert tried to squash those concerns at the combine, and frankly, Herbert did for me.

The first thing you noticed at the combine was how fast his throws got from point A to point B and pinpoint accurate. The second thing I noticed was how much work Herbert had put in regarding his footwork. There was no center to take a snap from, but they mimic the motion at the combine. What caught my eye, he did it with ease and was incredibly quick. You could tell it was something he was working hard at to improve and be efficient. He dropped back planted and would throw that fastball. He looked flat majestic.

Unfortunately, when Tyrod Taylor missed a game due to a team doctor stabbing a hole in Taylor’s lung, I jumped at the opportunity to throw Herbert into my fantasy rosters. He looked so good that first game, by halftime, I was pounding my chest that I had a QB1 for the rest of the season. The tricky part, the coaching staff still hadn’t committed to Herbert, but it didn’t phase me.

The following week, Herbert got the start then, but no matter how many times we were told it was Tyrod’s team, I didn’t believe it. My thinking was if this coaching staff wants to be fired, then start Tyrod. But if you’re going to win and develop this team, Herbert was the only option.

Herbert looked terrific under pressure, was spreading the ball around to his playmakers and honestly looked much better than Tyrod Taylor ever has. Herbert has natural athleticism. In all fairness, I won’t be surprised if Herbert ends up being right next to Mahomes when his career is over. Yes, I have that much faith in Herbert.

Justin Jefferson

Brady Akins @bardyakins

Some of the NFL’s biggest names are personalities with unquestioned talent, but maybe a bit more flash than skill on the field.

Some of them are quiet grinders, who put together hours-long highlight reels by nailing the mechanics of their craft, and letting their game do the talking.

Some of them, the best of the best, are both. Minnesota Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson is both. And all of it can be seen in one breathtaking spectacle of football brilliance– the first touchdown of the rookie’s career.

The scene: Jefferson’s Vikings face second and long, Week Three against the Tennessee Titans, 8:18 left on the third-quarter clock. 13 seconds later and one extraordinary highlight later, and Jefferson found himself with a 71-yard receiving touchdown to his name on a play that showcased an unparalleled early skillset.

Jefferson shows his elite speed on the route, blowing straight past Titans’ defensive back Jonathan Joseph without much resistance. The receiver then showcases his elusiveness, shaking off not one, but two potential tacklers en route to an open endzone. The icing on the cake, however, Jefferson shows his eye for the spotlight– celebrating the touchdown from 15 yards out, and hitting The Griddy from about the five.

That’s when I knew. Justin Jefferson is a star.

Josh Allen

by Adrian Gutierrez (AdrianGutierrez@kitchenisDads)

This past August 2020, I had the opportunity to choose Josh Allen in one fantasy league, but something echoed in me. A comment I read that snarked that Josh Allen was a fluke. I went against my instincts as the clock ticked and chose Matthew Stafford instead. Josh Allen proved everyone wrong who called him a fluke prior to the 2020 season, and of course I didn’t make the playoffs in that league.

Josh Allen was one of the most exciting quarterbacks to watch this past season. With the addition of Stefon Diggs, he threw the deep ball downfield with complete command and used his legs to create scoring opportunities when there were none – to the tune of 37 passing touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and 8 rushing touchdowns. Moreover, he did this without a complimentary rushing attack. Zack Moss and Devin Singletary were decent, but imagine the possibilities with an Aaron Jones? 2021 will be his 4th season and the progression is self-evident. He is fun to watch and he is no fluke. Buffalo is indeed a contender again.

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