Booms & Busts: You might be excited to draft new stars, but vets turn back the clock in Week 18

Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon (28)
Joe Mixon had himself quite the fantasy day in Week 18. (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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 pricy 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 2023 probably swung a lot of fantasy titles.

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