As he looked back to assess the 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series season, longtime analyst and show host Mark Zona said the rookies impressed him.
“In all honestly, I don’t know if we will ever see a rookie class like we saw in 2017,” he said. “Just simply being in the top five of this rookie class was an accomplishment. It was honestly unbelievable. You could have had a really solid rookie year and ended up fourth or fifth in the ROY standings.”
Dustin Connell of Clanton, Ala., and Jamie Hartman of Newport, N.Y., battled back and forth much of the season for the Rookie of the Year title. Connell made a big surge on the season’s final day of competition to win the title.
Connell, behind his stunning win on Ross Barnett, finished 12th in the Toyota Angler of the Year standings with 765 points to qualify for his first Classic. Hartman, who had five top 7 finishes including a second and third, was a single point behind Connell at 764.
Fellow rookie Mark Daniels Jr. of Tuskegee, Ala., had a late season surge, taking third at St. Clair and 10th on Mille Lacs, to push into 18th overall, third in the rookie standings. The final rookie to finish high enough in the points to qualify for the Classic was Jesse Wiggins of Cullman, Ala., who was 37th.
Alton Jones Jr. of Lorena, Texas, was the only one of the other seven rookies to finish with more than 400 points. But all in all, those four top rookies made their marks
Wiggins began the season by winning the Bass Pro Shops Southern Open on the Harris Chain of Lakes. That gave him his second Classic qualification – he had won an Open in 2016 – before he fished in his first Classic.
Wiggins and Hartman were in contention to win the Elite season opener on Cherokee Lake, which went to Elite newcomer Jacob Wheeler. Wiggins then closed 2017 with his second Open victory on Smith Lake, his home lake, giving him three wins in 21 B.A.S.S. tournaments.
Connell, who won an Open in 2015, has earned a check in 12 of his 15 events (80 percent success rate) to give him a total winnings of $247,331. Wiggins, who has cashed in 16 of his 21 events (76 percent), has won $263,115.
The big question for Zona, and each of the rookies, is which ones keep things rolling in 2018.
“I want to see who can pull a Carson Wentz and not a Dak Prescott,” Zona said of NFL quarterbacks who soared and sunk in their second seasons. “Who of that rookie class can go in their sophomore year and be a potential AOY player and not tumble down the standings? I want to see who can back that rookie season up.”
Let’s have it then. Mr. Zona, give us your estimation of which rookie will continue his rate of success.
“Who do I think will rise and be the sophomore of the year?” he said. “I think Jesse Wiggins. I really expected him to creep up in the standings more last season.
“I think he’ll be the guy next season. I’m guessing he’s in a little bit better financial standpoint going into his sophomore season where he’ll fish a lot more comfortable.”