The 2017 NFL Draft was stacked with potent offensive talent towards the top, headlined by dynamic offensive weapons in Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey. However, with respective ADP’s of 29 and 43 (in PPR format), Fournette and McCaffrey won’t make great “value” picks unless they have an Ezekiel Elliot-esque rookie campaign. Let’s take a look at some very underrated rookies who have a chance to make a fantasy impact immediately.
Dalvin Cook, RB – Minnesota Vikings; ADP – 61
By no means am I arguing that Dalvin Cook is the next Adrian Peterson, but he is a very talented player that should replace him as a top tier back in the long run. Cook was electric at Florida State, as he averaged 6.68 yards per carry, 2,094 yards from scrimmage, and 20 total touchdowns over the past two seasons. Cook is not a one dimensional either; he racked up nearly 500 receiving yards while averaging 14.8 yards per reception last year. Although the Vikings offensive line is quite terrible, Cook’s raw talent and playmaking ability should make him a premier threat for years to come, starting from Day 1.
I can not overstate Cook’s ability, as he very well might be the most offensively talented player in this year’s class. Even with their terrible offensive line, the Vikings still are a prime landing spot for Cook due to their lack of a passing game. From Day 1, Cook will be the premiere threat and centerpiece of their otherwise lackluster offense.
In current PPR formats, Cook is being drafted behind Eddie Lacy, who faces issues not only with his weight but also with stiff competition from Rawls and Prosise, and Spencer Ware, who is in grave danger of losing his job to Hunt (see below). Cook faces little competition for the job (Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon) and the Vikings traded up for him, which virtually guarantees they are going to heavily utilize him this year. Cook is a huge steal at this point in the draft.
Kareem Hunt, RB – Kansas City Chiefs: ADP – 112
The Kansas City backfield is developing into one of the most interesting storylines of this offseason. After Spencer Ware started the 2016 season off red-hot, he faded very hard down the stretch. Ware’s decline, along with the departure of Jamaal Charles, prompted the Chiefs to draft Kareem Hunt, who is an excellent pass-catcher and a more capable power runner than Ware. Hunt has been gaining massive traction as a potential starter, as his coaches have regularly been praising him, offbeat writers think he is the guy to pick out of Kansas City’s backfield, and he has been lighting it up in OTA’s.
Hunt’s situation is also interesting for an entirely different reason; the Chiefs traded up to draft Patrick Mahomes II (an excellent pick by the way), who will be the quarterback for the Chiefs in the future. After spending a pick on a “future” player, it seems unlikely that the Chiefs would use their next pick on a player they wouldn’t use immediately, which presents a compelling case that Hunt would start playing immediately. Even as a backup, Hunt still provides great value for his ADP. However, if he gets the starting job either by his talent or Spencer Ware getting hurt (he is injury prone), Hunt immediately becomes a coveted RB1 under Andy Reid’s fantasy-friendly backfield.
In current PPR formats, Kareem Hunt is being drafted behind Matt Forte, who is years past his prime and the backup running back for the Jets, and James White, who is stuck in a crowded Patriots’ backfield and could very well be their 3rd back. At pick 112, Hunt presents tremendous upside with minimal risk (10th round pick), which probably makes him the best value pick in the entire draft.
Samaje Perine, RB – Washington Redskins: ADP – 123
The Redskins’ backfield is much less convoluted than it might appear. Aside from one incredible primetime performance, Robert Kelley was below average for the rest of his starts, and Perine has everything working for him: praise from the staff, better raw skills than Kelley, and ability to be a 3-down back. It is inevitable that Perine will become the lead back for the Redskins, so the question is more of a “when” than “if.” It is becoming increasingly more likely that Perine assumes the starting role very early in the season, potentially even in the preseason.
I think a lot of fantasy owners forget how talented Perine is because ultra-talented Joe Mixon overshadowed him during his tenure at Oklahoma. Perine was nothing short of amazing though; despite being in a clear time share or even a backup role and missing three games due to injury, Perine recorded 1,166 yards from scrimmage and 13 total touchdowns, while averaging 5.4 yards per carry. It should come as no surprise that the Redskins staff is raving about his abilities.
In current PPR formats, Samaje Perine is being drafted by Johnathan Stewart, who is losing the vast majority of his carries to Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey, and Darren Sproles, who is currently the 3rd running back on the Eagles’ depth chart behind LeGarrette Blount and Ryan Mathews. Perine is an absolute steal at this point in the draft, given his ability and likelihood to become the starter early in the season, and in my opinion, has the best chance to be the Jordan Howard of this class.
Zay Jones, WR – Buffalo Bills: ADP – 158
Fantasy value depends on two things: talent and opportunity. Luckily for Zay Jones, he’s got both, as he possesses tremendous talent and found himself in an incredibly opportune situation. There’s no denying that Zay Jones is talented; not only is Jones the career NCAA leader with 399 career receptions, but also is the single-season with an astounding 158 receptions this past season. On top of that, Jones averaged 11.1 yards per reception, bringing his yardage total up to 1,746 receiving yards, which ranks as the 17th most ever in a season.
Regarding opportunity, Jones hit the jackpot as well. Barring any shocking news from the Bills training camp, Jones will open up the season as Buffalo’s #2 wide receiver, which should garner him plenty of targets. Given Sammy Watkins’s injury history, Zay Jones should find himself as Buffalo’s #1 wide receiver at some point in the season, which would give him tremendous upside. Even with Watkins on the field, Jones should have no trouble producing, as defensive fronts will focus on stopping Buffalo’s run-heavy offense and top corners will be covering Watkins.
In current PPR formats, Zay Jones is being drafted behind Tyler Lockett, who vastly underperformed lofty expectations as a sleeper pick last year, and Michael Floyd, who is still dealing with legal ramifications from his DUI. Going off the board in the 13th round, Jones has great value for this point in the draft, given his considerable upside, especially if Watkins happens to get injured.
Joe Williams, RB – San Francisco 49ers: ADP – 180
After Kyle Shanahan arrived in San Francisco, everything has changed, particularly at the running back position. Hyde, drafted as the “face of the franchise” just three short years ago, may no longer be the starter; Joe Williams, a 4th round pick out of Utah hand picked by Shanahan’s new regime, now has a very legitimate to unseat Carlos Hyde from the starting job immediately. Hyde is going into the final year of his contract, one which the 49ers do not plan on extending, which means that Williams will be getting the carries if the staff views them as equal. On top of that, Hyde is very injury prone, which would give Williams an easy pathway to become the starter if he already isn’t.
While most fantasy players have never even heard of Joe Williams, he is by no means not talented. In fact, at this point, many offbeat writers think that he has more ability than Hyde. Williams is a talented runner who can burst to and through the hole, and can make defenders miss in the open field, even more so than Hyde can. After missing the first month of the 2016 season due to his sister’s death, Williams recorded 1,332 rushing yards and ten touchdowns in just seven games. To put this into perspective of how incredible that performance was, he would have rushed for an astounding mark of 2,093 yards and 16 touchdowns had he played for the entire season. Those 2,093 yards would have been the 15th most in a single season in NCAA history.
In current PPR formats, Joe Williams is being drafted behind Matt Jones, the 3rd running back in Washington’s loaded backfield, and Jeremy Langford, who could start off the season as Chicago’s 3rd or 4th back. So far, everything that has happened this offseason has worked in Williams’s favor, which makes him an excellent value pick for this late in the draft (14th round).
Data courtesy of ESPN, Football Reference, CBS Sports, Fantasy Outlook, and FantasyPros. Thanks for reading!
Written by Jason Platkin
Cover Photo Credits: AP Photo