Fantasy Football: Undervalued Rookies To Target

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

r207871_576x324_16-9.jpg
Photo Credits: NFL.com

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

r214647_576x324_16-9.jpg
Photo Credits: AP Photo

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

593824019f025.image.jpg
Photo Credits: Sports Illustrated

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

md-zay jones bills.jpg
Photo Credits: NFL.com

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

williams-joe-49ers-ota.jpg
Photo Credits: NFL.com

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

Advertisements

Heisman Watch List Update

Through the first 5 weeks, Lamar Jackson, Louisville’s electric quarterback with both serious passing and running talent, has a huge lead in mid-season Heisman voting polls. However, as we know too well, things can change quite quickly. Take Leonard Fournette, quite possibly the best running back in the country, had a lead similar to Jackson’s through the first half of the season last year. However, he wasn’t even a finalist for the Heisman Trophy after a weak showing against Alabama, and only finished 6th in Heisman voting. Below is our analysis of the front-runners to win the Heisman Trophy through the first 5 weeks of the 2016 College Football season.

 

Heisman Favorite: Lamar Jackson, Louisville Cardinals

lamar-jackson-30ce16de616b8d4b.jpg
Lamar Jackson has easily been the best player in College Football thus far. If he keeps this pace up, he will surely win the Heisman. Photo Credits: syracuse.com

Through the first 5 weeks of the season, Lamar Jackson has blown everyone else out of the water, in possibly the most impressive campaign ever (through 5 weeks). Jackson has averaged an incredible 463 yards per game of total offense (325 passing, 138 rushing), which is second in the country only to Patrick Mahomes, who has faced noticeably weaker competition thus far. Jackson also leads the country in total QBR, with a rating of 92.8, which is more than 2 points higher than the next quarterback.

In addition, Jackson has average 4.6 passing TD’s per game as well as 2.8 rushing TD’s per game, which makes him responsible for 33.6 points per game. Jackson is first in the country in points responsible per game and is on pace to shatter Colt Brennan’s current record of 27.4 points responsible per game back in 2006.

What’s even more impressive is that Jackson has sustained his unbelievable play against 2 of the best teams in the country. Jackson played fabulously against Florida State (362 yards from scrimmage and 5 total touchdowns), who was widely regarded to have one of the best defenses in the country before Jackson humiliated them. While the Louisville Cardinals fell to the Clemson Tigers last week, Jackson still played brilliantly and kept the game close, as he recorded 475 yards of total offense as well as 3 total touchdowns.

 

Don’t sleep on him: Christian McCaffrey, Stanford Cardinals

636062504469164820-USP-NCAA-FOOTBALL-NOTRE-DAME-AT-STANFORD-77916096.JPG
Even after a weak showing against Washington, McCaffrey is anything but out of the Heisman race. Photo Credits: Gary A. Vasquez, USA TODAY Sports

Given that McCaffrey has established himself as a clear front-runner for the Heisman (behind Jackson obviously) and is still considered to be having a “bad” season really speaks to how amazing of a player he is.

Even in his “off” season, McCaffrey has averaged 158.5 yards from scrimmage per game, which is just 26 yards per game less than Dalvin Cook, who leads the country in this stat. In addition, McCaffrey leads the country with 214.5 all-purpose yards per game, which is definitely off of his record pace from last year, but nonetheless still incredible. McCaffrey has also averaged 1 touchdown per game, which is impressive as well.

What’s most impressive about McCaffrey’s campaign thus far is that he has completely carried Stanford through this season. McCaffrey has carried the team, touching the ball on 46.8% of Stanford’s plays. While McCaffrey might have been ineffective last week, that was largely the rest of the offense’s fault; his offensive line had trouble blocking Washington’s defensive line and due to Burns’ inexperience, Washington could afford to jam the box with defenders. Stanford’s offensive line, which is weaker than in year’s past, as well as Ryan Burns, Stanford’s inexperienced and ineffective quarterback, are the only things holding McCaffrey back from being as good as he was last season.

 

Do not forget about him: JT Barrett, Ohio State Buckeyes

hi-res-c76ca1b18fdbb8741c6b3a020a18943d_crop_exact.jpg
JT Barrett has torched opposing defenses so far this year, both in the air and on the ground. Photo Credits: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

While most of the Heisman attention has been focused on Lamar Jackson, for quarterbacks at least, JT Barrett has been quietly putting together an impressive campaign as well. Barrett has averaged 222 passing yards per game and 51 rushing yards per game through the Buckeyes’ first 4 games, which is above average, but not amazing. However, Barrett has averaged 4.25 TD’s per game so far, which means he is responsible for 25.5 points per game. Barrett is 4th in the country in points responsible for per game, behind Jackson, Mahomes, and Webb, and just is a tiny bit off of the record pace Colt Brennan set back in 2006.

Even though Barrett’s stats, especially touchdowns per game, are impressive, they certainly aren’t Heisman worthy. However, what makes Barrett so appealing has been the Buckeyes’ dominance so far. Barrett, Ohio State’s quarterback and captain of the Buckeyes’ offense, has led them to victories of 67 points (Bowling Green), 45 points (Tulsa), 21 points (Oklahoma), and 58 points (Rutgers). Oklahoma, once considered the overwhelming favorite to win the Big 12, was absolutely destroyed by Barrett and the Buckeyes at home, only adding onto Barrett’s impressive resume.

 

Dark Horse: Jake Browning, Washington Huskies

washingtonhuskies.jpg
Jake Browning has exceeded everyone’s expectations this year, especially in Washington’s rout of Stanford last week. Photo Credits: ASSOCIATED PRESS/(AP PHOTO/TED)

While Jake Browning’s stats don’t jump off of the page, he is certainly a major contender to win the Heisman this year. Browning is 5th in the country in Total QBR and 6th in the country in completion percentage and has only thrown 2 interceptions so far, all suggesting that Browning is completely in control as he is one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the country. Browning’s 3.6 TD’s per game and 223 passing yards per game are certainly above average but are nothing super special either.

What’s easily the most impressive part of Browning’s resume is that he has commanded one of the most powerful offenses in the country. Washington was ranked 5th in last week’s AP Rankings and has continued to trend upward, fueled by Browning’s stellar performance. The Huskies racked up easily the most impressive win of the season last week when they absolutely obliterated the Stanford Cardinals, 44-6, which proves that Browning and the Huskies can beat up on stronger teams as well.

 

Other Heisman front-runners:

Jabrill Peppers, Michigan Wolverines

He’s a super talented player and has shown tremendous potential and big play ability on offense, defense, and special teams.

Deshaun Watson, Clemson Tigers

He’s quite possibly the best quarterback in the country, and just took down the Louisville Cardinals and outplayed Lamar Jackson, the current Heisman favorite.

Greg Ward, Jr., Houston Cougars

He doesn’t quite have the stats the other contenders do, but he sure knows how to win. Houston’s only loss in the past 2 seasons came when Ward was hurt against UConn.

Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina Tar Heels

He leads the country in touchdown to interception ratio (13:0) and completion percentage (76%) and is 6th in passing yards as well as 7th in yards per attempt.

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, FOX Sports, CBS Sports, NCAA.com, Wikipedia, and Football Reference. Thanks for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: Getty Images

 

Heisman Trophy Watch List 2016

Here are our preseason picks for the Heisman Trophy winner for this upcoming season

The Heisman Trophy, awarded to college football’s best player, is the most prestigious award in college football. Here are our preseason picks for the Heisman Trophy for this season:

 

Co-Favorite: Leonard Fournette (Running Back), LSU Tigers

110514-CFB-Power-Ball-EH-PI.jpg

Fournette was the heavy favorite to win the Heisman Trophy last season before an abysmal performance (19 carries for 31 yards) against the top defense in the nation, the Alabama Crimson Tide. While that game may have tarnished his Heisman resume, Fournette was simply spectacular last season with the exception of that game; it was the only game where he had less than 100 yards from scrimmage and averaged less than 4.3 yards per carry.

Over the course of the season, Fournette averaged an electric 6.5 yards per rush attempt. In fact, Fournette was so good last season that he was only 1 of 7 running backs (Division I) with at least 200 carries to average 6.5 yards or more per carry. While Fournette’s 22 rushing touchdowns largely powered his performance, he averaged about 0.07 TD’s per carry, which is only a tad high. However, we could attribute his size and athleticism to that. This means that he likely won’t experience regression this year, which is quite good for his outlook.

Fournette’s kryptonite will likely be his offensive line, as LSU only managed to hold onto 3 of their starters. While LSU’s offensive line is likely the weakest part of their offense, Les Miles, LSU’s coach, has consistently had one of the best offensive lines, despite losing key starters to the NFL Draft every year.

 

Co-Favorite: Deshaun Watson (Quarterback), Clemson Tigers

watson-qb-overcome.jpg

Watson was simply spectacular last year, finishing as both one of the best passing and running quarterbacks in the nation. Watson ran a remarkably efficient offense last season, despite missing his best receiver, Mike Williams. Watson finished 9th in passing yards, 24th in yards per attempt, and 5th in completion percentage last season. In addition, Watson finished 13th in passing efficiency and 8th in passing touchdowns, even with an extremely low touchdown rate that is sure to regress next season.

Watson was quite efficient on the ground as well last season. Watson finished 44th in rushing yards among all players, while also finishing 94th in yards per carry. Additionally, Watson finished 37th in rushing touchdowns among all players, while experiencing a horribly low touchdown rate. Next season, Watson’s touchdown rate is sure to regress and should result in a much higher rate (and likely more touchdowns).

Watson only has room to improve this season, as he retained all of his top rushers, receivers, and lineman from last season. As mentioned earlier, Watson was without his best receiver, Mike Williams, who will likely be a 1st-round pick in this year’s draft and will surely boost Watson’s production next year.

 

Don’t count him out: Christian McCaffrey (Running Back), Stanford Cardinals

chi-mccaffrey1127-wre0032331875-20151114.jpg

McCaffrey was easily the best all-around player last year, and possibly of all-time. Last season, McCaffrey recorded 2,664 yards from scrimmage, which ranked top in the nation and 5th all-time behind Smith, Gordon, Sanders, and Allen. In addition to that, McCaffrey broke Sanders’ record for all purpose yards by recording 3,496 all purpose yards last season. To put this into perspective, the next closest player in the country last season only had 2,410 all purpose yards.

In addition to his spectacular play on offense, McCaffrey was among the best in the nation on special teams. McCaffrey had the 5th highest kick-off return average (min 20) and 67th highest punt return average among all returners last season. McCaffrey was much better at punt returns than his numbers would suggest, as many of the leaders only had a few returns last season.

Despite his stellar performance in terms of yards, McCaffrey only scored 13 touchdowns last season (8 rushing, 5 receiving), which is far below that of his peers. McCaffrey’s shockingly low touchdown rate last season is sure to regress in this following one. On the other hand, yards do not typically regress, so next season we can expect McCaffrey to maintain his performance in terms of yards and increase his performance in terms of touchdowns. One concern regarding McCaffrey’s low touchdown rate is that his size played a factor, but he more than makes up for that with his speed and quickness.

 

* Our projected Heisman Trophy winner *

Dark Horse: Dalvin Cook (Running Back), Florida State Seminoles

15.01.01.tw_.emg_.rosebowl.0430.jpg

Cook was one of the best running backs in college football last season, but went largely unnoticed for most of the season, despite his stellar play. Cook was one of the most dynamic running backs in the country last season, as he was 4th in yards per rushing attempt. Out of the 3 players ahead of him, only one of them had 200+ rushes (Cook had 229 rushing attempts last season).

Cook was so spectacular last season that he only had one game where he played poorly (against Boston College in Week 3). That game was his only one of the season when he had under 100 yards from scrimmage and did not record a touchdown. Last season, Cook had the 8th most rushing touchdowns, largely fueled by his week to week consistency. Despite scoring so many touchdowns, his touchdown rate was not very high, which suggests that it should not regress this next season. Cook now has a solid starting quarterback in Deondre Francois, who should only help Cook’s performance next season.

Cook should look for even more success this season, as Florida State hardly lost any important players. In fact, it was Florida State’s weakest draft class in years, as the only crucial player they lost was Jalen Ramsey, who should not impact Cook’s performance at all. A strong recruiting class and a great returning group of starters should equate to even more success for Cook this season.

 

While Fournette, Watson, McCaffrey, and  Cook are run-away favorites to win the Heisman Trophy this year, there are some other major contenders for the award listed below (listed in order of likelihood of winning the award):

Nick Chubb (Running Back), Georgia Bulldogs

Baker Mayfield (Quarterback), Oklahoma Sooners

Royce Freeman (Running Back), Oregon Ducks

Jabrill Peppers (LB / S / CB / RB / WR / KR / PR), Michigan Wolverines

Adoree’ Jackson (WR / CB / KR / PR), USC Trojans

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, CBS Sports, heismanwatch.com, Fox Sports, cfbstats.com, and Football Reference. Thanks for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Photo Credits: heismanwatch.com, Derick E. Hingle / USA TODAY Sports, USATSI, Tony Avelar / AP, Taylor Wilder/Emerald