In 2015, I won two leagues and took 2nd in another largely on the back of David Johnson. Many other league winners probably had DJ as well. In one league I took him late in the draft and sat on him until he started to produce. In one of the other leagues, another owner took him in the draft but was not patient enough to wait for the eventual opportunity that playing behind the glass slippers of Andre Ellington and Chris Johnson was likely to provide. My point? Young, talented players tend to pay off during the fantasy football stretch run.
There are a number of reasons for this:
- Opportunity: as happened with DJ, by the 2nd half of the NFL season, injuries and suckiness have removed veterans from the primary ball-carrier roles for many teams.
- Improved skills: most young players can run but struggle with the finer aspects of the job – blocking, running routes, following the blocking schemes. But, by later in the season, 3 months of practicing has paid off for the players that work hard and are able to grasp these concepts.
- Fresh legs: besides just being young, backs in particular who do not play much early in the year have little wear-and-tear on their legs. Injuries that the general public may not even know of and just general fatigue may sap the burst from players who have well over a hundred touches but the rookie behind them has not suffered the same abuse.
You may have noticed that the points made above tend to apply more to RBs than WRs or QBs. That same trend will be apparent in the list below. Let’s face it, drafting RBs in any round of a draft, but especially in the middle to late rounds, is a crap-shoot. Having one or two rookie players can really prove to be a key to late-season and postseason success. WRs can be valuable late in the season as well – think Stefon Diggs – but are often streaky. About the time they “prove” to be valuable, defenses have shifted to key on them and the advantage and production is lost.
All that said, here is my list of potential sleeper rookies who could be especially valuable the 2nd half of the 2017 fantasy season (note: these are not the 1st round rookies who will be drafted in most leagues):
- Alex Collins – RB – Sea – effective blocker, productive in SEC – 5’9″ 217. 4.57 – Collins didn’t run great at the combine but Seattle’s style suites his strengths – literally and figuratively. Collins is a solid player who is one Thomas Rawls-setback away from being a serious contender for starting RB on a good running team. Seattle also took backs in the 3rd (CJ Prosise) and 7th (Zac Brooks) rounds but those players profile more as third-down backs. So, speaking of Rawls, Collins sure could be that kind of breakout guy this year.
- Keith Marshall – RB – Was – 5’11” 219, 4.31 – Dude is raw AF but Washington’s OL and downfield weapons could help open up creases for Marshall to exploit with his speed. With just unproven players such as Matt Jones and Chris Thompson ahead of him on the depth chart, Marshall
- Kenneth Dixon – RB – Bal – hands, fumbles – 5’10” 215, 4.54 – Dixon is a skilled, determined runner who lacks great bulk or top-end speed but is quick and a GREAT pass-catcher. A highly productive runner in college, he has some similarities to (former Baltimore RB) Ray Rice and (current Baltimore RB) Justin Forsett as a versatile back. Neither Forsett nor Buck Allen was a world-beater last year so if Dixon gets a shot, he could be a gem!
- Michael Thomas – WR – NO – 6’3″ – 212 – 2nd rd. – Thomas is the only WR on this list for a couple simple reasons – Drew Brees and his size. Thomas is one of the few legitimate targets with size for Brees. While Thomas is raw but being a big, physical, skilled receiver in a Brees/Payton could be a boon, especially as he refines his route running as the season goes on.
- K Drake – RB – Mia – productive in SEC, big plays, hands, – 6’1″ 210, 4.44 – Multi-tool player with good quicks (measureables and on tape) who Miami may have reached for in the 3rd round. There is no real competition on Miami for this kind of player and if they are a pass-first offense, Drake could have good value in PPR leagues. Drake may gain value as we seem some of the roles Miami will have him play in the preseason. Watch him closely to see how he pass blocks, how often he splits out and how much Miami runs him between the tackles. If they view him as a semi-every down back plus a regular target in the passing game, Drake could have value early and often.
Other possibilities: K Taylor – RB – SF, Jordan Howard – RB – Chi, CJ Prosise – Sea, Wendell Smallwood – RB – Phi, Austin Hooper – TE – Atl