If you cut Kenyan Drake last year, I’m here for you. After barely seeing the field as a rookie, Drake totaled just four carries and five targets in his first six games of 2017. Buried third on the depth chart in a Jay Cutler offense, things weren’t looking great. If he was not on your waiver wire already, he could’ve been had for a late-round pick.
At the same time, maybe it was a little early to bail on a guy who had been the 73rd pick (3rd running back) in the NFL Draft just a season ago? A guy whose only real failure to that point had been getting onto the field? Apparently so. Jay Ajayi was traded, Damien Williams was injured, and Drake emerged as a second-half star.
Highly touted players don’t always pan out, but there’s usually a reason they were highly touted. When the hype dissipates and the price drops, they make good buy-low targets. Mining for post-hype sleepers such an important part of dynasty leagues, so with dynasty season in full swing, I’m going to highlight a few players who were once highly touted prospects but for whatever reason-injury, situation, bad luck-haven’t yet panned out. But they’re not dead yet.
To be clear on what you won’t be seeing…I like Patrick Mahomes quite a bit, but no one expected anything from him in 2017, so he hasn’t had the post-hype price drop. I like Marcus Mariota and Corey Davis to rebound in a post-exotic smashmouth era, but ranked 8th and 18th in dynasty ECR at their positions, they’re not really sleepers. And there are plenty of veteran bounce-back candidates for 2018, but they’ve already established themselves as fantasy assets. The goal is to dig through the bottom of the barrel and unearth guys who’ve been prematurely left for dead. Let’s get to it.
Bridgewater was a popular breakout candidate until his knee exploded right before the 2016 season. By the time he got back to the field over a year later, Minnesota had found not one, but two replacements.
Before his injury, the former first rounder was a smart, highly accurate quarterback on the rise despite a pretty bad supporting cast (remember when Charles Johnson was a thing?). In a best-case scenario, he re-takes the job in Minnesota flanked by two of the best receivers in the league and pushes QB1 territory. This isn’t the most likely scenario, but the job is more open than it may appear after Keenum’s strong 2017. There was a steady drumbeat about replacing Keenum throughout the season, and plenty of chatter since then about bringing in Kirk Cousins.
Bridgewater’s contract status is still up in the air (the NFL will determine whether his injury tolled his contract), but I’d guess he finds a new home in 2018. No matter where he lands, he can be valuable in two-quarterback leagues and can help as a streamer in shallower formats.
I know what you’re thinking, but the first step to being a post-hype sleeper is to move past the hype. We’re there. Two years ago Moncrief was the next breakout star, propelling him to the 4th round of fantasy drafts. He finished as WR71. Last year the price was cheaper but the results largely the same: he finished as WR80.
After busting two years in a row it’s safe to write Moncrief off, but he hasn’t really failed on the field. In 2016, Moncrief suffered an early-season shoulder injury followed by that limited him to just nine games and 56 targets. He still caught seven touchdowns. In 2017, he was catching passes from Scott Tolzien and Jacoby Brissett. No one did anything in that offense except T.Y. Hilton, and even his numbers were way down. It’s possible Moncrief just isn’t that good, but it’s also possible he’s just had some bad luck.
There are reasons for optimism. Moncrief wasn’t just hurt in 2016, he was misused. Despite his freakish speed (97th percentile speed score, per PlayerProfiler.com), Moncrief ranked just 86th in air yards while posting 10 yards per catch. Keeping an athlete like that close to the line of scrimmage made no sense. The Colts finally figured that last year. Moncrief jumped all the way up to 12th in air yards in 2017 while bumping up his yards per catch to 15.0, a career high. Unfortunately, you may not have noticed the improvements as just 66% of Moncrief’s targets were catchable last season (94th in the NFL, per PlayerProfiler.com).
It’s unclear whether Moncrief will be back with the Colts, but if he is he’ll return to a vastly improved situation from a season ago. If not, perhaps a change of scenery will do him good. He’ll only be 25 years old when the 2018 season kicks off, so there’s still time for him to fulfill his potential.
I’m lumping them together because they have similar stories. First round picks in the 2016 NFL Draft. Second options behind target hogs. Flashes of potential limited by injuries. It’s questionable calling either sleepers as they remain the 30th and 35th receivers by dynasty ECR, but I thought they were worth mentioning because as high-upside guys you can buy low on.
Fuller’s case is pretty simple. He’s been really good when not injured, and I’ll always bet against the “injury prone” label. Nor should you worry about DeAndre Hopkins gobbling up targets; Fuller’s a home run threat who will never need big volume to be a fantasy contributor. Talk up the injuries, the target share, the touchdown regression, the uncertainty with Watson’s ACL…maybe you can steal him for cheap.
Coleman’s a tougher sell, with worse production to date (just 718 yards on a paltry 42.7% catch rate) and a worse quarterback situation. Like Fuller, he also faces volume concerns as the number two while Josh Gordon is healthy. Still, he came into the league as a project…throw in two fluke hand injuries and the worst coach in football, and of course, he’s gotten off to a slow start. I’ve vowed to own no Browns while Hue Jackson is involved, but I’m tempted by Coleman’s potential.
(If you’re wondering why not Josh Doctson as well-he’s older, playing with a quarterback who hates wide receivers, with a coach who might hate him, and hasn’t done as much when on the field.)
A waiver wire “league winner” in 2016 and mid-round “league winner” in 2017, Dixon has spent most of his career hurt and/or suspended. The only time he’s made it to the field was in a timeshare with Terrance West during his rookie season, taking 88 carries for 382 yards and two touchdowns while adding 30 receptions for 162 yards and a score through the air.
Alex Collins‘ emergence last season means Dixon has been forgotten, but I think that’s a mistake. The only thing Dixon has failed at is getting onto the field. That matters, obviously, but it doesn’t say anything about his ability if he can just get an opportunity. Dixon was a prolific producer in college, totaling 72 touchdowns and nearly 4500 rushing yards (5.6 YPC) in four years. He has good lateral quickness (excelling at both the three-cone drill and shuttle at the combine) but also runs with power. As he showed in college, he can be especially potent near the end zone. The skills that earned the “league winner” label in successive years-they’re still there, as far as we know.
Playing time is a concern-have the Ravens soured on him after two years of injuries and suspensions?-but the depth chart is more open than it appears. Collins was great in the latter half of 2017, but we’ve seen plenty of second-half breakout running backs go poof the following season. Danny Woodhead is 33 and has missed 22 games over the past two seasons. The Ravens hate Buck Allen.
I still think Dixon has RB1 upside. That’s not the most likely outcome, of course, but with such a low price tag he’s worth the gamble.
When the Jaguars drafted Leonard Fournette 4th overall last year it was a not so subtle hint that they were moving on from their 2015 second round pick. Dynasty owners have clearly moved on as well: Yeldon ranks 59th among running backs in dynasty ECR.
I think his prospects are a lot better than that heading into 2018. Chris Ivory is reportedly all but gone, leaving Yeldon the clear backup. That’s a valuable role. Fournette was injury prone in college and was on the injury report pretty much his entire rookie year. I usually ignore past injuries as an indicator of future injuries, but in Fournette’s case, this isn’t just a narrative. He gets a ton of carries and has a bruising style inviting contact…he’s always going to be an injury risk.
I think we also prematurely labeled Yeldon a bust. He struggled bigly in 2016 when the Jaguars offensive line was terrible and Blake Bortles was worse. But he bounced back well in 2017 behind a revamped offensive line, running efficiently in limited carries (49 carries, 5.2 YPC) and remaining a weapon in the passing game (31 receptions, 7.5 YPR). In the three games Fournette missed, he filled in nicely, averaging 12.7 PPR points (h/t RotoViz Game Splits App).
He’s not a star on the verge of a breakout, but I could see a scenario where Fournette goes down and Yeldon becomes an every week starter like Collins did in 2017.
McDonald was put in a tough spot for 2017, being shipped to Pittsburgh right before the season began. That didn’t leave him with much time to learn the offense. Throw in a midseason ankle injury and he never really had a chance to establish himself with his new team, playing over 50% of the Steelers’ snaps just once: their final, meaningless game of the season.
Then came the playoffs. After accruing just 24 targets all season, McDonald received 16 targets in the Steelers’ loss at Jacksonville, catching 10 for 112 yards. He won’t be getting double-digit targets all season, but that playoff game showed the former second rounder’s potential.
We’ve seen those flashes before, we just haven’t seen it for a full season. At the same time, when should we have expected it? He didn’t do much his first two seasons, but most tight ends don’t. His third season was spent toiling on the 3rd worst passing offense in the NFL, yet he still managed to emerge in the 2nd half of the season. He was having a breakout with Colin Kaepernick under center in 2016 before an injury ended his season prematurely. Then the trade. For one reason or another, McDonald has never been in quite the right situation to succeed.
Now he is. With a full off-season in Pittsburgh, McDonald may finally fulfill his potential.