Very Deep Sleeper: D.J. Chark (2019 Fantasy Football)
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I could’ve chosen another Jaguars wide receiver to write about here. Chris Conley is a deep sleeper for 2019 as well, and he’s worked his way into a potential starting role because of his talent and personal connection with Nick Foles. Conley is going to be better than his current No. 96 WR ranking in FantasyPros’ consensus. He’s a possible value WR3 this season, perhaps as Foles’ go-to guy right out of the gate. I believe in Conley’s upside, but I’ve written about him before in the Very Deep Sleeper series back in July 2017 … and before that in August 2016. I’ve made my case, and it may finally come to fruition in 2019.
I’m also pro-Keelan Cole and made him one of my only rookie ‘Very Deep Sleeper’ write-ups in 2017. He then had a shocking season of output, rising from the UDFA ranks to fantasy rosters late in the season, but I’m not sure what his role will be in this offense. I’m hopeful for Cole, but I’m not seeing a connection yet with Foles when watching them in training camp.
The one guy who has flashed big moments in the preseason, along with Conley, is second-year wide receiver D.J. Chark.
On one hand, many will read this and say, “He’s not much of a deep sleeper. He was a second-round draft pick just a year ago!” I would counter that, regardless of his draft stock, most still don’t really, fully believe in Chark. There are too many logical reasons to look right past him:
- He didn’t catch anyone’s attention in college; three TDs was his season-high at LSU.
- He plays for Jacksonville, which is a boring offense for fantasy.
- You barely have room to tolerate Dede Westbrook as a fantasy option, so why would anyone care about a second-teamer on the current depth chart?
- Plus, you don’t like Foles because every football analyst in the world — the same people who told you how great Blake Bortles was — said how terrible he was a few years ago, and you won’t let that go.
A ghost during his college career, Chark was drafted to one of the least interesting NFL passing offenses. He’s working with a perceived “bad” quarterback (Foles) and may not be a Week 1 starter. Why should anyone care?
I’m going to attempt to convince you that Chark is not only radically undervalued, but that he is a potential NFL #1 wide receiver. I’ll also warn you that it might not happen until weeks into the 2019 season. We may even have to wait until 2020. Yet I think there is a chance Chark can manifest quicker than anyone expects, possibly as a Week 1 starter.
And I’m not pushing Chark as a surprise who has some useful moments of WR3 viability. No, I’m pitching that Chark shows #1 wide receiver traits and has legitimate WR1 hopes.
To make this case, we have to go through a D.J. Chark history lesson.
Few really cared about Chark during his LSU days. Despite the fact he was their top wide receiver talent, he was hard-pressed to put up any numbers for fans and scouts to get excited about. We all worship Marquise Brown, in part, because of his college output, but he got to work with Baker Mayfield and then Kyler Murray in his last two seasons. It’s easy to get noticed working with two of the all-time great college quarterbacks. Chark played at LSU, where I think the forward pass has been outlawed for several years. During his senior year, the team averaged only 13.8 completions for barely over 200 passing yards per game.
Chark deserved a better platform, but LSU couldn’t provide it.
I was introduced to Chark at the 2018 Senior Bowl. I was told he was this “sleeper” athletic receiver who might be able to make an NFL roster someday. He was tracking as a fifth or sixth-round pick at the time. I watched some brief preview tape and thought “meh.” There wasn’t much to study of Chark in action. He looked promising, but his quarterback could barely get passes downfield. Chark had an impressive week of practices, but that’s said of a lot of guys in Mobile, Alabama.
It was after Senior Bowl practice week ended that three things got my attention, leading me to realize there was more to Chark than scouts realized.
1) He entered the actual Senior Bowl game — an All-Star exhibition filled with bad quarterback play and miscommunications between receiver and passer, and constant rotations and low stat lines for the receivers — and took it over. Chark walked in, as a backup, and scored on a 75-yard catch-and-run TD right away. He went on to post five catches for 160 yards and a TD and was named the game’s co-MVP.
It wasn’t just one lucky moment at the Senior Bowl; Chark went out in the bright lights and took over. It sent all the scouts, including me, scrambling. Chark was suddenly every scout’s favorite “sleeper” WR prospect for the 2018 NFL Draft, which happens every time someone has a sweet moment at the Senior Bowl. I’ve scouted several Senior Bowl practice weeks and the game itself and have filed reports on prospects for dynasty rookie drafts for several years now. I’ve never seen a wide receiver take over that normally disjointed All-Star affair like Chark did. He was like a lightning bolt the moment he entered the field.
2) At the subsequent 2018 NFL Combine, everyone’s new favorite sleeper measured in at 6’2″ and 199 pounds. He then proceeded to run a 4.34 40-yard dash. Suddenly, he was no longer a sleeper.
NFL Combine and Pro Day numbers can be wearisome to read about as they are haphazardly (mis)used as a weapon to prove a case, so it feels like every other WR prospect runs in the 4.3’s now. However, consider that in the last decade, I saw four WR prospects at the Combine who ran a 4.30-4.39 40 time, stood 6’2″, and posted a vertical leap greater than 37.0″ (Chark put up a high-end 40.0″). Those four players: Chark, Stephen Hill (first-round pick, NFL bust because he couldn’t catch), D.K. Metcalf, and Julio Jones. Chark received the least amount of draft attention of this group for his stellar Combine. Again, his weak college numbers couldn’t get fans (and analysts) totally excited beyond labeling him a sleeper.
3) After I saw the Senior Bowl event and Chark’s NFL Combine workout, I began my studies and analytics calculations on the 2018 draft class’ top WR prospects. When I studied Chark, I had to really dig because there wasn’t much to work with. However, the more I watched, the more I saw a real wide receiver lurking.
My initial thought was Chark was a tall, fast guy having a moment. But when I really watched more of his targets on tape, I saw him working like a real #1 wide receiver. He could run routes and make tough catches all over. He wasn’t just a fast guy going deep. Only the anemic LSU passing game kept him from filling up a highlight reel.
When you combine real NFL receiver skills with 6’2″, 4.3+ speed, and a 40″ vertical, you should get excited for fantasy — especially when he’s on sale for his second season as the ECR’s 88th-ranked WR.
Jacksonville did get excited and made him the 61st pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. However, that was just more bad luck for Chark. First, he worked with a terrible passing game at LSU. Now, he was going to an even worse passing game in the pros with Bortles (hey, remember when everyone told you he would be a star?). His typical awful self in 2018, Bortles was so bad he got benched for the even worse Cody Kessler. How could any Jags receiver progress in that environment? It kept Chark hidden, but he had a better rookie season than you might think.
Chark played as a sparsely used backup Weeks 1-4 last season. In Week 5 versus Kansas City, he had his first NFL moments. He recorded two 30+ yard catches, and not easy catches against a zone or prevent defense. This was Bortles lofting awful prayers and Chark having to make Allen Robinson-type plays to fight off defenders, adjust, and make contorting catches. Two weeks later, he had four catches against Houston and four more the following week against Philly. Then he started becoming the lead kick returner in Week 10.
Things were beginning to look up for Chark mid-season, but then he hurt his quad and missed Weeks 11-16. He lost all his momentum. It was a shame, as Chark was starting to make some noise on the worst passing game in the history of football (while that may not be statistically accurate, my eyes insists it’s true). He also started returning kicks. He was a key gunner on the punt cover team. How many top draft-pick wide receivers are thrown into punt coverage?
Tall with long arms and a 40″ vertical, Chark has a #1 wide receiver’s body. He has high-end speed in the 4.3s. He runs crisp routes. He can go deep or work over the middle. He has really good hands. He’s tough — a special teams warrior. He’s a grinder harking back to his LSU days with some elite body and athleticism profiles, making him the perfect unicorn prospect for old-school coaches (or any coach).
Now, all Chark has to do is crack the starting lineup and shine. It seems like every time he gets the chance to perform as a receiver, he does. He did at the Senior Bowl. He started flashing for the Jags last season. He’s eventually going to “get it” as an NFL wide receiver, and when Chark locks in experience-wise as an NFL craftsman, a #1 wide receiver and possible fantasy WR1 is just sitting there waiting to pop. All he has to do is get past Conley or Cole to earn a starting flanker spot, and then he’ll seize the day like usual. Just like that, a receiver who is off the grid today is a potential keeper and fantasy starting mainstay in a few weeks or months.
The more 2019 camp tape I watch from Jacksonville, the more I see Chark working first-team.
It might take a few weeks into 2019. But it might become evident to one and all, including Doug Marrone, in the preseason. Although he might not fully break out until 2020, there’s a case to be made that this “pop” is coming starting Week 1 of the 2019 season. The price for a ticket to see if it does costs almost nothing.
Watch this short highlight reel from Chark’s 2018, and note: It ain’t easy tackling D.J. Chark either.
2019 Very Deep Sleeper series (Season 4), so far:
- (S4, E1): Darren Waller (TE – OAK) – Link: VDS 2019 Darren Waller
- (S4, E2): Chris Warren (RB – OAK) – Link: VDS 2019 Chris Warren
- (S4, E3): Matt LaCosse (TE – NE) – Link: VDS 2019 Matt LaCosse
- (S4, E4): Daniel Brown (TE – NYJ) – Link: VDS 2019 Daniel Brown
- (S54, E5): Phillip Dorsett (WR – NE) – Link: VDS 2019 Phillip Dorsett
Look for more of my team’s NFL Draft scouting reports, measurables, and weekly updated dynasty rookie rankings before and after the NFL Draft, right up to the beginning of the new NFL season at College Football Metrics. See our NFL/fantasy analysis all year ’round at Fantasy Football Metrics.