Fantasy Football: Risks Worth Taking Late In Your Draft

by Nicholas Cicale (@nickcicale)

On Thursday, I posted a column that talked about the idea of “drafting with hindsight,” an exercise that is meant to help identify high upside plays that may be going too early in the draft, and where projections might stand in the way of common scenes. While picking the right guys with upside could really help elevate your team, by missing on one in the opening rounds, you put yourself at a massive disadvantage from the start.

If you’re going to draft with hindsight in the six rounds or so, it’s nice to utilize the last few picks of your draft on players you think can vastly over perform their draft position, thus giving you a potential edge at the back end of your roster. This is where I want to draft rookies that could break out, players who could see an expanded roll at some point in the season, or historically proven players coming off an unexpectedly bad season.

In this column I’ve listed a few of the guys at each position I would target late. I think the guys on this list have an outside shot at performing much more than their draft-day value, however, it’s very possible that you drop them from your team after a week or two due to lack of performance. Therefore, I just to make sure everybody understands, these are guys I would ONLY take in the final round or two of a draft. I wouldn’t take them any earlier because of their huge bust potential, and wouldn’t want to have to start any of them on day one.

Quarterbacks

Carson Palmer (ESPN QB23/Round 14, Yahoo QB26/Round 14)

There are currently 22 quarterbacks being drafted in ESPN leagues, which seems like a lot to me, and leaves very few promising prospects in the free agent pool. There are guys like Robert Griffin III and Andy Dalton down in the undrafted section who have been top 5 QBs before, but they aren’t people I’d want to waste a roster spot on. Instead, I would just keep an eye on them early in the season to see if there’s a chance of a come back. However, the last QB being drafted at all is Carson Palmer, and he does have a nice ceiling.

Palmer only played in six games last season, so he’s obviously an injury concern, but he was surprisingly good in those games. In the five full games Palmer played before tearing his ACL, his average points per game placed him as a top 5 quarterback option. I definitely don’t expect him to put up those kinds of numbers again–he’s an older quarterback so a small decline was possible naturally–and after such a devastating injury he won’t be as sharp as he was, but despite the risk, a top 10 finish is definitely in the realm of possibilities.

If the first 12 QBs or so are off the board already, I like Palmer’s upside better than that of Teddy Bridgewater, Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler and both rookies for this season.

Running Backs

David Cobb (ESPN RB54 /14th Round, Yahoo RB51/14th Round)

This is more a lack of enthusiasm for Bishop Sankey than a vote of confidence for David Cobb. Sankey is being drafted as Tennessee’s lead back (ADP 111 on ESPN), but nothing is set in stone. Sankey was absolutely atrocious last season, and Cobb (ADP 135) could surpass him in the preseason and be the starting running back from day one. Even if the Titans are stubborn and roll out Sankey week one, Cobb has the tools to be a lead back, and would make a great stash for the first few weeks until Sankey inevitably struggles. Evan as a starter, I don’t think Cobb has top-10 upside, but he’s got a lot more to offer than Sankey, and a clearer path to start than most of the backs going this late.

Reggie Bush (ESPN RB51/14th Round, Yahoo RB39/12th Round)

Even in a complementary role with Detroit last season, Reggie Bush was drafted around the third round. Now, one season later, his roll really hasn’t changed all that much. I know he’s with a new team and people are excited about the idea of Carlos Hyde getting more work in San Francisco, but Bush wasn’t all that bad in 2014. He missed five games, obviously a concern, but he also had some useable games mixed in there.

He’s a boring guy to draft, for sure, but to get a guy in the 14th round or later this year who was a consensus top 40 pick this time last year is pretty cool, especially if you don’t 100 percent trust Hyde. Again, not that much has changed in a year, and I think you’ll know pretty quickly in the season if he’s worth your time or not.

There are plenty of running back handcuffs that will be available at the end of the draft and after, but the three guys below have a chance to really produce if things break right.

Cameron Artis-Payne (ESPN RB68/Undrafted, Yahoo RB55+/Undrafted)

Jonathan Stewart is the clear starter in Carolina, and will get most of the running back work, but he also has a long history of missing time with injuries, and it would be a miracle if he got through the season without missing a game or two or three or four… Artis-Payne is a fast rookie who could fill in nicely as a starter, and would be a viable fantasy option when Stewart isn’t available. Out of all the handcuffs in football, he has the best chance to start a handful of games

James Stark (ESPN RB69/Undrafted, Yahoo RB55+/Undrafted)

James Stark will only be useful is Eddie Lacy gets injured and misses time (definitely not as sure a thing as it is with Artis-Payne), but Stark can fill Lacy’s shoes with little drop off in production. Out of the entire group of pure running back handcuffs in football this season, Stark is the guy with the most to offer. If he were the starter from day one, he would likely be a top 10 RB by season’s end.

Lance Dunbar (ESPN RB74/Undrafted, Yahoo RB55+/Undrafted)

Lance Dunbar deserves a look in most PPR leagues just because of the uncertainty in the Dallas backfield and the strength of their offensive line. Darren McFadden is washed up, and Joseph Randal is unproven, so it isn’t impossible to think Dunbar gets an expanded roll at some point this year. Plus, he’s already the best of the three when it comes to pass catching.

I would take a chance on any of the guys listed above instead of Monte Ball, Fred Jackson, Terrance West, Jay Ajayi, and Andre Williams, who are going around the same time, or earlier in drafts.

Wide Receiver

Pierre Garcon (ESPN WR52/14th Round, Yahoo WR46/12th Round)

Pierre Garcon was kind of terrible for fantasy in 2014, and so was Washington’s quarterback situation. Garcon has also had injuries in the past, so he clearly has his downside. However, just two seasons ago he caught 113 passes for 1,300 yards. Chances are, 2013 is the outlier, but to use the same point I did with Reggie Bush earlier, Gacon was a fifth round pick this time last year, and is now going in the 14th round, if at all. I think it’s worth taking a flyer.

Brian Quick (ESPN WR59/15th Round, Yahoo WR68/14th Round)

The Rams receiving corps is extremely underwhelming, however Brian Quick looked like a breakout star to start 2014, with 48 points through four weeks in standard scoring. Like the rest of the team’s offense, he slowed down the next two weeks, and then was lost for the season in week 8. Again, this is a pick that could amount to nothing, and I have him projected to finish just inside the top 45 for wide receivers, but he’ll have the opportunity to be productive again this season. If he starts the season as hot as he did last year, you’ll be thrilled with the results.

Stevie Johnson (ESPN WR66/Undrafted, Yahoo WR72/15th Round)

This one I don’t understand at all. Stevie Johnson is a great ball player, and just joined the best offense he’s ever been a part of (and it isn’t even close). With Eddie Royal now on the Bears, and Antonio Gates missing four games with a suspension (and who knows how many more he’ll miss with injuries), the Chargers have a vacancy for a redzone threat and someone to work the seams, something Johnson should be able to fill.

His last season on the Bills, Johnson played injured and on a bad team, and last season the 49ers didn’t use him as a primary target. Before that, he was consistently a top 25 receivers, and he has a shot at doing it again.

Brandon Coleman (ESPN WR80/Undrafted, Yahoo WR73+/Undrafted)

Brandon Coleman is getting hyped in Saints camp as a Marques Colston clone, and for good reason. He’s a massive and physical receiver, standing at 6’6”and 225 pounds, and he was an undrafted free agent this season, where Colston was picked in the seventh round back in 2006. And like Colston in his rookie season, Coleman finds himself joining an offense with loads of fantasy potential, but that’s also in need of a receiving threat.

Coleman represents the ultimate boom or bust commodity late in the draft. He could follow Colston’s footsteps, as an unheralded rookie that dominates from day one, but he could also get zero catches this year. I’m projecting him to get just less than 100 fantasy points this season, but there are plenty of passes to go around in New Orleans, and somebody on the Saints will over perform. Why not Coleman? For a pick in the final round, especially in a keeper or dynasty league, it could be worth the chance.

I would draft these receivers over Doug Baldwin, Eddie Royal, Donte Moncrief, and Malcom Floyd.

Tight End

For a position that usually doesn’t product many big hitters, tight end is pretty fascinating. There are the obvious four or five guys at the top of the list, and then everything after that is up in the air. If you miss out on one of the top end options this season, it’s probably safe to wait to the very end of the draft to fill the spot. The tight ends drafted between 6-20 are a mix of guys with some promises but a ton of questions (Zach Ertz, Jordan Cameron, Julius Thomas types), and consistent producers with low ceilings (Jason Witten, Delanie Walker). It’s a crapshoot picking which will perform well this year. That being said, there are a few I think deserve your time more than others.

Vernon Davis (ESPN TE14/13th Round, Yahoo TE19/14th Round)

Vernon Davis had an abysmal 2014, just like the rest of San Francisco’s offense, but last year he was drafted in the first six round of drafts, compared to round 13 this year. And before 2014, he had been a perennial top 10 TE when healthy.

When I look at Davis’ numbers, the most telling thing to me is after 2013, when he posted career high numbers in yards per catch (16.3) and touchdowns (13), he had only 2 touchdowns and dropped all the way down 9.4 YPR, both career lows in 14 games. He’s on the wrong side of 30, and Colin Kaepernick’s stock as a QB has gone down each of the last two seasons, but Davis has had some down years in the past and always bounces back. Those numbers from last year, especially the TDs, should neutralize at least a little, making him a potential bargain this late.

Coby Fleener (ESPN TE17/14th Round, Yahoo TE13/13th Round)

Five games with 10 or more points (two of which came when Dwayne Allen was still on the field) and one game with 24 points led Colby Fleener to finishing 2014 as the sixth best fantasy tight end. Fleener was surprisingly consistent all year, and performed really well when Allen missed time. When both TEs are on the field for Indy, Allen will probably be the more reliable option, but Allen has clear injury risk, and I wouldn’t write Fleener off.

Josh Hill (ESPN TE18/14th Round, Yahoo TE20/14th Round)

The hype train was out of control early this year when Jimmy Graham was traded, and people just copied and pasted his numbers into Josh Hill’s projection. For obvious reasons, that won’t happen, but now I think people have recalibrated a little too far in the other direction.

Hill doesn’t have the physical tools Graham has, so he won’t be breaking off big plays, but he is a big body in a historically pass-happy offense in need of playmakers and a redzone target. He almost certainly won’t be posting Graham’s yard totals, but he’s capable enough to grab 10 or more touchdowns, and maybe 50 balls. He could be Zach Sudfeld from a few years back, and do nothing the first few weeks. If that’s the case, you know to drop him and take a chance with someone else, but he’s got top 7 or 8 potential.

Charles Clay (ESPN TE20/Undrafted, Yahoo TE21/14th Round)

The Bills invested a lot in Clay this offseason, and they have the type of quarterbacks who tend to rely on tight ends a lot. It would be a huge waste of money for the Bills not to feature Clay somewhat in the offense, and just two seasons ago he broke out as TE7. Last year’s numbers weren’t nearly as impressive, but he was still a solid receiver on the field and had a few productive moments in fantasy. If the Bills use him the right way, he could be the steal of the draft

I think these tight ends are worth more of your time than Owen Daniels, Tyler Eifert, Eric Ebron, Heath Miller, Jared Cook, and Antonio Gates.

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