Friday - Apr 19, 2019

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TREASURE HUNTING: Hidden Gems

In today’s information age, there don’t really seem to be any fantasy football “sleepers” anymore. Anyone paying attention is probably well aware of that sixth- or seventh-round guy who’s bursting with breakout potential to become a league winner. Instead, I’d like to focus on some guys who have an average draft position (ADP) beyond 100 that may not necessarily carry your fantasy team to a championship, but are certainly capable of providing solid bench depth or spot-starts as injury/bye-week replacements.

Quarterbacks

Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers (ADP 113)

Rivers threw for 4,386 yards and 33 touchdowns last season, and that was without his star receiver Keenan Allen, who was lost to injury in Week 1. The elephant in the room with Rivers’ 2016 stats, however, are the 26 turnovers (21 interceptions and five fumbles lost) that represent a career high. During the offseason, the Chargers barely addressed their defense, which ranked 28th in points allowed last year, meaning the Chargers will probably need to win via shootouts, thus ensuring Rivers throws somewhere around the 578 passes he attempted last season, which was 10th in the NFL. The Chargers are loaded with receiving talent even without 2017 seventh overall pick Mike Williams, who is expected to miss the season’s first six games with a back injury, but could conceivably contribute later on. Rivers can safely be expected to eclipse 4,000 passing yards and 30 touchdowns, however, I would be cautious about choosing him as your starter if your league penalizes heavily for turnovers.

Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys (ADP 116)

Most expect the 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award winner to take a step forward this season after putting up 3,667 passing yards, 282 rushing yards and 29 total touchdowns with only eight total turnovers (four interceptions and four fumbles lost). Those stats quietly propelled Prescott to a QB6 finish in most fantasy leagues, which is almost unheard of for a rookie quarterback who was picked after the first round in the NFL Draft (the closest comparison is Russell Wilson, who finished as the QB11 in 2012.) While many consider Prescott to be a game manager (he ranked 23rd in pass attempts last season) behind Ezekiel Elliott and the run game, Elliott’s six game suspension will force Dallas to rely on Prescott’s arm much more frequently for the early part of 2017. With a formidable receiving corps in red-zone magnet Dez Bryant (leads the NFL in receiving touchdowns since 2012), safety valve Cole Beasley (led the team in receptions last season with 75), Terrance Williams and ageless wonder Jason Witten, Prescott should be considered a serviceable starting quarterback in fantasy who has upside for a Top-10 finish.

Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals (ADP 151)

Palmer is coming off a season in which he posted 4,233 passing yards and 26 touchdowns with 18 turnovers (14 interceptions and four fumbles), finishing as the QB19 (a disappointment considering he finished as the QB5 the year prior.) Palmer’s 2016 passing yardage was actually the second-highest single season total in his career, and Palmer he finished the year as the QB8 over his final eight games. Now, Palmer’s days as a Top-5 quarterback are long over, but with offensive weapons such as dynamic all-purpose running back David Johnson, and a trio of receivers including the venerable Larry Fitzgerald, and speedsters John Brown and J.J. Nelson all ready to go, a bounce-back to the QB10 range could be realistic. It also helps that Palmer’s schedule allows him to beat up on the bottom-feeding Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco twice each, who ranked 22nd and 32nd respectively, in scoring defense last season.

Running Backs

Thomas Rawls, Seattle Seahawks (ADP 93)

I’ll caveat my Rawls write-up by saying his ADP was at 109 when I began this piece, and it appears to be steadily climbing upwards in the days since. Rawls, if you haven’t heard, appears to be the clear No. 1 running back in Seattle over Eddie Lacy at this time. The 2016 season was essentially a lost year for Rawls, after he missed most of training camp recovering from a 2015 ankle injury, then missed seven games due to a leg contusion, and never seemed 100 percent healthy even when he did play. The plethora of injuries led to Rawls posting an abysmal 3.2 yards per carry in 2016, after leading the NFL in that category with 5.6 yards per carry the year before. Now seemingly healthy, Rawls could shoot up draft boards in short order if Lacy’s is either unable to achieve a firm grasp of the Seattle backfield or suffers a setback with his own ankle injury he’s spent most of the offseason rehabbing.

Jamaal Williams, Green Bay Packers (ADP 110)

The 2017 fourth-round draft pick out of BYU appears to have a leg up over his other fellow rookies for the rights to backup projected starter Ty Montgomery. Additionally, Williams’ pass-blocking has drawn rave reviews from the Green Bay coaches, which can only help him see the field more. If Williams can nail down a consistent role in the Green Bay offense, there should be scoring chances aplenty. Just don’t expect Williams to have much involvement as a receiver, as he only totaled 60 receptions through his entire collegiate career which reduces his fantasy value.

Theo Riddick, Detroit Lions (ADP 120)

Riddick is essentially a wide receiver playing running back. Listed at 5-foot-9 and 201 pounds, he is too small to be given consistent carries, as Detroit found that out the hard way last season when Riddick missed six games with wrist and ankle injuries. In the 10 games Riddick did play, he averaged 72.8 combined rushing/receiving yards per game and scored six touchdowns. With Ameer Abdullah and Dwayne Washington both healthy as well, expect Detroit to scale back Riddick’s carries so as not to expose him to injury. That said, if he can make it through all 16 games this season, Riddick could definitely put up a similar receiving line as he did in 2015 (80 catches for 697 yards and three touchdowns,) which would make him a useful asset in deep point per reception leagues. As an added bonus, it’s been reported the Detroit coaching staff expects to utilize Riddick in the red zone more often in 2017.

About Will Weiler

An NFL Red Zone addict and all-around data nerd, I've been obsessed with the NFL and stats ever since I started playing the virtual pigskin game in 2005.