One of the most difficult aspects of dynasty fantasy football is identifying players before they break out and rise to fantasy superstardom. Unfortunately, this skill is also one of the most crucial to the success of any dynasty team.
In many cases, these players can be drafted or acquired at a very reasonable price, in relation to your expectations. A year ago, I targeted Josh Gordon as the one player I wanted to buy before he was being valued among the top players in the game. That one worked out for me, but we all have those gut calls that don’t pay off. No matter how it works out in the end, you have to be willing to take chances on players you believe in. Those risks have never been greater than this season. Coming off a season that saw both Gordon and Alshon Jeffery blow up at the wide receiver position, along with tight ends Jordan Cameron and Julius Thomas come into their own, dynasty owners are more willing than ever to take a chance, and early chance, on the next big thing.
The player featured in today’s Pick Six are already being valued as fantasy starters, some of them are even being drafted among the top ten at their respective positions, despite the fact that they have accomplished very little in the NFL. If you’re in a dynasty startup draft, or even in an already established dynasty league and looking at these players as targets, just know that you’ll have to pay the price for these lottery tickets.
Note: All ADP data comes from DynastyLeagueFootball.com (July).
Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a $100,000 Fantasy Football Contest for Week 1's games. It's only $10 to join and first prize is $10,000. Starts Sunday, September 7th at 1pm ET. Here's the link.
1. Montee Ball, RB DEN
In 2013, the Denver Broncos seemed intent on giving rookie runner Montee Ball some early season snaps. Through the season’s first three games, he averaged eleven touches per game, but unfortunately, he also lost two fumbles in that span. We all know there’s nothing a coach hates worse than a player who can’t hang onto the ball.
Of course, Ball found himself stuck on the bench while veteran Knowshon Moreno dominated the backfield touches. In fact, Moreno enjoyed the best season of his career and his first with over 1,000 rushing yards. Although Moreno looked the part of a star, his contract was expiring and everyone seemed to point to the effectiveness of Peyton Manning and the passing game as the main cause for Moreno’s impressive play.
As expected, Moreno is now out of town and Ball is the presumed new starter in town. Based on the rest of the Broncos’ running back depth chart, this is a safe assumption. Also, even though Manning is a year older, there’s no reason to expect the passing portion of the offense to slow down, meaning Ball will not be the focus of opposing defenses.
Dynasty owners are already treating Ball like an established star, even though he only had less than 600 yards last season. Ball is currently being drafted as the RB10 in dynasty leagues, well ahead of established veterans such as Marshawn Lynch, Arian Foster and CJ Spiller. He’s even eclipsed some fellow young starting backs like Zac Stacy and Andre Ellington.
I love Ball as a short-term play, and for the most part, that’s how I view all running backs in dynasty leagues. As long as Manning is throwing to Demaryius Thomas and the other excellent pass catchers on that team, Ball should have open running lanes.
2. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR MIN
Another player who got off to a slow start in their rookie season of 2013 was Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. As Patterson entered the league, all anyone could talk about was his athleticism, which was evident both on game film and even at the NFL Combine workouts. The other label Patterson earned was “raw.” After just one season of major college football, was Patterson ready for the NFL? The answer early on appeared to be a resounding no. Patterson was not starting for the Vikings and didn’t catch more than three balls until Week 12. His first touchdown came in Week 10.
Patterson was showing off his dazzling ability in the return game though, as he routinely eclipsed 100 yards in kickoff returns, running two kickoffs back for scores. Patterson had a nice volume based game in Week twelve, hauling in eight passes against the rival Packers and then two weeks later, exploded for over 140 yards and a touchdown. For dynasty owners, that was Patterson’s coming out party. He finished the season with a hot month, catching 15 passes for over 200 yards and three touchdowns. Just as exciting for fantasy players, he proved to be a valuable asset in the running game, with an additional 129 rushing yards in that four game span.
As I mentioned, dynasty owners were looking for their next Josh Gordon, and many of them pegged Patterson. As early as January, he was being drafted as a top 20 player overall in dynasty startup drafts and he’s maintained that value throughout the off-season, even though, like Ball, he has less than 600 yards from scrimmage.
Personally, I’m a believer in Patterson. In fact, I like to think that I am the first fantasy player to ever draft Patterson, which happened in a developmental league before he even suited up for the Tennessee Volunteers. Anyway, with a new quarterback in rookie Teddy Bridgewater and a new offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, expectations are high for Patterson, and I don’t think he’ll disappoint.
3. DeAndre Hopkins, WR HOU
Yet another second year player with some high expectations entering year two is Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, affectionately called Nuk. Unlike the others on this list, Hopkins actually began his rookie year on a tear. Hopkins caught 18 passes for 243 yards and a game-winning touchdown in the first three games of his career. Those 18 grabs accounted for 37% of his season total, while the yardage represents 30% of his season total. He would only catch one more touchdown, even though he played all 16 games. It seems that Hopkins hit the rookie wall a few weeks early. Of course, the overall struggles of the Texans’ offense could be to blame as well.
This off-season, the Texans said goodbye to the head coach and their longtime quarterback, Matt Schaub. The bad news is they don’t really have a replacement. It appears veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick will hold down the job this season, though rookie Tom Savage could draw a look at some point too. This off-season also gave us a harsh reminder that top receiver Andre Johnson may not be long for Houston at this point in his career. While it appears that the Texans have no plans to trade Johnson, as he requested, there is a chance this will be his final year with the team. If Johnson is gone, and the team finds an upgrade at quarterback through the draft or free agency, as they’re expected to do, Hopkins could see a nice spike in value, but that could be a year away.
Currently, Hopkins is being drafted as the WR20 and the 41st player overall. While he is a solid fourth round pick in a startup draft, all information we have points to another inconsistent year. I’ll be waiting until Hopkins has a disappointing game and his team is again headed for a top five pick before I try to acquire the Texans’ wide receiver. The price should be even lower then.
4. Ladarius Green, TE SD
San Diego Chargers tight end Ladarius Green is the only player on this list that’s not entering his second year. Green played sparingly in his rookie season of 2012, which was no surprise since he’s sitting behind future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates. 2013 provided more opportunity for the athletic freak and that was just enough to make dynasty owners drool. Green only had 17 receptions on the season, but totaled nearly 400 receiving yards and three scores.
Local beat writers have already projected that Green will at least double his production from a season ago, placing him on target for 34 catches for 734 yards and six touchdowns, making him a borderline TE1 in PPR fantasy leagues. While it’s impossible to accurately project his 2014 stats, it is fair to expect a big increase. After all, Gates is 34 years old and entering his twelfth season. Other than Keenan Allen, Green is the only real playmaker the Chargers have.
In the introduction, I mentioned the breakout seasons of tight ends Julius Thomas and Jordan Cameron and just like dynasty owners are looking for the next Josh Gordon at receiver; the next fast big bodied tight end is the prize at the bottom of the cereal box. That craze has caused Green to come off the board as the TE6 according to July ADP data. Obviously, that means dynasty owners are counting on him.
5. Tyler Eifert, TE CIN
Although tight end Tyler Eifert came into his rookie season second on the depth chart behind veteran Jermaine Gresham, expectations were still high for the former Golden Domer. The Bengals of course feature AJ Green as their top receiver, but the identity of the second pass catcher was unknown. Instead of Eifert claiming that spot, receiver Marvin Jones stepped up with a 700 yard and ten touchdown season.
Eifert’s season totals of 39 catches, 449 yards and two touchdowns were good enough for just TE26 in PPR leagues and now he’s being drafted as the TE10, the 95th overall player, in startup dynasty drafts.
The tight end tiers can be difficult to evaluate. Obviously, the top two of Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski are firmly cemented, and most would agree that the second tier consists of Thomas and Cameron. Following those four is where things get very interesting and dynasty owners are faced with a tough choice. The third tier is very deep and arguably ranges from Jordan Reed as the fifth tight end drafted down to the mid to late teens, with players like Charles Clay and Martellus Bennett still being counted on as fantasy starters. Based on this, it can be argued that Eifert is being drafted in the correct spot, the middle of the third tier. I’m just not convinced he’ll pay off that ADP in 2014.
6. Christine Michael, RB SEA
One of the most hyped and most discussed players of the off-season has been Seattle Seahawks backup running back Christine Michael. Michael is another sophomore who did next to nothing in his initial season. In fact, Michael tallied only 18 touches and less than 80 total yards on the season and was routinely pegged as a game day inactive, playing behind starter Marshawn Lynch as well as Robert Turbin.
So, what’s changed for 2014? Well, nothing. While rumors of Lynch’s eventual release, combined with his training camp holdout have sparked the Michael fire, there is little reason to believe Lynch will lose his starting job in 2014. The off-season reports have been glowing when it comes to Michael and his progression, but those often seem to fade when the pads come on. Michael was an exciting runner in college, but never outright earned the starter’s job and never had a 1,000 yard season.
There have certainly been reasons for optimism though. Michael has drawn praise for his work ethic and attitude and there have even been reports of a running back by committee this year. While he will almost certainly see many more carries than he did in 2013, Michael is unlikely to pay off on his current ADP of RB17 and 48 overall this season, but that is why we play in dynasty leagues. Taking a player like Michael and being willing to sit him on your bench for an entire season with hopes of a major payoff a year down the road is a decision that many dynasty owners have made this season. Until the Lynch rumors really ramped up, Michael’s dynasty ADP was very consistent in the 57-61 range. If and when Lynch does get his walking papers from Seattle following the 2014 season, Michael’s value will skyrocket.