10 Veteran Players You’ll Overlook
Rookies often create a lot of buzz and fantasy drafters love reaching to find the next David Johnson or Odell Beckham Jr on their team. But the experience and familiarity with offensive systems and game speed are major advantages veteran players have over the newcomers. Here are some NFL veterans you may be able to draft at a discount because of the buzz surrounding rookies from the 2016 draft.
1. Demarco Murray – Derrick Henry
Derrick Henry is a trendy rookie running back with a near superhuman combination of size, speed and strength. His highlight reels demonstrate an exceptional ability to create missed tackles in the open field with speed, subtle moves and stiff arms, but Henry struggles where a RB who weighs over 240 would seem most likely to succeed.
Henry is great at falling forward and gaining an extra yard or two, but he struggles breaking tackles and pushing piles especially in the backfield before he develops north-south momentum. Even with the upgrades the Titans made to their offensive line, the lanes that the Alabama offensive line were able to generate will become a lot smaller in the NFL. Henry simply won’t have as many opportunities to break it to the outside or find himself in the open field where he excelled at Alabama.
Most scouting reports also doubt Henry’s abilities as a pass catcher and pass blocker. I think the jury is still out on Henry’s hands and ability to pick up pass protection, but Demarco Murray is still the best option at running back on the Titans roster. Henry will eat into some of Murray’s carries, but Murray should still get the lion’s share of carries and his floor is supported by his well-rounded abilities on passing downs. I would avoid Murray and Henry in the long run, but Murray is the one to target in redraft and best-ball leagues this year.
2. Thomas Rawls – C.J. Prosise
The Seahawks made no attempt to hide their intent to add options in backfield through the offseason and followed up with a third round pick of C.J. Prosise out of Notre Dame. The Seahawks went on and used two more late-round picks to select RBs Alex Collins and Zac Brooks. Prosise’s exceptional ability as a receiver will make him an early contributor in passing situations, but he only has one year of experience in the backfield between high school and college. Prosise has drawn comparisons to David Johnson and he has that sort of upside, but it will take an extensive amount of practice and in-game reps before he’s ready to take on a lead back role. The other two rookie running backs will have limited value even if they see playing time while buried on the depth chart.
The only thing keeping Thomas Rawls from picking up where he left off last year is his recovery from an ankle injury. Right now he’s projected to be available to start the season, but there are a lot of things that can help or hurt his status between now and the regular season making him a risky pick. I would be more surprised if the Seahawks turned to any combination of rookies over signing a veteran like Arian Foster or settling on Christine Michael to open the season. Prosise will have value in PPR leagues this year, but his fantasy value is as a high-upside pick in dynasty leagues. Rawls is still the back to target out of the Seahawks backfield this year, but the margins to make him a worthwhile pick are razor thin.
3. Buck Allen – Kenneth Dixon
Justin Forsett and Trent Richardson are also in the mix for work, but the best part of their careers appear behind them. If Dixon picks up the Trestman offense quickly and improves his pass-blocking, my dynasty and redraft allegiances can easily swing in Dixon’s favor, but my money is on Allen emerging out of a very crowded backfield headed into the regular season.
4. Latavius Murray – DeAndre Washington
Latavius Murray finished as RB11 last year, but he only averaged 13.15 fantasy PPG in PPR leagues. His final ranking was largely the result of playing in all 16 games much like the epitome of the steady, yet unspectacular production Frank Gore achieves year after year. The Raiders took up a search in the off season to add competition to the backfield after being underwhelmed by Murray’s performance and settled on drafting DeAndre Washington in the 5th round of the draft. At only 5’8” Washington often looks like a greased bowling ball with tacklers whiffing on arm tackles and rarely hitting him head on. He has some chops as a receiver, but his size becomes prohibitive when blocking and his catch radius is fairly small. On tape,
Washington looks like a cross between Darren Sproles and Maurice Jones Drew. He doesn’t quite have the receiving chops or quickness of Sproles or the ability to gain the between the tough yards MJD did, but he’s a very good balance. Washington is an excellent selection to compliment Murray, but Murray should still get the majority of work in Oakland. Murray may not get the number of touches that he did last year, but he should take a step forward and improve on his pedestrian 4.0 YPC from 2015. It doesn’t hurt that he has one of the best offensive lines in the league blocking for him.
5. Antonio Gates – Hunter Henry
San Diego Chargers
Antonio Gates has already outlived one heir-apparent in Ladarius Green, but the Bolts spent their third pick in the second round bringing in Hunter Henry out of Arkansas as the next challenger. Henry could have easily taken over as the starter on a more TE needy team, but he’ll have to wait his turn behind the future Hall-of-Famer Antonio Gates.
Henry will get playing time with some targets through the year, but Gates and Rivers have been like peas and carrots for over a decade. Gates may not get the 5 receptions/game that he did last year, but it would be hard to imagine Henry overtaking him as the primary big-body target in the red zone. Henry’s the guy you want in dynasty leagues and as a handcuff to Gates if you’re into handcuffing the 15th TE off the board, but there’s still enough fight in the old dog to justify a late round pick on Gates in redraft and best-ball leagues.
6. Willie Snead – Michael Thomas
New Orleans Saints
After working from the Saints’ practice squad in 2014 to being within a hair of a 1,000 yard season in his sophomore year, Willie Snead gained a lot of attention as a sleeper heading into the 2016 draft. The Saints added to their stacked receiving options using their 47th pick on Michael Thomas from Ohio State who has the size and talent to be a day-one contributor.
The arrival of Thomas probably doesn’t significantly impact Brandin Cooks or Coby Fleener, but it throws a wrench into Brandon Coleman’s path to an increased role with his freakish size/speed and may take away some of Snead’s targets. It looks like the presence of the 6’3” Thomas will have a greater impact on Coleman’s potential as a red zone threat than Snead’s role in the short-intermediate passing game, but it’s a situation worth monitoring. Snead already has an established connection with Brees that should still be a valuable part of the Saints offense in 2016, but he may not improve much from his 69/984/3 stat line in 2015 with Thomas in the mix. Snead is a solid WR5 in redraft leagues and his big-play ability makes him a nice option in MFL10s where he’s being drafted in the 8th round. Thomas is a guy to watch, but he will be fighting for targets in the Big Easy and the window as part of a pass-happy offense led by Drew Brees is narrow limiting his dynasty value.
7. Brandon LaFell – Tyler Boyd
8. Jeremy Langford – Jordan Howard
When I first started writing this article, I knew Jeremy Langford’s projection as Chicago’s lead back was somewhat tenuous, but I couldn’t even remember the name of the rookie running back the Bears drafted. Jordan Howard’s name is now firmly locked into my consciousness. After watching some tape, Howard will be a late-round target on my redraft rosters and he’s behind only Ezekiel Elliott on my rookie RB dynasty rankings. He pushes piles, breaks tackles, catches the ball well, and holds up in pass protection. The only reason Jeremy Langford still has value is because John Fox is notorious for choosing to play veterans over rookies. Langford should get the bulk of the workload early in the year especially during passing situations, but look out if Langford struggles or goes down with injuries. As long as Howard’s health holds up he is going to be special once he gets an opportunity, but it will probably take some time or desperation before John Fox turns to the rookie.
9. Sam Bradford – Carson Wentz
Sammy Biscuits comes into the season as a hot mess, but he may still have some value in two-QB leagues. The Eagles signed Chase Daniel who may not have much upside, but he is familiar with the system Doug Pederson is likely to install as the new Head Coach in Philly. The Bradford-Daniels QB competition would have been interesting, but then the Eagles traded up to get the second overall pick and draft Carson Wentz from North Dakota. Instead of proving his worth in a competition by throwing the football, Bradford choose to throw a fit that appears to have run its course. Wentz has all the physical tools you want for a QB, but he comes to the NFL out of Division-1AA.
It’s tough to project what happens here, but I think Wentz is going to get a little overwhelmed by the speed of the NFL and Daniels is just not the guy leaving Bradford early in the season. As soon as Bradford gets hurt or struggles, the door is wide open for Wentz if he can get accustomed to the speed of the NFL.
10. Robert Griffin III – Cody Kessler
Cleveland BrownsCorey Coleman as the first wide receiver off the board. To add to the mad-science project going on in Cleveland, the Browns used a third-round pick on quarterback Cody Kessler out of USC. Kessler wasn’t a QB high on many scouting reports which made the pick a bit surprising, but Hue Jackson seemed confident in Kessler’s fit in a re-purposed organization.
Despite the pick, RGIII should be the quarterback to own for 2015. He already had a breakout year as a rookie in Washington before injuries and drama knocked him off his franchise savior pedestal. It is hard to piece together what the Browns are cooking up, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Coleman and RGIII are Baylor projects. To compete in the AFC North, the Browns are going to have to put points on the board with using a ton of youth on the offensive side of the ball. I think the Browns use a short-intermediate passing game with shifty WRs that relies on reads similar to Baylor’s which plays directly into RGIIIs game. RGIII is going undrafted right now so there is no risk to taking a shot with him. If Hue Jackson and company can get him to 90% of what he was as a rookie, he’ll provide a great return.
Bonus: Christian Hackenberg – Ryan Fitzpatrick?
New York Jets
Aside from the top three quarterbacks in the draft, the rest of the rookie QB class came with major reservations including Christian Hackenberg who was taken by the Jets with the 51st pick in the draft. Hackenberg exploded as a freshman for the Nittany Lions, but his production fell off a cliff with the arrival of a new coaching regime. It’s impossible to gage Hackenberg’s ceiling as an NFL QB from his up and down time in college, but Ryan Fitzpatrick has had career years with the Bills and the Jets while coached by Chan Galley. I would be shocked if the Jets and Fitzpatrick fail to come to terms, but then again I really thought they would have a deal done before the draft. Either way, Fitz-Magic is still the best option at QB to lead the Jets to another playoff run. Ohh yeah, there’s Geno Smith too-whatever.
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