Don’t Get Too Comfortable
A large percentage of focus during your preparation for upcoming drafts has been on determining which players appear destined to capture significant roles for their teams in Week 1. That is understandable. However, there are others who have not been accorded the same amount of enthusiasm, but will stimulate far greater interest during the regular season. These players are candidates to garner expanded workloads as the year progresses. Some will even pilfer starting slots.
Unfortunate injuries are going to derail some players after the games begin, and simultaneously present others with opportunities to thrive once they attain more prominent roles. We will avoid discussing players whose only avenue toward collecting more touches is for the unquestioned starter to suffer an injury. Because telling you that Cameron Artis-Payne will acquire increased value if Jonathan Stewart is jettisoned from the lineup is not overly beneficial to those of you who have been diligently preparing to assemble your rosters. Instead, the current backups mentioned in this article have the ability to be effective, regardless of how they are provided with an opportunity to perform.
If you are searching for analysis on promising young players that should ascend into prominence before mid-season, this should be helpful. It contains a forecast of training camp battles. Including a breakdown on why Sammie Coates should elevate beyond Markus Wheaton to procure a starting slot for the Steelers, and how Kenneth Dixon should garner a substantial percentage of the workload that will be allotted to Baltimore’s burgeoning options at running back.
Which clears this space to focus on five other candidates who could become significant contributors for resourceful fantasy owners, before the regular season advances beyond the halfway point.
Seahawks | Running Back[the_ad id=”63198″]One of the most compelling discussions this summer has involved the running back situation in Seattle.
As the health of Thomas Rawls, and the stability of his hold on the starting position has fueled an ongoing debate. Rawls ignited considerable interest when he bolted for 830 yards on 147 attempts (5.6 YPC) between Weeks 3-13. His impressive display of proficiency appeared to signal the arrival of a newcomer who was fully capable of helping owners navigate through the fantasy postseason. Then, he suffered a devastating ankle injury in Week 14, and the prolonged recovery from surgery tempered earlier sentiment that he could perform as a highly productive RB1 this season. As months progressed, and uncertainty regarding his health lingered, the value of Rawls versus other Seahawk rushers became a raging topic.
Speculation grew when the Seahawks employed the 90th overall selection in the NFL Draft to secure C.J. Prosise, then utilized a fifth round selection on Alex Collins, and a seventh round pick on Zac Brooks. Those would not appear to be the actions of a team that is steadfastly committed to the concept of Rawls being the starter. Prosise is currently dealing with a hamstring strain, which could propel either Collins, or the perpetually disappointing Christine Michael into an expanded role during Seattle’s preseason matchups. However, Prosise should ultimately become the primary threat to Rawls in the battle to perform as the feature back. Which is not to disparage the talent of Collins, but instead serves as an acknowledgment of the multi-faceted threat that Prosise will pose to opposing defenses. His aptitude and comfort level as a receiver will be bolstered by his vast experience in that capacity while at Notre Dame. However, his capabilities expand well beyond what he can accomplish as a third down back. He has the versatility to run efficiently between the tackles, and is capable of cutting back through defenders to launch big plays. Rawls’ protracted recovery appears to have ended, which diminishes the likelihood that Prosise will pay owners immediate dividends. But he possesses enough talent to induce Seattle’s decision makers to thrust him into the Seahawk lineup regardless of Rawls’ status.
Redskins | Wide Reciever
Rookie wide receivers who possess exceptional talent sometimes are supplied with a clear pathway toward quickly attaining an expanded role within their new team’s offense. Amari Cooper serves as just one example, as he immediately became a starter for Oakland, after being the first wideout selected in the 2015 NFL Draft. Josh Doctson earned that distinction in this year’s draft, when Washington secured his services with the 22nd overall pick. However, the route toward achieving a significant role with the Redskins this season is cluttered with obstacles in the form of proficient veterans already in place to garner targets from Kirk Cousins. DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon will open the year as starters, while Jamison Crowder has proven to be effective in the slot. Jordan Reed’s career best 2015 season including a team-high 114 targets, and he could easily lead the team in that category again. So where does this leave Doctson? He will now contend with superior coverage than he encountered during his collegiate career. However, the 6′ 2″ Doctson has the dependable hands and route running ability to succeed once he is allotted snaps. Redskin GM Scot McCloughan would not have employed a first round pick if he didn’t believe that Doctson would provide a boost to the team’s aerial attack. His explosiveness will be unnecessarily wasted unless he is on the field, as will his potential as a big target for Cousins. His workload won’t be massive at the onset of the season. Especially since his Achilles injury has delayed his progress. But even though there are far worse starting wideouts than Garcon, it is conceivable that he will eventually be surpassed by Doctson on Washington’s depth chart. Plus, if DeSean Jackson is suddenly reduced to the spectator status due to injury, that would lift Doctson into a larger role. Regardless of the circumstances that elevate him into the lineup, his eventual value is worth believing in when you reach the latter rounds of your drafts.[wlm_nonmember]
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Colts | Running Back
Frank Gore is the unmistakable starter at running back for Indianapolis. He is also 33-years old, averaged just 3.7 YPC in 2015, and failed to reach 1,000 yards for the first time since 2010 despite garnering the NFL’s fifth highest number of attempts (260). He has now carried the ball over 2,700 times since joining the league in 2005. Gore has also accrued the second most career attempts among active players, and could become the leader in that category this season. It does not require an active imagination to visualize potential roadblocks that could prevent Gore from duplicating last year’s considerable workload. Which would provide another Colt rusher with the opportunity to accumulate fantasy points should ailments, ineffectiveness or other issues prohibit Gore from remaining in the lineup. Indy’s depth chart does not initially contain any enticing names. But once you progress beyond Robert Turbin and Jordan Todman, it becomes apparent that 5’10”, 200-pound rookie Josh Ferguson has an indisputably clear path toward becoming an integral part of the Colt offense this season. The speedy Ferguson’s ability as a receiver should convince Indy’s coaching staff to deploy him in that capacity. However, his quickness and acceleration also supplies the team with a level of explosiveness that will be sorely needed from the backfield. This is not to suggest that Ferguson is going to become a workhorse, or be utilized as an inside runner. But he is capable of providing owners with sufficient production to justify inclusion on your rosters. Keep Ferguson in mind late in your drafts. As I believe that he has a better chance of making significant contributions to the Colts and fantasy owners then several other rookie backs who have received more notoriety.
Eagles | Running Back
As Philadelphia’s fifth-round draft selection, Smallwood has elicited less discussion then a handful of other rookie rushers. But conversation intensified after theoretical starter Ryan Mathews’ recent ankle problem. Because Smallwood’s involvement within the Eagle offense is largely predicated upon the health of Mathews, whose track record includes a recurrent pattern of injuries. He has successfully navigated through an entire 16-game schedule exactly once during his first six seasons, while missing 23 games during that span. He should garner most of the workload if he can remain on the field, since the concern with Mathews is always less about ability and more about durability. But if he abruptly becomes unavailable, Smallwood can inherit a sufficient number of running back touches. As his involvement within the offense is more dependent upon the health of a teammate than any other player that is discussed in this article.
He would share the workload with Darren Sproles, who was allotted 138 touches last season, averaged 115 per year from 2012-2014, and will maintain a regular role in the Eagle offense. But he won’t exceed his recent level of usage, as the 33-year old is simply not going to become an every down back. That would enable Smallwood to emerge as a factor in Doug Peterson’s attack, and establish himself as a viable fantasy commodity. The 5′ 10 ” rookie is less hesitant about taking on would-be tacklers then most backs his size. Plus, he should be proficient at providing the Eagles with a receiving threat from the backfield. Making him a feasible candidate for an expanded role if he is given the initial opportunity.
Giants | Running Back
While it may seem as though 93 different backs are battling for touches with the Giants, there are actually just six. Which is a number that is far more unwieldy than owners prefer to see. Perkins is part of a contingent that includes Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen, Andre Williams, Orleans Darkwa, and Bobby Rainey. All in competition for a share of the Giants’ overall distribution. Last season, Jennings, Vereen, Williams and Darkwa combined for 380 carries, with Jennings easily leading the way with 195. He also paced the Giants with a career-high 863 yards, and averaged 4.4 YPC. Both Jennings and Vereen also registered snap counts just above 38%, which was significantly higher than the other rushers. However, the Giants appear inclined to eliminate last year’s convoluted approach, in favor of one back receiving a large percentage of touches. It is fair to remove Williams, Darkwa and Rainey from consideration for any substantial role in Big Blue’s attack, while Vereen will be utilized strictly as a potential target for Eli Manning. Leaving Jennings and Perkins as the most reasonable options for extensive usage. Beat writers have identified Jennings as that clear-cut starter, and the concept of the 31-year old beginning his seventh season as the team’s workhorse has quelled the narrative regarding Perkins as a sleeper candidate. Which is absolutely the perfect time for you to keep him in your radar as a potential draft day target. Other backups… particularly rookies… are now generating more buzz then Perkins, whose current ATP of 186 relegates him to Breshad Perriman -Austin Seferian-Jenkins territory. But the 5’ 10” Perkins brings much-needed elusiveness to the Giants’ ground game, and his ability to leave defenders clutching air should elevate his stock with the coaching staff as the weeks advance. His talent is still abundant, and Jennings’ resume hardly exudes confidence that at this point in his career, he can fluidly seize the mantle as a reliable feature back. All of which should compel you to avoid losing sight of Perkins’ potential to help your roster. Even as Jennings begins the year collecting the majority of touches.[/wlm_ismember]