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All Systems Go: 5 Young Players Ready for Launch in 2014

rsz_wide_receiver_-_markus_wheaton

Whether it’s good news or bad news, news is always helpful in the world of fantasy football because it allows us to update our expectations. The way I see things, there are two different types of news related to the NFL Draft. The first type is explicit news. Take Bishop Sankey for example; this is the classic case of a team with a need choosing a player that fills that need–Abracadabra!–Bishop Sankey is a must-know rookie for Fantasy Football 2014.

The other type of news that comes from the draft is implicit. This is where we pay attention to who teams DID NOT draft and use it to make inferences about players already on the roster. For example, by NOT drafting a quarterback early, the Tennessee Titans sent the implicit message that Jake Locker is their starting quarterback in 2014. This article is about five young players whose future looks much brighter without additional competition on the roster.

1) Markus Wheaton, WR, Steelers

I seem to remember a lot of people thinking the Steelers would draft a (big) wide receiver early, but that didn’t happen, which means it’s go time for 2013 draftee Markus Wheaton. Emannuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery are gone, so the second-year receiver should have the starting job opposite from Antonio Brown. If you’re not familiar with him, check out this comparison group for him, which was created based on the Phenom Index, size and draft position. Speed score and college yards per game are what differentiates this group and, I think, paint a positive picture about Wheaton.

WRDraftOverallNCAA Career Yds/GHeight(in)Weight(lbs)Speed ScorePhenom INDEX
Markus Wheaton20137966.57118996.41.46
Stedman Bailey20139282.57019392.51.63
Greg Jennings20065284.371197103.21.54
TY Hilton20129272.170183100.41.50
Chris Givens WF20129630.271198110.61.50
Steve Smith20075165.672197101.41.45
Vincent Brown20118270.77118778.01.43
Jarius Wright201211859.97018298.01.43
Craig Davis20073050.473200105.81.38
Kendall Wright20122080.17019696.41.36
Eddie Royal20084249.47018499.11.29

Even though he’s a smaller guy, at least five or six of his comparables have had nice careers. Greg Jennings or TY Hilton probably represent the upside, but names like Kendall Wright and (healthy) Steve Smith would be solid outcomes too. All of those guys have top 30 fantasy seasons on their resume and several have top 15 seasons. In redrafted leagues, Wheaton is going as the WR50 right now, which probably represents his floor. Keep an eye on him this summer, as the price tag will probably rise as word gets out.

2) Levine Toilolo, TE, Falcons

Future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez has retired and, with the Falcons not selecting a tight end in the draft, it looks like Toilolo is the man for the job in 2014. Probably the first thing to be excited about is his height (6’8) and his touchdown prowess. On 10 career college red zone targets, he caught four touchdowns. Small sample? Yes. Interesting sample? Definitely. Despite having a massive frame, Toilolo posted a strong weight-adjusted agility score, which bodes well for his ability to contribute in the passing game. And did I mention that he has the second best Phenom Index score of the 2013 tight ends, ahead of both Tyler Eifert and Zach Ertz? Now, consider that he’ll benefit from having Julio Jones and Roddy White to pull coverage away from him and free up the middle of the field. All of this is becomes even more delightful when you consider that his redraft ADP is outside the top 20 TEs.

3) Marlon Brown, WR, Ravens

Marlon Brown came out of nowhere last year to catch two touchdowns in the first two games en route to seven touchdowns for the season. Although Torrey Smith is entrenched as a starter, the rest of the Ravens’ WR depth chart is murky (sorry, 35 year old Steve Smith). Ozzie Newsome didn’t draft any high-end reinforcements, which seems like a reasonable move considering the 6’4 Brown was above league average on a per target basis. If you use this awesome new tool to research quarterback efficiency by receiver, you’ll also see that Brown was the second most efficient Raven’s receiver last year, trailing only Torrey Smith. On a per-game basis, Brown was the 45th ranked fantasy receiver last year, but currently sports an ADP outside the top 60. That seems like a nothing-to-lose price tag for a 6’4 receiver who caught seven touchdowns in 14 games as a rookie.

4) Gavin Escobar, TE, Cowboys

The Cowboys still have Jason Witten, so maybe this is more of a dynasty play, but take a look at Witten’s yards/target over his career and see if you agree that Father Time is catching up:

jason witten efficiency

Witten peaked in 2005 with 8.6 YPT, but was down to 7.1 in 2012. He had a little bit of a rebound in 2013, but it was still his second least efficient year since 2005. All of this is to say that it’s time to pay attention to his heir apparent, Gavin Escobar. The second-year tight end has the highest Phenom Index score of the 2013 TE class, and it’s really not even close. He also has a fantastic weight-adjusted agility score, which bodes well for his ability to contribute in the passing game. If you’re worried about James Hanna, don’t be. Escobar is younger, was a much higher draft pick and was far more efficient on his targets from Romo.  For reference, he’s being drafted as the 39th TE in startup drafts. Buy low.

If you want to do your own research on player trajectories, play around with this NFL Career Graphs app.

5) Charles Johnson, WR, Browns

If you watched the entirety of the draft and took a drink every time the commentators said “is this where Cleveland takes a receiver?” you probably wouldn’t be alive to read this article. Undoubtedly one of the most puzzling things (to most people) about the 2014 NFL Draft was that the Cleveland Browns didn’t take a receiver despite knowing about Josh Gordon’s impending suspension. The message here? The Browns think they have players on their roster who can play. Who might those players be?  I might suggest that Charles Johnson could be the next Miles Austin or Marques Colston. He’s a small school prospect with one of the most fascinating profiles you’ve ever seen. I’m not saying that he can come close to replacing Josh Gordon, but I’m saying that we should follow him closely all summer.

A note on Brock Osweiler, QB, Broncos

Again, this is more relevant for dynasty leagues, but, with regards to life after Peyton Manning, the Broncos appear to be committed to Brock Osweiler. Denver is one of the best run organizations in the league and if John Elway thinks (and Peyton Manning presumably agrees) that Osweiler is the heir to the throne, we should be paying attention too.


Jon Moore is a contributor at RotoViz and a coach at RotoAcademy.  Continue this conversation with him on Twitter or Google+.

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