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Now or Never: 5 Players on the Brink in 2014

In the wake of the NFL Draft, most people get excited about the explicit news related to certain players and situations. No, I’m not referring to curse words and lewd conduct, when I say explicit news I’m talking about situations like Bishop Sankey to the Tennessee Titans. 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. This is the sort of obvious conclusion that everybody is talking about right now. What I find to be more interesting is the implicit news associated with what teams didn’t do in the draft and what that means for the players already on their rosters.

Two weeks ago I wrote an article called All systems go: 5 young players ready for launch in 2014 that looked at young players who benefited from their team’s decision to not draft any high-end talent to compete for their position. The article you’re reading now features another kind of player who benefited from the draft; these are the guys who have have at least two NFL seasons in the books, have under performed and seemed like good bets to be replaced in the 2014 Draft. Alas, the five players you’re about to meet were not replaced in the draft and have a new lease on life for 2014.  They represent low-cost options who are under serious pressure to produce this year or risk being out of a job.

Jake Locker, QB, Titans

No, really, hear me out.  I have never been a Jake Locker fan, but I am intrigued for three reasons. First, when I wrote this article about Nick Foles surpassing Andrew Luck, I was shocked to find that Locker’s completion percentage, TD:INT ratio and Adjusted Yards per Attempt through 21 career starts were all better than Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton and Ryan Tannehill. The other thing that surprised me was how often Locker has been hurt. If he could actually get through a whole season, maybe there could be something to see. To that point, consider that the Titans have invested heavily in their offensive line through free agency and the draft and could be one of the league’s best. Finally, check out this AYA App which shows Locker’s efficiency when throwing to different targets in 2013:

Jake Locker AYA

Gone are his least efficient targets, Washington and Britt, which means more targets should be directed to Kendall Wright, Delanie Walker and the highly efficient Justin Hunter.  Add in an improved rushing attack and a new coach and maybe 2014 is finally the year when Locker realizes his first-round potential.

AJ Jenkins, WR, Chiefs

One of only seven prospects to join the 50-50 club in his final college season, AJ Jenkins early struggles in the NFL have been a complete mystery since he was both a metrics darling and highly regarded by scouts (see: he was drafted in the first round). There was hope that he might become a useful piece for the Chiefs in 2013, but that didn’t materialize either. So why am I writing about him now? For starters, despite his early struggles, he still compares favorably to some of the most highly coveted receivers of the past two off-seasons. Then there’s the fact that the Chiefs didn’t draft a receiver. Finally, consider this blurb about Donnie Avery.  I’m not saying, but I’m just saying…

Donnie Avery candidate to be released

Sam Bradford, QB, Rams

Believe it or not, through the first seven games of the 2013 season, Sam Bradford was among the league leaders in touchdowns.  No, he wasn’t Peyton Manning, but he was right there with fantasy stalwarts Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford.

Sam Bradford TD through 7

In fact, before he got injured, he posted three 3-touchdown games, which was second most behind only Peyton Manning. No, Bryan Fontaine’s 50 touchdown prophecy didn’t come true, but Bradford was showing signs of life in 2013. Fast forward and now he has a stud running back and an elite new offensive lineman to help ease his burden. Oh, and the Rams have a lot of interesting receiving threats for him to target. Granted, he plays in the toughest division in football, but I have always been a believer in Bradford and the fact that he’s getting another chance makes me think the Rams believe in him too.

Stephen Hill, WR, Jets

There are some players I just cannot quit and Stephen Hill is one of them. Why? The main reason I’m obsessed with his upside is because he has the second best Freak Score ever behind only Calvin Johnson. I know he’s been bad in his first two years with the Jets, which is why he landed on the AYA Red Flag Team, but similar to me, the Jets don’t seem ready to move on either. Yes, they signed Eric Decker, but despite being a potential landing spot for a premier receiver prospect, the Jets waited until the fourth round to take one (Jalen Saunders) who is not a threat to Hill’s position. If there’s one last reason for hope (or misery) it’s that he has the 10th best Phenom Index score of the last decade. Come on, Stephen Hill, don’t let me down in 2014!

Adrien Robinson, TE, Giants

Once labeled “the Jason Pierre-Paul of tight end prospects” for his freakish athleticism, Adrien Robinson has spent the last two years doing almost nothing for the New York Giants. How freakish is he? Consider that his explosion score (vertical jump + broad jump) of 174.5 is the third best score of more than 600 wide receivers and tight ends in my two databases, despite weighing 264 pounds  Only Justin Hunter and Calvin Johnson have better explosion scores and both are more than 25lbs lighter than Robinson.  So why should we be optimistic? Despite many rumors to the contrary, the Giants did not draft a tight end in the first round or any round of the 2014 Draft. If Robinson can capture the starting TE role in the Giants new offense (utilized in a similar way as Jermichael Finley) then he could be the breakthrough tight end of the 2014 season. Either that, or he’ll be out of the league in the next 18 months. Bottom line is that the upside and opportunity are too much to ignore.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to read the precursor I mentioned in the intro: All systems go: 5 young players ready for launch in 2014.

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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