NFL draft position dictates early career fantasy scoring, but looking for prospects with elite college production is the best way to find bargains and players who will outscore draft expectation. Sure, it may take a while for some of those players to emerge when the deck is stacked against them, but we can afford to be patient with our final roster spots.
This trio of hyper-productive rookies may not even be selected in deep rookie drafts – and they’ll likely go off the board for $1 in auctions – but you want to stash them in formats with 30-plus roster spots and keep them on your priority watch list in other leagues.
Phillip Lindsay – Denver Broncos
If I told you that Lindsay was so unappreciated that he turned in back-to-back 1,700-yard seasons and wasn’t even invited to the NFL combine, you’d probably be a little insulted on his behalf, but that doesn’t even begin to describe his college dominance at the University of Colorado. The author of a 53-catch, 17-TD season in 2016, Lindsay backed that up with 1,474 rushing yards in 2017. He finished his career with 4,859 yards from scrimmage, 117 receptions, and 39 TDs.
And he absolutely carried Colorado.
Several years ago, Matthew Freedman developed the Workhorse Metric to help scout fringe RBs, and Lindsay finished No. 2 in that category in 2016 before leading the way last year. But that might not even be the best way to really sum up his contribution.
Blair Andrews recently built on the Workhorse Score by developing Backfield Dominator Rating, a metric that helps us understand a player’s rushing and receiving role at RB. Lindsay ranked No. 1 in 2017 with a score of 98.0. The next closest player was Vanderbilt’s Ralph Webb at 81.3. Ito Smith is one of our favorite sleepers, in part due to his impressive 79.8. Ronald Jones (76.0) and Rashaad Penny (75.9) are the top two stars from this rookie class, and Saquon Barkley checks in at an impressive 70.4, but there’s a gap the size of the grand canyon between Lindsay and everyone else.
By advanced metrics or raw production, Lindsay is a monster as Jordan Hoover explains:
He ranks third among all active players in career all-purpose yards and 11th in career yards rushing. He’s also been a consistent producer in the passing game, averaging 2.3 receptions per game throughout his career. Lindsay is also just the 15th player since 2000 to record multiple seasons with at least 1,200 yards rushing, 14 TDs, and 20 receptions.
He also enters an interesting depth chart for an undrafted rookie. While we’ve been banging the drum for the undervalued Royce Freeman, he hasn’t played an NFL snap. Former fourth-round pick Devontae Booker has disappointed in his short career, and second-year long shot De’Angelo Henderson rounds out an unproven cast. Freeman may have landed himself the perfect situation, but if he fails, the home state star could go from unwanted to key cog faster than anyone expects.
Cedrick Wilson – Dallas Cowboys
While almost all of the attention has been on new teammate Michael Gallup and the wonderful opportunity on a wide open depth chart in Dallas, Wilson matches him stride for stride in the production department. After a sterling stretch at Coffeyville Community College, Wilson transferred to Boise State for his final two seasons. After debuting with over 1,000 yards and scoring double-digit TDs in 2016, he jumped to 1,511 receiving yards as a senior. He also gained more than 800 yards on returns.
Those numbers are almost identical to Gallup’s, but Wilson was more explosive with a 19.0 to 15.3 edge in yards per catch.1 His 42 percent market share of Boise State’s receiving yards also gave him a small edge in Phenom Score, and he compiled those numbers against a more difficult schedule.
The difference in draft position obviously carries the day here – probably the result of Gallup’s better weight/speed combination and superior Freak Score – but Wilson is an inexpensive way to play the Cowboys WR position if you’re concerned about the rising costs for the Colorado State star.2
Deontay Burnett – Tennessee Titans
Burnett wasn’t nearly as productive as Lindsay or Wilson, but age adjustments make him extremely interesting. The youngest wide receiver in the 2018 class, Burnett led USC in receiving yards (1,114) and TDs (9), despite the presence of senior Steven Mitchell and two highly touted youngsters in Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman Jr.
Sam Darnold threw for over 4,000 yards, so Burnett’s market share numbers were only solid (31 percent Dominator Rating). But that was enough to push him near the top of the rankings for the 2018 Phenom Index. Only D.J. Moore, the top prospect in the class by a wide margin, and FCS gem Justin Watson were better.3 Moreover, Gallup, Christian Kirk, and James Washington are the only big name prospects even in the vicinity.4
Burnett fell out of the draft after struggling with a hamstring injury during the offseason, failing to perform at the combine, and running a 4.7 pro day 40 at far less than 100 percent. His size/speed profile at 186 pounds doesn’t appear NFL caliber, and you certainly shouldn’t grab him over bigger names based solely on his Phenom Score. But Burnett does find himself in an interesting situation with the Titans.
Corey Davis struggled through an inefficient rookie season. He’s still a clear buy but has a lot to prove in his second season. The same could be said for Taywan Taylor, a big time college producer who was mostly buried as a rookie. Rishard Matthews fills out the roster as a solid veteran presence, leaving RotoViz crush Tajae Sharpe to battle a host of undrafted players for the final roster spots.
A year from now we could be talking about Marcus Mariota supporting two 1,000-yard receivers in Davis and Matthews, or we could be discussing it as an obvious location for Burnett’s emergence, similar to that of former UDFA Robby Anderson with the 2017 Jets.
Patience May Be Required
I’ve been stashing these players on my taxi squads in Kitchen Sink and other deep leagues. In regular formats you’ll want to keep them on your watch list and pay close attention. Later round and undrafted players take longer to break out, but they can be very inexpensive sources of fantasy production when they do.
Also be sure to read: NFL RB Age Curves, Breakout Rates, and Failure Rates
Need more of the best sleepers? Try 3 UDFA RB Sleepers to Watch
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- Yards per reception is an important indicator in projecting NFL receivers. (back)
- And talking about inexpensive: Wilson wasn’t selected in either conference of the four-round HyperActive drafts and went for $1 in my division of Kitchen Cinco. (back)
- I’m not including Antonio Callaway who gets the benefit of a younger age by getting himself suspended last year. (back)
- Calvin Ridley, Courtland Sutton, Anthony Miller, and Dante Pettis trail far behind. (back)