The NFL Draft will soon be upon us, with the league welcoming an injection of new and exciting talent into its midst. But even with all of these shiny new toys that teams will soon be dying to play with, fantasy owners would be wise to remember that there are still a host of veteran players that can be valuable fantasy assets in the coming year.
This is especially true when looking at players who missed a chunk of last season due to injury and are set to return to action in the new year.
With this in mind, I present three such players who, according to current FanBall ADP, seem to be afterthoughts for fantasy owners heading into 2019. This oversight should allow the savvy drafter to quietly add them to their roster, and enjoy the considerable return on a low-risk investment.
The players looked at herein all landed on Injured Reserve early last season, though at different times of the year. Without further ado, let’s take a look at these returners, and see why I think they are currently late-round steals.
It’s been so easy to write off Delanie Walker during his time with the Tennesse Titans. But the fact is that his run with the team from 2013 to 2017 saw him emerge as one of the most productive tight ends in the entire NFL.
|Walker 2013 – 17||TOTAL||Rank among TEs|
To put his production into further context, here are the four players who have produced at a similar level to Walker over the same period.
Walker missed all but one game in 2017 due to a broken ankle. He finished with four receptions for 52 yards in his single outing. His absence, combined with a litany of his own health issues, contributed to Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota enjoying a mostly dreadful season. In fact, it was the worst season of his career. This stood out against the first three years of his time in the NFL like a red wine stain on a white tablecloth.
Mariota has seen his production suffer whenever he has been without Walker over the course of the last four seasons. He lost about 30 yards and half a touchdown per game whenever Walker was out of the lineup.
In the absence of Walker, the Titans TE duties fell to Jonnu Smith and Anthony Firkser. Firkser reeled in an impressive 95 percent of his targets. But this only translated to 19 receptions for 225 yards on 20 targets. Smith was a disappointment and averaged less than 20 yards per game.
Recovering from a broken ankle at his age would make a Walker comeback something to behold. He missed an initial target of being healthy enough for offseason workouts. He still has no timetable for a return to full health. However, assuming he is able to get healthy, his current best ball ADP of TE15 makes him a tempting proposition late (very late, in fact) in drafts.
We’ve seen how important he is to the production of Mariota. He’s entering a “make or break” season at the helm of the Titans offense, after all. There is also the fact that Walker’s old position coach, Arthur Smith, is now the Titans OC. Walker’s days of being among the leaders at the TE spot are probably done. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be a consistent producer at a position in which simply scoring a touchdown can put a player among the weekly leaders.
After years of almost being ignored on the Chiefs offense, many were pleased with the prospect of Albert Wilson becoming the guy in an NFL offense. Granted, that offense was the Dolphins, but still. Wilson started his time with the Dolphins quite well, despite demonstrably not being the guy. Through seven weeks of the 2018 season, he was the WR25 in PPR scoring. His comps for those first seven weeks contain some interesting names.
The highlight of the season was his performance against the Bears in Week 6. Wilson finished with 33 fantasy points, thanks to his 155 receiving yards and two touchdowns on nine receptions. Sadly, Wilson would play only one more game in 2018, after suffering a hip injury in Week 7. He still finished fourth on the team in receptions and yards. Only Kenny Stills (six) and Kenyan Drake (five) scored more receiving touchdowns for the Dolphins.
Wilson is on track to be ready for training camp, as he continues to work his way back towards 100 percent health. His return doesn’t seem to have attracted the affections of too many best ball drafters, with a current ADP of WR57. However, there is a host of reasons why he should be able to outperform this ADP. His efficiency last season is one such reason. His truncated 2018 campaign did see him lodge higher fantasy points per pass route run mark than any other WR in the NFL (0.78). He was second in terms of fantasy points per target (2.77).
The Dolphins offense will have a slightly different feel to it in 2019, now that Adam Gase is gone. In his stead is former Patriots assistant coach Brian Flores, with Chad O’Shea calling the offense. Like Flores, O’Shea comes from the Patriots. They enjoyed some success featuring their slot receiver over the years. Julian Edelman was eighth in the NFL last season with 8.8 fantasy points per target from the slot.
There are many of the same cast of characters around from last year, namely Stills and surprisingly DeVante Parker. But Wilson should offer new QB Ryan Fitzpatrick something of a safety blanket. This will come in handy, especially if Fitzpatrick can fight the urge to hurl YOLO balls downfield to Parker. Fitzpatrick averaged 8.71 adjusted yards per attempt when targeting Adam Humphries with the Buccaneers over the last two seasons.
A full season of healthy production from Wilson could see him flirt with WR2 production, although a WR3 floor is probably closer to the able outcome at the time of writing. Either way, his current ADP is a numerical error in my opinion.
Is there a player for whom the small sample trap is more pronounced in the entire NFL than Jimmy Garoppolo? Following his five-game stint at the helm of the 49ers offense at the end of 2017, we had to be wary of projecting a small sample size over the course of a season. And now, a year later, we are in an almost identical situation, after Garoppolo’s 2018 campaign was ended after just three games.
The hype surrounding Garoppolo last season got far too out of hand far too early, with his ADP of QB11 seeing him going off boards before more established signal callers like Phillip Rivers and Matt Ryan, not to mention eventual league MVP Patrick Mahomes. And all after a mere five starts in 2017. At the time of writing, drafters are not quite so sanguine on his hopes, with 20 QBs being selected ahead of him.
Garoppolo managed five touchdowns in his three games last season, with a scoring rate of 5.6 percent. This was a significant increase from his 3.9 of a year earlier. However, he was also sacked on 12.7 percent of his dropbacks. The 49ers allowed a sack on 8.3 percent of their dropbacks in total. This will have to be cleaned up if Garoppolo is to make any noise.
Garoppolo should also benefit from a fully fit and healthy George Kittle, who took the NFL by storm last season, despite playing with fractured ribs for a large chunk of the year. The 49ers are expected to upgrade their WR corps in the draft, giving additional weapons to Garoppolo alongside Kittle and Dante Pettis. Pettis was in the top ten in terms of yards per receptions (17.3) and per target (10.4) last season. He showed flashes of burgeoning chemistry with Garoppolo … albeit, of course, on small sample size.
Kyle Shanahan QBs have averaged just a tick over 300 PPR points a season during his time as an NFL OC or head coach, at an average of 18.8 points per game. Now granted, this number is bolstered by two amazing seasons by Robert Griffin in 2012 and Matt Ryan in 2016. But it is worth mentioning that 18.71 fantasy points per game in 2018 were good enough for QB12.
Garoppolo still has a long way to go to convince people that the 49ers were right to invest so much money in him based on so little actual production. But if they can protect him, and he can retain the chemistry he began to develop with his weapons at the beginning of last season, then he could be something of a steal this year. His current ADP makes him a player that is likely to begin the season as a streaming candidate. But he could end up so much more than that.