Earlier this week, I took a look at three little known players from the AFC generating some column inches this offseason. With that in mind, it seems only fair that we offer a similar spotlight to three men from the NFC.
These players are not superstars by any stretch. But they have caught the eye of their coaches and/or beat writers in the last few weeks. They likely need a lot of things to go wrong in order to become fantasy relevant. But if this ever-changing world has taught me anything, it’s that anything can happen in the NFL. You never know, you may need to call on one of these guys at some point in this coming season. You’ll be glad you caught their names.
The Eagles have been proactive in making changes to their running back corps this offseason. Firstly, they sent a late-round draft pick to the Bears to acquire Jordan Howard. Then, they spent a second round pick on Penn State back Miles Sanders. Sanders will be sitting out minicamp as he deals with a hamstring injury. But even when he is healthy he and Howard do not project as being able to fulfill a need that the Eagles have had since Doug Pedersen became the head coach. Namely, a reliable pass-catching option out of the backfield.
Filling a Need
Since 2016, the Eagles have targeted their RBs 292 times, the eighth lowest total in that span. They have been rewarded with the seventh fewest receptions, 210. Granted, the Eagles haven’t exactly been blessed with a plethora of strong options out of the backfield.
Jay Ajayi has also chipped in with 15 receptions for 111 yards and a touchdown.
Of the new guys, Sanders finished his college career with 32 receptions for 193 yards. Howard’s struggles as a pass catcher are well documented, even though Eagles coach Duce Staley claimed to not be aware of the issue. Howard is one of only 16 RBs with at least 500 rush attempts in the last three seasons 1 Only four of the 16 have fewer receptions than Howard. None of them have a lower catch rate than Howard’s 66 percent.
Darren Sproles has struggled with injuries in the last two seasons, and at the time of writing, he is not on the Eagles roster. Enter Boston Scott.
Fending off the Competition
The Eagles signed Scott off the Saints practice squad last season, but he was restricted to kick return duty. 2 He averaged 24 yards on four returns. He does offer something approaching a pass catching pedigree, however. In his final season with Tulane, he caught 20 passes for 181 yards. Pedersen has mentioned Scott as a possible replacement for Sproles. This would certainly elevate him above Wendell Smallwood and Josh Adams, and may even push Super Bowl hero Corey Clement down the depth chart.
The acquisition of Howard and Sanders suggests that the Eagles have grown tired of the RBBC approach that they have trotted out during the Pedersen era. However, their lack of adequate passing down chops does leave the door open for a player like Scott. However, whether they choose to make use of such a player given their seemingly neverending supply of pass catchers is open to debate.
Scott does offer value in leagues that reward kick return yards. But in normal PPR scoring, he’s a deep deep bench option at present. Assuming that the Eagles don’t eventually bring back Sproles, of course.
Brian Hill’s ears must be seriously burning of late. Not only am I going to discuss him here, but he was also the subject of a fairly in-depth discussion between Dave Caban and Matthew Freedman on the latest episode of RotoViz Radio.
An Eternal Flame
Hill was something of a RotoViz darling back in 2017 when he entered the NFL from Wyoming. In our pre-draft rankings, we had Hill as our RB7. His combine measurables put him over the 50th percentile in terms of speed score, agility, and explosion.
Some of his comps were names that have enjoyed a degree of success in the NFL, although maybe not at the superstar level.
We had him ranked ahead of players such as Kareem Hunt, Alvin Kamara, and Aaron Jones. As Matt Wispe pointed out after he was drafted by the Falcons, this was “a non-ideal landing spot for one of the better workhorse RBs in the class”.
Yeah, alright. Everyone makes mistakes, alright?
But it seems that Hill’s time may yet be coming. According to reports, Hill is in contention for the “big back” role with the Falcons. Devonta Freeman figures to return to the lead back role after a lost 2018 season, with Ito Smith taking the “Tevin Coleman” job behind him.3
But Freeman is far from a safe bet to last the season, nor even be particularly productive when he does play. After successful seasons in 2015 and 2016, Freeman has experienced a severe drop off in the last two seasons.
Searching for a Goal Line Solution
The big back in the Falcons offense would, one assumes, be used in goal to go situations. Neither Coleman or Smith were especially dominant in this area last season, with both averaging a mere 0.2 rushing attempts inside the 10-yard line per game. Indeed, the Falcons attempted only 27 rush attempts inside the 10 all season in 2018, the 10th lowest total in the league.
Freeman had 55 attempts inside the 10 between 2015 and 2016, but the Falcons may decide that he is too brittle to carry out this job in 2019. This could give Hill some weekly touchdown upside. But he’ll likely need another Freeman injury for him to fall into a more prominent role in the offense. The likelihood of Hill ever justifying our longstanding faith in him is very slim. But we can but hope.
Sounds Good, but…
A WR being spoken up by his offensive coordinator on a team that is missing 35% of his its targets from a year ago would normally be looked upon as a player primed for a breakout. Only that team being the most run-heavy in the entire league, and the offensive coordinator being a fully paid-up member of #EstablishingTheRun could scupper his chances.
So, when Seahawks OC Brian Schottenheimer says that Jaron Brown has been having an “unbelievable offseason“, you’ll forgive me for not exactly rocketing Brown up my WR rankings.
Longshot to begin with
Brown has been a solid citizen in his time in the NFL, but we must not forget that this is not a player who came into the pros on the back of a stellar collegiate career. During his four seasons at Clemson, he registered only 87 receptions. Granted, he was competing for targets at this time with players like DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, and Dwayne Allen. But the odds of him becoming a superstar after such low numbers in college were low.
Lightly used option
The Seahawks had the lowest pass to run ratio in the entire NFL last season, whilst only running the 15th most total plays. This offense is the very definition of low volume. Brown played only 44.8% of his available snaps last season, with over 32% of those coming in the slot. Brown ran 25 routes in Week 2, a season high. He ran less than ten in six of his next nine games.
Brown offers the Seahawks an option in the slot, given the Seahawks are now without Doug Baldwin. It should also be noted that Brown saw a bulk of his targets in high leverage areas. Five of his 20 targets last season came with Brown waiting inside the end zone. Brown had only 14 receptions all season, and five of them were touchdowns.
Against the Odds
However, the Seahawks did invest significant draft capital at the WR position this past spring. They took D.K. Metcalf in the second round, before circling back to select Gary Jennings in the fourth. They also have Tyler Lockett coming off the best season of his career, as well as David Moore who surprised some with his occasionally strong play last season.
The logjam at the WR spot apart, there is very little chance that the Seahawks will differ from their approach last season. This makes it unlikely that they can prop up more than one fantasy relevant pass catcher. Brown managed a single game week in which he finished better than WR44 last season. Even with his usage in scoring situations. If the Seahawks have to pass, it’s likely that they’ll look elsewhere before settling on Brown. Regardless of how unbelievable his offseason has been.
Image Credit: Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Brian Hill.
NFL subscribers, the time to get into PGA DFS is now! For a limited time, upgrade your subscription by adding a 2019 Rest of Season PGA subscription at a $10 discount. Click here for details!