Rookie Sleepers Worth Dynasty League Consideration

27 Jul 2016 - 11:15am | Roto Coach | Updated: 29 Jul 2017 - 12:21pm | Likes: 0 Like 
Rookie Sleepers Worth Dynasty Consideration

It’s always difficult to categorize dynasty rookie sleepers early on in the preseason because depth charts tend to be a very fluid situation heading into camp. As such, I’ve profiled half a dozen interesting potential sleepers who were either selected on the final day of the draft or signed shortly afterward as undrafted rookie free agents. All of the players mentioned below should be in the mix for one of their team’s final roster spots, and each could pay off nicely for patient dynasty league owners in the next couple of seasons.  

Jeff Driskel-QB-San Francisco 49ers: Once a blue chip recruit for the Gators, the dual threat Driskel drew favorable comparisons to Tim Tebow from the moment he committed to Florida, and after a strong sophomore season he seemed well on his way to fulfilling that promise. But injuries and coaching changes undermined his next couple seasons with the Gators, and Driskel headed to Louisiana Tech as a graduate transfer to play his final college season. There he seemed to put it all together for a strong final NCAA season that saw him throw for more than 4000 yards and 27 touchdowns, and rush for another 300 yards and 5 scores. And while Driskel was certainly playing against weaker competition, the skill set that many scouts had raved about coming into college was fully on display in 2015. Driskel doesn’t enter the 2016 season as an NFL-ready quarterback. Instead, he’s more of a work in progress with a fantastic profile-prototypical quarterback size, a strong arm, and well above average speed for the position. His skill set is a strong one to build upon, but merits an extra degree of attention due to his landing spot-a Chip Kelly offense. The 49ers seem ready to enter the 2016 season with Blaine Gabbert at the helm, but you’d be hard pressed to sell the former first round bust as the long-term answer at quarterback for the 49ers. Still in the mix is Colin Kaepernick, who’s arrow has firmly pointed down since leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2012, but seems poised to try to resurrect his career under Kelly. That said neither player seems to be genuine fit for what Chip Kelly likes to do on offense. Gabbert lacks elite athleticism and Kaepernick has always struggled with the mental part of the game. Enter Jeff Driskel, whose talent and skill set may be the best suited of the three. He’s not quite as athletic as Kaepernick, but Driskel is still elusive in the open field and capable of excelling in a zone-read scheme. His college tape also suggests he may already read and process defenses more quickly as well. His strong decision making with the football suggests a level of maturity and understanding that has always plagued Kaepernick, despite his physical talents. By no means should we expect Driskel to threaten for playing time early in 2016, but he should be firmly on your dynasty radar. Unlike in Philadelphia, Chip Kelly won’t be expected to win right away, and if he believes Driskel can be his quarterback of the future we could even see the rookie under center in the second half of 2016.   

Roger Lewis-WR-New York Giants: With good reason, Sterling Shepard is garnering lots of attention as the Giants rookie receiver to watch this preseason. But the Giants also pulled off a bit of a coup by getting undrafted rookie free agent Roger Lewis under contract not long after the draft had concluded. At one time Lewis was a highly touted high school receiver who planned to commit to playing his college football at Ohio State, but an off-the-field incident led the Buckeyes to withdraw their scholarship offer and Lewis ultimately spent a year at prep school before landing at Bowling Green prior to the 2014 college season. There he spent two years shredding MAC defenses for a total of 158 receptions for 2,637 yards and 23 touchdowns before declaring for the draft after the season. Though finally medically cleared heading into camp, the Giants have no idea what to expect from Victor Cruz, who is heading into his age 30 season after spending more than a year and half recovering from a major knee injury. Since the injury to Cruz and the emergence of Beckham, the Giants have long sought a viable option to pair with their young stud wideout. And while Shepard is ready to play now, it might be Lewis that ultimately shifts to the outside and allows Shepard to move into the slot, a more natural position for the undersized but talented wideout. While Lewis was productive in college, he did a fair amount of his damage by utilizing his athleticism to feast on lesser small school defensive backs. He won’t have that luxury in the NFL and will need to improve his consistency and concentration, as well as field awareness along the sidelines. A long strider without elite deep speed, Lewis’s current route tree is fairly limited, and he’ll need to improve on some lazy route running to really test NFL corners. Lewis may stick on the 53-man roster or could ultimately see himself relegated to the practice squad for 2016, but the upside and the opportunity are there for a talented player that will go overlooked by most in dynasty formats.    

Josh Ferguson-RB-Indianapolis Colts: An undrafted rookie, the Colts were reportedly high enough on Josh Ferguson to give him serious consideration on the final day of the draft. Ultimately, they still acquired the talented back by signing him as an undrafted free agent not long after the draft had concluded. While Ferguson was a dynamic college running back, size and durability caused him to struggle to stay on the field at times during his career at Illinois. And when push came to shove, the injury history likely scared off more than a few potential NFL suitors. But Ferguson could be a perfect fit in Indianapolis, where the backfield is extremely thin behind an aging Frank Gore. Frankly, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see him start climbing draft boards sooner rather than later, given the other options available to the Colts at running back are journeymen Robert Turbin and Jordan Todman. At just 5’10” and a shade under 200 pounds, Ferguson isn’t built to be an every-down back in the NFL, and his college track record speaks to his lack of durability to start with. Still, he’s a sub 4.5 burner with elite elusiveness in the open field and the ability to crack a big play at any time, although occasionally that will get him into trouble. Ferguson is also a proven receiver that brings an added dimension to the short passing game, one the Colts backfield has been missing for some time. His ability to get on the field as a rookie is likely going to come down to how quickly he picks up the playbook, but more importantly, how comfortable the Colts are with him in pass protection. Having just given franchise quarterback Andrew Luck an enormous new contract, Ferguson’s dynamic playing making ability isn’t going to be enough to get him playing time if he can’t be counted on to protect the Colt’s start signal caller.

Charone Peake-WR-New York Jets: Peake is the sort of “measurables” guy that gets scouts drooling, but his injury history and a lack of college production pushed him down many a draft board this offseason. In Peake’s defense, he spent his first two seasons at Clemson losing snaps to guys like DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, and Martavis Bryant, before suffering a torn ACL that cost him most of 2013 and part of 2014. Clemson’s 2015 title march was Peake’s only full season of playing time, and he was relegated to playing second fiddle to teammate Artavis Scott, another future NFL receiver who garnered All-ACC recognition in each of his first two seasons at Clemson. To stick in the NFL, Peake will need to improve his ball skills and consistency, as his hands loom as a major question and he tends to throttle down to often on deep balls, causing him to break stride after he’s already won over the top. Still, as a strong lanky receiver at 6’2” 210 lbs with 4.4 speed, there’s clearly the talent and athleticism here to suggest Peake can compete in the NFL with some improvement and polish. While he’s certainly a project, the Jets receiver depth chart is fairly fluid after Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. There’s a strong possibility that Devin Smith will still be rehabbing the ACL he tore in December when camp opens, and he’ll probably start the season on the PUP list. Beyond that the only Jets receivers with any real NFL experience are slot tight end/wideout hybrid Quincy Enunwa and journeyman Kenbrell Thompkins. If Peake can impress the coaching staff in camp and make the 53, there should be plenty of opportunity to grow and develop behind New York’s veteran receivers. He makes a nice grab and stash candidate in deeper dynasty formats with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker heading into their age 32 and age 29 seasons respectively.

Keenan Reynolds-WR/RB-Baltimore Ravens: A former triple-option quarterback at Navy, Reynolds graduated from Annapolis as the all-time record holder for career rushing touchdowns in the FBS, with 88. And while the NFL has a long track record of chewing up and spitting out successful college option QBs trying to make the transition, Reynolds has drawn rave reviews from the Baltimore coaching staff so far. Making Reynolds even more intriguing is the lack of depth at the receiver position in Baltimore. Steve Smith Sr. is 37 years old, coming off a torn Achilles tendon that will see him start the season on the PUP list, and has repeatedly stated that this is his final season. Last year’s first round pick, Breshad Perriman, has yet to play an NFL down due to a knee injury suffered in camp last season, and will start this training camp on the PUP list as well. The Ravens did add veteran receiver Mike Wallace and fourth round pick Chris Moore in the offseason, but beyond that they return unexciting options like Kamar Aiken, Michael Campanaro, and Jeremy Butler, which may give Reynolds the opportunity to get some run at receiver sooner rather than later. At the moment he looks like a strong special teams option, but expect the Ravens to experiment with him in the backfield and playing out of the slot in the preseason. With only offseason workouts and coaching feedback to go by, we’re going to need to see how the Ravens plan to deploy the former Midshipman before we get too excited. But even with that in mind, this is a Baltimore offense that is short on offensive playmakers at the skill positions so if Reynolds can prove he is one he’ll have Marc Trestman dreaming up ways to get the ball in his hands as often...maybe even as soon as this season.   

Tajae Sharpe-WR-Tennessee Titans: Tajae Sharpe was certainly a bigger sleeper before he started running with the one’s in OTAs and managed to get himself listed as a starter on the Titan’s preseason depth chart. Still, we know coaches often use those early season depth charts to motivate second and third year players who have underachieved or veterans that show up unprepared or out of shape. That’s likely the case here, as it’s difficult to envision Sharpe beginning the year any higher than fourth on Tennessee’s wide receiver depth chart behind Kendall Wright, Dorial Green-Beckham, and newly signed Rishard Matthews. Still lurking in the wings are veteran Harry Douglas, second year pro Tre McBride, and perennial underachiever, Justin Hunter. But even with all that competition, it would very surprising to see Sharpe left off the 53-man roster. The talented young receiver (he won’t turn 22 until December) piled up 196 receptions over his final two collegiate seasons at UMass, garnering first-team All-MAC honors in each. While Sharpe doesn’t have elite size or athleticism, he had some of the best hands in the draft and is an absolute technician when it comes to route running. Teams are going to figure out quickly that with a clean release he will find holes and make catches at will so he needs to add some size and strength to his slight frame to avoid getting pressed and redirected at the line. His lack of strength and athleticism can also see him struggle with contested catches and in situations where he needs to shield defenders. Still, Sharpe should have a chance to thrive in the slot or even outside, as Titan’s quarterback Marcus Mariota is known for his accuracy-at least when the offensive line can keep him upright. While he’s never going to be a burner, Sharpe is so technically sound and has such a high football acumen that adding some muscle to his 6’2” frame could really turn him into an above average NFL receiver down the road.

 

 

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