2016 Fantasy Football: Post-Hype Sleepers

by Tyler Thompson
Credit: Nathan Rupert

Credit: Nathan Rupert

You've experienced the letdown of drafting that player that was hyped up in the preseason only to drop him before Week 4. You quickly place an 'undraftable' label on that player during your prep for the next season. Nobody wants to get burned by the rookie that fell on his face two years in a row!

Well, I am here to tell you to avoid making that kind of quick decision. Too many times we have seen a player needing a year or two under his belt to get the hang of the NFL. The 2014 rookie WR class has placed a ludicrous thought in the minds of fantasy players that rookies are supposed to come right in and succeed at the highest level. For this reason, guys like Ezekiel Elliott will continue to get over-drafted despite never playing a down in the NFL.

So who were the rookies that were getting some hype last preseason? Some of the names below will bring back some memories of the 2015 fantasy draft season. These players are being drafted way later in 2016 than in 2015 and, honestly, probably for good reason. I'm not trying to be the guy in 'The Big Short' claiming that he's selling you fire insurance on a burning house. These players have considerable downside going against them just as they did last year.

However, I wanted to be sure to present the situations of each player and what kind of upside and downside they could have in 2016. None of these players are lacking potential from a talent standpoint. In fact, they may just be slipping in drafts (or waiver wires in some cases) due to some post-hype stigma.

Post-Hype Sleepers

Quick Note: I make multiple references to 'PFF', which is simply an acronym for 'Pro Football Focus'. They are my go-to for offensive line rankings!

Running Backs

Melvin Gordon, San Diego Chargers

The Chargers drafted Gordon in the first round in 2015 to be their bell cow back of the future. Many fantasy experts expected the 'future' to come right away, taking him in the 3rd round of fantasy drafts in standard formats.

In reality, the Chargers offensive line was steamy hot garbage and Woodhead took goal line carries along with third down work. As a result, Gordon was unable to get in the end zone once the entire season. Poor guy! What needs to happen for him to turn it around in 2016?

Despite what many say, it’s not hard at all to see the upside here. With the return of Ken Whisenhunt as offensive coordinator, the run game could get the boost it needs. Most people think of Whisenhunt and think of heavy passing, but look back to the 2013 season, his last as OC in San Diego. The Chargers finished 6th in rush attempts and produced Ryan Mathews’ best season as a pro. Sure, Woodhead will get all the obvious passing downs. However, if Gordon can take over the goal line work and ‘the Whiz’ can turn back the clock, Gordon could be in for an electric season.

Most of the downside with Gordon lies within the rest of the offense. The offensive line is the clear weakness of the team with a PFF ranking of 29th. To alleviate the damage done by the guys up front, San Diego turns to the quick passing game. I mean, it works for them and getting Keenan Allen back is only going to increase the passing volume. However, that’s what is lowering Gordon’s volume and, proportionally, is his potential to succeed.

How many fantasy experts do you hear out there saying "I am all in on Melvin Gordon"? That's right, none. He will be drafted among the running backs in the late 20's and early 30's in every draft with very low deviation. This is a great value for Gordon and this should have been where he was selected last year. One of my favorite things to do is 'zig' where others 'zag' and I would suggest buying a share or two of Gordon when no one else wants him. He's got RB1 upside and a Jonathan Stewart-type floor should he just score a few damn touchdowns!

Ameer Abdullah, Detroit Lions

Abdullah made a splash in the 2015 preseason with plays like this. I must admit, even I was on board the hype train. I saw cuts like LeSean McCoy and speed like Jamaal Charles (and inevitable fantasy goodness!).

That all came crumbling down during the regular season. Despite playing all 16 games, he only had three weeks in which he scored more than 7.5 fantasy points by standard scoring. He had just one target all season in the passing game with Theo Riddick's emergence. Fantasy players were scratching their heads and wondering if he should be dropped.

With Joique Bell gone along with his exclusively goal-line skill set, Abdullah could pick up the slack. For that reason, the ceiling is pretty high for Abdullah in an offense that won't have Calvin Johnson in the red zone this season. Fumbling was an issue early on, but I'm willing to give a rookie a second chance in that department.

However, it's the incredibly low floor that turns me off. The Lions offensive line does not rate out well per PFF rankings (22nd) and the Lions could do a crazy RBBC where Abdullah only sees early down carries away from the goal line. Riddick would see all obvious passing downs while Zach Zenner would handle the goal-line load. No touchdown or PPR upside in a pass-heavy offense would be a repeat of 2015.

There is no way I draft him with the expectations to start him early in the fantasy season. If you are in a league with 12 or more teams, it's likely that you will have to select him as your RB3 or RB4. I'm not on board with that - let someone else have fun with that. In a 10-team league though where I'm looking for upside with an RB5 or RB6, that's a more reasonable scenario to draft him and hope for the RB2 upside he possesses. Great talent - just not a good situation for him to succeed.

Wide Receivers

Nelson Agholor, Philadelphia Eagles

Nelson Agholor was the 20th pick of the 2015 draft, selected by Philly for his high-flying speed and route-running to fit right in Chip Kelly's scheme. After a stellar preseason, he was being talked about as a flex-play at the least with potential for WR2 status. In fact, I think I may have found the very play that skyrocketed his preseason hype and 2015 ADP.

Well, he had as many touchdowns in that video as he did the entire regular season. Drops were the only consistent part of his game last season and a 6th round fantasy pick was wasted. The only question now is whether or not the Eagles wasted a real-life 1st round pick.

I am going to make the case for him to have a second year breakout. The site I trust when it comes to wide receivers and technical skills is The Backyard Banter. In particular, the 'Reception Perception Project' shows route running abilities of certain receivers and which types of coverage they do well against. Check out what Matt Harmon thought of Nelson Agholor's up-and-down 2015 in terms of route running. This is certainly encouraging, especially when looking for that big playmaker in the new Eagles offense. Jordan Matthews will not be asked to be that guy, so an outside receiver will have to emerge for this passing offense to succeed.

Unfortunately, running great routes doesn't score touchdowns - you have to catch the ball too. Agholor certainly had his issues with that, dropping four balls en route to an awful 52.3% catch rate. The catch rate mostly results from the low accuracy deep balls Chip Kelly forced his way from the below-average Sam Bradford last year too. The new offensive scheme Doug Pederson wants to utilize won't require him to do that.

Agholor could step into that Jeremy Maclin role and become a WR3 or flex in PPR. On the flip side, he could end up not even being rosterable in fantasy circles in a low volume passing offense. However, at his WR70 ADP, that's a risk I'm more than willing to take as a late round flier for a deep bench.

Devin Funchess, Carolina Panthers

With Kelvin Benjamin tearing the ACL in his left knee, the Panthers and fantasy owners alike were searching for a replacement. Most turned to Funchess, a 2nd round pick in the 2015 draft. He had the physique like Benjamin, the athleticism you like, and next to no competition. He was a can't miss pick in the 8th to 10th rounds of fantasy drafts to return value.

Well, we know that didn’t turn out well outside of a two productive weeks. But there’s still hope! Word out of Carolina camp is that Funchess is pushing Kelvin Benjamin to get back where he needs to be. Maybe Benjamin won’t return back to that 2014 form and Funchess is asked to do more. Besides, Carolina is just hoping their receivers don’t drop half the balls that get thrown to them. Benjamin had a 50% catch rate back in 2014, which actually looks pretty solid compared to Ted Ginn’s 45% catch rate just last season. It’s not like Funchess’ 49% catch rate is any better, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he (and Benjamin for that matter) see a major uptick in that category this season.

However, what kind of target volume can Funchess receive? The Panthers are definitely a smash mouth offense, leading the league in rushing attempts over the last two seasons. With what little passing there is to go around, Greg Olsen will get his looks. There really is only enough volume for one receiver to do well, so if he loses this camp ‘battle’ to Benjamin, it doesn’t look promising. And how much of a battle is this anyway? You have to think that Newton will be itching to get the ball to Benjamin more given the kind of rapport they had his rookie season. Funchess could become just a pedestrian two-to-four target per game kinda guy that keeps defenses honest.

If he can find a way to split the workload with Benjamin as the WR1 A & B's, he could reach WR3 status. However, I find it more likely that he will need an injury to Olsen or Benjamin to become anything more than an occasional flex play. Outside of the top 100 picks though, his draft value is good enough to throw a dart on. I would consider his situation to be slightly better than I described with Agholor previously.

Tight Ends

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A second round pick in 2014, Seferian-Jenkins was highly touted as the next great receiving tight end in the NFL. Two injury-plagued, lackluster seasons later, here we are calling him an afterthought for fantasy purposes. His 54% catch rate over 16 games played in his professional career left much to be desired. Those who buy on an ASJ breakout in 2016 won't have to spend much.

I will definitely be one of those penny-pinchers and select ASJ in many leagues. The post-hype sleeping will turn into nightmares if you don't follow along! There are too many signs pointing up for this dude. As Chris Raybon pointed out in an article last week at 4for4, Dirk Koetter has shown tendencies in his past offensive coordinator gigs to utilize athletic tight ends early and often. I mean, they can't throw to Mike Evans (27% of targets) every play and expect defenses to just let it happen. The offense desperately needs a second down-the-field receiving threat and ASJ should be that guy. The folks at PFF seem curious as well:

The only issues I have gathered from studying him are health and attitude. You can't label a third year player as injury-prone just yet. Tight ends seem to get hurt more frequently than wide receivers, so injuries are not something I harp on at that position. The willingness to learn and compete in camp does concern me, although I'm not sure that isn't just noise coming from the coaches and beat writers. Cameron Brate is not going to take this job from ASJ anytime soon.

With the tight end position being an inconsistent one, I am more than willing to take chances late in drafts on fliers. If drafters are stubborn and dismiss an ASJ breakout, I think they're crazy. He has obvious TE1 upside, but also has potential to be a solid streaming candidate. He would be perfect to mix with Vance McDonald or Jordan Cameron late in drafts.

Who knows, you may just have bought low on this year's Jordan Reed - a freakishly athletic tight end who finally puts together a healthy, productive season.

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