Almost every successful fantasy football season begins with a solid
- if not very good draft - and ends with a player or two who was
a virtual afterthought in the days and weeks that followed. No,
I'm not talking about hitting on a late-round pick; I'm talking
about a player who barely made his NFL team, began the season recovering
from a serious injury or was so far down his depth chart that he
needed multiple things to break in his favor just to get an opportunity.
In extreme cases, maybe he wasn't even on the team until midway
through the season.
Given the season is reaching its midpoint and owners are more
than halfway through their regular season, it seems like an appropriate
to speculate and/or ascertain which players have a realistic shot
at being the latest fantasy rags-to-riches story since the second
half of the season is when these players typically emerge.
Below is a list of 12 deep-league stashes. These players are
going to be readily available in most leagues; some have yet to
play due to injury, while others are unknown to most casual observers.
I have each position listed in the order I would prioritize adding
Running Backs Potential difference-makers for the stretch run
Davis, Seattle - Davis will, without question, be the
most highly owned player of any I will discuss this week. The
reason he appears on this list is that he was dropped in a number
of leagues following a bit of an odd showing in Week 6 against
the Raiders in London in which Seattle handily defeated Oakland.
Owners who do little more than check out the box score each week
likely saw Rashaad
Penny's nine carries for 43 yards and two catches for 27 yards
(versus six carries for 21 yards and one catch for five yards
for Davis) as a sign he had moved ahead on the depth chart.
While that could very well happen at some point of the season
given how easily HC Pete Carroll changes his mind about certain
things, owners need only to take a look at the actual play-by-play
of the game to see why Davis has no business getting dropped.
Eight of Penny's nine carries (and more than half of his 13 offensive
snaps) occurred on the final drive of the game with the Seahawks
milking the clock. Davis played 23 snaps to starter Chris Carson's
27, giving us a two-week sample in which Davis has seen a total
of 14 fewer snaps than Carson. Davis also appears to be the favored
option on third down, although there is some question about how
valuable of a role that is for him on a team so committed to running
And it's that last bit - combined with Carson's ultra-physical,
take-no-prisoners running style - that makes Davis as good of
a candidate to be a player who comes out of nowhere to carry his
teams to fantasy titles. While Davis has his own injury history
to overcome, there is at least some wiggle (and willingness) to
avoid tackles in his game. Among running backs averaging at least
10 carries, Carson ranks second in yards after contact per attempt
(3.63) - behind only Denver's Royce Freeman (3.69) - per Pro Football
Focus, which should serve as a pretty good indicator as to how
physical his running style is. While it's not exactly fair to
say Carson is prone to injury (an ACL as a senior in high school
and his last year's broken ankle/leg injury is all I was able
to find), running backs who absorb contact - as opposed to trying
to avoid it - are obviously more likely to miss time. With a second-half
schedule that sets up beautifully for a team that wants to run
the ball (with a Week 14 date against Minnesota the possible lone
exception), Davis is truly one injury away from emerging as a
McGuire, NY Jets - It was a little more than four short
months ago that Jets RB coach Stump Mitchell uttered the following
words to the New
York Daily News: ďEli looks fantastic to be perfectly honest.
Iíll tell you who I see Eli as - and heís in the Hall of Fame.
Eli has the skill set to be a LaDainian Tomlinson if he was given
that opportunity. Thatís not what presents itself to him at this
particular point in time. But skill set, he can do it all. He
can catch. He can run. He can run routes as a receiver. He just
happens to be here Ö and Iím glad we got him.Ē
Severe hyperbole aside, it goes without saying the Jets like
what they have in the second-year back. McGuire returned to practice
last week after spending the first half of the season on the Reserve/Injured
list with a foot injury. As luck would have it, Bilal Powell suffered
a neck injury in Week 7 that could reportedly threaten his career.
While Trenton Cannon came on in relief and filled in adequately,
one would have to believe an LT-level talent (said with heavy
sarcasm) like McGuire would get the first shot at replacing Powell,
especially since he was considered the favorite to win the third-down
job this summer.
Let's assume for a second McGuire steps in and immediately assumes
Powell's old role since the 185-pound Cannon was drafted more
for his prowess as a returner. Prior to his injury, Powell entered
Week 7 coming off his two largest workloads of the season. Even
with his first-half exit last week, he still owns a slim 91-90
edge over Isaiah Crowell in terms of touches for the season. The
point is that McGuire should be walking into something close to
a split backfield, and he should be considered the favorite for
work in the passing game. Given some of the Jets' upcoming opponents
- Chicago, New England, Tennessee and Houston, to name a few -
the running game figures to take a back seat given either the
presence of stout rush defenses, negative game scripts or both.
If New York really feels as strong about McGuire as Mitchell indicated
this summer, he might be given an opportunity to become the lead
back - admittedly a slim possibility. Nevertheless, Powell is
the overall RB34 this season despite not playing about half of
the game last weekend. If McGuire steps into that role, he's a
flex option at worst.
Bibbs, Washington - Bibbs is a player I have referenced
before, and it seems likely I will do so again in the coming weeks.
Simply working on of what we already know, Adrian
Peterson is playing through ankle and shoulder injuries, while
Thompson has missed the last two weeks with a rib and knee
injury. Although Bibbs appears to be Thompson's direct backup,
it seems reasonable to believe he would also be first in line
to replace Peterson as well (although it is quite possible he
would end up sharing carries with Samaje
Perine if both Peterson and Thompson are sidelined).
Nonetheless, Washington has evolved into a conservative offense
under Alex Smith, opting to milk the clock with Peterson and throw
safe passes to the running backs and tight ends. HC Jay Gruden
doesn't have a realistic Plan B because Smith doesn't give him
much of one. Thus, in the likely event Peterson or Thompson end
up missing significant time in the coming weeks, Bibbs should
have a pretty clear path to at least 10 (maybe as many as 15 to
18) touches per week. Behind a capable run-blocking offensive
line, that means something. If Peterson and Thompson both succumb
to injuries in the near future, owners could have a high-end RB2
on their hands since Perine has yet to show he deserves to be
much more than a change-of-pace option.
Foreman, Houston - There's a decent chance Foreman
has been stashed for some time now in leagues that allow for an
IR spot. In those that do not, it's probably more of a 50-50 proposition.
There's no question the deck is stacked against Foreman, as an
Achilles' injury is one of the most difficult for a running back
to come back from, and even harder to do so in less than a full
calendar year. (He suffered the injury last Nov. 19.) When he
does return, he'll do so behind arguably one of the worst offensive
lines in the league.
As for the good news, no one has really stepped up in Houston's
backfield to eliminate the need for someone like Foreman when
he's ready to play. Despite coming off his first 100-yard rushing
day of the season, Lamar Miller has always been more of a perimeter
runner and good receiving back who has inexplicably never been
used that way during his two-plus year stay in Houston. I don't
get the sense 100-yard games are about to become the norm or that
HC Bill O'Brien has any inclination to run outside more often.
While Foreman is not strictly a between-the-tackles runner despite
his 235-pound frame, "inside runners" like him can often
find success running behind questionable offensive lines - more
so than smaller and quicker backs - because there is simply less
time for defenders to beat their block when a back is running
straight than when he is running parallel to the line of scrimmage.
(Think Frank Gore versus Marlon Mack last season.) Almost regardless
of the offensive line play, it seems unthinkable that a team with
the weapons the Texans have in the passing game (not to mention
the rushing threat Deshaun Watson presents) can't consistently
run the football. Behind a worse offensive line last season, Foreman
averaged 4.2 yards per carry on 78 attempts (Miller finished at
3.7 YPC on 238 attempts.)
If only because he is a big back who can break tackles, Foreman
should be able to enjoy immediate success in short-yardage and
goal-line situations. O'Brien probably feels as if he still has
too much invested in Miller to make him anything less than a lead
back, but it is definitely within Foreman's range of possibilities
to make this a split backfield if he proves he is all the way
back from his injury. If he is able to accomplish that, he should
be able to carve out flex value.
Complete long shot:Kenneth
Farrow, New England - It's not even remotely funny how much
uncertainty there is with this pick. How long will Sony
Michel be out? With New England sign another back? Has Farrow
shown the coaching staff anything while being stashed on the practice
Before any kind of hype train gets started, let's acknowledge
Farrow's best day as a pro was in Week 14 of the 2016 season,
when he rushed for 55 yards on 16 carries and caught six passes
for 23 yards with the Chargers. With that said, the Patriots currently
have two healthy running backs on their 53-man roster: James White
and Kenjon Barner. White is theoretically big enough (205 pounds)
to handle more of an early-down workload for a game or two, but
he hasn't been used in that capacity as a pro. Barner seems the
most likely candidate to handle the early-down work as a result,
but his 195-pound frame and lack of work between the tackles suggest
he's not a realistic multiple-week option for a team that likes
to run the ball inside.
The one thing Farrow does have working in his favor is size (219
pounds). Fortunately, owners don't have to go back very far to
recall an average talent coming off the practice squad to light
it up for the Patriots in a favorable matchup. Jonas Gray ran
for 201 yards and four touchdowns in 2014 against the Colts, only
to fade about as quickly as he arrived. While I am in no way promising
a repeat of that, New England faces the Bills this week and should
have plenty of time to bleed the clock. The fact the Patriots
have yet to sign anyone tells me a mid-week promotion for Farrow
may be coming. The problem is with the game being on Monday night,
only the most desperate of owners in the deepest of leagues would
even consider Farrow based on what we know at the moment. The
upside is this: I can easily see New England holding Michel out
through its Week 11 bye, meaning owners could have a three-week
window to play/start the Patriots' early-down back. I don't think
they want to count on Barner for that role and history suggests
the Patriots don't want to use White like that either.
Wide Receivers Potential WR3 options down the road
Higgins, Cleveland - Higgins was the last of four receivers
drafted by the Browns in 2016. He is the only one who remains
on the roster, which is an accomplishment in and of itself. "Hollywood"
was playing more than 50 snaps per game and beginning to flourish
in his third season prior to spraining his MCL in Week 5, enjoying
two of the best four PPR performances of his career in Baker
Mayfield's first two starts. Antonio
Callaway has not done much with his opportunities, failing
to catch more than four passes in any game despite getting targeted
at least nine times on three different occasions. Breshad
Perriman was recently added to the mix, but most owners know
his story. Damion
Ratley is about the only other option the Browns have, but
it's fair to say Higgins probably remains ahead of him on the
depth chart since Ratley saw a single snap through the team's
first five games.
It gets better. Not only should Higgins return to a starting
role, but each of Cleveland's next four opponents ranks inside
the top 11 when it comes to giving up PPR production to receivers.
Each team (Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Atlanta and Cincinnati) should
be able to score some points, so volume should not be a problem
for Cleveland's receivers. While David Njoku's rise was bound
to happen because of his enormous talent, it may not be a coincidence
his best fantasy games have come in the three games Higgins missed
or was unable to finish. Unlike the receivers that follow him
on this list, Higgins should have fantasy relevancy as soon as
he is physically ready. Based on Wednesday's practice report,
he might be another week away from that, however.
Valdes-Scantling, Green Bay - Valdes-Scantling has
already done enough to prove he not only has Aaron
Rodgers' trust, but also he should probably see regular playing
time moving forward. Contrary to popular belief, the rookie has
run most of his routes out of the slot over the past two games
despite the fact he looks very much like he belongs on the outside
(6-4, 206). Valdes-Scantling has taken advantage of negative game
script both times, catching seven passes for 68 yards and a touchdown
in a Week 5 loss to Detroit and adding three more receptions for
103 yards in a Week 6 comeback win against San Francisco.
At the very least, HC Mike McCarthy has to be considering the
idea of splitting snaps in the slot between Valdes-Scantling and
Randall Cobb, who did little outside of breaking loose for a 75-yard
score in Week 1 before missing the last three games with a hamstring
injury. Cobb's injury history also makes the rookie a solid bet
for owners in deeper leagues who don't mind stashing a potential
lottery ticket. If Cobb (or even Geronimo Allison) are forced
to miss more time, owners should be thrilled about what the upcoming
schedule means for the passing game, as at least three of the
next five games are against teams that should force Green Bay
to keep up (Rams, Patriots, Dolphins, Seahawks and Vikings).
Gallup, Dallas - The funny thing about this week's
trade for Amari
Cooper is what owner/general manager Jerry Jones said prior
to it. "We haven't had a No. 1 receiver for several years." The
sad thing is if he could have exercised a little bit of patience,
he probably already has a future one on the roster. The trade
itself wasn't as egregious as some are making it out to be if
the Cowboys convinced themselves they wanted a receiver - there
is no guarantee prospects like Ole Miss' A.J. Brown or Arizona
State's N'Keal Harry will be great (or better than Cooper, for
that matter) - as much as it was unnecessary for a team that isn't
going to win the Super Bowl this season. And there are the future
salary cap ramifications, which is why it probably would have
been smarter to roll the dice on Brown or Harry.
Getting back to Gallup, he had emerged as the snap leader for
the Cowboys' receiving corps over the last two weeks. That distinction
didn't lead to a lot of opportunity, but it's hard to argue with
any player who can average 27 yards per catch on four receptions
over that time. While many will see the acquisition of Cooper
as a bad thing for the rookie, it is always difficult to ask a
player to transition from one offensive system to another during
the middle of the season. Considering the team he is joining,
he will almost certainly attract the opponent's top cornerback
each week - assuming that team has one worthy of shadowing. As
such, Gallup could (and probably should) benefit from playing
a similar role to the one Michael Crabtree and Jordy Nelson played
opposite Cooper recently - albeit in a much lower volume offense.
Gallup isn't going to be a league-winner much like the two receivers
listed before him, but the recent increased usage is a good sign
he is on his way to becoming a full-time player assuming he isn't
Complete long shot:Jake
Kumerow, Green Bay - Remember him? The pride of Wisconsin-Whitewater
was a training camp sensation, going from an undrafted free agent
who was waived by the Bengals and the Patriots to a player who
emerged as a favorite of Aaron Rodgers this summer. He made enough
of an impression to make the final roster despite suffering a
sprained SC joint in his shoulder in the second preseason game
and was subsequently placed on IR.
Kumerow's place on this list isn't so much a recommendation to
add him or even place him on watch lists, but rather serve as
a reminder he is eligible to return to action in Week 9 and remind
is a player Rodgers praised. "I have confidence in (Kumerow).
He's in the right spot all the time, he makes contested catches,
finishes the right way. He practices like a pro." Does that mean
anything to fantasy owners 2 1/2 months later? Maybe. Maybe not.
Based on his preseason usage, he would work outside opposite Davante
Adams while Geronimo
Allison would most likely work the slot if Green Bay wanted
to shoehorn him in the lineup. It is very unlikely things will
get to a point this season where HC Mike McCarthy will bench a
healthy Cobb for someone like Kumerow (or Valdes-Scantling), but
Cobb's play prior to injury was so uninspiring that it is a possibility.
Tight Ends Upside at a position where it is hard to find
Herndon, NY Jets - Here is what I wrote about Herndon
minutes after he was drafted this spring: Herndon tore his
MCL in Miamiís regular-season finale, keeping him from helping
his draft stock during the draft process. The 6-4, 253-pounder
operated a lot out of the slot at "The U" and was a three-year
starter. Following the loss of Austin
Seferian-Jenkins, the Jets have a bunch of athletic oversized
slots vying for the starting job. Herndon is more talented than
the rest of them, so it seems reasonable he will rise to the top
of the depth chart at some point early in his career.
When it comes to tight ends in fantasy this year, almost any
player capable of making three catches and/or finding the end
zone every third or fourth game is on the radar. Herndon put himself
on the fantasy map with a 2-56-1 line in Week 6 and followed that
up with four catches (on seven targets) for 42 yards and another
score in Week 7. As is the case with most rookie tight ends, he's
liable to break your heart the moment you begin to trust him.
Then again, the Jets are dealing with so many injuries at receiver
and running back that it becomes possible someone like Herndon
could have a bit of an extended run if New York makes him a priority.
With that said, nothing has changed yet in terms of his playing
time. He is averaging 26 snaps during his recent surge, right
behind Eric Tomlinson's 26.5 and a few more than Jordan Leggett
Hurst, Baltimore - If I have 1,000 pet peeves, one
of them is a coach or an assistant raving about a player during
the week and giving him 20 snaps on Sunday. There have been already
at least two instances (here's
one and here's
the other) since Hurst was activated in Week 5 in which a
Ravens coach has remarked about how good the rookie looks in practice.
Hurst has one catch on five targets for seven yards through three
games, seeing no more than 21 snaps in any of them. While Baltimore
has a nice problem in that it has talent at the position, the
fact the Ravens spent their first first-round pick on him suggests
somebody in the front office believes the team lacks a playmaker
at the position or thinks Hurst has a shot at being one of the
best in the league.
There has been plenty of talk about the three- (and now four-headed)
committee at tight end, which may be necessary if all of them
were specialists. But should this team have a committee at the
position? Nick Boyle has been on the roster bubble more than once
and suspended by the league multiple times. Maxx Williams is a
former first-round pick who has been injured most of his career
and disappointed when he has been healthy. Mark Andrews is a very
capable pass-catcher but an oversized slot receiver. Hurst was
considered the most well-rounded tight end in this year's draft,
one capable of playing in every situation and on every down right
away. His August foot injury undoubtedly set him back in an attempt
to become that guy right away, but there has been no mention of
his injury or him having trouble getting acclimated.
Coaches often tell the media how they want Player X to get more
work, see more work, etc. (Sound familiar, Duke Johnson owners?)
Situations and personnel packages often dictate a player's usage,
but Hurst is literally a player that doesn't have to come off
the field. Baltimore has lost two of its last three games by a
total of four points and is averaging 17.7 points over that stretch.
Isn't there a chance a first-round talent at tight end capable
of stretching the seam may be of some help? Either the coaching
staff trusts him now or they don't. If he's behind due to the
injury, say so. Telling the media he looks great and then limiting
his playing time makes him look bad and/or the coaching staff
look incompetent. Owners who can afford to stash him should.
Complete long shot:Ed
Dickson, Seattle - Dickson is kind of like that annoying co-worker
who you swear you'll never hang out with outside of work only
to have him/her repeatedly show up at your favorite watering hole
the one night each week you can get away from your real-life responsibilities.
Dickson hasn't recorded more than last season's 48 targets or
30 catches since his career year in 2011, yet he somehow finds
his way into the conversation for desperate owners in search of
a tight end almost every year.
The reason Dickson appears on this list is twofold: 1) Seattle
inked him to a three-year contract worth $14 million in the offseason
and 2) Will Dissly showed us in the first three weeks of the season
what is possible for a tight end in this offense (although some
of that was a function of Doug Baldwin not playing). For all of
his faults and inconsistency, Dickson is more talented than Dissly
and has shown his ability on occasion (five catches for 175 yards
in Week 5 against Detroit last season was a great example). The
ex-Carolina Panther is a capable blocker to boot, so he should
be in line for plenty of playing time once Seattle deems him ready
to come off the non-football injury list. The competition for
playing time is Nick Vannett, who hasn't really done anything
of note to hold onto the job. While it is very likely Dickson's
upside will be in the three-to-four catch range in a run-heavy
offense, owners can hope for the Dissly-like impact in an offense
that will probably continue to play it pretty close to the vest,
opting to move the chains much more often than shot plays.
Doug Orth has written for FF
Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy
Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s
hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday
in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national
sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”.
Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.