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I believe that a fantasy owner's final picks in a re-draft league should consist of players with tremendous upside. They should have the talent to change the game with one play, the skills to beat top opponents, and the potential for coaches to adjust the offense to their style of play. The likes of Pharoh Cooper, James White, Brandon LaFell, Shaun Draughn, Dexter McCluster, and Jeff Heuerman don't fit the profile.
You want hidden dynamite. This week, I'm ranking my top-25 end-of-the-draft, Hail Mary Picks that you should consider during the final 3-4 rounds—or at least monitor as high-potential waiver wire gems.
NO.25: PEYTON BARBER
A sturdy, agile runner, Barber only started a year at Auburn, but he performed well when the Tigers leaned on him early this year before it's passing-heavy QB got hurt and the team went to an option-heavy QB and diversified the ground game. Barber plays the game a lot like Chiefs back Spencer Ware and Barber's second cousin, Marion Barber. He'll compete with Mike James for the No.3 role and if given a real shot, I think he wins it. With a good camp, he could impress the staff enough that if Doug Martin goes down, Barber could force more of a split with Charles Sims than people may expect. .
No.24: Jared Goff
Was there even a fantasy WR2 in Minnesota when Teddy Bridgewater posted QB11 fantasy stats during the final 7 weeks of 2014? Negative.
It's why you shouldn't allow the lack of established firepower in Los Angeles to dissuade you from considering Goff at the end of your drafts. I think Goff's talent deserves to be in the same conversation as any of the three passers I mentioned above. His pocket presence is as savvy as any rookie that I've seen in recent years
He also displays an underrated pre-snap acumen and aggressive mentality to attack defenses:
With Todd Gurley, Case Keenum earned a 60.8 percent completion rate and threw 4 touchdowns to just 1 interception during his 6-game stretch as the starter. We're talking about a backup who was likely less rehearsed to work with the starters than what Goff will be. Like Keenum, Goff is aggressive and he can buy time to make plays. Unlike Keenum, Goff has a gun and his college career is filled with a portfolio of wiser play choices.
It means Kenny Britt might finally prove that, at least with his underachievement tour with the Rams, the issue was quarterbacking. I'm not holding my breath but Britt has authored two consecutive seasons with healthy yards-per-catch averages 15.6 and 18.9 in 2014-2015 so it's not like his skill at getting deep has diminished. He's unofficially my No.26 player on this list.
I'm not one to recommend taking more than two quarterbacks, which is why Goff is at the bottom of my list. Still, he's worth thinking about if he wins the job early in camp and is slated as the opening-day starter. He's best-suited as a free agent option unless you're in a two-quarterback format or a league with deep rosters (25-plus) and no waiver wire.
NOs.23-22: Dennis PItta and Ben Watson
A month ago, Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec believed that Pitta has looked good, moved well, and still capable of making a significant contribution to the team. This is notable because only the only passing game weapon besides Pitta who fits the criteria of having experience with Joe Flacco, possessing a well-rounded skill set, delivered in the red zone, and arrives to camp healthy is wide receiver Kamar Aiken. If Pitta proves Zrebiec correct, the veteran tight end ave a significant role in the red zone.
Watson had a career-year with fantasy king-maker Drew Brees but the former first-round pick of the Patriots has always been a great athletic talent with skills as a blocker. The free agent contract that the Ravens offered Watson suggests that they see him as a significant contributor. Watson still has the speed to stretch the seam and he's versatile enough to play inside or outside.
The Ravens depth chart is a crowded one, but with unanswered questions about Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman, Marc Trestman could opt to split Pitta from the slot and use Ben Watson in-line with good numbers for both tight ends. Both players have good noses for the red zone and it's why I'd consider either player at the end of my drafts if the training camp reports remain consistently good about one or both options.
NO. 21: Malcolm Brown
Tre Mason is expected to miss part of the season due to an arrest on suspicion of marijuana possession, reckless driving, failure to register a motor vehicle, and resisting arrest. Brown and rookie Aaron Green will compete for the No.3 role behind Benny Cunningham. Green is a pretty runner but at TCU, he lacked the power and attitude to finish like a Sunday pro.
Brown is a power back with more burst than long speed. But like Joique Bell, Spencer Ware, and other backs who have produced in the NFL, Brown has enough acceleration to thrive. The second-year back from Texas is a big, strong, and quick runner with good decision-making. He didn't make the roster after the final training camp cut-down in 2015, but the Rams liked Brown enough to sign him as a restricted free agent. After Todd Gurley, Brown is the most competent power runner between the tackles on the Rams depth chart. If Gurley gets hurt and Mason misses extended time, Brown could split time with Cunningham and earn more time on the merit of his performances.
NO.20: Rashad Greene Sr
The rationale beind Greene on this list is his versatilty to play outside and potential to win in the vertical game if either Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, or Julius Thomas gets hurt. Both Robinson and Hurns were among the top-10 vertical threats in the league last year. If one gets hurt and Julius Thomas plays as well as expected, the Jaguars still have two established players who will open easy targets for a player like Greene.
The second-year option from FSU likely starts the year as the team's slot option, which won't amount to much on paper. He's worth a late pick because it's better to have the heir-apparent WR2 from the Jaguars' productive passing game on your roster after an early-season injury than hoping you can land him off the waiver wire. If this doomsday scenario doesn't happen, you can drop him for other needs.
NO.19: BRICE BUTLER
John Owning's article on Butler is a convincing analysis of the former Raider's talent. If the 6-3, 214-pound speedster with a flair for the acrobatic beats Terrence Williams this year, his ADP may jump inside the 15th-16th round and he may no longer qualify as hidden dynamite. What you're really seeking from Butler this summer is a good showing in training camp and the preseason. If he at least creates an intense competition for playing time, he's worth eyeing as a late pick who could benefit tremendously from an injury to Williams or Dez Bryant—especially if Ezekiel Elliott performs as expected.
NO.18: KEITH MARSHALL
I understand that the Washington sports writers community has Marshall on the bubble to make the roster. I get that Matt Jones is earning another huge opportunity as the feature back. But also remember a similar scenario in Cleveland where Isaiah Crowell wasn't even projected to stay in Cleveland and Dion Lewis was the odds-on favorite to start. That all changed once Lewis broke his leg and Crowell entered the game in the fourth quarter of a preseason tilt against Chicago and forced the Browns to truly consider him.
Marshall is capable of the same scenario and with Chris Thompson's track record for injuries, I'm not shying away from Marshall as a late-round pick who go from August Afterthought to September Starter in a matter of weeks. Marshall has the speed, strength, footwork, and receiving skills to challenge for playing time. A spring hamstring injury forced the beat writers to make Marshall the de facto "bubble player" in their annual OTA wrap-ups. Understandable.
If Marshall gets cut, keep tabs on his movement because unless he fails a physical—and by all accounts he looked healthy in pre-draft check-ups—he'll land somewhere and challenge for a roster spot.
NO.17: JAMES O'SHAUGHNESSY
I can't justifiably recommend taking a backup tight end during a draft but I can tell you that Travis Kelce's backup is a stud athlete. O'Shaughnessy is one of the most impressive combine performers at the tight end position and he made quick enough progress to earn the No.2 job in Kansas City last year. When he earned targets for the Chiefs, the public and media often mistook him for Travis Kelce. If Kelce gets hurt, O'Shaughnessy has the speed, burst, hands, and strength to step in and thrive in an offense that leans hard on its tight end.
No.16: Charles Johnson
It's a common sight for players to go from future star to complete afterthought within the span of a year. That's Johnson's story after he began the 2015 season banged up and never emerged as the promising threat that was on display the season prior. Although he last that 8-10 round ADP from this time last year, Johnson still has near-freakish athletic talent. He also continued to earn time in three-receivers sets during 2016 OTAs.
The Vikings want to move Stefon Diggs around the formation to create mismatches this year and it's likely Laquon Treadwell is entrenched as the team's flanker. It leaves that X role for open Johnson when Diggs moves to the slot. If you think those mismatches are just going to be fore Diggs and Treadwell then you're missing the point.
Johnson is worth a late-round selection not only for his potential as a bye-week producer but the possibility that an injury to one of the Vikings' top two receivers creates a starting opportunity.
No.15: C.J. Spiller
I want to like Spiller more but so does anyone who evaluates him on the sheer basis of athletic ability. Last year, Spiller played hurt and with the exception of one play against the Cowboys he was useless for fantasy owners. This year, Spiller could earn the "Sproles Role" in this offense if Sean Payton decides to go back to the future.
It doesn't appear to be the plan but if Spiller plays sharp, the Saints have the creative tendencies to switch things up. If it happens, Spiller offers top-25 upside at his position. There's really no harm in taking Spiller at the end of a draft and holding onto him for a few weeks.
No. 14: ANDRE ELLINGTON
Once upon a time in a pro football league not much different than this one, Ellington was considered a versatile talent on the verge of fantasy running back production. Two years of injuries that head coach Bruce Arians ascribed to Ellington's difficulty handling a feature workload. Last year, Ellington went down once again and a pair of Johnsons overtook the former starter on the depth chart. Now fantasy owners are crowning David Johnson the Cardinals' next RB1 and looking to the veteran Chris as a quality handcuff.
But don't forget about Ellington. Darren Urban of azcardinals.com speculates that Ellington could play more receiver than running back this year. If this is true, it means we won't see much of Ellington on the field at all because there's no way his playing time will come at the expense of Larry Fitzgerald.
I'd still consider Ellington because Chris Johnson is on the older side of his functional years and David is still making the mental transition to running back as a wide receiver conversion project at Northern Iowa. When a player doesn't have the mental side of blocking schemes down pat, he's more prone to decisions that can put himself in harm's way.
This is my theory, not a fact. But think about the idea that players avoid injury by playing with a level of reckless abandon that comes with refined practice of skills and movements. Most players I've met say that when you begin thinking on the field, you begin to hesitate, and it leads to awkward movements with the body at the wrong time.
David doesn't appear that awkward but he has admitted that he needs to develop more patience. If he overthinks this aspect of running back play, it can lead to more awkwardness and possible injury. It sounds like a stretch but consider the amount of injuries we see at running back and it's not out of the range of possibility.
Ellington will remain a good free agent value all year because we know he can produce when called upon. Drafting him early and hoping that you're team is strong enough to hold onto him until there's a need to use him or trade him isn't a bad thing.
No.13: Bobby Rainey
Yes, I still have the bandwagon in the garage that I built for Rainey during his days at Western Kentucky. I even took it for a spin in 2013 when he earned starter reps when Doug Martin went down. Now he's an afterthought in New York competing with Marshaun Coprich for a final roster spot behind the likes of Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen, Paul Perkins, Andre Williams, and Orleans Darkwa.
Based on what I've seen from all of these players, I'd be satisfied with the Giants's decision if they rolled with Jennings, Rainey, Perkins and Darkwa. I loved Shane Vereen's potential but he's only shown small flashes of his talent whereas Rainey has done more in the league with his limited chances. What I love about Rainey is that he's football's version of a bad-ball hitter: a bad-line runner.
Rainey not only wins as a space back due to his receiving skills but he has the burst, vision, and change of direction to make the first man miss and turn defensive penetration on its ear. By no means am I claiming that Rainey is some underrated superstar. He's a good reserve capable of RB2 fantasy production.
And at this point, the Giants have two big-name runners whose health are question marks (Jennings-Vereen), a rookie who needs to prove he can pass protect (Perkins), another rookie who has to prove he won't bounce everything outside (Coprich), and a solid veteran who the players like but the coaches were iffy about (Darkwa).
I'll be surprised if a healthy Rainey gets cut. He's worth stashing for a few weeks because there are multiple ways he could earn playing time thanks to the fragility of Jennings and Vereen and the youth of Perkins.
NO.12: Brett Hundley
Stashing a backup quarterback makes little sense, which is why I can't rate Hundley any higher. On the basis of talent, situation, and role with the team, Hundley could easily be the hidden dynamite with the greatest explosion this year. He has earned the respect and admiration of his coaches after entering 2015 training camp as a green, late-round pick who didn't seem mentally ready for the pro game. By the end of the preseason, he led the NFL in QB rating and showed tremendous skill at acclimating to the intellectual side of the game.
Fast-foward to 2016, and his coaches say that Hundley will at least be a good starting quarterback in the NFL in the near future. The quality of his footwork is "night and day" and he's always been a top-notch athlete with the willingness to hang in the pocket. If Aaron Rodgers gets hurt and this receiving corps stays healthy, Brett Hundley can help fantasy owners win their leagues.
No. 11: Paul Richardson Jr
In case you missed it, I believe in talent until I see enough reasons to move on. It's why players like Spencer Ware, Joique Bell, Bobby Rainey, and the like remain in my weekly conversations about late-round options over the course of years. Richardson had one catch last year and left the game with a hamstring tear and it came during his initial return from his second ACL tear since his collegiate career.
But that one catch was against a good Cardinals defense where he beat press and and hauled in a 40-yard gain. The talent is still there, he's been healthy in OTAs, and the team is quietly hopeful that Richardson can make a much larger contribution to the offense. Remember, this is a second-round player that the team valued as a first-round talent.
Jimmy Graham is dealing with the most difficult type of injury to rehab and because Graham has never really been a blocker, there is room for a third receiver in this passing game. Richardson may lack the rapport that Jermaine Kearse has with Russell Wilson but a good preseason could put Richardson in position to work with Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett as a regular in three-receiver sets. With a strong possibility that the Seahawks ground game struggles if Thomas Rawls isn't healthy early, Seattle could expand the passing game and thrive with Richardson stretching the field against slot defenders and safeties. Or, Seattle could move one of the other two receivers inside with Richardson outside.
None of these scenarios even account for the idea of Richardson taking over for an injured Baldwin or Lockett and performing like the draft pick who was lighting up Seahawks' training camp daily in 2014.
No.10: SEth Roberts
Based on percentage of successful plays to targets, Roberts was one of the best inside the 20 last year. This indicates three things that are likely about his game: 1) Roberts has the trust of Derek Carr. 2) Roberts has skill to adjust to the ball in compressed spaces. 3) Roberts reads defenses well enough to find openings in zone.
If Michael Crabtree or Amari Cooper gets hurt, Roberts could wind up a target monster. This is a young player on the rise on a team that is still searching for an established third option in the passing game. Cive Walford might claim that role So could DeAndre Washington. Until then, I'll take a shot on Roberts at the end of drafts due to his higher floor and high ceiling.
NO.9: Leonte CArroo
Carroo offers the Dolphins a well-rounded receiving threat, which, as odd as it sounds, Miami lacks. Jarvis Landry is strictly a slot option with limited speed. DeVante Parker has to learn to beat press and develop a better mental game. Kenny Stills needs to prove he has the work ethic.
Already earning first-team reps in OTAs, Carroo isn't a favorite to make the starting lineup this year but he's in good shape to see frequent time as a contributor. If Parker has a setback with his troublesome foot or he doesn't progress with areas he must address, Carroo's physical style and good route fundamentals will come to the fore.
Of the top-tier rookie receivers, Carroo is the most underrated.
No.8: TAJAE SHARP
Lets be honest with ourselves for a moment. The Titans have nothing at wide receiver. To be more accurate, the Titans have a lot of "could-be's" at the position, which at the end of the day means they have nothing.
Justin Hunter is an immense physical talent who has seen two coaches at a high level of football challenge him to play to his ability. Harry Douglas isn't a primary threat. Kendall Wright has been challenged to get better at a route runner after one strong year as a slot option. And Rishard Matthews is the third of three players who made his bones as a slot option.
It leaves us with Dorial Green-Beckham, who has a combination of—you guessed it—issues ranging from questions about his work ethic and work to do as a route runner. It's quite possible that Sharp, a rookie, is the best worker and route runner on the team.
Sharp has the quickness, toughness, and my-ball mentality to develop into a starter. After earning first-team reps in OTAs and the rest of the depth chart earning individual challenges, the fast-developing Marcus Mariota needs a player who will be where he's supposed to be and get separation while doing it. It makes the rookie from UMass worth a flier.
No. 7: Bruce Ellington
Ellington is the kind of slot receiver who can play inside and outside, win after the catch, or get vertical on the perimeter. He established a strong rapport with Blaine Gabbert this spring and the former Jaguars' quarterback is the odds-on favorite to win the job in San Francisco. It makes Ellington the high-odds, low-risk check-down target over the middle and the beneficiary of matchups with linebackers and safeties on deeper routes. If Gabbert wins the job in San Francisco, you can bet I'll be consdiering Ellington in my DFS lineups early on.
NO. 6: Jalen STrong
I can't wait to see Strong in August because it didn't appear as if he had weight issues at all while starring at Arizona State. He played much like a Keyshawn Johnson-like possession receiver who could earn separation deep with the aid of play action. If Strong's weight loss yields a quicker, faster weapon, the Texans may find willing trade partners for Braxton Miller or Will Fuller during their rookie deals. Strong has a similar kind of ability to win the ball in the air as DeAndre Hopkins.
If Strong proves he's this kind of "inaccuracy eraser", Brock Osweiler may be hard-pressed for excuses if he can't get the job done.
No.5: TED GINN
If Cam Newton taught fantasy owners anything the last two seasons, it's that he'll continue targeting receivers who drop the football. Kelvin Benjamin was a strong fantasy WR2 as a rookie in 2014 and Ginn was the No.25 fantasy receiver last year. Ginn remains one of the fastest receivers in the league and Carolina's projected starters are much slower by comparison.
To think that Ginn won't see the field as the deep threat in this offense—or even split time in a rotation with Devin Funchess—seems unlikely. I have no problem benefitting from Ginn's reputation as a butter-fingered speedster and the perception that he'll return to the bench now that Benjamin is healthy. If I'm wrong, I picked Ginn after the 15th round. If I'm right, I have a top-40 receiver capable of weeks with multiple touchdowns. He had four last year, including three games with two scores between Weeks 13-15. Money.
No. 4: Alex Collins
If Thomas Rawls can't return to form early in the season, Collins has a legitimate shot to at least earn playing time as a committee back. Collins style is within that Marshawn Lynch-Spencer Ware continuum. He's quicker than fast and has good footwork. He's also capable of breaking multiple tackles within the same run.
The thing to watch with Collins next month is his progress with pass protection. Thanks to the question marks surrounding Rawls' healthy, Collins is worth a late-round pick regardless. If Collins displays he's up to speed with pass protection, the rookie could remain the hot hand in the offense and supply fantasy value for an extended length of time this year. I'm more confident in Rawls regaining his role than Collins becoming the next Rawls but choosing late-round picks isn't that surgical.
NO.3: zach Zenner
Stevan Ridley is gaining heat as the potential replacement for the Joique Bell role in the Lions' backfield but don't count out Zenner. The second-year runner is a quick, powerful back with good hands and decent skill as a pass protector. Ridley may do enough to experience a late-career renaissance after bouncing around post-New England.
If so, Zenner will compete with George Winn and Dwayne Washington for the final spot and it won't be a contest. Winn is a big, slow runner with power. Washington is a big, fast back with power. I love Washington's talent, but Zenner is a notch above at this point.
Built like Brandon Marshall but with breakaway speed and natural balance and power that is better than most backs I have seen, Washington is greener than George "The Animal" Steel's tongue after two packs of Clorets. Washington couldn't even hang onto the starting job at the University of Washington. He didn't understand blocking schemes, his ball security was problematic, and he often misguaged the exchange with his quarterback. A former wide receiver, Washington also dropped easy passes because he was unfamiliar with the outlet routes and how to track the ball as a running back.
Give Washington 2-3 years with an RB tutor and spoonfeed him playing time, and I'd be far more confident in him making good on his vast natural ability. Right now, Zenner is no worse than the No.3 back on the depth chart and I'll stake a late-round pick with the belief he'll split time with Ameer Abdullah this fall. If Abdullah gets hurt, Zenner could deliver top-15 production if the rest of the offense clicks.
No.2: Tim Hightower
David Johnson was the top fantasy running back during the final four weeks of the 2015 season. Hightower was eight points behind Johnson for the second spot on this list. Always a versatile player, Hightower regained his form after a long bout with an infection that put a huge dent in his recovery timetable after suffering an ACL tear as Washington's starter when Mike Shanahan first took over the team.
The Saints already have Hightower pencilled in as the No.2 back on the depth chart of a team with more firepower than last year. Mark Ingram's rate of injury seems to be improving since the beginning of his career but he's still missing at least 3-5 games a year for the past three seasons. Unlike Spiller, Hightower has always shown good feel between the tackles, runs with power, and he catches the ball well from the backfield. He's one of the safest late-round picks with upside on the board.
NO.1: Virgil Green
I've written extensively about Green over the years. He's big, fast, tough to tackle, and he was Colin Kapernick's go-to receiver at Nevada. He's one fo the best athletes at the position in the NFL.
The Broncos used him on special teams, gave Julius Thomas the special treatment as its developmental receiver, and to Green's credit, he became known as a blocker. I never would have imagined this outcome when I watched Green in college.
At Nevada, Green was a good effort blocker but not technically sound. At Nevada, Green didn't get disrupted by physical play the way that Thomas did in Denver. This year, Green finally earns a shot to start.
Sadly, it won't happen with Peyton Manning from 2-3 years ago. But Mark Sanchez has shown a rapport with tight ends in the past as the quarterback with the USC Trojans and the New York Jets. Green is an even better athlete and more rugged player than Dustin Keller, who earned multiple TE1 seasons with Sanchez at the helm.
Green's basement-level ADP is too good to resist—especially if you take an established tight end with year-round trade value and back him up with the Broncos' option.