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If I believe a football player has the potential to become a productive talent, I don't care about his draft status, depth chart position, or how many stops he's had around the NFL. I also don't care if it takes 3-5 years for that talent to blossom to its fullest.
It doesn't mean I hold every player that I'm patient with, but I monitor their whereabouts and progress. This week, I'm sharing my list of players who failed to make a fantasy impact this year but are worth holding or monitoring long-term.
This is far from an exhaustive list or one even prioritized by how much I like them. They're players that caught my eye when scanning current depth charts.
Players with asterisks bookending their names are players whose talent I really liked when studying their college tape despite having a lesser media profile.
WR *Chad Williams*, Arizona
A lot will be said and written about metrics-guy Carlton Agudosi, but the more promising receiver prospect Arizona is Williams, who also ran an impressive 4.3-second 40-yard dash. Williams is a physical receiver who can win the ball in the air, and he has earned recent playing time ahead of the recently promoted Agudosi. Williams is raw with some of the details of route running, but he has a playmaker's mentality and gifts. If he's applying himself, he could make the greatest strides of any receiver on the Cardinals' roster.
RB *KENNETH DIXON*, Baltimore
Alex Collins has performed well and he's capable of keeping the starting job. However, Dixon is an excellent after-contact runner with a versatile game. Dixon flashed that talent last year when he split time with Terrance West during his rookie year. An injury and suspension ended Dixon's 2017 season before it started, but even if Collins and/or Danny Woodhead begin 2018, as the lead backs in the Ravens' starting rotation, Dixon will be an injury away from a shot to regain a long-term role.
WR *Kenny Bell*, Baltimore
Bell impressed early during his rookie year in Tampa but an injury cost him an active roster spot. Despite that fact, the Buccaneers liked him enough to let him travel with the team as an inactive player. This is rare. However, Bell made too many big mistakes the following summer after a sizzling spring, and the Buccaneers cut him. The Ravens signed him to a futures contract in 2016 and according to Baltimore Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec, Bell stood out in minicamps. When he suffered a hamstring injury early in training camp, the Ravens released him with an injury settlement in August. Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace are aging, Breshad Perriman has underachieved, Michael Campanaro can't stay healthy, and Bell has an excellent athletic profile. If he can develop consistency, he has the toughness, YAC skills, and ball-tracking to finally emerge. At the same time, if consistency is a problem, perhaps he's not as serious about the game as he should be. It's often what happens when a team that likes a player enough to let him travel with the squad as an inactive is cut the following year.
WR John Ross, Cincinnati
We're quick to write off rookies who generate massive buzz and then fail to make an immediate impact. Ross has well-documented issues with staying healthy, but he's a talent worth fantasy owner's patience. Don't buy Ross in any deals where the owner is trying sell the receiver based anywhere near his 2017 draft value because it may take another year or two before Ross develops the skills consistently beat press-man. Inexperienced draft analysts and draftniks go nuts over speed to the detriment of technical and conceptual savvy. Ross' speed doesn't scare defenders in the NFL nearly as much as it did in the Pac-12. Even so, I still believe Ross has too much potential to write off.
TE *Cethan Carter*, Cincinnati
Despite sporting a filled depth chart at the position, Carter made the Bengals. To be fair, Tyler Eifert's shaky health was a significant factor. However, Carter earned some playing time early in the year. He didn't maintain it because he dropped a pass, but his playing time likely occurred because the Bengals liked his quickness, route running, and physicality in practices. Carter's draft stock was low because he played in a Nebraska program that lacked a quality passing game and Carter also frequently displayed a "case of the Ebron's." At the same time, Carter also made difficult plays and ran better routes than I've ever seen from Ebron. Tyler Kroft's contract expires at the end of 2018 and Eifert could be considered damaged goods. C.J. Uzomah has more experience but his ceiling isn't as high as Carter. If the Bengals don't acquire another tight end this winter or spring, Carter could have a better opportunity for career growth than it currently appears.
TE/WR *Bucky Hodges*, Free agent
Hodges made the most "big-boy" catches of any tight end prospect in the 2017 NFL Draft class. He showed that same skill with the Vikings, but Minnesota waived Hodges late in camp. The Panthers signed Hodges to its practice squad in mid-September and waived him on Halloween. If Hodges was a notable screwup, it's likely that he wouldn't have lasted in Minnesota's camp until September 12. He was officially designated to the Vikings' IR and then given a waived/injured designation. My gut feeling: Neither team had the imagination nor the desire to figure out what to do with him. He has a tight end's body, but an outside receiver's game. If Hodges finds the right team, he could be special. Think Jimmy Graham in New Orleans kind of special.
WR Kevin White and Cameron Meredith, Chicago
I don't need to say much about either player. If you're jaded with White due to his injuries, anything I will say won't convince you otherwise. I like what I've seen from Mitchell Trubisky. His development track has been steady even if his production hasn't been overly impressive.
QB *Chad Kelly*, Denver
All you're going to hear is how the Broncos don't have its 2018 starting quarterback currently on its roster. It may be true, especially if John Elway fires Vance Joseph after Joseph's first year as a head coach and believes this nucleus of this team is still better than it looks. However, we know that Joseph likes Kelly — it's not the "Oh, Kelly's Uncle Jim and I are old war buddy's and I'm doing Chad a favor," narrative that you may be reading elsewhere. From the standpoint of making confident, aggressive reads and throws, Kelly's conceptual acumen for the position as good as any quarterback prospect I've seen in the past three years. He's also a much better athlete than people realize and a far harder worker than his reputation. If Joseph remains the head coach, I wouldn't be shocked if the Broncos bring in a veteran quarterback and give Kelly a shot to compete for the backup role behind that veteran. If Joseph is sent packing and Elway drafts a quarterback early, Kelly's path becomes cloudier. Then again, ask Broncos fans how first-round pick Paxton Lynch and late-round pick Trevor Siemian played out...
WR Carlos Henderson, Denver
The draftnik buzz on Henderson last year was too much like fainting school girls at their favorite boyband concert. Henderson is a talented but raw option who lacked the wherewithal to truly develop immediately as a slot receiver. He's still worth your patience, especially as Demaryius Thomas ages and no other current option has shown enough to look like an heir apparent. I wouldn't be shocked if Denver drafts a receiver or two to groom behind Thomas. I'm not expecting great things from Henderson next year, but he should make strides. There's a chance that he goes the path of Bruce Ellington, which isn't the outcome draftniks expected.
TE Rico Gathers, Dallas
The big question will be Gathers' long-term health and mindset after the concussion that put landed him on IR. His preseason development was impressive and I can understand why the Cowboys are hoping for his downfield potential to pay dividends next year or the year after. If the Cowboys don't draft a tight end in the first four rounds or add a big-time free agent, it will be a good sign that the former Baylor basketball star remains in its plans.
WR Ryan Switzer, Dallas
An even quicker version of Trent Taylor with better skill after the catch, Switzer has potential to become high-volume slot receiver if the Cowboys go that route with the offense.
WR *DeAngelo Yancey*, Green Bay
I realize that Geronimo Allison is the most visible of the talented depth chart options behind Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams, but Yancey bears monitoring. Allison is a smoother route runner, but Yancey has the downfield speed and size to win in the vertical game. He could become a surprise contributor in 2018.
WR *Josh Reynolds*, LA Rams
He might remain a distant fourth in the Rams' receiver rotation next year, but he's an excellent buy-low if Watkins stays in L.A. and a league mate goes tilt on Reynolds value. He's a big, strong, acrobatic option with much better athletic ability than characterized last spring. He was my No. 2 receiver in the 2017 Rookie Scouting Portfolio pre-draft publication and I believe he'll become a long-term starter within 3-4 years.
WR Laquon Treadwell, Minnesota
Treadwell may turn out to be another Brandon LaFell, a disappointing fantasy option but a solid starter or contributor in real football. He's shown enough in brief appearances — he made one of the best catches I've seen this year from a receiver — that I'm still optimistic about his upside, even if it means waiting longer than we hoped.
QB Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota
I'm admittedly bordering on pollyannish behavior with this view, but I believe it: Bridgewater's injury may be a blessing in disguise. The Vikings quarterback resculpted his body while rehabbing his knee. Bridgewater's 2016 preseason performances showed a lot of signs of a player about to make the leap. Combine these two factors and Bridgewater could become the leading candidate for the 2018 Comeback Player of The Year Award. With the offensive line Minnesota has built, Bridgewater could shock. In fact, the Vikings players who commented that Bridgewater looked like Joe Montana was an interesting statement to me in the sense that Bridgewater's style of play — not talent, although we all know I valued his talent highly — reminded me of the all-time great.
QB Taysom Hill, New Orleans
A fantastic athlete with great size, mobility, and physicality, Hill is the next in a long line of prospects who get matched with the allure of the Sean Payton-Drew Brees partnership in New Orleans. Thus far, the only starting quarterback of note to come from that partnership is Brees, but Hill has the physical tools to keep an eye on, especially when the offense is transitioning to a balanced system.
WR *Isaiah Ford*, Miami
Ford was making a move in early August before landing on IR. He's neither a big guy nor a blazer, but he's ultra quick, tracks the ball as well as any receiver I saw in 2017, and he wins against physical coverage. I remember a player with this kind of talent but lacking great speed. When he was "on," there were few better in the vertical game. That player was Brandon Lloyd. The Dolphins need a quarterback, but Ford is a player I'd keep tabs on next year.
TE AJ Derby, Miami
Derby is an Adam Gase guy and he's a new acquisition who could easily ascend the depth chart in 2018. The Broncos didn't know how draft or use a tight end before or after Julius Thomas, so I'm taking Derby's performance there with a grain of salt. I'm not expecting great things from Derby, but I'm keeping an open mind after flashes he showed with the Patriots.
WR Mack Hollins, Philadelphia
If Hollins works at his craft like I expect, he could be starting in a year or two and become a security blanket for Carson Wentz. Big, physical, and smart, Hollins was a great value in last year's draft.
WR *Ardarius Stewart* and *Chad Hansen*, New York Jets
Stewart reminds me stylistically of Anquan Boldin, but with greater speed. Hansen is quick and tracks the ball well. Jermaine Kearse is a good veteran, but he's a placeholder with a journeyman's profile. Quincy Enunwa may ultimately have the first crack at the starting role opposite Robby Anderson next year, but this duo has the talent to monitor.
WR *Trent Taylor*, San Francisco
RB *Mike Davis*, Seattle
Fantasy analysts are still in love with Chris Carson. He looked good early in the year, but a lot of those good-looking plays weren't all his own doing. I think Davis can be better. The Seahawks RB corps is a soap opera many fantasy owners will want to stay away from. However, Davis and Carson are cheap bets worth making.
TE Nick Vannett, Seattle
I wasn't a part of the Vannett love among draft analysts two years ago. The Senior Bowl beat writers who gushed over him on the first day of practice neglected to notice that dropped almost every target where he dealt with physical play from an opponent. Still, Vannett is an athletic option who can block and Russell Wilson creates wide-open opportunities for outlets working free in zone coverage. I added Vannett to a dynasty roster last week, if you play in PPR leagues, he could be worth a look in deeper formats.
RB *Peyton Barber*, Tampa Bay
WR Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay
Godwin has impressed all year, even if he hasn't earned significant targets in the starting rotation. DeSean Jackson may have a year or two left, maybe three if he becomes the modern-day version of Joey Galloway, but Godwin's toughness and route skills are the future.
WR Terrelle Pryor and Robert Davis, Washington
Pryor bet on himself this year and lost. He lost confidence and overthought his game when Jay Gruden applied pressure. He'll be elsewhere in 2018, but I still believe that what we saw from him in Cleveland is closer to the truth of his game than what he did this summer and fall. Davis is a fine athlete with terrific upside who Washington recently activated from the practice squad. He's the classic prospect heavy on athletic ability and a little light on technical skill. Even so, he flashed enough to monitor him.
RB *Keith Marshall*, Washington
It's the second straight year Marshall suffered a season-ending injury and the third season-ending injury he's had since his college career. Before that, Marshall never suffered an injury so it's been a frustrating situation for the former Georgia back who was once considered on par with teammate Todd Gurley as a prospect. Before this summer's injury, Jay Gruden was impressed with Marshall in 2017 training camp. Too many injuries can earn a player a tag around the league that they can have difficulty peeling off. If Marshall earns a shot elsewhere in the next year or two, he's still young enough to emerge and surprise. His size-speed combo is impressive. Patellar tendon injuries a gruesome, but Jimmy Graham's return could offer a glimpse of hope despite the differences in the demands of their respective positions. Remember, Chris Thompson was oft-injured and maintained a roster spot before emerging this year. Of course, he's also on IR...