Five Undrafted Diamonds in the Rough

These five low roster-rate players are a group to keep an eye on at the start of the 2021 season

Your drafts are over and the regular season is just around the corner. All of your hard work has paid off as your fantasy football roster is looking unstoppable. The next step to bringing home that championship: working the waiver wire. Knowing who and what to look for each week can be tricky, and sometimes downright exhausting after an entire season. We’ve done some of the work for you as we review five players to keep an eye on to start the 2021 season. We looked for two things: low roster rate (around 10% or lower via ESPN data) and opportunity for fantasy relevance.

 

Detroit Lions WR Amon-Ra St Brown

(10.6% rostered)

 

 

Who:

 

At just under six feet tall and about 195 pounds, Amon-Ra was selected in the fourth round of the 2021 draft out of USC after an underwhelming combine. Amon-Ra comes from an athletic pedigree, with his father being former Mr. Universe John Brown. Where did the St. come from you ask? Who knows. If the draft was based on names, he would be the first overall selection without a doubt. Anyways, I digress. John Brown took what he knew as a bodybuilder and applied it to his children early on in their life. Basically, Amon-Ra might not be the tallest or fastest guy on the field, but he’s a physical specimen. In a three-year, 30-game college career, Amon-Ra put up 178 catches for 2,270 yards and 16 touchdowns – and that was with mediocre-at-best quarterback play while at USC.

 

Why:

 

For all of you non-Lions fans out there, can you name me another pass-catcher on the Lions not named Tyrell Williams or TJ Hockenson? Especially after they cut Breshad Perriman in the pre-season and Marvin Jones Jr left for Jacksonville? If you’re like me and answered with a firm “no,” that is exactly why Amon-Ra is worth keeping an eye on.  The Lions will likely be playing from behind in a lot of their games this season, which creates a ton of opportunity in the passing game. As a player that was either the final roster spot for someone in your draft, or went completely undrafted, there’s a ton of upside in PPR for Amon-Ra in 2021. The first thing Amon-Ra needed to do was make a statement in the wide receiver room, which wasn’t hard considering the lack of top-end talent in that group. The Lions cutting Breshad Perriman was a vote of confidence for Amon-Ra behind Tyrell Williams in the Lions’ offense. TJ Hockenson and D’Andre Swift will always be involved in the passing game as well, but right now, Amon-Ra has a clear path to meaningful snaps immediately starting the season. It’s unclear how exactly the depth chart will pan out to start the season, but Amon-Ra will definitely have a role in this offense. Jared Goff has the ability to sling it, although I do question his arm talent a bit, Amon-Ra could end up being Robert Woods 2.0 for Goff on his new team.

 

 

New York Jets RB Ty Johnson

(5.2% rostered)

 

Who:

 

Another Lions draft pick, but this time he’s been cut by them and signed by the Jets. A former sixth-round pick out of Maryland in 2019, Ty Johnson has a nice combination of size (5’10”, 210 lbs), and speed (unofficial 4.3-second 40-yard dash), and pass-catching ability (40 receptions in two NFL seasons). Across four years in College Park, Ty amassed 4,196 all-purpose yards which fall third in program history. He wasn’t invited to the combine but had a pretty spectacular pro day where he would’ve had top results in several of the drills, including the popular 40-yard dash and the bench press. He never really got a fair shake in Detroit since the moment he was drafted, as he was immediately behind Kerryon Johnson in 2019 and then D’Andre Swift in 2020 before being waived by the Lions and picked up by the Jets. You may recall an impressive 100+ yard outing in a losing effort against the Raiders in 2020.

 

Why:

 

There are not many positions without a question mark for the post-Gase New York Jets. Outside of a few assets, Gase left the Jets in shambles. The Jets brought in Tevin Coleman and drafted Michael Carter, neither of which are good enough to lock down the starting running back job outright in my opinion. If there’s one thing Adam Gase has shown us, it’s that offensive players typically do better when he isn’t coaching them. There’s a reason Ty was drafted, and there’s a reason he was signed to the Jets’ active roster immediately after being waived by the Lions in 2020. He’s just been missing the opportunity, with a total of just 157 total touches in 29 games. In the single game, Ty was given the reins to the backfield, he posted 117 scrimmage yards with a score against the Raiders. Take this last part with a grain of salt as pre-season can indicate everything and nothing at the same time; Ty had the most carries, receptions, and scrimmage yards out of all of the Jets running backs in their three exhibition matches so far.

The first step was securing his roster spot with the Jets. Unfortunately for Ty, he is one of the remnants of the previous regime, which is usually never a good sign. He’s listed as the third running back on the depth chart, behind Tevin Coleman and La’Mical Perine. Coleman has only exceeded 150 carries in two seasons and has yet to exceed 170 carries in his six-year career. Teams averaged 431 rushing attempts in 2020, so it’s safe to assume there is a plan to give Ty some carries. Thankfully, I think new Jets head coach Robert Saleh saw enough of Ty in the preseason to know what he can add to the offense.  Make sure to keep an eye on this backfield as the season unfolds.

 

 

Los Angeles Chargers WR Josh Palmer

(3.2% rostered)

 

 

Who:

 

The Los Angeles Chargers selected Josh Palmer in the third round of the 2021 NFL draft. The Tennessee product did not have eye-popping stats while he was at UT, but neither did another guy you may have heard of- Alvin Kamara. Now, that isn’t to say Josh Palmer is the next Alvin Kamara. I think it’s more of a possible indictment on how Tennessee’s football program fails to utilize some of their talents. Palmer was battling for the WR4 spot behind Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Jalen Guyton, but looks to have won the job outright. Palmer is the type of receiver who doesn’t rely on his speed, but instead utilizes his strength, athleticism, and route running to beat coverage. Lucky for him, he has an excellent mentor in Keenan Allen and blooming star Justin Herbert under center.

 

Why:

 

If you’re a wide receiver, having Justin Herbert as your quarterback will naturally prop up your fantasy football value. Palmer has that going for him to start. On top of that, one of the guys above him on the depth chart has a habit of getting injured while also failing to live up to his draft investment. I’ll give you a hint – that guy is not Keenan Allen. The Chargers new regime invested a third-round pick in Palmer, which indicates to me that they have plans for him. The Chargers were top-5 in pass attempts in 2020, and I don’t expect that to change too dramatically as we enter 2021. The offense lost Hunter Henry to the Patriots in free agency, which frees up 93 targets. All of those aren’t due to be Palmer’s, but he should see enough for us to get an idea of his fantasy floor. Oh, and Palmer managed to get drafted in the third round even with a whopping 31% of his targets deemed uncatchable while at Tennessee.

Palmer needed to stand out during camp and pre-season, and he did so by catching seven of his eight pre-season targets for 39 yards and a score. He impressed so much so that the Chargers outright cut his competition, Tyron Johnson. This created a clear path to meaningful snaps for Palmer, as Johnson saw the field for the Chargers in 2020, even hauling in a 53-yard bomb from Justin Herbert for a score in week 4. His next challenge is going to be Jalen Guyton, who is already hampered by an undisclosed leg injury and has generally been used as a field-stretcher so far in his career with the Chargers. Palmer should have the WR3 spot locked up before the season starts, and in an offense as powerful as what the Chargers should be, that spot brings value in PPR and dynasty formats. If Mike Williams or Keenan Allen go down with any injuries, it could be Palmer’s time to shine.

 

 

Minnesota Vikings TE Tyler Conklin

(2.1% rostered)

 

Who: 

 

After graduating from high school, Tyler Conklin originally accepted a full-ride basketball scholarship to Northwood University. Conklin decided to change directions after his first semester, transferring to Central Michigan University and walking on to their football team. After sitting out his first season to get his body into football shape, he made the team as a backup his second year. He followed that up by injuring his foot during the first training session of the season and missing nearly two months. After recovering, Conklin posted a 10 reception, 136 yards, two touchdown stat line in his first full game as a starter. After graduating, Conklin was invited to the 2018 Senior Bowl, where he displayed his ability by catching a touchdown pass from future seventh overall pick Josh Allen. Conklin would be drafted by the Vikings in the fifth round of the draft that year, which unfortunately buried him on their depth chart behind Kyle Rudolph and eventually Irv Smith Jr. Standing at roughly 6’3″ and weighing in at around 255 pounds, Conklin has the ability to be a mismatch nightmare with his combination if size and athleticism. He’s proven he can be involved in the passing game, as he brought in over 75 catches for over 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns in his two years as a starter for Central Michigan.

 

Why:

 

You may have heard this already, but there are several all-time greats at the tight end position that were former college basketball standouts. Just in case you aren’t familiar, the list would include the likes of Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham,  Julius Thomas, Mo Alie-Cox, and Tony Gonzalez. I’m not saying Conklin is the next to be on this list, but there is a history of this sort of thing working out in the NFL. As I previously mentioned, Conklin has been buried on the Vikings’ depth chart since being drafted. Heading into 2021, he was still behind Irv Smith Jr with Kyle Rudolph leaving in free agency during the off-season. An opportunity presented itself in the form of an unfortunate season-ending injury to Irv Smith Jr, vaulting Conklin to the top of the depth chart and clearing the way for meaningful snaps to start the season. In limited action last season, Conklin was able to post a stat line of 19 receptions, 194 yards, and one touchdown. The Vikings did look outwards to bolster their tight end depth after losing Irv Smith by acquiring Chris Herndon via a trade with the Jets. There was some hype surrounding Herndon during the Gase era in New York, but that never really materialized on the field. After three seasons with the Vikings, Conklin has the advantage of being familiar with the offensive system as well as having existing chemistry with Kirk Cousins. While Herndon does add competition for Conklin, I don’t think he’s a true threat to the starting tight end job for the time being. While it hasn’t always been pretty, Kirk Cousins has averaged over 4,00 yards and 30 touchdowns in each of his three seasons in Minnesota, which means there should be plenty of yards and touchdowns to go around.

 

 

Cleveland Browns WR Donovan Peoples-Jones

(1.9% rostered)

 

Happy Regular Season GIF by NFL - Find & Share on GIPHY

 

Who:

 

The former Mr. Michigan Football 2016 was a five-star recruit and was ranked as the 22nd recruit in the country by ESPN. He chose to stay in-state and become a Wolverine which would ultimately doom his draft stock due to inconsistent quarterback play from Shea Patterson. Although he led the Wolverines in all pass-catching stats in 2018, “DPJ” never eclipsed 50 receptions or 700 yards in a single season during his time in Ann Arbor. Urban Meyer, who was the head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes during DPJ’s college recruitment and also coached against him, said that DPJ was one of the best wide receivers he’s ever seen and should’ve been a top-10 pick. His potential and athleticism still shined through, and the Browns selected Peoples-Jones in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL draft where he’s gotten to learn from veteran wideouts Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. DPJ is a freak athlete with a great head on his shoulders – he wants to follow in the footsteps of his father and become a doctor when he’s done playing football. He was a contributor as a rookie, reeling in 14 catches for 304 yards and two touchdowns, one of which was a game-winner against the rival Bengals in week 7.

 

Why:

 

It’s obviously a small sample size, but DPJ had scored a touchdown on nearly 15% of his receptions. Okay, I know that’s only 14 receptions, but that’s still a testament to his playmaking ability. In 2020, DPJ was buried on the depth chart but has leapfrogged Rashard Higgins to be the third starting wide receiver alongside the aforementioned Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. Although the Browns are designed to be a run-first offense, they take big strikes downfield with play-action passes. These opportunities are where DPJ will be utilized the most, as Landry has never been a field stretcher and the injuries are starting to take their toll on Beckham Jr. With his 6’2″ frame, 4.4 speed, and 44.5″ vertical jump, DPJ is dangerous to leave in single coverage over the top. You could almost consider DPJ a wide receiver handcuff for the Browns starting receivers. There is always the looming chance for more playing time, as Beckham Jr has played a full 16-game season just once in the previous four seasons. Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski knows the talent he has in DPJ and will get him involved one way or another in 2021. While there are still obstacles in the way, this could be the second-year wide receiver breakout that no one saw coming. He’s also a killer dancer, which has to mean something!

 

 

While the odds of all five of these players being league winners are pretty slim, all five of them are in fantasy-friendly situations at the start of this season. I would consider stashing one of these guys in your final roster spot if possible – you never know when one could pay off and truly be a league winner.

 

 

(Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire)

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