The NFL trade deadline is fast approaching, as it is in many fantasy leagues, so the October edition of our Dynasty Futures Report comes just at the right time. By now, you probably know what your fantasy team is this season. You might be a buyer looking to make a late push toward the championship, or you might be a seller looking toward the 2024 season redemption. Either way, there are players hanging around that owners are probably down on who can be acquired for cheaper than normal; getting them now will pay dividends later. I’ve avoided dipping into the rookies this year so you won’t see guys like Puka Nacua or Josh Downs on this list even though I liked both of them. This article is for deep sleepers you can get as throw-ins in trades, guys who will make you look like a genius later this year or next.
Jalen Tolbert (WR), Dallas Cowboys
It’s been a long time since the Dallas Cowboys have actually been “America’s Team” but that doesn’t mean they aren’t striving to be that every year and to get back to the Super Bowl. The Cowboys always seem like favorites for that, as they have done well at quarterback with Dak Prescott. They have also been able to reload at running back by letting seven-year starter Ezekiel Elliot walk and elevating Tony Pollard into a starting bell cow role. At wide receiver, they have their current installment of the 88 Club in CeeDee Lamb but have struggled to find an effective counterpart for him. They have used oft-injured Michael Gallup but his availability and efficiency have left the team wanting. The team traded away its best option two years ago in Amari Cooper, expecting Gallup to step up after returning from injury.
In order to counter those struggles and buy Gallup more time, the Cowboys brought in veteran Brandin Cooks to help bolster the receiving corps. Despite his pedigree as a consistent, 1,000-yard receiver, Cooks has finally started to look his age. The Cowboys continue to search for an answer opposite Lamb but might not have to look very far. Back in Round 3 of the 2022 NFL Draft, the Cowboys selected Jalen Tolbert to become a piece of this offense. He struggled his rookie year but is now poised to potentially become a more integral part of the offense as the season progresses. Despite the presence of the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers, the Cowboys remain in the hunt for a playoff spot in a top-heavy NFC. They have done well balancing between the run and pass, and they’ve stayed relatively injury-free on offense.
While that is great, it seems like that cloud is just over the horizon. How they navigate missed games going forward will be telling. It could give us a glimpse into the future of the wide receiver room in Dallas. The main three are technically under contract for 2024. There is a potential out for Jerry Jones and his leadership team on Brandin Cooks that would save the franchise $4 million in cap space. There is also an opt-out built into Gallup’s contract that basically negates the last two years of his deal and only costs the Cowboys the same in terms of cap space vs. dead cap. After the 2024 season, Ceedee Lamb will be coming off his rookie deal so it would be beneficial for them to sign him after this season in order to prevent drama, holdout threats, and trade rumors.
The Cowboys also have to figure out their long-term plans at running back and quarterback, as both Pollard and Prescott are due for new contracts over the next two years. This will probably empty the coffers and eat a large portion of the cap space so the Cowboys will be forced to look for savings where they can. Tolbert represents an avenue for that since he will be on his rookie deal until after the 2025 season; he could provide a solid option both in the receiving game and on the balance sheet. Tolbert knows the system and has chemistry with Prescott, giving him a leg up over most potential free agents. This year we have seen Tolbert get into games in Weeks 2 and 4. Notably, Brandin Cooks missed Week 2, and Tolbert saw a healthy 68 percent snap share. Tolbert is positioned as the next man up this year if injuries hit and potentially the next few seasons, as well.
Tolbert was a Day 2 pick and the 15th wide receiver off the board in a very deep receiver draft class. He was a four-year player at Southern Alabama and was very consistent in his final three seasons after becoming a full-time player, averaging 18.1 yards per catch and 7.3 touchdowns per year. This was all accomplished on a team that rotated quarterbacks and didn’t offer much in terms of NFL-caliber talent. This doesn’t mean that Tolbert didn’t face top-end talent; he did play against some SEC schools, including Tennessee, against whom he put up impressive numbers. Tolbert at 6’3 and 190 lbs was a sizeable target for his quarterbacks who used his size and ran crisp routes to get open and separate from defenders.
He isn’t the fastest wide receiver around but has adequate speed (4.49) for a 6’3″ wide receiver in the NFL. He does need to work on his contested catch ability, and despite having the ability to track the ball well, he at times can be bullied by physical corners, including some smaller than him. Tolbert struggled with injuries his rookie year which hindered his progress on the field but had opportunities to learn in the film room and bulk up in the weight room, neither of which is a bad thing. In his second year, he is now getting limited opportunities to refine his raw talent on the field both in pass-catching and special teams situations. We often expect rookies to shine right away and forget that many (if not most) need time to develop. Tolbert is the perfect example. He has size, which can’t be taught, and smooth route running ability, so the foundations are there for him to get more playing time, both in 2023 and in the future.
Zamir White (RB), Las Vegas Raiders
The Las Vegas Raiders spent much of this year and a half playing chicken with star running back Josh Jacobs. They decided to not pick up his 5th-year option and placed the franchise tag on him only to then deal with rumors, reports, and innuendo surrounding a potential holdout. After missing most of the preseason, Jacobs signed his tag and reported to the Raiders just in time for the regular season. With the offseason trade for Jimmy Garoppolo, the Raiders looked poised to possibly make a post-season run.
Things have not gone as planned so far this year. Jimmy G is hurt, unsurprising since injuries have plagued him most of his career. Jacobs has played well and the team is playing competitive (3-3) football. Despite this, star wide receiver Davante Adams has vocalized his frustrations and has been rumored to be a possible trade target, although the team seems unlikely to move him during the season.
This offseason, on the other hand, is shaping up to be a pivotal one for the franchise. The team is staring down the barrel of another round of “will they/won’t they” with Josh Jacobs. Adams will be close to 32 years old on a team he seems to be growing sick of playing for. Garoppolo’s contract balloons to a $28 million dollar cap hit and the team will be looking at a roster that is currently the league’s 4th oldest by average age. They don’t have a ton of pending free agents but some of the ones they do have are veteran cornerstones so those will need to be addressed.
The Raiders are in a good spot in terms of draft capital, so a soft rebuild could be easier, especially if they ship out guys like Adams and Garoppolo. The Raiders may need to spend on other free agent positions, and that could leave the door wide open for Zamir White to step in and take over the backfield in Vegas. The Raiders could let Jacobs walk after a season of heavy usage, followed by a down year on the stat sheet. It’s not out of the question that the Raiders could use their 1st round pick on a quarterback and their second rounder (or possibly two) on an offensive lineman. White would provide a cheap but effective option in the backfield. In limited work, we have seen him average over four yards per carry. He hasn’t seen more than four carries in a game, but that could change if Jacobs leaves.
White was a three-year player for the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC, where he racked up over 2,000 yards and 25 rushing touchdowns. Over his last two seasons, when he took over as the main back, he scored 11 touchdowns in each season. White doesn’t have the pass catching skills we want to see for fantasy purposes, but that’s not a skill set the Raiders typically utilize in their running backs. That could change if they make a switch at quarterback (or possibly even coach).
White certainly had some juice coming into the NFL. He ran a 4.4 at 6’0” and 214 lbs. That’s slightly faster than Bijan Robinson despite being two inches taller and the same weight. White was a team captain at Georgia which says a lot about his character and leadership. He is a physical back who seems to enjoy making contact and punishing defenders who try to tackle him. He lacks the creative vision and play style of someone like Bijan but runs straight and hard and hits holes with a good burst. He has good vision in the backfield as he sees things develop and finds the proper lanes to rush through. He will need to work on his pass blocking in order to stay on the field on 3rd downs, however. White’s limited work so far is a little concerning, and the fact that the coaching position in Vegas might turn over gives some pause. A new regime won’t be tied to him like the current one that drafted him. White currently is a handcuff for Josh Jacobs but has plenty of upside if his role were to increase. White is one of the youngest backs on the team with no one else having anywhere close to his draft capital.
Michael Carter (RB), New York Jets
In the 2021 NFL draft, the New York Jets selected Michael Carter in the 4th round. Coming out of the ACC, where he played for four years at North Carolina, Carter was (and still is) a smaller back (5’8” and just over 200 lbs). His size probably hurt his draft stock because his college production was impressive. As a four-year player, Carter collected 3,404 yards and scored 22 touchdowns. His college career was a little up and down: he posted eight touchdowns his freshman year, then nine in his senior year; he managed only five in his other two years. He did have back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons to finish his college career, however.
Carter was a quick back who was patient and set up his blocks well. He didn’t participate in the NFL Combine, but on his pro day, he posted a 40 time of 4.54, which was slower than most scouts and analysts expected. Carter did have some pass-catching work in college, accruing 82 receptions for 656 yards and 6 touchdowns. Not elite-level receiving work, but enough to show potential for competence at the next level. Carter then came into the NFL and looked the part on a rebuilding New York Jets roster, leading the team in rushing attempts (147). He averaged 4.3 yards per carry and added a healthy 50 targets to offer increased fantasy value. It seemed like the Jets had struck gold with both Carter and fellow rookie Elijah Moore, and things were looking great in the Big Apple. This was all with Zach Wilson under center, too!
Fast forward to the 2022 NFL draft where the Jets selected Breece Hall in the 2nd round. It was a slight shocker to Jets fans as the team had more glaring needs and Carter’s play appeared to be good enough to move forward. Hall went on to injure his leg after a few games but was positively dynamic beforehand, putting the writing on the wall for Carter’s future. Even after Hall went down with the injury, the team never fully turned back to Carter, though he still had a role in the offense thanks to his ability to pass block and ability to be consistent.
One of the weaknesses in Carter’s game is his lack of explosiveness at the second level. At times he played like a bigger back but was unable to punish would-be tacklers. The 2023 season came around and the Jets looked poised to make a deep run with Hall at running back and Aaron Rodgers under center. They boasted a good core of receivers including Garrett Wilson, Allen Lazard, and Moore. The Jets were looking to bring in some of Aaron Rodgers’s other requested wide receivers and ended up trading Moore to the Cleveland Browns in the process. This was a potential indicator that the future for Carter might not be bright in New York, as the team and coaching staff appeared ready to move on from their previous class of draft picks.
Carter’s stock continued to drop when the Jets made a splash and signed former Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook. Heading into the October 31st trade deadline, the Jets are rumored to be moving on from Cook. That’s a positive sign for Carter in his third year. Carter has only had six carries so far this season, which isn’t great, to say the least. However, if Cook is out of the picture, Carter could easily take on the five or six carries that Cook has handled each week. Carter does have 12 targets on the season, which is good to see. He can be the third-down back if need be. Hall looks to be near 100 percent after a knee injury that cost him most of the 2022 season but injuries are always lurking in the NFL; there could very well be a game where someone other than Hall serves as the lead back.
There is also a chance that Carter gets shipped out before the trade deadline. The Jets are missing their second-round pick in next year’s draft thanks to the Rodgers trade. They do have an extra 4th rounder, but could use more picks to help build for the future. Rodgers looks to be back next year (if not late this year) from his Achilles tear so the Jets need to decide what path they are taking. Do they go all in for the 2024 season or build for 2025 and beyond? And where does Michael Carter fit in that plan?
Carter will be a free agent after the 2024 season but will be barely 26 years old. He could find himself on a new team with a larger role on the open market. We can’t forget the player that Carter was in 2021. He hasn’t suffered an injury that changed his running style or affected his speed or burst. He’s young, and not at risk of age diminishing his talent. He still has a chance to offer solid production in the NFL if given the opportunity. The fact the Jets are willing to move on from Cook could signal that they’re comfortable with they’ve seen from Carter in practice and game action to date and are willing to give him a larger role for the rest of the season (possibly longer). The Jets don’t have a deep running back room; after Hall, Cook, and Carter there are only rookies Israel Abanikanda and Xazavian Holliday.
Brenton Strange (TE), Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars have some difficult contract decisions coming up, including wide receiver Calvin Ridley, defensive end Josh Allen, linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson, and guards Ben Bartch and Tyler Shatley. All have played significant snaps so far this season. A handful of role players and fill-ins will also be looking to ink deals. The following year they’ll have to re-sign quarterback Trevor Lawrence, guard Cam Robinson , linebacker Foyesade Oluokun and cornerback Tyson Campbell.
The organization has invested in skill position weapons over the past few years. Ridley, Zay Jones, Christian Kirk, and Evan Engram were brought in after serving as letdowns on their previous clubs; all have played well for the Jags so far when called upon. Engram specifically signed a three-year deal worth up to $41.2 million instead of playing on the franchise tag this year. While he is making $5 million this year and $7 million in 2024, the contract gets very weighty after that, and there is actually an opt-out to allow the Jaguars to save $6 million by moving on. The Jaguars may have already started to work towards that.
In the 2nd round of the 2023 NFL Draft, they selected Brenton Strange, a tight end from Penn State. Strange has already made an impact on the Jags offense this season, albeit a minor one. He is playing on 33 percent of the team’s total snaps, and it’s great seeing him run routes on 66.2 percent of his passing down snaps. One of the worst things we can see from a fantasy standpoint for a young tight end is getting stuck in a blocking-only role and never getting a chance as a pass catcher.
Strange logged a touchdown in the Week 6 games against the Indianapolis Colts, and as the Jaguars continue to rework this offense and find the pieces that will be around for the long haul, Strange could be play a larger role at tight end. Even if Engram sticks around we have seen head coach Doug Pederson run an offense with two solid tight ends before; he did so in Philly with Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. Strange could fill the Goedert role while the soon-to-be 30-year-old Engram reprises Ertz’s.
On top of being a second-round pick, Strange was a four-year player at Penn State, where he faced several top defensive prospects. It wasn’t a system that prioritized the tight end position nor did it boast the greatest quarterback play, but Strange was still able to amass 755 yards and 11 touchdowns in 37 games. One encouraging thing about Strange’s time there was that he played some running back and fullback, giving him added versatility, which is valuable in today’s NFL. He is prototypical size for a tight end at 6’4” 253 lbs but wasn’t overly fast (4.7). Travis Kelce only ran a 4.61, so it’s possible to be a very productive tight end in the NFL without being a burner.
Strange struggles at times with his route running; he seems to drift and isn’t as crisp as he needs to be just yet. Some of that comes from inexperience; some of it comes from lack of focus. Learning from guys like Engram and the coaching staff in Jacksonville will help him develop in both areas. Strange’s ability to block allows the team to disguise plays and run more play-action. This is very much like what we see in Kansas City where Kelce will chip and then sneak out for a short pass across the middle. Strange is in a good position to be a future weapon for a high-upside offense on a team that’s poised to dominate the AFC South and be a future Super Bowl contender in the AFC.
Tutu Atwell (WR), Los Angeles Rams: REVISIT
Below is from December 2021, when we were looking at Tutu Atwell as a potential future star for the Rams. Many things have changed since then. Odell Beckham, Robert Woods, and Van Jefferson are gone. Cooper Kupp is still there and still balling out. The Rams selected Puka Nacua who has burst onto the scene with a historic rookie season so far. Tutu has dealt with injuries his first two years but now looks healthy and plays an important role in the Rams offense. It’s great seeing Atwell playing on over 83 percent of the Rams’ offensive snaps. He has been moving all over the field, and that versatility is a sign of a bright future.
Atwell has lined up in both the slot and out wide, which mirrors what Cooper Kupp does. As good as Kupp is, he is going to be 31 years old and still has a few years left on his deal. The Rams have hit on some of their late picks which has softened the blow of not having higher picks lost via the Matthew Stafford trade. We also can’t forget that Stafford is soon to be 36 and the retirement talk started after sustaining a spinal cord contusion last season. The Rams will be looking to reload at some point; the NFL is changing and three wide sets are now more the norm. The Rams use 11 personnel 93 perent of the time; it’s what head coach Sean McVay likes to do. Having a shifty, blazing fast receiver like Atwell is important to the team’s success.
We have seen Tutu fare well this season and some of his metrics are exciting for the future. First, his true catch rate: according to playerprofiler.com he is catching 96.3 percent of his passes. That puts him at the 17th highest. He also has 9 deep targets, ranking in the NFL’s Top 20 in that department. Atwell also boasts impressive numbers in the average depth of target (ADoT), Air Yards, and Yards per Target categories.
If the Rams continue to run three wide sets at this rate, Atwell will continue to shine. Even if the Rams keep Kupp in the fold, he has struggled with injuries, and that has allowed Tutu to see more targets. When the Rams roll out three solid pass-catching options, things become very difficult for opposing defenses. Their top corner will cover Kupp. Their second guy will then move on to Puka and probably get some safety help. Atwell will benefit from drawing the nickel corner and will be well-positioned to stretch the field.
Atwell is coming up on a new contract after the 2024 season so there is potential for him to end up on a different team. The Rams don’t have a ton of looming contracts so money shouldn’t be an issue; having a guy who knows the system might be more beneficial for the Rams. Even if Atwell leaves he could enjoy a Christian Kirk-type bump on a new team. He is a great “buy now” as many in the fantasy community who are love-struck by Nacua and Kupp are ignoring Atwell’s ceiling.
Los Angeles got a gift when the Rams moved there. They got one of the best passing offenses to come to town. The Rams have had a solid core of receiving options for a few years now and will be looking to continue that into the future. Despite going all in to win in 2021 by trading for Matthew Stafford, Odell Beckham, and Von Miller the Rams still have some young pieces that can bring a bright fantasy future to sunny LA. What we see right now is a wide receiver group of Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, DeSean Jackson, and Van Jefferson to start the year. Odell Beckham came in right as Woods was going on season-ending IR and the Rams let Jackson go midseason. The Rams run more 3 wide receiver sets than any other team in the NFL, and Stafford can probably get them another year or two of higher-level QB play so it’s not really winning in 2021 or bust.
Kupp is under contract till 2026 but has a serious opt-out after the 2022 season. The Rams save either 9.6 or 14.2 million in cap space if they were to move on from Kupp before the ’23 season, depending on when he was to get cut or traded. Woods is signed till 2024 but has an opt-out after this season but only saves the rams a few million. Cutting or trading the 30-year-old receiver could save the Rams upwards of 7 million or closer to 10 depending on the date. Odell Beckham is probably not going to resign with the Rams once this season is done. Break-out star Van Jefferson is locked in till after the 2024 season but he could easily take Woods’s spot if they move on from him.
All of this leads to the potential for rookie Tutu Atwell. Atwell was a second-round pick coming out of Louisville. He is a smaller wide receiver coming in at just under 5’9” 149lbs. Scouting reports said he has good acceleration. He is fast as well, running a 4.23 forty on his pro day. He hasn’t done much since entering the NFL and finishes his rookie season on the IR after needing shoulder surgery. When he returns he will be vying for that coveted third wide receiver spot with fellow rookie Brent Skowronek who has seen increased playing time as of late. Skowronek was a 7th round pick in the 2021 draft. Atwell has a very different skill set than Skowronek and projects to more of the Cooper Kupp type roll so if he were to play well in 2022 it could force the Rams to make a hard choice between the player and cap space down the road. Fun little fact Tutu Atwell’s real name is Chatarius Atwell so that something. No matter what you call him he looks to become part of the high-powered passing game that L.A. is known for.
Peyton Hendershot (TE), Dallas Cowboys
On IR; Round 2 draft capital. Dallas is looking for their next Dalton Schultz.
Davis Mills (QB), Houston Texans
Could get traded; backups can become important in a moment’s notice in superflex/2QB leagues.
Kene Nwangwu (RB), Minnesota Vikings
Coming off IR; Minnesota is looking for answers at running back.
Noah Gray (TE), Kansas City Chiefs
Playing plenty of snaps. Gets worked in a fair amount, and Kelce is getting up there in age.
Samori Toure (WR), Green Bay Packers
Has demonstrated at least a small degree of trust with Love; this WR room is wide open.
James Mitchell (TE), Detroit Lions
LaPorta and Brock Wright are the guys; he’s not playing enough.
Malik Willis (QB), Tennessee Titans
Appears to have lost the backup job to Will Levis. Hasn’t shown enough to catch on elsewhere.
John Bates (TE), Washington Commanders
Has fallen to third on the TE depth chart on a low-volume pass offense.
Erik Ezukanma (WR), Miami Dolphins
An injury problem on a team that only throws to three people.
Hunter Long (TE), Los Angeles Rams
Never caught on; now buried on the depth chart and coming off an injury.