Staff Playbook: Which Underrated Player Could Become A Star?
Welcome to the QB List Staff Playbook Series. Every week throughout both the summer and season, I will conduct a staff survey, asking multiple fantasy analysts to share their insights on some of fantasy football’s most pressing questions. Essentially, we’re sharing our “playbook” with you, revealing the hard choices and strategic moves we would make to stay ahead of the competition.
This week, the QB List Staff was asked which underrated player could break out into a star this season, using FantasyPros ADP. Let’s open the playbook:
Paul Ghiglieri (@FantasyGhigs): David Montgomery – ADP 47.7, RB23
Reasoning: HC Matt Nagy was comfortable with a trade that sent former starting running back Jordan Howard to Philadelphia, and in his place, the Bears drafted David Montgomery in the 3rd round this past April. Listed at 5’10”, 222 lbs, Montgomery is built like a wrecking ball and runs like one, too. He brings size, vision, and grit to the Bears’ backfield. While not explosive, Montgomery is a powerful, patient runner with great instincts who is built to carry a load. Here’s a clip of that vision and patience on display:
Top forced missed tackle per carry averages in the @PFF_College era (2014-18) among P5 RBs:
David Montgomery (0.39; 2018)
💥Trey Sermon (0.35; 2018)
James Williams (0.34; 2016)
💥Trey Sermon (0.33; 2017)
Saquon Barkley (0.33; 2017)
David Montgomery (0.33; 2017) pic.twitter.com/tPcztQMBIr
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) July 23, 2019
Watch him become the most productive rookie tailback to come out of this class. According to PFF, Montgomery owns the college record for most missed tackles forced in a season in 2017 with 109, and his 102 forced missed tackles last year were second-best. He was their second-highest ranked tailback coming out of the draft behind Josh Jacobs, but Montgomery enters arguably a better team context and can be had almost 20 picks later based on ADP. For all the hype Jacobs gets, it’s important to remember that he may face an ample amount of negative game scripts with the poor defense Oakland will field, and Antonio Brown will demand a significant target share. The Bears feature a “spread the wealth” approach to their passing game and an elite defense. Nagy has also shown a tendency to use the run as a means to simplify his offense for still-developing Mitch Trubisky. Additionally, playing in the NFC North will likely cause Chicago to lean on the run more as the weather worsens. Montgomery averaged 3.48 yards after contact per attempt last year. He is almost impossible to tackle.
Rookie David Montgomery is running like a freight train 😤
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) August 5, 2019
You can have Montgomery in the 5th round right now, but he will almost certainly be going no later than the second round next year if he stays healthy and Nagy’s plan for him comes to fruition.
Dave Lathrop (@DaveLathropQBL): Kerryon Johnson – ADP 32.0, RB15
Reasoning: Kerryon Johnson is getting more expensive as we get deeper into training camp. A couple of weeks ago, he was being drafted as RB19, but he is up to RB15 at the time of this writing. I expect that trend to continue as people see how the offense looks under new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell who has historically leaned on the run. Johnson showed flashes of greatness last year with his limited (118 rushes) opportunities and boasted 5.4 yards per carry. Take a look at this run to see the kind of burst through the hole that Johnson brings:
He also added 32 receptions, a number that should easily increase with the departure of Theo Riddick. He will still share some reps with C.J. Anderson and Zach Zenner but should easily see many more opportunities than he did last year which should also mean more yards (854) and more touchdowns (4). Johnson is not without his risks. He has a history of injuries dating back to his time with Auburn and continuing into his rookie season when he missed six games with a knee injury. If you extrapolate his stats over 16 games, it would have been good enough for RB13. His ADP is probably about right considering the injury history, but he has a chance to play three downs and if he stays healthy for an entire year and proves himself worthy to Bevell early on, it’s not hard to see him breaking into the top 10 at his position.
Bryan Sweet (@FantasyFreakTN): Tevin Coleman – ADP 62.0, RB29
Reasoning: HC Kyle Shanahan has handpicked Tevin Coleman twice – once in the 2015 NFL Draft and again during free agency heading into the 2019 season. In Coleman’s second season with Shanahan as Atlanta’s OC, Coleman compiled 927 yards and 11 TDs playing in a complementary role behind Devonta Freeman (who went on to be the #1 RB that season, by the way). Coleman accumulated those stats on just 149 touches, giving him an impressive 6.3 yards per touch. When given the majority of the workload last season, Coleman posted more than 1,000 total yards and nine TDs, garnering 5.4 yards per touch – matching his career average. In particular, he has always been a threat as a pass-catcher, as evidenced in the clip below.
As of this writing, Jerick McKinnon was just removed from the PUP list after an ACL tear ended his season before it began in 2018, and Matt Breida just recently recovered from a torn pectoral muscle suffered earlier in the preseason – another in a litany of injuries the young running back has already suffered. Bay Area beat reporters are indicating Coleman will lead the team in touches this season despite the threat of a committee approach. Speculation also exists that one of Coleman, McKinnon or Breida will be a healthy scratch on game days because of the presence of Kyle Juszczyk (fullback) and Raheem Mostert (Special Teams). Assuming 200 touches for Coleman, another 1,000+ yard season and 8-10 total TDs would be his floor, placing him squarely in the upper RB2 tier with designs on a low-RB1 finish.
Colin Weatherwax (@CWeatherwax13): Mike Williams – ADP 52.0 WR22
Reasoning: We all can agree that the Los Angeles Chargers come into the year as one of the most prolific offenses from last year. The biggest question mark at the start of the preseason is the status of tailback Melvin Gordon. One would assume that if Gordon were to miss any time due to holding out that the offense as a whole would become more pass-heavy. Well, looking back at the statistics from last year, the Chargers were just about 50-50 as far as run plays versus pass plays last year on first down; on second down, they were more 60-40 favoring the pass, and on third down the Chargers were almost 90-10 favoring the pass last year. These statistics show that the Chargers relied more on the pass than the run last year and thus brings me to my breakout player on this offense, Mike Williams.
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) July 25, 2019
Last year, Williams enjoyed a surprising campaign by recording 43 catches 664 yards and 10 TDs. The thought when crunching the numbers is that Williams will regress in the touchdown department because a touchdown per every 4.3 catches seems unsustainable. For the most part, I agree and definitely do not expect him to have 20 touchdowns with increased volume this year. However, Williams was a part-time player for most of the year due to the presence of Tyrell Williams last year. With Tyrell moving on to Oakland, this opens up 65 targets to be shared between Mike Williams, Hunter Henry and the other weapons on this offense. Expect some of the downfield work vacated by Tyrell Williams to end up in Mike Williams’ hands:
The first thought is that there aren’t very many targets to be shared amongst three or four players, but moving Mike Williams to the outside receiver full time alongside Keenan Allen for most of the year is a dangerous pairing for Philip Rivers to work with. No one is suggesting that Mike Williams will score 20 touchdowns this year, but with the increased target share he could make up for his touchdown regression with more explosive plays and more receptions in this offense. Obviously, his draft value speaks to the upside he possesses, and we may have to reevaluate that if Gordon does end his hold out, but the upside potential for Mike Williams could be a legit WR2 with WR1 upside in this offense and I will have no issue drafting him as such this year.
Corey Saucier (@deputy_commish): Trey Quinn – ADP 211.0, WR80
Reasoning: Redskins’ wide receivers and fantasy production: name a better duo, I’ll wait. Of course I’m kidding, but I’m dead serious when I tell you that second-year WR Trey Quinn could be on the verge of a big season. Drafted as Mr. Irrelevant in 2018, he made the Redskins’ 53-man opening day roster last season only to suffer a high ankle sprain Week 1 and land on IR. He came back for a couple of games and performed well, but then got shut down after reinjuring the same ankle. There seem to be no lingering effects, as he’s 100% healthy and turning heads in camp this year.
Trey Quinn had to do a double take pic.twitter.com/tMrqrPbDwm
— Luisツ (@Quintero_Funes) August 2, 2019
A little bit about Quinn: he holds the record for most high school receiving yards ever, by anyone. A Louisiana native, Quinn started his college career at LSU only to transfer to SMU due to lack of playing time. In his one season at SMU, he went for a measly 114 catches for 1200+ yds and 13 TDs. He even outperformed SMU teammate and fellow WR Courtland Sutton in their final season at SMU. With Jamison Crowder’s departure in the offseason, Quinn will open as the starter in the slot. With Josh Doctson rumored to be on the roster bubble, so far in camp there hasn’t been a lot of competition for targets. Coach Jay Gruden said way back in March that while losing Crowder would definitely hurt, “I’m ready to watch Trey Quinn jump in that slot role and dominate the position. I’m excited for him.” There was more praise for Quinn after the Redskins’ OTAs when Gruden said, “Trey Quinn has taken over the inside slot role. He’s confident, he’s quick, he’s got strong hands, he’s physical, [and] he’s tough.”
I would understand some trepidation with Quinn based on the uncertainties at QB for the Redskins, but Quinn could thrive with any of them. If Case Keenum should open the season as Washington’s starter, it would bring back fond recollections of Keenum + Slot Receivers in previous seasons (Emmanuel Sanders in ‘18, Adam Thielen in ‘17). And even if the starting job winds up going to Dwayne Haskins or Colt McCoy, Quinn appears to be in line for plenty of work out of the slot in Washington. If Quinn can stay healthy and play to his potential, he will be an incredible value (at least in PPR). His price tag is also super cheap; he’s virtually going undrafted except in very deep formats. Somebody is going to have to catch passes in Washington, and Quinn seems capable of taking on a lion’s share of the targets, and he’s also the one that’s doing it in camp right now.
Matthew Bevins (@MattQbList): Cam Newton– ADP 93.0, QB10
Reasoning: Cam Newton as the tenth QB drafted overall? Set it, forget it, lock it in, and collect your fantasy value bounty. Killa Cam was a fantasy darling after being drafted out of Auburn in 2010, but the bloom has come off the rose over a couple of recent injury-marred seasons. Here’s what Cam has going for him this year: only starting 14 games last year, he still finished his season at 11th overall in fantasy scoring, per Fanduel. He also comes into this year with the third easiest opposing schedule for quarterbacks, per FantasyPros. Newton finds himself deeper into his rapport with Christian McCaffrey (3rd overall RB in fantasy scoring last year), throwing to a potential breakout in D.J. Moore (38th at his position, while only starting 10 games), and having a sneaky upside wideout in Curtis Samuel, who finally has opportunity with Devin Funchess gone (Samuel finished at 42nd at WR but only played 13 games as a starter). Cam Newton has often thrived as a rushing QB, and as can be seen the last couple seasons, rushing QBs are the codebreakers at the position.
Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen have thrived off the Cam playbook. There’s no reason to stack boxes with the aerial attack Cam has finally been given, with an amazing pass-catcher out of the backfield and two wide receivers that the coaching staff finally trusts outside the hashes. If Cam’s legs don’t fail him, top-5, maybe even top-3 QB is a possibility.
Caio Miari (@caioNFL18): Dante Pettis – ADP 80.7, WR32
Reasoning: As a rookie in 2018, Dante Pettis led the San Francisco 49ers in touchdowns, tied with five. He also had the team’s best 17.3 yards per reception (players with at least 40 targets), despite not having Jimmy Garoppolo for most of the season. With Garoppolo under center during the first two weeks, although the quarterback struggled to find the wide receiver on the field, there were flashes of what this duo is capable of doing as Pettis averaged more than 30 yards per catch in the three connections from Garoppolo. By the end of the year, then with back up QB Nick Mullens as the starter, Pettis was the 49ers’ most dangerous weapon among wide receivers.
'13: Anquan Boldin: 2.88
'12: Michael Crabtree: 3.71
'10: Josh Morgan: 2.03
'08: Arnaz Battle: 2.00 pic.twitter.com/8kzyi6G5G0
— PFF SF 49ers (@PFF_49ers) July 9, 2019
We all know how good Kyle Shanahan is when it comes down to adjusting his offensive system. However, to make the Niners’ offense prolific, the head coach has to find a clear No. 1 wide receiver for Garoppolo’s second season as the starter in San Francisco, and Pettis appears to be the favorite for that spot right now. Don’t be surprised if Pettis takes a huge step up in 2019 as he enters his second pro year. The wide receiver should have better chemistry with Garoppolo, meaning more than sporadic splash for Pettis. He may be the most productive WR for one of the most exciting offenses in the NFL.
Reasoning: Lamar Jackson had an interesting rookie season, seeing usage only in wildcat packages for the first half of the season before taking over as the starter in Week 11. Once he took over as the starter, he was the 8th highest scoring quarterback, but almost all of his scoring was done on the ground. Jackson was essentially a second running back on most plays as the Ravens ran the ball more frequently than any other team once he became the starter, and plenty of those running plays were designed runs for the quarterback.
Jackson rushed for 695 yards despite only starting seven games, and that rushing ability is incredibly valuable in fantasy football. The fact that he was able to score so highly despite never having more than 14 completions in a game, and having the offense built around him on the fly midseason as the team transitioned from the Joe Flacco era, speaks to how impactful he can be with just his legs. It seemed that the Ravens preferred to keep the ball on the ground rather than let Jackson try to beat teams through the air. For Jackson to become a superstar he will need to improve on his passing, but there are plenty of reasons to think he can do that. He’ll be entering his second year in the NFL, and he’ll be the unquestioned starter throughout all of training camp. The offense has been built around him by new offensive coordinator Greg Roman, the same man who built an explosive offense around Colin Kaepernick in 2012 and 2013, and the team features plenty of speed at the skill positions. Three rookies in receivers Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin along with running back Justice Hill will be among the fastest at their respective positions from the moment they step on the field, and second-year tight end Mark Andrews is one of the faster tight ends in the league and has already displayed some chemistry with Jackson last season.
With the talent around Jackson that can do damage with the ball in their hands after the catch, he won’t have to make difficult throws to produce big plays. With a legitimate chance to break the single-season rushing record for a quarterback, Jackson does not have to contribute much in the passing game to be a weekly starter for fantasy, but if his passing game takes the steps forward that most second-year passers make, he has the upside of being a league winner.
Tom Schweitzer (@QBLTom): Tyler Lockett – ADP 55.0, WR23
Reasoning: Some might say Tyler Lockett already broke out last year, finishing as the 16th WR in PPR scoring, but there’s reason to believe he’s only scratched the surface on his fantasy value. Lockett received only 70 targets last year. Every other receiver that finished in the top 30 had over 90. With Doug Baldwin now retired, Lockett is expected to take over the slot role, which puts 100+ targets well within reach. Just for fun, if we apply Lockett’s 2018 production to a 100 target season, we get 81 receptions for 1379 yards and 14 TD’s, good for 7th in PPR scoring. 120 targets and you’re looking at the #1 receiver by a wide margin. Obviously, it’s not quite that simple. Lockett is due for some TD regression in 2019 after scoring on 14.3% of his targets last year, but it’s reasonable to expect he can maintain one of the higher rates in the league. Good things happen when Lockett is targeted:
Tyler Lockett led all WRs with a perfect 158.3 passer rating when targeted last season! 📈 pic.twitter.com/tJp8LGILZE
— PFF (@PFF) July 11, 2019
Tyler Lockett gained an average of 15.5 yards per target against press coverage last season (including playoffs), ranking 1st among all qualifying WRs (min. 15 press targets). #Seahawks
— PFF SEA Seahawks (@PFF_Seahawks) July 16, 2019
After all, according to PFF, Locket tied DeAndre Hopkins for the lowest drop percentage in the NFL (0.0%). That’s right – Hopkins and Lockett were the only receivers to receive a minimum of 50 targets and not drop a pass. Russell Wilson has a 6.0% TD rate on his pass attempts since entering the league in 2012. Only Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes have a higher rate in that timeframe. If Lockett can exceed 100 targets and keep his TD rate near 7-8%, a WR1 season is likely to follow.
Mike Miklius (@SIRL0INofBEEF): Curtis Samuel – ADP 115.7, WR43
Reasoning: Curtis Samuel was a second-round pick in the 2017 draft who showed little his rookie season before injuries ended his year early. The Panthers went on to draft D.J. Moore and the Samuel hype train was seemingly derailed. However, Samuel was back healthy in 2018, and he continued to develop as the season grew. He has worked tirelessly this offseason to improve his route running, and the results show.
Curtis Samuel's improved route-running is going to be a sight to see in 2019. 🍿pic.twitter.com/tQyIkaWsFb
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) July 31, 2019
Samuel has the open field smarts of a running back (his position in college), and he saw 8+ targets in three of his last five games. In fact, from Weeks 12-16 last season, Samuel drew more targets than Moore did. Why? Heading into Week 12, Curtis Samuel ranked 1st in TDs-per-touch, PFF had him as the 13th best WR in the NFL at the time, and he was tied with Odell Beckham Jr. for 11th in yards per route run. Needless to say, that convinced the coaching staff to get Samuel more involved. Samuel’s highlight reel is something to behold, and I expect him to challenge Moore in a battle to be Cam Newton’s favorite target. Best of all, Samuel is going at the end of the 9th round… an amazing discount for a young up and coming talent. Grab him now before the price rises.
Brenden Schaeffer (@bschaeffer12): Rashaad Penny – ADP 76.7, RB32
Reasoning: Don’t think for a second that Rashaad Penny as my breakout pick means I’m down on the prospects for Seattle RB Chris Carson; I just as easily could have gone with Carson for this prompt, considering he’s likely to land higher on the Seahawks depth chart than Penny to start the year. That I’m going with the anticipated RB2 in Seattle to establish himself as a post-hype star is a testament to the expectation that the Hawks are about to double down on their run-heavy style from a year ago as much as it is a belief in Penny’s skill. In 2018, Seattle led the NFL in rushing yards at 2,560. No team came within 100 ground yards of the Seahawks, and only three (Ravens, Rams, Panthers) came within 500 yards. If its defense stands up in 2019, Seattle’s run-first game plan will reach new heights. Though some reports suggest the Seahawks want Carson more involved in the passing game, Penny came out of college with an excellent pedigree as a pass-catcher, which is where you can expect him to force his way into more consideration as the season goes along.
— Kyle Betz (@KyleBBetz) August 9, 2019
What’s that mean? Even without an injury to Carson, Penny is going to be fantasy relevant. While Carson brings a physical, violent running style to Seattle’s backfield, Penny keeps defenses on edge with controlled strides, patience, and elusiveness. Just look at how he turns what should be a tackle for loss into a five-yard gain via subtle and aggressive fakes.
And if Carson does miss time–which he’s done on occasion in his career–there’s no Mike Davis anymore to snake opportunity, meaning Penny would be a virtual guarantee to explode if Carson goes down. Carson (51.8 ADP in PPR) is being undervalued by the fantasy community, but at an ADP of 76.7, Penny represents an even greater opportunity for value. I expect him to obliterate his current draft slot (RB32), leaping into the top 20 running backs when it’s all said and done, with a chance to rise even higher if things break right for him in 2019.
(Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)