Right now, most of the conversation within fantasy football is with regards to redraft formats. After all, this is the crunch time before drafts, and with preseason games starting, draft boards are starting to both formulate and change. However, not everyone participates in redraft leagues! Today, let us shift gears by focusing our attention on dynasty leagues.
While this part of the season isn’t as busy for dynasty players, our application of a player’s outlook for this season alone can really be useful in those formats. If you anticipate a player performing better than his market expectations, now would be the time to acquire him before the price to do becomes too high.
This exercise helps both contending teams and rebuilding teams. If you’re a contender, these players can certainly help you in 2021, whether it’s as depth or as a starter. Meanwhile, all of these players are young enough to provide rebuilders with hope for the future, or the ability to later flip them for a greater cost. Succeeding in dynasty leagues requires a lot of the similar qualities of investing in stocks; buy them at their lowest point, sell them at their highest. Today, we’ll focus on the former part of that process. These are players that you should be looking to acquire now. Take advantage of the opportunity now, before it’s too late!
All Stats via Pro Football Focus.
Post-Hype Breakout Candidates
Both of these players were hyped up heading into their rookie seasons after being first-round picks in the 2020 draft, yet have seen their stocks take a hit since. Nevertheless, I think there’s a bit too much being made about flaws, while not acknowledging what obstacles got in their way, and why the removal of them could lead to a strong sophomore season for both of them.Tua Tagovailoa is someone that I see as a late-round quarterback steal in redraft formats, making him one of my favorite targets in redraft formats:
“Yes, his rookie season didn’t go as expected, but there was a lot going against him. Coming back from a major hip injury, he was thrust into the starting role midway through the season, forcing a drastic change in the offensive scheme. Meanwhile, with the team struggling with injuries at the wide receiver position, he wasn’t supported well. That won’t be the case in 2021, though. The Dolphins added both Will Fuller V and Jaylen Waddle to add much-needed explosiveness to their receiving corps, while Tagovailoa should be significantly healthier this year. With Fuller and Waddle aboard, look him to throw the ball down the field more often; he performed well (82.3 PFF grade) on those throws yet wasn’t incentivized to be more aggressive.”
In my humble opinion, it’s generally not a good idea to write off a top-five pick after his rookie season, which involved him coming back from a serious hip injury, adjusting to a new offense on the fly, and not being supported by adequate talent. The surrounding circumstances look much better for this season, and there’s a lot of reason to believe Tagovailoa can be a better player simply with improved health. Should you buy-low on him now, you could be securing a starting quarterback at a discount price. Especially in SuperFlex formats, the value of that cannot be understated.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, meanwhile, didn’t have a bad rookie season, but as a first-round pick in redraft formats, his rookie still underwhelmed some. Yet, should it? Before the team signed Le’Veon Bell, he was the 11th-best running back in PPR formats and ranked 8th in expected fantasy points per game during that span. Meanwhile, including the postseason, he earned an 80.7 PFF rushing grade, averaged 3.03 yards after contact per attempt (YCO/A), and also was utilized in the receiving game. Now, all indications are that he’ll resume his duties as the team’s featured running back. This is a dual-threat running back that is still only 22-years-old and has shown us what he’s capable of in the role he’ll likely have moving forward. I’d consider him a top-ten dynasty running back, and with him starting to slide under the radar compared to other second-year backs, he’s a value on the trade market right now; expect his value to be significantly higher heading into the 2022 season.
Potential Breakout RBs
A frustrating aspect of evaluating running backs is that although they can demonstrate high-end abilities, it means less if they don’t have the optimal role that we’re hoping for them to have. That would definitely apply to these two running backs last season. While they each performed tremendously in terms of underlying metrics, they lacked the complete profile we’re looking for in a starting running back. There are some signs that could change, however, making this the perfect time to acquire them.
With 5 yards/attempt, a 90.3 PFF grade, and 3.02 YCO/A, Damien Harris demonstrated all of the rushing traits you’re looking for in a running back. Despite that, he only ranked 24th in expected rushing yards/game, while his overall workload varied greatly on a game-to-game basis. However, the expectation is that he’s gonna be utilized more as a runner this season, increasing his fantasy upside on its own. Meanwhile, with a quarterback shift to Mac Jones likely to happen at some point, Harris won’t have to worry about his touchdown opportunities being taken by Cam Newton, which completes his rushing profile. Ideally, you’d like to see more work in the receiving game, yet Harris might just be a quality enough runner, a la Nick Chubb; those rushing efficiency numbers are no joke.
Zack Moss profiles similar to Harris in that his goal-line carries were limited due to a mobile quarterback (Josh Allen), while he had to split carries with Devin Singletary in Buffalo last season. When he got his chances, though, he still rated out well with a 75.8 PFF rushing grade, and was the team’s top running back for touchdown opportunities; he doubled Singletary in goal-line carries. Furthermore, his success as a pass protector (78.9 PFF PBLK grade) could increase his playing time on third downs, while he demonstrated the ability in college to create a lot of yardage after contact.
Keep in mind that Moss has one more year under contract than Singletary. The team clearly has more faith in him in goal-line situations, and with Allen just signing a $258 million contract, don’t be surprised if Moss’ touchdowns take a major leap forward playing for a potent offense. Over time, too, I’d expect him to continue to get a higher workload than Singletary, providing an extra boost to the 23-year-old’s dynasty outlook. Both of these players could see their stocks rise significantly if their quality aligns with the higher role they are likely to see in 2021. Buy into them now before it’s too late.
WRs with Room for Growth
Believe it or not, but all of these wide receivers are 25-years-old or younger. Will their redraft value currently is somewhat limited, I’d take a shot on their skillsets translating to more production in an improved role soon.
With Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb entrenched as the Cowboys’ top-two receivers, Michael Gallup tends to fall under the radar. However, do remember that this is the same player who averaged 2.12 yards/route run in 2019. As someone who runs a vertical route tree (13.4 average depth of target), he has the big-play ability that a) gives him more potential upside in the proper role and b) makes him less dependent on a high amount of targets. As a pending free agent, his fantasy stock could increase significantly with a new team, getting him back closer to his 2019 version; his 15.2 points per game ranked 18th amongst receivers.
Generally, players tend to get better over time. Juju Smith-Schuster, on the other hand, has done the complete opposite.
For the first two seasons, he benefitted from being part of a great offense, but it’s also fair to say his circumstances since haven’t been ideal. In 2019, his quarterbacks were Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, while he was forced to run a very limited route tree in 2020. We know what Smith-Schuster can do with competent quarterback play and when utilized properly, and the hope has to be that he finds a new team next offseason. At the very worst, you’re getting a 24-year-old locked in as a low-end “WR3” for this year. At the best, you might be investing in a starting player at his lowest price point.
Curtis Samuel has one factor in his favor that the others don’t: he might already be in a better situation, as I put it in my first mock draft recap:
“With 1.94 yards/route run and a 76.4 PFF receiving grade last year, Curtis Samuel is coming off of his best season as a pro and now gets the serve as the second option in the passing game with Washington. It’s unclear what his usage will be here – he’s worked both as a short-yardage weapon and a deep threat – but I’d anticipate that offensive Scott Turner utilizes him as a vertical threat, similar to how he did in Carolina in 2019. In that year, the 24-year-old posted 13 expected fantasy points per game, yet was let down by extremely poor quarterback play. Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t a world-beater, but he sure beats Kyle Allen and Will Grier!”
Samuel is under contract in Washington for the next three seasons, where he’ll have familiarity with his new offensive coordinator, receiving talent around him, and the potential for improved quarterback play in the future. Considering the team spent $34.5 million ($23 million guaranteed) to bring him in, you’d expect him to be highly involved in their offense moving forward. He ranked 21st in expected points in a similar role in 2019, leaving a clear discrepancy between his ceiling and his current redraft average draft position (“WR43). As with all of these players, you can buy him while he’s suffered from being tough situations while imaging the possibilities in the future. Hey, maybe this is just like playing the stock market.
WRs with High ADOTs
I know, I know; this isn’t the most exciting group of players. However, it’s always useful to take cheap shots in the dark. It’s possible that none of these players could pan out, but they’ve all each played just one year in the NFL, and offer the big-play ability that we covet in receivers. Should they break out, you’ll want them on your team given how easy it is to acquire them currently.
It’s hard to believe it now, but Henry Ruggs III was the top receiver taken in the 2020 draft. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned for the 22-year-old, who earned just a 55.6 PFF receiving grade and just 34.8 receiving yards per game. Yet, it’s also clear he wasn’t utilized properly during his rookie year. His average depth of target (17.3) and overall route tree (34.9% of targets came 20+ yards down the field) demonstrate that he was strictly a deep threat for them, but he was more of a yards-after-catch weapon on short passing concepts in college. With a full offseason to prepare for a season that hopefully isn’t interrupted with an injury, it might be wise to bet on his talent winning out in the long run. There’s a reason he went so high in the draft, after all.
The same logic applies to Jalen Reagor. Infamously selected one pick before Justin Jefferson, the 22-year-old averaged just 1.3 yards/route run and was a non-asset in fantasy overall. Do keep in mind, though, that he not only missed a great portion of the first half of the season due to injuries but also suffered from poor quarterback play. As his 58.5% catch rate despite a 3.1% drop rate indicates, Carson Wentz’s inaccuracy got the best of him. Jalen Hurts may also not be very accurate, but it is worth noting that Reagor’s production (1.74 yards/route run) was noticeably better following the quarterback change, and he should also be better supported with the addition of DeVonta Smith in the draft. Cutting bait on a first-round pick after essentially half a season worth of games with poor quarterback play seems too hasty. If someone is willing to do that, not why make a no-risk/potential reward acquisition.
Gabriel Davis, on the other hand, didn’t come with the expectations that Ruggs and Reagor had as a fourth-round pick in 2020. That being said, he performed the best with a 67.1 PFF receiving grade while his production looks a lot more impressive when you consider he was often playing in four-receiver sets and wasn’t a full-time starter for Buffalo. With him being able to work down the field (17.4 aDOT) he averaged 17.5 yards/reception and has plenty of touchdown upside with that big-play ability and likely red-zone usage with his 6’3″, 212-pound frame. His stock is down right now without an immediate role, but with Emmanuel Sanders only on a one-year deal, I’d expect Davis to have an improved role in the future. If so, you’ll want to have on your team for when that happens.
End of Draft TE Targets with Upside
If you’re a 12-team dynasty league, I’d say it’s about 50-50 odds with regards to whether you have a starting tight end or not. Outside of Kyle Pitts, the amount of talent coming from this position via the draft has been limited, causing there to be an overall scarcity of high-end performers. Thus, you should be always on the lookout for this year’s “breakout” tight end, and these three players qualify.
Adam Trautman has seen his value take a hit after receiving suboptimal usage in his first preseason game, but he’s worth a look should his role improve. The 24-year-old earned a 94.3 PFF receiving grade in his final year at Dayton and was considered by many to be the top tight end in the 2020 draft. We don’t have many data points regarding his abilities, but it might be wise to embrace some variance here.
With Jonnu Smith departing as a free agent, the Titans need Anthony Firkser to step up as their starting tight end this season. Considering that he has earned a PFF receiving grade over 70 in each season of his three-year career and makes plays after the catch (4.5 YAC/REC) he’s someone to keep an eye on, especially if the Titans continue to use him a) in the slot and b) as their main tight end, which both should happen this year.
I see Blake Jarwin as a potential “sleeper” in redraft formats. Here’s why:
“After signing him to a four-year, $22 million contract, Dallas clearly had high hopes for Jarwin to replace Jason Witten as the team’s starting tight end. In fact, in 2019, a case can be made that he was a much better player than Witten. His 1.82 yards/route run ranked ninth at the position, while he demonstrated the ability to make plays after the catch (5.1 YAC/reception) and work down the field (10 aDOT, 11.8 yards/reception). Considering that this came in just his second season, there were plenty of reasons to be optimistic about his outlook heading into 2020.In Jarwin’s place, Dalton Schultz finished as the 10th-best tight end in fantasy points, earning 85 targets and running 553 routes. The Cowboys were the league’s most pass-happy offense last year, and since they’re likely to once again be positioned for shootouts with a well-regarded offense and struggling defense, that should be the case again. Assuming Jarwin wins the starting job and continues to work at a high aDOT, there is a lot to suggest he will finish close to where Schultz was last year. Between the projection needed here and him coming off of the injury, there is a reason he is being drafted where he is. On your bench, though, he has the exact type of “ceiling” that you want to be targeting.”
The 27-year-old has the potential opportunity to be the starting tight end for a high-powered offense for multiple seasons. His overall efficiency when healthy demonstrates that he has a clear skillset that should lead to production here. Now, it’s about him getting healthy, and while he may be limited early enough to hurt his redraft value, that is less of a problem in dynasty formats. Of the three, he might be the tight end I’d want to target the most.
In order to build a sustainable winning dynasty team, it’s important to look at the trade market similar to the stock market; buy players at their lowest point, sell them at their highest. Right now, you can trade for these players at a lower cost than you should be able to. As they say, buy the dip! In my opinion, all of these players are worth inquiring about in trades right now. If not, you could miss your chance.
Justin Dunbar (@talkmvp)
Photos by Mark Alberti & Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire | Design by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter @ IG)