Dynasty Diamonds: Practicing Patience
Pat Thorman looks at some young talents with challenging depth chart situations that are surmountable if fantasy owners can give it some time.
Dynasty Diamonds: Practicing Patience
Taking the long view feels unnatural, even for dynasty leaguers. We’re accustomed to instant gratification in these On-Demand times and are closing in on having an entire generation blissfully unaware of what it means to go rent a video. Practicing patience may be painstaking, but it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than the alternative.
Let’s take a look at some inexpensive youngsters with roster roadblocks that are not as daunting as they currently appear. All you need is just a little patience.
Damien Williams (RB – Dolphins)
In case you haven’t heard, Miami hired a new offensive coordinator who could conceivably increase their 2013 rushing attempts by 40 percent. Bill Lazor spent last year with the Eagles, who ran the ball 500 times. The Dolphins had 349 handoffs. Scheme and blocking upgrades are laying the groundwork for whoever takes the rock in the coming years. Who that will be is still high up in the air, and an undrafted free agent just might be the best bet of an uninspiring bunch.
Knowshon Moreno is on a one-year deal, and despite his status as 2013’s fifth best fantasy running back, defenses all but rolled out the red carpet for him and begged Peyton Manning to hand off. Out of 32 qualified backs, he still finished just 25th in yards after contact per attempt and 26th in Elusive Rating. He’s in Miami because they’re not sold on the more physically gifted Lamar Miller, who has one more year left on his contract. The flotsam behind them, Daniel Thomas and Mike Gillislee, will battle just to make the roster. Williams is a big, fast back who can catch. His talent and performance were exceedingly draftable if not for off field issues at Oklahoma. He’s basically free in rookie drafts and the wait for relevance may not be very long.
James White (RB – Patriots)
Only once since 2002 have the Patriots run the ball less frequently than they did in 2013 (41.3%). That was 2011 (40.5%), when Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Wes Welker combined for almost 300 catches and New England went to the Super Bowl. Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen were rookies that year, and now they’re set to be free agents after 2014. The inconsistent Brandon Bolden’s contract is also set to expire. While they all may not leave, rookie fourth-round pick James White is guaranteed to be prominently in the 2015 mix.
White was part of a draft haul that sent a strong signal that things are morphing when it comes to the Patriots’ offense. Three offensive linemen, drafted with two fourth-rounders and a sixth, fit a beefier profile than what New England has used of late. That’s especially true of two interior diamonds in the rough, Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell, who turned back into pumpkins last year. White, who averaged 13 games played during his four college seasons (the anti-Vereen), is a sure-handed (the anti-Ridley) jack-of-all-trades, and compares closely to Giovani Bernard, according to Shawn Siegele’s work at RotoViz. This time next year he could be top dog on the depth chart of a talent-rich offense with a newfound commitment to the run.
Paul Richardson (WR – Seahawks)
Already turning heads during rookie minicamp, Richardson’s blazing speed is matched only by the frustration felt by some over his landing in Seattle. While “fifth on the depth chart with a run-first team” sounds ominous, his situation is better than first glance. Sidney Rice and Doug Baldwin are unsigned past the 2014 season, and Jermaine Kearse will be a restricted free agent. None of them can replicate what Richardson brings to an offense anyway. Russell Wilson placed fifth in accuracy percentage on deep balls as a rookie, and first in 2013 among qualified players. Close your eyes and think of Richardson at the end of those rainbows. Okay, open them and now focus on Seattle’s nominal number one receiver, Percy Harvin.
For all the buzz Harvin has caused, and everything he’s cost the Seahawks, he desperately needs a productive, healthy 2014 season. His cap hit if he’s cut will drop from $20.6 million in 2014, to $7.2 million next year. His $10.5 million salary in 2015 is not guaranteed, and Seattle can save $5.7 million if they ax him. The dead money drops ($4.8M) and the savings rise ($7.5M) even more in 2016. At a time when the bill is coming due on Wilson and the Seahawks’ many defensive stars, Harvin needs to prove he’s worth the considerable expense because Richardson will be ready to step in.
Stedman Bailey (WR – Rams)
The Rams’ uninspiring passing game, crowded receiving corps, and a suspension for performance-enhancers have butchered Bailey’s value. A wise man once recommended greed when others are fearful. He also said that “price is what you pay…value is what you get.” The Rams got excellent value for a third round price but the impending production eruption remains dormant…for now.
Chris Givens has just one more year on his deal, and Austin Pettis is likely gone after 2014. Brian Quick has plenty of promise, but it’s now-or-never time. A run-heavy approach and Brian Schottenheimer’s clown car-themed passing attack cast doubts that 2014 will raise Rams’ receivers. The enigmatic Kenny Britt is on a one-year deal, and Jared Cook ($8M cap hit if cut in ’15) will be gone after two more years of his patented patty-cake blocking. Bailey will ripen just as the decks are cleared of Sam Bradford, Schottenheimer, and most of his pass catching competition.
Chris Gragg (TE – Bills)
Buffalo handed Scott Chandler a two-year extension in March, although it tellingly represented a pay cut for the hulking 6’7” red zone target. Graded negatively by PFF in pass catching, run and pass blocking last year, he can be cut after this year with just $600,000 in dead money and $2.25 million cap savings. They already have Lee Smith to do the kind of grunt work that had him graded in the top five at his position in both run and pass blocking last year.
Buffalo is middle-of-the-road in cap spending for 2015, yet boast enough young talent that Chandler could be cast aside if a better option emerged. Chris Gragg is that better option. He’s not big (6’3” 244 lbs.), but has 4.5 40-yard dash speed and posted an exciting, if unsustainable, 1.03 Standard Points Per Opportunity (PPO) in limited time as a rookie. That was earned on just 22 pass routes, but his snap count more than tripled after Week 10. He also dominated with limited opportunity during his final season at Arkansas, posting 42 percent of his team’s touchdowns and 13.1 yards per reception during the four games he played. He’s signed cheaply through 2016 and will have a chance to emerge before then.
A.C. Leonard (TE – Vikings)
Another small tight end with 4.5 40-yard dash wheels, the 6-foot-2, 252-pound Leonard probably would not have had to go the undrafted free agent route if he hadn’t been arrested twice while at Florida. He averaged 13.8 yards per reception at Tennessee State, however, and kept his nose clean enough for the Vikings to take a shot on the explosive (10-foot-8 broad jump) move tight end. He topped everyone at the scouting combine in Shawn Siegele’s Height Adjusted Speed Score, not just fellow tight ends. Everyone.
Now Leonard is another branch in Norval Turner’s tight end trust tree, albeit a mere nub of one at this point. Will he have a chance to flower like the Jordan Camerons, Antonio Gateses, and Jay Novaceks have before him, with Pro Bowler Kyle Rudolph in his way? It’s notable that Rudolph is the only one of consequence currently ahead of Leonard, and that the big guy is going to be a free agent after this season. If he blows up under Turner’s tutelage, Rudolph may prove prohibitively pricey to re-sign. The Vikings are in no particular cap trouble next year, but it is curious that they’re letting Rudolph play out his deal. As with the rest of the players mentioned, the cost to sit on Leonard will be small, and the upside is real.
Pat Thorman is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy and was named 2013 Newcomer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @Pat_Thorman