Mining The Draft For Deep Dynasty Gems
Dan Schneier digs a little deeper into the 2014 class and mines for some future fantasy gold at the skill positions.
Mining The Draft For Deep Dynasty Gems
The pre-draft process is always one of my favorite times of the year because I get to take my best shot at evaluating and projecting talent to the NFL. There’s never enough time to watch and evaluate every play, so I try to focus on the skill positions, as they have a direct effect on fantasy football.
One thing I found unique to this specific draft was the talent and depth at wide receiver. So naturally, I watched and researched the most at this position.
In this piece I’ll tap into my evaluations and attempt to bring to your attention some names to consider for your dynasty rookie drafts. Anyone can recognize Mike Evans’ unique talent and upside or Bishop Sankey’s perfect situation. I won’t throw those guys out there. Instead, I will suggest players who might not be receiving a fair amount of buzz.
We will start with quarterback and move through to tight end.
Zach Mettenberger, Tennessee Titans
Often, I find that people associate big-framed, big-armed quarterbacks who don’t get drafted early with a lack of accuracy. This is not the case for Mettenberger. He is a rhythm passer that can deliver the football accurately and with zip when faced with a clean pocket.
He took a huge jump in 2013 when Cam Cameron joined as offensive coordinator and installed a more pro-style and passer-friendly offense. Now he gets Ken Whisenhunt as his head coach, who in my eyes is more deserving of the “quarterback whisperer” title than Marc Trestman. Whisenhunt has most recently revived the career of Philip Rivers, and before that Kurt Warner. He also played a major role in Ben Roethlisberger’s development.
Of course when watching his game tape, it won’t take you long to notice his slow feet and lack of mobility. This is why it’s important for him to operate out of an offensive system that heavily features the shotgun formation. Last season, Whisenhunt featured an up-tempo shotgun offense with the Chargers, and this allowed Rivers to get in a rhythm.
To stay in rhythm, Mettenberger will also need a strong offensive line. The Titans have invested more in their offensive line in recent seasons than most teams. Last offseason they made Andy Levitre one of the highest-paid guards in the NFL. They have also used their last two first-round picks on Chance Warmack and Taylor Lewan. This offseason, they signed tackle Michael Oher to a four-year, $20 million contract. It didn’t all add up last season, as they finished as our fifth-best run blocking unit, but in the bottom third in pass blocking. Going forward, cohesion and talent will improve a line that is likely to mold into one of the league’s best overall.
If he gets his chance, Mettenberger will have several weapons to work with as well. Wide receivers Justin Hunter and Kendall Wright have flashed big time potential, and they will improve with even more experience. Adding Bishop Sankey to the mix should provide them with a constant in the running game. Mettenberger is worth a shot after all of the more hyped quarterbacks go off the board in your dynasty rookie drafts.
Tyler Gaffney, Carolina Panthers
Although billed as a plodder by some draft analysts, Gaffney’s production and combine results tell a much different story. In 2013, after finally earning a larger role following the departure of Stepfan Taylor, Gaffney put together 1,717 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns. He averaged 5.19 yards per carry with some of his best games coming in conference play. At 220 pounds he ran a 4.49 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, numbers that combined for a speed score of 108.3 – the third-best out of this year’s running back class.
There is reason to believe Gaffney possesses untapped potential, but in a dynasty format, situation plays just as big of a role. I can confidently assume that Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman is looking to get away from the egregiously overpaid contracts that former general manager Marty Hurley signed Jonathan Stewart and Deangelo Williams to. That time could come as soon as 2015, but more likely in 2016 due to dead money salary cap ramifications for both Stewart and Williams.
Gaffney’s opportunity might also end up coming sooner than expected. Just because they are on the roster and clogging up salary cap space, doesn’t mean that the Panthers will stick with Williams and Stewart no matter what. Last season, Williams finished in the middle of the pack in elusive rating, forcing just 35 missed tackles on 227 combined rushing attempts and receptions. In limited action, Stewart was not much better.
Gettleman praised Gaffney for his downhill running style and pass protection skills. Last season they used Mike Tolbert on 336 pass plays, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they replaced him with Gaffney on some of those snaps. It would add a new dynamic to their offense.
Lache Seastrunk, Washington Redskins
After my evaluations, I found that I viewed Seastrunk’s game tape in higher regard than some of the draft analysts. While it’s easy to downgrade him for his limitations as a pass catcher, Seastrunk is a dynamic player in space and he displayed the kind of suddenness that sometimes turns a skill position player into fantasy football gold. Of course, the way he fights for every yard on every run shows his toughness, and I believe that he is fully capable of holding down a role as the go-to early-down back.
He has work to do in pass protection and as a receiver, which is fine for now. Alfred Morris will handle that role for now, but keep in mind that his contract is up after the 2015 season. If Seastrunk has developed into a solid pass protector by then, the Redskins could look to move on from Morris in an attempt to invest less salary cap space at the running back position.
Seastrunk also has experience playing with Robert Griffin, from their time together at Baylor. You’ll get a better feeling for how the team views Seastrunk’s future based on whether or not they extend Morris before his contract season in 2015.
Devin Street, Dallas Cowboys
Forgive me if I can’t contain my excitement when talking about Street, but at least I’m not the only one. After spending the most time researching and watching the wide receiver position, I came away befuddled by the fact that Street was projected as a late-round pick. Then I remembered that players like Street, who didn’t win the 40-yard-dash contest (4.55), can get lost in the mix. The talent and depth in this wide receiver class made that easier.
However, I believe that Street has the ability to immediately become a top red zone threat and eventually develop into a high-upside No. 2 wide receiver. At 6-foot-3 with a 37-inch vertical, Street has the size and leaping ability to be an outside threat at wide receiver. He displays incredible body control in the air, and this is most obvious on his vertical routes.
For someone who lacks straight-line speed, he consistently wins as a vertical route runner due to these attributes. Aside from body control and leaping ability, Street has unique quickness for someone his size. He is especially quick in and out of his breaks, and this allows him to be a very effective route runner on slants and in routes. I believe that he is more polished than most receivers in this draft when it comes to route running.
Street also had success in the slot in college. With Miles Austin off the roster, he may prove to be a better option there than Cole Beasley. At worst, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan could find specific packages where he prefers a bigger slot receiver.
Street’s path to playing time may come much sooner than expected. As I mentioned last week, Terrance Williams was much worse in 2013 in real life and fantasy football than most people realized. Aside from Dez Bryant, the Cowboys are lacking red zone options that can go up and get a jump ball. Mark my words and throw it back to me if it doesn’t come true, but I am saying that Street will earn an immediate role in the red zone and then take over as a starting receiver in the middle of this season.
Jeremy Gallon, New England Patriots
Gallon is another wide receiver who saw his draft stock deflate due to his combination of size and speed. At just 5-foot-7 and 185 pounds, Gallon ran a 4.49 40-yard dash at the combine. People seem to forget that the Patriots have made PPR fantasy stars out of wide receivers just like this. At 5-foot-9 and 195 pounds, Wes Welker ran a 4.61 40-yard dash at the combine. You know Julian Edelman, the guy who put together a 105/1,056/6 line in 2013. He came in at 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds with a 4.52 40-yard dash.
The Patriots system values different attributes like quickness and football IQ. Gallon possesses both of those and there is even more to like about his game. He plays with that unique quickness and lateral agility that has turned many prospects into plus starters in the slot. Aside from that, in his game tape I noticed a player with a high football IQ and a toughness to him, especially for a man his size. He is fearless. With a little seasoning, he could soon turn into the Patriots’ best option in the slot.
After rumors circulated that the Patriots were flirting with the decision to cut Danny Amendola this offseason, they ruled against it likely due to salary cap ramifications. After 2014, cutting Amendola will cost the Patriots a lot less in dead money. Edelman has experience on the outside, and they could opt to move him to the outside full time if Gallon proves that his game can translate to the pros.
It’s important that the Patriots don’t miscast him, and based on their track record, it seems doubtful that they would. Gallon is not a successful vertical receiver, and I’m not sure he can ever develop into one. He is a niche player that belongs in the slot. However, I believe that in the slot he offers the most upside of any player currently on their roster.
A.C. Leonard, Minnesota Vikings
Leonard is a size and speed freak who made his way on to draft radars after a ridiculous combine. At just over 6-foot-2 and 252 pounds, Leonard ran a 4.50 40-yard dash, which was good for the fastest by far of any tight end. Originally a top recruit at Florida, Leonard’s off-field concerns lost him a spot on the team. He finished his collegiate career at Tennessee State, where he’s drawn comparisons to Gator alumni Jordan Reed for his build and game.
From clips I have broken down on Leonard, I saw a player with a similar skill set to what I was expecting minus the straight-line speed. While he was elusive and laterally explosive, I didn’t see him run enough successful vertical seam routes.
His natural athleticism is undeniable, and if anyone can tap into it, Norv Turner can. We last heard of Turner’s positive effect on tight ends last offseason when the Jordan Cameron hype train was in full force. Cameron, who ran a 4.53 40-yard dash at 254 pounds, did in fact break out last season under Turner. As you can tell, the two players had almost identical measurables entering the pros. The difference is that Cameron had two seasons under his belt to learn the game, while Leonard is coming in much more raw. That’s why I am suggesting him in dynasty leagues only.
Blake Annen, Philadelphia Eagles
This one is a deep dig, as Annen was not only signed as a UDFA, but he also enters a roster with plenty of talent around him at wide receiver and tight end. Annen’s path to playing time is a long and windy road, but that might be a good thing. He is a developmental prospect that needs work on the finer aspects of the game.
However, one would be hard-pressed to deny his insane athleticism. Annen wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine, but at his pro day he measured in at 6-foot-4 and 247 pounds while running a 4.41 40-yard dash. That was not a typo, you read that right — 4.41.
Those numbers jumped out at me, so I decided to watch every snap of his available at Draft Breakdown. Annen was not used much in the passing game until his senior year, and even then he was not heavily involved in the offense. His speed truly is unique to the position. Using official NFL Combine results from the last five drafts, the only tight ends other than Annen to run a sub 4.5 40-yard dash were Ladarius Green, Rob Housler and James Hanna. This kind of speed allows a tight end to stretch the defense vertically down the seam and also in the short confines inside the red zone.
In 2013, Green found a role in the Chargers’ offensive scheme and he became a seam-stretching playmaker. He finished with 30 catches for 376 yards and three touchdowns, averaging over 22 yards per catch.
In addition to tight end, Cincinnati used him as an H-back and at times in the slot. For Chip Kelly, Annen could become an offensive weapon that he can move around and isolate in plus matchups. The Eagles brought in James Casey for a similar role last offseason, but that project hasn’t gotten off of the ground yet. Annen will have to make the roster first, but a prospect with his kind of upside is worth considering in deeper dynasty leagues.
If you want to know any of my other evaluations on skill position players, continue the conversation, or yell at me for someone I missed, you can find me on Twitter @DanSchneier_NFL.
Editor’s Note: Be sure to check out our new Mock and Companion Draft Tool! Utilizing our updated player projections, run a quick mock draft and see where this year’s crop of free agents are coming off the board in early fantasy football drafts.