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Rookie Roundup: Later Round Shots

Looking at a players available later in rookie drafts that could hit big for owners.

One of the most thrilling parts of being a dynasty owner is when you hit on your later picks in a big way. I still remember the joy I felt when I took Stefon Diggs with a fifth-round rookie pick in one of my leagues in 2015. I watched him blossom into a player that was worth a high first-round pick by the conclusion of the year.

We’re always looking for those guys who may not be selected with a premium rookie pick, but have a chance to be impactful in fantasy football. With each rookie not yet matched to his NFL team, we must evaluate the prospects on pure talent. In some ways, this can be helpful, because it allows us to look past the team fit and depth chart circumstances to imagine what that player could do if given the chance. In this article, we’ll explore one possible later-round gem at each skill position.

QB: Lamar Jackson, Louisville

Current rookie draft range (in single quarterback leagues): Middle to late third round

The rookie draft spotlight has been on Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, and Baker Mayfield, and these guys have their merits. However, Jackson can be had later in rookie drafts and he arguably offers more fantasy upside at his peak than any of those three signal callers. His abilities to throw off platform, the arm strength on scrambling throws, and the ability to burn defenders with his legs reminds me very much of Michael Vick in his prime. I’ve also seen improvement from 2016 to 2017 in the areas of keeping his eyes downfield, sliding to avoid pressure in the pocket, and pass placement. With the right organizational fit, Jackson could truly be a quarterback most talent evaluators look back on and say, “How did we not see this?”

RB: Kalen Ballage, Arizona State

Current rookie draft range: Late second to early third round

I liked Ballage more than I expected at the Senior Bowl, and the more I’ve watched Ballage, the more I’ve been impressed. He displayed much more pass-catching acumen in college than I previously gave him credit for. He has natural hands that don’t fight the ball but instead pluck it out of the air before he turns to run upfield. Ballage doesn’t string together multiple moves, but his quick feet enable him to make one sharp cut and go north and south. This is exactly what you want in a back in a zone blocking scheme. His burst and long speed is among the best I’ve seen in this year’s running back class. He’s also a competent pass protector, which should help endear him to his coaches early. I expect Ballage to rise a bit in the rookie ranks with a good showing at the NFL Combine, but drafters could still be very happy with their return on investment in time.

WR: DaeSean Hamilton, Pennsylvania State

Current rookie draft range: Undrafted

I’m usually one to fall in love with metric freaks. DaeSean Hamilton is anything but that. So why do I like him so much? Simply put, he’s a pure technician on his routes, and that can get you open in the NFL. His body control, footwork, and ability to catch in traffic stood out to me at the Senior Bowl. As I’ve watched more of him after the fact, I’ve seen that he can track the ball well in the air and shows his hands late in the route so that the defensive back has less chance to break up the pass. While I don’t think he’ll be the number one target in any offense, I could see him develop into a quality number two guy opposite a solid starter. Considering he’s basically going to be the last pick of your draft or a free guy you can snag on the waiver wire after the draft, there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain by taking a chance on Hamilton.

TE: Hayden Hurst, South Carolina

Current rookie draft range (in non-tight end premium leagues): Early fifth round

At 25 years old, he’s a little older than your typical rookie draft candidate because he spent some time exploring a minor league baseball career before deciding to pursue one in football. It helps that tight ends are usually older before producing in the NFL and typically play later into their careers. At 6’5” and 250 pounds, Hurst possesses the natural size you want to see. What’s really eye-popping is how much speed he has for being as big as he is. Some are predicting that Hurst will clock a 4.5 forty-yard dash at the Combine, and watching his play speed, I think that’s a real possibility. He runs routes well, holds onto contested catches, adjusts well to poorly thrown passes, and separates with ease when matched up with linebackers. He needs work learning to pass block properly, but I feel this is something that can be cleaned up with the right coaching. Hurst has upside that rivals that of Dallas Goedert and Mark Andrews, but won’t cost nearly as much. The Combine might push his stock up, but I believe he’ll still present value for owners who want to take a later shot.