10 UDFAs That Matter, Deep Surveillance, The Late Late Show, whatever the title I've used to profile late-round rookies and free agents, most of them won't amount to anything in fantasy football. Who cares about undrafted free agents?
Thomas Rawls owners.
The UDFA from Central Michigan was the No.26 fantasy RB during his 13 weeks of playing time with the Seahawks. This includes the first two weeks where Rawls was the No.3 RB on the depth chart and Weeks 6-10 when Marshawn Lynch returned from injury. During Weeks 3-5 and 11-17, Rawls was the No.11 fantasy back.
Allen Hurns owners.
The UDFA from Miami, who was in the same draft as Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee, posted WR14 fantasy production despite playing with a sports hernia since Week 3. Despite the injury, Hurns only missed a week. Tallying Hurns' first two years of production against receivers entering the league since 2000, he's 9th among receivers in touchdowns, 23rd in yardage, and 29th in catches.
The vast majority of qualifiers are first- and second-round picks, but other late-round and UDFAs to earn an appearance on at least one of these three lists include Danny Amendola (UDFA), Marques Colston (7th round), Martavis Bryant (5th round), Marvin Jones (5th round), Denarius Moore (5th round) and Kenny Stills (5th round). Hurns is the only UDFA receiver to make the top 30 on all three lists.
Spencer Ware owners.
The third-year runner was the No.8 fantasy RB for the month (Week 11 -14) that he earned meaningful playing time in Kansas City. When he earned at least 10 touches in a game, Ware averaged 15 carries for 95 yards and a touchdown for those 3 games.
These are three guests from the past three years of the Gut Check's Late-Late Show. All three have worked their way to prime time fantasy production.
Chris Thompson also emerged from the "Late Late Show" to the No.48 fantasy RB during an eight-week run from Weeks 3-10 in 2015. Albert Wilson made a similar trip when he delivered No.47 fantasy WR production during a nine-week stint from Weeks 6-14 last year. Both are modest gains, but signs of talent flickering to life.
Several prominent fantasy studs ascended to the top after providing a smaller initial glimpse.
Wes Welker was the No.40 fantasy WR after the first six weeks of 2006. The second-year Dolphin finished 57th overall, but it began a six-year run with the Patriots where Welker posted four WR1 seasons and two WR2 seasons, including a top-three finish in 2011.
Antonio Gates turned in production that placed the Chargers' tight end No.18 at his position in fantasy leagues as a rookie. What the full year doesn't reveal is that Gates was the No.5 TE from Weeks 9-17. After this rookie year, Gates performed as a top-5 fantasy tight end for the next seven—including three consecutive years as the top fantasy option at the position.
Arian Foster finished his rookie year as the No.62 fantasy RB. The UDFA from Tennessee played six games and produced as the No.25 fantasy RB during that stint. It launched a three-year run of top-four fantasy production as an RB.
Tony Romo earned his first start during Week 7 of the 2006 season. He finished the season as the No.19 fantasy QB, but the second-year UDFA from Eastern Illinois posted top-4 fantasy QB stats when only counting his starts. Romo has been a fantasy QB1 whenever he's stayed healthy for at least 13 games.
London Fletcher and James Harrison are two IDP options that easily come to mind as UDFAs-made-good. There's no argument that UDFAs-turned-studs are the exception to the rule, but it's important to know where and how to seek an edge as a fantasy owner. UDFAs are tricky cases because once most of these players show signs of fantasy life, your competition saw the data and you're now hoping he falls to you on the weekly waiver wire.
The trick is learning about these UDFAs well before the national fantasy columnist or the general newswire at any fantasy site mentions the player's name for the first time. If you're reading this column before August, you're the type of fantasy owner who does his due diligence as a researcher of talent.
The most important thing about monitoring UDFAs is understanding why the NFL Draft is as much a process of risk management as it is a determination of talent. I'd argue talent takes a back seat.