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The Gut Check No.362: The Late Show/Emerging Talents

You may look at some these 13 late-round prospects and think, never gonna happen, but Steph Curry and Bill Walsh beg to differ.

When it comes to late-round prospects and waiver wire wonders, you may never become the Stephen Curry of fantasy football. But there's a reason the NBA MVP has awesome range:  

 

Preparation matters — even if the scenarios you're practicing for are as unlikely or remote as hitting a half-court shot. Bill Walsh had the 49ers practice a red zone play every week that his players believe would never happen...

 

Last week, I profiled 10 late-round and UDFA rookies with a remote shot at having a fantasy impact this year, but the talent to make good with an opportunity to see the field. I joked that they were only fit for the "Late Late Show." 

This week's fantasy prospects air before midnight, but they still qualify as guests for earlier programming, but still qualifies as the "Late Show". If these fantasy options perform well this year, they could see primetime in 2017.   

What kind of fantasy prospects qualify as guests of the "Late Show?"  Here are the requirements from my casting director: 

  • He never performed as a QB1, RB2, WR3, or TE1 for at least 10 weeks during a season.
  • He wasn't picked during the first three rounds of the NFL Draft. 
  • He has less than six years of NFL experience, but he's not a rookie. 
  • He has demonstrated flashes of skill and production in practice or on the field. 
  • His ADP is outside the top 150 picks (PPR).

The casting director does not take bribes from agents, players, or fantasy owners. As the Late Show's host, I don't endorse all 17 of these fantasy prospects as draftable. This is fantasy football practice; preparation for your mind.

The less obvious names are worth learning about — and in some cases, reconsidering — as options that may help you this fall far more than you believe this summer. You may look at some of these guys and think never gonna happen, but Steph Curry and Bill Walsh beg to differ.

Feed Me, Seymour...

These three players have flashed the skill to get it done when given the opportunity. All they need is more attempts/targets.  

RB Spencer Ware (ADP 216, RB66): I chopped the trees and milled the wood for the Ware bandwagon. Whether that wagon rolls or loses a wheel, it's just the facts. It's also a fact that when Ware earned double-digit carries last year, good things happened. In those three games (Weeks 11-12, and 17), Ware was 36-286-6. He's a big, strong, agile back with a good burst.

At worst, Ware should be used as the Chiefs' finisher in the same way Ottis Anderson, Marion Barber and Marshawn Lynch were finishers. He's third on Kansas City's projected depth chart, but I think the Chiefs envision using Ware the way I mentioned. Jamaal Charles is a great back returning from his second ACL tear, which could mean a bigger role for Ware early.

Advice: Regardless of an investment in Charles, Ware is worth stashing. If Charles struggles, you're golden; if Charles shines and Ware is testing seat covers, he's expendable early. 

TE Virgil Green (ADP In solitary confinement): Some of you long-time readers aren't surprised the likes of Ware and Green make this list. I've been touting them for 3-5 years. You're probably over it by now.

Hey, at least I'm consistent. Green was my top rookie tight end in 2011 — above former teammate Julius Thomas. The biggest surprise wasn't that Thomas earned that starting job over Green, it's that the Broncos considered Green a blocking tight end. Green was Colin Kaepernick's primary target at Nevada.

When I first scouted Green before the draft, I wrote, "If a team drafted Green as a blocker, the GM should be fired because the Nevada tight end is much closer to Shannon Sharpe than he is Alge Crumpler." 

Let's call this statement "precognitive, anti-Elway bias." Or, you could just say I was wrong about Green developing into a good blocker. 

But if I'm wrong about Green becoming a fine blocker, the Broncos have unjustly imprisoned Green's receiving skills.  He was also one of the position's best athletes: 

Virgil Green's Combine Times Compared to All Tight Ends Since 2006

DrillGreenRanking 
40-yard dash 4.64 15th  
Short shuttle 4.4 25th  
Three-cone 6.9 12th  
Vertical 42.5 2nd  
Broad 130 1st  
Bench 23 8th  
 

We're talking about an explosive athlete with the field-stretching speed, change of direction, and vertical leaping ability of a prized wide receiver prospect. More looks for the tight end could be coming. Mark Sanchez was a part of Dustin Keller's two top-10 fantasy finishes in 2010-2011 and a third, borderline starter effort (top-14 in 2008).

Green fits this athletic and receiving profile better than the options on the depth chart. But all this begs the question: If Green is so promising, why didn't he beat out Thomas, or at least take over when Thomas split for Jacksonville? 

Three theories: 

  1. Coaching staffs can develop embedded views about a player. Green was relegated early to special teams, developed as a blocker, and that's what he became known for. When Gary Kubiak took over, his staff probably had pro scouting reports on Green as a blocker. Since coaches don't do a ton of college scouting, they may have never seen Green at Nevada. It means the pro scouting reports didn't mention much about him as a receiver. 
  2. Green's athletic ability and hands are top-notch, but it's possible he doesn't read coverage well. It would explain why he would not be a good fit with Peyton Manning, whose entire game was built on his excellence pre-snap. 
  3. Green's receiving acumen is fine, but Thomas had the favor of Elway, developed faster, and when Thomas left, a tight end like Green was more important to protecting Manning than catching passes.

Advice: Green is worth a stash this summer for dynasty rosters if he's in your free agent pool. Re-draft owners and daily players should consider him an early-season play if wins the starting job because his ADP is in solitary confinement and he has big-play ability. 

WR Albert Wilson (ADP in purgatory)Alex Smith is an easy guy to blame for a passing game that makes fantasy owners say, "meh." To Captain Check-Down's credit, Smith upped his yards per attempt to 7.42, his highest rate since a respectable 7.97 average for 10 games in 2012. That 7.42 YPA actually made the Chiefs quarterback average in this department. 

Comfort level with second and third reads matter. Otherwise, a risk-averse passer like Smith is perfectly comfortable tossing the wide route to the back or the drag route to the tight end. There were games last year where Wilson got open and gained the trust of Smith. When Wilson earned at least six targets in a game, he averaged 13.2 fantasy points in those contests. 

That's a touchdown better than Sammy Watkins last year — good enough to land at the end of the top 20 for fantasy receivers. But how does Wilson get Smith to throw to him six times a game?  Chris Conley showed promise last year and the Chiefs acquired taller, faster, athletes at the position, including Demarcus Robinson, Rod Streater, Mitch Matthews, and Tyreek Hill

GM John Dorsey's NFL Combine interview where he mentioned Albert Wilson as "kind of" the No.2 WR last year was a lukewarm endorsement, at best. I'm a fan of Wilson's potential (so is my bud, Matt Harmon) , but the Chiefs brought in enough talent that the third-year UDFA from Georgia State has to take that next big step in his development as a route runner and playmaker around the ball. 

Wilson has to become a player that Alex Smith can't ignore in favor of a check-down. This is a taller order than the 6'7" Matthews. But it's amazing how comfort level for a quarterback can loosen up his game. Let's hope this applies to Smith regardless of the receiver competing for time opposite Jeremy Maclin

Advice: Monitor Wilson's training camp. If you hear words and phrases like "dominant", "best receiver on the field", "unstoppable", or "raving about" in beat reports and Wilson earns the starting job, it's time to add Wilson to your rosters, draft him late, and even start him early on in a few daily leagues as that potential difference maker few others will consider.  


The Land of Bright And Shiny Toys

If Footballguys were a compilation of children's stories for kids 10 and under who played fantasy sports, Sigmund Bloom would rule the land of Bright And Shiny Toys. His intuition is locked onto athletes who could potentially dominate if they hit. Perhaps Bloom is a young fantasy football version of Al Davis before Davis met the evil emperor from Star Wars. 

In case you only remember Davis at the end of his career, it's a compliment to Bloom's athlete-playmaker radar. These five players have the physical upside to develop into big-play fantasy starters:

WR DeAndre Smelter (ADP 231, WR 82): Big, powerful, and skilled at shielding defenders from the football, Smelter is an excellent rebounder of the football. At Georgia Tech, Smelter showed some facility against press coverage. Before the ACL tear, he had enough speed to win vertical routes with his size. He also had good hip flexibility, which is important to earning separation as a route runner and ballcarrier. 

Smelter has no restrictions entering 49ers camp this spring. Whether Chip Kelly's offense uses him more like Riley Cooper or Jordan Matthews remains to be seen. At Tech, Smelter looked like a pro athlete and performed with a lot of the awareness one expects from a future pro starter.

Advice: Well worth taking as the fifth or sixth receiver for your re-draft lineups, Smelter might be a decent buy-low in dynasty leagues. If he earns the starting job, he's another option to lean on early in daily formats when you're going lighter on your lineup volume, but seeking a low-ownership option with upside. 

WR Jeff Janis (ADP 186, WR 70): Mike McCarthy told the media that Janis must improve his route running technique and recognition of coverage. These are clear, definable goals that the athletic Janis should have no problem developing if he worked on the game during the offseason — and continues working on it — before training camp. A favorite of the "metric-centric" community of fantasy analysts, Janis' 7-catch, 145-yard, 2-score performance against the Cardinals revealed would he could be for Green Bay and fantasy football if he can harness the athletic ability.

Davante Adams hasn't developed fast enough to the Packers' liking. The media speculation that Adams could be on his way out if he doesn't improve this summer could also be one of those in-house leaks to motivate the third-year receiver to work harder. This kind of stuff happens between teams and beat reporters. With James Jones gone, Jordy Nelson returning from injury, and Ty Montgomery slowly recovering from his injury, Janis is a shot to earn substantial playing time. 

Advice: Janis is a great pick this late in drafts because there's little gray area with him. If he shows improvement with his routes and coverage reads, he'll remain on your roster. If he doesn't, you'll be hearing more about Jared Abbrederis and you can cut Janis. More on Abbrederis in a bit.

WR Quincy Enunwa (ADP Wherever Jimmy Hoffa is...): I love watching Enunwa once he gets the ball in his hands. He's quick, agile, powerful, and determined. He can win deep and his hand-eye coordination is promising. 

His problem at Nebraska was learning how to coordinate his hands into the right position based on the location of the target. He earned 46 targets during his second year with the Jets, which is a big jump. He had a bad case of the drops during his first start in Week 3 but as the season progressed he became more reliable as an underneath target and Ryan Fitzpatrick made a concerted effort to target Enunwa deep, including a 48-yard play up the middle of New England's defense to set up a game-winning play in Week 16.

Devin Smith is the player everyone is waiting on to do something, but Enunwa could be the guy worth watching if Brandon Marshall or Eric Decker gets hurt.  

Advice: Monitor in camp as a potential add from the waiver wire in re-drafts. Dynasty owners should consider Enunwa as a minor pot-sweetener in trade negotiations. 

TE Blake Bell (ADP Try the Haight...): Formerly known as the "Belldozer" for his Tim Tebow-like work as a red zone quarterback for the Oklahoma Sooners, Bell did an excellent job converting to tight end at the end of his college career. He's fluid, rugged, and skilled enough at the line of scrimmage that, with continued work, he has the potential to become an every-down tight end. His hand-eye coordination is excellent as a receiver. 

Bell flashed these skills as an injury substitute last year. He displayed some skill at finding the open zones, beating linebackers straight-up, and earning yards after the catch. Monitor the 49ers camp for word of his progress. 

Advice: Same advice as I gave for Enunwa.

RB Trey Williams (ADP Somewhere at the bottom of a hay loft...): Washington, Dallas and New England all signed and cut Williams last year. The Dolphins signed the rookie from Texas A&M and the Colts signed him off Miami's squad. Williams has excellent agility, burst, and creativity.

What he needs to show is more refined skill between the tackles and improvement on passing downs as a blocker. From a standpoint of raw talent, he'd be near the top of this depth chart. If he can harness it, look out.    

Dr. Jene Bramel is in my nightmares

Not mine, but probably in the bad dreams of these two talents who I bet would have earned even more playing time if they weren't hurt so often.  

RB Chris Thompson (ADP 217, RB 67):  The scatback from FSU finally saw extended playing time during his third year with Washington and earned 456 yards and 2 touchdowns on 70 touches. His talent is flat-out awesome: long speed, short-area quicks, excellent hands, and he runs hard for his size. At 5-7, 192 lbs., Thompson is short but not as small as you think.

From weeks 3-10, Thompson as the No.48 fantasy RB. Starter Matt Jones was the No.39 RB. Eight points separated the two backs. Jones needed 26 more touches to account for that 8-point advantage. 

Talent-wise, Thompson could be in the same spectrum as Brian Westbrook and Darren Sproles. Health-wise, it hasn't come close to happening. His latest injury required shoulder surgery and the latest news is that Thompson might not be ready for camp.

Advice: If he recovers fast enough to battle Keith Marshall for playing time in mid-August, I'd take a flier on Thompson at the end of re-drafts. He's riskier in dynasty leagues because of Marshall's presence and Thompson injury history. Daily players could get a nice bang for their buck early this year if Thompson is ready because in this case, 9.1 yards per carry last year is a good indication of how explosive he truly is. 

WR Jared Abbrederis (ADP 262, WR 91): If Jeff Janis is the metric-centric, emerging receiver of choice in Green Bay, Abbrederis earns his merits as a technician. Although not the workout warrior of Janis' ilk, the former Wisconsin receiver runs fine routes, wins in the vertical game with skill at the line of scrimmage, and he understands how to read coverage. 

It's why Aaron Rodgers has lobbied to get Abbrederis on the field more often — twice. When a guy like Rodgers gives you the nickname "Magic," it should get your attention. 

So should a torn right ACL on the first day of his rookie training camp and broken ribs in his first game against Detroit last November that cost him two weeks.  

It's more likely that Abbrederis serves as a Harry Douglas-like roleplayer in the Packers' offense, but if the Bramel Boogeyman hits the top of the Packers' depth chart and spares Abbrederis, he could become Rodgers' most trusted weapon.

Advice: Abbrederis makes a savvy end-of-roster stash in re-drafts and a summertime hold in dynasty leagues. If he earns a significant role, he could be Aaron Rodgers' Midwestern version of Allen Hurns. I had a nice September in daily formats last year with Mr. Hurns. 

 

GroundHog Day

Sometimes the day was such a disaster you just wish you could start over. These two talents will hopefully make like Bill Murray and finally get it right.  

WR Kenny Bell (ADP 279, WR 99): My favorite late-round 2015 rookie was just getting his groove on when he tore his hamstring in Buccaneers camp last summer. Normally, NFL teams don't have players on IR tag along on road games but they took Bell along and involved him in every facet of the team as possible. It should tell you what they think of Jameis Winston's camp roommate.

Bell has speed to burn and he's a physical football player despite a wiry build resembling Marvin Jones. He's a tough football player the Buccaneers hope can thrive in the slot this year and develop into an outside presence to replace Vincent Jackson next. You know I'm a believer.

Advice: If he wins the slot role, draft him late in re-drafts. He's a buy-low in dynasty leagues if you can find a fantasy owner who isn't clutching to him like gold because of my evangelizing in 2014-15. 

RB Mike Davis (ADP Leaped off the Golden Gate Bridge after 2.2 YPC last year): I told readers last year that the rookie was two different players at South Carolina. The in-shape, healthy Mike Davis is capable of giving Carlos Hyde all he could handle as competition for playing time. The underwhelming version of Davis won't stay on a roster for long. 

Last year, Davis inspired the 49ers to draft Kelvin Taylor. Although Taylor is no match for the "Good Mike", the team put Davis on notice. One thing working in Davis' favor is Jarryd Hayne's recent "retirement" to pursue Olympic Rugby.

Another thing is that Davis' skills are a good fit in Chip Kelly's offense. Davis has been quoted this spring about his excitement for the new scheme. Of course, it was Austrailian media that interviewed him because nobody in San Francisco really cares what Davis thinks until he can beat journeyman Shaun Draughn and gain more yards per carry than what it takes to fall forward.

Advice: I interviewed Ben Watson recently and he told a story about Bill Belichick saying there was no redshirt year in the NFL. While true, a player can redeem himself in year two. Davis has this chance with a new regime and other than Hyde, Davis is the best feature back talent on the roster. Monitor him this summer and act if warranted. 

You're Kidding...Right? 

I'm afraid not, friends.  Preparing for any conceivable situation is the hallmark of a winning effort. So there's no better place to end this than where Bill Walsh once roamed the sidelines. 

QB Blaine Gabbert (ADP Still under a pass rush in Jacksonville):  From Weeks 11-17 last season, Gabbert was a fantasy QB1. He was a touchdown from out-pointing the No.9 QB during that stretch, Carson Palmer

Physically, Gabbert offers everything you want from a starting NFL quarterback. He throws a beautiful ball. He can thread the needle downfield from the pocket or on the move. He's also big and mobile. 

Maurice Jones-Drew told the media well after he left Jacksonville that Gabbert wasn't as bad as the media and fans portrayed him. The runner believed Gabbert was thrust into the fray well before he was ready and got overwhelmed. 

The greatest question is whether Gabbert can handle pressure and make deliberate, accurate reads while taking punishment. If he can, he's a potential reclamation project in a Chip Kelly offense that can play to his strengths as a quarterback. If he can't, then let the snark continue. 

Advice: It doesn't appear Colin Kaepernick is leaving San Francisco. But Kaepernick wanted out and ESPN's Trey Wingo has said on talk radio that the 49ers QB lost the respect of many teammates for his approach to his job in recent years.

If Gabbert can continue to rebuild his game and win the starting job, it's conceivable that he could some some of the same things Nick Foles did in Philadelphia — maybe better. Don't count on it. Beyond Torrey Smith, the 49ers have a lot of receivers who are better athletes than route runners.

If Smelter can change this dynamic, Gabbert has a fighting chance to become a garbage-time fantasy gem. He'll be on most re-draft and dynasty league waiver wires and should be easy to acquire because half of your league will still be laughing at the thought that Gabbert might work out. Daily players should consider him early on.