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Deep Surveillance: 10 Rookie Unknowns to Monitor in Training Camp

Who is the 2013 Alfred Morris? Likely no one, but it doesn't mean you shouldn't keep an eye peeled. Matt Waldman profiles 10 rookies off the fantasy radar.

Sharks and football. These were the two of the three subjects I had a voracious curiosity about as a kid. If I wasn't on my fifth reading of Bill Cosby's claim that he witnessed Gale Sayers avoid a defender by splitting in two, then I was reading about bull sharks swimming up rivers and attacking bathers in far away lands.

The third was monsters, but today's subject isn't a fitting conversation about the exploits of Godzilla, Hydra, or Deacon Jones leveling cities with their swiftness and power.

Sharks are a different story. Fantasy football is the perfect intersection for studying and learning about my favorite sport and my favorite wildlife.

With all apologies to the bull and tiger shark, anyone who watches Shark Week knows that the most dangerous of them all is the great white. These massive beasts lay in the cut of murky water until the right moment to bum rush it's prey with terrifying athleticism. It reminds me of Deacon Jones.

When you think about it, the great white shark is the perfect spirit animal for a defensive end (Swim-move anyone?) and Jones played like he had a dorsal fin planted between his shoulder pads. rest in peace big fella, your partially cold-blooded oceanic cousins are sacking some tuna in your name as we speak.  

I don't want to get my IDP brethren too excited, because I also see great skill sets of a wide receiver. Watching a living thing with the size of a two-ton minibus and a mouth filled with endless rows of serrated knives breaking the ocean's surface and catching a seal with the same agility and ferocity of Larry Fitzgerald in the red zone when the Cardinals receiver splits multiple defenders, contorts in mid-air, and clamps onto his own version of a seal is the perfect amalgamation of beauty and horror for opposing defenses.

 

 

I bet if a team of cognitive psychologists placed electrodes on cornerbacks and had them watch tape of Fitzgerald and interspersed highlights of Charcarodon carcharias - "White Death" to those of you in the locker room - the neuro-cognitive responses to both stimuli would remain the same.

What the great white and a receiver like Fitzgerald does at this special moment is the product of hours of work. Most sharks never sleep - they are always on the move. They can smell a drop of blood from a distance greater than Joe Bryant can smell smoked meat. They have the sonar to detect the subtle vibrations of distressed sea life with the same aural sensitivity that Sigmund Bloom can detect a Phish or Widespread Panic concert within 350 miles of his home.

In today's fantasy football ocean, everybody and their mamma can write about Josh Gordon, Lamar Miller, and Michael Floyd. But only your rookie "Big Daddy" can give you strong takes on players with the talent to come out of nowhere, potentially take your league by the jaws, and make you look like a fantasy genius in re-draft and dynasty leagues as you submerge below the surface with your bounty.

We all know they won't acknowledge your genius when it's over. They'll call you lucky before they tap you the next Football Einstein. But we'll know better, won't we?

This is what some of you are going to expect from this analysis. However, even white sharks experience drops or run the wrong route. There's plenty of stories about them mistaking a surfer for an ailing seal or walrus where they take a bite, and realize they made the wrong decision.

You might add one of these players during training camp only to learn that your quick strike resulted in a disappointing lunch of "surfer meat hoagie" housed in polystyrene foam and layers of fiberglass.

But you can't eat if you don't hunt. Fantasy football ownership is a lot like swimming an ocean of information and discerning prey from predator. It requires observation, timing, experience, and intuition. 

Alfred Morris was my 20th-ranked rookie runner in the 2012 Rookie Scouting Portfolio. The ranking was a bigger statement about Morris' unlikely opportunity to display his skills than thinking poorly of his talent:

Morris is a big, strong back with good power and second effort. He's a player that needs to be hit and wrapped for a defender to bring him to the ground. He has a good burst and pretty good feet for a man his size, which allows him to change direction in the hole and find a secondary lane. In fact, he has enough burst to get the corner on designed runs to the edge of the defense.

That said, he lacks the long speed to generate breakaway runs unless behind a top NFL line and only when the blocks are there at the second level. He has enough patience to allow his blocks to set up, but he isn't a hesitant runner. He has the decisiveness to find the secondary lane up the middle or bounce a run outside if a lane doesn't come available. He catches the bail well with his hands and can adjust to poor passes, especially low throws . . . 

He might surprise at the NFL level. I'd say conservatively he reminds me a little bit of a cross between Sammy Morris and Joique Bell.

You might disagree with the nuance of the player comparison, but I don't think you can argue about the accuracy of what I observed about him at Florida Atlantic. His all-star game performance was no different. But at this time last year, Morris was pegged as a fullback.

It wasn't until training camp that Mike Shanahan mentioned Morris as a potential starter as the running back. Most of us were leery of Shanahan's statements. If you've played fantasy football for at least 15 years, you've been burned from the sordid list of past Shana-teases like Selvin Young, Andre Hall, and Ryan Torain. To be fair to the coral reef of Shanahan, injury was often a culprit.

However by August, there was enough to see from Morris to take him seriously as a potential fantasy option. Few expected RB1 production from the rookie, but Morris, Mike Anderson, and Dominic Rhodes are a just a few good examples of draft day afterthoughts making the most of opportunities.

Even if we don't succeed in finding an "unknown-turned-fantasy gem", it's important that we practice looking for the Morris' of fantasy football every year. Whether it's a re-draft or dynasty format, there are things every fantasy owner should monitor about players who aren't on our draft lists:

  • The player's talents
  • His fit with the team
  • The talents of the depth chart
  • The meaningful buzz words from coaches, beat writers, and teammates

If a fantasy owner has a solid grasp on these four things, they should be in position to act before the player makes his leagues' collective radar.

Here are 10 rookie afterthoughts with talent to monitor. Unless I specifically mention it, do not acquire these players now. Even when I do, there's a strong chance that none of them will amount to anything worth a fantasy owners' time. The hope of this exercise is that one of these players develops into fantasy starter, but the true purpose is to develop some skills at discerning potential surprises before your opponents do.

Spencer Ware

Player: RB Spencer Ware, Seattle

Talents: Pete Carroll brought up Ware in a recent interview where a write asked only about Christine Michael and Robert Turbin. The head coach said that Ware was the hardest runner they saw in college football last year. When Ware was a freshman I thought he out-played then-junior Stevan Ridley. A former high school wide receiver, Ware has excellent hands. However, most don't realize this because Ware's role in Baton Rouge after Ridley left was as a slobber-knocking, tough-yard-grinding, get-under-your-skin short-yardage and fourth-quarter role player. 

Team Fit: Ware is a perfect fit for this team. I described Ware at the Rookie Scouting Portfolio as stylistic mix of Marshawn Lynch and Marion Barber. The Seahawks have a strong interior running game and if called into action, Ware has the tools to carry the load in the same way that Alfred Morris did for the Redskins, but with greater versatility to his game on third down. 

Why He Was an Afterthought: LSU employs a committee with its backs and Ware was seldom used this year. He also lacks top-end speed. Combine these two factors with the NFL's trend of downgrading the draft stock of the running back position and Ware was a late-round pick. To make matters worse for his fantasy prospects, Seattle said they would move Ware to fullback. However, Pete Carroll made it clear that Ware could play running back in a pinch if called upon. This leaves a ray of light for Ware to find his way into a future depth chart competition as a runner.  

What Re-Draft Owners Need to Learn: A Robert Turbin or Christine Michael injury could give the Seahawks reason to place Ware with the running backs. If only one of the backs suffers a moderate or long-term injury then the frequency fantasy owners should monitor Ware increases, but he should remain a free agent in your league. If both players get hurt or a combination of one of these backups going down and Marshawn Lynch missing time then Ware is worth consideration. 

Seattle is also a culture where competition is not just lip service. If Carroll continues to praise Ware and talk about his skill as a running back and he's lukewarm about either Michael or Turbin, monitor any news about Ware taking reps as a running back in practice. Fantasy owners should expect Ware to see looks as a runner in the fourth quarter of preseason games, but if there is nothing happening as I described above then there's unlikely a fantasy significance. He's likely still the second-string fullback to Michael Robinson.

If Ware earns second or third-quarter reps at running back in the preseason and looks good, it might be time to consider him late in deep re-draft leagues or have him on your free agent speed dial . 

What Dynasty Owners Need to Learn: In addition to anything listed above, which would prompt me to consider him as a practice squad stash in deeper leagues, I would continue to monitor Ware as a free agent if he makes the roster as a second fullback. Starter Michael Robinson is an excellent player, but if the Seahawks feel it's important to keep Ware it's not strictly for this position, but the flexibility he provides as a potential ball carrier.

This shouldn't be lost on dynasty owners considering that Christine Michael has a history of immaturity and injury. I like what Robert Turbin did last year in limited time, but he did have a tendency at Utah State to abandon a down hill mentality at inopportune times. This was a rarely a problem for Ware. With Marshawn Lynch entering his eighth season in the NFL, the Seahawks are smart to prepare for the future even if its feature runner continues to perform at a high level for another 2-3 years. Ware might have to find his niche with another team, but the style, the fit, and the talent are good enough to overcome what appears to be an ugly depth chart situation at present. Ask Alfred Morris

Tyler Bray

Player: QB Tyler Bray, Chiefs

Talents: Blessed with excellent arm strength and the skill to squeeze the ball into tight spots from throwing angles that most quarterbacks cannot dream of trying, Bray has all the physical tools to develop into a franchise quarterback. I've seen Bray make throws would remind you of feats seen from Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers, and Jay Cutler

Team Fit: The Chiefs are a perfect team for Bray, because Alex Smith and Chase Daniel provide a level of perspective at the top of the depth chart that will benefit Bray if he's open to learning. Neither player as Bray's arm talent and had to develop their skill as game managers to earn their respective roles. If Bray models his preparation after these two veterans, he could be challenging for the starting job by 2015. 

Why He Was an Afterthought: Bray's belief in his arm is his undoing. When I can use the western The Good, The Bad and The Ugly to describe his game, you know he's a reckless gunslinger. Bray took too many chances and while we tend to applaud some level of arrogance in young quarterbacks his cocksure mentality crossed the line into pure stupidity as a decision maker. Fortunately, most of us still alive to read my last statement have suffered from extreme moments of stupidity and not only survived, but thrived. 

What Re-Draft Owners Have to Learn: There's little chance Bray is worth a pick this year, but with the Chiefs already talking about Bray as the projected No.3 quarterback just a week into June that's all the reason you need to monitor his training camp. Bray could push Daniel for the No.2 role and if that happens, he's one Von Miller or Justin Houstin sack away from seeing the field. Fantasy owners pay attention to coaches talking about Bray picking up the system and playing with a low incidence of mistakes. Since most re-draft leagues aren't deep enough to draft reserve quarterbacks, Bray is at best a free agent on your speed dial to begin the year. 

What Dynasty Owners Have to Learn: I think the Chiefs' projection that Bray will be the No.3 quarterback is enough to make him a deep dynasty addition right now if you have a Taxi Squad. Even if Bray doesn't beat Daniel for the No.2 job, if there's even talk about him pushing for it as a rookie then I'd add him as a stash for 2014. Alex Smith has not proven he's a consistently good vertical passer. This might change with Andy Reid's encouragement. If Bray pushes Daniel even a little bit this year, it might mean he's on a reasonably fast track to back up Smith and earn a shot to take over if the veteran fails to play to Reid's expectation. 

Kenbrell Thompkins

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Player: WR Kenbrell Thompkins, Patriots

Talents: The Cincinnati Bearcat by way of Tennessee and El Camino Community College is the cousin of Steelers up and comer Antonio Brown. While related to Brown, I think he comes to New England as a better route runner than the Steelers starter was at Central Michigan. Thompkins also has more consistent hands. What he lacks is the same skill as a ball carrier that makes Brown a rising star. 

Team Fit: The Patriots wide receiver corps looks like a casting call after Wes Welker moved to Denver and the organization jettisoned Brandon Lloyd. Michael Jenkins and Donald Jones are not long-term answers. Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman are talents, but have to prove they can handle the punishment. Lavelle Hawkins is a nice athlete who flashes receiver skills, but the Titans managed to draft several receivers that have earned playing time ahead of Hawkins since he joined the team in 2008.  

Beyond Amendola and Edelman, the most promising sector of the depth chart is a quartet of rookies that includes Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, and Mark Harrison. Despite the fact that Dobson and Boyce were drafted and Thompkins and Harrison were free agents, all four are intriguing options with long-term potential as starters. Because injury and a steep learning curve are a common part of the rookie experience, Thompkins could stick and work his way into the rotation. Missouri receiver T.J. Moe's Achilles' tear is a perfect example.  

Why He Was an Afterthought: Thompkins began his football career with a steep learning curve after spending a fair portion of his teen years making a living on the streets of Liberty City rather than focusing on academics and football. But once Thompkins committed to football in 2008, he's had a trouble-free college career.

Unfortunately, that career had three stops: El Camino Community College, the University of Tennessee, and Cincinnati. Tennessee was supposed to be his big step after the JUCO experience, but when coach Lane Kiffin left for USC the Volunteers were obstinate about releasing Thompkins from his scholarship and this ruined the young receiver's chance to have more than a minor impact with the Bearcats. 

Although Thompkins has a track record of an excellent work ethic and has grown a great deal in a short period of time, his lack of big-time college football experience makes him the long shot. 

What Re-Draft Owners Have to Learn: It will take a slew of injuries to the Patriots depth chart for Thompkins to earn a significant role as a rookie. While Pats fans may joke that between Edelman, Amendola, and a pack of rookies that it's a possible outcome, the likelihood is improbable.

If beat writers bring up first-team reps and consistent play making and Thompkins earns reps with Tom Brady and Ryan Mallett early in preseason contests, it could generate enough momentum to consider Thompkins late in deep re-drafts held in early August. If you're in a league that drafts at this time and Tom Brady is talking about Thompkins to the media, then it will be time to dial up the rookie as a waiver wire gem. 

What Dynasty Owners Have to Learn: If Thompkins earns a spot on the practice squad, he's worth monitoring as a possible free agent addition for 2014. Monitor his preseason performance for big plays on vertical routes, red zone catches, and yards after the catch. Also look for evidence of difficult catches of targets away from his body and plays in tight coverage.

If Thompkins demonstrates these things and gets cut due to a packed depth chart then keep an eye on his movement, because it's likely another team will add him to its practice squad. If the young receiver demonstrates some of these skills and gets hurt, he's also worth monitoring for 2014 as a potential spring addition. 

Russell Shepard

Player: WR Russell Shepard, Eagles

Talents: The most fascinating player I've seen at the Senior Bowl in five years I've been attending the college all-star game might have been Shepard. On the third day of South practices, Shepard joined the team as a late addition and they began the practice with drills to emphasize routes and attacking the football.  During that 20-minute span, Shepard was the most impressive player I saw and that included Terrance Williams, Tavarres King,  and Quinton Patton

He was smooth, precise, and explosive changing direction and did an excellent job catching the football. It wasn't even close how much better he looked compared to his teammates in the first 3-5 drills they did that afternoon. As the team got deeper in to the practice period, Shepard's consistency took a nosedive and with every rep he struggled with something. I thought he looked tired and considering that at LSU he was largely a player without a position, I could see how this might happen. 

While I chose not to write much about Shepard, I tucked away that sparkling 20 minutes into my memory. The former prize recruit as a quarterback is now earning praise from the Eagles coaches in OTAs for is ability to pick up the system as a receiver. 

Team Fit: Chip Kelly's new system needs speed, dynamic athletes with skill after the catch and the versatility to make plays from the backfield. Riley Cooper, Jason Avant, and B.J. Cunningham are all nice depth chart players with traditional skill sets as physical, possession players. Cooper has some big-play upside, but in the Andy Reid regime he was stuck behind DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.

Damaris Johnson's calling card is his return ability, but he flashed some skills as a receiver last year. He will likely be the obstacle in Shepard's path to a role as a slot receiver. Still, Johnson's work on special teams could mean that if Shepard translates his fast start into a strong camp, that he could be pitted against Jason Avant. If the Kelly regime wants more speed at the slot, Avant could be the odd-man out if Shepard plays well. 

Why He Was an Afterthought: LSU couldn't find a position for Shepard and he got lost in the shuffle. It's becoming more apparent that this is easy to do in Baton Rouge. A lot of fine skill players seem to get lost in Bayou country after Les Miles takes them out on his swamp boat.

He was used a lot like a poor man's Antwaan Randle El when I think there's potential for him to be a poor man's Randall Cobb in the right system. Philadelphia could be that system considering it's imagination and tempo is about as opposite from LSU as one could get. 

Without a track record of production or a position, Shepard was a draft-day afterthought. Still, there were 10 teams reportedly interested in signing him and with the good start this spring, the rookie is worth monitoring. 

What Re-Draft Owners Have to Learn: The Eagles' up-tempo practice sessions and rotation of first-team reps for a broader range of players than we've seen in the NFL means that one might want to downplay any reps that Shepard is getting right now. OTAs in Philadelphia appear to be a feeling-out process.

If Shepard is still earning first-team reps by the second week of August and seeing those reps in preseason games, it's time to pay attention. This is unlikely without something happening to the rest of the Philadelphia depth chart. Injuries to Avant or Johnson will help Shepard's cause as a future waiver option in 2013. However, he's at best a player in sub packages and this limits his upside to 3-5 touches per game unless the starting options suffer long-term injuries. 

What Dynasty Owners Have to Learn: I think the initial news that Shepard is earning praise from coaches is a start. If Avant, Cooper, or Johnson struggle to pick up the system or Shepard is seeing the kind of sub package looks that no one but DeSean Jackson is seeing, then we might be seeing the rookie earn a role as the understudy that makes this offense electric. If you own Jackson, it would be worthwhile to monitor Shepard.  

Ryan Griffin

Player: TE Ryan Griffin, Texans

Talents: Griffin is a good, all-around tight end with skill to work away from the formation. He handles press coverage from cornerbacks better than his draft status would lead you to believe. He's a fluid runner after the catch and capable of making defenders miss in the open field. What he does best is adjust to the football within the context of his route. 

Team Fit: Griffin is a great fit within the spectrum of tight ends the Texans have acquired for years - Owen Daniels, Garrett Graham, James Casey, and Joel Dressen - versatile, strong, pass catchers with skill as blockers. Casey and Dreessen are gone and Graham is a nice player, but lacks Griffin's upside as a down-field receiver.

Graham may also not offer as much as a blocker compared to Griffin's upside. Daniels is 30 and it's reasonable that the Texans are hoping to find a replacement that they can groom at a cheaper price. 

Why He Was an Afterthought: Connecticut's passing game was a weakness and Griffin was by far its best option. But without a good college quarterback, Griffin was an afterthought in the offense: He only had 29 catches in 2012. 

At the same time, he averaged 16.7 yards per catch and had 6 touchdowns, which was impressive. Honestly, I have no idea why he was an afterthought.

The only two people praising him in the draft community this year that I was aware of were Dane Brugler and I. Here are four plays I profiled of Griffin for my blog readers that are representative of his underrated talent. 

What Re-Draft Owners Have to Learn: An injury to Daniels or Graham is all that it will take for Griffin to earn a spot as the second tight end. We've seen the Texans generate big plays from 12 personnel sets over the past two years and Griffin has that ability to become a bye-week option for those in need of waiver wire help. 

There's also a good chance that Griffin could out-perform Graham this year. Gary Kubiak has already praised Griffin to the media during OTAs:

He's got a chance to be a really good player and I think he can get bigger too. We're excited. He fits the mold of what we do at tight end, with the guys we have. He's very smart.

This statement tells me that as long as Griffin continues to perform well in camp, he's a cinch as the No.3 option and Kubiak sees potential to grow into a bigger role for the team. He's already on my waiver wire speed dial for this fall. 

What Dynasty Owners Have to Learn: What Kubiak said is enough for you to keep him on your summer dynasty rosters now and reserve a practice squad spot in TE-friendly scoring formats. 

Miguel Maysonet

Player: RB Miguel Maysonet, Browns

Talents: Maysonet has the skills to produce as a two-down runner in a power running offense today. A strong, agile runner with a low center of gravity, Maysonet has excellent burst. Learn more about Maysonet here

Team Fit: The Browns have a strong, athletic offensive line and enough talent in the receiving corps to execute a balanced offense. Norv Turner may not have a strong track record as a head coach, but he earned multiple opportunities to lead a team because of his proven skill as an offensive coordinator. Balanced offenses with power running has always been a part of Turner's game plan. 

If Trent Richardson's injury woes continue, Cleveland is looking at oft-injured Montario Hardesty as one of only two backs with the running style that best matches Turner's historical template for runners. Don't bring up Emmitt Smith - in every sense he was the exception to the rule. 

The other is Maysonet. While I like a lot of what Dion Lewis has to offer and he's likely the top option he's more of a Warrick Dunn-sized runner and I'll be surprised if Turner isn't thinking committee if it comes to this scenario. Neither Chris Ogbonnaya nor Brandon Jackson offer the long-term upside of Maysonet as a ball carrier. 

Why He Was an Afterthought: I'm not sure I've seen a college team run the ball more often than Stony Brook during the Maysonet era. Moreover, I didn't see Maysonet catch a pass or block. Combine his small school pedigree with a one-dimensional offense and he was too much of an unknown in certain areas for teams to make a significant investment. 

The Eagles signed Maysonet after the draft, but he was cut before ever seeing extensive looks on the practice field. With a depth chart of LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown, Chris Polk, and rookie Matthew Tucker, once a need arose at another area, Maysonet was expendable. 

What Re-Draft Owners Have to Learn: It will take Richardson and Hardesty to suffer significant injuries and Maysonet to display third down skills that weren't apparent at Stony Brook for the UDFA to earn significant reps - especially when Ogbonnaya and Jackson are in camp for just this purpose. 

The bigger long shot scenario is Maysonet playing well in limited time during the preseason, the team cutting him with the hope they can add him to the practice squad, and an even more RB-needy team takes him.

Remember, the Titans cut LaGarrette Blount a few years ago after the San Francisco 49ers let him go earlier that spring. Blount was a big-time fantasy factor as a rookie Tampa Bay.

It happens.  

What Dynasty League Owners Have to Learn: If Maysonet earns lavish praise for a few aspects of his game but the compliments are sandwiched with points about him being young or having a lot more to learn, there's a good chance he'll be on a team's practice squad by September. There are a a lot of running backs at the end of depth charts and on practice squads with the talent to do good work so keep the enthusiasm tempered. 

The best scenario is that he earns a roster spot in Cleveland. It could mean that Montario Hardesty's days are numbered if Maysonet impresses this summer and given the No.3 job. I don't expect it, because of Lewis and his unproven skill in the passing. Still, his ability as a ball carrier is good enough that if Maysonet learns fast we could be talking a lot more about him two months from now.

Chris Thompson

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Player: RB Chris Thompson, Redskins

Talents: The former FSU runner has game-breaking speed and good balance for his size. I know there are people who have love for Andre Ellington, the Cardinals rookie from Clemson, but take away the injury history and I'd rather have Thompson. I think the Redskins found a player with the skills to provide a change of pace to Alfred Morris

Team Fit: Roy Helu has build-up speed, but Thompson's acceleration is far better than Morris, Helu, Royster, or fellow rookie Jawan Jamison. It's that acceleration that has led me to wonder if scouts were thinking of Thompson as a future receiver if they were concerned about him handling the rigors of ball carrying in the NFL. 

It leads me to think about Thompson in the frame of reference I once did with Darren Sproles or Brian Westbrook. I think that's the upside. The downside is Leon Washington.  

Why He Was an Afterthought: A fifth-round pick isn't an afterthought anymore, but for the casual fan it still might be. Thompson dropped because he broke a vertebrae in 2011, returned in 2012, looked like he was on his way to a 1000-yard season, and promptly tore his ACL. The rookie should be ready to practice sometime during training camp, but it might take him the rest of 2013 to return to his pre-ACL explosiveness. 

What Re-Draft Owners Have to Learn: First, they have to read that Thompson's knee isn't experiencing the kind of swelling that keeps him out of practice. Next, Thompson will have to avoid some of those compensatory injuries to quads, calves, ankles, and feet that players rehabbing from knee injuries can incur.

After that, the explosiveness has to be there. The long speed will not be an issue, but the short-area burst, change of direction, and balance are the three traits in the rookie's game that made him the player the Redskins coveted in the draft despite two major injuries.

If Thompson meets all these requirements it means he's likely displayed his wares in the preseason and on his way to contributing early enough to consider late or as a free agent option this fall. 

What Dynasty Owners Have to Learn: At the very least, all signs are pointing in the right direction for Thompson as a long-term commodity if he makes the final roster or is placed on the PUP List and given the NFL version of a red-shirt season. Anything more is gravy. I think he's worth adding now if you're in a league with at least 25 rosters spots. 

Zach Sudfeld

Player: TE Zach Sudfeld, Patriots

Talents: The Nevada tight end has the size to block at the line of scrimmage and the hands and athleticism to stretch the seam and make plays over linebackers and safeties. Sudfeld has the versatility and experience to meet the requirements of the Patriots multiple offense - see below. 

Team Fit: He was the lead blocker in 12 personnel (two-tight end) sets in the Wolkpack's pistol offense, which means he's used to moving around the formation and making a variety of blocks that would be required of him in New England. 

Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are not participating in OTAs so Sudfeld is earning looks that he might not otherwise see as an UDFA. Jake Ballard, Daniel Fells, and Michael Hoowanamanui are proven blockers and receivers, but Sudfeld as more athleticism as a receiver.

Sudfeld isn't as dynamic as Hernandez by any stretch of the imagination, but he could probably come closer to playing this role than the trio I just mentioned and it might allow the Patriots to maintain some of its packages reserved for Hernandez if the former Florida Gator can't stay healthy. 

Why He Was an Afterthought: Sudfeld suffered enough injuries at Nevada that I wouldn't be surprised if he has one of those special cards to flash to airport security so they understand why he's setting off the metal detector. 

What Re-Draft Owners Have to Learn: If Gronkowski or Hernandez suffer complications during their rehabilitation and Sudfeld continues to impress, he'll work his way into a position where he'll get a shot to see the field with Tom Brady and Ryan Mallett in preseason games. If this happens, Sudfeld could merit waiver wire consideration.

What Dynasty Owners Have to Learn: Gronkowski and Hernandez's injuries are an extended tryout for Sudfeld. If he doesn't make this roster, he could earn an opportunity with an organization not as loaded at the position. 

If Sudfeld earns a spot at the expense of Fells, Ballard, or Hoowanamanui and Gronkowski's back injury looks like the possible beginning of a rapid decline, the rookie could be worth stashing.

Big if in June, but it's this contingency planning that can pay off.

Cierre Wood

Player: RB Cierre Wood, Texans

Talents:  The rookie from Notre Dame has that sweet spot of height, weight, and burst to develop into a contributor. If he gets more consistent with his pad level, ball security, and pass protection, Wood has enough skill to develop into a lead back in a zone running game. 

Team Fit: Wood's patience makes him a good match for the Texans and with Ben Tate a free agent in 2014, Houston was proactive after the draft with its selection of free agent rookies. Wood was joined by Ray Graham, George Winn, and Dennis Johnson. Winn was the most powerful, but also the slowest. Houston waived the Cincinnati star. 

Johnson offers the most upside with his skill as a return specialist. He also runs a lot bigger than his 5-6, 196-pound frame would indicate and he's demonstrating this physical style in OTAs. The former Arkansas Razorback out-played Chiefs draft pick Knile Davis this year. Consider Johnson and Ray Graham an unofficial part of this list as the "11th and 12th men." 

The most talented back might be Graham, who has moves on top of moves. Returning last year from a devastating ACL injury, Graham didn't look like the same back for much of the year and his workout times were disappointing. If Graham can regain his burst and dynamic change of direction, he'll give Wood and Johnson a good run for the No.3 spot. 

Why He Was an Afterthought: Everything about Woods as an athlete says "average backup," which means he'll need to prove that his patience and conceptual understanding of his role will have to stand out. 

What Re-Draft Owners Have to Learn: That Foster and Tate are dinged and Woods is continuing to show the most in camp among the rookies to earn the No.3 job. If this scenario happens, Woods will earn a card in your waiver wire Rolodex. 

What Dynasty Owners Have to Learn: If the Texans praise Woods for his patience and highlight his pass protection or at least his potential as a pass protector, Graham will need to be completely healthy to compete. Consider Woods this summer in deep leagues until the cut-down date. 

Marlon Brown

Player: WR Marlon Brown, Ravens

Talents: Brown was on many lists as a top-10 prep wide receiver when the University of Georgia lured him away from the state of Tennessee. Tall (6-4), solidly built (215), and fluid, Brown never produced to his vast potential at Georgia but often flashed the skills fans expected. He catches the ball with his hands, adjusts fluidly to the football, and he can break tackles and run away from defenders. He's a more talented athlete than former teammate Tavarres King and many of his Georgia teammates and coaches have expressed admiration for Brown's work as a teammate behind the scenes as well as stated they believe in his NFL potential.

Team Fit: Deonte Thompson and Tandon Doss have contributor-level skill, but Brown has starter upside. Jacoby Jones and Thompson are likely to battle for the starting job this year. Brown was likely added in Baltimore as a potential red-shirt for 2014. 

Why He Was an Afterthought: Brown tore his ACL last year and he's still rehabbing the injury. It's unlikely he'll be ready to contribute this year. 

What Re-Draft Owners Have to Learn: Nothing, Brown is not a prospect for re-draft leagues. 

What Dynasty Owners Have to Learn: If the Ravens place Brown on the PUP List or Brown is healthy enough to practice in training camp and earn a roster spot, both are good signs that Baltimore is making a patience play for a receiver with as much talent as Jacoby Jones and Torrey Smith

Coming Soon: 10 Veteran Unknowns to Monitor in Training Camp.


More from Matt Waldman:

Gut Check No.321: Boobie and Bryce - October 21
Gut Check No.320: Fantasy Mid-Season Review - October 14
Gut Check No.319: Emergent(cies) - October 7
Gut Check No.318: ADP vs. End of Season - September 30
Gut Check No.317: Week 3 Is No Time to Panic - September 23
Gut Check No.316: Week 2 - Sifting Through The Wreckage - September 16
Gut Check No.315: Week 1 - Straight, No Chaser - September 9
Under The Microscope: Ravens RB Lorenzo Taliaferro - September 8
Gut Check No.314: 2014 Fantasy If . . . Then - September 1
Gut Check No.313: Waiver Wire Prep - August 25