From a dynasty perspective, name a player who is unlikely to contribute this year but could be a monster later in his career. Why do you like him so much?
Matt Waldman: Keith Marshall. There was a time he was the brighter shining prospect than teammate Todd Gurley at Georgia. Pound-for-pound, he's one of the fastest players in the league and he's a solidly-built 220 pounds. Most people who know Marshall by name have made too much of his injury history. While an ACL tear is still serious, there's a big label about health on his public perception because he didn't return the following year and become the starter in Athens.
While true that Marshall suffered a injury two years ago that kept him off the field after initially returning from the ACL tear, it was a typical compensatory issue without long-term effects. Prior to that knee injury, Marshall never suffered a significant injury that cost him time. Once he was at full health, he was third on the depth chart behind Heisman candidate Nick Chubb--a player that Leonard Fournette correctly said out-played him in the SEC when they were freshmen--and Sony Michel, who former coach Mark Richt labeled as the best offensive player on the team.
It's not that Marshall was never as good as advertised, he was part of a stacked depth chart. Imagine if Frank Gore's career took place at a point where he was a little older than Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, and Najeh Davenport and got injured as they emerged. These three backs shared time at the University of Miami's backfield, which is why Portis and James were initially underrated.
Gore suffered two ACL tears during his Miami career but was fortunate enough not to be competing with James, Portis, or Davenport upon his return from the second tear and performed well enough to become a late-round pick while still rounding into form. But if Gore--who was arguably one of the most talented college backs that I have ever seen before those injuries cost him some of his top speed and agility--was coming back with that trio ahead of him, he wouldn't have seen much of the field on game days.
This an appropriate comparison to the quality of the Georgia depth chart that Marshall returned to last year. When Marshall saw the field, he looked like the same player. Many people won't tell you that because they didn't see the big runs that were a part of his freshman year. But Marshall's stats were nearly the same as his freshman year and he did it more often from I-formation sets against 8-man fronts.
When I studied Marshall, I saw a player who understands how to press and cut 1-2 yards from bodies at the line of scrimmage. This is something more heralded backs entering the league still have to work on. He's not a jump-cutting monster like LeSean McCoy or Matt Forte, but Marshall has good command of shortening his stride to the line of scrimmage or a defender with an angle and adjusting his steps to create space. Some of his displays of footwork with a defender 5-10 yards away is masterful to watch.
He's more of a one-cut runner but his cuts are sharp, his burst is explosive, and his pad level helps him run through wraps high and low as well as push linemen backwards for extra yards. Marshall can beat defensive backs with good angles through creases. This is a smart, efficient, speedy back with good power between the tackles. I don't think he's as physically talented as Gurley but he's faster and good enough to develop into a top-15 starter in the NFL if he makes the most of his opportunities.
Although he's impressing in camp this week with his speed, maturity, and intelligence, Marshall is still the No.3 back on the depth chart and it will likely remain this way to begin the year. Matt Jones and Chris Thompson are entrenched as the 1-2 punch. Jones has earned criticism for his rookie performance but as much as some of that is rightly deserved, he also performed well against eight-man fronts. It's a good sign that he has some vision and potential for him to build on it.
If Jones or the oft-injured Thompson falter, Marshall's talent will loom large.
Andy Hicks: When looking for a long term dynasty gem, I will almost exclusively only focus on guys drafted in the first 3 rounds. Guys drafted between the 4th and 7th rounds need to make an immediate impact or teams will move on from them very quickly. NFL teams will make more of an investment on the early round picks. A great example is if we look at the running backs from the NFL draft of 2011. There were 16 backs taken in the last 4 rounds and only Bilal Powell is still on the team that drafted him and likely to make any kind of fantasy contribution this year. Dion Lewis was drafted by the Eagles in the 5th, but after 2 years in the wilderness found a new lease of life by the Patriots last year. The other 14 are either out of the NFL, most for at least 2 years, or about to be soon. Being a pick in the first 3 rounds is no guarantee either as Ryan Williams and Mikel Leshoure from that year were out of the league quickly as well. The pick I focused on that year however worked out well, DeMarco Murray with the 71st pick in that draft. He was initially not expected to contribute much behind Felix Jones and Sammy Morris.
To get value, we need to find players that aren't likely to start or contribute much early on, but have unestablished guys in front of them. A great example is a player I targeted heavily last year, David Johnson the 86th pick. Arizona had Andre Ellington projected to start, with the newly signed veteran Chris Johnson expected to challenge or contribute heavily. Johnson had flaws that needed strong coaching and most importantly he needed opportunity. Matt Jones, the 95th pick, was another example from last year as Alfred Morris was in the last year of his rookie deal and the coaches obviously didn't think he suited their system. This year I am targeting a player who fits the David Johnson profile. Jay Ajayi is playing the Andre Ellington part, while Arian Foster will be performing the Chris Johnson role. Obviously that player is Kenyan Drake. He has flaws that need good coaching and apart from that just needs opportunity. He has the size and speed to play the part of a running back in the NFL, but has been dogged by fitness issues. These players don't always work out, but when they do....
Sigmund Bloom: Tyler Higbee is putting on a Gronk/Kelce-esque show in Rams camp with great size, ball skills, athleticism, and physical play at the catch point He could win a big role in the offense as early as this season. For now, the offense will revolve around Todd Gurley, and Higbee will compete with Tavon Austin and Kenny Britt for some of the meager targets in what should be a somewhat inefficient passing game. Over time, #1 pick Jared Goff should develop and elevate the pass offense, with Higbee set up to possibly become the rare tight end that is the #1 target in his pass offense.
Dan Hindery: Higbee was one of the players on my shortlist for this topic, but Bloom already mentioned him so I will go with another rookie tight end - Hunter Henry. He was drafted 35th overall by San Diego and garnered Jason Witten comparisons throughout the draft process. He is an all-around tight end with a very polished game, especially considering that he is just 21-years old. He grabbed three passes for 43 yards in his preseason debut and looked good doing it. Rookie tight ends rarely make much of a fantasy impact and Henry will probably take at least a year or two to reach his full potential. But Antonio Gates is nearing the end of his career and the Chargers used a premium pick on Henry with the vision that he would be one of Philip Rivers' go-to targets in the Chargers pass-heavy, TE-friendly offense.
Mark Wimer: A quarterback I've been adding in a lot of dynasty leagues is Mike Bercovici, currently playing behind Philip Rivers. Bercovici is a longer-term project, but Rivers doesn't have that much time left in the NFL (he is signed through 2019, but starts getting $5 million roster bonuses in 2018, which could be an exit point for either Rivers or the Chargers) yet he should be on the field for this season and next, allowing Bercovici to develop at the pro level. Prior to the first preseason game, head coach Mike McCoy said Bercovici is a quick study who is sponging up lessons from Rivers. Rivers said he’s 'fired up' to watch the former Arizona State quarterback against the Titans - and their other preseason opponents - 'because I think he’ll do very well.' Bercovici finished the first exhibition game with 3/6 for 46 yards, zero TDs and one interception. All the above bodes well for Bercovici's continued development at this level - it is very good that Rivers has taken an interest in Bercovici and is mentoring him this training camp/preseason.
Devin Knotts: Cameron Artis-Payne is the guy I would want in Dynasty leagues. While it is always tough to project late drafted running backs it seems the Panthers are investing in Artis-Payne as they did not draft another running back to come in and compete for a roster spot against him in the offseason. Jonathan Stewart is turning 30 next season and Carolina is going to be looking for a running back that they can build around for the future to pair with Cam Newton. Artis-Payne still needs to work on his pass protection, but when he runs he runs with significant power and fully utilizes his 5'10'' 220lb frame. This is a player who has all of the tools to become a star running back, he just needs the opportunity and continued time to develop.
Johm Mamula: Josh Doctson is a WR that I would target in dynasty leagues but not redraft leagues. Doctson suffered an Achilles injury during the offseason and has struggled to get on the field. These are critical reps that he is missing as a rookie in training camp. Prior to the injury, Doctson was going to compete with Jamison Crowder for the number 3 WR spot in the Redskins offense. Without the time in training camp, it will be difficult for him to get enough snaps and targets during the regular season. Moving forward, Doctson has the talent and work ethic to be the go-to number 1 WR for the Redskins. Doctson was dominant at TCU over the past two seasons with 144 receptions, 2,345 receiving yards, and 25 touchdowns. Look for him to make an impact, just not this season.
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