Strategy Roundtable: Late-round Fliers

Footballguys staff members offer their thoughts on who to take a shot on late

Name a player you definitely will be taking a late-round flier on. What makes this player worthy?

Matt Waldman: Zach Zenner. The South Dakota Superman is second on Detroit's depth chart after a week in camp and he has a complete game that should only improve as he spends more time in the league. The second-year runner has been described as a plodder by some, but watch him beat the angles of top athletes at Nebraska while he was in school and it dispels that analysis. Zenner is capable of surpassing Joique Bell's best season's in Detroit and if Ameer Abdullah doesn't hold up or doesn't get keep a grip on the ball, Zenner has the all-around game to perform in an offense that I expect to make some gains this year.

Chad Parsons: Digging really deep, this is a player available on many medium-or-deep roster dynasty league waiver wires, let alone a late-round redraft selection. Ben Watson was a top-10 fantasy tight end with a career year in New Orleans. All the hype was on Josh Hill and Ben Watson stole the show last year. This offseason, Watson was a surprise signing by the Ravens. Crockett Gillmore is recovering from injury. Nick Boyle is suspended. Maxx Williams enters Year 2 after a nondescript rookie season. Watson, once again, is being ignored by the fantasy committee. Baltimore lacks any clarity in the passing game overall between tight end and wide receiver. Watson is my darkhorse TE1 for 2016.

Andy Hicks: Late round fliers need to have opportunity in redraft leagues to be worthy of a pick. We can all throw a dart and hope to hit on a longshot, but we need to be a bit more focused. Do we take a handcuff to a starter on our lineup or do we look where there are weaknesses in an NFL team that is likely to have a strong offense? Someone I have been targeting lately is Fitzgerald Toussaint. We know that Le'Veon Bell is likely to miss the first 3 games, while DeAngelo Williams had a very heavy workload for a back of his age. He'll be 33 now and with the Steelers having a strong passing game, the back should get a nice return. Toussaint got over a 100 yards against the Bengals in the playoffs and costs nothing.

Stephen Holloway: I am all in on Chad's selection of Ben Watson in Baltimore. Watson is an all-around player that is both athletic and smart. He will capitalize on his opportunities and with all the injuries to Raven receivers, there could be a lot of targets available there.

Another late tight end that I think will surprise in his rookie season is Hunter Henry. Henry is likewise an athletic and smart player, but he is battling a lot more healthy receivers in San Diego for targets and primary among those is one of the all-time greats at his position, Antonio Gates. However, Gates has already turned 36 this summer and has had his share of foot injuries over his career. He has missed 15 games over the past six seasons, including five last year. There is only one tight end since 1960 at Gates' age or older that has caught more passes than Gates 56 a year ago, Tony Gonzalez. Granted he and Gates are two of the most productive tight ends in NFL history, but producing at that position and that age is difficult. If Gates struggles with health, Henry can surprise in a very tight end focused system.

Phil Alexander: Terrelle Pryor faces incredibly long odds of successfully transitioning to wide receiver after beginning his NFL career as a quarterback. But if there were ever an athlete who can make the leap, it would be Pryor -- a former top football and basketball recruit coming out of high school, who goes 6'4'', 225-pounds, runs a sub-4.4 forty and is still only 27 years old. After the Browns drafted four wide receivers this spring, it seemed Pryor had a better chance of being cut than achieving anything close to fantasy relevance in 2016. Since then, all he's done is ascend the depth chart and flash playmaking skills commensurate with his athleticism. Here's Pryor catching a 75-yard touchdown from Josh McCown in the Browns annual scrimmage at Ohio Stadium. Here he is in the same game catching a five-yard fade from Robert Griffin III III for another score. Here he is beating cornerback Demarious Randall (a 2015 first round pick who played well last season) on a 49-yard bomb from Griffin on the first play from scrimmage in Cleveland's preseason debut. And here he is easily separating from Atlanta's Marcus Trufant (one of the better cornerbacks in the league) for a 50-yard touchdown last week.

Watching that five-yard fade, in particular, got me thinking. Now that Pryor looks locked in as a starter to open the season, is it a stretch to imagine him leading the Browns in receiving touchdowns? In addition to Pryor's size and speed, it's rumored his vertical leap was once measured at 37 inches, theoretically making him impossible to defend in jump ball situations. He'll have some competition in Gary Barnidge, for sure. Barnidge was solid in the red zone last season, converting eight out of 24 targets into touchdowns. But Josh Gordon has surprisingly been abysmal in the red zone, catching only one touchdown on 21 career targets. First-round pick Corey Coleman is a dangerous vertical talent, but at 5'11'', 195-pounds, doesn't profile as a red zone weapon. At the very least, there are reasons to believe Pryor has an edge on Cleveland's other wide receivers when they get within striking distance and it's obvious Hue Jackson will dial up a few deep chances for Pryor each week.

In fairness, I've been a huge Pryor fan since his days at Ohio State and it's likely I'm "wish-casting" success for him based on a few flashy preseason plays. Pryor still has plenty to prove against regular season competition, and Gordon's return from suspension looms to eventually push him down the depth chart. But Pryor's current ADP is N/A. It literally costs nothing (besides your last round pick) to take a chance on a player with palpable upside, who will get at least four games to deliver on his potential. As long as the price remains free, I'll be chasing Pryor's who-knows-how-high ceiling late in every draft.

Jason Wood: I'll throw out one at each position.

  • WR -- Bruce Ellington -- Someone has to emerge in the 49ers offense outside of Torrey Smith, and I'm banking on Ellington. Our own Matt Harmon broke down Ellington's potential in his Reception Perception series and I stand by the analysis. He's capable of flourishing in Chip Kelly's offense, and there aren't many receivers you can grab in the last rounds who are legitimate breakout candidates.
  • RB -- Josh Ferguson -- I'm open to Frank Gore having a good season but let's remember he's 33 years old. I like what I saw from Ferguson in college and don't see Robert Turbin as a problematic roadblock. If Gore gets hurt, I could see Ferguson emerging as a 3-down threat and a fantasy steal.
  • TE -- Jace Amaro -- Fantasy owners have too quick a memory. Amaro's unfortunate injuries have made him a forgotten man yet no team got less production from the tight end position than the Jets last year. Amaro was a gifted receiver at Texas Tech and is a perfect fit in that offense, assuming he can finally stay healthy.

Chris Feery: Following Jason’s lead, here’s a later round selection I’m intrigued by at each position.

  • RB - Shane Vereen - I’m expecting big things from the Giants offense as a whole. This will be Eli Manning’s third season in the Ben McAdoo offense, and he’s taken to it very well thus far. With McAdoo running the whole show, I’m expecting an even more pass-friendly attack, and that bodes well for a pass-catching back such as Vereen.
  • WR - Mohamed Sanu - Quite simply, someone has to be on the receiving end of the bulk of the targets that are not intended for Julio Jones. That led the Falcons to Sanu in the offseason, and I’ll trust their instincts. There is a dearth of talent at the WR position in Atlanta, and I expect Sanu to fit right in and find himself with a big role right off the bat.
  • TE - Charles Clay - The Bills are clearly going to be a ground and pound type of offense, but Rex Ryan is also not afraid to let Tyrod Taylor take his shots through the air. Taylor and Clay developed a decent rapport last season, and I expect that to continue to grow in 2016.

Sigmund Bloom: Tyrell Williams is a physical freak and he made his mark last year with an 80-yard touchdown in Week 17. Philip Rivers should lead a high volume pass offense and early reports have James Jones looking his age. If Williams can seize the third wide receiver role, he could become an instant big play threat, punishing defenses that focus too much on Keenan Allen and Travis Benjamin.

I'll second Phil's call on Pryor. He has a chance to be the team's #1 receiver until Josh Gordon returns, and he has has the size and speed to make your entire fantasy week on one play.

Anquan Boldin has been Mr. Reliable year after year and I expect Matthew Stafford to lock in on him in the middle of the field on third downs and otherwise when he has to get the ball out quickly. Boldin might lack great separation ability this late in his career, but he can still consistently win at the catch point.

Justin Howe: I'll second Matt Waldman's desire for Zach Zenner. That's a wide-open depth chart in Detroit. Ameer Abdullah was invisible as a rookie - his role could grow, of course, but it's telling that the team relied so heavily on Joique Bell down the stretch. It seems that, at worst, the Lions want a between-the-tackles complement to emerge. And Zenner is no one-trick pony. He's a SPARQ hall-of-famer, boasting explosive vertical (41") and broad jump (10'1") numbers at last year's combine. He's a small-school guy, but he averaged 192.3 scrimmage yards per game vs. FCS schools. And he's looked great in NFL preseason action thus far, averaging 5.8 yards per rush across four games. I would be stunned to see him lose out on the potentially meaty role to a talent-starved injury case like Stevan Ridley, and I wouldn't be stunned to see Zenner cut into Abdullah's role.

At WR, I can't help but notice that no one seems interested in Pierre Garcon. He's currently going WR65, according to FantasyFootballCalculator, in Round 14. This is guy fresh off a WR35 season that featured 72 catches and 6 touchdowns. I know Josh Doctson was added, but I don't see much first-year impact there. He's missed every training camp snap with an Achilles injiry, and starters Garcon and DeSean Jackson tend to dominate outside WR snaps and targets anyway. Garcon looks poised to again be a stabilizing force in the Washington offense; another 70 catches are well within reach, and they'd come from the tail end of your draft.

Dan Hindery: I will go with one of the guys Wood mentioned, Josh Ferguson. He's been one of the main late round targets for me in PPR drafts. While Frank Gore is a genuine physical freak, everyone succumbs to father time and 33-years old is really getting up there for a running back. While you hate to predict injuries for any player, I think you can pinpoint guys who are most likely to go down at some point and Gore is one of those. If Gore is out, Ferguson is going to get a lot of snaps in what should be a prolific offense. Another factor that makes Ferguson an attractive later round target is that (unlike a lot of the other late-round backs) he doesn't necessarily need an injury to be fantasy relevant. He is going to get a lot of work as the third-down back and is an excellent receiver out of the backfield. He could put up Charles Sims type numbers even with a healthy Frank Gore.

Tyler Boyd is another late-round rookie who is worth targeting in redraft. He has been a standout performer in training camp for the Bengals and a rash of injuries are likely to force Boyd into a bigger role than initially expected. He will get targets because someone other than A.J. Green has to. Brandon LaFell has ligament damage in his hand. He will soon decide whether to get surgery (which will put him out six weeks) or try to play through the injury. For a guy who has had issues with drops and has been mediocre in training camp, the hand problem is an inauspicious beginning for LaFell in Cincinnati. While I am optimistic about Tyler Eifert's timetable for returning (Week 2?), his injury also provides an opening for Boyd to instantly step into a bigger role early. Boyd could have an impact similar to that of Jarvis Landry in his rookie season.

Mark Wimer: Boyd is a guy I have been targeting as well - I am not as optimistic as Dan on Eifert and I think Boyd will, almost by default, be fed a lot of targets with A.J. Green routinely double- and triple-covered while teams dare Dalton to throw at the rookie.

Also, Terrance West is getting a lot of buzz out of Baltimore during training camp - he punched in two TDs against Carolina (9/25/2 rushing with 1/7/0 receiving) and though the yards per carry weren't impressive, he did score twice on a tough defensive unit. He's a guy you can usually scoop in the last two rounds or so, and he does seem to have an opportunity. Also, he pretty much has to know this is his last stop in the NFL if he doesn't perform well, so there is a lot of motivation in his circumstances.

Devin Knotts: I find myself in the last round taking a lot of Terrelle Pryor. All of the physical tools are there as he is 6'4'' 225 pounds and ran a 4.38 second forty. The converted quarterback is on a team that desperately needs size at the wide receiver position as outside of Josh Gordon who will be suspended for the first four games, they do not have a wide receiver who will see consistent snaps who is taller than 6'0''. They tried to address this by drafting Ricardo Louis and Jordan Payton, but both wide receivers have taken a back seat so far this season to Pryor. It all comes down to his route running which reports from camp have been very positive. Overall, he is the type of boom/bust player that could pay off when drafting in one of your final picks of the draft.

John Mamula: I agree with Dan and Mark as Tyler Boyd is the WR that I have been targeting late in redrafts this season. As mentioned, there is an abundance of targets up for grabs in the Cincinatti offense, and Boyd is a likely candidate to contribute from the start.

Another player that I an targeting late is Tyler Higbee. Jeff Fisher utilizes multiple tight ends in his offensive game plan. Last season, Jared Cook was targeted 75 times but converted a disappointing 52% completion rate. Cook has moved on to Green Bay and Lance Kendricks won't see a spike with his 40 targets from last season. That opens the door for Higbee who is having an impressive camp. Fisher recently said that Higbee has been making plays since "he walked off the bus at the airport." The Rams will be playing from behind early and often this season. Expect Higbee to get an opportunity to produce on an offense devoid receiving talent.

Jeff Pasquino: I'll pass on a WR3 at best after October 1 in Pryor. Gordon, Coleman and Barnidge (plus RB Duke Johnson Jr who is also lining up outside) are the top targets for a questionable passing game - why gamble on a guy who maybe gets five targets a week, if that? Give me a guy like Malcolm Mitchell in New England who is likely lining up at the X spot for a team that gets their star quarterback after four weeks. I'd take him or hope that someone like Mike Wallace has something left in the tank. Positive August buzz is sometimes worth a late round flier pick.

At tight end, I'd much rather take a rookie like Higbee, Austin Hooper or Hunter Henry for their upside. I'd even throw in Jesse James at TE above all three of them given Ladarius Green's ADP is sinking like a rock (along with his career possibly). That's the guy after 20 names are gone I would get - Jesse James. Big arm in Big Ben, passing game that needs targets and has no veteran really ahead of him, and a wide receiver suspended for the year. Roethlisberger said he wants 30+ points a game - get a cheap piece of that offense.

Running backs are much tougher, but in the last round? Why not take a flier on Kenjon Barner for the Eagles? He is viewed now as the understudy for Ryan Mathews, who we know is not built for the long haul by any stretch of the imagination. Philadelphia will be rough this year, but Barner can run and catch the ball out of the backfield. If Ryan goes down, he has the most upside right now as Darren Spoles cannot be an every down back.

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