Fantasy football championships are like tables and the draft, lineup decisions, and transactions are those potential supports. You don't need all four legs to hoist that table high; you may only need one really strong, well-placed leg. However, you should create as many as you can for that table because that thick tree trunk of a leg you built from the draft could get irreparably damaged early and be useless for the rest of the season.
It's why it's important to learn players who won't be drafted and monitor their preseason performance and place on the depth chart before your draft so you can make informed, decisive and flexible adjustments before your competition. While we all know fantasy football has a healthy element of luck, many people mistake waiver wire gems as more fortunate than skillful. And that may be the case in competitive leagues, but even in the most hardcore formats, preparation creates a winning edge.
This week, the Gut Check does some advanced scouting of 50 players that will likely be on most waiver wires after drafts (12-team, PPR formats) with the potential to recharge your team. All of these candidates have ADPs no higher than the 18th round. This list is in reverse order of potential impact. Monitor their progress in camp, their spot on depth charts, and if disaster strikes, you'll have a plan.
Note: If your draft format is 15-18 rounds, I'll be posting an article devoted to late-round options soon.
The Forgotten 50: Top Fantasy Free agent Candidates with an ADP of ROUND 18 or later
I'll count them down and group them into tiers for easy classification.
Potential Bye-Week Role Players
If thrust into a contributing role, these options can deliver worthwhile production based on quality matchups for desperate fantasy owners during bye-weeks. These players have the ability, but the odds are low of everything coming together this year.
50. WR Trent Taylor: Exceptional players expand the boundaries of a role. Slot receivers are often a fool's errand for fantasy owners but when a player can do things that blur the lines between his title and his role, there's potential value. Taylor, a rookie slot receiver from Louisiana Tech caught my eye last fall because his skill after the catch and tracking of perimeter targets were a little beyond the norm for a college slot player of his stature.
One of my scout contacts told me that the night before the first practice of the Senior Bowl that Taylor was one of the most sought after players for team interviews. According to early reports from 49ers OTAs, Taylor has repeatedly impressed. I'm a Bruce Ellington fan, but new regimes like to bring in their guys. I don't expect much from the San Francisco defense this year, which means there could be a lot of garbage time throwing to open targets under soft zones.
49. Brandon Wilds: Before suffering an ankle injury that led to an injury settlement, I thought Wilds was the best preseason performer among Atlanta's running backs last year. He's runs with better functional agility and power than Tevin Coleman and it makes him a nice fit for a zone scheme but quick and rugged enough to perform from shotgun or gap runs. Wilds earned an active roster spot with the Jets at the end of last season and a slice of playing time. Because New York is an open casting call mode, don't be surprised if Wilds earns an active roster spot if he performs like he did last summer.
48. Marquess Wilson: The Bears purged its receiver corps of Mark Trestman additions, finishing the job by scuttling Alshon Jeffrey and Wilson. The former Washington State star has never put it together due to injuries, but he's still younger many many rookies. The Jets' open casting call makes Wilson worth watching because we've seen him flash just enough skill to deserve attention. If he finally puts it together, his strengths are quickness and ball-tracking skill along the perimeter. He can deliver as both a 50/50 perimeter guy and a slot option who can earn yards after the catch.
47. Matt Dayes: The rookie is vying for the No. 3 role behind Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr in Cleveland, and he's a blend of both players. Dayes has better size than Johnson to hold up between the tackles but he's also a sound receiver with upside as a pass protector. I like Dayes' smarts and toughness in all phases of the game. He's not a superior athlete when comparing to the broad spectrum of NFL runners, but like Shaun Draughn Tim Hightower, Dayes has the all-around game to help his team if called upon—and most fantasy owners stop caring about athletic ability when points are consistently showing up next to the player's name.
46. Chad Williams: A speedster with a physical game, Arizona's rookie receiver has starter upside that I expect him to fulfill by 2019. He must refine the typical techniques where young receivers are raw (developing a variety of press-man releases, mastering the route tree, recognizing and adjusting to defensive looks before the snap, etc.), but he's tough at the catch-point, skilled with the ball in his hands, and he doesn't back down from bullying defenders. In fact, he's pretty good at getting under their skin. John Brown looks poised to return to his rookie form and Larry Fitzgerald and J.J. Nelson offer the Cardinals veteran talent, but 1-2 injuries could put Williams into play early enough that he's worth monitoring.
45. Ricardo Louis: The former Auburn receiver flashed his athletic ability as a rookie with the Browns last year. He also earned positive reviews for the work he put in between last season and training camp. Louis and Quincy Enunwa aren't completely alike in style, but Louis wins after the catch and has potential against tight coverage if he has straightened out his hand position on specific target types. Neither Kenny Britt nor Corey Coleman inspire a great deal of confidence for me at this point. Britt's an aging veteran who has supposedly figured things out after years of immature behavior. Coleman must prove that he can stay healthy and that concerns Cleveland beat writers noted about his adjustment to cold weather is an odd observation about a young professional.
44. Benny Cunningham: I love that the Bears added Cunningham to the roster because the former Middle Tennessee State runner reminded me of the rugged, versatile power runners that have been favorites of John Fox for years. Cunningham isn't flashy and he'll never earn a full-time role for a team, but he's a smart backup who can give fantasy owners points on favorable match-up weeks because he runs with good balance and he's a smart pass catcher. He'll likely earn his roster spot because he also thrives on special teams, which Fox values from reserves.
43. James O'Shaughnessy: New England acquired O'Shaughnessy, a third-year tight end for the Chiefs because he's an athletic pass catcher who can play special teams. He's undersized for the ground game, but get him in space with the ball in his hand and looks like a starter. If Rob Gronkowski's back (or any body part he tries to sledgehammer into a defender) becomes a problem, O'Shaughnessy could earn a bigger role as a hybrid option if beat writer MIke Reiss is correct about Dwayne Allen failing to impress.
42. Tajae Sharpe: An assault incident that involves Sharpe (who is countersuing the plaintiff) is the topper for an offseason that transformed him from a promising addition in Tennessee to an option at the end of the wide receiver depth chart looking up at two high profile rookies and free agent Eric Decker. Still, good young route runners who develop quick rapport with a quarterback often earn a second life in the NFL, and injuries can level the playing field for Sharpe to earn another chance in the Titans starting rotation.
41. DeAndre Washington: I was fans of both Washington and Jalen Richard when they entered the league last year. One of Richard's family members contacted me last summer when I was profiling the rookie because he wanted me to know that Richard was even faster than his workout data, but that he was still recovering from an injury that he played through as a senior at Southern Miss. Richard was the more impressive runner of the rookie pairing and fantasy owners have taken notice by awarding Richard the higher ADP. However, it would be imprudent to forget about Washington, who is an excellent young player in space and his low center of gravity gives him a chance between the tackles. The Raiders running back depth chart wasn't filled with savvy veterans last year, but the addition of Marshawn Lynch could be a boon to the development of both second-year runners. While some find Elijah Hood an intriguing option, I think Oakland still values Richard and Washington as hopeful options long-term and there's some suggestion from San Jose Mercury writer Jimmy Durkin that Lynch could earn less than 200 carries (Murray earned 195). This summer will be a huge one for Washington to convince the Raiders that he still merits optimism. If Washington can absorb lessons that Lynch imparts as a veteran, there's upside as a PPR regular.
40. Ryan Switzer: The Cowboys rookie by way of North Carolina completely overshadowed Trent Taylor at the Senior Bowl with his route running from the slot. Switzer also excels after the catch and he has the superior athletic upside to Cole Beasley. Because Beasley as an integral part of the offense, don't expect Switzer to earn significant time without an intense summer battle (and more likely a Beasley injury). However, the Cowboys were already discussing this spring how to get Switzer offensive snaps, including pairing Switzer and Beasley on the field at the same time. If Beasley gets hurt, Switzer could develop into an every-week flex option, which is why he's on the higher end of this tier.
39. Josh Reynolds: I believe Josh Reynolds is one of the most talented receivers in the 2017 rookie class. I watched enough tape to believe that he's better against press coverage than some describe and he's one of the best at tracking the football. The barrier to Reynolds earning consistent time on the field is that he only knows one receiver spot whereas Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods can play inside and outside. If Reynolds is forced into action due to an injury, he has the upside to deliver flex-production as a quality deep threat with red zone potential because of his fade-route capability. He has long-term upside as a fantasy starter if this Rams organization can stop being a laughingstock of the league. A new coaching staff is a start, but ownership may wind up the root problem. Even so, good players do exist on bad teams and Reynolds has the talent to be a good player.
38. Jared Abbrederis: Kenny Golladay is the talk of OTAs, but Abbrederis is also touted as a likely contributor, if not the No. 3 option for the Lions. Abbrederis is a skilled route runner who got the best of Broncos corner Bradley Roby at Ohio State. The Packers liked Abbrederis, but he couldn't stay healthy. If he staves off injury, Abbrederis wins the ball in the air and finds open zones easily. He's also a reliable pass catcher who could endear himself to Matt Stafford's tight-window bullets that past receivers on the fringes of the roster couldn't handle. Abbrederis' upside is unlikely more than a flex-play, but his reliability when on the field could pay dividends in PPR.
Potential Weekly Flex-Plays
These players have the talent and potential situation to deliver weekly production as a contributor in fantasy lineups.
37. Demarcus Robinson: The second-year Chief receiver from Florida has good length, skill after the catch, and excellent quickness. He's a classic upside player with a cloudy past as a good teammate with the Gators. The release of Jeremy Maclin could be an indication of the team's confidence in Robinson, but I'm more inclined to believe Robinsons is getting lumped in with a group of options rather than being the biggest factor. Ability-wise, Robinson's skills are a better match for a player like Patrick Mahomes than Alex Smith because Smith is an academic-style quarterback who doesn't like to deliver tight-window plays unless it's a well-led timing route. Robinson's game matches well with above-the-rim rebounding and the vertical game. Even if he gets on the field this year, it's unlikely he's more than the No.3 option in the Chiefs passing game with Smith under center. Still, talent dictates that fantasy owners monitor Robinson. He'd be higher on my board if Mahomes as the veteran starter.
36. George Kittle: A quick, intense move tight end who can stretch the seam, the 49ers seem thrilled with his spring performance. If it translates to training camp, Kittle could earn an immediate role in two-tight end sets. Josh Perkins of Atlanta, a UDFA from Washington in 2016, earned playing time in two and three tight end sets last year for Kyle Shanahan and he isn't as skilled as Kittle. If the hype earns more merit in August, keep Kittle in mind as a bye-week option if things get desperate. Rookie tight ends rarely have major success but Shanahan's offense could prove an exception due to its open depth chart and a new regime.
35. Nelson Agholor: He's had a disappointing start to his career, but spring talk indicates that he's looking a lot more like the player the team expected when they picked him from USC. In case you never knew Agholor's game at Southern Cal, he was a quick and reliable route runner who had just enough speed to get deep and toughness after the catch to project as a No. 2 receiver. I would also keep an eye out for rookie Mack Hollins, a special teams ace who is a physical option with better skills as a receiver than his pre-draft hype. Hollins has some of that Miles Austin-like style to his game. In the meantime, monitor Agholor as well and how the depth chart shakes out.
34. A.J. Derby: All the tight ends on the Broncos depth chart seem to love what they're seeing from the Broncos' new offense. Derby was a star of the Patriots' 2016 preseason before the team traded him midseason to Denver. Media and fans may see Jake Butt as the future, but Derby has the wheels, hands, and size to produce in the present. I'm not convinced he becomes a significant target in this offense because neither Trevor Siemian nor Paxton Lynch seem experienced enough or capable of supporting more than two fantasy starters from its receiving corps. However, Derby could deliver as a matchup play if he earns consistent playing time and the Broncos show some predictability with when it targets the position.
33. Cordarrelle Patterson: Several pre-draft reports on Patterson indicated that he wasn't a quick learner. It was massively prophetic by the end of year-two in Minnesota when Patterson went from breakout candidate to flat broke by the mid-year. We've since learned that Norv Turner is dogmatic about his receivers learning the ins and outs of his scheme and not tailoring anything to the athletic talents of his players. Patterson turned some heads in Oakland OTAs because he caught everything in sight and impressed with his athletic ability—the same things that he did at Tennessee and Minnesota. Unless Turner's offense was so complicated that Oakland's is supremely easier for Patterson, I'm not expecting a big turnaround. What we should be monitoring is how much the Raiders want to incorporate him into the offense as a gadget player. I'm expecting frustration from Raiders fans who believe that Patterson will do more than return kicks and run a couple of end-arounds or screen passes per game. If we Patterson succeeds, we'll be learning a detailed story about the differences between approaches between his current and former teams.
32. Bucky Hodges: Kyle Rudolph had an excellent 2016 season and is poised for another, thanks to his rapport with Sam Bradford. If Rudolph gets hurt David Morgan has excellent quickness, he's fluid at the catch point, and he's a strong blocker. Hodges will be the No. 3 tight end heading into August, but he has the receiving skills to force the Vikings to reconsider his position, or at least his role. Sam Bradford has always thrown a good deep ball and Hodges is arguably the best rebounder on the team despite being a rookie. He's made some of these plays in practice this spring. If it becomes a consistent theme this summer and the Vikings find themselves in need of downfield assistance or a red zone specialist, Hodges could shock casual fantasy owners who knew nothing about him.
31. Dion Sims: Adam Shaheen is the future of the Bears tight end position, but Sims could be the short-term present if Zach Miller gets hurt yet again. Sims is a big, fluid athlete who performs well in the red zone and has just quickness to stretch the seam. I could even see Sims keeping the job if the more athletic Miller gets hurt.
30. Tyler Higbee: The Rams seem to have a lot of slot options and move tight ends, but it makes sense when considering the YAC abilities of Washington's Josh Reed, Vernon Davis, Jamison Crowder, and DeSean Jackson. Tavon Austin, Cooper Kupp, Higbee, and rookie Gerald Everett aren't a direct match in talent to the aforementioned quartet, but one can see how the Rams could use similar alignments to create yards after the catch on short passes while also setting up the deep game with run looks that exploit the seams in the passing game. Higbee isn't a special runner, but he's fluid, rugged, and catches the ball well enough to deliver points on a weekly basis if the offensive line and Jared Goff find their comfort zone.
29. ArDarius Stewart: Before thumb and groin surgeries curtailed his work in OTAs, Stewart shined. He's a physical player for his size with big-play speed. The Jets are in enough disarray that predicting a receiving corps is dicey. I'll keep my eye on young talent to emerge and Stewart has that potential as a runner, receiver, and blocker. I wouldn't say he's exactly like a faster Hines Ward, but there's some of that mentality and ability to his game.
28. Lance Dunbar: Chris Thompson provided flex-production for Washington as an outlet receiver. Dunbar has that ability and potentially a little more to offer between the tackles for the Rams. However, as much as fantasy owners are propping up Dunbar, I think he's still taking a backseat to Malcolm Brown if Todd Gurley gets hurt (see below).
27. Malcolm Brown: It's easy to be impatient and dismissive of player talent when it's not seen or heard for a couple of years. Brown is one of those players, especially when itty-bitty-pretty runner Dunbar gets signed by a new coaching regime. However, Brown is the best talent behind Gurley and it's a shame that former Rams Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk may know this before the Rams do. Actually, I think the Rams know it and if Gurley gets hurt, look for Brown to earn the two-down role with some three-down potential because he's is a solid receiver. Brown is big, strong, far quicker than those who judge athletic ability solely by 40 times, and patient. If I were seeking a cheap running back to build an NFL team, I'd invest a ton of dough in an offensive line and let Brown be my interim starter until he either proves his value or a second deal or I draft a future stud. If the Rams line looks better, keep an eye on Brown as that valuable handcuff possibly on your waiver wires because few owners will be drafting him this August.
26. Tim Hightower: The summer rage is Utah rookie Joe Williams and the feel-good story of Kyle Shanahan standing on the war room table to implore a phone call between Williams and 49ers GM John Lynch that convinced Lynch to draft the running back. I like Williams' athletic ability and potential between the tackles. His blocking and ball security aren't pro-ready if his film is an adequate depiction of what he'll do this August. Enter the veteran Hightower, who played well enough in New Orleans to give Sean Payton the luxury of benching Mark Ingram II when Ingram didn't play to expectation. Hightower does everything well and he was a favorite of Kyle Shanahan's daddy in Washington. If Carlos Hyde falters, Hightower is the safest and most sensible bet to get it done for fantasy owners with an interest in San Francisco's backfield.
25. Sammie Coates Jr: Athletically speaking, Coates is a near-freak but hand-eye coordination is a problem. But if injuries or suspensions strike and Ben Roethlisberger has to target Coates 18 times in a quarter (kidding...a game) to get 6 catches for 100 yards and a touchdown, he'll do it.
24. Kerwynn Williams: The Cardinals re-signed Chris Johnson and Bruce Arians told the media that he plans to use Chris and David Johnson on the field at the same time. This should tell you that Kent Somers report that Arians seems to have a comfort level may only extend as far as a reasonable contract for a proven veteran. Still, Williams has shown burst, receiving skill, and special teams prowess and it means Andre Ellington will be looking for a new time by September. If the Johnson's get hurt, Williams will be the name to know (and then allow me to tell you more about T.J. Logan...).
23. Dede Westbrook: Think of Westbrook as a less refined T.Y. Hilton who outplays his dimensions on the field. Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee have been known to get dinged and it could lead to targets for Westbrook, who dropped in the draft due to off-field incidents before he arrived at Oklahoma.
22. Chris Hogan: While more reliable than most of the receivers mentioned above, he's also in a loaded offense where I don't see him becoming the go-to guy unless the Patriots charter crashes and he's the only healthy option to emerge from the wreckage. Many leagues will draft him. If not, you all know he's worth a priority pick for your waiver speed dial.
21. JuJu Smith-Schuster: A big slot receiver with perimeter skills who can provide versatility to the Steelers scheme that Pittsburgh sought from Ladarius Green and neither Jesse James nor Xavier Grimble will.
20. Robby Anderson: Rapport is always a factor and Anderson may lack it with the new Jets starter. However, I'm confident that his skills will shine if he continued working on his game. Speed, quickness, and toughness in traffic are all hallmarks of Anderson's receiving skills. It's unlikely he won't be drafted in 20-round formats, but could be available in 15-rounders.
19. Mitchell Trubisky: Sometimes a collection of castoffs can gel into a strong unit. Chicago's receiving corps has the potential. I'm not counting on it, but I wouldn't rule it out. Trubisky has the kind of playmaking creativity to gel with veterans if he can keep mistakes from capsizing his rookie season. I'm counting on Mike Glennon to earn the job and then give way to Trubisky at some point, so I'm not expecting Trubisky to be in a situation where his poor play costs him the starting job. His skill as a runner builds-in fantasy points that could make him a viable flex-play based on matchups down the stretch.
18. DeShone Kizer: I thought Kizer was the safest quarterback of this class. He reminds me of Andrew Luck in terms of body type, athletic ability, and skill as a thrower. Let me remind you, there's a difference between throwing and quarterbacking. Luck is willing to let the ball go with less hesitancy than Kizer in certain situations and that difference comes down to processing information in the middle of the field. If Kizer proves that Brian Kelly was the real problem, he could shock the league with his early performances. I expect Kizer to have ups and downs, but his arm, running ability, and budding skill as a field general should translate to startable weeks when he sees the field in Cleveland.
If they earn a starting role, they could deliver consistent enough production to rely upon them as starters.
17. Chris Godwin: The Buccaneers rookie reminds me of Greg Jennings and Jennings could play the slot and outside. Godwin is showing similar prowess early on. I believe in DeSean Jackson's ability to provide big-time production. However, I also believe that if the Tampa Bay receiving corps gets dinged, Godwin can produce as well as any rookie in this class. He could easily go from waiver wire to top-24 fantasy receiver during the weeks he's starting.
16. Austin Seferian-Jenkins: I was never a fan, but I recognize his fluid athletic ability that helps him maximize his size at the catch-point. Early reports indicated good behavior and solid practices from the tight end. We've heard these things before, but even a cautious approach must recognize that Seferian-Jenkins has no competition for the starting role when he returns from suspension.
15. Mike Glennon: A player whose performances often fell apart at the worst times at NC State, Glennon was a mild surprise for me during his starts in Tampa Bay. He showed more poise than I saw in Raleigh, and I thought that the Buccaneers might continue using him. It never happened, but now he gets his shot with Chicago. The arm is solid and the pocket presence is good enough that he could surprise behind the Bears offensive line and John Fox's desire for a conservative system. I'm not drafting him, but if one of my starters gets hurt and the backup isn't as promising as Glennon, I'm giving the Bears' likely starter a shot.
14. Benjamin Watson: Achilles injuries aren't what they used to be and Watson is a top athlete. He's been cleared to practice over a month ago and he's slated to start. No one is seriously posing a challenge to him, either. While Danny Woodhead and Jeremy Maclin will earn a lot of targets in the middle of the field, I wouldn't discount Watson. If he's stretching the seams early in the year, you better grab him in September or you get another chance.
13. Vernon Davis: Last year, Davis was still getting deep with ease and making plays after the catch. Keep in mind Davis had some strong games even with a healthy Josh Reed because Washington liked using two-tight end sets. This won't change this year. If Josh Reed gets hurt, Davis could be a huge factor, especially with two offseasons in Washington to gain knowledge of the offense and rapport with Kirk Cousins.
12. Brandon Oliver: Remember Oliver from a few years ago? Well, he's back from injury and looking good in OTAs. If it continues in camp, he could unseat Kenneth Farrow, who is more powerful and Oliver's equal as a receiver, but not as agile or experienced. Oliver will have an improved offensive line to work behind if Melvin Gordon III gets hurt. Even if Farrow wins the job to begin the year, I'd look for Oliver to figure prominently with a Gordon injury.
11. Laquon Treadwell: All the talk has been about Treadwell has been positive this spring. Of course, some of it was "atta-boy" blather to fill notebooks. However, writing off Treadwell because he isn't a combine darling doesn't account for his continuing recovery from a 2014 injury, a quarterback change, and change in offensive scheme. Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, and Kyle Rudolph will begin the year as the most targeted options, but it only takes an injury to one of these options for Treadwell to become relevant. When Michael Irvin and I both think Treadwell reminds us of Irvin, I'm not throwing that way due to a difficult rookie year.
10. D'Onta Foreman: I'm not in love with Foreman like the contingent of analysts who admire his size-speed combination. However, I don't think he's quite the mirage that Sigmund Bloom thinks the Texans rookie is. Pass protection and ball security are problems, but power, speed, agility, and vision are not. I like him more than what's on the Texans' depth chart behind Lamar Miller and if he's not picked in my drafts, I'll definitely consider Foreman as a preemptive add in September if a spot opens on my roster in early September.
9. Damien Williams: No one talks about Williams as a viable handcuff because he wasn't a big-time draft prospect and the fear of Kenyan Drake figuring out how to run between the tackles and hold onto the ball has more power for fantasy owners than "Winter is coming" has for citizens of Westeros. I'm more worried about winter because Williams is better than Drake in every way right now. The former Oklahoma runner has 4.3-speed, skill as a receiver, and smarts between the tackles. Miami should have a better offensive line this year because Laremy Tunsil has a year of experience and the unit has a good shot of being completely healthy to begin the year. When it was healthier last year, Jay Ajayi had some massive efforts. Williams isn't the runner Ajayi is, but he's competent enough behind a good unit to deliver for fantasy owners.
8. J.J. Nelson: Nelson's stud production down the stretch came at the expense of injuries (Jaron Brown and John Brown) and off-field incidents (Michael Floyd). I don't think Arizona wants to rely on Nelson in that capacity unless forced. And it may happen because as healthy as John Brown looks, we've seen what can happen if Brown experiences a complication with his sickle cell trait. Nelson is tough at the catch point despite being a tiny receiver by NFL standards and we all know he's blazing after the catch. If Carson Palmer's arm doesn't become a noodle down the stretch, Nelson could be a factor regardless of Brown's health.
7. Chris Johnson: Like the aged version of DeAngelo Williams, Johnson is still good enough to deliver starter production—even RB1 numbers—if the Cardinals offensive line improves, Johnson will be a steady force with occasional big plays even at his venerable age.
6. Patrick Mahomes: I'm not expecting Alex Smith to lose his job this year. In fact, I'm expecting the Chiefs to challenge for the division. However, if Smith gets hurt, I would easily take a chance on Mahomes. Despite all the talk about his gunslinging and transition from the Air-Raid to the West Coast Offense, Mahomes is a creative, improvisational sensation with enough sense to throw the ball away more often than reputed. He also has Andy Reid, a flexible coach who will get his staff to find a common ground for Mahomes to thrive in ways that marry the best of his developing skills and the offensive structure. After all, Reid found success with Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb, and Brett Favre—and Vick and Favre weren't quarterback academics on the level of Alex Smith at the same point in their careers. They were more creative and confident. So is Mahomes. If I'm unfortunate to lose a quarterback but fortunate enough that Mahomes is available and playing, I like the yardage and touchdown upside even if the turnovers are problematic for the team.
5. Cooper Kupp: I've talked about Kupp enough in the past few Gut Checks. If the Rams get solid quarterback play, Kupp will be the surprise rookie fantasy starter this year. Watch for yourself.
Talent, experience, and supporting cast to elevate fantasy squads immediately if they earn an every-down role.
4. James Conner: Fitzgerald Toussaint is competent, but it won't take much for James Conner to overtake the former Michigan and Ravens back if he's athletically back to his pre-illness form. If Conner picks up pass protections early, he becomes a waiver wire option with near-stud potential behind one of the best offensive lines in the league. If Trey Williams can prove he's learned to pass protect, he could remind Steelers fans of the best of DeAngelo Williams. Big if, but he's also worth knowing about if Conner falters.
3. Brett Hundley: Matt Williamson has concerns about the Packers offensive line and while we all know Aaron Rodgers can buy time with the best of them, fatigue can lead to injuries. When your quarterback has to work harder than normal to make plays, injury risks can heighten. Hundley, like Rodgers, is mobile, maneuverable, and strong-armed. Nobody is in Rodgers' class as a thrower, but Hundley is tough, smart, and capable of delivering QB1 production with this surrounding cast of receivers.
2. Paul Richardson Jr: I believe these things about Richardson: He's more talented than Tyler Lockett. He's a great player at the catch point against tight coverage. He's one of the most acrobatic receivers in football despite not having the pro tape to prove it over a long period of time. The Seahawks want him to be a go-to guy. A healthy Russell Wilson will target Richardson more often in the vertical passing game this year. You won't get him in a league with me if you don't draft him in the final 3-4 rounds.
1. Jimmy Garoppolo: I had concerns about his pocket presence when he was in college. I have fewer of them but I don't think Garoppolo has performed enough to deliver undeniable proof that he's a rock in the pocket. Even so, the Patriots staff, personnel, and Garoppolo's experience in the system makes him a potential top-5 fantasy if Tom Brady gets hurt. There are few backup quarterbacks I'd consider drafting, but in leagues with at least 25 picks, I'd consider the three I've just mentioned and Garopplo is at the top of the list.
I heard rumors of a receiver who could manhandle a physical corner like Aqib Talib but outrun Patrick Peterson in a dead sprint. He supposedly landed in Cleveland, Ohio several years ago and dominated the NFL for a season. There have been sightings of this Josh Gordon wide receiver over the years but it's becoming harder to believe he'll return. If he does, part of me expects to be in awe and part of me expects to feel ripped off.
I won't blow my waiver budge on him though. Not this year...