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The Gut Check 409: Late And Undrafted

Matt Waldman shares his list of late-round rookies and UDFAs who could shock the fantasy football world in 2017.

If you're expecting me to have a 60 percent completion percentage with the names in this article, you need a lobotomy. You could use some mood-altering medication if you think 40-50 percent is a reasonable accuracy rate. Frankly, I'm not expecting any of these guys to deliver this year. 

But it doesn't hurt to raise awareness for re-draft owners who may need this information for the waiver wire and new dynasty owners in re-build mode who lack the capital to make big moves. The 10 players in this article are some of my favorite rookies drafted in the sixth round or later (or UDFAs) who possess the talent and/or situation to potentially shock fantasy football in 2017 if an opportunity is presented to them. 

Note: Some of these video soundtracks that aren't RSP Boiler Rooms may not be safe for work. 

10. TE Cethan Carter, Cincinnati

Tight ends aren't safe bets for early impact and the Bengals depth chart seems written in ink with Tyler Eifert, C.J. Uzomah, and Tyler Kroft as the top three. It means Carter will likely have to find a different home this year unless there's an injury. Despite that fact, I am a fan. Carter displays excellent quickness as a receiver. He can accelerate up field and force defenders to turn their hips and then pull the string and execute sudden breaks. Although his drop rate was high for the analytics crowd, Carter performed with a quarterback whose best shot of making a professional league (and I'm ruling out the NFL, for now) is as a receiver/return specialist. Carter converted difficult targets on film and his skill after the catch makes him a potential weapon in space. Carter reminds me of Charles Clay but with more upside as a blocker. 

9. WR MALACHI DUPRE, GREEN BAY

I'm a bigger fan of fellow rookie DeAngelo Yancey, but I had he and Dupre ranked 14th and 15th on my pre-draft receiver board in the Rookie Scouting Portfolio. Dupre tracks the ball well and has some skill to release against press coverage that he can develop as he works at his game. However, the hard breaks of timing routes aren't his strength just yet and that's a big part of becoming a complete receiver in Green Bay's system. He is good in the intermediate and deep passing game where might have a shot at backing up Davante Adams and filling in ably on boundary routes if called upon. He's a good rebounder fluid after the catch, I'm just concerned that he lacks enough skill at this point to get open. If Dupre gets on the field this year, a dire need will be the reason.   

8. RB Elijah Hood, Oakland

A seventh-round pick, Hood was a running back/fullback tweener last year at North Carolina. According to ESPN's Adam Caplan, Hood lost weight in preparation for OTAs and looked good at these sessions. If the weight loss truly helps his quickness and acceleration, Hood has the receiving skills and the burgeoning smarts between the tackles to develop into a contributor. It will take injuries to Marshawn Lynch, Jalen Richard, and/or DeAndre Washington for it to happen this year, which is why he's lower on my list. However, Hood has the all-around game to earn a spot on the practice squad if all three of these options stay healthy. The fact that the Raiders waived Taiwan Jones and resigned the one-dimensional burner George Atkinson III (who Cleveland released during the first week of training camp) tells me that Hood has a good shot for the taxi squad and Atkinson is trying out for a special teams role, at best. Because injuries often hit running back depth charts hard, Hood's chances of impact are slim today but "today" doesn't last long for NFL running backs.

7. WR ISAIAH FORD, MIAMI 

He'd be higher on this list if he didn't arrive at training camp with a swollen knee that is currently requiring a second opinion. Ford, a seventh-round pick, was making plays in OTAs. He's a quick receiver with skill against tight coverage. His draft stock took a nosedive when he ran a 40-yard dash in the mid-4.5s because he's a smaller player and the NFL only forgives tall and muscular receivers for running 40s in the 4.5-second range. Ford also had some inconsistencies on tape. I say this because it seems that every scout and draft analyst I spoke with had a different flaw that was highly notable to them while touting different positives. It seems strange, but wide receiver has one of the greatest variances of grading among NFL scouts. Size range, acceptable speed, acceptable drop rates, skill after the catch, and route skills all factor into these variations. 

If Ford's injury isn't serious, Miami's receiving corps isn't inspiring beyond Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker. I like Leonte Carroo, but Ford isn't that far away in terms of ability. Carroo is more polished as a pass catcher whereas Ford has better quickness and skill at the breakpoint. 

6. RB DEVANTE MAYS, GREEN BAY

I didn't study Mays for the Rookie Scouting Portfolio pre-draft, but I saw enough tape after the draft to tell you that he's a tough, physical runner with a low center of gravity and quickness. I don't have a complete read on his passing down skills, which will matter greatly for him to earn playing time.

"It's a lot," said Jamaal Williams with a laugh to AP. "And it's a lot of checks. You've got one of the greatest quarterbacks (in Rogers) over there, he's going to be scrambling and doing everything...A running back's first job is to make sure his quarterback is protected, because if you can't do that, who's going to hand the ball off to you?"

Incumbent starter Ty Montgomery is still developing as a blocker, according to the AP report. 

“It’s definitely something I think I got better at today. I had a couple bad reps because I got overly aggressive, some technique stuff. But it is stuff I’m going to learn,” Montgomery said.

Linebacker Jake Ryan, a third-year pro like Montgomery, beat the running back in one blocking drill. Montgomery dusted himself off and learned from his mistake.

“I just need to watch the film, fix my technique and I’m going to get better at it,” he said. “I’m not going to really apologize for not being the best at pass pro, and I never had to do it before, so I definitely think I got better today and made some strides.”

If he can't cut it early on, expect him to go to the practice squad or Green Bay to add a veteran if either Ty Montgomery or Williams get hurt during the season. But even if James Starks gets the call, Mays could earn time and thrive at the expense of a more predictable Packers scheme trying to cover for his rookie inadequacies. 

5. WR Fred Ross, Carolina

Fred Ross reminds me of a less physically talented, less refined version of Jeremy Maclin when Maclin entered the league. He's earning weekly mentions in training camp as a fringe roster player of note because he's getting open down field and making plays. He's one of those pieces of moldable clay at the position. He's skilled after the catch, he drops his weight at the top of breaks, and he has strong hand-eye coordination and toughness. Although he didn't earn raves at the Senior Bowl, I was impressed with Ross because when a Browns' receiver coach Al Saunders told the Mississippi State receiver to run deeper stems to sell the route more effectively, Ross was able to do it within the span of a rep, and he was beating cornerbacks repeatedly with the lesson. This example of him being a quick study was not lost on me because Travin Dural was among several other receivers who tried multiple times to execute this instruction and could not do so. The depth of Carolina's receiving corps is weak by NFL standards. Ross could stick and if injuries occur—and we know they do—Ross could surprise. 

4. RB Matt Dayes, Cleveland

Head Coach Hue Jackson says Dayes has had a strong training camp thus far. The rookie from NC State is one of those prospects that I'd characterize as a future 10-year contributor who may never be good enough for a team to make him its long-term starter, but every team would like on its depth chart. Dayes has good hands, he's quick, shifty, understands how to set up creases, and he runs with balance and toughness. I've seen him compete hard and earn good production on a high ankle sprain. He's a gritty player who also looks a year away from becoming an excellent pass protector. I'm a bigger fan of Brandon Wilds, who the Browns added from the Jets last week and cut George Atkinson III, because Wilds is bigger, stronger, faster, and has starter upside. However, Dayes is the kind of player who "out-tortoises" hares like Wilds if Wilds isn't working at his potential. If Dayes earns the No. 3 role, he could earn significant time if Isaiah Crowell gets hurt because Dayes' preseason work could inspire Jackson to keep Duke Johnson Jr in the slot far more often than the current depth chart may indicate.  

3. WR Noah Brown

If there's a rookie receiver who could truly shock fantasy football, it's Brown. He's an acrobatic rebounder with good size who Ohio State defensive backs said was uncoverable in practice a few years ago before injuries robbed Brown of his season. A good percentage of those defensive backs are in the NFL now. Terrance Williams is not a bad NFL wide receiver, but he's not a multi-dimensional playmaker at a level that inspires teams to covet him as a major free agent find. Brice Butler has the athletic ability of a primary starter and his game has grown steadily, but I think Brown does things right now at the catch point against tight coverage that Butler only flashes. Ryan Switzer and Cole Beasley are kind of in their own subcategory as slot receivers but even so, Brown isn't a burner and has potential as a big slot.   

Noah Brown, boy, the size is impressive and how he can move running routes," DallasCowboys.com columnist Mickey Spagnola told 105.3 The Fan this spring. "Let's qualify this: They played against air. There was no offense vs. defense...Brown just looked powerful. I dn't think anyone should just take for granted that he's an end-of-the-draft chocie. I think guys like Lucky Whitehead and Brice Butler better be on teh spot when the competition begins."

Whitehead is gone as of this week. Butler can probably fill-in for Dez Bryant or Williams. Andy Jones is a veteran who has been through a training camp, but Brown is arguably the greater talent. 

2. RB D'Angelo Henderson, Denver

Let me put it to you this way: the track record of the Broncos running backs on this depth chart for the past two years has as rickety as the roller coasters I used to ride at Lakeside Amusement Park as a boy when I visited Denver in the summers. In fact, Henderson is dinged up with a minor ankle injury. Even so, he's making waves in camp. He's a Maurice Jones-Drew type of build for a runner who can squirt through creases, make the first man miss, and push a pile. He has run behind gap schemes, which Denver is employing on a greater basis this year, which means he's used to hitting creases with a decisive approach. Beat writers are already forecasting no more than 10 touches per game for Jamaal Charles (sorry Jamaal, but getting angry about folks questioning your knee but the Broncos don't believe in you enough to deliver more than 10 touches? You may be great with that workload, but you're not the same player when you handled nearly double that amount per week) based on conversations with their sources on the team. Anderson is in good shape, but if he gets hurt and Booker either fales to adjust to the new scheme or can't get healthy in time to earn a shot, Henderson could play well enough to be the default starter or at least a significant committee back of fantasy note. 

1. TE/WR Bucky Hodges Minnesota

If you're playing the odds, Henderson is the No. 1 option on this list. If you're seeking straight-up talent, Hodges figures highly. Vikings fans, don't get ruffled by my slashing his position designation as a wide receiver. I realize Minnesota is using him strictly as a tight end and making him learn how to block. Hodges only had a handful of reps at Virginia Tech as an in-line blocker. 

However, Hodges played along the line and offset the formation enough as a receiver that he was familiar and productive doing so in the passing game. Of the tight end prospects in this class, Hodges work against tight coverage along the perimeter in the vertical game was the best tape I saw. He won on timing routes and vertical rebounding routes. I call these "big-boy targets" and Hodges was Mr. Big-Boy Targets of the tight end class. David Njoku, the second-most frequent in this regard, was Hodge's sidekick in this department. I've only heard good things about Hodges throughout spring and summer from Vikings camp observers. His blocking has improved, he's making big plays, and he's even earning some time split outside the formation.

If Kyle Rudolph gets hurt again, David Morgan is the superior blocker and sneaky, quick, and fluid as a receiver. However, Hodges could be the best big-play weapon above the rim that Minnesota has at tight end or even receiver. If someone on staff gets some sense to use him this way, he could be a major boon to Sam Bradford (who throws a terrific deep ball) and fantasy owners. If injuries strike, it might happen.