Hail Mary Picks

published 08/28/19 3:01:17 PM EDT
by Tom Brolley

Your favorite team trails by four points and is at midfield with just seconds left in the game. What play do you want your coach to call? I’m guessing you said a Hail Mary because you want your team to go for the win.

Now you’re in the final rounds of your most important fantasy draft and you’re looking to beat your best friends for the league title. What kind of players should you be targeting? Should you check it down and play it safe with Matthew Stafford, Carlos Hyde, Randall Cobb, and Kyle Rudolph. Or do you go for the ’ship and draft strictly upside players. Of course you should be going for the players with league-winning potential.

In this article, I’ll give my favorite upside options being drafted outside the top-150 picks at each position. I just completed a 20-round NFFC draft on Aug. 27 and I was really racking my brain for great options late in the draft. These are some of the players I was considering.

NOTE: The ADP used in this article is taken from The NFFC’s high-stakes drafts in the month of August.

Quarterbacks

Sam Darnold (NYJ, ADP 181) — Darnold has been one of my favorite #2 QBs in drafts this summer and now he’s rising up draftboards after a couple impressive performances in the preseason. I thought Darnold held his own early last season when he became the youngest QB to start a game before starting to flourish in the final four games of last season. His supporting cast has been upgraded with Le’Veon Bell and Jamison Crowder added, and I’m even more excited about Darnold since Adam Gase has this offense operating with some pace in the preseason. Darnold and all of the Jets receivers have been undervalued for much of August.

Josh Allen (Buf, ADP 157) — Allen finished last season as the QB1 from Week 12 through the end of last season so he clearly has the upside potential we’re looking for late in drafts. I am concerned about Allen sustaining his rushing production from the end of last season since they brought in Cole Beasley to play the slot. Allen called Beasley his “safety valve” earlier this summer, and the second-year QB is more likely to check it down to Beasley this year after tucking it and running so much at the end of last season. Allen could offset his likely dip in rushing production if he sees more passing volume — he averaged 27.7 passes per start — and/or if he improves his accuracy — he finished dead last in PFF’s adjusted completion percentage (64.7%).

Jacoby Brissett (Ind, ADP 272) — Brissett is in an awfully tough spot taking over for former franchise QB Andrew Luck just days before the 2019 season starts. Brissett is obviously no Luck but it’s not like he’s devoid of talent. Brissett averaged just 6.6 YPA and completed just 58.8% of his passes as the team’s starter back in 2017 when Luck missed the entire season with his shoulder injury. He also threw for just 13 TDs with 7 INTs despite starting 15 games, but at least the current Colts coaching staff led by Frank Reich is much more competent than Chuck Pagano and Rob Chudzinski. Brissett also came over to the Colts just days before the start of the season so he was in an extremely difficult spot. He’s in a much better situation this season with receivers like Devin Funchess, Eric Ebron, and Parris Campbell now in the fold. Brissett can also run a little — he posted 260 yards and 4 TDs — to boost his fantasy potential.

Ryan Fitzpatrick (Mia, ADP 270) — The Dolphins are going to give Josh Rosen a chance at some point this season since they have an eye toward the future, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see Fitz sneak into the streaming conversation in his starts this season. Fitz averaged a ridiculous 9.6 YPA and 295.8 in eight games last season with the Buccaneers, including a couple QB1 performances. Fitz certainly won’t have the same kind of weaponry around him this season, but the Dolphins have enough firepower at receiver for Fitz to make some noise.

Daniel Jones (NYG, ADP 276) — HC Pat Shurmur made it pretty clear after the second preseason game that he wants to start Jones, placing the decision to start Eli Manning squarely owner John Mara’s shoulders. Shurmur said of Manning starting Week 1, “John [Mara] owns the team. We're on the same page…You heard it from the owner.” Jones will be starting sooner rather than later and he’s shown way more potential in a couple preseason games than he did at Duke. He may not have Odell Beckham at his disposal, but the Giants still have enough offensive firepower among Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram for Jones to put up production.

Running Backs

Ito Smith (Atl, ADP 163) — Saying that Smith struggled as a rookie last season would be an understatement — he averaged just 3.5 YPC and 5.6 YPR — but plenty of talented backs have improved in their second years. Smith was a tough runner after contact at Southern Miss and he showed more ability in college than he has to this point in pro career. The Falcons spent the off-season upgrading their interior O-line and they let Tevin Coleman walk in free agency. This is good news for Smith and the rest of these backs after the Falcons finished 30th in rushing attempts per game (21.9). Devonta Freeman has an ugly injury history in recent seasons, so Smith could be the next back up in one of the best offenses, which gives him a runway to be an impact fantasy back.

Malcolm Brown (LAR, ADP 201) — Darrell Henderson has been the presumed handcuff for Todd Gurley for much of the summer, but it’s starting to look like HC Sean McVay may view him as the team’s change-of-pace back. Granted, if Gurley’s knee acts up and he can’t play, Henderson would likely see an increase in usage but Brown could be the early-down handcuff. I view this backfield situation very similarly to the Chargers’ backfield situation with Henderson essentially playing the Austin Ekeler role and Brown starring in the Justin Jackson role. McVay could view the situation totally differently once the regular season starts, but it’s still worth a shot in deeper leagues to get a piece of this productive backfield. Jackson is in a better situation to potentially play early with Melvin Gordon’s current contract holdout, but Brown is going five to six rounds later than Jackson and he also has a decent chance of having a role this year given Gurley’s knee situation.

Dare Ogunbowale (TB, ADP 277) — I think Ronald Jones stinks and Peyton Barber isn’t exactly a stellar option either for HC Bruce Arians so I think it’s worth taking a shot Ogunbowale later in deeper drafts. The Bucs view Barber as their best early-down runner but there’s chance Ogunbowale could be the team’s third-down back because of his pass pro chops, an area that Jones is still struggling in. The Buccaneers offensive line projects to be a bottom-10 unit this season and that which means they need a back that’s proficient in protecting Jameis Winston, who just absorbed five sacks in one half of their third preseason game. Of course, if Ogunbowale is on the field in passing situations that will give him the chance to catch, which could also give him a chance to impress as a runner. To be clear, this is more of a bet against Jones and Barber than it is a bet on Ogunbowale.

Ty Johnson (Det, ADP 289) — The Lions cleared the way for Ty Johnson to play as a rookie when they cut passing-back Theo Riddick earlier this summer. It was widely presumed that second-year back Kerryon Johnson would completely take over the passing situations, but it appears Ty Johnson has carved out a small role here with his performance in August. He showed a knack for big plays at Maryland in 2017, averaging an absolutely silly 9.1 YPC (110/1004/6 rushing) before running a 4.45 40-time at the combine. Ty Johnson had absolutely dreadful quarterback situations during his college career, but he’s reportedly been a much better receiver than the Lions anticipated. There’s an outside shot that Ty Johnson could come out of nowhere to become a fantasy option next to Kerryon Johnson because of his explosive ability as a change-of-pace back, much like Austin Ekeler did two seasons ago next to Melvin Gordon.

Damarea Crockett (Hou, ADP 278) — Lamar Miller is done for the season with a torn ACL, which leaves the Texans extremely at the position once again. Houston just traded away a 2020 third-round pick for Duke Johnson (if he’s active for 10 games), and he’s going to be expected to be the top back now. However, UDFA Crockett from Missouri is now squarely in the mix to carve out a role in this offense, especially in early-down situations since Dookie doesn’t have a track record as a sustaining runner. The Texans could be in the market for another RB once teams start to cut down their rosters to 53 players but, if the Texans stand pat, Crockett is in line to be #2 option. Crockett is certainly an intriguing prospect with his combination of size (5’10”, 225 pounds) and athleticism (4.4-speed, 37-inch vertical).

Best Handcuffs

The following backs have top-24 RB potential in any given week if there would be an injury/suspension ahead of them.

  • Gio Bernard (Cin, ADP 172), Mike Davis (Chi, ADP 182), Chase Edmonds (Ari, ADP 179), Jamaal Williams (GB, ADP 180), C.J. Anderson (Det, ADP 184), Ty Montgomery (NYJ, ADP 209), Dontrell Hilliard (Cle, ADP 242)

Wide Receivers

Deebo Samuel (SF, ADP 167) and Marquise Goodwin (SF, ADP 216) — Top WR Dante Pettis has had a rough August with HC Kyle Shanahan twice calling him out publicly to “compete” for his starting job, which is good news for both Samuel and Goodwin. Samuel is an older prospect at 23 years old, but he can run (4.48) and jump (39-inch vertical) in a thick WR frame (6’0”, 215 pounds). The 49ers drafted Samuel 36th overall this spring and it’s starting to look like he could make a bigger impact right away than initially anticipated. Samuel should be pro-ready after spending five seasons at South Carolina. Goodwin is a classic post-hype sleeper and Shanahan treated him like the #1 WR in the dress rehearsal game. Both Pettis and Deebo played well into the second half while Goodwin saw just 12 snaps before getting an early rest. Goodwin is still the team’s top deep threat, averaging 17.2 YPR in each of the last two seasons.

Kenny Stills (Mia, ADP 181) and Preston Williams (Mia, ADP 269) — I’m not excited to draft Stills but there’s no denying he’s a great value at his current price. He’s scored 21 TDs over the last three seasons and he’s averaging 16.0 YPR during his six-year career. Perhaps what is most intriguing about Stills is his potential to man the slot quite a bit with one of the most generous QBs for slot WRs in Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Dolphins are also open to trading Stills this season, which could also boost his value if he lands with a WR-needy team. Williams has been turning heads in South Florida all summer long, and he started turning heads across the nation in the first preseason game. He posted 4/97 receiving and he showed a great connection with Josh Rosen, which is something to file away for later this year when Rosen is starting games. Williams is massive (6’5”, 218 pounds) and a former five-star recruit who had his college career derailed by failed drug tests and a 2017 domestic violence charge. Both Stills and Williams could be helped out if Stills is sent packing from Miami (Stills would look good in the black and gold of the Saints once again).

Marquise Brown (Bal, ADP 200) and Miles Boykin (Bal, ADP 236) — The Ravens have a whopping 296 targets available from last season, and the Ravens selected Brown and Boykin in the first three rounds to fill the void. Brown had a glacial recovery from his Lisfranc injury but he now appears ready to go after playing in the dress rehearsal game. Brown’s ability to climb the WR fantasy ranks will depend Lamar Jackson’s growth as a passer in his second season, but Brown certainly could help that growth if he’s able to showcase his game-breaking skills. Boykin also brings game-breaking downfield ability to the table but in a much bigger package (6’4”, 220 pounds), and he’s had a strong training camp/preseason.

Quincy Enunwa (NYJ, ADP 209) — Enunwa averaged 5.3/69.5/.3 receiving in his first four games last season before a hand injury and a high ankle sprain slowed him starting in Week 5 — the ankle injury caught up to him later in the season again. The Jets gave Enunwa $20 million in guaranteed money at the end of last season — more than Jamison Crowder’s $17 million guaranteed — and they plan to use him more as a downfield option on the outside. QB Sam Darnold came on strong at the end of last season and he’s continued his progression in the preseason. New HC Adam Gase has also dramatically picked up the pace of this offense compared to his Miami offenses, and he’s used 3-WR sets a ton in the preseason. Enunwa and the rest of these receivers could have more upside than initially anticipated this season.

D.J. Chark (Jax, ADP 260) — Chark, the #61 overall pick in 2018, suffered a concussion in the third preseason game, but he should have enough time to return for the season opener. It’s a shame since he’s reportedly had an excellent training camp. An ESPN article named him the most impressive player in Jacksonville’s camp and he still looks ready to play next to Dede Westbrook with the starters. Chark can absolutely fly in a long, wiry frame (6’4”, 198 pounds), and he should be Nick Foles preferred downfield threat.

Trey Quinn (Was, ADP 207) — If you’re looking for an extremely cheap PPR option, Quinn could be your guy. The Redskins have an extremely unsettled WR depth chart heading into the season, but Quinn is one guy that looks locked into a role as the team’s slot WR. Quinn’s ADP has been falling as August has gone on because he’s been limited at practice because of a thumb injury, but he’s still expected to be ready for Week 1. Quinn will have to deal with TE Jordan Reed in the middle of the field, but there’s a chance he could lead the team in targets and catches playing with Case Keenum and Dwayne Haskins. Quinn hauled in 114 passes in his final season at SMU, but he’s had trouble staying on the field early in his career — he played in just three games as a rookie because of an ankle injury.

KeeSean Johnson (Ari, ADP 257) — Johnson is pushing for the #3 WR role in the Cardinals offense, and he strengthened his case in the dress rehearsal game. He caught passes of 19 and 29 yards from starting QB Kyler Murray on his way to catching all seven of his targets for 85 yards. Meanwhile, Andy Isabella, the presumed #3 WR after the draft, continues to flounder in August and he’s projected to be a backup to start the season. The Cardinals also placed fourth-round pick Hakeem Butler (finger) on the injured reserve. The Cardinals were so thin at WR that they signed former Texas Tech WR Michael Crabtree for depth, but Johnson should stay ahead of declining Crabtree as long as he keeps impressing Kliff Kingsbury and his coaching staff. The Cardinals are going to throw it a ton in 3- and 4-WR sets this season, making Johnson a legit fantasy option late in drafts.

Jakobi Meyers (NE, ADP 262) — Is Meyers the next Patriots WR to be a training camp star before fizzling out once the regular season starts? I can’t say either way but there’s no denying he’s impressed during the preseason when he led the NFL with 19 catches and 225 receiving yards through the first three tune-up games. The Patriots WR depth chart is certainly much deeper than it was at the beginning of August with Josh Gordon getting reinstated and with Demaryius Thomas nearing a return from his Achilles injury. Meyers still has a chance to see time as #3 WR here, though, with N’Keal Harry struggling and Phillip Dorsett being a pedestrian option. Meyers appears to have slipped through the cracks as an undrafted free agent who broke Torry Holt’s N.C. State single-season reception record. He may just be realizing his full potential as a receiver since he played quarterback until his second year with the Wolfpack.

Tight Ends

Darren Waller (Oak, ADP 187) — Waller is a freak athlete who converted from WR to TE with the Ravens. Waller once blazed a 4.46 40-time with a 37-inch vertical and 10-foot-5 broad jump at the Combine back in 2015, and he now checks in at 6’6”, 255 pounds. He followed in the steps of Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, and Stephen Hill as big, physical Georgia Tech WRs to come into the league. The Raiders are set to give Waller his big break and the Raiders receiving corps is certainly unsettled behind the crazy Antonio Brown — they have the most vacated targets from last season with 359. Waller will be only 27 years old and there’s a chance it all comes together for him in his first season as a starting TE after learning the position behind the scenes in his first four years.

Chris Herndon (NYJ, ADP 161) — Herndon was the rare rookie TE to sneak into weekly fantasy relevance last season. He hurt his chances for a breakout campaign by earning a four-game suspension for a June 2018 DWI accident, which means he won’t be available until after their bye in Week 6. The Jets could have one of the most improved offenses this season if QB Sam Darnold continues to grow as he did toward the end of his rookie season. Herndon still has plenty of room for growth at just 23 years old, and he could re-establish himself as potential elite fantasy TE over the final 12 weeks this season. Herndon was a borderline TE1 selection in ADP before his suspension, and he ranked as the TE10 with 10.2 FPG in Weeks 6-16 last season.

Noah Fant (Den, ADP 205) — Fant has the potential to be a dominant receiver at the next level because of his freakish athletic ability (98th-percentile SPARQ). Fant landed in an ideal spot to make an immediate impact in one of the league’s more unsettled receiving corps. Top WR Emmanuel Sanders is coming off a torn Achilles at 32 years old while Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton looked overwhelmed as rookies. Fant will get a major PPR boost from QB Joe Flacco, who has slipped as a downfield passer but has come to use his tight ends as a crutch. Over the last six seasons, Ravens TEs averaged a healthy 8.3 targets per game or 133.5 targets per season. Fant is a boom-or-bust prospect, but it wouldn’t be shocking if he’s among the elite TEs early in his career.

T.J. Hockenson (Det, ADP 174) — Hockenson is as complete a tight end prospect as we’ve seen in recent years, and he certainly has enough athleticism (85th-percentile SPARQ) to make an impact for Matthew Stafford right away. The Lions traded away target-hog Golden Tate in the middle of last season, and they have 192 targets vacated from last season. I never get too excited about rookie TEs for fantasy since the group typically has a more difficult transition into the NFL than other positions. Hockenson would be one player to bet on to be the exception to the rule, though.

Jimmy Graham (GB, ADP 163) — Graham came into last season averaging 8.6 TDs per season in his first seven seasons, but he had terrible luck hitting pay dirt with just two scores in 2018. Graham is still linked to Aaron Rodgers, who should have a little extra motivation off of last year’s disastrous campaign and in his first season without Mike McCarthy. The Packers still have an unproven WR depth chart behind Davante Adams, which could help to keep Graham involved. Graham may have bottomed out last year with just 2 TDs playing through his injuries, and he still finished third in routes run at the position (per PFF).

Tyler Eifert (Cin, ADP 226) — Eifert’s career has been littered with injuries as he’s played more than eight games just once in his last five seasons. He was moving well during the 2018 campaign but his season ended after four games because of a gruesome ankle injury. The Bengals are likely to use him just as a package player in passing situations and in the red zone in hopes of preserving him for the whole season. Eifert’s playing time is likely to go down from what we’ve seen in years past, but he could still be a dangerous chess piece. It wouldn’t be shocking if he threatens the top 12 at the position if he stays healthy. What would be shocking is if he stays healthy all season. but he’s certainly a capable option when he’s available.

Mike Gesicki (Mia, ADP 253) — Gesicki was a complete ghost in his first season after blowing up the Combine in 2018, and he’s reportedly had an uneven August. The Dolphins don’t have any elite receiving options on their depth chart, and Gesicki could easily earn his way into a prominent role in this offense. This year’s passing game also has more hope with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen at quarterback. New OC Chad O’Shea also used a lot more 2-TE sets in the preseason than Adam Gase did last season, which bodes well for the second-year TE. Gesicki has an extremely wide range of outcomes this season, but he’s worth a lottery ticket late in drafts in case he hits it big.

Ian Thomas (Car, ADP 263) — Thomas mostly sank early last season when Greg Olsen missed a few games, but he was ready for a bigger role the second time around when Olsen went down for the final five games of the season. Thomas posted 25/246/2 receiving to rank as the TE6 during that span. Olsen has played in just 16 games over the last two seasons, and his right foot is far from guaranteed to stay healthy this season. He also hasn’t been a major factor when he’s been on the field the last two seasons, averaging a measly 2.8/30.1/.31 receiving per game. If Olsen can’t stay healthy or if his play continues to slip, Thomas could find himself near TE1 territory if he gets enough playing time.

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Tom Brolley
Tom Brolley

@TomBrolley

Tom Brolley is the better half of The Fantasy Free Agents Podcast with his partner Joe Dolan. Brolley owned a 53.8% winning percentage picking every game against the spread for his old site over the last two seasons.