Fantasy Football: Five under-the-radar rookie sleepers to target in 2019
Jamey Eisenberg has five under-the-radar rookies who could make an impact in re-draft leagues this year, including the potential best running back in Kansas City and the potential No. 1 receiver in San Francisco.
The 2019 NFL Draft class isn't exactly loaded with offensive stars. Yet even the novice Fantasy player already knows the main rookies for this year.
There's Josh Jacobs, David Montgomery and Miles Sanders at running back. The top receivers are N'Keal Harry, D.K. Metcalf, Parris Campbell, Mecole Hardman and Marquise Brown. And Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins, T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant lead the list at quarterback and tight end.
But those aren't the only rookies who will contribute to Fantasy titles this season.
Go back to 2018 and think about some of the rookies who had several good stretches of the season, including those who weren't selected in most re-draft leagues. Guys like Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson at quarterback, who were potential Fantasy starters in the playoffs.
Phillip Lindsay went undrafted in the NFL Draft, but he was a Fantasy star at running back for most of the season. And Jaylen Samuels was another rookie running back who excelled when James Conner missed time at the end of the year with an injury.
The receivers had several rookies fall into this category, including guys like Dante Pettis, Christian Kirk, DaeSean Hamilton and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. All of them had at least four good weeks of quality Fantasy production in PPR leagues, but no one invested heavily in them on Draft Day in most formats.
And that brings us to what we're talking about here. These are five underrated rookies in re-draft leagues I plan to target this season -- and you should also.
The only criteria for this list is the players had to be outside of the top five at Average Draft Position among rookies at their positions. And all five of these guys will be drafted with a pick in the double digit rounds, which means there's little risk with plenty of reward.
The Chiefs selected Thompson in the sixth round of the NFL Draft from Utah State, and I wouldn't be surprised if he's the best running back in Kansas City this season. Damien Williams has never been a full-time starter in the NFL, and Carlos Hyde has been with three teams in the past two seasons for a reason -- he's not a star.
Thompson might not be a star either, but he was successful in 2018 for the Aggies with 153 carries for 1,044 yards (6.8 yards per carry) and 14 touchdowns, as well as 23 catches for 351 yards and two touchdowns. While he's a small running back at 5-foot-8, 200 pounds, Pro Football Focus ranks him among the best at missed tackles per carry and yards after contact per carry.
Given a chance at an increased workload in an Andy Reid offense, I could see Thompson being a starting Fantasy running back for several weeks this year. He's absolutely someone to target with a late-round pick in all formats.
Based on ADP, Hill is the No. 6 rookie running back being selected in re-draft leagues behind Jacobs, Montgomery, Sanders, Darrell Henderson and Devin Singletary. I can see Hill moving ahead of Singletary as we get closer to the season because Hill has a clearer path to playing time in 2019.
He should be the No. 2 running back in Baltimore behind Mark Ingram, and I expect both Ravens running backs to work well in tandem together. They should complement each other well, with Ingram the featured back and Hill as the change-of-pace option.
At Oklahoma State, Hill amassed 632 carries for 3,539 yards (5.6 yards per carry) and 30 touchdowns, as well as 49 catches for 304 yards and one touchdown over three seasons. He ran a 4.4 second 40-yard dash, and he should benefit from playing in a run heavy offense in Baltimore.
Should Ingram, 30 in December, get hurt, then Hill could become a Fantasy star. I wouldn't be surprised if Hill gets selected with a mid-round pick in all formats by the time we get to late August.
Several rookie receivers ended up in great spots this season, including Campbell (Colts), Hardman (Chiefs), Harry (Patriots) and Metcalf (Seahawks). But Samuel might be in a better situation than those guys because he could emerge as the No. 1 receiver for the 49ers, even as a rookie.
That's a stretch given that Samuel should be behind Pettis, and potentially Marquise Goodwin as well. And let's not forget about George Kittle. But taking away the tight end, Samuel could outplay Pettis and be the best rookie receiver this season.
He's No. 6 in ADP among rookies in re-draft leagues behind Harry, Metcalf, Hardman, Campbell and Brown, but that could change with a strong preseason. He had 62 catches for 882 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2018 at South Carolina, and Jimmy Garoppolo should love leaning on Samuel this year. He's worth a late-round pick in all leagues.
There are many Fantasy analysts and players who like Hakeem Butler as the best rookie receiver for the Cardinals, and that could end up happening this season. Butler was a star at Iowa State, and he could be a star in Arizona playing with quarterback Kyler Murray and for coach Kliff Kingsbury.
But you know who likes Isabella better than Butler? The Cardinals, who selected Isabella in Round 2 of the NFL Draft from UMass and waited until Round 4 to get Butler. While that's not an all-out indication of who will be better, it does show you who was valued more by the team.
It's easy to see why the Cardinals like Isabella, who led the nation in receiving yards (1,698) in 2018, and he ran a 4.31 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. He also added 102 catches and scored 13 touchdowns last season. He's small at 5-foot-9, 188 pounds, but Kingsbury should find plenty of ways to get him the ball.
Arizona has several mouths to feed in this offense with Isabella, Butler, Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk, as well as David Johnson out of the backfield. But don't be surprised if Isabella stands out of this group, and he's someone to target with a late-round pick in all leagues. The Cardinals offense has the chance to be explosive, and Isabella has the chance to be a key contributor in 2019.
When I'm looking for late-round picks in most leagues, especially at receiver, I'm trying to find someone in a big-play offense with a good quarterback who also has an opportunity for playing time and targets. Johnson seems to meet all that criteria.
The Steelers led the NFL in pass attempts last season, and Ben Roethlisberger is still among the best quarterbacks in the league. With Antonio Brown gone, there are now 104 catches for 1,297 yards and 15 touchdowns on 168 targets to replace from 2018.
The ball will get spread around to JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Donte Moncrief, Vance McDonald and James Conner. But what if Johnson, who was selected in the third round of the NFL Draft from Toledo, proves he deserves a good amount of those targets. That could lead to quality production at a minimal price on Draft Day.
Johnson had a down year in 2018 at Toledo with 49 catches for 761 yards and eight touchdowns, but he was better in 2017 (74 catches, 1,278 yards and 13 touchdowns). Hopefully, that's the player who shows up this year. Like all of these guys in re-draft leagues, there's minimal risk and plenty of reward if Johnson is successful this season.
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