5 Second-Year RBs and WRs to Consider on Draft Day

5 Second-Year RBs and WRs to Consider on Draft Day

By Kevin Zatloukal (4for4 Contributor), last updated Sep 12, 2016

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Kevin is a Ph.D. computer scientist. His doctoral work at MIT was focused on quantum algorithms. During the fantasy offseason, he teaches computer science at the University of Washington, his alma mater.

Follow Kevin on Twitter: @kczat.

With the 2016 NFL Draft in the books, this season's new rookies have become the focus of attention around the NFL. On fantasy draft day, however, it's important not to lose sight of last season's rookies, many of whom now have a full year of NFL playing experience under their belts and most of whom are more likely to be valuable to your fantasy team than this year's rookies.

In this article, we will look at a handful of second-year RBs and WRs that could play a key part in your march to a fantasy championship this season.

Second-Year RBs and WRs to consider on draft day
ADP Player Team Pos Rank
3.01 Amari Cooper OAK WR 16
4.02 Thomas Rawls SEA RB 12
5.09 Duke Johnson (PPR only) CLE RB 16
5.11 Matt Jones WAS RB 17
6.11 DeVante Parker MIA WR 31


Running Backs

Thomas Rawls (SEA)

Last year, Thomas Rawls showed himself to be an immensely talented running back. In six games as a starter, he was on pace to finish with 288 fantasy points, which would have finished as the top overall RB by over 40 points.

In terms of real football, PFF gave Rawls the second-highest run grade on a per-snap basis in the entire NFL, coming behind only the man that he replaces as Seattle's top RB, Marshawn Lynch. It's no accident that Rawls earned the nickname "Baby Beast Mode" in his first season. His physical running style is reminiscent of Lynch, a fact that head coach Pete Carroll has repeatedly praised.

Undoubtedly, Rawls's ADP — currently sitting at 4.02 — would be much higher if drafters were convinced that he would pick up right where he left off last year. Instead, they see a cloud of uncertainty around his prospects. Let me quickly mention some of these concerns and explain why I believe they are overblown.

  • There has been concern that the severe ankle injury that ended Rawls's 2015 season would cause him to miss time in 2016. Rawls is back practicing now, so all evidence suggests that he will be ready for Week 1. However, you should expect Rawls to be given the Marshawn Lynch treatment in the preseason, with Rawls seeing very little work before Week 1. Hopefully, that will keep his ADP depressed so that you can grab him in the fourth round or later.

  • There is concern that he will lose snaps to one of the new RBs on the Seahawks roster. In particular, some see the fact that they drafted three RBs as a sign of distrust in Rawls. It is important to keep in mind, however, that the Seahawks lost two RBs from last year's squad: Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson. They clearly needed to draft at least two RBs, but only drafting two would be essentially guaranteeing roster spots to those two rookies, something that would be out of line with Carroll's philosophy of "always compete". Instead, they drafted three RBs, and the general belief is that one of those three will end up on the practice squad. Furthermore, it is worth mentioning that the third RB taken by the Seahawks, Zac Brooks, is likely competition for C.J. Prosise, not for Rawls: Brooks is being used in the pass-catching role so far in camp. Rawls's competition likely comes from Christine Michael and Alex Collins.

  • There is concern that the Seahawks will move to a more pass-heavy attack this season. This concern seems to stem from a belief that the Seahawks were more pass-heavy during the second half of last season, which isn't true: they threw on 50 percent of snaps in the second half, barely any different from their 49-percent rate in the first half. (In reality, the increase in passing yards in the second half was due to improvements in passing efficiency. In particular, during the first half, the Seahawks were on pace to give up the most sacks in the NFL, which made passing difficult.) Carroll has reaffirmed that he considers a 50-percent pass rate to be the right balance for his team. It is also worth noting that Rawls actually scored more points during the second half of last season than he did during the first half, although he played well in both halves.

Rawls is a talented RB who has top-five potential, as well as a solid floor that comes from being on a team that is committed to running the ball. You can profit from the fear about his prospects by grabbing him in the early fourth round.


Duke Johnson (CLE) — PPR only

Johnson was a great college prospect. In my three-year success model, he came only slightly behind the likes of Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, and Ameer Abdullah. In PPR scoring, Johnson finished as RB24 in his rookie season, way ahead of Gordon and Abdullah.

This season, Hue Jackson, formerly of the Bengals, becomes the head coach of the Browns. In Cincinnati, Jackson featured the combination of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill. In Cleveland, the expectation is that Jackson will use the same approach, with Johnson in place of Bernard. Our projections have Johnson and Bernard within three points of one another. Both appear to be offer solid value in the late-sixth/early-seventh round.

Indeed, with Danny Woodhead (our RB15 in PPR) also available in that same ADP range, drafters would have a good chance of getting two of those three in the sixth and seventh rounds. Taking Arian Foster (our RB24) in the ninth round would give you three top-24 RBs, using only picks in the sixth round or later. These sorts of values are a key reason why Zero RB drafting seems to work well in PPR formats.

Woodhead's finish as the third overall RB in PPR last season demonstrates the upside available with passing-down backs like Johnson and Bernard. Even though Jackson plans to stay committed to the run, the Browns are likely to be behind in a lot of games, which may force their hand toward a more pass-heavy style that would benefit Johnson.


Matt Jones (WAS)

Compared to the immediate success of Todd Gurley and David Johnson, Matt Jones's rookie season may seem like a disappointment. However, by historical standards, he did extremely well. Coming out of college, my three-year success model only gave Jones a 30-percent chance of having a top-36 season, but once his rookie season numbers are included in the model, his odds increase to 75 percent -- nearly matching the other top prospects from 2015.

Most importantly, Jones's opportunity looks great this season. While the Redskins did draft another RB (Keith Marshall), he does not appear to be a great prospect, at least according to the metrics that I find most reliable. That means Jones will face competition primarily from Chris Thompson, whom he beat out last season. At this point, Jones's hold on the top RB spot seems fairly firm.

In that position, Jones will be the primary running back on what was a good football team last season. He may not be the sexiest pick, but he represents great value in the late fifth round.


Wide Receivers

Amari Cooper (OAK)

Cooper was my top wide receiver prospect in last year's draft. He was a better prospect than any of the top five WRs taken in this year's draft. (That said, there was one WR taken later in this year's draft that looks nearly as good.)

In Cooper's first season, he finished as WR24. That included some games late in the season where Cooper was so hobbled by injury that forced him into being used as a decoy. Prior to the last two games, Cooper was on pace to finish as WR14.

We have Cooper projected at WR16 this season, just after Keenan Allen and Brandin Cooks. While having a similarly safe floor as Allen and Cooks, Cooper likely has the better upside. In particular, if Cooper receives the sort of market share typical for a stud WR (say, over 27 percent), then he would easily move into the top 10 fantasy WRs.

Cooper can meet his early-third-round ADP simply by repeating what he did last year in the first 14 games. If he can reduce his drop rate, increase his market share, and improve his chemistry with Derek Carr (something we are already hearing about out of camp), then he has a good chance to finish in the top-12 next season.


DeVante Parker (MIA)

In current ADP, there are three second-year receivers going in the late-sixth through early-eighth rounds: Parker, Tyler Lockett, and Kevin White. Of those three, White was the best prospect, but he is still unproven in the NFL. Furthermore, White, like Lockett, is likely stuck as the WR2 on his team, barring injury. (Locket sits behind Doug Baldwin, whom the Seahawks just made one of the highest-paid WRs in the league.)

Parker may be behind Jarvis Landry on the depth chart, but as T.J. Hernandez discussed, Landry and Parker are not competing for the same type of targets, since Landry is a possession receiver who catches many passes that are "glorified run plays".

As a prospect, Parker was an equal match to Lockett. Unfortunately, Parker's rookie season was marred by injury. However, in the final six games, Parker was able to stay healthy and averaged 4 receptions for 74 yards and 0.5 TDs. His big play ability put him on pace for 167 fantasy points, which would have finished as WR13 last season, ahead of Demaryius Thomas.

While Parker, Lockett, and White are all likely to be good NFL players, I see the highest upside in Parker. Though we have him projected as WR31 next season, he has a realistic chance to finish in the top-15 if he continues to exhibit the form he showed last season.

If all you want is a safe WR3, then your best option is to skip all three of these second-year WRs and grab Torrey Smith or Willie Snead in the late-ninth/early-tenth round. However, if you plan to draft enough WRs early to build up sufficient depth, then you can afford to roll the dice on Parker. His likely outcome is a WR3, but his upside gives him the potential to be a league winner for your team.


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Filed Under: Preseason, 2016

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