6 Second-Year RBs and WRs to Consider on Draft Day
With the 2017 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 are likely to be more valuable to your fantasy team.
This article will highlight a handful of second-year RBs and WRs that could play a key part in your march to a fantasy championship this season.
RB Jordan Howard, Bears
Had the top RB in last year's draft not ended up in Dallas, with one of the league's best offensive lines and easiest schedules, Jordan Howard could have been the top story of the draft. A fifth-round draft pick, Howard took over as the Bears' primary rusher in Week 4. From then on, he racked up enough points to finish as a top-10 RB (even in PPR).
Howard sits in a great situation for a running back. He's on a run-first team—one that stays committed to the run even when behind. As Stephen Andress explained, there's a remarkably little chance (outside of injury) Howard busts this year. For example, some critics point out that the Bears will be a bad team, and bad teams usually have to throw more. That argument is less persuasive, though, when you notice the Bears were bad last year and Howard still put up incredible numbers.
I see Howard as a high-floor, safe choice—a rare commodity at the RB position these days.
RB Jonathan Williams, Bills
After the departure of Mike Gillislee to the Patriots, Jonathan Williams has taken over as LeSean McCoy's backup in Buffalo. That alone gives him high upside potential in the event of an injury to McCoy and absolutely justifies his 19th-round price tag.
However, as Evan Silva has pointed out, McCoy's backup tends to be valuable even when McCoy himself stays healthy. Last year, Gillislee finished as the RB40. The year before, Karlos Williams finished as the RB38 (both in PPR). Assuming no injury to McCoy, we have Williams conservatively ranked at RB46, which should still give him some startable weeks during the season (particularly, when bye weeks hit).
Yet, the consensus ranking for Williams is somehow RB63. It seems hard to envision a scenario (outside of injury) where he finishes that low. Thankfully for us, ADP reflects this consensus view. Williams is a steal in the 19th round.
RB DeAndre Washington, Raiders
Like Williams, DeAndre Washington is a backup in one of the ideal RB situations in the league. While the Raiders throw more than the Bills, they have one of the best offensive lines in the league, which should lead to high efficiency even if it comes on fewer carries. Last year, Washington averaged 5.4 yards per carry. His efficiency would have produced the same total yards as an average RB that had 30% more carries.
The primary back in Oakland is now Marshawn Lynch. While Lynch was an incredible talent (and one of my personal favorites to watch on Sundays), there is a lot of uncertainty about how he will perform at age 31, having not played a full season in two years. If Lynch gets injured or is simply not able to perform at the same level, Washington would be in line to inherit a huge role.
The key difference compared to Williams is that Washington has competition for the backup role coming from Jalen Richard. However, as Joe Holka discussed, Washington was the better back in their limited work last season. In fact, even when catching passes—Richard's strength—Washington outperformed Richard. This is not a total surprise as Washington was an above-average receiver in college as well.
While I don't see Washington's situation to be quite as rosy as Williams's, he is another great late-round target at the RB position, and could hugely outperform his ADP in the event of an injury to Lynch.
WR Michael Thomas, Saints
Michael Thomas was the clear standout rookie receiver last season, finishing as the overall WR7. Like Howard, he has a high floor, in this case, due to his role in the Saints' high-volume passing offense.
What goes underappreciated, in my eyes, is Thomas's upside. While Drew Brees's tendency to spread the ball around means an Antonio Brown-like reception total is unlikely, Thomas is also the top red zone target for the Saints. For that reason, he could easily see an Antonio Brown- or Jordy Nelson-like touchdown total. Adding 3 TDs to Thomas's projection would put him tied with A.J. Green at WR4. (He currently sits at WR6 in our projections.)
I like Thomas in the second round as a pick that combines a high floor with week-winning TD potential.
WR Tyreek Hill, Chiefs
Much of the fantasy community remains deeply skeptical of Tyreek Hill, despite his breakout rookie season last year, where he finished as the WR23. After having their hearts broken by Cordarrelle Patterson, they are afraid to love again, particularly with someone who reminds them of their former flame.
But Hill is no Cordarrelle Patterson. Unlike Patterson, he scored very highly in Matt Harmon's reception perception metric, which looks at receivers' success rate on each type of route. In Harmon's analysis, Patterson scored at the opposite end of the spectrum from Hill. So, while Hill is still developing, he does appear to be a good NFL receiver.
The Chiefs appear convinced of this as well. They cut Jeremy Maclin and stated in no uncertain terms Hill will take over his role as the Z receiver. It's worth remembering Maclin, while no league-winner, was a solid WR2. He finished as the WR15 in his last un-injured season (2015).
Having the featured (Z receiver) role in Andy Reid's offense, as well as a continued role in the running game, Hill should have a solid floor. But he also has big-play upside. We got a glimpse of that in his first preseason game with a 32-yard reception.
Hill is a value in the fifth round.
WR Robby Anderson, Jets
Coming into the league as an undrafted player, the prospects for Robby Anderson were not great. But his rookie production, 42 receptions for 587 yards, was well above average. In fact, he out-produced top ranked rookies Laquon Treadwell, Corey Coleman, and Josh Doctson. After putting up those numbers, Anderson jumped way up in my three-year success model (discussed here for the 2017 class): going from a 3% chance to a 40% chance of success.
More recently, the Jets lost their top receiver, Quincy Enunwa, to a season-ending neck injury, moving Anderson into the top position on the depth chart. For that reason alone, he can expect a target volume that will give him some value, even on a bad team, which the Jets are all but certain to be this year. He sits in our rankings at WR56.
I see some additional upside potential in Anderson, however. He stood out as a deep threat last season, and new Jets starting QB Josh McCown has shown a propensity to throw deep. That should give Anderson big-play upside as long as McCown is under center.
Anderson's big-play ability also gives him TD upside, something he demonstrated in college as well. In fact, Anderson had a higher career market share of touchdowns than all but two of the more than 30 drafted receivers in 2016.
In all likelihood, Anderson will be a fantasy bench player all season, but there are few, if any, other receivers available after the 20th round that can match his upside.
- What to Expect from the 2016 Rookie WR Class Over the Next 3 Seasons
- What to Expect from the 2016 Rookie RB Class Over the Next 3 Seasons
- Forecasting 2017 NFL Rookie Running Back Success: 3-Year Model
- Forecasting 2017 NFL Rookie Wide Receiver Success: 3-Year Model
- Fantasy Football Running Back Sleepers, Values and Targets
- 2017 Rookie RBs to Know