10 Day 3 Draft Picks Who Could Surprise in 2016
The only thing better than watching the entire NFL Draft is analyzing the picks afterwards to find those potential fantasy gems that could become bargains. Immediately following the draft, we began evaluating and adjusting depth charts to account for the biggest picks of the weekend.
Last week, John Paulsen evaluated the top prospects at the key fantasy positions, discussing the value of elite talents like Ezekiel Elliott, and questioning the merits of trusting a rookie quarterback like Jared Goff in a deep crop of fantasy passers.
But what about the 155 players drafted on Day 3? These players will form the core of special teams and provide reliable depth for NFL teams for years to come as cheap roster filler. Surely there must be some fantasy gold to mine out of that final draft day, or at least some good quality ore. I analyzed every player drafted in rounds 4-7 and came up with a list of 10 players that could be fantasy sleepers in 2016.
First, a few caveats:
- Not all of these guys are even guaranteed a roster spot.
- I'm not implying that I love a guy like Aaron Burbridge enough to consider drafting him over a guy like Laquon Treadwell. Rather, these are just the Day 3 picks that have the greatest potential to become viable in fantasy and are worth keeping an eye on.
- We all know opportunity rules; the guys listed below are not only talented, but also have the clearest path to playing time.
- There are no kickers listed, although undrafted free agent rookies Marshall Morgan (Georgia) and Jaden Oberkrom (TCU) have a chance to fight for jobs in Buffalo and Jacksonville, respectively.
That being said, here are 10 under-the-radar Day 3 prospects to keep an eye on in 2016:
Burbridge caught 85 balls for Michigan State last year and was a nice safety valve for quarterback Connor Cook. He elevates well, plays bigger than his six-foot tall frame, and runs violently after the catch. The main concerns with Burbridge are his subpar speed and his inability to get off press coverage in college. The 49ers still haven't re-signed Anquan Boldin, and have mostly shifty speed receivers on the roster. If Burbridge can prove he can beat press, he could be one of the rare sixth-round picks who wins a starting job and puts up viable fantasy numbers as a rookie. Keep an eye on the training camp battle between Burbridge and guys like Jerome Simpson and DeAndre Smelter; Burbridge's competitiveness might earn him the job.
A productive player at West Virginia who catches the ball well, Smallwood's skill set is similar to another Philadelphia back: Darren Sproles. Smallwood ran for 1,519 yards and nine touchdowns in 2015. He can cut on a dime, has a powerful lower body, and flashes the ability to run inside. With only the oft-injured Ryan Mathews and career third-stringer Kenjon Barner to compete with for carries, Smallwood has an above-average chance at making an early impact despite his fifth-round pedigree.
The Rams took Cooper, a versatile slot receiver out of South Carolina, in the fourth round in an effort to give No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff a weapon to grow with. Cooper fights to get open and is a quarterback’s best friend who stays alive well after the play breaks down. The versatile Cooper can work out of the slot, line up in the backfield, or help in the return game, and the Rams will give him every opportunity to win a job early on. Only the likes of Brian Quick and Kenny Britt stand in the way of a starting role for Cooper, giving him an outside shot to lead the team in targets, assuming Tavon Austin continues to be used in somewhat of a gadget role.
To echo Paulsen, the Ravens will enter the season with a backfield of Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro, who are both coming off injury, along with Javorius Allen, who was benched at one point last year because he couldn't hold on to the ball. Forsett will enter the season as the starter but is on the wrong side of 30. Dixon, a talented back out of Louisiana Tech, should be able to challenge for a role early on. Dixon is highly competitive, demonstrates elite vision, and has a nose for the end zone. He scored 19 touchdowns last season and could have gone much earlier than the late fourth round.
It’s possible that Booker doesn’t see many snaps behind C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman this year, but just as likely that he winds up with the starting job. Booker fell to the late fourth round due to a meniscus injury suffered last season, but was ultra-competitive at Utah, racking up 1,512 yards on 5.2 yards per carry in 2014. Booker has three-down ability as a runner and receiver. He will need to earn his role, but the two incumbents in Denver haven't exactly lit the world on fire, which may give Booker the opening he needs to step in and contribute. Booker is worth a late-round flyer in most leagues, especially for those who draft Anderson.
Ervin was predicted to go on Day 2, but fell to the fourth round like Dixon and Booker. Houston benefits by getting a highly competitive player who runs with runs with good pad level and excellent vision. Ervin is already an accomplished receiver out of the backfield -- he caught 45 balls at San Jose State in 2015. The Texans paid Lamar Miller to be their lead back, but Miller has never been a particularly accomplished pass blocker or between-the-tackles runner. That could open the door for Ervin to get half a dozen touches a game, and if he does, he’ll be worth consideration in deep leagues. Ervin also has the ability to put up good numbers if he becomes the primary backup and Miller gets hurt.
Payton caught 78 balls last year at UCLA and comes to the Browns more NFL-ready than many of the other rookies they drafted. Payton is unlikely to beat out first rounder Corey Coleman to be Cleveland's WR1, but does bring reliable hands and excellent ability after the catch to a team that desperately needs consistency in the passing game. Payton will have to beat out fellow rookies Ricardo Lewis and Rashard Higgins, along with holdovers Andrew Hawkins and Brian Hartline, but one could argue fifth-rounder Payton is the most talented of the bunch. If Payton has a good camp, he could find his way to a starting role in 2016 and is worth monitoring in the coming months.
The Ravens have been looking for a consistent target for Joe Flacco for years. Steve Smith Sr. worked out nicely for a little while but is near the end of the line, while newly acquired Mike Wallace is not known for consistency. Moore fell to the fourth round due to concerns that he may be one-dimensional. Another concern is he lets the ball into his body too frequently. However, Moore plays physically, can get downfield in a hurry, and has the ability to make plays after the catch. Moore averaged 22.0 yards per reception over the last two seasons and has the potential to turn into a WR1 at the next level. The Baltimore depth chart is crowded, especially with last year’s first round pick Breshad Perriman is due to come back after missing his rookie season with a knee injury. None of the receivers have really distinguished themselves yet besides Smith, who is coming off season ending achilles injury. Moore is a player to watch throughout camp.
Driskel has the it factor. He had a great season at Louisiana Tech last year, putting up 4,026 yards and 27 touchdowns while throwing only eight picks. At 6-foot-4 with a strong arm, Driskel has the size and measurables to be a starter at the NFL level. Driskel started his career at Florida and struggled with accuracy, which is what likely caused him to drop to the sixth round, but he looks the part and could be a steal. Colin Kaepernick coming off a shoulder injury and Blaine Gabbert is the only other competition at quarterback, so Driskel has a chance to climb the depth chart quickly and potentially start at some point in the high-volume Chip Kelly offense. Driskel is definitely worth a late-round dynasty pick. Don't be surprised if he's starting games at some point this season.
A hybrid athlete who may convert to tight end, Duarte finds himself on a team with an injury-prone starter at the tight end position in Jordan Cameron. Duarte is a seventh-rounder out of UCLA who will have upside if Miami's new coaching staff figures out how to use him well. Duarte has the ability to line up all over the field and become a safety valve for Ryan Tannehill. Rookie tight ends rarely make an impact, but Duarte has good hands and may get some non-traditional looks in the offense. I could see Duarte getting a handful of targets each game from Tannehill, who likes to check down. Duarte needs to learn to release from an in-line position, but could also be used in an H-Back style of role. Watch his status on the depth chart as the season draws near.
Four Day 3 Quarterbacks Who Could Win Backup Jobs
We'll end with four more Day 3 quarterbacks worth noting. While they are unlikely to start this season, these quarterbacks have enough talent and opportunity to win a backup job early on.
Prescott is an excellent athlete at the quarterback position and improvises very well. At Mississippi State last year, he had 29 touchdowns and only five interceptions. Prescott is a gamer who is often at his best when the play breaks down. The Cowboys are looking for an heir apparent to the fragile Tony Romo and they will allow their fourth round prospect Prescott every opportunity to be that guy. If Prescott beats out Kellen Moore for the backup job, he could even be in line for some starts behind Romo, who is coming off a season-ending injury.
Hogan is unlikely to play as a rookie behind Alex Smith, but will be given the chance to win the backup job over Aaron Murray and be groomed as a future starter for the Chiefs. Hogan is a smart player with good accuracy who will benefit from a year or two under Andy Reid. If thrust into a starting role, it’s possible Hogan would not even represent much of a drop-off from Smith, since both passers aim to minimize turnovers but are excellent at working through progressions. This is a great fit in the fifth round.
Jones is an interesting case. The Ohio State prospect is going to a Buffalo team that found some success with Tyrod Taylor starting at quarterback last year. Jones's situation is excellent: incumbent backup E.J. Manuel hasn’t impressed, while Taylor is far from a sure thing. Jones demonstrates elite arm strength and above-average athleticism, but does need to work on his accuracy and decision-making to become a viable NFL starting quarterback. He will likely take a year as the third-stringer while he learns the NFL game and hones his skills, but if the Bills struggle early it wouldn’t be entirely shocking to see them throw Jones out there.
Cook improved every year at Michigan State. While his career completion percentage (57.5) is concerning, he looks the part of an NFL quarterback. Cook was considered a possible first or second round pick leading up to the draft, but slid all the way to the fourth round before the Raiders traded up to grab him. They wouldn’t have surrendered a fifth-round pick to move up 14 spots in the fourth round if they didn’t like Cook, so the Michigan State product should have a good chance to beat out Matt McGloin for the backup job behind starter Derek Carr. McGloin is a free agent after 2016, and the Raiders could save over $2.5 million against the cap by cutting him and giving the backup job to Cook.
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