By John Evans
Special to Yahoo Sports
Ah, the post-hype sleeper. The draft pick fantasy managers wish they never made, but who comes so much cheaper the following year. Now that his ADP ranges from reasonable to a screaming bargain, should you roll the dice? With these five players, I think you should. As always, an important factor in my analysis is the hidden impact of offensive line play on fantasy production.
Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears
Our own Matt Harmon has been trumpeting the talent of Allen Robinson since he left Penn State, and in Matt’s recent WR tiers article he showed he’s keeping the faith.
Fantasy gamers are less enthralled by A-Rob after a ho-hum first season in the Windy City, and he’s attached to a quarterback who hasn’t received the puff-piece love one expects to come out of training camp. And yet, everything is lining up for this gifted player to be a fine target in fantasy drafts.
In my recent pass-blocking rankings I assigned Chicago the lofty rank of sixth, as the Bears’ first-string o-line looks like one of the most airtight QB shields in the league. In Robinson’s second year in Matt Nagy’s system and another year removed from his 2017 ACL tear, the 25 year old receiver is showing clear signs of being more confident and explosive. There is the dreaded “Lots of mouths to feed” argument against him but, to invoke another fantasy cliché, the size of the “pie” those mouths should have to eat will be the envy of many offenses. Who knew that food metaphors and football went together so well?
Perhaps due to the “Matt Harmon effect,” Robinson is off the board by the sixth round of many Yahoo drafts, but he’s generally available one-to-three rounds later on other platforms and in full PPR formats. Robinson’s huge potential is easily overlooked and I think he’ll prove to be a great pick anywhere in that range.
Sammy Watkins, Kansas City Chiefs
If you haven’t had your heart broken by Sammy Watkins, you probably haven’t been playing fantasy football very long. At this point he may be the quintessential post-hype sleeper, considering the fanfare he entered the league with. Buffalo gave up a king’s ransom to get him at fourth overall in 2014, and let’s just say neither Bills fans nor fake footballers got their money’s worth. And yet, Watkins is another hyper-talented guy with an injury history who is entering his second year with a new team.
Patrick Mahomes should enjoy excellent pass protection, so that isn’t a concern for his receivers. And you may be aware that Kansas City is a great bet to lead the league in overall fantasy production. Yes, Watkins is no better than third in the pecking order for targets, but you want to talk about pie size? This pie could feed King Kong! There’s always the chance that Tyreek Hill (or even Travis Kelce) misses games. The question for Sammy is, as always, how many games does HE miss?
Watkins has only played in 48 of his last 64 games and he’s proven much less effective when toughing out one of his many ailments. Right now the brittle but fleet-footed wideout is going at the end of the 10th round in Yahoo drafts. That’s a pretty cheap investment in a juggernaut offense. When you’ve prioritized other positions in your draft, Watkins offers a low-cost WR3 with tantalizing upside and, if the injury bug bites again, WR3-types are a dime a dozen these days.
Royce Freeman, Denver Broncos
A tsunami of hype accompanied this Duck’s arrival in the NFL last season, and he was often selected in the third round of fantasy drafts. It wasn’t meant to be, as Royce Freeman’s high-ankle sprain allowed Phillip Lindsay to seize the reins in Denver’s backfield and never let go. Now Freeman’s ADP is 12.4, around pick 116, and that’s a steal. I ranked the Broncos’ offensive line fifth in my analysis of run-blocking units, so the ball-carrier slated for early down and short-yardage work should find some open running lanes. At Oregon, “Rolls Royce” showed fine field vision and an impressive feel for how to exploit the blocks developing in front of him. We shouldn’t forget the 85th percentile Agility Score that he logged on PlayerProfiler.com, either. All of these things make Freeman a great fit for the wide-zone scheme Denver will run in 2019. Training camp reports suggest he’s earned a larger role in this backfield — picture more of a Devonta Freeman/Tevin Coleman split — and I believe Royce will capitalize on his opportunity. Even if Lindsay stays healthy, his sturdier running mate should generate plenty of fantasy value.
Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers
Jimmy G was a hot commodity last draft season, had his ACL snapped in Week 3, and is currently being left for dead by fantasy gamers. Yes, in 2019 the quarterback position is as deep as the Mariana Trench, but at the very least Garoppolo should be one of the first names on your waiver-wire speed dial. While the 49ers finished middle of the pack in my pass-blocking rankings, depth is their main concern. Second-year tackle Mike McGlinchey is already a beast in the running game and is showing signs of improvement in pass protection. If he takes the expected step forward and the starters stay healthy, this highly cohesive offensive line should threaten the top-10.
As for the signal-caller himself, it’s been a rocky training camp, (hey, Pat Mahomes threw a lot of picks in practice last year, didn’t he?) but Garoppolo returns to one of the most dynamic offensive systems in football. Kyle Shanahan made Nick Mullens look good in 2018 and receives due credit for Matt Ryan’s magnificent 2016. I expect San Francisco’s well-paid passer to settle down and take advantage of the multiplicity of young weapons that’s been assembled for him. With Garoppolo’s cobra-quick release, a solid-to-dominating o-line and Shanahan’s ingenious route concepts, this passing game could be surprisingly lethal.
Dion Lewis, Tennessee Titans
The final name in our roll call of 2018 disappointments is Dion Lewis, who went in the sixth round of many drafts. Completely eclipsed by the Jupiter-sized Derrick Henry and his hot finish over the last four games, Lewis is an afterthought today. And yet, Henry has a lot to prove. Was he picking on bad teams in good game scripts down the stretch? Can he stay healthy with a larger workload? (Henry is already nursing a calf strain.) The ex-Alabama back is a boom-or-bust pick.
If you like the Titans’ offensive line — and prior to Taylor Lewan’s four-game suspension I ranked them 11th in run-blocking prowess — then you should like the ROI Lewis could give you when taken in the final rounds of fantasy drafts. As a Patriot, this small but scrappy player proved that he could be what passes for a feature back in today’s NFL. If the bigger back breaks down, Lewis will likely step into a similar role, albeit on a weaker offense. That’s still the kind of upside you look for with the last RB on your roster.