5 Dynasty Fantasy Football Sleepers in Rookie Drafts
Terry McLaurin was a revelation in dynasty fantasy football leagues as a rookie.
Despite missing a pair of games and playing in a bad offense, McLaurin still had 919 yards and 7 touchdowns, enough to finish second behind A.J. Brown in scoring among rookie receivers. That's superb bang-for-your-buck as McLaurin was a third-round pick in 12-team rookie drafts in the month of May, according to Dynasty League Football.
With rookie drafts either already here or just around the corner, we should be trying to identify who could be this year's version of McLaurin. Where can we find players who will be undervalued in rookie drafts but could look like steals down the road?
If we're trying to find someone in a similar mold to McLaurin, our key indicator may be the draft capital the NFL teams invested in the players. McLaurin was the 13th pick in the third round of the real NFL draft. There were three rookie receivers being drafted ahead of him in dynasty leagues who were drafted behind him in the real draft, one of whom was his own teammate, Kelvin Harmon.
When NFL teams invest in players, they tell us what decision-makers think of that player's talent. We love to mock the NFL for its evaluation shortcomings, but eight of the 10 highest-scoring running backs in half-PPR leagues last year were either first- or second-round picks coming out. All of the nine highest-scoring receivers were drafted within the first three rounds. Draft capital matters, and we should be willing to listen to what the NFL is saying about these players.
There's not a ton of data yet on where each guy in the 2020 draft class will go in rookie drafts, so we're going to have to do some extrapolation here. But where can we find potential draft-day bargains by looking at what went down this past weekend? Let's look at some contenders.
Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh Steelers
In total, there were 12 wide receivers drafted within the first two rounds in this year's draft. Of those 12, 10 were going within the first 28 picks in April rookie mock superflex drafts on Dynasty League Football. The two exceptions were Chase Claypool and Van Jefferson. We'll start with Claypool and circle back to Jefferson shortly.
Claypool was the 17th pick in the second round and -- perhaps importantly -- the Pittsburgh Steelers' first pick of the draft. The Steelers drafted Claypool while Denzel Mims, Bryan Edwards, Tyler Johnson, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and Antonio Gandy-Golden -- all of whom were going ahead of him in pre-draft rookie mocks -- were still on the board. They had their pick of the litter and went with Claypool.
A potential concern around Claypool heading into draft season was that a team may decide to stick him at tight end due to his monstrous size. The Steelers seem content to stick with Claypool at his natural position.
Steelers OC Randy Fichtner confirmed 6'4/238 Chase Claypool will primary be used as an outside WR. Juju in natural slot role. https://t.co/Ek7sDAfQMc
— Adam Levitan (@adamlevitan) April 28, 2020
This means we're going to have a dude with absurd size who ran a 4.42 40 playing receiver in an offense that (fingers crossed) is quarterbacked by Ben Roethlisberger. That checks a lot of boxes.
Claypool's stock will undoubtedly rise. He was a mid-second rounder in a mock draft by The Fantasy Footballers and an early third at CBS. That's elevated from where he was before the draft. There's still a chance he winds up flying more under the radar than he should, though.
Van Jefferson, Los Angeles Rams
Claypool was the 36th pick in pre-draft rookie mocks; Jefferson was all the way down in 47th. That's going to require a serious reevaluation after he was the Rams' second pick in the second round.
The reasons for trepidation around Jefferson were legitimate. He was a fifth-year senior who played in an offense that heavily rotated its receivers, limiting his production profile. He also was unable to run at the combine after medical checks found a Jones fracture in his foot. Even after his dazzling performance at Senior Bowl practices, it was fair to be down on Jefferson.
This could wind up being a poor pick by the Rams, and we should keep that in mind. It's not a lock that Jefferson suddenly becomes a fantasy stud just because he was a higher-end pick. But his odds of doing so certainly increased.
Jefferson helps fill a big need within the Rams' offense: speed. After trading away Brandin Cooks, the only player on their roster who ran better than a 4.52 at the combine coming out was Darrell Henderson. Cam Akers clocked in at 4.47, and although Jefferson couldn't run at the combine, he was tracked as the fastest player at the Senior Bowl. He provides a different skillset from Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and Josh Reynolds, which could help him crack the field sooner.
It's also important to note the contract situations for Kupp, Woods, and Reynolds. Kupp and Reynolds are scheduled to become free agents after this year, and Woods has little guaranteed money beyond 2020. The odds all three are still on the roster in 2021 are decently high, especially Woods and Kupp, but there is room for movement within this depth chart.
The Rams' offense has plenty of issues, and Jefferson's not a pristine prospect. Still, they altered their scheme and improved down the stretch and now project to have an easier schedule in 2020. If they think he fits in well, we should be willing to take him ahead of some other receivers who went behind him this past weekend.
KJ Hamler, Denver Broncos
Some of the only true data digging we can do is looking at the post-draft mocks mentioned above and see where players are going. Hamler wasn't within the first three rounds of The Fantasy Footballers' mock, and he was a mid-third rounder at CBS despite coming off the board at 48 overall. Although you can understand why that's the case, he still has some elements of being an intriguing target.
The reason Hamler is tumbling down draft boards is that he has to play alongside Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy. That's going to make it difficult for him to command massive volume, and that's before we consider that Noah Fant and Melvin Gordon will get theirs, as well. Hamler doesn't project as a high-usage cog in this offense, so the pessimism is justified.
There is, though, a flip side here. Unlike Henry Ruggs, Hamler did get respectable usage in college with 25.5% of the targets during his final season, according to PlayerProfiler, a 65th-percentile mark. He added 13 rush attempts, 24 kick returns, and 23 punt returns, meaning Penn State wanted the ball in his hands, something that bodes well for Hamler getting touches at the next level. Finally -- like Jefferson -- he has a skillset that's unique to those of Sutton and Jeudy, meaning he figures to at least be on the field early. There's plenty of value in all of those aspects.
Our baseline assumption going into this season should be that Sutton and Jeudy will command hefty target shares, which caps the upside of Hamler. But we also want to acknowledge that we're wrong often, and Hamler has a shot to carve out a role in the offense. If he does, indeed, slide into the third round of rookie drafts, that might be a good time to buy into the draft capital and take a chance on Hamler.
Devin Duvernay, Baltimore Ravens
Devin Duvernay was going ahead of Jefferson in pre-draft rookie mocks, so it's not as if he was completely off the map. But outside of Jefferson, Duvernay was the only other receiver who wound up in the first three rounds of the actual draft after going outside the top 40 in rookie mocks, meaning there's a chance he's another undervalued option.
Duvernay was a late-third rounder for the Baltimore Ravens, who did have the fewest pass attempts in all of football last year. That definitely impacts his outlook. But if we assume the Ravens regress a bit on offense and play in more tightly contested games, that number of pass attempts should go up.
This is also a depth chart Duvernay could climb easily. Their slot guy last year was Willie Snead, who is entering his age-28 season and hasn't hit 700 receiving yards since 2016. Duvernay could be a starter in Week 1, assuming the offseason doesn't get too jacked up due to the effects of COVID-19.
The Ravens likely targeted Duvernay as early as they did because he builds on a strength of theirs. They'll beat any team in a track meet. Duvernay ran a 4.39 40 at the combine, a massive deviation from Snead's mark of 4.62 coming out. A three-receiver set of Duvernay, Marquise Brown, and Miles Boykin would set the field ablaze.
With Collin Johnson banged up all year, Duvernay proved he could handle a big workload at Texas with a 26.8% of the targets and 106 total receptions. Duvernay has the potential to contribute right away in one of the league's most efficient passing offenses. That's hard to turn down at what will likely be a minimal cost.
Adam Trautman, New Orleans Saints
For the others on this list, we've been focusing on just the draft slot. Things are a bit different with Adam Trautman, who got the full Ricky Williams treatment from the New Orleans Saints. They wanted this guy badly.
The Saints traded four draft picks -- the only four they had left at the time -- in order to move up to pick 105 and take Trautman. The Saints tend to play hot potato with their draft picks, so trading up isn't a huge surprise, but the amount of capital they gave up to do so should open our eyes with Trautman.
Trautman not only had a 97th-percentile dominator rating at Dayton, according to PlayerProfiler, but he added a 95th-percentile burst score, as well. Clearly, the Saints aren't worried about his advanced age or small-school pedigree.
There are two reasons Trautman's draft stock will likely remain limited despite this. First, Jared Cook is still under contract for one more year, and he balled out when healthy last year. Second, once Cook is gone, Drew Brees may go with him, which is the main appeal of buying into a piece within the New Orleans offense. These combine to mute Trautman's allure both in the short- and long-term.
That's not enough to push us off of him. The Saints' willingness to be so blasé with their picks shows they're going all-in to win while Brees is still around, meaning they're probably not viewing Trautman exclusively as a future-looking prospect. They'll also still (we can assume) have offensive genius Sean Payton directing traffic, and there's always a chance Jameis Winston sticks around post-Brees. We should lower Trautman due to the concerns flagged above, but we also have to be careful not to overreact.
Depending on your league's rules, Trautman's cost will vary. If you're in a tight-end premium league or one that requires you to start multiple at the position (thoughts and prayers if so), you should plan on potentially taking this plunge in the third round. But Trautman was undrafted in the mock by The Fantasy Footballers and went in the fourth on CBS, so if tight ends don't fly off the board in your league, he could easily make the final pick in your draft a valuable one.