With the 2016 NFL Draft in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to start breaking down the fantasy possibilities from the incoming class of prospects. The Huddle has already covered the big names, most of them drawn from the first two days of the draft.
However, fantasy contributors like Stefon Diggs, Karlos Williams and Jeremy Langford arrived last season after the bright lights had been turned off and picks were announced by mascots, season ticket holders and contest winners instead of Roger Goodell. With that in mind, here’s a rundown of the upside guys from Day Three of the draft.
1. WR Pharoh Cooper (South Carolina, 5-11, 203) Los Angeles Rams pick 4.19
Cooper might give the Rams what they had hoped to get out of Tavon Austin. While he lacks Austin’s elite speed, his hands and football IQ will endear him to Jared Goff. The upside is a Randal Cobb-type of contributor, albeit in an offense that will throw substantially less than… well, most of the rest of the league.
2. WR Mike Thomas (Southern Miss, 6-1, 200) Los Angeles Rams pick 6.31
With size/speed guys like Kenny Britt and Brian Quick not delivering the desired punch, the Rams used the later rounds of the 2016 draft to add guys who run smart routes and catch the football. Thomas is a “DraftTwitter” favorite with enough size to compete in the NFL—and more than enough passion and effort to wring every bit of possible production out of his skill set. Don’t be surprised if there’s a mutiny on the Rams’ receiver depth chart, led by Thomas and Cooper.
3. RB Paul Perkins (UCLA, 5-10, 208) New York Giants pick 5.10
While the running back depth chart is crowded in New York, there’s hardly a clear-cut favorite. Perkins has the skill set, though maybe not the power, to be a three-down back in the mold of beloved Giant Tiki Barber. At worst expect him to push and perhaps supplant Shane Vereen as the pass-catching back in an offense that creates fantasy values for that role. His dynasty upside is as a poor man’s Jamaal Charles, which certainly warrants a stash until the Big Blue backfield situation shakes itself out.
4. TE Jerell Adams (South Carolina, 6-5, 247) New York Giants pick 6.9
The Giants have received productive, if inconsistent, tight end play from Larry Donnell and Will Tye—himself an undrafted rookie free agent last year—and Adams gives them another pass-catcher in the same vein. If Tye can make an impact as an undrafted rookie, certainly Adams can push for playing time (and fantasy value) in New York as a late-round selection.
5. WR Malcolm Mitchell (Georgia, 6-0, 198) New England Patriots pick 4.14
Injuries and Georgia’s penchant for the ground game kept Mitchell on the back burner, but he drew plenty of attention during the draft process for his 4.4 speed and the plays he flashed when he did make it to the field. He walks into a situation begging for a downfield threat, and he’ll benefit from elite quarterback play and the fact that defenses will be far more focused on Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman. His ceiling as no better than the third-best receiver on his team limits his fantasy value, but the Patriots’ offense certainly provides enough bang for multiple fantasy helpers.
6. WR Rashard Higgins (Colorado State, 6-1, 196) Cleveland Browns pick 5.35
Even with adding Corey Coleman in the first round the Browns’ receiver depth chart is barren. Higgins—and fourth-rounder Ricardo Louis from Auburn—give Cleveland some bigger targets on the outside and should immediately threaten the likes of Brian Hartline and Andrew Hawkins for significant playing time. Higgins in particular brings college productivity—including experience in a pro-style offense, under the tutelage of former NFL receiver Alvis Whitted—and unbridled confidence to an offense begging for excitement. While Coleman draws the attention, Higgins may carve out his own niche in Cleveland.
7. RB Jordan Howard (Indiana, 6-0, 230) Chicago Bears pick 5.11
What would a John Fox team do with a power back who draws comparisons to Stephen Davis and LeGarrette Blount? It’s not difficult to envision Howard taking the bulk of the between-the-tackles and goal-line carries for the Bears, leaving last year’s late-round find Jeremy Langford with third-down and change-of-pace duties. With Matt Forte no longer in Chicago, the immediate fantasy upside is Howard taking a Jeremy Hill role to Langford’s Giovani Bernard in a Bears’ backfield committee.
8. WR Tajae Sharpe (Massachusetts, 6-2, 194) Tennessee Titans pick 5.1
Sharpe brings outstanding hands and crisp route-running to Tennessee, where the Titans are still constructing a receiving corps worthy of Marcus Mariota. The hope is that Dorial Green-Beckham emerges as the big target, and Kendall Wright is solid underneath, but amongst Rishard Matthews, Harry Douglas and Justin Hunter it isn’t difficult to see Sharpe contending for catches right away.
9. RB Keith Marshall (Georgia, 5-11, 219) Washington Redskins pick 7.21
At one point Marshall was considered the Bulldogs’ top recruit in a class that also included Todd Gurley, but after an impressive freshman campaign a torn ACL cost him chunks of the next two seasons. He flashed last year after replacing the injured Nick Chubb, and a 4.31 40 at the Scouting Combine put him back on the radar. Even if he can’t become the feature back in Washington, where Matt Jones is far from secure atop the depth chart, he could easily push Chris Thompson for the productive pass-catching role in Jay Gruden’s offense.
10. QB Dak Prescott (Mississippi State, 6-2, 226) Dallas Cowboys pick 4.37
Prescott’s most notable trait is the steady improvement he demonstrated through his college journey, culminating with 3,793 passing yards and 29 passing scores (against five interceptions) in his final SEC campaign. He brings all the physical tools to the table and has the desired intangibles. If Tony Romo can stay healthy long enough for Prescott to hone his skills for a couple seasons, the transition at quarterback may be surprisingly smooth in Dallas—not to mention lucrative for dynasty owners able to stash Prescott for a while.
11. WR Moritz Boehringer (Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns, 6-4, 227) Minnesota Vikings pick 6.5
The feel-good story of the 2016 NFL Draft, as the German kid who discovered football on YouTube ends up as a teammate of Adrian Peterson, the player who first captured his attention. You can’t coach Boehringer’s jaw-dropping size/speed (4.43)/athleticism combination, but there’s a long way to go before he’s anywhere close to NFL-ready. That said, with the Vikings choosing not to pick up the fifth-year option on Cordarrelle Patterson—another size-speed guy with questionable receiver chops—perhaps the timetable will be expedited. Boehringer’s measurables are frequently compared to Green Bay’s Jeff Janis, a dynasty darling, so if you miss out on the original and want to stash the European clone here’s your opportunity.
12. QB Cardale Jones (Ohio State, 6-5, 253) Buffalo Bills pick 4.41
Mentioned as a potential first-rounder had he come out last year after a three-game run to a national title, Jones lost his starting gig at Ohio State last year and slipped into the fourth round. He should have at least a year to refine his skills behind Tyrod Taylor in Buffalo, but the Bills are far from committed to their current starting quarterback. If he’s able to use his time wisely to augment his rocket arm with the nuances of being an NFL QB, he could supplant Taylor sooner rather than later and pay dynasty dividends down the road.
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