2017 welcomes another crop of high-risk rookies to join the fantasy stars that dominant fantasy drafts. Somewhere between those first-year gambles and the proven veterans are the players that are on the rise. Their careers are growing and they offer fantasy value that outperforms their draft slot. That happens because they produce much better than they did in 2016.
Having a roster full of solid, proven players is important. But the difference between an average fantasy team and a championship is grabbing undervalued players. Whether as starters or depth, these upside players can become your difference makers.
Jameis Winston – After two seasons with over 4,000 passing yards, Winston is poised to step into the ranks of the elite quarterbacks. He comes off a 2016 season with 28 passing touchdowns and gets upgrades at receiver with DeSean Jackson and the rookie Chris Godwin. O.J. Howard also figures in as the first tight end drafted this year. He’ll also enjoy one of the lighter schedule strengths.
Marcus Mariota – Another former first-rounder will take the next step. Mariota saw an increase from 19 to 26 passing scores last year and his passing yardage (3,426) is on the upswing. He plays an easier schedule while being protected by one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. The Titans ranked seventh in quarterback sacks and second in quarterback hits allowed. The wideouts were made over with the rookies Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor. Free agent Eric Decker was added to the mix that already included Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker. The run-based offense is about to start throwing more.
Carson Wentz – An encouraging rookie season with 3,932 passing yards and 18 touchdowns contained four games with more than 300 yards. Wentz was already notably crisper and accurate during minicamps and should not be in any danger of a sophomore slump. The Eagles already have one of the better offensive lines. Zach Ertz and Jordan Mathews were the top receivers from last year and are joined by Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith for a rock solid quartet of targets. Wentz learned the ropes in 2016 and is more comfortable in offensive coordinator Frank Reich’s scheme.
Isaiah Crowell – Three years in Cleveland and Crowell finally knocked at the door of a 1,000 yard season. He finished 2016 with 952 yards on 198 carries and added 40 catches for 319 more yards. The quarterback situation is unsettled but the offensive line is one of the best. Crowell averaged 4.8 yards-per-carry last year and will see a heavier load this year.
Ty Montgomery – When the Packers ran out of healthy running backs last year, Montgomery shifted from wideout to help out. He scored five touchdowns over the final seven games and even broke 100 rushing yards in Chicago during week 15. The Packers waited until the latter half of the draft before scooping up three rookie backs. That leaves Montgomery entrenched as the starter on one of the top offenses. He also totaled 54 receptions over the 14 games that he played.
Paul Perkins – Rashad Jennings left and the second-year Perkins takes over as the primary back. The Giants have long preferred a committee backfield but Perkins really stepped up his play over the last four games of the regular season. He averaged 15 carries and 4.4 yards-per-carry to end the year. If Perkins shows he can add more as a receiver than the one or two catches per game of 2016, he’ll rack up even more fantasy points.
Ameer Abdullah – His promising second year was cut short with a torn ligament in his foot but he’s back as the primary back. The Lions did not add any challengers. Theo Riddick remains as the third down back but Abdullah will shoulder most of the rushing load. He already averaged 5.6 yards per carry in limited play last year before the injury. Health willing, Abdullah is in line for a big increase in workload.
Derrick Henry – This bruiser took it easier as a rookie after rushing the ball 395 times for 2,219 yards during his National Championship with Alabama. Firmly behind DeMarco Murray, Henry was limited to 110 carries that gained 490 yards and five scores. Henry is fresher for 2017 and ready to take a larger share of the 400+ carries the Titans produce each year. He can help keep Murray healthy and replace him should his injury history continue.
End of the Line
Hunter Henry – The Chargers second-round pick in 2016 only caught 38 passes for 478 yards but scored eight touchdowns. Antonio Gates is there just to notch one touchdown to make him the highest scoring tight end in NFL history (112 touchdowns). Otherwise, Henry already tied for the most scores by a tight end last year. And he assumes the primary role for a team that completed 91 passes for 1,051 yards and 15 touchdowns using the position.
Jack Doyle – After four seasons with the Colts, Doyle faces an increased workload thanks to the departure of Dwayne Allen. He already caught 59 passes for 584 yards and five scores last year. The Colts totaled 109 completions for 1,287 yards and 12 scores to the position in 2016. Erik Swoope also gets a bump on the depth chart but totaled only 15 catches during his two years. Doyle is in line to offer fantasy-relevant points every week.
Austin Hooper – The Falcons made Hooper the second tight end drafted in 2016, behind only Hunter Henry. Though he only caught 19 passes for 271 yards, Hooper scored three times and even caught the first touchdown scored by a rookie tight end in the Super Bowl. A sprained knee slowed him at the end of the regular season but he’s poised for the normal second-year breakout for tight ends. Hooper is built to be a receiver and he’ll expand his impact in the new offense this year.
Jamison Crowder – The Redskins are following the lead of many teams by making greater use of the slot receiver. Crowder ended with 67 receptions for 847 yards and seven scores in his second season. He’s impressed the coaches throughout the offseason and will be used even when the Skins are in two-receiver sets. With both Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson gone, Crowder is the lone remaining wideout that already has chemistry with quarterback Kirk Cousins.
DeVante Parker – The first-round pick from 2015 appears ready to turn in a third-year breakout. After building to 56 catches for 744 yards and three scores last season, Parker is sparking much optimism during the offseason. His consistency and focus have heightened expectations for 2017. The offense should improve as it enters the second year under head coach Adam Gase.
Marqise Lee – The Jaguars offense stumbled last year but not Lee who turned in 63 catches for 851 yards and three scores. He became better as the season progressed and ended with two 100-yard efforts. He passed Alan Hurns as the No. 2 receiver and looks forward to a far easier schedule for 2017. This offense produced two 1,000 yard receivers in 2015 and aims to bounce back with a rushing attack that should finally command respect.
John Brown – It is easy to forget that Brown caught 65 passes for 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns in 2015 during his second-year breakout. He was hampered by his sickle cell issues last year but the Cardinals are confident that they have solved his problem. Michael Floyd is gone and Larry Fitzgerald turns 34 in potentially his final season. Brown’s role in the offense increases this year and he’ll return to 2015 levels – and likely more.