Every year there are players widely undervalued across the fantasy community. Yet, they are rarely brought up in articles, podcasts, and Twitter threads for different reasons. While everyone was hyping Mecole Hardman, Robby Anderson snuck into the top 15. As people were touting Joe Mixon’s breakout year, Mike Davis was getting ready to run into the top 10.
Whether it be injuries or situational changes, grabbing breakout players can be the difference between winning a championship and sobbing in your bathtub waiting for 2022.
According to ESPN, four of the top eight players on the most championship teams were undrafted in 2020. Myles Gaskin, Jeff Wilson, Logan Thomas, and Justin Herbert were all on 18-percent or more of the championship teams. The percentages were taken from redraft leagues, but Gaskin, Wilson, and Thomas were on the back of benches in dynasty — that is, unless you were part of my Patreon in April.
Players such as Stefon Diggs can be somewhat predictable. Quarterback Josh Allen made a massive jump from his rookie to sophomore year, and was poised to make another jump after spending the offseason with Jordan Palmer. However, the team’s top receiving option, John Brown, was limited in what he offered in terms of versatility and capped out at 1,060 (No. 19 among qualified wide receivers) receiving yards. There were no legitimate receiving options behind him. In addition, they lost their top two pass rushers. The defense was bound to be worse in 2020, which would lead to more passing opportunities. Diggs was a lock.
Instead of focusing on the more apparent breakouts, this piece is focused on deep league prospects and players you can acquire for your third-round rookie pick. For some of these players, finding a path to success might be more difficult, but the return on investment is much more rewarding. Time to dumpster dive and find some players available for pennies on the dollar.
While everyone is discussing Odell Beckham and whether or not he will return to form, Donovan Peoples-Jones is waiting patiently in the wings. A five-star recruit coming out of high school, the second-year receiver has all the physical abilities. However, after landing on a John Harbaugh-led Michigan team, his value dropped as the quarterback play suffered and the lack of volume hindered his output. While at Michigan, they ranked No. 68, No. 94, and No. 98 in passing attempts per game. Yet, he was still able to record a 19.5 (75th-percentile) Breakout Age.
Regardless of Peoples-Jones’ sixth-round draft capital, his 106.7 (86th-percentile) Speed Score and 145.2 (99th-percentile) Burst Score are massive upside indicators. In addition, he couldn’t be in a better position with the Cleveland Browns.
Coaching Sometimes Matters
It’s still up to the player as to whether they develop or not. However, don’t discount coaching, especially when referring to Kevin Stefanski and Chad O’Shea’s wide receivers. Coming from the Vikings, Stefanski has seen success with an organization that constantly develops late-round and undrafted wide receivers. For some reason, they fail with early-round receivers, but they have helped seventh-rounder Charles Johnson and fourth-rounder Jarius Wright sniff periods of success. Meanwhile, undrafted free agent Adam Thielen and fifth-round pick Stefon Diggs have both finished in the top 10.
As for O’Shea, he oversaw the development of Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola before going to Miami for DeVante Parker’s coming-out party (although Parker was a first-round pick). Now O’Shea and Stefanski, together in Cleveland, will have the task of developing Donovan Peoples-Jones before the contracts of Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry become expendable.
Looking forward to 2022, the Browns can cut ties with Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry while saving $30-million. Although they can rework the contracts to make them more affordable, the Browns wouldn’t feel pressured if Donovan Peoples-Jones can step up in a big way. He did just that in 2020.
[Field View] Check out this alternate angle of Donovan Peoples-Jones’ game-winning grab from Browns
The Browns struggled with injuries to their wide receivers in 2020. Both Beckham and Khadarel Hodge missed significant time, so Peoples-Jones had to step in. He produced in a big way when he saw above a 50-percent Snap Share. He had double-digit points in three of the four games while racking up 277 yards and two touchdowns on 11 receptions, catching 78.6-percent of his targets during the span.
Everything previously mentioned is essential to note. However, the most impressive aspect of Donovan Peoples-Jones’ play was his efficiency. He had a 17.2 Average Target Distance with an 87.5-percent True Catch Rate. Only three players had a better TCR with an Average Target Distance over 13.0.
In terms of how his opportunities translated, he finished with a 2.82 Fantasy Points Per Target average, No. 2 among players with at least 20 targets. A big reason as to why was his ability to separate. His athleticism was on display as he also led all 20-target players with a 2.75 Target Separation mark.
Although Donovan Peoples-Jones was hyper-efficient, there is a significant concern, leading to a lack of conversation around him. Currently, he is listed as Cleveland’s fourth receiver. The Browns only ran one four-receiver set in 2020. Even if he does supplant Rashard Higgins, the team runs the fourth-least amount of three-receiver personnel packages. However, the crowded receiver room allows his value to be hidden.
Expect Peoples-Jones to have a couple more big performances in 2021. By the end of the season, people will notice the contract situations discussed above, and he will become one of the most targeted players going into 2022. So while everyone is currently looking at the rookies, make a play for DPJ before he blows up.
Talk about another athletic specimen. Bryan Edwards comes in at 6-3 and 212-pounds. Although he was thought to be a contested-catch specialist, the best thing he did in 2020 was create separation.
Nice play design to get WR Bryan Edwards a 22 yard gain on deep crossing route. Play-action with LG pull. WR Ruggs runs vertical, takes middle field defender (LB), deep 1/2 defender (CB) with him leaving wide open space for Edwards to run into. #Raiders #Raidernation pic.twitter.com/JAU7LVBdAR
— Ryan Holmes (@Rholm22) September 23, 2020
There were only four players with more than Edwards’ 15 targets who bested his 2.43 Target Separation mark. Similar to Donovan Peoples-Jones, his ability to create space led him to a 2.42 Fantasy Points Per Target average, only 0.03 points south of Tyreek Hill.
The third-round pick out of South Carolina proved he could play. His 17.8 (100th-percentile) Breakout Age is the second-earliest in the entire PlayerProfiler database. His 29.1-percent (88th-percentile) College Target Share helped lead to a 48.4-percent (94th-percentile) College Dominator Rating. After four years of consistent success, some teams believed he could be a first-round selection.
After breaking his foot preparing the Combine, Edwards fell to the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft. His string of injuries throughout college raised red flags, and rightfully so. They continued into his rookie season and hindered his production. However, the free fall in the draft to the Raiders might have been the best thing for him.
Negligence in 2020
After starting the first two weeks in 2020 and being third on the team in routes run, Bryan Edwards got hurt. Even when he did play, it seemed they used his area of the field as more of a decoy. It seems a bit odd considering his 91.7-percent True Catch Rate.
Derek Carr clearly didn’t look Edwards’ way. Only 22.8-percent of his pass attempts were to the left side of the field, where Edwards lined up 61.7-percent of the time. Excluding screens, since Edwards only got one to the left, only 19.5-percent of the passes were in the area in which he played.
Following Week 3, Edwards’s Snap Share never eclipsed 40-percent, only surpassing 30-percent once. It was apparent the Raiders wanted to win with two-receiver sets, while tight end Darren Waller being a target hog in the center of the field. They only had three or more receivers on the field on 50-percent of their snaps. However, this system is not head coach John Gruden or offensive coordinator Greg Olson’s M.O.
History Tried, But Not Repeated
From 1998, when John Gruden took over for the Raiders in his first stint, to his temporary retirement with the Buccaneers in 2008, he has had at least one 1,000-yard receiver in each season. As for Greg Olson, his time with the Jaguars saw him lead an offense that allowed Allen Robinson to capture 1,400 yards.
The Raiders want to win on the outside, so they acquired Jordy Nelson in 2018, which didn’t go as they hoped. They then traded for former star Antonio Brown in 2019. Things went sour, so they cut him before the season started. They tried again in 2020 by bringing in deep-threat Tyrell Williams, speedster Nelson Agholor, then drafting Edwards and Henry Ruggs.
Agholor was the bright spot, but the Raiders didn’t see him as the future and allowed him to walk in 2021. Meanwhile, they decided not to give Williams a second try after he spent year one on IR. The only other receiver they added was journeyman John Brown, who is far from an alpha. This year was the first time Gruden and company didn’t make a splash at receiver, which could mean the Raiders feel like Ruggs and Edwards are ready to take the next step.
Bryan Edwards has some good hands and size ? #Raiders pic.twitter.com/aZY3UtrOgu
— Lomeli ??♂️ (@Andres_ElChiva) April 25, 2020
With Derek Carr’s efficiency and Edwards’ playmaking, the duo can produce big numbers. All but six of Edwards’ touchdown receptions in college came as a result of a big play. If Carr fails to deliver big plays in 2021, the Raiders will likely be on the lookout for a rookie quarterback who can. Regardless of what happens in 2021, Edwards should be a hot name in the 2022 trade market.
There’s not a player in the NFL getting dumped more often because of the arrival of a sixth-round pick than Joshua Kelley. The 2020 fourth-round pick went from hero to zero from Weeks 2-4. Over the first two weeks, he posted 35 carries along with two receptions for 173 yards and a touchdown. He finished as the RB25 in both, while only seeing a 23.2-percent Snap Share in Week 1 and a 50.6-percent Snap Share in Week 2. Unfortunately, the fairy tale came to a halt after Week 2.
The following week, Kelley fumbled the ball a centimeter above the ground while his arm was coming down on the opposing player’s knee. Then in Week 4, Ndamukong Suh blew up the center and tackled Kelley less than a second after receiving the handoff. As a result, Kelley only saw above a 50-percent Snap Share and over 12 touches once the rest of the season.
Advanced Stats and Metrics Create the Rise
Joshua Kelley was thought to be the poor man’s version of Melvin Gordon. He has decent size at 5-11 and 212-pounds, and far surpassed what most thought he would do at the Combine. His testing resulted in a 116.8 (68th-percentile) SPARQ-x score, which would have been much higher had he tested with better burst. However, his strength, agility, and speed were on display, as seen at UCLA with 25 total touchdowns and 2,303 rushing yards.
As fantasy analysts realized how great this pairing could be, he started to rush up draft boards. He went from fourth-round rookie draft dart throw to second-round lock in just a few weeks. As the season grew closer, he became harder to obtain. However, just as quickly as he rose, he fell following the 2021 NFL Draft.
Advanced Stats and Metrics Create the Fall
The Chargers selected Larry Rountree in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft and people jumped ship. Suddenly a player who showed he could produce, but had limited opportunities due to a few fluke mistakes, is no longer relevant.
To finish out 2020, Joshua Kelley was a healthy scratch in two out of the last four games. In the two he did play, he only saw 13 snaps, with seven coming on special teams. Although head coach Anthony Lynn loved his spirit and competitive nature, he felt Kelley lacked confidence, which led to mental mistakes.
The benching wasn’t uncalled for; Kelley was one of the league’s most inefficient runners in 2020. His 3.2 yards per carry was dead last for backs with at least 100 attempts. Additionally, his 22 (No. 46) Evaded Tackles and 16.4-percent (No. 47) Juke Rate resulted in only 59 (No. 70) Yards Created; stats most people would avoid in fantasy. However, how much of his failure should be laid on the offensive line and play calling?
Was It All On Kelley?
Joshua Kelley‘s 63.4 (No. 58) Run Block Efficiency rating was brutal. He was stuffed for one yard or less on 36.9-percent of his carries, 15 being in the backfield. Noticeably, 58.5-percent of his stuffed runs came on first down, which showed the playcalling was somewhat predictable.
Joshua Kelley spins from three penetrators surrounding him in backfield and turns certain loss into 9 yards.
— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 14, 2020
Of Kelley’s 297 snaps, 20.9-percent of them were rushing attempts on first down. In comparison, Dalvin Cook‘s first down rushing attempts only counted for 20-percent of his snaps, while Josh Jacobs was at 17.8-percent.
Kelley also ran the ball on 28-percent of his snaps, with 64.9-percent of his attempts going up the middle: When he was on the field, there was a good chance he was getting the ball and they knew where he was going. Not even Derrick Henry attempted a higher percentage of runs between the tackles.
The Chargers invested in the offensive line throughout the 2021 offseason. They drafted tackle Rashawn Slater in the first round while signing starters Corey Linsley, Matt Feiler, and Oday Aboushi. Those four should help tackle Bryan Bulaga solidify the line. With the significant improvement across the line, the other aspect which needed fixing was playcalling.
Head coach Brandon Staley is arriving with offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. Although Lombardi has said he will be more flexible with his offensive system, he is still expected to implement the Saints system into the Chargers offense. This is the same system which has supported two running backs getting a minimum of 150 touches over the past five years. The Saints have had an RB1 each of the past five seasons, including two in 2017. Their second running back has finished as an RB3 or better in four of the last five, while Tim Hightower finished as RB38 in the year they didn’t.
Is Kelley Worth the Risk?
Joshua Kelley isn’t walking into the same situation he was in last year. There’s a better line and a better coaching staff, but the worry is the current regime didn’t draft him. Meanwhile, they got their guy this year. However, if Kelley can show he’s more talented than a sixth-round plodder, it should be his job to take. Keep in mind, Kelley does play special teams and has excellent hands, catching everything thrown his way.
UCLA RB Joshua Kelley
➕31% TD Share
➕78th-percentile Speed Score
➕9.2% Target Share
➕27 receptions in 2018
➖23rd-percentile Burst Score
(1/2) #Dynasty #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/wDBogh0VlC
— Alex Johnson (@a_johnsonFF) April 6, 2020
The likelihood of hitting on a third-round pick is less than 10-percent. Occasionally you can find a player like D.J. Chark or Myles Gaskin, but as more people spend time researching devy and becoming more well informed with 2022 Devy Scouting Previews, the less likely you are to have a player slip to you. Kelley is a perfect week-to-week flex play that can be acquired for a late third. In addition, he has handcuff value since Austin Ekeler wasn’t able to stay healthy in 2020 and has an expendable contract in 2022. Justin Jackson will likely take over the passing-down work, but Kelley would see an increase in touches.
Donovan Peoples-Jones, Bryan Edwards, and Joshua Kelley are all dart throws. However, they all have paths to fantasy relevance. When considering a risk for third-round picks, situations must be taken into account. With those rookies, it’s tough to predict their role because they haven’t seen the field yet.
The paths for these three are evident: Edwards has shown he has a role when healthy, Kelley has shown he can produce when the coaching staff gives him opportunities, and Peoples-Jones just needs to get on the field.
Find a path to success and get on it before the breakout occurs.