A few years ago, The Discovery Channel introduced a groundbreaking new series entitled Planet Earth. If you haven’t yet seen it, it’s an absolute must watch. Traversing the entirety of the globe, Discovery’s intrepid documentarians provided in-depth, eye-opening accounts of literally every pertinent ecosystem in the known planet.
One of my favorite pieces in the series was the episode detailing the ecological communities found in caves. When one thinks of caves, organisms such as bats, glow-worms and the like immediately spring to mind. They’re the Adrian Petersons, Tom Bradys and Calvin Johnsons of the underground, after all! However, of equal significance is the presence of the bottom dwelling worms and insects, which deal with a cave’s, shall we say, “waste problem.” In other words, the cave system is built on the symbiotic relationship between ALL its inhabitants. Every creature has a purpose.
Dynasty teams really aren’t any different. While you obviously won’t get very far without an elite group of core players, every roster spot is valuable. Direct backups should be able to produce robust statistics in the case of prolonged injury to a starter. Players further down the bench should be counted upon as matchup plays and bye-week replacements if the need arises. Finally, the end-of-the-bench players (the worms and insects of your roster, if you will) have their place as well.
These are the types of players who are afterthoughts in most leagues, be it due to youth, recently declining statistics, or poor situations. However, if the stars align, they have enough skill to severely outplay their draft status. If you’re misappropriating these slots at end of your bench with players who lack such an upside, you might just have a “waste problem” of your own – a waste of roster spots.
In that spirit, the following analysis will focus on one player at each key position who is being picked towards the end of a twelve-team, twenty-round draft (based on February’s ADP data), but possesses the potential to climb the ladder of fantasy relevance. Though lightly regarded, these four players are perfect roster “worms.” So with that in mind, put your cave-diving gear on, because we’re going dynasty spelunking!
Dennis Dixon, QB PHI
ADP Over All Positions: 214.5
Positional Rank: QB27
What Makes Him “Worm” Worthy: Though Dixon has yet to record any notable fantasy statistics during his stint in the NFL, hope remains due to the excellence of his college career. Wait, what? As it turns out, Dixon’s current coach in Philadelphia, Chip Kelly, is the same man who oversaw his four years under center at the University of Oregon. Unsurprisingly, within weeks of obtaining the head coaching position with the Eagles, Kelly sought out his former pupil, signing him away from the Ravens’ practice squad.
Under Kelly’s tutelage, Dixon completed 67.7% of his passes with a touchdown/interception ratio of 5:1 during a Heisman-worthy senior season. He ran for an additional 583 yards (5.6 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns, displaying the type of dual-threat repertoire Kelly was known to prefer in the college ranks. With the recent restructuring of fellow quarterback Michael Vick’s contract (and rumors of attempts to trade statuesque signal caller Nick Foles), it’s fair to wonder if Kelly will venture to reproduce the same type of offense in the big leagues.
Though Vick is the presumptive starter, he’s struggled recently to maintain his health, missing thirteen games in the past three seasons. If he were to go down again, it’s possible that Dixon could be called upon to replicate the “Quack Attack” of his college years. As a late seventeenth round pick and QB3, Dixon’s cost-effective upside comes with minimal risk.
Roy Helu Jr., RB WAS
ADP Over All Positions: 234.5
Positional Rank: RB85
What Makes Him “Worm” Worthy: A year ago today, it would’ve been ridiculous to consider Helu an end-of-bench type. After all, he had just concluded the season as the Redskins’ leading rusher while averaging a respectable 4.2 yards per carry. Moreover, he finished third on the team in receptions, catching an absurd 49 out of 59 targets, good for an astounding 83.1% catch rate.
Unfortunately for Helu, he missed the majority of the 2012 preseason with Achilles tendonitis, losing the job to rookie Alfred Morris. While Morris steamrolled the competition to the tune of 1,600 rushing yards, Helu spent the majority of the season on injured reserve. Even with coach Mike Shanahan’s infuriating predisposition towards rotating starting running backs, it’s hard to see Morris losing the job due to “Shanahanigans.”
To me, Helu represents more of a long-term play. He’ll become a free agent in 2015, and will likely seek out a team willing to present him a chance at obtaining a starting job. However, if Morris were to go down, Helu (and Evan Royster) could step in and thrive in quarterback Robert Griffin III’s explosive offense. At the price of a mid-nineteenth round pick, few RB7’s possess Helu’s skill set and potential.
Jeremy Kerley, WR NYJ
ADP Over All Positions: 206.3
Positional Rank: WR83
What Makes Him “Worm” Worthy: Though it’s convenient (as well as humorous) to suggest the 2012 New York Jets’ offense was devoid of any bright spots, it’s also a lazy argument. Even despite the quarterback carousel of mediocrity, second-year receiver Jeremy Kerley enjoyed a breakout season. He led the team in targets (96), receptions (56), receiving yards (827) and yards per reception amongst qualifying players (14.8). Considering the circumstances and circus-like atmosphere surrounding the team, that’s not too shabby.
These statistics led to Kerley finishing as the WR44 in PPR leagues. This was good enough to rank as a low-end WR4, and likely bye-week replacement at worst. Despite this, Kerley’s positional rank according to the February ADP is nearly double that!
For a soon to be third-year player (the supposed “breakout” year for receivers) who was able to produce despite playing on a team that ranked #30 in the league in passing yards, an early seventeenth round ADP is a bargain. The Jets are only stuck with quarterback Mark Sanchez for one more year, and have potentially already upgraded the position by signing journeyman David Garrard. Though fellow receivers Santonio Holmes and Stephen Hill return from injury, I expect Kerley to easily out-produce his current low-end WR6 value.
Lance Kendricks, TE STL
ADP Over All Positions: 213.8
Positional Rank: TE26
What Makes Him “Worm” Worthy: When it comes to fantasy scoring, the tight end position is inarguably more top-heavy than the rest. Once you get past the uber-studs, Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, and the consensus number-three guy, Aaron Hernandez, there’s a ton of variance. Vernon Davis and Jason Witten are talented but aging options and Kyle Rudolph has yet to realize his potential. The next tier contains players like Dennis Pitta, Jermaine Gresham and Jermichael Finley, who are talented but inconsistent. Enter Lance Kendricks.
Though Kendricks only finished as the TE23 in PPR leagues last year, his per-game scoring was a mere 1.5 points per game less than what Finley, who finished as the TE14, produced! He’s being drafted as the #26 tight end in the late seventeenth round, as a high-end TE3. Given the combination of his talent and circumstance, Kendricks could easily squash those expectations.
In 2012, Kendricks finished as the fourth-most targeted player on the Rams, behind receivers Danny Amendola, Chris Givens and Brandon Gibson. Though “move” tight end Jared Cook was signed only a few days ago, both Gibson and Amendola have left for greener pastures in Miami and New England respectively. With the new craze of “two tight end” sets taking the league by storm, Kendricks still stands to benefit, as his blocking prowess should keep him on the field regardless of Cook’s presence. Quarterback Sam Bradford was already starting to look his way more at the end of last season (42% of his targets occurred in the last five games), coinciding with the quarterback’s increased comfort level in coach Jeff Fisher’s offense. With Kendricks’ 65.6% catch rate coupled with Bradford’s improvement, the rising third-year player could post low-end TE2 numbers as soon as 2013.
While the deepest part of a team’s bench is often overlooked, it constitutes an important part of the roster. Carefully combing through the options at the end of the draft in order to find players with appropriate upside is imperative for teams seeking to build quality depth. After all, if you don’t stock up on the right types of “worms,” your cave of a team might turn into a hole from which you’re unable to dig out.
Follow me on Twitter @EDH_27
You can find his (typically strong and hopefully reasonable) opinions on Twitter at@EDH_27.