In our last edition of Flash Forward, I examined the players many consider “locks” to be first round startup draft picks a year from now. This is most important not because of some imaginary honor that comes with being among the top twelve players off the board, but rather due to the understanding and expectation of these players’ future value. Building around a player most expect to lose value in the coming months seems like faulty logic. As a follow up to the original question regarding players certain to be first round startup picks in 2016, I asked this question, again with a high volume of responses…
Have my list of sure thing 2016 1st round startup picks.Now, give me ONE sleeper who has a good chance to be a 1st round startup pick in ’16
— Ryan McDowell (@RyanMc23) June 28, 2015
Just as with the first question centered on “sure things” this question about sleepers was interpreted in different ways, as you’ll see with the wide variety of responses. All of these players can be considered long-shots to be among the top 12 players off the board in 2016, but one thing they all have in common is that they are expected, by at least one respondent, to gain value over the next few months.
Receiving One Vote
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David Johnson, Tevin Coleman, Amari Cooper, Carlos Hyde, Latavius Murray, Devin Funchess, CJ Anderson, Martavis Bryant, Josh Robinson, Kevin White, John Brown, TJ Yeldon, Duke Johnson, Laquon Treadwell, Trent Richardson, Ameer Abdullah, Jarvis Landry, Travis Kelce
The majority of the players mentioned received just one vote and this group represents a wide variety of players. I’ll highlight some that jump out to me.
• I was surprised to see Amari Cooper mentioned only once, but it’s very possible many did not consider him a “sleeper,” considering 35% of respondents to the original question listed him as a lock to be a 2016 first round startup pick. Knowing what we do about the dramatic rise in value of young receivers, if Cooper lives up to the hype, he will almost certainly be a first round pick.
• It’s hard to overlook the amount of young players on this list. Of the 18 players receiving one vote, 13 are either rookies or second year players. Three others – CJ Anderson, Latavius Murray and Travis Kelce, saw their first extensive playing time in 2014 and another, Laquon Treadwell, is still in college. Only one player, Trent Richardson, has extensive NFL experience.
• Speaking of Richardson, the respondent choosing him must be the ultimate optimist. After failing miserably in Indianapolis, Richardson signed with Oakland. Barring a Latavius Murray injury, which is very possible, it’s hard to see Richardson even seeing the field much. Even if he did enjoy a surprise bounce back season, he’s already burned so many owners that I can’t ever see him regaining enough dynasty value to crack the top 12.
• I really liked the idea of Treadwell sneaking into the first round. Many consider Treadwell the favorite to be selected at the top of 2016 rookie drafts and we traditionally see the top rookies come off the board in the second round of startup drafts. With so much young talent rising up the boards, it’s difficult to see a path for a rookie to be selected in the first round, Treadwell should at least match the current ADP of Cooper.
Receiving Two Votes
Jordan Matthews, Melvin Gordon, Josh Gordon, Jeremy Hill, Nelson Agholor, Breshad Perriman, Charles Johnson
• Only seven players were mentioned twice and five of those are rookies or sophomores, which fits the theme of expecting young players to rise in value and become elite dynast assets. Along with those five, receiver Charles Johnson is entering just his second year of meaningful playing time, though he is already 26 years old. That’s far from old, but considering he’s only played in 12 games in his career, the expectations may be too high.
• The name that stands out here is Browns’ receiver Josh Gordon, who is currently suspended and, barring some unforeseen circumstances, will not play during the 2015 season. If Gordon can stay out of trouble, he should be reinstated in time for the 2016 season and his value will certainly rise from its current state. There are a couple of problems here, though. Even in a best case scenario where Gordon does everything right for the next few months, I can’t see dynasty owners trusting him enough to crack the top 12. Unfortunately, it’s the same lack of trust that causes me to doubt Gordon can even stay clean enough to be fully reinstated.
Receiving Three Votes
Davante Adams, DeVante Parker, Todd Gurley, Dorial Green-Beckham
• This group continues the youth movement, but the four players mentioned might have a longer path to elite fantasy tier than might be expected. All are extremely talented, but the ascension of each player could be slowed for various reasons.
• Packers’ receiver Davante Adams has been one of the most widely discussed and debated players of the off-season. Adams’ talent is not really in question, but it’s his opportunity that has many shying away from the second year receiver. His breakout hype cooled once the Packers re-signed Randall Cobb and Adams now looks like the third option, at best. Adams possesses elite upside, especially as part of the Packers’ offense, but it could be a year or more before he reaches that upside, meaning he is a long shot to move into the top 12 as early as 2016.
• There is a similar story in Miami for rookie DeVante Parker, who will battle a bevy of pass catchers for targets and playing time. The Dolphins completely overhauled the position by drafting Parker in the first round, signing tight end Jordan Cameron and Greg Jennings and trading for Kenny Stills. They also bring back second year man Jarvis Landry, who led the team in receptions a year ago. Along with all of the competition, Parker is also dealing with a foot injury that recently required him to undergo another surgery. While it’s safe to assume quarterback Ryan Tannehill will throw the ball more often, will it be enough to make Parker an elite fantasy asset by 2016?
• Like Parker, Rams’ running back Todd Gurley enters the league with high expectations, but injury concerns. Gurley suffered a torn ACL during his final season at Georgia, but all indications are that he will be able to suit up early for the Rams. It is still unclear if that means he’ll be ready for Week One, but the Rams would be wise to ease Gurley into action, considering they also have second year man Tre Mason in the backfield. If Gurley is eased into action, or if he were to suffer any type of setback, it would almost certainly rule out a move into the top 12 and first round of dynasty drafts.
• The final player in this group is perhaps the most surprising, Titans’ receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. I am a huge fan of Green-Beckham’s talent, but nothing else seems to be going his way. He’s famously dealt with off-field issues, which resulted in his dismissal from Missouri and a year away from game action as he transferred to Oklahoma before declaring for the NFL Draft. This off-field trouble is also the most likely reason for DGB falling to the second round where he was chosen by the Titans. This is not an ideal landing spot for the athletic big man. The Titans’ offense and play calling has been conservative and while rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota should be an upgrade, he is an unproven commodity as well. I do expect Green-Beckham to play well and gain value in the coming months, but I can’t see it being enough to move into the top 12.
Receiving Five Votes
• We’re down to our final three players and all were mentioned in the initial article as first round locks in 2016. There is a lot to like about Texans’ wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who was the third highest vote getter. The mention of Hopkins also triggered a Twitter debate about his status as a “sleeper.” After all, while he has yet to crack the top 12 in our monthly ADP, he has occasionally been selected in the first round in some mocks and actual startup drafts. Hopkins excelled in 2014, even with up and down quarterback play. Unfortunately, that part is unlikely to change in 2015, but one thin that has changed is the pecking order in Houston. With Andre Johnson off to Indianapolis, the path to 150 or more targets is clear. While the competition will be stiff with so many young receivers on the rise, I can easily see Hopkins cracking the 2016 first round.
Receiving Six Votes
• A trio of sophomore receivers have been hotly debated since the season ended and that debate is likely to continue. I already mentioned the first of that group, Adams, and the second is found here in Saints’ speedster Brandin Cooks. Like Adams, no one is really debating Cooks’ talent, which was on display in the first half of his rookie season before he suffered an injury, which cut his season short after Week Ten. What some seem to disagree about is whether Cooks has what it takes to become an elite receiver. After all, Cooks does not fit the traditional WR1 mold as a 5’10”, 189 pound slot receiver, but more and more, we’ve seen supremely talented pass catchers break out and become value dynasty assets, including sub six footers Antonio Brown and Randall Cobb. One thing in Cooks’ favor is the sudden role of being the Saints’ top target following the off-season trade of both Kenny Stills and Jimmy Graham. It appears Drew Brees is declining, but he’s not done yet and his passing precision could result in bountiful looks for Cooks.
Receiving Eight Votes
• The third of the fiercely debated young pass catchers is also the top vote getter in this exercise, meaning a huge breakout season and a dramatic rise in dynasty value is expected from Allen Robinson. Like Cooks, Robinson started his rookie season well before succumbing to a season ending injury. Robinson showed flashes and that was enough to earn him a great deal of dynasty value heading into his second season. The Jaguars have built a young offensive core which now includes sophomore Robinson, Marqise Lee and Blake Bortles, rookie back TJ Yeldon and newly signed tight end Julius Thomas. This could be the year the Jags turn things around and Robinson is expected to be the top receiver on the team. While I am a big believer in Robinson’s talent, he seems to have risen in dynasty value faster than deserved, leaving little room for growth. He has to greatly improve on his numbers from his rookie year and stay healthy just live up to his current ADP of 29. With that said, Robinson is a player that many dynasty owners seem to be enamored with and sometimes that is all it takes to gain value.
So, if players like Robinson, Cooks and Hopkins are moving into the first round of 2016 startup dynasty drafts, whose place are they taking? That’s the question I’ll tackle in the final installment of this Flash Forward series.