Third Round Magic

Many rookie drafts are underway and this year the talent gap between the tiers is as thin as I’ve ever seen, at least in recent memory.  Of course, there’s no assurance that just because there’s little glitter, there isn’t gold to be found.

To wit, outside of the clear 1.01 selection of Ezekiel Elliott, which is sure to be the overwhelming odds-on selection, the second tier consists of exactly two players:  Laquon Treadwell and Josh Doctson.  Some may be so bold as to include Corey Coleman into this second tier,  but you won’t find this author making such a leap.  Coleman, for all his talent, is my lone inclusion for the third tier.

Before going much further, you may wish to review my top 50 rookie rankings from which this article is based.

Let’s take a quick look at the top tiers as I see it:

Tier One

Ezekiel Elliott, RB DAL

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Tier Two

Laquon Treadwell, WR MIN
Josh Doctson, WR WAS

Tier Three

Corey Coleman, WR CLE

Tier Four

Sterling Shepard, WR NYG
Tyler Boyd, WR CIN
Derrick Henry, RB TEN
Kenneth Dixon, RB BAL

Please feel free to throw stones at my tiers, players within those tiers or my rooking rankings in general.  I’ve now completed my next round of film review and am quite confident in my rankings as they stand but I always look for opportunities to see something I have missed before.  With so much tape review in the off-season, it’s all too easy to watch tape without really seeing, something I very much try to avoid.  I will continue to watch more tape on those more obscure rookies as I try to uncover even more late round targets, but my top 30 are pretty well set.

It’s not often that I will reach the fourth tier of rookies so early in the first round and at the conclusion have only eight players in total, with tier five beginning at the 1.09.  What’s more is that my fifth tier contains the next twelve rookies, through selection 20.  Unbelievable and a first for me.

The talent available in this draft is as poor as I can recall – it’s really that simple regardless of how you wish to slice it, at least in my opinion.  This was said to be a generational defensive draft and it certainly seems like (at least if the NFL Draft was any indication) this is the case.  I’ve heard arguments that because of the depth of defensive players, offensive talent fell.  While this could be somewhat true, I largely reject this argument.  Talent is talent and team need is team need.  Should offensive skill position talent been more prevalent, the names would have been off the board much sooner.  There’s little way to get excited about running backs and receivers coming off the board in droves after round four.  I applaud your optimism should you think otherwise.

That all said …

I’ve always done some of my best draft work in the third round of fantasy drafts.  It’s become a calling card of sorts and not only is it a mechanism to keep me engaged when the marquee names come off the board, but the success I’ve found has fueled greater effort to continue digging year-over-year.  You cannot allow yourself to ‘shut it down’ just because the names get less intriguing. I challenge you to re-engage, get back to work and find success in these later rounds as I have.  Or, if you like, let me do the work for you and throw caution to the wind when you find yourself on the clock late in your draft.

As I pointed out above, five tiers make up the first 20 players on my rookie board and, to me, those tiers are as clear as they’ve ever been.  I could break that fifth tier into a fifth and sixth tier but I honestly see a substantially similar level of talent and opportunity for these 12 players.  If pressed on the matter, I could argue that 5-20 hold substantially similar value, enough to rank into a single tier.

For the purposes of this article, I will be focusing on those players from selections outside my top 20 rankings, those who should represent potential third round selections or below.  Rookies fall in fantasy drafts for many reasons.  I believe the secret sauce in my third round magic comes from the fact that as the glitter fades from lower-ranked players, fantasy coaches tend to overweigh drafted situation over that of talent.  This is key for you to capitalize on when you see it.

Obviously, it goes without saying that if a player in the top 20 slips into your third round, the choice is easy.  But let’s say that you’ve reached your third round and you’re now staring at a screen of fantasy mediocrity, at least from what we know before we see them on the field.  What to do?  Who to draft?  Let me see if I can help.

The first thing to know about my streak of “Third Round Magic” is that it most usually comes from the wide receiver position.  This, at least in the past, has been due to the over-weighting of running backs in fantasy and by the time the third round is reached, the names are off the board.  However, in 2015, both Matt Jones and Jeremy Langford were routinely third round selections.  Tight ends, being that they often have a longer breaking-in period in the NFL, tend to slip as well.  Austin Seferian-Jenkins (2014) and Travis Kelce (2013) were third round selections in most drafts.   In 2015, I was able to land Devin Funchess early in the third round and in 2012, I was able to snag both Rueben Randle and Marvin Jones.

Looking at the 2016 rookie draft, I’m not as confident in the upside later in the third round as I am earlier should players from the top 20 slip or as those that are ranked just outside the 20 remain unselected.  Furthermore, third round magic in the form of receivers doesn’t seem to be in the cards based on how I scout and review.  Can I be bold to offer that some of the players I’m eyeing should fall to the fourth round and there’s never a reason over-draft a player unless you have extreme scarcity and need at a position?

These are the names who hold the highest level of intrigue for me in this round.  Note that these are players whose ceiling, I believe, gives them a greater risk-reward ratio to the upside.  There may be safer players to select but safety doesn’t mean “high ceiling.”  The floor for these players is rock-bottom as well but this is where you hope for a little magic. Sure, you can bust easily in this round, but these are the players I feel the best about at the moment.

Keith Marshall, RB WAS

The ceiling for this kid is out of sight and the floor is hard, cold and hewn from granite – chances are Marshall realizes one of these extremes.  He blazed a 40 in the 4.3s, has great size and now is fully healthy from a dual tendon tear years ago.  Scouts have correctly noted he isn’t the same runner from before the injury and I won’t argue that.  He appears to be more downhill-minded and willing to absorb hits.  Make no mistake, while his acceleration appears more fluid and measured, his top speed, once reached, can make defenses pay.  Combine this with the fact that only Matt Jones truly stands in his way for bigger-back duty and Marshall could see the field early in his career.  Georgia can churn out runners and with only 255 carries in his collegiate career, I love his upside.

As a matter of note, a fellow coach beat me to the punch and selected him with the last pick in the second round (nice job Scott), stunning many of us in one of my leagues.  I thought I could get Marshall much later in the third round, maybe even the fourth.  A quick glance at the DLF rookie rankings shows more than a couple are relatively high on the enigmatic runner.

Alex Collins, RB SEA

Yes, I’ve read all the criticisms and the fantasy community is parroting all the same rhetoric.  Slow, pedestrian, lacking dynamic, low SPARQ have all been affixed to Collins.  I don’t care and I challenge anyone making these claims to watch the same tape I have of Collins and stick by the analysis.  However, he was drafted late and perhaps it is I who needs to go to the light.

He’s shiftier, tougher and has better vision than he’s being given credit for.  In short, I’ve watched the tape and I like what I see.  He’s got desirable size and runs a lot like Marshawn Lynch did when he was at Cal.  I’ve been making the Lynch comparison for a some time now and it fits.  He’s not a fluid runner, nor is he as fast as Lynch but he’s in the ballpark.  His feet, combined with his natural vision produces yardage when there seemingly in none and he’s got the power to add yardage at the end of each run into final contact.  He was ultra-productive in his three years at Arkansas with increasing productivity in most major areas, especially in carries, yardage and touchdowns in the tough SEC.  Talk about an engaging personality who is easy to root for – he’s tough not to like.

If you’re looking for an upside running back in a situation that may take a bit of time to sort itself out, Collins is my second back off the board in this round.

Rashard Higgins, WR CLE

Truth be told, Higgins has been my third round target from even before the NFL draft.  I knew he wouldn’t be highly selected and would fall in rookie drafts.  He simply didn’t test well but he’s got the height (6’1″) with nearly 10″ hands.  His 40 time was a unremarkable 4.60 and his vertical only 32″ and he needs to add weight.  Before knocking him for lack of speed, remember DeAndre Hopkins ran in the high 4.5s and the Larry Fitzgerald in the lower 4.6s.  The most notable weakness was his measured 32″ vertical but he plays bigger than this.  He’s a natural snatch-and-grab receiver of the best sort and he’s crafty in his routes.  Best of all, he has that “it” factor, that set of intangibles that immediately transcends a players drafted position when you watch him on tape.

He’s got personality to burn (bordering on cocky) but backs it up on the field.  I’ll be drafting him all day in the third round, at least until my competition reads this.

Fourth Round Targets

The depth of this class doesn’t project all that well for high upside “magic” candidates and my intention is not to force picks into this round but, instead, to highlight those to target from my point of view.  As such, let me offer a couple of names for the fourth round as some of these names are certain to fall.

Dak Prescott, QB DAL

Dak, as a fourth round selection, is a great upside play if you like athletic high-ceiling-albeit-raw selections.  I will admit I was also high on Logan Thomas and drafted him in the fourth round in 2014.  Thomas reminds me a lot of Prescott but with a higher ceiling and, dare I say, a better situation.  His drafted situation in Dallas will raise his value as he could be pressed into service, but he’ll be best in two years time if allowed to mature and work on mechanics.  He’s sloppy and a bit jerky in his delivery, locks onto his targets and his mechanics need a lot of work but there’s no questioning his athleticism and his ability to stand in the pocket.  It’s always good to sleep on a quarterback who you don’t have to overpay for and Prescott is my choice for the late third round.

Keyarris Garrett, WR CAR

Garrett went undrafted but quickly signed in Carolina, who does tend to prefer large receivers.  If you didn’t see my rookie profile posted in March, you can find it here.

Rather than bore you with redundant information, check out the profile listed before as the information is still valid.  I was shocked to see Garrett go undrafted but his situation is a good one. He likely fell due to his size to speed dynamic within his routes.  He does tend to roll into and out of his breaks and his stems need work.  But the bottom line is he has the size and playmaking ability to get an opportunity.

Dwayne Washington, RB DET

At 6’0″ and 223 lbs., the comparison to David Johnson is a relatively accurate one.  He doesn’t have the polish or the natural hands of Johnson but is close enough for a team to take a flier.  His Detroit situation couldn’t be much better and outside of Ameer Abdullah, there’s plenty of opportunity for Washington to see the field and make an impression.  Much like Johnson, he doesn’t have a lot of wiggle or lateral agility in his game, but he brings size and second-level speed that can make defenses pay. He’s a good stash for two years if you have space at the bottom of your roster. He was beaten out by a Freshman at Washington, but don’t let that fool you into thinking he doesn’t have talent.

Hope you enjoyed this quick look at some of my later round targets.  Who are yours?

Follow me on Twitter:  @DLF_Jeff


jeff haverlack