Five fantasy sleepers from the 2016 NFL Draft

Liz Loza

With the 2016 NFL Draft behind us, it’s time to start examining which rookies might benefit fantasy squads. While the likes of RB Ezekiel Elliot and WR Josh Doctson are being touted as immediate impact prospects, other lesser-known players are poised to emerge. It may take a few injuries or muscling past aging competition in camp, but the five guys below found themselves in some sneaky good situations.

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Deandre Washington, RB, Oakland Raiders
While Washington was very much a workhorse at Texas Tech - averaging 21 total touches per game in 2015 – his running style is less equine in nature and more like that of a pitbull’s. A fearless back with a compact frame, the Texas native flies into action with impressive quicks, snarling past defenders up the middle and around the edge. He’s most impressive in space, displaying excellent balance while changing direction and side stepping tacklers with admirable ease and grit.

The newest addition to Oakland’s cadre of RBs, Washington figures to start behind Latavius Murray. Drawing the third most totes in 2015, Murray touched the ball over 300 times last season and averaged 4.0 YPC. Washington appears to have been added in order to keep the vet fresh.

Likely to contribute solely on third downs at first, Washington could press Murray for touches if the 26-year-old were to wear down. A capable pass-catcher and willing pass blocker, the former Red Raider is in possession of a varied skill set, which could keep him on the field for more snaps than initially anticipated.

Keith Marshall, RB, Washington Redskins
After succumbing to injury and sliding down the depth chart at Georgia, Marshall entered the pre-draft process a forgotten man. At the combine, however, he reminded everyone of his speed and strength, clocking a 4.31 40-yard-dash time and racking up 25 reps at the bench press. Those numbers didn’t go unnoticed by Washington’s front office, as they drafted the former Bulldog in the seventh round.

 With Alfred Morris now in Dallas, Matt Jones is the Redskins’ workhorse. While the team may be exceedingly high on the thick-bottomed back, he had his share of rookie mistakes in 2015. Though smaller and not as physical, Marshall is faster and surprisingly stronger than Jones. Todd Gurley’s former roommate may not match the hard-nosed aesthetic that Scot McCloughan wants to put in place, but if the dreaded one were to falter, Marshall could easily push him for touches.

Malcolm Mitchell, WR, New England Patriots
The Patriots are an organization accustomed to getting a big return on a seemingly small investment. This ultra-value minded approach could work again with Mitchell. A player who was on the rise early in his career (similarly to fellow Bulldog Keith Marshall), his ascent was prematurely derailed by injury. After sitting out 2013, Mitchell worked his way back to health and led the Bulldogs in receiving in 2015, averaging nearly 15 yards per catch.

It’s no secret that New England is in desperate need of an outside receiver. Not surprisingly, that’s just what Mitchell does best. According to Pro Football Focus, 93 percent of the 23-year-old’s 2015 snaps came from the outside. While he’s just 6-feet-tall and 190 pounds, he boasts giant hands (10.25 inches) that reeled in all but three balls in 2015 (57 receptions on 60 catchable balls). He’s also got plenty of burst and straight-line speed (4.45 40-yard-dash) to keep defenders guessing.

Mitchell will have to prove he’s more than a one-year wonder, but with the likes of Keshawn Martin, Nate Washington, and Chris Hogan as his primary competition it’s entirely possible that he’ll get to catch passes from Tom Brady in 2016.

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Rashard Higgins, WR, Cleveland Browns
Considered a second round talent by PFF, the analytics group rated Higgins the best route runner in this year’s class. Averaging an impressive 3.45 yards per route run, the Colorado State product consistently beat defenders and caught over 70 percent of the balls thrown his way. While he doesn’t boast massive size (6-foot-1 and 196 pounds) or dizzying speed (4.64 40-yard-dash), his game boasts plenty of polish – from his natural hands to his advanced technique.

Drafted by the Browns in the fifth round, Higgins was part of the post-Josh Gordon piling on at the position. Incredibly productive while in Ft. Collins, “Hollywood” averaged 18.2 yards per reception and notched 17 TDs in 2014. Ironically, new teammate Corey Coleman posted similar numbers (18.4 YPR and 20 TDs) in 2015. I suspect this young duo will lead Cleveland’s receiving corps.

Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys
It wasn’t Paxton Lynch or Connor Cook, but rather Rayne Dakota “Dak” Prescott that Dallas chose to grow behind Tony Romo. Similar in stature to his would-be predecessor, Prescott offers a quick release and plenty of modern day mobility. He’s still developing as a passer, but impressed scouts with his ability to learn quickly and to lead in the locker room.

Ideally, Prescott would be given two to three years to develop behind the established veteran. However, given Romo’s injury history it’s entirely likely that the rookie sees the field at some point in 2016. The 36-year-old signal caller hasn’t played a full sixteen-week season since 2012. With an upgrade in weapons like (a healthy) Dez Bryant and Ezekiel Elliot, Prescott may be worth a spot-start if Romo were to miss time. Additionally, the Cowboys’ strength of schedule is the second most favorable at the QB position, increasing Prescott’s DFS and streaming potential for the coming year.

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