Chasing upside: three fantasy players worth reaching for (part 2)

Will Jacksonville Jaguars rookie running back Leonard Fournette clear 1,000 rushing yards in 2017?
Will Jacksonville Jaguars rookie running back Leonard Fournette clear 1,000 rushing yards in 2017?

Scrounging for value is a key component of the fantasy draft process. But sometimes you just need to get your guy, even if it means overpaying. After copious amounts of drafting (mock and otherwise), I’ve compiled a list of six players with intriguing upside and/or high volume potential. The first three were posted last week and the second batch is below. They’re my must-haves… ADP be damned!

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Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars (ADP 24.86, RB10)
The fourth overall pick in April’s draft, Fournette was brought into to be the Jags RB1. A power back with exceptional speed for his size, the LSU product is reportedly growing into a deft pass catcher as well. Given Chris Ivory’s disaster of a season, T.J. Yeldon’s lack of efficiency, and the team’s desire to keep the ball out of Blake Bortles’ hands, Fournette figures to feast in his freshman campaign.

Considering that Yeldon averaged nearly 15 carries per contest during the weeks in which Ivory was unavailable, it’s reasonable to expect the rookie to rack up 15 – 18 totes per game. At that baseline and provided the 6-foot and 240 pound bruiser manages at least 4.0 YPC, a 1,000+ yard rushing season is well within in reach… meaning that’s Fournette’s floor. Throw in 2 catches per game (Ivory averaged 1.8 receptions per outing in 2016) and the former Tiger is in top-ten territory.

I know some frugal fantasy fans might take issue with Fournette’s lack of pro experience. To those doubters, I submit the awesomeness that Ezekiel Elliot and Jordan Howard displayed in their first-year campaigns. Additionally, Fournette’s pedigree works in his favor as the large majority of rookies who have produced 900+ yard outings were first-round selections.

Finally, look who’s being drafted around him! Would you rather settle for DeMarco Murray who’s already dealing with a tweaked hammy and has Derrick Henry nipping at his heels… OR a fresh-legged stud with zero surrounding competition? Maybe Todd Gurley who managed just 3.4 YPC against light fronts last year… OR the younger back whose inferior teammate (Yeldon) managed 4.1 YPC against fewer than seven in the box?

The answer is clear. Reach for the rookie… and win!
FF:271 attempts for 1,165 rushing yards and 9 TDs + 29 catches for 276 passing yards and 1 TD

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Robert Turbin, RB, Indianapolis Colts (ADP 233.52, RB74)
I understand that the words “Robert Turbin” and “upside” don’t exactly go together, but the former Seahawk’s situation is ripe with fantasy potential. The clear-cut back-up to a 34-year-old Frank Gore, Turbin crossed the goal line 8 times last year. Seven of those scores came via the ground… on just 47 attempts.

For reference, Isaiah Crowell (who’s currently being drafted in the fourth round of 12-team exercises) managed the same number of TDs on 150 more rushes. The comparison isn’t totally fair as The Crow racked up nearly 800 more yards, but it does point to Turbin’s usage near the goal line. Handed the ball in the red area of the field 19 times, over one third of Turbin’s carries came at the goal line. That’s yuge.

Even more noteworthy, Turbin’s red zone opportunities increased by more than 30 percent from 2015 to 2016. Conversely, Frank Gore saw a dramatic dip in his red zone rushes, down from 36 two seasons ago to 30 last year. Talk about an inconvenient truth. That’s a 5-foot-10 and 222 pound sized indication of Gore’s wearing down and/or the Colts’ reluctance to use him in scoring situations.

Want more proof? As the season wore on – and Gore’s legs lost steam – Turbin’s role grew. After the team’s Week 10 bye, he averaged nearly two red zone rushes per game and was a top-twenty RB over the last five weeks of the season. Naysayers will point to the presence of Marlon Mack, but a rookie with fumblitis and limited pass protecting experience doesn’t detract from Turbin’s dominance. Going largely undrafted in twelve-team exercises, I’m grabbing the Colts’ RB2 everywhere I can.

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Hunter Henry, TE, Los Angeles Chargers (ADP 79.67, TE8)
If there existed a list of fantasy football rules, not drafting a rookie tight end would be at the top. Why? Because they never pan out. In fact, Ryan McDowell did the math and only one rookie TE has finished the season as a starter since 2010 (it was Rob Gronkowski, natch). So, the fact that Hunter Henry closed out last year as fantasy’s TE15 (36-478-8) suggests he’s a special player.

Selected in the second round of the 2016 draft, it was assumed Henry would eventually inherit Antonio Gates’ role as the team’s No. 1 TE. However, I don’t think anyone anticipated the passing of the torch to begin as early as Week 3. Less than a month into the season, with Gates sidelined, Henry flashed, catching all five of his targets for 72 yards. From that point forward (with the exception of Week 16) not a single week passed without Philip Rivers targeting his rookie tight end at least one time in the red area of the field.

As fall transitioned into winter, Henry’s opportunities continued to grow. In fact after the team’s Week 11 bye, over the last six games of the season, Henry amassed six red zone targets and 4 TDs. On the other hand, Gates – who was being purposely fed in an attempt to break the all-time touchdown record for tight ends – managed five red zone opportunities and only 2 spikes. Just one score away from breaking the record, Gates figures to see some action near the goal line in 2017, but at 37-years-old he’s no longer the team’s featured TE.

Reportedly running routes (like a WR) and wowing in camp, Henry is on the precipice of a sophomore surge. With Mike Williams expected to miss significant time, Henry’s volume figures to get a boost. Working on an offense that has showered their TE1 with a minimum of 80 targets every year since 2011 the Arkansas product has top-five potential.

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