It happens every year.
A late round selection in the NFL Draft comes out of absolutely nowhere and emerges themselves into fantasy relevance. Once this begins, fantasy owners rush to the waiver wire in hopes of acquiring the promising rookie. In seasons’ past, we’ve seen guys like Marques Colston (7th round) and Alfred Morris (6th round) break out into fantasy stardom in their inaugural campaign. So, this makes me wonder. Are there any overlooked rookies in this year’s draft class that warrant more fantasy attention as we approach the 2013 season?
The answer to that riddle is yes.
Robert Woods, Buffalo Bills: This may be the Bills fan in me coming out, but I believe that Woods is one of the more underrated players in this draft class. He is an excellent route-runner, possesses very strong hands, has decent size to match quickness, and lastly, he’ll have plenty of opportunity in Buffalo. The Bills are planning on using number one wideout Stevie Johnson out of the slot very often, which should allow Woods to insert into that flanker position and become the team’s number two option in the passing game as a rookie. Woods is a very polished player and holds a ton of big time long term fantasy value, while he does have a shot at hitting the scene in 2013 as well. Of course, the uncertainty at the quarterback position won’t help Woods produce this season. While Woods is showing all the signs of being NFL ready, I’m still not sure about fellow rookie EJ Manuel, assuming he even is under center for Week 1. He is very raw and has a ton to work on, but if he can play like Buffalo believes he will after reaching for him 16th overall, Woods should reap the benefits. Rumblings out of Buffalo indicate that Woods has looked very sharp in camp thus far and not many rookie wide receivers will be plugged into the starting lineup immediately.
Aaron Dobson, New England Patriots: Now, I’m not nearly as high on others on Dobson, but there is no doubt that he is flying under the radar from a fantasy perspective. With the crumbling weapons around him, Dobson suddenly may be called to step in as a rookie and contribute to the Patriots offense right off the bat. Now, is there any reason to believe that a rookie will come in and produce in a complex New England offense? History tells us not to count on it, as the Patriots haven’t really developed first-year wideouts into big time players. Also, keep in mind that even crafty veterans such as Chad Johnson and Brandon Lloyd have struggled in this offense. However, Dobson is a big, athletic guy with strong hands and the ability to make circus catches. His size also makes him a candidate to produce some yards after the catch. And oh yeah, Tom Brady is throwing him the football, so he’s got that going for him. As long as he exits camp with a spot in that offense, Dobson could be a serious sleeper in 2013, but there’s definitely some risk here.
Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams: I’ve talked about Stacy before, but feel like he is being slept on. With Isaiah Pead suspended for the first game of the season, Stacy will have the first crack at the Ram’s starting job. And if he does impress and run away with this job, it may be difficult for Pead to reclaim it, considering he was in the doghouse at times last year. I’ve watched a lot of film on Stacy, and honestly, I think he is just as talented as some of the more popular backs in this draft class. Sure, he doesn’t have the home run ability or breakaway speed as some of these other backs in the league, but in my eyes, he may already be the most complete runner on the Rams roster (not saying much). But still, that should signify a starting job for the rookie. Stacy is a strong, patient and disciplined runner between the tackles, runs with power and is a much better pass-catcher than his stats indicate. Also, Stacy operated out of the Wildcat a ton in college, which could be something he’ll do if the Rams are serious in their attempts to implement a high-powered offense. He has the experience as well, posting Vanderbilt’s all-time leading rushing yards with 3,143. Will he be the next Alfred Morris? Maybe, maybe not. But I’m excited to see what this rookie can do when given the opportunity.
Joseph Randle, Dallas Cowboys: Randle doesn’t have the clearest path to playing time, but there is a very strong chance that he will at some point. Starter DeMarco Murray hasn’t exactly been sipping out of the fountain of health lately, missing nine games through his first two pro seasons. If Murray goes down again in 2013, Randle will step in and become the lead back in Dallas, a team that says they want to run the ball more. If Randle can impress during his time on the field, perhaps the team continues to play the hot hand when Murray comes back from injury. Now, of course, you can’t predict injuries in the NFL, and Murray did state that he vows on suiting up for all 16 games this season. However, Murray has a track record of missing action. At Oklahoma, he dealt with knee and hamstring issues, one of which kept him from the BCS championship. And oh, by the way, Murray is already experiencing some hamstring tightness in camp, for what it’s worth. If you are planning on drafting Murray in your fantasy leagues, there is no doubt that you must handcuff him with Randle. And if you’re not, then Randle is still a strong late round flier because I don’t think anyone is convinced that Murray will play all 16 games this year.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.