“Amateur Ward” Rookies: Overvalued and Undervalued?

Over the next two weeks, we will explore which rookies are being over and undervalued come Draft day. Yes, there are the sexy names like Jameis Winston, Todd Gurley, and Melvin Gordon who every fantasy owner wants. You also have lesser known names like Duke Johnson, Devin Funchess, and David Johnson who also deserve consideration on Draft Day. This week, I will cover offense, and next week will be defense.

Melvin Gordon (RB-SD) (ADP 35-37)- In a 12-team league, this is too high for the rookie because you are arguably saying he is going to be one of your two main men at running back come Week 1. If you are selecting him around this range, you will be expecting production comparable to a running back of Alfred Morris, Carlos Hyde, or a receiver like DeAndre Hopkins or Brandin Cooks. True, the sky is the limit for him as it is for a few other rookies, but there are some warning signs that you should pay attention to:

  • 549 carries his last two seasons at Wisconsin, including a jump from 206 to 343 between 2013 and 2014. That is a ton of tread on those tires, regardless of what level you play. He is currently dealing with a minor ankle injury, but is expected to be ready for Week 1.
  • Shortcomings in the pass game, meaning he will give way to Danny Woodhead on passing downs
  • The Chargers offensive line was horrible last season, ranking 31st. (Photo courtesy of vikingsjournal.com)

Add these facts together, and you can see the concern. The heavy college load the past two seasons and the shaky, rebuilding Chargers line should be at the forefront of owners’ minds when drafting him. Gordon does have top-ten potential in the next two seasons and is a household name in Dynasty circles, just be careful how much you invest in him on draft day when players like Morris and Hopkins could still be available. If you can nab Gordon in the fourth or later, then that sounds like the opportune time to draft him. For his ADP, he is slightly over ranked.

If San Diego can revamp the offensive line and keep Gordon, they have a stud on their hands. The offensive line is key as Gordon has had trouble finding a second hole if the first hole closes and was stuffed on 19.2 percent of his carries. Given the Chargers ability to make Branden Oliver and Ryan Mathews look like studs, I am eager to see what they can do with a vastly superior running back, but I am tempering expectations for now as I want to see if he can hit the B-gap (gap between the guards and tackles) if the A-gap (between center and guards) closes, and he cannot utilize his speed to get to the edge and burn defenders. Also, pay close attention to his receiving skills and ball security, as he had six fumbles in his last five games. From a pure talent-perspective as a runner, he could be a stud by the 2016 fantasy season, but I would not invest a third round pick in him in 10-12 team leagues.

These 2014 stats are just insane though: 343 rushes, 2,587 yards (2nd only to Barry Sanders), 7.5 avg, 29 scores , and  a NCAA record 408 rushing yard performance against Nebraska (only 19/153/3 for receiving). So, yes he is fast as heck, but also has loads of room for improvement.

Todd Gurley (RB-StL) (ADP 56)- Gurley was the best pure running back in the Draft and arguably would have been a top three pick if not for a blown ACL last fall. He is truly a transcendental player and is under drafted at 56. I am aware that the Rams have stated they will keep him out of all preseason games and will likely elect to hold him out of the first few NFL games as a precaution. Once he takes the reigns of the starting gig, he is going to run with it. At Georgia, he was anointed the best Dawgs RB since Herschel Walker won the Heisman in 1982 and led the team to the 1980 Title. (Photo courtesy of nfl.com)

The Rams have themselves a running back for the next decade and he could end up in the Hall of Fame. He is quick, agile, makes great reads, and simply outsmarts the opponent. The only blemish on Gurley is that Georgia was a good team, even in the games when he did not play and Nick Chubbs took over and ran with the gig. Georgia’s success and his being investigated from accepting money for signatures and memorabilia (was cleared in two days) ultimately killed his Heisman chances.

When he played last season he was averaging an insane 150+ rush yards per game and was showing no signs of slowing down. If you would like a more recent comparison for him when he came into the league, Gurley reminds me of Adrian Peterson back when he was at Oklahoma. Some of the players being drafted around Gurley are Keenan Allen, Golden Tate, and Joseph Randle. None of which have ‘bonafide stud’ written all over. Yes, I would gladly snap up Gurley before any of those names, or even before Matt Ryan or Tony Romo. If you can get Gurley in the mid-fifties, do, because he will likely outproduce most any other player you will be able to get in that range once the rams put him in an actual NFL game.

Gurley is not going to average 100 yards/game rushing when he immediately comes back, but the advantage he has over Melvin Gordon is that he is a good receiver and had 441 rec yards and 6 scores on 37 receptions in his Sophomore season at UGA. The only thing to be wary of is the quarterback and receiver situation in St Louis, as Nick Foles is not even a top 20 quarterback and their receiving core of Brian Quick, Kenny Britt, and the talented, but underperforming Tavon Austin leaves a lot to be desired at receiver. This could spell a ton of 12 man fronts for Gurley to be facing until the Rams right the passing game ship.

Devin Funchess (WR-CAR) (ADP 139-140)- Once Kelvin Benjamin (ACL) went down, Funchess’ value skyrocketed as he is now the de facto WR1 on the Panthers. One quick look at his ADP (139.9) and you see the potential for a huge steal come draft day. While he did not come from a receiver powerhouse school, Funchess out of Michigan is an under the radar receiver/tight end and will be a great red zone target for Cam Newton with his size (6’4″) and solid presence in the slot. He is a hybrid WR/TE who will lead all Panthers wideouts in yards and scores. He does not have good speed and profiles better as a slot receiver than tight end, but will be an absolute nightmare if he can get the ball in his hands in the open field, or is facing the ball. Where he struggles against defenders is when corners shadow him and challenge him for the ball. In other words, he can beat corners in the slot and out of tight end formations when corners give him ground and don’t play to the ball. (Photo courtesy of mlive.com)

He needs to work on contesting more for 50/50 balls, catching the ball at its apex, finding a second gear, and winning against good coverage, but has drawn comparisons as a tight end to Jimmy Graham. However, long-term he profiles better as a slot receiver than tight end, where he can create more separation and use his size outside of the inline tight end. This alignment will also help him draw more coverage from linebackers and smaller safeties, as opposed to corners who currently would pick him apart. Expect Funchess to see a lot of hard looks and follows from NFL corners his rookie season while mainly playing as the Panthers top wide receiver with the dearth of talent at the position outside of him, which could hinder his numbers in the interim while he is adjusting to the NFL style. When corners challenge him, it will be interesting to see how he reacts: Does he become passive on the attempt to get the toss up ball, or does he use his size and power to push off (legally), catch the ball at it’s high point and make extra yards out of the play.

Funchess is going to be an entertaining project for the Panthers as he did not play receiver until 2014, but showed glimpses of immense upside and potential once he did. Right now, he profiles as a receiver that will be able to move the chains and be a solid presence in the Panthers’ pass attack, but will have his weaknesses exploited by more physical corners and bigger safeties. The Panthers will do everything in the preseason to throw him as many different looks at defenses as they can to adjust, but he must show that ‘alpha’ mentality when going up for the ball. He has all the physical traits to be a great complement to Benjamin when he returns in 2016, but it will be a really bumpy season for Funchess in 2015 as he is adjusting to being more physical with corners and getting downfield after he catches the ball. His 4.48 speed (2nd try at combine) will not let him breakaway from any corner or safety, but against linebackers and defensive ends, he should be able to outrace them.

Fantasy owners will be making a wise gamble by taking him after the 10th round, or at the earliest the mid 10th, but it is one that could pay off given the players that typically go where he has been going in drafts. His ADP is bound to go up in the coming days and weeks after Benjamin’s injury, but you should feel confident with Funchess as your WR3 or flex as the season wears on. There will be some dry weeks, so be prepared.

Sleeper Alert: Ty Montgomery (RB-GB) (J. Nelson out for season), David Cobb (RB-TEN) (Sankey replacement by Week five), Justin Hardy (WR-ATL) (slot receiver), Marcus Mariota (QB-TEN) (best rookie QB), Maxx Williams (TE-BAL) (Could emerge as big red zone threat).

Hopefully this short list helps you dominate your drafts this season and prepare for an eventful season. You will want to have an eye on all three of these players, but may realistically only land two. Stay tuned for the over/undervalued IDPs next week.

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Categories: Fantasy Football, Football Writers, Major League Fantasy Sports, MLFS Authors, Offensive Position Rankings, position rankings, RB, RB Rookies, WR, WR Rookies

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