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Late-Round Lottery Tickets and Breakout Candidates

The 2020 fantasy football draft season is finally upon us. One thing fantasy managers should be routinely doing is mock drafting to learn where the players they are targeting might go in their drafts. You can never mock draft too much. Another reason to mock draft is to learn which players are available at the ends of your drafts. This is important because managers should be trying to target players with tremendous upside if things shake out their way, a.k.a. lottery tickets.

Sure, you could play it safe and draft a player like Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley (ADP WR74) with the hopes that he produces 10 fantasy points in PPR leagues most of the time, but that is all you are going to get. He may have a two-touchdown game once or twice, but more likely than not, he will be on your bench when that happens. Instead, you could draft Washington Football Team wide receiver Steven Sims, Jr. (ADP WR81) with the hopes that he is quarterback Dwayne Haskins' second-favorite target out of the gate and produces as a reliable WR3 week in and week out.

The beauty of taking lottery tickets late in the draft is that if they do not pan out, it did not cost much to draft them, and the players can easily be cut in exchange for the popular waiver wire additions of the week. However, if they do pan out, a weekly starter was acquired for pennies on the dollar. Last year, two lottery ticket selections that paid off tremendously were Washington Football Team wide receiver Terry McLaurin (2019 ADP outside top-300) and Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller (2019 ADP TE22). Both of these players probably went undrafted or were taken with the last pick by owners last season, and McLaurin finished as WR29 and Waller as TE2. Managers could have spent a bunch of their free-agent acquisition budget (FAAB) to acquire these studs, or they could have spent nothing and drafted them with their last pick. Be the latter.

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Finding a Golden Ticket

There are several factors to look for when trying to find a potential breakout player. The first scenario to look for is players in a new situation. Last season, Waller stepped into the starting tight end role for the first time, as did Baltimore Raven's tight end Mark Andrews (ADP TE16, TE5 finish) and Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver D.J. Chark (ADP WR86, WR18 finish). Houston Texan's running back Carlos Hyde stepped into a featured role due to an injury to Lamar Miller and finished with 1,070 yards and six touchdowns (RB28 finish) despite being the 54th running back off the board.

Next, look for rookies that could have a starting role early on. McLaurin fits this scenario perfectly. Other rookies that fit this scenario last season were, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (ADP QB16, QB7 finish), Seattle Seahawks wide receiver D.K. Metcalf (ADP WR55, WR30 finish), Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown (undrafted, WR21 finish), and San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel (ADP WR58, WR31 finish).

Finally, look for players that are down the depth chart in a high-scoring offense that could explode if something were to happen to the players in front of them. These players are deeper than the typical handcuff. A prime example of this situation playing out is Philadelphia Eagles running back Boston Scott. He was third on the depth chart and once Miles+Sanders" data-id="20933">Miles Sanders took over lead running back duties due to a Jordan Howard injury, Scott took advantage of his opportunity to be the change-of-pace back and averaged 20.5 PPR points per game in Weeks 14-17. The same situation transpired in San Francisco with Raheem Mostert taking over lead running back duties after starting the season behind Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida on the depth chart.

So who is going to be this year's McLaurin or Waller? Are there any running backs that fall into the lottery ticket category this year?

 

Players with Expanding Roles

Boston Scott (RB, PHI)

Philadelphia Eagles running back Boston Scott enters 2020 as the starting third-down option in the backfield. Miles Sanders is going to be the focal point of the rushing attack, but Scott should have FLEX appeal in PPR leagues.

Head coach Doug Pederson has typically employed a multi-back approach to his run-game, and Scott proved last season that he deserves touches on a weekly basis. Over the last four games of 2019, Scott racked up 82 PPR points, outperforming players like Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb, Austin Ekeler, and yes, even Miles Sanders. He was explosive with the ball in his hands and showed a knack for slipping tackles and evading defenders to gain an extra five yards.

Scott is likely to see a floor of between six to 10 touches every week. His ADP currently sits at RB50 and it is well within his range of outcomes to finish inside the top-25 in PPR leagues.

Steven Sims, Jr. (WR, WAS)

Sims exploded over the final four games of the season last year, racking up 20 receptions for 230 yards and four touchdowns. That was good for fantasy WR9 over that span. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins showed a lot of trust in Sims and their strong chemistry should carry over in 2020.

The Washington Football Team's wide receiver corps is pretty barren behind last year's rookie breakout Terry McLaurin, so Sims should start as the slot receiver right out of the gate. He showed a natural ability to elude defenders and he has excellent game speed which should make big plays routine for him. He saw at least seven targets per game during his four-game tear to close out 2019, and that seems like a relatively safe floor for 2020. His ADP currently sits at WR81, but no one would be shocked to see him finish inside the top-40

Allen Lazard (WR, GB)

In case you haven't heard, the Green Bay Packers did not draft a wide receiver in the NFL Draft this year. Perhaps it is because they may have finally found an answer at wide receiver on the outside, opposite of Davante Adams.

The 6'5" 24-year old Lazard came out of nowhere last season to lead the Packers in catch rate (67.3%), quarterback rating when targeted (115.6/143.3 on third-down), and yards per target (14.2). He has zero competition for the number two role now that Devin Funchess has opted-out of the 2020 season, and most importantly, quarterback Aaron Rodgers can not stop praising him. His ADP currently sits at a startling WR64, but as the number two option for Rodgers, fantasy owners could find themselves a weekly WR3  for the price of pocket lint.

N'Keal Harry (WR, NE)

New England Patriots wide receiver N'keal Harry will look to prove that the Patriots made the right call drafting him in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He steps into the starting WR1 role on a team that is desperate for talent. Julian Edelman is still the WR1 for fantasy, especially in PPR leagues, but Harry will get his shot to be the alpha receiver on the outside immediately.

Furthermore, Cam Newton will be the quarterback to start the season, and Harry fits Newton's tendencies perfectly. Newton likes to throw it high and away, and Harry can go up and get it (38.5 inch vertical). He is a physical receiver and a run-after-the-catch connoisseur. The Patriots took a tremendous hit to their defense with the losses of D'onta Hightower and Patrick Chung, who opted-out of the 2020 season, so they could be in catch-up mode more often than they are used to.

Harry's ADP currently sits at WR62, but his big-play ability and projected heavy red zone usage (3 RZ targets in his final two games) should provide a safe floor inside the top-40. A 20% target share and double-digit touchdowns are well within Harry's range of outcomes, and he is free.

Ian Thomas (TE, CAR)

Thomas finally gets his shot to prove what he can do as the featured tight end for the Carolina Panthers now that Greg Olsen has joined the Seattle Seahawks. He should be moved all over the field in offensive coordinator Joe Brady's offense, and he has the size and athleticism to take advantage of mismatches on linebackers and defensive backs.

While Brady's offense at LSU did not feature the tight end often, Joe Burrow picked apart college defenses with his stud wide receivers. Teddy Bridgewater, on the other hand, is a methodical quarterback who makes his reads in succession and finds the open man. He does not take chances very often, and he tends to look for his tight end when the play breaks down. Bridgewater also does not take many deep shots as he loves to work the middle of the field within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage. This is fantastic news for Thomas, who should be a favorite target for Teddy.

He is currently ranked as the TE21 in ADP, and he can be drafted with one of your very last picks in redraft leagues. Thomas is a prime candidate to be this year's Darren Waller.

 

Late-Round Rookies

Antonio Gibson (RB, WAS)

Washington Football Team running back Antonio Gibson is going to be a popular selection in fantasy drafts in the upcoming weeks due to the team's release of Derrius Guice. He was listed as a wide receiver in college, but he is fully expected to be a running back at the next level. Gibson is an explosive player with incredible athleticism. He ran a 4.39 40-yard dash (98th percentile) at 6'0" 228 lbs, which is the same speed as Jonathan Taylor, who is two inches shorter and three pounds lighter.

Last year at Memphis, Gibson accounted for 12 total touchdowns on 94 total touches, 11 touchdowns on 71 touches if we eliminate his 23 kick/punt return attempts. That is an insane rate of one touchdown per every 6.5 touches. The other thing to love about Gibson is his third-round draft capital (3.02) which suggests the team valued him going into the draft. Gibson's current ADP is RB51, so he is still a prime lottery ticket candidate, but if that jumps into the low 40s, then Gibson will jump from a lottery ticket to a sleeper.

Joshua Kelley (RB, LAC)

Joshua Kelley was drafted at pick number six in the fourth round by the Los Angeles Chargers, and he has an opportunity to play a major role on offense from the jump. The expected featured running back in Los Angeles is Austin Ekeler, but he is not built to handle a heavy workload, or short-yardage and goal-line situations on a full-time basis. Ekeler specializes as a receiving running back and the Chargers would be better off limiting his workload so he is just as explosive in the fourth quarter, and he stays healthy for a full 16-game season.

Kelley, on the other hand, is tailor-made for short-yardage and goal-line situations. His is a bigger back at 5'10" and 212 lbs, and he has a physical running style with a preference to lower his shoulder and run a defender over rather than string together cuts to evade the tackle. The other running back on the team, Justin Jackson, has been a disappointment with his touches, and he is the scrawniest out of the three, so his role should be minimal at best. Kelley's ADP currently sits at RB59, and he is a must-draft for Ekeler owners. For non-Ekeler owners, he is the perfect lottery ticket that could earn a full-time role sooner rather than later.

Anthony McFarland (RB, PIT)

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Anthony McFarland is lightning in a bottle. He has breakaway speed (4.44 40-yard dash) and is extremely elusive in the open field. James Conner is the RB1 for the black and yellow, but his injury history suggests that he may have a lighter workload than in year's past, or that he may miss time. Either way, McFarland could be the one to benefit from either situation. Benny Snell is the RB2 currently, but he is mainly a short-yardage player. You are never going to see explosive plays from Benny Snell.

The ideal situation would be for McFarland to see between six to eight touches per game, and each one of those touches could be a house call. McFarland's current ADP sits at RB56, and he is a must-own for Conner owners in PPR leagues. It is way too soon to suggest that he might be the next Alvin Kamara, but he is in an identical situation and their skill sets are eerily similar.

AJ Dillon (RB, GB)

The Green Bay Packers shocked everyone in the first two rounds of the 2020 NFL draft when they selected Aaron Rodgers' replacement, Jordan Love, in the first round and running back A.J. Dillon in the second round. Dillon is an absolute juggernaut with the ball in his hands. He is incredibly difficult to bring down, and if he gets a head of steam, defenders should just get out of his way.

It will be interesting to see how the Packers use Dillon in tandem with Aaron Jones, but given Dillon's draft capital and his skill set, he could be the preferred short-yardage and goal-line back. Dillon's best pro comparison is Derrick Henry given his size, strength, and speed (4.57 40-yard dash at 247 lbs), and like Henry, Dillon could be a one-man wrecking crew when he gets the ball. He probably won't see more than six to eight touches to start, but if he gets the goal-line role, he will vastly outproduce his RB53 ADP. If something were to happen to Aaron Jones, Dillon could be a league winner.

Laviska Shenault, Jr. (WR, JAX)

Other than D.J. Chark, Jr., the Jacksonville Jaguars do not have much in their wide receiver room. Enter Laviska Shenault, Jr. Shenault is a versatile wide receiver that can be used in the running game and the return game as well. He is the ideal "Swiss Army knife" receiver and a complete nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators to scheme against. He will have an opportunity to earn the WR2 role right out of the gate, and quarterback Gardner Minshew has already been impressed by his new weapon.

Shenault is the type of player that offensive coordinators manufacture touches for because they are just so explosive that you need to get the ball in their hands a few times a game. He currently sits at WR77 in ADP, but he offers top-40 upside. If he does not appear to have a role early on, then fantasy owners can cut him without batting an eye, but if he takes off and becomes a favorite target of Minshew, he could be a weekly flex play for his fantasy owners.

Denzel Mims (WR, NYJ)

New York Jets wide receiver Denzel Mims is a star in the making. He stands at 6'3" and his athleticism metrics are off the chart, ranking in the 90th percentile or higher in the 40-yard dash (4.38), speed score (115.6), burst score (131) and catch radius (10.34) according to playerprofiler.com. He also excels in contested catches which should make him a go-to target in the red zone.

Mims will start right away on the outside for Gang Green because Jamison Crowder runs primarily out of the slot and Breshaad Perriman is the only other wide receiver worthy of any playing time. He has the frame of a prototypical WR1 in the NFL, and his big-play potential makes him one of the most exciting rookies to watch this season. His current ADP sits at WR67, but he has top-30 upside given the volume he should see in his rookie year. Mims is a prime candidate to be this year's Terry McLaurin.

Brandon Aiyuk (WR, SF)

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk has an opportunity to fill the X receiver role in Kyle Shanahan's offense this season. He was drafted in the first round of this year's NFL Draft after the 49ers traded up to get him, and Shanahan said afterward that Aiyuk was the number one wide receiver on his board.

Aiyuk is a big play waiting to happen. He averaged 18.3 yards per reception last season at Arizona State and 10.5 yards after contact, which emphasizes his elite run-after-the-catch ability. The 49ers will likely be without Deebo Samuel for the first few weeks of the season due to a Jones Fracture in his foot back in June. The team's other wide receivers are non-threatening to Aiyuk's prominent role as a rookie since Kendrick Bourne should operate mainly out of the slot, Jalen Hurd suffered a torn ACL and is out for the season, and it is an understatement to say that Dante Pettis has failed to live up to expectations. Having been hand-selected by Kyle Shanahan, Aiyuk should have an immediate role and finish well ahead of his current WR63 ADP. He recently left practice with a hamstring injury himself which bears watching but if it is not deemed serious, it may make him an even better draft value.

Michael Pittman, Jr. (WR, IND)

The Indianapolis Colts selected wide receiver Michael Pittman, Jr. with its first pick in the draft at number 34 overall. He stands at 6'4" and is as physical of a receiver as there is in this draft class. He projects as the prototypical X receiver for the Colts which means he will likely line up opposite T.Y. Hilton. Pittman should have an impact right away.

The Colts have not had a true possession wide receiver since Reggie Wayne retired, but Pittman should fill that role on day one. The USC receiver should be Phillip Rivers' favorite target in the red zone since he tested with a 36.5 inch vertical at the NFL Combine, and Playerprofiler.com ranked his catch radius as a 10.24 (89th Percentile). His current ADP sits at WR60, but his situation and his skill-set should result in a top-35 finish. Do not be surprised when Pittman finishes just short of 1,000 yards and hauls in eight or more touchdowns.



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