Overlooked rookies worth your Fantasy Football attention in 2017

Glitz and glam marked Round 1 of the NFL Draft. Several impactful selections like Leonard Fournette (Jacksonville), Christian McCaffrey (Carolina) and Corey Davis (Tennessee) renewed fantasy owners’ interest. Meanwhile, Drew Pearson’s boisterous trash talking of Eagles fans Day 2 only affirmed gamers’ desire to reignite the smack.

Outside of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, who were already featured here, what leftover offerings could pay fantasy dividends this fall? Here are 11 additional selections in order of projected impact:

Dalvin Cook, Min, RB  (Early ADP: 39.2, RB15) – The Guy Fieri of running backs just missed my top-five cut, but he’s far from unsavory. His landing spot in Minnesota isn’t the most delectable – the overhauled offensive line must make leaps and bounds on its No. 30 run-blocking rank per Football Outsiders – but the opportunity is fairly ripe. Questions linger about Latavius Murray’s surgically repaired ankle. At this juncture, there are no guarantees the former Raider will open training camp at full strength.

Cook is a dynamic weapon with considerable explosiveness. His athletic test scores left much to be desired, but his college film suggests otherwise. His evasiveness (No. 1 elusive rating in ’16), helmet-popping power (4.2 YAC last year), sharp vision, patience and open-field acceleration arrow to a fruitful NFL career. But will a healthy Murray poach at the goal-line? What about Jerick McKinnon stealing touches in the pass game? Both are unfortunate downsides. Like many on this list, he’s a draft and stash RB3/RB4 in 12-teamers. He should become the featured RB at some point, but his current top-40 ADP is a bit rich.

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Marlon Mack, Ind, RB (Early ADP: 213.3, RB72) – Frank Gore must be a vampire. It’s the only explanation. His consistent production tallied after age 30 defies conventional wisdom. Eventually, though, Father Time catches up to us all. One would surmise a high-odometer RB entering his age 34 season would inevitably succumb to the wooden stake. Robert Turbin and Josh Ferguson remain backups, but Mack could quickly leapfrog both in camp to become the Colts’ No. 2 behind Grandpa Gore.

The scouting community is split on the South Florida product. Some believe he’s merely a pass-only scat back. Others say he possesses the size (5-foot-11, 213 pounds) and makeup to handle early-down work in addition. Put me in the latter group. His body twists, burst and low pad level not only make defenders miss, they typically displace them as well. Mack’s 3.85 YAC and strong 24.3 missed tackles percentage last year with the Bulls was on par with Mixon’s. The dude can handle loads.

He’ll start camp as the No. 3, but it’s probable he earns a start or three at some point this year. Highlight his name for the later rounds.

John Ross, Cin, WR (Early ADP: 144.9, WR60) – Ross is a legit Speedy Gonzalez, a diminutive, tough-to-corral blazer who will give defensive coordinators fits. But he’s more than just a record-setting 40 time. Injuries occasionally hampered him at Washington, but his wide-stretching route tree impressed. Similar to other pint-sized wide receivers (e.g. Antonio Brown, Steve Smith and Golden Tate), he has the necessary technical skills to break press coverage, gain separation and dash in the open field.

A true shocker special pick at No. 9 overall, Ross slipped on team boards largely due to medical red flags. But the Bengals, who desperately downfield wheels, found the kid’s overall package irresistible. Thanks to A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert he will be gifted several favorable one-on-one opportunities. Right away, 5-7 targets per game should be expected shifting between the slot and outside. Erratic performances will be the norm, but he could flirt with a 45-700-5 line this fall.

David Njoku, Cle, TE (Early ADP: 189.5, TE25) – Rarely do tight ends contribute meaningful fantasy numbers Year 1. In fact, since 2000 only Rob Gronkowski, Jeremy Shockey and John Carlson cracked the position’s top-10. Some will reach for O.J. Howard or Evan Engram, but the Miami product has the best odds of bucking the trend. He runs polished routes, shakes defenders after the catch and possesses more than deceptive speed (4.64 40-yard dash). From an analytics perspective, he’s the second coming of Travis Kelce.

Cleveland kicked Gary Barnidge to the curb immediately following Njoku’s acquisition. The veteran tight end managed just two TDs in 2016, but he accounted for 81 targets and 600-plus yards. With a starting spot virtually guaranteed and knowing Cleveland’s ongoing rebuild on defense, the rookie is sure to become the apple of Cody Kessler’s eye. If he falls short of a 50-600-5 opening line, Brock Osweiler claimed another victim.

Zay Jones, Buf, WR (Early ADP: 213.1, WR88) – If the over/under on Sammy Watkins weeks played was 10.5, I would absolutely hammer the UNDER. The human piñata is one absorbed hit from spilling out. Because of that inevitability, Jones, who was ridiculously productive at East Carolina, is a receiver who needs to be on fantasy radars.

In the Jarvis Landry mold, Jones is a savvy route runner who nickels and dimes defenses to death. His precise routes, sharp cuts and shiftiness are ideal qualities. A high-character and very intelligent player, he should quickly soak in Rick Dennison’s system. Do so and he’ll log a high snap percentage off the blocks, potentially earning 6-plus targets per game. Outside of Watkins and LeSean McCoy he has very little competition for looks, though it’s anyone’s best guess if the Bills shed their conservative ways on offense. Still, most expect Jones to man the Emmanuel Sanders position in Dennison’s Kubiak-styled offense.

A yards per catch under 12.0 seems reasonable for Jones. However, occasional heavy workloads forecast 50-plus receptions in Year 1. In the event of a major Watkins injury, that total could exceed 65. For now, anticipate a final output in range of 60-675-4.

McNichols could catch on quickly in Tampa. (AP)

Jeremy McNichols, TB, RB (Early ADP: 208.4, RB70) – A metrics darling, McNichols coincidentally joins another Boise State standout, Doug Martin, in Tampa. Unlike the Muscle Hamster and Jay Ajayi before him, he didn’t receive much notoriety despite positing prolific numbers. He accumulated 66 missed tackles, a 3.55 YAC, 2,183 combined yards and 27 touchdowns over 13 games last fall. Point blank, McNichols has the physicality, scheme experience, fortitude and intangibles to deliver right away.

Martin, refocused after a brief rehab stint last year, earned the Bucs’ praise for his dedication and execution in OTAs. However, one would figure his leash is short, if not nonexistent. McNichols, who many presume will start Weeks 1-3 with Martin suspended, has a ripe opportunity to keep the veteran sidelined. Storm out of the gates against Miami, Chicago and Minnesota and he will be the biggest early season surprise in fantasy. Encase his name with a heart on your cheat sheet.

Kareem Hunt, KC, RB (Early ADP: 195.8, RB63) – Multiple fantasy pundits have already bestowed greatness upon Hunt. When crunching tape, his balance, break-tackle ability and spectacular spin moves increase blood flow. Last year with Toledo, he made dudes whiff on 32.1 percent of his touches. The balanced back also gained an appreciable 3.46 yards after contact and reeled in 41 receptions. Because of those attributes many scouts believe he is capable of handling a three-down workload.

Andy Reid talked up Spencer Ware earlier this offseason speaking highly of his multidimensional assets and “dirty tough” mentality. Ware, though, slowed rapidly after a torrid first few games in 2016. From Week 8 on, he finished RB32 in total fantasy points and tallied a mere 3.6 yards per carry. He enters the summer atop the depth chart, but his grip on the starting job is tenuous. It’s possible he and Hunt form a 60-40 timeshare Week 1 with the veteran toting the heavy side. The youngster may be flexy sexy at first, but his upside, especially over the season’s second half, is rather substantial.

Mike Williams, LAC, WR (Early ADP: 108.0, WR49) – Tequila Thursday already underway, Evans? Williams’ low slotting isn’t an indictment on the player. His routes are a work in progress, but he’s an ideal sized, acrobatic and wonderfully talented target who bailed DeShaun Watson out on many poor downfield throws. His efforts in last year’s BCS Title game were heroic. Long term, Williams’ upside is massive.

What will ail Williams in Year 1 is landing spot. Tyrell Williams, Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates, Hunter Henry and Melvin Gordon crowd the situation. Yes, Allen would get injured in a game of mini golf, but if he impossibly remains healthy it’s tough to see the rookie garnering anything more than 15 percent of the targets share. Williams’ 2017 peak potential is around 50-700-5. Flip side, his floor could bottom out around 40-550-3. A borderline top-100 pick, he isn’t worth tearing arm ligaments for.

Cooper Kupp, LAR, WR (218.7, WR94) – Don’t let Kupp’s small school affiliation fool you. The kid is a baller extraordinaire. He’s tough to wrangle after the catch, exhibits excellent footwork, grabs everything in sight and is an accomplished route runner. His studious approach also raises his profile.

Kupp’s 4.60-plus speed will turn many off, but he has the package needed to develop into a useful NFL No. 2. Recall, he owned then Washington corners Marcus Peters and Sidney Jones in a 2014 matchup and handled business versus high-level competition at the Senior Bowl. Spectacularly, he amassed a 40-716-11 line in four games against Pac-12 teams while at Eastern Washington.

The Rams are an unappealing employer, but name the No. 1 WR currently on their depth chart? You have to think about it (It’s Tavon Austin, by the way). Kupp suits up and shines Day 1 and Sean McVay would be hard pressed not to feature him. With Kenny Britt’s 111 targets last year up for grabs, Kupp could step in and tally at least WR4-level stats in 12-team formats. If only Jared Golf was one-sixteenth Kurt Warner or, heck, Marc Bulger.

D’Onte Foreman, Hou, RB (Early ADP: 161.7, RB53) – Unquestionably, Foreman is a favorite among this year’s loaded RB class. The uninformed look at his measurements and immediately assume “LeGarrette Blount,” but his juke button comps to smaller, bouncier backs. His decisive cuts, upright style and lateral agility are also reminiscent of DeMarco Murray. Underutilized as a pass catcher, he isn’t as adept a receiver, but he flashed adequate hands during Texas’ pro day. If he can show reliability in the area and dip his shoulder to drive for extra yards, he has a shot to become special.

Out of the gate, Foreman will fulfill the Alfred Blue role behind Lamar Miller. In 2016, Blue tallied just 26.4 percent (8.0 touches/game) of the opportunity share. Still, expectations point to a reduced workload for Miller, implying the rookie could compile some 10-12 touches per game. Most alluringly, Foreman is a viable goal-line candidate. Red-zone efficiency wasn’t a strong suit for Miller last year. Don’t forget about him in the beer hazy hours of your draft.

Aaron Jones, GB, RB (Early ADP: Completely off the radar) – The Jamaal Williams bandwagon is already overflowing. He was drafted one round ahead of Jones, but the UTEP product poses the biggest threat to Ty Montgomery. He’s more explosive, versatile and a flat out better athlete/player. As a shotgun rusher, Williams stunk up the joint throughout his college career. Last year with BYU he also finished dead last among college RBs in percentage of 10-plus yard gains. Jones, meanwhile, excelled in those areas.

At 5-foot-9, 210 pounds, Jones has some pocket Hercules in him. At the Combine he crushed agility tests. His three-cone, shuttle runs and jumping exercises ranked near the top. He isn’t a burner by any stretch (4.65 40-yard dash), but his multicomponent package arrows to solid productivity if thrust into an enhanced role.

Bottom line, I firmly believe Montgomery will be given every opportunity to lock down the primary gig this summer. But Jones, not Williams, could quickly climb the depth chart and overtake Christine Michael as the Packers’ No. 2 (UPDATE: Michael was released Monday. Hello, Mr. Jones!). Remember him, deep leaguer.

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