Fantasy Football: Sleepers to target late in dynasty rookie drafts

New Orleans, LA, USA; Kansas State Wildcats running back Deuce Vaughn (22) celebrates his touchdown scored against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the first half in the 2022 Sugar Bowl at Caesars Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

  • The opportunity in Minnesota could soon be great: With Dalvin Cook’s future with the team uncertain, could a seventh-round pick be in line for fantasy-relevant snaps soon?
  • The Dallas Cowboys add a pass-catching playmaker to the backfield: Deuce Vaughn may be small, but his work as a receiver could earn him targets with the Cowboys.
  • Arizona is in need of quarterback help: With Kyler Murray unlikely to start the year, Clayton Tune makes his case to fill in during his absence.
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

The true dart throws in dynasty rookie drafts typically come after the third round in 12-team standard leagues (37th pick and beyond). While the hit rate remains low, there are still a select few who emerge every year to become fantasy stars. Each player listed below was, at best, a Day 3 pick in the NFL draft and listed as a fourth-round pick or later based on Fantasy Pros consensus ADP.

Diving into the best data available at PFF will help identify which players going later in rookie drafts are worth a shot for dynasty rosters.

RB DeWayne McBride, Minnesota VikingsFP consensus ADP: 42nd overall (RB15)

With uncertainty brewing around Dalvin Cook’s future in Minnesota, McBride becomes an interesting back to take a flier on late in drafts. McBride was a top-10 running back on PFF’s big board prior to the draft who consistently put up elite rushing numbers over the past three seasons at UAB, earning some of the highest grades for running backs in that span.

McBride’s 97.0 career rushing grade is the highest among running backs in this year’s draft class, which came from some remarkable numbers that have a tendency to translate to the NFL. His career 4.9 yards after contact per attempt was also the best in this class, and his 0.26 missed tackles forced per attempt was a top-five mark as well.

Alexander Mattison will no doubt be the top beneficiary should the Vikings part ways with Cook in the near future, but McBride should be considered a sneaky contender for fantasy-relevant snaps in that backfield as well. If he can carve out a role as the team’s RB2, he’ll be well worth his value as a fourth/fifth-round rookie draft pick.

DeWayne McBride’s career rushing marks and ranks among this year’s RB class (30 qualifiers):
Metric Value Rank
Rushing grade 97.5 1st
Yards after contact/attempt 4.9 1st
Explosive run rate 19.6% 4th
Missed tackles forced/attempt 0.26 T-3rd

RB Deuce Vaughn, Dallas CowboysFP consensus ADP: 39th overall (RB14)

While one of the smallest running backs to come into the league, there could still be an opportunity for the Day 3 pick out of Kansas State, especially in the passing game. The Cowboys are set to feature Tony Pollard in a full-time role this season with Ezekiel Elliott out of the picture, but there are still snaps and targets available for a back to emerge as the team’s RB2.

A standout trait for Vaughn in this class was his production and effectiveness in the passing game, as he earned 1.76 yards per route run for his career (third in this class) on a top-tier target share of 0.23 targets per route run (second). With Pollard expected to carry the bulk of the load as a rusher in Dallas’ offense, allowing for him to get some respite on obvious passing downs and being able to utilize Vaughn as a route-runner could serve as optimal usage for the sixth-round pick. If Vaughn can earn his worth as a reliable pass-catcher for the Cowboys, he’ll offer enough upside in PPR leagues to exceed his current rookie draft stock.

RB Keaton Mitchell, Baltimore Ravens FP consensus ADP: 60th overall (RB20)

Let’s stray a bit further off the beaten path and into undrafted free-agent territory to find the next couple of potential sleeper options, starting with Mitchell, who was a top-150 player on PFF’s big board prior to the draft and is now in a decent situation to eventually emerge as relevant. The Ravens have always been reliant on their run game with Lamar Jackson at the helm, and even with Todd Monken coming in as the new offensive coordinator, it’s still expected to be a key part of their offense.

Injuries have plagued the Ravens’ running backs in recent years, but it’s not something to bank on for Mitchell to get his touches. Instead, pair his 4.37 speed and explosiveness with an offense that lacks home-run speed from the expected starters in J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, and Mitchell could serve as another weapon for the Ravens’ new-look offense.

The East Carolina product earned a 93.2 career rushing grade over three seasons and posted one of the best explosive run rates (20.5%) during his college career. It won’t be easy to surpass Edwards, and even Justice Hill, on the depth chart, but it’s far from an impossible task if he can showcase his top-end speed and ability to make defenders miss to earn the adoration of the coaching staff.

Keaton Mitchell’s career rushing marks and ranks among this year’s RB class (30 qualifiers):
Metric Value Rank
Rushing grade 93.2 11th
Explosive run rate 20.5% 2nd
Missed tackles forced/attempt 0.24 T-7th

RB Sean Tucker, Tampa Bay BuccaneersFP consensus ADP: 43rd overall (RB16)

Tucker is the next undrafted free agent sleeper, signing on with the Buccaneers, who need of some juice at the position, with only Rachaad White and Chase Edmonds as the real front-runners for snaps. Both players were below average in terms of explosive play rate and yards per carry last season, which is an area where Tucker can provide value to the running back room in Tampa.

Tucker’s 4.33 speed led to a strong explosive play rate in his college career (15.65%) along with a 92.2 career rushing grade. The Bucs' need for a breakaway runner could lead to Tucker getting more involved in the offense while White sees more of the receiving work. Edmonds is coming off one of his most inefficient seasons on two separate teams, and if Tucker can perform well in camp, it shouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Edmonds moved to another NFL team this offseason.

WR A.T. Perry, New Orleans SaintsFP consensus ADP: 41st overall (WR15)

Perry made the pre-draft sleeper list as well and continues to be a favorite target late in drafts after getting selected in the sixth round by the Saints. Perry has a strong athletic profile with the ideal height and wingspan to stand out among the Saints’ wide receiver weapons, especially if Michael Thomas were to miss time (again).

Perry doesn’t necessarily offer much after the catch but he does provide value as a downfield threat who can win on the outside and against man coverage. He earned top-10 marks in total receiving yards and total receiving touchdowns on both plays of 20-plus yards and in the red zone, both being keys to success for an outside receiver in the NFL. 

Rashid Shaheed was great on a limited sample size last year but doesn’t project to be an every-down player, and with uninspiring retreads like Tre’Quan Smith, Keith Kirkwood and Bryan Edwards as the other options, Perry’s chances for success should be viewed as higher than most sixth-rounders.

A.T. Perry’s receiving strengths compared to the 2023 class since 2020 (25 qualifiers):
Metric Value Rank
Total yards per reception 15.6 7th
Red zone yards per reception 151 T-7th
Red zone touchdowns 10 6th
Yards on 20+ yard plays 1,071 4th
20+ yard touchdowns 16 2nd

WR Puka Nacua, Los Angeles RamsFP consensus ADP: 45th overall (WR17)

Nacua has a chance to be an impact player for the Rams, who, outside of Cooper Kupp, are in desperate need of impact skill position options. Nacua led BYU in targets and receiving yards in each of his two seasons with the program thanks to his smooth route-running and ability to work his way through defenses for additional yards. Because of his talent with the ball in his hands, Nacua was targeted heavily on underneath routes, such as wide screens and flare-outs, but was so much more than just a low-depth of target option, as he became a deep threat as well and earned one of the highest average depth of targets (14.3) in this class over the past two seasons.

Nacua’s ability to win downfield also allowed him to own the fourth-best contested catch rate (59.3%) from this year’s receiver class since 2021, and the second-highest yards per route run total (3.48), behind only Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Between Bennett Skowronek, Van Jefferson and Tutu Atwell, the opportunity to emerge in this offense, whether it be on those wide receiver screens or as a downfield threat, should be viewed as significant for the fifth-round pick.

TE Zack Kuntz, New York JetsFP consensus ADP: 59th overall (TE9)

A seventh-round pick out of Old Dominion, Kuntz has a limited sample size of work as he is coming off an injury in 2022. Kuntz is intriguing because he is a freaky athlete who posted a perfect 10 relative athletic score and could push his way up the depth chart sooner rather than later if he’s able to develop quickly at the next level. The Jets' tight end depth chart leaves a lot to be desired with Tyler Conklin and C.J. Uzomah more than likely to lead the way in 2023, but beyond this year, there’s room for Kuntz to emerge over both of them.

Kuntz's fantasy managers are unlikely to get their value during his rookie season, but for those patient enough to stash him as a taxi squad option, his upside at the position is great. Even on a limited sample size, he earned the sixth-best yards per route run (1.92) in this class since 2021, as well as a top-five average depth of target (10.31) and receiving grade versus single coverage (83.6). 

QB Clayton Tune, Arizona CardinalsFP consensus ADP: 66th overall (QB10)

Kyler Murray isn’t expected to be fully recovered from his torn ACL until later in the 2023 season, which leaves the Cardinals without their franchise quarterback for most of the year. Colt McCoy has proven to be a capable backup quarterback for the past decade, but after spending a fifth-round pick on Tune in 2023, there could be an opportunity for a fresh face in Murray’s absence.

Tune earned some of the best marks among this year’s quarterback class in terms of stable metrics when translating from college to the pros, which mostly comes from how a quarterback performs within structure. He limited negative plays as a starter while at Houston, and he made the most of his opportunities as a passer, which led to 70 passing touchdowns and over 7,500 yards through the air since 2021. Tune could have a shot with Arizona’s new coaching staff to show off what makes him a steady and young option that they can trust while Murray takes time to recover. Superflex leagues, specifically, would be wise to take some late-round fliers on this fifth-round pick out of Houston.

Clayton Tune’s stable metric ranks among this year’s quarterback class since 2021:
Metric Value Rank
Passing grade from a clean pocket 93.2 3rd
Passing grade on straight dropbacks 92.5 3rd
Passing grade on throws at or beyond the sticks 95.3 2nd
Negative play rate 11.99% 2nd

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