At this point, everyone knows who Dorial Green-Beckham and Todd Gurley are. Zach Zenner and Devante Davis? An entirely different story. The draft is an elaborate guessing game for pundits and NFL teams alike. No one really knows what players will excel, though we have a litany of statistical clues that can help us arrive at semi-accurate predictions for late round players. Both fantasy and real life NFL teams can extract value by finding cheaper (read: late round) talent and that is our topic today: the 2015 NFL Fantasy Sleepers. Players who will likely be selected late on Day 2 or 3 of the NFL draft, who have the ability to impact the NFL in 2015.
2015 NFL Draft Sleepers
Zach Zenner, Running Back, South Dakota State University
The NFL has no idea how to treat white running backs; it’s just true. Zenner was the 2nd player in FCS history to have two separate 2,000 yard seasons and ran for 45 combined touchdowns his junior and senior season. When looking at smaller school prospects, the most important question to ask is: did they dominate? If they didn’t post mind boggling statistics, then move on. Zenner, of course, destroyed weaker competition, but what really makes him interesting is the performance he put on in his physical workouts. Weighing 223 pounds, Zenner ran a 4.50 forty, which translates to a 108 weight adjusted speed score. 100 is average, so anything above a 105 begins to signal a very skilled athlete. More importantly, Zenner’s agility score (3 cone time plus 20 yard shuttle) was 11.18, which when adjusted for weight, is even more impressive. Agility score has proven very predictive for future pass catching performance for running backs in the NFL, which is very important for fantasy totals. In his senior season at SDSU, Zenner caught 23 passes for 331 yards and 4 touchdowns, which is indication his agility score numbers are not just phantom noise. He likely won’t be drafted until the 3rd day of the draft, but whichever team selects him will be getting a player who can step in and contribute from day one. If a running back needy team like the Cowboys or Cardinals selects him, he receives a huge fantasy boost.
Devante Davis, Wide Receiver, UNLV
Anyone who played daily fantasy college football on DraftKings should remember Devante Davis and his UNLV exploits. His final season at UNLV was somewhat marred by injury (and his team being utterly, utterly pathetic), but he was still able to accrue 36% of the teams total passing yardage and receiving touchdowns. Davis was even better as a junior when the team was a little better and he had quarterback continuity, racking up 46% of his teams yards and touchdowns. Add in the fact that he’s a massive human being, standing 6’3 and weighing 220 pounds, and you’re already looking at the profile of a WR1 in the NFL. That’s the same height/weight combo of Allen Robinson, Mike Floyd, and most impressively, Julio Jones. I’m not saying that Devante is a Julio Jones carbon copy because he is about two tenths of a second slower in the 40, but he has the frame and collegiate production you’d expect from a leading NFL wide receiver. Davis will be dinged for playing at a smaller school and not “flashing on tape” (whatever that means) but a lot of supremely talented large wide receivers don’t. Alshon Jeffery and Jordan Matthews’ college tape was not drooled over because they were so physically dominant over college defensive backs that touchdowns and yardage accruement for them is easy. Unlike players like Sammy Watkins and Tavon Auston who have to be technically perfect and give maximum effort on every play to simply warrant being on the field, larger players like Devante don’t look as flashy on tape but get excellent results.
David Johnson, Running Back, University Of Northern Iowa
You’ve probably never heard of David Johnson. To be fair, if one of my good childhood friends didn’t play football at the University of Northern Iowa, I wouldn’t have either. Johnson had a great career at UNI, one of the most successful D2 schools of the last decade. Much like Zenner, he was otherworldly productive. In 4 seasons (his first two as part of a timeshare) he scored 49 touchdowns and ran at a 5.4 yards per carry clip. That alone brings him some attention, as anyone who is that productive for such a sustained period clearly has the ability needed to translate to the pros. Much like Zenner, however, what brings him to the next level are his work out numbers. Weighing a massive 224 pounds, he ran a 4.4 (or 4.5 depending on which time you’re using) forty, which puts him in the upper 80th percentile of speed score for the RB position. The most impressive quality that Johnson has to offer is definitely his lateral agility. He clocked an 11.09 agility score at 224 pounds, which is essentially Le’Veon Bell light. A big inefficiency in both real and fantasy football is putting too much stock in pedigree; played at a big program, drafted in the first round, etc. Johnson doesn’t offer those qualities, but he is supremely talented, and if he is drafted by the right team, will offer big fantasy upside. Much like Zenner, if he goes to a team that lacks an incumbent starter, he will offer immediate fantasy upside.