Just like life, sports will find a way. As sports return slowly and surely we inch closer to a return to the NFL season as well. Dynasty drafts are heating up, rookie camps are non-existent so who are the dynasty dark horses to be targeting? What players currently projected outside the first two rounds possess some deep value?
The value at the top end of the draft seems clear, but championships are built by the obvious move. Championships come riding in with a herd of dark horses who come from nowhere to take the league and title by storm.
1. Quintez Cephus (WR)
The Lions featured a prolific passing offense at the start of last year. Matt Stafford was on a tear to start the year and was on pace to finish the year as QB05. So how does any of this impact the talented Wisconsin wideout? It probably will not this year. Dynasty is not just about finding value for this year. It is about knowing who has a path to stardom in the years to come, and Cephus has a clear path ahead of him.
All three of Detroit’s receivers are scheduled to hit free agency next offseason. Kenny Golladay was WR03 last year and is about to get paid. Marvin Jones was WR27, but he is on the wrong end of 30 and was already making $8 million per year. Danny Amendola may have stayed reasonably healthy in the past few years, but he is a nice slot option at best. The door is open in 2021 and beyond for the former Badger. Cephus is a dynamic receiver who can make plays all over the field. He brought in 24% of the passes in a run-heavy Wisconsin offense and averaged 15.3 YPC. 2020 may not be his year, barring an injury, but 2021 will be a coming-out party as he slides onto the field opposite Golladay. Go get this dynasty dark horse in the third round and reap the rewards in 2021 and beyond.
2. Jalen Hurts (QB)
We all know about the quarterback situation in Philadelphia. Yes, Carson Wentz is firmly entrenched as the starter for this year, but what about next year? What if Wentz gets hurt and misses time like he has each year since he arrived in Philly? Jalen Hurts is a proven commodity as a passer and a running threat. Combine all of that and you have a good candidate for a late-round stash.
Wentz has missed significant regular-season time in two of the last three years and has a 39.8% chance of missing games this year. Anyone who owns Wentz should either have another starting option on the bench or snap up Hurts in a move to handcuff the oft-injured Wentz. If Hurts sees action, he will be productive with a strong ground game and solid receiving options. There is also the chance he develops into a Taysom Hill-esque weapon who gains Flex eligibility as well. Go get Hurts anytime after round three, but if you own Wentz already, we will excuse you for taking him in the second.
3. Tee Higgins (WR)
There are two hype-trains I am claiming the conductor’s hat for in 2020. The first is that Deandre Hopkins will be WR01 this year. Secondly, Tee Higgins will be the best receiver to come out of the 2020 Draft and will be a top-20 wide receiver this year. Higgins is presently ranked as WR06 in the rookie class, behind Lamb, Jeudy, Reagor, Jefferson, and Ruggs III. Higgins has a clear path to one of the largest target shares in the NFL for a rookie receiver this year and the skill set to capitalize on it.
Higgs is currently slotted in as the third receiver on the Bengals’ roster. If we look at Coach Taylor’s time with the Rams, we see that they split their targets fairly evenly between their top three receivers with each receiving 100 targets. Looking at the Bengals they appear to be constructed similarly at receiver. AJ Green, Tyler Boyd, and Tee Higgins look a lot like Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and Brandin Cooks. The Bengals do have John Ross and Auden Tate on the roster for now, but Tate will most likely slide into more of a receiving tight end role and provide solid volume there. Meanwhile, Ross is running on borrowed time in Cincy. The oft-injured speedster has been inconsistent since he came into the league and is not a reliable option on a game-to-game basis. Ross will either be traded or cut by the time the regular season rolls around, leaving Higgins as the best deep-threat. Higgins is going in the first round right now, not truly a dynasty dark horse, he should be a top-five pick in rookie drafts. Go get him early and you will be rewarded in 2020 and beyond.
4. Darrynton Evans (RB)
Dynasty Drafts are about finding value in late rounds who will help your team in the years to come. Running back is a volatile position and you should plan on turning over a majority of your running back position every five years or less. Do not plan on a running back remaining a productive part of your lineup beyond those five years. Every running back who has value beyond five years is just a bonus.
Derrick Henry is in the peak of his NFL prime as far as running backs are concerned. He had 300 carries last year, but that was the first year since 2014 with at least two backs with 300+ carries. The clock is ticking on Henry and Darrynton Evans is primed to start taking over in 2021, if not sooner. Henry is presently on a one-year deal and the Titans may be hard-pressed to spend $10 million-plus on a running back beyond this year. Evans has the versatility to be a three-down back, but could also work as the primary receiving option out the backfield. He is elusive and has the size to absorb NFL-caliber hits. If you have Henry on your roster Evans is a must-draft starting in the second half of the first round. Everyone else should target this dynasty dark horse in the second round.
5. Lamical Perine (RB)
If the Perine name sounds familiar, it should be his cousin Samaje Perine is on his third team, Bengals, since coming into the league. Lamical has solid college experience coming out of Florida and really flashed dual-threat capabilities in his senior year by catching 40 passes. Heading to the New Jersey Jets, Perine will be competing with Frank Gore to backup Le’veon Bell.
Last year Bell missed one game and has missed time for injury or suspension in all but one year since he came into the league in 2013. Frank Gore is a steadying veteran presence in the running back room, but his yards-per-carry have been under 4.0 in four of the last five years. Gore may see work early this year, but Perine has younger legs and explosiveness that Gore cannot match. Anyone who already owns Bell should start looking at Perine in the second round. Anyone looking for a potential dark horse starter in 2021 should the Jets take the out on Le’veon Bell’s contract should look at him in the third round.
6. Antonio Gandy-Golden (WR)
The former Liberty standout steps into a Washington receiving corps that is searching for another receiver to play on the outside opposite breakout rookie Terry McLaurin. Trey Quinn appears to have locked down the slot position, but opposite McLaurin is nothing but a question mark at this point. The Washington passing offense was anemic last year outside of McLaurin, but Washington has the potential to open it up and let Dwayne Haskins throw a bit more than last year, or let former panther Kyle Allen take the reigns. Add in that Washington could be a landing spot for Trevor Lawrence in 2021 and Gandy-Golden has massive upside.
Gandy-Golden posted three consecutive 1000+ yard seasons at Liberty and was the focal point of their passing attack. He is a capable receiver who can work all levels of the field and at 6-4 should provide a nice big-bodied option for whoever Washington rolls with under center. Gandy-Golden is presently ranked as the 33rd best rookie. Washington has a jumbled roster situation, and he could climb quickly if the underwhelming veterans fail to perform in camp. Gandy-Golden is a value in the third round, but his upside makes a second-round pick worth it for this dynasty dark horse.