First of all. If you’re reading this, thank you. I really appreciate you taking the time. I love fantasy and a fantasy debate, so feel free to poke holes where you see them or see merit in my guesswork.
Have a good one.
“You don’t understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could’ve been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it”
-Terry Malloy (On the Waterfront)
Ice caps and attentions spans. The smaller they get, the worse off we all are.
Quick judgements and no forgiveness.
Short fuses and failing memories.
This is the era we live in.
And while all of those things apply to many of the very important issues of our terrifying times, they also apply to the great solace and escape of fantasy football.
There was a time, not so long ago, when the rule of thumb for wide receivers was this: three years. Three years was how long it took a rookie player to catch on to the nuances of their new teams, complex NFL offenses and vicious free safeties coming over the middle. Players were expected to come along slowly but surely. We had patience. But things have changed.
The NFL of 20, 15 or even 10 years ago would hardly recognize itself today. The rules protecting receivers, the offenses inching closer and closer to the college game and the economics of the league might all seem foreign to that bygone era.
The expectation that receivers should have an immediate impact was likely cemented by the 2014 draft class. That receiver group included the following:
There are a few others of modest note, but we’ll leave it at that.
All of these guys, save Latimer have either become stars or made serious contributions at one time (with the exception of Cody Latimer).
This class, which followed pockets of instant stardom from the likes of AJ Green and Julio Jones in 2011, and DeAndre Hopkins and Keenan Allen in 2013, spoiled us all. And good as those four would be stars began, the 2014 was laden with seemingly can’t miss studs. Things had changed forever and there was no looking back.
Sink or swim fellas, instant fantasy gratification or off with your heads was the new rule of thumb.
But what if things haven’t changed so much. What is 2014 was this era’s bumper crop and, league changes aside, playing receiver wasn’t so easy after all.
I would argue that the jury is out on this one. It will take a dozen or more draft classes before we truly know. I’d bet though, that things haven’t really changed all that much. I’d argue that, as always, different players mature and improve at their own particular pace, in their specific landing spot and situation, regardless of what sort of rush we may be in.
While the NFL rookie contracts have teams eager to get a quick return on investment that they can stretch out for as long as possible, it also keeps underperformers around for a while. It’s a double edged sword. Succeed early and you’ll be fed early and often. Be slow on the uptake or suffer and injury and you’ll find you’re soon sharing roster space with a new crop of cheap contract completion.
I’ve heard many fantasy experts pronounce a player a failure only one year into a career. If they haven’t performed by year two they are almost certain to be written off. The beat of the war drums grows louder and louder as the echo chamber repeats the same opinion again and again. And when that echo chamber stamps a sub 25 year old with a DOA directly on their forehead, well that dear friend, is a great time to buy.
These reclamation projects may very well be long shots, but they also remain talented and with the possibility of finally having a break through season. For that reason, these broken toys are worth picking up late in best ball leagues as well as dynasty waiver wires. Narratives turn quickly. Today’s hopeless wash out can make some noise at camp, follow it up with a pre-season performance or two, and suddenly you have a story your leaguemates are chasing. Buy low, sell high as the saying goes, and here’s who I’m buying with my last round best ball picks and scooping off the dynasty waiver wire.
Misfit toy 1 – Kevin White:
Prior to being drafted Kevin White was a prototypical 6’3”, 215 pounds. By all accounts, he is those same dimensions now, only stronger, wiser and with a whole hell of a lot of people to prove wrong. While his height and weight may be similar to his pre-draft structure, what is unknown is if he can still post the 4.35 40 he managed back then. Assuming his shin splits and stress fractures may have slowed him somewhat, 4.35 is a nice starting point to fall from. It provides somewhat of a cushion, as it was hardly borderline NFL speed.
Chicago is embarking on a major philosophy shift. The old ground and pound gameplan is being replaced by an aggressive passing approach. We have no clear idea of what that actually looks like or how the new regime will utilize players, but we can all agree there is excitement. Chicago has a shiny new coach, with a shiny new quarterback and three shiny new receivers in Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller and Taylor Gabriel. All are receiving various degrees of fantasy love.
One player who is not, is Kevin White. He is not expected to do much of anything. He’s an injury prone, over-hyped bust, or so the story goes.
To be fair, three consecutive season injuries is damning. Another season ending injury would be the end of White, even for a hopeful jerk like me. Let’s recall though, that last years injury was not a repeat of the shin splint/stress fracture injury that plagued White in his first two year. A third strike there would be especially damning, but last year’s week 1 injury was a random, bad luck shoulder blade fracture. White has had more than ample time to recover not only from that injury, but from his earlier legs ailments.
He has now spent three years on the sidelines. He has next to no mileage on his body. His injuries have never been considered career threatening. He has spent three seasons in the receiver room learning the pro game on paper. He has spent three years in the weight room getting healthy and stronger. And now he gets an aggressive coach who wants to attack through the passing game and he’s currently armed with Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and the rookie Miller at receiver. I think it is safe to say there is .a path to redemption, possibly his last, for this 25 year old.
Put your ear to the ground gently this season and listen to the whispers of encouragement for White and remember that this: he is only 25 years old, he’s a 6’3”, 215 pounder who ran a 4.35. He is two years recovered from his lower body injury, he will be one full season recovered from his shoulder injury. He will be fighting for a role on a potentially explosive offense alongside double-coverage-draw Allen Robinson, against a career journeyman and a rookie. Go get some late shares of White. If the stars align you could be claiming a comeback player of the year from the isle of misfit toys.
Next time on the Island, we look at the case of ________ __________ and the case of too many mouths to feed.