Late Round Rookie Sleepers
While he is not quite Captain America, Chris Evans out of Michigan is an interesting late-round flier in rookie drafts for 2021. The Bengals drafted Evans in the 6th round. After only seeing glimpses of his true potential in his freshman and senior season, Evans sat out for Academic reasons in 2019. A lot of collegiate athletes would have fizzled out, but Evans was back on the field as a redshirt senior. Evans’s senior season was nothing to clamber over. He did rack up 700 and 800 scrimmage yards in his first two seasons with the Wolverines in 13 games. He played a role in the run and pass game. Standing at 5 foot 11 inches and weighing 211 pounds, he has the build to carry a sizable workload when called upon. Samaje Perine is currently listed as the number 2 running back on the depth chart. If the coaching staff can coach him up, Evans can push for a roster spot. It would then take an injury to Joe Mixon for Evans to have any real relevance in year 1, but we’ve been down that road before.
Hawkins is on the list for many reasons. In college, he was the leading rusher for the Louisville Cardinals before opting out of the 2020 season. In 2019 he had over 1500 yards rushing in 13 games. He landed in Atlanta as a UDFA, signed almost immediately after the draft ended. He was not utilized a ton as a pass-catcher but has shown he is capable. The biggest knock on Hawkins will be his size. This is all familiar to Philip Lindsay in Denver a few years back. Hawkins has good speed, although right around the average for his size. He will need to compete with the mish-mosh of talent behind Mike Davis for touches.
The good news is that there are a lot of touches to go around. The Falcons lead the NFL in vacated touches to the running back. They said goodbye to Todd Gurley and Brian Hill early this offseason. They brought in Mike Davis and Cordarelle Patterson to soak up some of those touches. Davis was effective in his relief of CMC last year. He will not hold up to the 21 touches per game that the Falcons leave behind. Look for him to fall between the 14-15 range when healthy, leaving the rest of the depth chart to fight for the scraps. If Davis were to miss time or slow down, Hawkins could inject some life into the run game for the Falcons. He is going middle to the end of the 3rd currently and makes the sleeper category by a slim margin.
The Chiefs traded up to grab the all-time leader in receptions by a Tight End at Duke. Now before we get ahead of ourselves, this is not saying he will become Travis Kelce in this offense. He will be working with Kelce every day until Kelce decides to call it a career or move on. That won’t be happening any time soon. There is still room for another pass-catching option in Andy Reid’s offense. Let’s look at the depth chart behind Kelce and Hill. This leaves Byron Pringle, Demarcus Robinson, Mecole Hardman, and 6th round rookie Cornell Powell. There is room for Gray to grow in Year 1.
There has been a lot of camp buzz about Gray. While it is early, speculation of more two-tight end sets would help the run game. This is something the Chiefs have been trying to work on. It also allows Gray to see the field a good amount as a rookie. If anything were to happen to Kelce, who has been the picture of health in his career, Gray could slide into a respectable target share. This is a great move in the 3rd round or so of TE-premium leagues. During the preseason you may be able to sell off for a profit if the hype train builds. Remember tight ends take time, if he goes in your draft look to buy him later.
Darden was another instance where his new NFL team traded up to get him. This time, the Buccaneers moved up into the 4th round to select the North Texas slot receiver. Darden was 3rd in the FBS with 132.2 yards receiving per game. He was behind only Elijah Moore and DeVonta Smith. He has a long way to go on the depth chart, but the move on draft day is usually a good sign. As it currently sits, Chris Godwin is playing on the franchise tag. Mike Evans is all but locked in for another 3 seasons. Antonio Brown is best described as a “wild-card” after this year. Darden could be looking to make an impact from the slot in 4 WR sets this season, or work towards a spot in the starting rotation in 2022. Darden has all the tools to battle Tyler Johnson and Scotty Miller for the rotational spot this year. His work on special teams will benefit him as well. Darden may be a taxi or end of bench stash but can be had near the 4th round currently. A lot of players going that late are well below Darden’s 4th round NFL draft capital.
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