8 Potential Fantasy Football Steals to Follow Heading into NFL Training Camps

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxCorrespondent IJune 26, 2022

8 Potential Fantasy Football Steals to Follow Heading into NFL Training Camps

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    For serious fantasy football enthusiasts, the game is a year-round affair. Tracking moves during the NFL draft and free agency helps managers better prepare for fantasy drafts in August and early September.

    Championship-caliber teams don't rely on first- and second-round selections alone. Yes, it's great to have a high-volume player such as Jonathan Taylor or Najee Harris as your centerpiece. However, middle-draft breakouts and late-draft sleepers are what separates a strong fantasy roster from the pack.

    At this point of the offseason, we know where most fantasy-relevant players will play in 2022. The next step in the fantasy draft prep process is figuring out which potential sleepers are in line for breakout campaigns or unexpectedly large roles. This is where training camp buzz comes into play.

    Here, you'll find a list of eight potential fantasy steals whose situations will be worth following during camp. We'll examine where each player is trending in drafts, why they could outperform expectations and what needs to happen over the next two months for them to emerge as a fantasy standout.

    Players are listed in alphabetical order.

DJ Chark, WR, Detroit Lions

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    Positional Ranking: 60

    Detroit Lions wide receiver DJ Chark is the 60th-ranked receiver in points-per-reception leagues. A couple of factors likely play into this.

    For one, Chark is likely to be a complementary receiver when rookie first-round pick Jameson Williams is ready to roll. Second-year player Amon-Ra St. Brown is the team's No. 1 perimeter target and should remain a starter.

    Secondly, Chark is coming off a broken ankle that ended his 2021 season after just four games.

    If Chark is back to 100 percent by Week 1, he could be a steal late in drafts. He was a Pro Bowler and a 1,000-yard receiver with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2019 and has notched 15 touchdown receptions over his last three seasons.

    The 25-year-old is eager to get back on the field and help elevate quarterback Jared Goff.

    "I really, really, can't wait to get out there and be the best that I can be. I'm not afraid to fail," he said in March during his introductory news conference.

    Chark could be particularly valuable as an early-season streamer if Williams hasn't recovered. The Alabama product suffered a torn ACL in the national championship game and isn't expected to be ready for training camp.

    "I don't see him being ready for training camp," head coach Dan Campbell said, per ESPN's Eric Woodyard.

    Keep an eye on Chark's recovery and role.

Jahan Dotson, WR, Washington Commanders

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    Positional Ranking: 67

    Rookie wide receivers can be a gamble because their roles and production are difficult to predict. However, betting on a first-year pass-catcher can pay off. Players such as DK Metcalf, Justin Jefferson and Ja'Marr Chase become instant fantasy stars.

    Washington Commanders rookie Jahan Dotson has the potential to be far more valuable than his positional ranking indicates. He's polished and should be among Washington's top targets come Week 1.

    No. 1 receiver Terry McLaurin has stayed away from workouts this offseason while angling for a contract extension. Washington will get something done soon, according to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, but his absence has given Dotson exposure with the first-team offense.

    Through organized team activities and minicamp, Dotson has impressed.

    "He's what we expected him to be thus far in terms of his being a route-runner, his ball skills, his demeanor, not flinching from the moment and being able to come out here and gain confidence every day and execute every day," wide receivers coach Drew Terrell said, per Peter Hailey of NBC Sports Washington.

    In theory, Carson Wentz will boost a passing game that ranked 21st last season. With a strong training camp, Dotson should secure the No. 2 role opposite McLaurin and statistically outpace his draft slot.

Travis Etienne Jr., RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Positional Ranking: 19

    Jaguars running back Travis Etienne Jr.'s rookie campaign ended before it even began. The Clemson product suffered a Lisfranc injury in his second preseason outing and underwent surgery.

    Heading into Year 2, Etienne has a ton of sleeper potential. As RB19, the 23-year-old could prove much more valuable in PPR leagues. Etienne is a capable receiver—he had 48 receptions for 588 yards to go with 914 rushing yards and 16 combined touchdowns in 2020—who should be a big part of the passing game.

    "At OTAs on [May 31], the wide receiver I couldn't stop watching was running back Travis Etienne," CBS Sports' Jonathan Jones wrote. "... The 2021 first-round pick seemingly only caught passes during the two-hour practice."

    While Etienne will share the backfield load with James Robinson, he should also get plenty of snaps as a dual-threat option. And he'll bring preexisting chemistry with Jaguars quarterback and former Clemson teammate Trevor Lawrence.

    Add in the fact that new coach Doug Pederson should get more out of Lawrence than predecessor Urban Meyer, and Etienne looks like a future PPR star.

    One thousand receiving yards and 80-plus catches are not out of the question for Etienne.

    Managers should pay attention to his recovery and role during camp and draft him accordingly.

Drake London, WR, Atlanta Falcons

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    Positional Ranking: 39

    We've already touched on the upside of rookie receivers, and Atlanta Falcons first-round pick Drake London is well worth the gamble at WR39.

    If a rookie wideout replicates the success of Jefferson and Chase, it will be London. Don't allow Atlanta's quarterback competition between Marcus Mariota and rookie third-rounder Desmond Ridder to cause you to sleep on the USC product.

    London is in the perfect situation to be a No. 1 option out of the gate. The Falcons lack proven targets aside from running back Cordarrelle Patterson and tight end Kyle Pitts. Russell Gage departed via free agency, and Calvin Ridley was suspended for betting on NFL games.

    The fantasy potential for London is high.

    "Drake London could be a solid pickup, given he's expected to play, and get targeted, a lot," Scott Bair of the team's website wrote. "He could be a 1,000-yard, seven TD guy. Or less. It's always tough to tell how rookie receivers are going to fare."

    Of course, London will have to adapt quickly to the speed and nuances of the pro game to do what Jefferson and Chase did in 2020 and 2021. His development in camp and the preseason will determine whether the 20-year-old was a steal or aptly slotted as the 39th-ranked receiver.

    London's stock will improve if there's a winner in the quarterback competition who appears capable of consistent play.

Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Denver Broncos

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    Positional Ranking: 16

    Tight end is an interesting position in fantasy because there are a few elite players—Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Kyle Pitts, Mark Andrews and Darren Waller—and then everyone else.

    The second tier of tight ends is vast and filled with high-end starters such as Dalton Schultz and T.J. Hockenson. When looking for a potential steal, seek a player who can leap into the upper echelon but who doesn't carry the draft cost.

    The Denver Broncos' Albert Okwuegbunam could be that player. The third-year Missouri product has a clear path to a starting role, as Noah Fant was traded to the Seattle Seahawks in the Russell Wilson deal.

    Okwuegbunam will also benefit tremendously from having Wilson as his quarterback—as will virtually every member of the Broncos offense.

    The 24-year-old has loads of potential, which he flashed last season with 33 catches, 330 receiving yards and two touchdowns. This offseason, he has "really stepped up mentally," according to offensive coordinator Justin Outten.

    "He's a very talented player and a very explosive player and just honing in on the details that allow him to come through with all of his talent instead of just limiting himself to one aspect or the other," Outten said, per Zach Segars of Mile High Sports.

    With an expanded role and improved quarterback play, Okwuegbunam's production should skyrocket after he and Fant combined for 101 catches, 1,000 yards and six touchdowns last season. He has a backup-level draft status, but it's not unrealistic to think he can finish as one of the top five or six fantasy producers at his position.

    Managers looking for an edge at tight end should monitor Broncos camp closely for Okwuegbunam's progress and role.

Alec Pierce, WR, Indianapolis Colts

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    Positional Ranking: 93

    Indianapolis Colts wideout Alec Pierce is another rookie who appears to be undervalued, and in his case, significantly so.

    As WR93, the Cincinnati product isn't even projected as a draftable player. However, there's a good chance he will be a quality fantasy producer right away.

    The Indianapolis passing game should receive a boost from Matt Ryan, and there's little proven depth behind No. 1 wideout Michael Pittman Jr. Pierce could step into the No. 2 role and become one of Ryan's go-to targets.

    Even in what should be a run-heavy offense, Pierce will be fantasy-relevant. ESPN's Mike Clay recently projected a 746-yard season for Pierce, and that might be low.

    "Pierce is off to a great start, showing consistency with his hands," The Athletic's Stephen Holder wrote. "... Pierce, for the record, has already been heavily involved in practices. He figures to be a big part of game plans this fall if OTAs are any indication."

    Managers should eye Pierce as a deep sleeper who is worth a flier. However, if he shows consistent growth during training camp and appears poised for a significant role, he could be even more valuable than that.

Jameis Winston, QB, New Orleans Saints

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    Positional Ranking: 22

    The New Orleans Saints may no longer have offensive guru Sean Payton running the show, but change should be minimal. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen was promoted to replace Payton, and Pete Carmichael remained the offensive coordinator.

    There's a chance this will be a breakout year for quarterback Jameis Winston.

    The 2015 No. 1 pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played extremely well in his seven starts last season. While Winston didn't rack up yards—he averaged 167.1 per game—he did throw 14 touchdown passes and just three interceptions.

    Yards should be easier to come by this season, as Winston will have Michael Thomas, Jarvis Landry and rookie first-rounder Chris Olave as his top three receivers. New Orleans may also be pass-heavy early in the season.

    Running back Alvin Kamara is "bracing for a suspension of at least six weeks," according to Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio. Kamara was charged with felony battery resulting in substantial bodily harm after a fight in Las Vegas on Pro Bowl weekend.

    The caveat with Winston is that he's recovering from the torn ACL that ended his 2021 campaign. Nick Underhill of NewOrleans.Football reported last month that Winston had a visible limp. If he isn't ready by Week 1, the Saints can and likely will turn to three-time Pro Bowler Andy Dalton.

    If Winston does start in Week 1, his fantasy value will far outweigh his spot as QB22. Managers would be wise to follow his progress during Saints camp.

Cade York, K, Cleveland Browns

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    Positional Ranking: 29

    Kickers are a necessary piece of the fantasy puzzle in most leagues and shouldn't be treated as throwaways. You either have a reliable kicker or you don't, and the former means you're not constantly wasting time trying to settle the position via the waiver wire.

    Last season, Cincinnati Bengals rookie Evan McPherson emerged as one of the most reliable and productive kickers in fantasy. He made 28 field goals in 33 attempts, including nine of 11 from 50 yards or more, plus 46 of 48 extra points.

    McPherson is the No. 5 kicker in season-long leagues.

    Could managers find a similarly reliable option in Cleveland Browns fourth-round rookie Cade York? The Browns certainly believe so.

    "He can be really, really good. I'm excited about him," special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said, per Anthony Poisal of the team's website. "He's the right guy. He's the right guy for our stadium, for our city and for the division that we play in."

    Kickers should never be drafted too early, but it's worth having a list of specialists you're willing to use a selection on. Can York make that list and be one of the eight or 10 top options in fantasy? We'll get a better read on his potential in training camp and the preseason.


    Fantasy rankings from FantasyPros and based on PPR scoring.

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