Every single year, there are a handful of players that seemingly come out of nowhere to save your fantasy football season. While some of these guys are completely unpredictable (see: Zonovan Knight), some of these future league-winners are just underrated players in the present-day NFL. Based on average draft position and overall reputation around the league, these 10 players do not get the respect they deserve, both in real-life football and in fantasy.
10 Underrated NFL Players For the Fantasy Football Season
Normally, you don’t want to put too much faith in a fifth-round quarterback. However, Sam Howell is the exception to the rule. The North Carolina product would’ve been a first-round pick had he declared one year earlier, and his early NFL tape shows that his 2021 season was an outlier brought on by a bad supporting cast. Howell played well in the 2022 season finale and set the world on fire during the preseason, comfortably beating out Jacoby Brissett for the starting job. Now guaranteed a starting job with a great supporting cast in Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, and Curtis Samuel, the sky is the limit for one of the most underrated players in the NFL.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett came out of the gate slow as a rookie but caught fire as the season progressed. From Week 12 onwards, Pickett was the second-best quarterback in the league by PFF’s metrics, and he appears to have picked up right where he left off last year. Granted, it’s only the preseason, but Pickett’s impressive performances combined with his strong finish to 2022 cannot be ignored. Maybe he won’t put up Patrick Mahomes numbers, but he should be a solid starter in real-life and fantasy football.
J.K. Dobbins has battled injuries throughout his professional career, but he has always played well when on the field. Injuries are notoriously hard to predict, so it’s bad process to just assume he’s going to get hurt again at some point this year. This line of thinking led to Saquon Barkley falling to the back half of the second round in most fantasy football drafts last year. Dobbins is an effective runner in his own right, shares a backfield with Lamar Jackson, and should see more targets with Todd Monken calling the shots. All in all, this is a perfect formula for one of the most underrated players in the NFL to start getting the respect he deserves.
“We love J.K. … He’s healthy this year. He looks great and he’s ready to go.”
Eric DeCosta discusses RB J.K. Dobbins. pic.twitter.com/gs0UJfokrr
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) September 1, 2023
Khalil Herbert has been incredibly efficient while splitting carries with David Montgomery. Now that Montgomery is in Detroit, the former sixth-round pick should take over as the starting running back in Chicago’s offense. Playing alongside Justin Fields should create plenty of open rushing lanes, as opposing defenses need to account for the possibility of Fields taking off on his own. While he might not catch too many passes, Khalil Herbert should beat out journeyman D’Onta Foreman and rookie Roschon Johnson for starting duties.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Sean Tucker is considerably more talented than your average undrafted free agent. Tucker only went undrafted due to injury concerns, but he’s healthy now and is already taking first-team reps in practice. Rashaad White is currently set to be Tampa Bay’s starting running back, but he was one of the least efficient runners in the league last year. If Tucker can stay healthy and play up to his potential, he should win the starting job by midseason.
Diontae Johnson finished the 2022 season with a 27% target share and a 32.3% air yard share. These are borderline-elite numbers, yet Johnson remains one of the most underrated players in the league despite this ideal usage. This all comes back to the fact that he didn’t score a single touchdown in the 2022 season. That is obviously not great, but it’s not particularly predictive of future results. Year-to-year touchdown numbers are historically unstable, while target share and air yard share are far more predictive. Assuming touchdown luck goes his way with a more experienced Kenny Pickett, Diontae Johnson should finish the year as a low-end WR1 or a high-end WR2.
Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson were the two best rookie wide receivers in 2022, but Jahan Dotson could join their ranks in 2023. The first-round pick showed plenty of promise as a rookie, overcoming injuries and multiple quarterback changes to finish with 35 receptions for 523 yards and seven touchdowns in 12 games. With Terry McLaurin battling injury, Dotson should be the top option in Washington’s passing attack and could easily hit 1,000 receiving yards when all is said and done.
Keenan Allen might not be the most exciting name on the list of most underrated players in the NFL, as aging veterans aren’t nearly as exciting as untested youth. However, based on all the advanced metrics out there, Keenan Allen still has a few more good years left in his tank. Last year, the former third-round pick finished with a 27.8% target rate and a 28.4% target share while recording 2.35 yards per route run and an 84.8 PFF grade. Now that he has a NFL-caliber offensive coordinator in Kellen Moore, Allen should receive better targets and more scoring opportunities.
One. More. Week.
Last time the #Chargers played the Miami Dolphins:
• Justin Herbert – 39/51, 367 passing yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
• Keenan Allen – 12 receptions, 92 yards
• Mike Williams – 6 receptions, 116 yards, 1 TD
One more week until Herbert outplays Tua Tagovailoa again.… pic.twitter.com/k9twDF9dvS
— Chargers Central (@BoltCentral) September 3, 2023
Derek Carr thinks you should draft Juwan Johnson in fantasy football, and it’s easy to see why. Every season usually brings one or two breakout tight ends for fantasy football, and Juwan Johnson could be this year’s out-of-nowhere breakout. The tight end has a clear path to being the second option in the offense, he lines up wide, doesn’t block too much, and boasts great speed for the position. In an NFL landscape where there are only 3-5 tight ends you feel comfortable starting, Juwan Johnson stands out as one of the more underrated players in the league
Hayden Hurst is no superstar, but the tight end has proven to be a reliable depth option in just about any passing attack. Now, he has a clear path to a higher workload thanks to Carolina’s objectively terrible receiving corps. Rookie quarterbacks like Bryce Young tend to use tight ends as safety blankets, which is good news for Hurst, and that usage should only increase since Terrace Marshall and an aging Adam Thielen probably won’t get open too much on their own.
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