Anatomy of an Underdog: Five NFC North “Dogs” To Roster

One of the more common fantasy football articles are the 2018 best sleepers columns. These columns are useful, and they help find value when drafting. For Dynasty Purposes, I wanted to tweak this concept of sleepers, and instead write about best “underdogs.” In my opinion, Merriam-Webster has the meanest definition for an underdog – 1: a loser or predicted loser in a struggle or contest. See once you start calling my player names or predicting they have no shot, I’m automatically going to rally around them.  

I’ve long been known to reach and draft for my guys. Most people who know me refer to these as “TK” guys, after my twitter handle. See, when I find a TK guy, I own him everywhere – I’ve got his back. The concept of this series is to look at who some of our Underdogs could be before the start of this season, during the pre-season, and even how this changes during a year. It doesn’t mean that these players are going to immediately translate to success.

It doesn’t mean they will win you a division. It does mean that they will be an asset to your team, and they will be worth rooting for. When you have a dog in the fight, you have a commitment, even if it requires you to wait.


Chicago Bears: Ryan Nall

Why should you roster him, and what qualifies him as a sleeper?

1. Ryan Nall came out of Oregon State, and the NFL didn’t have a clear idea how to label him. As an Undrafted Free Agent, and without a set position (similar to Pittsburgh’s Jaylen Samuels), it is even more ambiguous how Ryan Nall will fit on an NFL roster. Even on his Playerprofiler page, Nall is labeled as a Tight End.  That’s weird considering he’s fairly short at 6’2. But I get it – there’s a lot of uncertainty to how his game might translate to the NFL.    

Ryan Nall has an excellent agility score, and he’s fast for his size. This gives Chicago choices about where to use Nall on the field, and how he can contribute. Nall was efficient when he was at Oregon State, averaging 5.8 yards per carry (YPC) in 3 years.  Clearly, parts of Nall’s game translates well, and this provides an opportunity to see untapped fantasy production.

1A) He’s now on the Bears practice squad

2. Nall is a coin-toss to make the Bears roster. Part of this has to do with the fact that Chicago has my one of my personal favorites, Tarik Cohen who possesses a rare versatility that reminds me of Tyreek Hill, along with Benny Cunningham on special teams. Oh, and Chicago has Jordan Howard, too. Even if Nall avoids the practice squad, his overall snaps should be low. But that doesn’t mean you should write him off. He’s the biggest running back on the Bears roster, and he has an “it” factor that is worth monitoring.

Clip 1:  Ryan Nall is strong, and he’s also creative.

3. Ryan Nall, meet Chris Warren. I am a big metrics guy, and I love to see how running backs compare to each other. Under the Helmet provides a glimpse at how the 2018 Undrafted Free Agents class measures up to each other here, and it’s really interesting to see the similarities between Oakland’s Chris Warren, and Ryan Nall. Warren has had electric tape this pre-season, and like Nall, there is no guarantee he will make the team.   

4. Outlook: Watch the tape and be patient. Ryan Nall is worth rostering in medium to deep leagues (25+ roster spots). Even if we view Nall as an end of the bench roster stash, he could pay off. Think of Alex Collins, leading the charge in Baltimore. Just because a player lands on the practice squad or in unfavorable situations, that doesn’t mean we won’t have a return on investment rewarding our dynasty patience.

Detroit: Kenny Golladay (6:4, 213)

Why should you roster him, like, everywhere? And what makes him an underdog?

Are we going from looking at a potential practice squad player to looking at one of the more recently hyped players drafted? Yes, we are – deal with it. One of the knocks on Golladay is that he doesn’t have enough game tape on him from last year, where he missed five games due to injury. There’s also the thought that because Detroit has Marvin Jones and Golden Tate, Golladay will be a “third” wide receiver with a lessened role when Detroit doesn’t use 3 WR lineups. Well, maybe not so fast.

1: Small College Pedigree –  A receiver coming out of the MAC (Mid-American Conference) usually qualifies a player as an underdog. Central Michigan had Antonio Brown, Kent State had Julian Edelman, and  Northern Illinois has Kenny Golladay. It shows that small college players are being underappreciated historically by the NFL.   

Numberfire did a study on this trying to identify how successful small school prospects are in the NFL. One of the outcomes of this study was that small-school prospects are drafted less frequently, and are drafted much lower than their major conference rivals. It doesn’t always translate to NFL (or fantasy football) success, but it does align with the concept of what an underdog is.  

2: As Detroit Moments said on May 21st “Matthew Stafford is a Top 5 quarterback and is elite. This is not up for debate folks.” Detroit Beat Writer Dave Birkett writes that even when the Lions are running with just 2 wide receivers this pre-season, it is Jones and Golladay on the field getting snaps. Against the Bears, the Lions ran seven two-WR personnel sets, all with Golladay and Jones on the outside. Golladay was also the highest targeted WR (five times) by Stafford in the week three dress rehearsal game against Tampa Bay.

Granted this is the pre-season, but the ceiling for Kenny Golladay in his 2018 outlook is extremely underrated. The Lions also ran 3 WR personnel on 80% of offensive plays or more last year. Given the tenuous TE role on the offense (zero targets for Luke Willson, who also suffered a knee injury), this personnel usage will remain high.

3. A lot of smart people over at have Golladay as the 58th projected wide receiver, being chosen in the 12th round of recent drafts. I think he can beat that projection short term. I can almost guarantee that Golladay is going to beat these projections as a WR3 long-term, barring injuries.

4. Outlook: Golladay could (should/will from my perspective) be a difference maker on your roster, especially with his current price discount. Even if you overpay, as I absolutely will, you are getting someone who will see snaps and targets above what owners are expecting. If you’re starting him as a WR2 on your team, that’s substantial long-term value. Just for fun, let’s do a couple of quick video comparisons.

Here’s clip one, and here’s clip 2. Here’s clip three (Ignore the goofy, weird catch rule thing that the NFL has going on and watch the play). Also, before you read on, please look at the best Comparable athlete this man has!  Kudos to for the “Lebronzing of Megatron.”

               Green Bay Packers: Randall Cobb – Guess who’s back, back again?

Backup choice 1:  Jake Kumerow – He’s a local college player (the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and at 26 years old, he’s been battling for a while to make it in Green Bay. Can you imagine chants of “KUMEROW!” in Lambeau Field? So much fun to be had there.

Why should you be rostering Randall Cobb like, everywhere? And what makes him an underdog?

1. We have that vicious dictionary definition of “underdog”, and then we have the more pragmatic application of it. Has our player been discarded for lack of recent production?  Discarded because of injuries? Discarded by a huge shift in perceived public value? Randall Cobb meets all of these criteria. Writers at have Randall Cobb as the 26th ranked wide receiver, which is right on the fringe of WR 2/3 value. Cobb is valuable, but people aren’t drafting him as if he is. Looking at the ADP comparison tool below, Cobb and Jordy have been falling out of favor since September 2017.

As Dynasty League Football’s Bruce Matson shared, “he’s severely undervalued.” DLF staff member Austin Kas pointed out “that Cobb is incredibly cheap as his stock has cratered.” I wholeheartedly agree. Because Cobb has fallen out of favor, it puts him in line for a Rocky vs. Clubber Lang rematch as an underdog ready to make championship noise.

People react over the most recent news when trying to make decisions about who to draft. The fact that Cobb has been in the news for his recent ankle injury should keep his price low, if not make him more of an underdog value. Cobb has also been in the news as being shopped as a possible trade candidate out of Green Bay. Until that happens, I’m ignoring these reports as white noise (he carries a $10,000,000 price tag anyways.) Rumors don’t change Cobb’s current situation, and we can’t control that outcome.

2. Historical Production and Targets/Snap opportunities – Looking at projections from, we have a guy who should flirt with 73 receptions and with 1,000 yards. Cobb is also efficient with his targets, with a catch rate of 73.5% in 2017, and 71.4% in 2016. A healthy Cobb without Jordy Nelson on the team is flirting with a modest uptick in projection of 102 targets a year, given his past efficiency. This is a small, but a noticeable jump from 84 targets (2016) and 92 targets (2017) Cobb has had recently.

3. Draft Pedigree and Age: Cobb is young (in fact he’s barely 2 years older than KUMEROW!).  He has a proven history of production. He is on a safe, high ceiling offense (Until he’s not). Cobb is a late 2nd round draft pick, under Ted Thompson’s administration, who for all his faults, was well respected for drafting wide receivers. While Cobb is being faded because of recent production lapses and injuries, he is still very much in his prime.

4. Outlook: Buy Cobb speculatively before his price increases. Maybe he gets injured or struggles again, but what if he doesn’t? As a Detroit Lions fan, it pains me to say this, but Aaron Rodgers is a historically elite talent. Outside of Davante Adams, Aaron Rodgers does not have veteran receivers that he can trust. If you have been following the news recently, trust is a big deal for Rodgers. If owners are drafting Randall Cobb in the 8th-9th round, which is where shows Cobb’s ADP, then you have a difference maker in your WR 2 slot for potentially 1-3 years at a substantial bargain.

Minnesota Vikings: Roc Thomas

Why should you roster Roc Thomas? And what makes him an underdog?

Can you smell what the rock is cooking?! If you are a pre-season guy like I am, you are probably aware of some of the highlight reel plays happening in the NFL. While Thomas has highlight plays like these, those plays and his iconic name are not why I love him, or why you should roster him.

1. Reason number one: When any player passionately appeals to @EAMadden on twitter to bump his stock, that player is gold in my book. Roc Thomas may just be my favorite NFL player/tweeter since Maurice Jones-Drew, who is still active on myspace, which I didn’t know was still in business. By the way, it worked! Roc Thomas is in Madden 19!


2. Remember that mean definition of underdog that we talked about? Thomas fits that. Roc Thomas is an Undrafted Free Agent. He is buried on a very strong Vikings running back depth chart, fighting for a spot as a third (or fourth) rostered running back, and could be relegated to the Vikings practice squad. He’s from a very small college. Doing some hands-on research, I just learned that Jacksonville State is part of the Atlantic Sun Division in Alabama, (yeah, not down in Florida) so it’s relatively small in stature.

3. Historical Relevance – Roc Thomas was the former #2 running back recruit in the nation and briefly signed at Auburn. He is comparable to Kerryon Johnson and actually outproduced Johnson over his past two years at Jacksonville State. Thomas has had well over 4,000 yards in his past two years at Jacksonville State, and has his receiving threshold at 84%. In comparison, Kerryon Johnson’s receiving threshold is at 87%, and Saquon Barkley’s receiving threshold is at 98%.

This receiving threshold is much stronger than higher drafted rookies Rashaad Penny (56%), Sony Michel (55%), and Nick Chubb (63%). Thomas has electric metrics (try saying that three times really fast). He should carve a role on special teams, even if he doesn’t see immediate snaps in the Minnesota Vikings backfield.

4:  Outlook: Be Patient and Stash him. I truly hope Thomas makes the Vikings team. From a personality standpoint, he’s one of my favorites who should ball out. Charisma aside, Thomas has the chance to be Jerick McKinnon’s replacement, if not more.

Those are my underdogs from the NFC North. Who are you pulling for? You can let me know in the comments or on Twitter at @terminalkennedy.


Father of twins, husband, teacher, Deaf! Detroit Sports Superfan. Writer for @DFF_Dynasty. You can follow me on Twitter @TerminalKennedy. #DFFArmy

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