Anatomy of an Underdog: Lessons from the NFC East

Last week, I wrote briefly about how underdog articles are different from Sleeper columns. Both underdogs and sleepers present needed value to a dynasty team, but with an underdog, there is an extra incentive to root for the player(s) discussed. Referencing Merriam-Webster’s definition of how we define an underdog again, “1.  a loser or predicted loser in a struggle or contest.” Harsh! Also, there is some confirmation bias in this approach, but when someone starts calling my player names or predicting they have no shot, I stand behind them the way most good people stand behind any team battling the Yankees.  

Dallas: Allen Hurns

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

First a disclaimer: I would never write anything Dallas centric without double-checking with the mighty Kasey because she knows her Cowboys. If you disagree, check in with her, she will set you straight.

1) Allen Hurns entered the league as an Undrafted Free Agent. I have been a fan of Hurns since his 2015 breakout season in Jacksonville, where he had 1,031 yards and 64 receptions. The past two years in Jacksonville have been weird to parse, given the inconsistencies of that team offensively. I touched briefly on Hurns before, so this might be cheating. But the gist of it is that right now we see a player who has been injured and started only 17 of his past 32 games (2016-2017). Hurns has been slowed by injuries, another trademark quality of an underdog. Hurns is still young (26) and has some history of production behind him.

Hurns has been slowed by soft muscle injuries in camp, so his current price is not extravagant.  

Current ADP has him listed as a late 11th or early 12th round selection, and a borderline WR3/4. That projection is higher than I expected, but this is the unquestioned #1 Wide Receiver for America’s team! Pro Football Focus listed him as having the 4th most receiving first downs per targets in 2017, among the ten games that he played. You are getting a potential WR2 with upside at very, very discounted prices. Additionally, the quality and quantity of his targets are efficient.

2) Historical Outlook and Projections: It is a testament to Hurns that the Cowboys let Brice Butler walk. You could argue that Dez Bryant’s release had to do with his salary cap (and his questionable route running ability), but signing Hurns over Butler is telling. Butler is another “Underdog” (NFC West preview anyone?) who was underutilized last year in Dallas, given that he was only on the field for 23.7% of the team’s offensive snaps. Hurns will break into that offensive personnel at a much higher snap count, absorbing Butler’s targets. Here is a brief “what have you done for me lately” glimpse from Hurns.

3) Additional  Thoughts: Dak and the check-down machine: It should be noted that Hurns ran 36% of his plays in the slot in 2017. I could be wrong, but having Terrance Williams, and incoming rookie Michael Gallup on the left side of the field doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence (and I love Gallup). I believe Hurns will be on the playing field in almost all formations that Dallas runs. These snaps might come in the slot at the expense of Cole Beasley, or he might be lined up in two WR formations. But Hurns will be on the field, and he will be targeted and targeted often.

4) Outlook: Buy Low, Project him as a Potential WR2 Starter for your team. His value should incrementally increase if healthy.  

New York Giants: Jonathan Stewart

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

Really? You picked Stewart?! Those who have known me since I started playing Dynasty Football are aware that if I had a choice, I would have been writing about this guy below.  

Unfortunately for both of us, he retired on me and the horse I rode in on.

1) Jonathan Stewart isn’t the most obvious choice to choose as an Underdog, and it would probably be more popular to choose one of Eli Manning, Sterling Shepard, or even Cody Latimer. But I think statistics tell us that we are going to see a run-centric “shift” from the Giants this year for a few reasons. First, the Giants face the third toughest strength of schedule according to Warren Sharp, and the 2nd most difficult schedule of pass defenses in the league. So there will be some scheme adjustments. Second, incoming coach Pat Shurmur was an offensive innovator in Minnesota.

Shurmur’s use of personnel in Minnesota (Latavius Murray, Dalvin Cook, Jerick McKinnon) showed multiple offensive formations. Warren Sharp noted that 40% of Shurmur’s snaps featured two or fewer wide receivers. Yes, the Giants have players like Odell Beckham Junior and Evan Engram, but if they spread their personnel out, opportunities for running backs make sense with a schedule that is this difficult.

Look at the black line first – that’s league average. Now look at the red line – that’s going to be a guy named Saquon Barkley. The Blue line is Jonathan Stewart. Historically, the Giants have been inept at using, or knowing how to use running backs. That’s why Saquon Barkley was drafted with the second overall pick. Since 2013, the Giants have only once rostered a lead running back who performed in the top 30 at the running back position. With Shurmer’s mindset and the expected use of “21” personnel with two running backs on the field, that is going to change. When it does, whoever is sitting behind Barkley will benefit too.

2) Historical Outlook and Projections: Matt Kelly of RotoUnderworld fame once called Jonathan Stewart the least expensive yet serviceable back in fantasy football. I still agree with him, and I think that the state of the Giants offense presents an opportunity that Stewart hasn’t seen in years. The thought here is that Jonathan Stewart holds off Wayne Gallman as the RB2 in New York.

Let’s say that he doesn’t. In this case, there still will be an underdog in the Giants backfield, but it will be Gallman. Gallman is much younger (24 years old) than Stewart and averaged 8.5 carries per game last year. He had 31% of the teams running back snaps, which might seem high until you remember that the Giants were running with Paul Perkins, and Orleans Darkwa last year.

In contrast, Stewart had 42.7% of his teams Snap Share in 2017, and 67.7% of his teams snap share in 2016 (13 games). Stewart also had 71 Red zone Touches in that span. That’s beastly. Jonathan Stewart is being drafted in the 23rd round of drafts according to ADP – so, that’s free. When you take a swing for the fences in the last few rounds, you always feel more confident if you know what type of pitch you are hitting.  The Giants running game is a curveball, and it’s a sneaky one with value.

3) Additional Thoughts: The Giants defense has looked good this preseason. I don’t know if that’s because it’s the preseason, if it’s because they feasted on my Detroit Lions, or if the Giants defense might be good. When we look at the scope of “everything,” the opportunity looks good for someone to make an impact in New York: It just might not the popular name that we expected. There is another elephant in the room. What if Barkley gets injured? The Giants soft run schedule is still very inviting.

4) Outlook:  End of Bench Stash/Bye-week flex contributor: Keep an eye on Wayne Gallman. It’s possible that the ghosts of the Giants running-game past are responsible for some of his inefficiency. Either way, Stewart or Gallman look like the beneficiaries here, and if either sees snaps with Barkley, they could be a very nice late round complement to own.

Philadelphia Eagles:  Jay Ajayi

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

1) How does he qualify: Articles like this are what make an underdog an underdog. Jay Ajayi was doubted ever since he was drafted in 2015 because of knee injury concerns. That whole bone-on-bone injury conversation resurfaced this year when Sony Michel was drafted for New England. Then there was that middle of the year “I’m going to trade you to a super bowl team for nothing” thing that Miami did last year. Then there was Kenyan Drake’s success once  Ajayi left Miami. Whatever. Miami doesn’t even trust Drake this year.

All of this so-called damning evidence, but nothing here is remotely an indictment against what Ajayi has accomplished. If you’re in a league with hardcore fantasy football owners, Corey Clement or even Darren Sproles will dominate the conversation. To make matters worse, Ajayi has already had his share of soft tissue injuries this preseason. It’s the pre-season, I don’t mind. Ajayi is an underdog to rally behind.

2) Historical Outlook and Projections: Projected value RB17 (4th round). He isn’t exactly cheap, and he isn’t being disrespected by Average Draft Position. Warren Sharp notes that Philadelphia has the 11th toughest strength of schedule. That sounds daunting, but here is my favorite line that Sharp notes:  “From weeks 8-17, the Eagles face the easiest schedule of opposing run defense”.  If you recall, the fantasy playoffs start somewhere within that part of the NFL season.  

3) Additional Thoughts: I do love Clement. I also like Sproles as a pass-catching back in Philadelphia as well. What I am excited about is that Ajayi was underused to protect him for the playoffs last year in Philadelphia. He was on the field for only 56.5% of offensive snaps, and his carries (14.9 per game) are a very safe floor. That will go up. Both of these numbers are going up, and Ajayi is going to use his otherworldly physical attributes (SPARQ scores) to make these snaps count.  Ajayi’s Speed, Power and Agility ratings are in the 82nd percentile overall (123.5), and Ajayi’s burst and lateral movement are the hallmarks of a bell-cow running back.

4) Outlook: Current RB1 for the Price of an RB2 – hold, buy and enjoy:  Ajayi is being drafted as an RB2 in the mid 4th round in most formats. From a dynasty perspective, he is going to yield a return on this investment. He’s being drafted in the late 4th/early fifth round according to dynasty ADP data. This is also a contract year for Ajayi. What happens this year could yield long-term returns as well. I’m excited about what Ajayi will offer on my teams – you should be too.  

Washington Redskins – Chris Thompson

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

I wrote about the Redskins Wide Receivers, but my Washington sleeper is one of those guys who fits that Rodney Dangerfield “can’t get no respect” theme. Whatever type of settings that you have, PPR or Standard, Thompson is going to be a valuable game-changer.

1) How does he qualify? I own Thompson in the ScottFishbowl league, which is a 900 player tournament sponsored by If you’re curious, check out my team here – it was rated #899 out of #900 (that’s bad), mainly because the ranker is underrating Mr. Thompson (Editor’s note: I’m thinking you ranked 899 for more reasons than the ranker “underrating Mr. Thompson). While that alone doesn’t qualify him as an underdog, there is a litany of other reasons that he is an underdog. Thompson is smallish at 5’7 and 192 pounds. That’s Rocky Balboa size or Inigo Montoya size.


Thompson has never been perceived as a lead back, and he was only on the field for 53.4% of the snaps played in 2017, and 49.7% of the snaps played in 2016. He’s also faced his share of injuries, with seven significant injuries dating back to 2011, according to database.    

2) Historical Outlook and Projections: When Thompson is on the field, he has made his snaps count. Thompson owned a 30.1% share of all plays (targets/carries) in 2017. He touched the ball about ten times per week. This snap rate is an increase in his Opportunity share from 2016 (30.1%), so Thompson isn’t exactly slowing down. Some quick stats:

  • Thompson had 39 receptions in 2017 (10 games played), averaging 15.4 fantasy points per game. Finished as the #10 overall PPG among running backs in 2017 based on average
  • Thompson had 49 Receptions in 2016 (16 games played), averaging 9.3 points per game, or #36th among all RBs based on average.
  • Players Thompson has shared time with – Samaje Perine, Robert Kelley, Kapri Bibbs, Matt Jones, Mack Brown, Alfred Morris, Pierre Thomas.   
  • Players he was supposed to share time with this year: Derrius Guice, Samaje Perine, and Rob Kelley. Players he is going to share time within 2018:  Samaje Perine, Rob Kelley, and Adrian Peterson
  • Running Backs on Washington who can catch a football this year: Chris Thompson. That’s it. Really.
  • He’s projected as the 15th running back (almost WR1 territory) by, but he’s being drafted in the late 7th round.  
  • Did I mention Chris Thompson is being drafted in the late 7th round?

3) Additional Thoughts: There are going to be some scheme changes in Washington with Alex Smith arriving.  Last season excluded,  Smith is not a QB who likes to throw deep, and I expect his style of play to benefit whoever is working the slot (likely Jamison Crowder), and the pass-catching running backs the most. Chris Thompson’s snap share is going to go up. Physically, Crowder and Thompson are very close in size (5’8 and 185 vs. 5’7 and 192).  

The versatility that Crowder and Thompson allows Washington to move them around the field, and increase their offensive Snap Count. Thompson should be on the field more than 53.4% of the time this year, and given his past efficiency, this increased time on the football field is going to lead to targets, carries, and fantasy football points.   

4) Outlook: Buy now – Lineup Contributor/Flex week starter: Valuable to contenders, and can maintain his value beyond 2018-19, as both a flex contributor and more. Thompson is still young (27), and he has the physical capacity to maintain his floor as a passing back. I believe that Thompson’s ceiling is much higher. Who is to say that Thompson can’t be a Matt Forte type of scat-back for a few more years?  Life’s a dance, and Thompson makes a good dance partner.

Thank you for reading. Who the underdogs you’ll be targeting and rooting for? You can find me on Twitter @terminalkennedy.

If you’re looking for one last league to join before the season kicks off, check out the FFPC.  The FFPC has Dynasty and Redraft leagues, register today and sign up for a league today!


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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