The Kansas City Chiefs saw the top running back on their depth chart, Spencer Ware, suffer a season-ending injury, pushing rookie Kareem Hunt squarely into the spotlight and higher up the draft boards of fantasy football owners in both standard and point-per-reception, or PPR, leagues. In fact, Hunt has to be considered fantasy football’s single biggest riser given his ability and the Chiefs’ history for successful featured backs.
Hunt, a third-round draft pick in 2017, carried the ball 782 times for the Toledo Rockets, producing 5,500 total yards from scrimmage (4,945 yards rushing, 555 yards receiving) with 45 total touchdowns and just one fumble. Through three preseason games, Hunt has rushed 18 times for 79 yards — 64 of those yards after contact — adding four catches and 32 yards in the passing game.
Since Andy Reid took over as head coach for the team in 2013, the Chiefs rank eighth in total rushing yards over that span (1,942 per year) with the second-most touchdowns (69, 17 per year), per TruMedia. And now that Reid told reporters Hunt is “the next man up,” look for him to justify his fifth-round selection in the NFL draft, with the upside of a third- or fourth-round pick in fantasy.
Here’s a look at some of the other players who have seen their stock surge or slide as the preseason winds down.
Chris Hogan, WR, New England, 9.12 ADP
The defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots will have to play the 2017 season without Tom Brady’s top target, Julian Edelman, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in Friday’s preseason game against the Detroit Lions and is out for the season.
The risk in drafting Brandin Cooks is lessened — you can expect Cooks’ target level to increases to that of comparable No. 1 wideouts — but Hogan might see the biggest increase in workload among the team’s wide receivers.
With Brady under center last season, the Patriots passed out of “11” personnel, a three-wide receiver set with one running back and one tight end, 231 times, the seventh-fewest such pass attempts in the NFL, leaving little room for Cooks, Hogan and Danny Amendola to be on the field at the same time. In two wide-receiver sets, Hogan was targeted 8.4 percent of the time (one out of every 12 attempts), with Amendola seeing his number called on just one out of every 40 pass attempts in these situations. That’s going to change with Edelman now out of the picture.
Zay Jones, WR, Buffalo Bills, 11.05 ADP
Jones’s spot on the roster was clarified after Anquan Boldin retired and Sammy Watkins was traded. He’ll line up opposite Jordan Matthews on the outside. A second-round pick in 2017, Jones led the nation with 216 targets in 2016 — 45 more than any other FBS receiver per the game charters at Pro Football Focus — and his 158 catches that year were 21 more than the next-best receiver.
He caught 3 of 8 targets for 28 yards in the Bills’ third preseason game and has caught six passes for 70 yards overall, earning him the seventh-highest overall PFF rating this summer.
His performance might be inconsistent during the first few weeks of the season — Buffalo plays the Carolina Panthers in Week 2, Denver Broncos in Week 3 and the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 5 — but a soft schedule during the middle of the fantasy football season makes him an ideal filler for bye weeks.
Chris Thompson, RB, Washington Redskins, undrafted
Thompson appears to be locked in as Jay Gruden’s third-down back. The 5-foot-8, 195-pound running back carried the ball three times for nine yards in the Redskins’ third preseason game, adding a 27-yard reception, increasing his preseason total to 99 yards from scrimmage on 13 touches. His 3.29 yards per route run is the highest rate among running backs this summer.
Last season, Thompson had 68 carries for 356 yards — a team-high 3.13 yards per carry after contact — with two touchdowns plus 49 catches for 349 yards and two touchdowns, giving him a success rate that was well above average on short and intermediate passes (14 yards or less form the line of scrimmage) to the left and middle parts of the field.
Samaje Perine, RB, Washington Redskins, 10.12 ADP
Despite Chris Cooley and others thinking Perine is Washington’s running back of the future, the rookie from Oklahoma has done little to move himself up the depth chart, keeping Rob Kelley at the No. 1 spot with Thompson as the change-of-pace back on third downs.
Perine rushed five times for five yards in the Redskins’ third preseason game, bringing his preseason totals to 19 carries for 65 yards. But starting quarterback Kirk Cousins has yet to target him in a preseason game and Perine has no opportunities with the ball with the first-team offense, per TruMedia.
Stefon Diggs, WR, Minnesota Vikings, 5.02 ADP
Diggs caught two of his five targets for six yards in the Vikings’ third preseason game, but didn’t play a single snap as the team’s slot receiver, odd for a player who ran almost two-thirds of his routes from the slot a year before. Adam Thielen, meanwhile, appears to have inherited this role for Minnesota.
Vikings routes run in the slot: Adam Thielen 20, Laquon Treadwell 2, Stefon Diggs 0
— Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) August 28, 2017
Diggs as an outside threat likely means better opportunities for big plays, but less high-efficiency targets toward the middle of the field, which could impact his reception and yardage totals.
Last season, Minnesota quarterback Sam Bradford threw the ball to his wideouts 472 times within 14 yards of the line of scrimmage, completing 76 percent of those passes. On 78 throws of 15 or more yards in the air, he completed just 49 percent. In other words, look for Bradford to target Diggs more often on throws he is less capable of making.
O.J. Howard, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 13.06 ADP
Howard, a 6-6 first-round pick out of Alabama, gives quarterback Jameis Winston a huge target with a wide catch radius and “tremendous acceleration,” but with more veteran targets such as Mike Evens, Doug Martin, Cameron Brate and DeSean Jackson, Howard isn’t getting many looks when he lines up with the first-team offense.
Winston has targeted him just five times in the preseason, two in the red zone, but appears to be a distant third option (at best) behind Evans and the team’s other tight end, Brate.
And that could limit Howard as a viable fantasy tight end. Over the past five years, the 12th best tight end has produced 151 PPR fantasy points, on average, with a minimum of 85 targets in a season. The last rookie tight end with that many targets or more was Jeremy Shockey (128 targets in 2002). Before that it was Cam Cleeland (88 targets in 1998). No other rookie tight end has qualified since 1992, the first year target data is available, making it unlikely that Howard would be worthy of selection in your draft.
Read more fantasy football news and analysis: