Which 2017 rookies who struggled are going to get on track in 2018?

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/30161/" data-ylk="slk:Joe Mixon">Joe Mixon</a> should have fantasy players smiling in 2018. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Joe Mixon should have fantasy players smiling in 2018. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Last spring John Ross III ran the fastest 40-yard dash in NFL Combine history, vaulting him up draft big boards in a matter of 4.22 seconds. In a draft that featured plenty of impressive receivers, Ross III went ninth to the Bengals.

Ross III went on to produce negative-1 fantasy points in 2017. He received the ball once — a handoff he took 12 yards and fumbled. He eventually went on IR for a shoulder injury after being a healthy scratch for several games. He was supposed to help Andy Dalton return to fantasy relevance and perhaps even be a late-round sleeper himself. Instead, he was arguably the most disappointing rookie in the draft class.

Ross is a peculiar circumstance. You don’t just luck into his senior-year numbers of 70 catches for 1150 yards and 17 touchdowns. But the fact that he never got out of the cellar of the Bengals’ wideout depth chart last year before eventually being shelved for the year is concerning nonetheless. There’s certainly still hope for the former Washington Huskies’ All-American. He’s been impressive in training camp so far, so impressive that the Bengals released Brandon LaFell. The team also brought in former Packers quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt, which should help Dalton’s deep ball. Most importantly, he’s been fully healthy all offseason. Ross III could certainly be a guy to keep an eye on late in your fantasy draft.

Here are several other “post-hype sleepers” — players who could contribute in 2018 a season after they were more highly regarded.

5. Dede Westbrook, WR, Jaguars

Westbrook, the 2016 Biletnikoff Award winner, fell to the fourth round of last year’s draft due to off-field issues. He missed most of his rookie season due to core muscle surgery, but he’s going to be counted on in a big way in 2018 after the Jaguars parted ways with Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Mercedes Lewis. Westbrook is competing with plenty of other youngsters — Rashad Greene Sr., DJ Chark Jr., Keelan Cole and Jaydon Mickens among them — for work opposite Marqise Lee. Westbrook is currently being taken in the 14th round, and could be worth a late, late flier as a key part of the Jags’ new-look (but still run-heavy) offense.

4. Jake Butt, TE, Broncos

Butt was best known for an unfortunate reason last year: A possible first rounder before he tore his ACL in Michigan’s bowl game, Butt collected from an insurance policy that gave him money as he fell to fifth round and missed out on millions. The former Wolverine missed all of his rookie year. Back on the field this offseason, he has looked right at home and is developing red-zone rapport with new quarterback Case Keenum. That’s a fantasy owner’s dream given Keenum’s affinity for former Vikings teammate Kyle Rudolph in the red zone (Rudolph posted 57/532/8 last year). Butt is very skilled as a receiver and a blocker. There’s an opening at starting tight end, and it will be a good gig for whomever gets it. Butt appears to be a frontrunner.

Jake Butt could be a deep sleeper in fantasy football this season. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Jake Butt could be a deep sleeper in fantasy football this season. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

3. Mike Williams, WR, Chargers

Williams’ rookie year was nearly over before it started when he suffered a herniated disk in his back. The No. 7 overall pick went on to recover, though, but played only sparingly in 10 games. Following the departure of Antonio Gates and the season-ending injury of Hunter Henry, the Chargers are really thin at tight end. That means more three-wideout looks and, per ESPN’s Eric D. Williams, that means a lot more Mike Williams. The Clemson product stands 6-foot-4, which makes him an ideal candidate for plenty of red-zone looks. He’s had some terrific performances in training camp, and the door is wide open for him to earn a starting role.

2. Corey Davis, WR, Titans

Drafted No. 5 overall last year, Davis is the wide receiver most likely to star this year. The first receiver taken, Davis struggled with a nagging hamstring injury and played in just 11 games, starting nine. But he’s healthy, has impressed all offseason and has every opportunity in the world to be an every-down player. At 6-3 and 209 pounds, Davis has the body of a true No. 1 wideout and is building chemistry with Marcus Mariota. With new, creative offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur in place, expect the Titans to be far more adept in the passing game. That starts with Davis, who should emerge as a solid WR3 or flex play at the very least. He’s currently available at a bargain price of 92.8 ADP.

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1. Joe Mixon, RB, Bengals

Cincinnati featured one of the league’s worst run-blocking offensive lines last year and attempted to shore up that issue by drafting Ohio State’s Billy Price, acquiring Cordy Glenn from Buffalo and bringing in new offensive line coach Frank Pollack. While it’s not a guarantee the group will be significantly better, it’s nearly impossible for it to be worse. That’s already working in Mixon’s favor.

Then there’s Mixon himself, considered to be the most pro-ready and versatile running back coming out of the 2017 draft class. He was on the field for less than half of the Bengals’ offensive snaps and finished 34th among running backs in PPR leagues. It was by and large a very disappointing debut for both Mixon and his fantasy owners. But the former Oklahoma Sooner is certainly the team’s top running back this year and has looked terrific in camp. It’s worth keeping in mind that despite his poor campaign overall, Mixon showed his outstanding wiggle (13th in yards created per carry) and put up big numbers in both of the two games in which he received over 20 touches.

Those two big performances also came against Green Bay and Cleveland, the No. 8 and No. 2 run defenses last year. Given that Mixon’s usage rate will skyrocket, he catches the ball extremely well out and he’s fully healthy, he could be in line for a top-10 running back season.

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