Surprise players who could help crown fantasy champions

What do the following players have in common?

Quarterbacks Blake Bortles and Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2015 and Colin Kaepernick last year? Running backs C.J. Anderson in 2014, Joique Bell and Buck Allen in 2015 and 2016 Bilal Powell. Receivers Tyler Lockett and Ted Ginn Jr. in 2015 and Tyreek Hill in 2016?

All emerged from fantasy obscurity to be championship-level assets down the stretch. All could have been plucked off the waiver wire at this stage of those seasons in the vast majority of leagues.

So, this week, with the help of some of my very smart followers on Twitter (@michaelsalfino), let’s look at some candidates who could similarly emerge while being lightly owned in Yahoo leagues right now.

These are not in order of preference but rather lowest ownership percentages.

Devante Mays 0% (RB, Packers)

My Packer connection is bullish and what is ahead of him? Mike McCarthy gave up on Ty Montgomery as a running back and after Aaron Jones excited with a knee sprain, Montgomery suffered another rib injury. Jamaal Williams did nothing in his ample opportunity. Up steps, perhaps, Mays, a seventh-round pick who fits the bill at 6-foot-1, 233 pounds and who ran a 4.5-second 40-yard dash after an injury-plagued final college season at Utah State. Oh, and there’s an outside shot Aaron Rodgers could be back in Week 15.

Garrett Celek 1% (TE, 49ers)

Tight end pickings are slim but Celek who is on a bye this week gets in Week 12 probably (despite reports of seeming uncertainty) a quarterback who grew up in a system emphasizing the tight end. Celek is fast enough to do some damage with the right QB, very likely Jimmy Garoppolo. Former starter George Kittle is 4% owned and could return to the role if he recovers from a leg injury that turned out worse than initially thought.

Jermaine Gresham 2% (TE, Cardinals)

This is strictly schedule-based as noted on the @breakfast_pod by my co-host and fellow Yahoo scribe Scott Pianowski. TE is so weak and so TD dependent that anything that moves the touchdown needle a little is worth speculating on. Julius Thomas is 28% owned but I don’t want to spend any FAAB on one of these guys, so zero it out with Celek or Gresham depending on your Week 11 needs. But if you can get Thomas for nothing, great.

Dontrelle Inman 2% (WR, Bears)

Had 88 yards on eight targets last week and is the Bears most talented wideout, admittedly not saying much. He’s 6-3 and ran a sub-4.5 40. Also had a strong finish in 2016 for the Chargers. The schedule is the key here with no tough games and meetings with the 49ers and Browns (championship week).

J.D. McKissic 3% (RB, Seahawks)

One of my followers said he can be this year’s Ty Montgomery if Pete Carroll will let him be that and why not since nothing is working conventionally from scrimmage? Oh, right, Pete Carroll hates touchdowns no matter who has the ball.

Austin Ekeler 5% (RB, Chargers)

I took a lot of heat earlier in the year when I predicted that this would be Melvin Gordon’s last year as an NFL starter given the horrible company he is keeping in never cracking 4.0 per carry in three consecutive years as a feature back. If he continues to start, he’ll be the first. He’s 3.8 this year and 3.7 for his career. Just awful. Ekeler drove him to the bench in the fourth quarter of Week 10 but fumbled to cost the Chargers the game so we don’t know if he’s in the doghouse yet. But he should see work as a receiving threat given how he rambled for 77 yards on 5 catches. Gordon is also a yard below average catching as a running back this year at 7.1 per grab. Ekeler is 5-9, 200 and would have been the fastest back in the draft had he been invited to the combine.

Matt Breida 6% (RB, 49ers)

Has a bye so should be easy to get in free agency. But could share the touches pretty evenly with Carlos Hyde, who does not seem to have a future with the 49ers as an unrestricted free agent following this season. At worst, he’ll be 2016 Tevin Coleman to Hyde’s Devonta Freeman, only on a bad offense that again could get a lot better with the upcoming QB change. And this also plays into Garoppolo’s offensive training in New England — throwing the ball to backs.

Samaje Perine 8% (RB, Redskins)

He’s been so awful (3.2 yards per carry) but touches are king and the offense here is good. The whole point here is that it’s not easy to see the impact player until you’re really looking at him.

Corey Clement 9% (RB, Eagles)

Jay Ajayi is not a receiving back — Miami has been the worst receiving team in football based success rate (relative to down and distance) on completions to backs since 2016. So Ajayi is a terrible fit to fill that role for the Eagles. Enter Clement, who could be a younger version of Darren Sproles with more touches given his age. I think LeGarrette Blount is odd man out except for the occasional short-yardage carry, perhaps, though that easily could be handled by Ajayi given that Blount had been the worst goal-line back in football this year (1 TD in eight chances inside the opponent’s 3-yard line and for minus-5 yards)

Rex Burkhead 14% (RB/WR, Patriots)

Sort of the reverse Ty Montgomery. He’s basically a running back being used as a slot receiver. This is a valuable role in PPR leagues and if Mike Gillislee remains inactive despite a very high 48% success rate and the Patriots lack of a short-yardage back, Burkhead is the best bet to get that work, too (though not a good bet to succeed in it as the Patriots are one of the worst 3rd or 4th and 1 teams in football).

Rod Smith 26% (RB, Cowboys)

I am on record thinking the job is going to be mostly Alfred Morris’ and Morris ended up doing fine, efficiency wise, given the limited work with an injury-depleted offensive line and terrible game script. But Smith is the only back who could be a three-down option on the team, I will also stipulate. This means Smith also should be owned in every league.

Danny Woodhead 36% (RB, Ravens)

Yuck. But the catches are there in PPR for Woodhead and he can carve out Burkhead-type of role with a higher floor if he’s able to bounce back from injury. But only a $0 bid from me if he’s there and if not, no worries.

Corey Davis 48% (WR, Titans)

Probably shouldn’t be here given he’s unowned in slightly more than half the leagues but I can see it after his 10-target Week 10. He’s a fifth overall pick. The quarterback is good. The offense is capable, on paper, of turning into something much more explosive than we’ve seen to date. If that happens, it will probably be driven by Davis.

David Johnson 61% (RB, Cardinals)

I have to say it because this is so format dependent. Johnson got his cast off his wrist on Monday and is a step closer to returning depending if the Cardinals stay in the playoff hunt. You can possibly have David Johnson and Aaron Rodgers in Week 15 right now off your waiver wire.

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