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Top 10 Rookie Running Backs for Dynasty (Pre-NFL Draft)

The position that has and will continue to be the glamour position in the eyes of fantasy managers is running back. Each year, they are coveted in drafts mainly due to the lack of quality depth at the position due to the increase of committee backfields around the league. That said, finding a back that gives you a consistent 20 touches on a game-by-game basis raises their value and those are the players you see flying off the draft boards in the early rounds. Finding the Dalvin Cook or Christian McCaffrey types around the league is like hitting the lottery these days based on usage. But with all the advantages that they bring while healthy, the downside to their lofty ADP is the event in which they are lost due to injury. This can make the position very boom-or-bust in terms of ROI on draft value.

Add rookies into the mix and some fantasy managers begin to salivate with the idea of those being added to not only seasonal rosters but more importantly in dynasty leagues. Rookie backs entering the league are not always prized pickups from a production standpoint as some find the transition to be somewhat tougher than others. But when you do hit on these players at a great value, there is no better feeling. What we saw with the 2020 draft class was special. Five players finished inside the top-24 in PPR scoring, but only one (James Robinson) did it while seeing a majority of the workload in the team's backfield. It was a pleasant surprise to have so many rookies become viable producers, especially in a season that took its toll on the health of other RBs that were more highly ranked going into the year.

The influx of fresh blood is likely to continue with the 2021 draft class also looking to make its mark. The new class may not be as loaded in terms of pure talent as last year's class was, but what we do have are quality players that will be able to contribute right away. Players like Najee Harris and Javonte Williams project to be three-down studs at the next level given the right landing spot. Whereas the further down you go in the board with this class, some players have very high ceilings, but fitting into the right spot will be key for their overall fantasy profiles. But before we get to the NFL Draft, let's first get acquainted with some of the top players at the position with my Pre-NFL Draft rookie rankings.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received five total writing awards and 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, tops in the industry! Congrats to all the award winners and nominees including Best NFL Series, MLB Series, NBA Writer, PGA Writer and Player Notes writer of the year. Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!

 

1. Najee Harris (Alabama)

Harris is undoubtedly the most complete back in this year's class. He brings a combination of size, speed, and strength that you do not typically see in prospects at the position these days. His versatility as both a between-the-tackles rusher as well as one that excels on getting to the edge is exciting. He is also a bull to bring down in the open field as evident by his 69 missed tackles forced on the year, gaining 821 yards after contact (leading the nation).

As great as his skills as a runner can be, his abilities as a pass-catcher are even more intriguing. His usage in the passing game increased over each season as he topped out hauling in 43 receptions for 425 yards (third in the class) in 2020. All these variables point towards a prospect that should be viewed as a three-down workhorse at the next level by teams.

His fantasy value before or after the draft should remain very high as the likelihood of Harris landing in a spot with an RB-needy team is strong. The ceiling for him in seasonal could be that of an RB1 immediately (ala Jonathan Taylor) if he lands into the right spot. Even if he were to land with a team that wants to implement a rotating back system, Harris's talent should propel well ahead of any competition fairly soon. As for dynasty prospects, he is looked at as one of the top players to come off the board in rookie drafts with other managers viewing Ja'Marr Chase as the top option. But if you hold the top pick in your dynasty draft and need fresh legs at the RB position, Harris should be your no-brainer 1.01 in drafts.

 

2. Javonte Williams (North Carolina)

If Harris is the overall top prospect of this class, Williams should be labeled the 1B with his tremendously high ceiling. His 2020 statistical output was amazing because he was also sharing the backfield with Michael Carter (below). He set highs across the board with yardage (1,168), YPA (7.4), touchdowns (19), and receptions (24). His running style is hardly comparable to others with his combination of balance and power. He seeks out contact to allow him to get to the next level.

Even with the intent for contact, he breaks tackles at an amazing clip, leading the nation in missed tackles forced (75) in 2020. His breakaway percentage (56.5%) also shows a back that can get away once in the open field. The 24 receptions may not seem like a lot on paper, but his usage increased each season and is yet another asset that can be relied upon in the NFL.

Williams will often be the second back on the board in most rookie drafts this year. A surefire lock in the top half of the first round, Williams should develop into a cornerstone piece for dynasty managers for years to come. His blend of power running and PPR appeal could place him as an RB1 very soon if he is drafted into a role with a sizable workload. As for seasonal fantasy value, Williams' draft value will hinge upon where he lands. Place him on a team with an immediate need (Dolphins, Steelers, Jets) and he could return a Jonathan Taylor-esque 2020 season.

 

3. Kenneth Gainwell (Memphis)

The man that kept Antonio Gibson second on the depth chart, Gainwell is the type of back that can thrive in today's NFL. His size may draw for some concerns (5'11 and 195 lbs) but he more than makes up for it with his skillset. Sure, he has the looks of a receiver in build, but his 1,459 rushing yards in 2019 in Memphis' spread offense shows a back that has tremendous vision. He runs harder than you would expect for a back of his size and his elusiveness can force a missed tackle at any level on the field. But the trait he excels at the most is what he brings as a receiver. His route running ability can rival some of the best receivers in this class and will easily give him separation in the NFL against opposing linebackers. He also has arguably the best hands of any back in this class with only three drops during his college career.

As far as his fantasy potential is concerned, he must find the right team fit to truly utilize his capabilities. He is best in a role where he can be moved around the field, whether as a runner or receiver. He would fit perfectly in a spread offense similar to the one the Cardinals run. I have him locked into the first round of rookie drafts and he should be viewed as a potential RB2 with upside early on. Gainwell could see a bump in projection based on workload. His season-long appeal will be that of an RB4 during draft time. Almost certainly, his rookie season will be bouts of inconsistent scoring as he warms up to NFL competition but there could be big weeks here and there.

 

4. Travis Etienne (Clemson)

Etienne, next to Harris, is possibly the most noticeable among this year's class mainly due to where he played. The ultra-productive back, playing for a perennial national title-contending team, was one of the main reasons for Clemson's success. The 2020 season saw a change in mindset for Etienne as he focused more on his receiving abilities (48 receptions) than he did on rushing. With back-to-back 1,600 yard rushing seasons to his credit, the dip to 923 in 2020 would look like he regressed to most. Although his efficiency did take a hit last year, Clemson's offensive line was in large part to blame with multiple starters lost to the NFL.

Overall, Etienne still brings a unique skill set to the next level as a prospect. His home-run threat can come at defenses as both a runner or receiver. His contact balance allows for him to run through arm tackles, while his burst is one of the more impressive in this class.

From a fantasy perspective, Etienne will be a highly valued player in rookie drafts. Name recognition aside, he brings all the things a dynasty manager is looking for in a PPR asset. Look for him to come off the board in the first round of rookie drafts and become a very solid starter in fantasy for several years. Putting him on an offense like the Jets could limit his upside early on, but rest assured the numbers will be there.

His seasonal draft value in 2021 could vary quite a bit. He has shown in the past that he does not need a big workload to produce, but he may also not be surrounded by the amazing talent that he was fortunate to play with in college. He's the perfect back for those "Zero-RB" drafters.

 

5. Michael Carter (North Carolina)

The player that shared the backfield with Javonte Williams, Carter had quite the 2020 season himself. He may not have found the end-zone as much as Williams (nine scores), but essentially equaled him in nearly every other category. He was the better back in both yardage (1,245) and YPA (7.9) but was less elusive with only 47 missed tackles forced. His 702 yards after contact shows a back that can not be brought down easily. He also brings an ability as a pass-catcher into the NFL as well with multiple 20-plus catch seasons in college. He runs low to the ground and has excellent contact balance while his swift footwork allows for a good change of direction, which will benefit him as a pass catcher in the NFL. What may help him find ample time on the field early on is his abilities as a pass protector, allowing coaches to have trust with him on third downs.

Carter has the ability to project as a three-down back in the NFL and with the right landing spot, he could be a sleeper in fantasy circles. As a player that will likely come off the board in the late first or early second round in rookie drafts, Carter will become a weekly starter in dynasty leagues. What he brings to the table in PPR formats increases his value to what could be a solid RB2. As for seasonal leagues, Carter's value in 2021 will be as a bench-type back or Flex play in certain matchups.

 

6. Chubba Hubbard (Oklahoma State)

Hubbard's value was higher than anyone's heading into 2020 after a 2,000-yard campaign in 2019. But, injuries and defensive gameplans played a toll on Hubbard a season ago. His efficiency numbers dropped drastically with only 627 yards rushing on 133 attempts. His 353 yards after contact ranked 124th in the class and show a back that was taken down easily. The team's offensive line wasn't very bad, but just nine carries of 15-plus yards are hard to stomach from a decisive runner with good agility. With an offseason to get healthy, one has to assume we see a player closer to his 2019 version than what we got in 2020 going into the draft.

Hubbard, although he has shown the ability to handle a heavy workload in the past, projects to be a complimentary back at the next level. This will hinder his upside from a fantasy perspective. He should be drafted in the second round of rookie drafts and will be a solid depth player for dynasty managers. If he develops early on in the NFL, Hubbard has the upside to become an RB2, but RB3/Flex feels like the safest bet. In seasonal leagues, Hubbard should be viewed as a late-round pick with potential upside if injuries happen in front of him.

 

7. Trey Sermon (Ohio State)

When you are looking at Sermon, you see a running back that has the prototypical size (6ft, 215lbs) that NFL coaches are looking for. He has flashed greatness at times, but bouts of inconsistencies and decisiveness limit what could be a very high ceiling. Once he transferred from Oklahoma to Ohio State, he became lost in the shuffle until late in the 2020 season. During that time, he showed what he was capable of with an adequate workload with 24 broken tackles on 60 carries in two of the team's final three games. Sermon runs with power and has plus contact balance to shake off would-be tacklers. His inside running vision isn't the greatest, but once he gets to the outside, he can set up moves together nicely. A downside is his lack of usage in the passing game, something that would need to be remedied in the NFL if he wants to stay on the field.

Sermon's fantasy potential lies squarely in his ability to present himself as a PPR prospect. The lack of usage in this area can hinder his upside. He has the tools to be an early-down back, but being touchdown-dependent is a very volatile trait for fantasy managers. In dynasty, Sermon could be had in the mid-to-late second round of rookie drafts and will be a solid player to have on the roster. But without much value in PPR, it may be tough to count on him as a weekly starter. Sermon will be a player that should be used in the right matchups.

 

8. Khalil Herbert (Virginia Tech)

Very similar to Sermon, Herbert looks the part when it comes to a true running back in the NFL (5'9, 210lb). Herbert was floundering in college until his transfer to Virginia Tech, where he truly thrived. He showed what he can do during the 2020 season as a rushing prospect (1,182 yards and eight scores). His 7.6 YPA was among the best in this class and his elite contact balance led to an impressive 54.8% breakaway on runs. He's more adept to be an outside runner at the next level with his vision and speed to the corner. He can create yards himself inside as he processes run lanes, but without blocking leading the way, he is a little limited. Also, much like Sermon, he does not bring much to the NFL in terms of pass-catching ability (just 10 in 2020).

Herbert projects to be a backup running back at the next level, which of course limits what he brings to the table as a fantasy prospect. He will be among the mix of those looked at during the late second or early third of rookie drafts. Herbert will be merely a depth piece in dynasty formats, especially with the minimal value he brings in PPR. But if he were to see extended time on the field as a starter, he can become a nice spot start for dynasty managers.

 

9. Elijah Mitchell (Louisiana)

Mitchell is another back with adequate size (5'11, 218lbs) that is coming into the draft after a very productive college career. Playing in fewer games in 2020, Mitchell showed an improvement in efficiency across the board. His YPA improved from 5.8 to to 6.2 and his reception totals jumped to 16, up from 10 in 2019.

He is another back in this class who has shown he can thrive even in a split backfield. His running style is very compact and his contact balance allows for him to extend runs. He may lack the outside burst that you like to generate big plays, but he consistently moves forward, which coaches appreciate. His reception totals may be low, but the usage wasn't there at all in college. It may be an untapped potential waiting to be unlocked at the next level.

Mitchell is a player that could prove to be this year's James Robinson. Highly productive and ready to contribute right away, Mitchell may land in an ideal spot for dynasty managers. He will be lower on a team's depth chart immediately but could work his way up during camp. Likely to come off the board in the third round of rookie drafts, Mitchell could be an intriguing piece for managers needing depth at the position. He has a nice ceiling and you should be aware of the floor once you acquire him. It's likely a win/win scenario.

 

10. Kylin Hill (Mississippi State)

Hill came into the 2020 season off the heels of an impressive 2019 campaign. But Hill played in just three games last year, limiting the scope on which we view him. In the limited action, he looked hesitant as a runner (3.9 YPA) but showed his value as a pass-catcher (23 catches in three games). It was clear that Hill was not cut out for Mike Leach's spread offense, as he fits more in a downhill running, one-cut type of offensive approach. He is tough to bring down in the open field (116 career forced missed tackles), so getting him the ball in space as a pass-catcher would be a must for an NFL coaching staff. He runs with power but lacks great vision which could also lead to losses behind the line at the next level. He projects to be a complimentary back with upside in the right offensive scheme.

As far as fantasy is concerned, Hill will likely return value early on as a third-down back in PPR formats. So, Hill should be viewed as a potential Flex play by dynasty managers. He feels like he has tendencies similar to Jamaal Williams, making him a player that should be rostered, but won't see consistent production. Hill is another player that should come off the board late in the second or into the third round of rookie drafts. He will be a bench player early on but has the upside to become an RB2 down the line.



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Happy Monday, Rotoballers! It's hard to believe we are entering the home stretch of the 2022 season already. It feels like yesterday that we kicked the year off. Still, we go again for another week and start the action with a 10-game slate. There's some earlier action between the Tigers-Guardians, Phillies-Reds, and Padres-Marlins, but none... Read More


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Fantasy Football Bold Predictions: Ep. 96 of The Operating Room

Kev Mahserejian (@RotoSurgeon) is joined by FTN Fantasy's Vlad Sedler (@RotoGut) to discuss 10 Bold Predictions for the 2022 fantasy football season. Be sure to also tune into RotoBaller Radio on SiriusXM (channel SiriusXM 87) - every weekday morning between 6-7 AM ET, Saturdays from 3-5 PM, and Sundays from 3-5 PM. You can also find new... Read More


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Is Matthew Stafford Injured? Will He Play In Week 1?

It was a remarkable debut season for Matthew Stafford in 2021 with the Los Angeles Rams. After being traded to the Rams from the Detroit Lions, Stafford would lead Los Angeles to their first Super Bowl victory since the 1999 season. Entering the 2022 campaign, there are lofty expectations for the reigning champions and the... Read More


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Is Kenny Pickett Going to Start for the Steelers? Should I Draft Kenny Pickett?

Pittsburgh product Kenny Pickett was the only quarterback selected in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, finding his way to the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 20 overall. The team certainly wasted no time finding someone it hopes can be its new franchise quarterback following veteran Ben Roethlisberger's retirement at the end of the... Read More


Alec Pierce - NFL Rookies Fantasy Football Rankings Draft Sleepers

Is Alec Pierce The Colts WR2? Where Should I Draft Alec Pierce?

Wide receiver Alec Pierce saw his stock grow significantly in the days leading up to the NFL Draft. Fans and analysts alike took greater notice of the Cincinnati prospect's aggressiveness, physicality, and strong playmaking skills. On Day 2 of the draft, the Indianapolis Colts pulled the trigger, making Pierce their second-round pick. Heading into 2022,... Read More


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Fantasy Football Breakouts, Busts, and Locks - Detroit Lions 2022 Outlook

Welcome to our fantasy football Breakouts, Busts, and Locks, a series on RotoBaller where our writers look at three key players on each NFL team. Today, we're talking about the Detroit Lions. After trading Matthew Stafford last year, the Lions are now in the second year of a rebuild. What kind of fantasy value can... Read More


2022 Fantasy Sleeper: Allen Lazard

The Green Bay Packers receiving corps was wiped out during the offseason. Top target and perennial Pro Bowl receiver Davante Adams was traded to the Las Vegas Raiders for a treasure trove of draft picks, and big-play man Marquez Valdes-Scantling took his talents to the Kansas City Chiefs. Meanwhile, the Packers signed injury-prone veteran Sammy... Read More


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Boom or Bust Wide Receivers for Fantasy Football in 2022

We’re here looking for the next Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson. The kind of guys who will help win and lose fantasy football seasons this year. The reality is, we’re very unlikely to have any players who end up in the same stratosphere of season Kupp and Robinson had last year, but that doesn’t mean... Read More


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Saquon Barkley- RB1 Or Overvalued?

Saquon Barkley is a player that the fantasy football industry is divided on as we head into the 2022 season. On one hand, there are those who will be completely avoiding him because of the past two seasons. However, there are some that still believe in the ability of tone of the greatest running back... Read More


Treylon Burks - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Rookies, Draft Sleepers

NFL Rookies Most Likely to Make Fantasy Football Impacts (And Those Who Won't)

With the popularity of dynasty leagues growing and the fantasy impact of the last few rookie classes, fantasy managers seem to be flocking to NFL newbies at far higher rates than before. Our expectations increased, oftentimes to unrealistic levels. Guys like Ja’Marr Chase and Najee Harris have spoiled us. They were also drafted into picture-perfect... Read More


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Is Allen Lazard The Packers WR1? Where Should I Draft Allen Lazard?

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Allen Lazard jumped to the top of the team's chart after losing Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling this offseason. The 26-year-old signed his second-round tender in June and is expected to be Aaron Rodgers' top target in 2022. He finished with career highs in receptions (40), receiving yards (513), and... Read More


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Will James Robinson or Travis Etienne Be The RB1 For The Jaguars?

With James Robinson suffering a torn Achilles deep into last season, it quickly became the expectation that a healthy Travis Etienne would be the Jaguars' RB1 this year. Miraculously, Robinson avoided entering training camp on the PUP list and is already taking some reps with the first-team offense. If he continues to progress and sees... Read More


Is James Washington Out for the Season?

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver James Washington earned his fair share of hype during the offseason. After leaving the Steelers and joining Dallas' high-powered offense, his stock started to grow. Then, with Amari Cooper traded to the Browns and Michael Gallup recovering from a torn ACL, it looked like Washington had a chance to carve out... Read More


Aaron Rodgers - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Targets, NFL Injury News

Quarterback Fantasy Football Rankings for 2022 Drafts: Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Derek Carr, Deshaun Watson, Matt Ryan

Fellow RotoBallers, we present our updated 2022 fantasy football quarterback rankings. We have been updating our fantasy football rankings all throughout the preseason, and will continue until the season kicks off. Our quarterback fantasy football rankings are put together by Nick Mariano, Pierre Camus, Scott Engel and Brandon Murchison. Below you will also see recent fantasy football... Read More


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Real or Not? Legitimate Stats from Guards - 2021-22 NBA Season Review: Darius Garland, Anthony Edwards, Will Barton

We're still weeks away from the regular-season tip-off, and while there is a ton of hype about the incoming rookies, we still need to reflect on the 2021-2022 campaign and what happened just a few weeks and months ago. Things have finally settled when it comes to the NBA offseason timeline, so it's time to... Read More


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Real or Not? Misleading Stats from Guards - 2021-22 NBA Season Review: Anfernee Simons, Reggie Jackson, Spencer Dinwiddie

We're still weeks away from the regular-season tip-off, and while there is a ton of hype about the incoming rookies, we still need to reflect on the 2021-2022 campaign and what happened just a few weeks and months ago. Things have finally settled when it comes to the NBA offseason timeline so it's time to... Read More


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Real or Not? Legitimate Stats from Forwards- 2021-22 NBA Season Review: Pascal Siakam, Brandon Ingram, Kristaps Porzingis

We're still weeks away from the regular-season tip-off, and while there is a ton of hype about the incoming rookies, we still need to reflect on the 2021-2022 campaign and what happened just a few weeks and months ago. Things have finally settled when it comes to the NBA offseason timeline so it's time to... Read More


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Real or Not? Misleading Stats from Forwards - 2021-22 NBA Season Review: Kyle Kuzma, Saddiq Bey, Devin Vassell

We're still weeks away from the regular-season tip-off, and while there is a ton of hype about the incoming rookies, we still need to reflect on the 2021-2022 campaign and what happened just a few weeks and months ago. Things have finally settled when it comes to the NBA offseason timeline so it's time to... Read More


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Real or Not? Legitimate Stats from Centers - 2021-22 NBA Season Review: Steven Adams, Mitchell Robinson, Jakob Poeltl

We're still weeks away from the regular-season tip-off, and while there is a ton of hype about the incoming rookies, we still need to reflect on the 2021-2022 campaign and what happened just a few weeks and months ago. Things have finally settled when it comes to the NBA offseason timeline so it's time to... Read More


fantasy basketball offseason trades free agents NBA sleepers

Real or Not? Misleading Stats from Centers - 2021-22 NBA Season Review: Robert Williams, Mo Bamba, Bobby Portis

We're still weeks away from the regular-season tip-off, and while there is a ton of hype about the incoming rookies we still need to reflect on the 2021-2022 campaign and what happened just a few weeks and months ago. Things have finally settled when it comes to the NBA offseason timeline so it's time to... Read More


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Fantasy Basketball - Veteran Free Agency Losers (Part 2): Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez, Otto Porter Jr.

A key part of doing a fantasy draft is avoiding players who find themselves in a bad situation. The wrong pick can completely tank your season. On the other hand, rostering players in perfect situations can be the ultimately league-winning move for savvy fantasy GMs. Today, let's talk about some veterans that entered Unrestricted Free... Read More


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Fantasy Basketball - Veteran Free Agency Losers (Part 1): P.J. Tucker, Danilo Gallinari, Gary Payton II

A key part of doing a fantasy draft is avoiding players who find themselves in a bad situation. The wrong pick can completely tank your season. On the other hand, rostering players in perfect situations can be the ultimately league-winning move for savvy fantasy GMs. Today, let's talk about some veterans that entered Unrestricted Free... Read More


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Fantasy Basketball - Veteran Free Agency Winners (Part 2): James Harden, T.J. Warren, JaVale McGee

A key part of doing a fantasy draft is avoiding players who find themselves in a bad situation. The wrong pick can completely tank your season. On the other hand, rostering players in perfect situations can be the ultimately league-winning move for savvy fantasy GMs. Today, let's talk about some veterans that entered Unrestricted Free... Read More


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Fantasy Basketball - Veteran Free Agency Winners (Part 1): Patty Mills, John Wall, Ricky Rubio

A key part of doing a fantasy draft is avoiding players who find themselves in a bad situation. The wrong pick can completely tank your season. On the other hand, rostering players in perfect situations can be the ultimately league-winning move for savvy fantasy GMs. Today, let's talk about some veterans that entered Unrestricted Free... Read More


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NBA Summer League Losers - Forwards: Nikola Jovic, Trevelin Queen, Caleb Houstan

A key part of doing a fantasy draft is avoiding players who find themselves in a bad situation. The wrong pick can completely tank your season. On the other hand, rostering players in perfect situations can be the ultimately league-winning move for savvy fantasy GMs. Today, let's talk about some potential busts and sleepers that... Read More


fantasy basketball offseason trades free agents NBA sleepers

NBA Summer League Winners - Forwards: Keegan Murray, Quentin Grimes, Moses Moody

A key part of doing a fantasy draft is avoiding players who find themselves in a bad situation. The wrong pick can completely tank your season. On the other hand, rostering players in perfect situations can be the ultimately league-winning move for savvy fantasy GMs. Today, let's talk about some potential busts and sleepers that... Read More