Anyone can tell you that Chris Godwin had production at Penn State, and despite being behind both Mike Evans and Desean Jackson, is in line to produce in an evolving growing offense. He’s a dynamic presence measured at 6’1” and 209 pounds at the NFL Combine, and coupled with Jameis Winston‘s assumed ascension into the upper fantasy stratosphere should prove worthy of draft consideration. Plus, he was Tampa’s third round pick in a campaign to provide “Weapons for Winston,” so Godwin’s not exactly a hidden gem in the fantasy dynasty world.
Nor is Jeremy McNichols, a fifth rounder out of Boise State. Not only did he score 56 touchdowns (56!) along with over 4,300 yards rushing and receiving the previous two years he started, but Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter previously coached at Boise State from 1998-2000, and still has a number of contacts up in that area. So while he’s a rookie, he’s someone that most dynasty league players know to keep an eye on, especially with the Buccaneers’ muddled backfield.
The two players I’m going to discuss, one on offense and one on defense, probably won’t do too much this year. But while they may be coal at the moment, there are whispers that they are potential diamonds in the rough. Remember, it’s not just talent that rules the day in fantasy, but opportunity as well, and these potential fantasy dynasty rookies are players to watch.
Fantasy Dynasty Rookie Watch – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Offense: Anthony Auclair
Auclair isn’t a huge name here in the lower 48 as he is originally from Quebec and played college football at Universite Laval in Canada, but make no mistake, he is someone to keep an eye on for a few reasons. While his name might not be big, he himself is 6’6” and weighs in at 254 pounds, and he plays as big as he is. He is an excellent in-line blocker, which means he is accustomed to lining up alongside either offensive tackle or outside another tight end and blocking the opposing linebacker or defensive end. While he hasn’t previously played an H-back role by lining up in the backfield as a pseudo fullback, the incumbent tight end Luke Stocker is the veteran in the tight end room and will teach Auclair everything he needs to know about the position. Not only does lining up in the backfield give you an extra couple of seconds to survey the defense, but it also takes advantage of Auclair’s 4.8 40-yard dash time, ensuring whomever ends up lining up as the halfback in the Buccaneer backfield won’t have to wait long for Auclair to create holes in the defense.
While 4.8 speed isn’t elite for a tight end in the NFL, Auclair has an innate talent to create separation from linebackers that will enable him to catch whatever is thrown his way, as he demonstrated often at Laval. The same skillset that propelled O.J. Howard into first-round status, being adept at both receiving and blocking thereby enabling the offense to be diverse, resides also with Auclair. But don’t just take my word for it. No less authority than Sports Illustrated named Auclair their choice for the Buccaneers’ best undrafted free agent signing. Several teams had contacted his representation in the hope of signing him after the draft, but he chose to come to Tampa.
One reason for his choice is coach Dirk Koetter, whose main talent resides on the offensive side of the ball. As the previous offensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Atlanta Falcons, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Koetter often employs two tight end formations to force the defense into a more basic setup so they can’t focus on either the run or the pass. This allows the offense to dictate what plays they want to run, and the flexibility of tight ends who can both catch and block well is the core of this offensive concept. Cameron Brate, last year’s starter at tight end, was tied for the NFL lead in touchdown catches for tight ends with eight, so Dirk has already proven he has an affinity for using his tight ends in Tampa.
Additionally, Winston also showed he loves throwing to his tight ends in college at FSU, and he’s only going to improve in his third year as a pro. Finally, Stocker is 29 years old with a history of injuries, so in a year or two there will possibly be an opening for another consistent young tight end in the H-back role.
All told, the situation in Tampa creates the perfect storm for Auclair to grow and learn the NFL game behind other talented tight ends, along with the promise of future production in a premier offense. While everyone else seeks to draft Howard, don’t overlook this team’s other young rookie tight end.
Defense: Kendell Beckwith
Beckwith played middle linebacker for the LSU Tigers, and despite tearing his ACL November 19, was one of the team’s leading tacklers in 2016. His strengths include, well, his strength as he performed 20 bench press reps at the NFL Combine, as well as his size at 6’2” and 243 pounds. He is unique in Tampa as he is by far the largest and heaviest linebacker on the team, and was drafted knowing he would need time to continue his recovery from ACL surgery. However, he has shown rapid healing and was able to get onto the field in the Buccaneers’ first preseason game against Cincinnati, making five tackles.
Since the team already has a young stud at middle linebacker in Kwon Alexander (who played outside linebacker at LSU with Beckwith), the Buccaneers are starting Beckwith out as Alexander’s backup at middle linebacker as well as giving him looks on the strong side. Beckwith may lack the raw speed of both Alexander and Lavonte David (the team’s All-Pro weakside linebacker), but his instincts and skills make up for it. In the Tampa defense, however, the strongside linebacker often comes off the field on third down as they prefer to have another defensive back in. So while it may seem odd I recommend Beckwith for your fantasy team, there are two solid reasons to consider keeping tabs on him.
First, the Buccaneer defense is still growing in their understanding of defensive coordinator Mike Smith’s defense. When Smith was the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons he had Koetter as his offensive coordinator, so it was natural that when Koetter became the Buccaneers head coach his first hire was Smith to captain his defense. They obviously have a good relationship and trust with each other, and it’s this relationship that endows Smith to be the “head coach” of the defense and gives him the latitude to run it his way. I stress this because Smith is adept at using the players he has and molding his defense around them, and this flexibility might give Beckwith an opening.
There was some talk last year that Smith might run some 3-4 defense amidst the team’s normal 4-3 set, but it didn’t happen much because the players didn’t start getting settled into the new defense until halfway through the 2016 season. This year, the players are playing far more instinctively from the start, so Smith can begin inserting wrinkles such as the 3-4 more liberally. With his athleticism, Beckwith is a natural for playing time in both the 4-3 strongside linebacker and 3-4 inside linebacker positions, and could accrue more playing time depending on his production. Last year’s sixth round draft choice linebacker Davonte Bond began training camp as the starting strongside linebacker and has looked good, but his injury in the preseason game gives Beckwith an opportunity to showcase his own talent in Smith’s multiple defensive looks.
Second, while general manager Jason Licht drafted Beckwith late in the third round, he traded his fourth and sixth round picks to move up to the Jets’ compensatory pick in order to select him. While drafting him that early won’t guarantee Beckwith playing time (just ask Roberto Aguayo how his second round status worked out for him), it does show intent on Licht’s part as reports were Beckwith would have been second round selection at worst if he had been healthy. Clearly the talent is thought to be there, and a player’s talent combined with opportunity make for a healthy marriage in the NFL.