With the first episode of HBO’s beloved documentary series Hard Knocks airing tonight, no doubt are we in for a treat with the Oakland Raiders being this year’s focus. There will be plenty of compelling storylines to follow as the season progresses, fueled by famous and infamous names like Jon Gruden, Antonio Brown, Nathan Peterman, Vontaze Burfict and Richie Incognito, who have somehow all collided in Oakland for our viewing experience. Not to mention Johnny Townsend, the blazing fast punter who made waves for this stat.
Outside of watching personalities clash, however, Hard Knocks does a great job of highlighting the players who are impressing in camp, which can offer some valuable insight for those whose minds are never far from their fantasy teams. Those watching last year saw the appeal of Antonio Callaway as a fantasy sleeper and a dynasty league commodity. They also got to see firsthand the inevitability of Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb, the team’s two prized rookies who seized their starting jobs and won many a fantasy league as late-round dart throws (Chubb) or waiver wire pickups (Mayfield).
Like the Browns last season, the Raiders’ new offense will boast no shortage of interesting fantasy options. These are the three who could be the most intriguing risers in drafts, when factoring in their current ADP.
3. Darren Waller, TE
Darren Waller’s name has floated around in fantasy circles as a potential sleeper at tight end for a good chunk of the offseason. The converted wide receiver has very little competition at the position and has gotten most of the work with the first-team offense, but it’ll be interesting to see how far he has distanced himself from the rest of the pack. For a player with 18 career receptions to his name, he’s no sure thing, but if he can cement himself as the primary receiving tight end, Derek Carr could have a much-needed replacement for Jared Cook, who had a breakthrough season himself a year ago. For a player going as TE28, behind Jason Witten’s bones, he’s essentially free.
2. Josh Jacobs, RB
Hard Knocks always heavily focuses on the team’s first-round pick(s), and with Jacobs being the team’s lone offensive first rounder, he could see more screen time than almost anyone on the team. Jacobs isn’t particularly a candidate to rise; he’s already rightly going among similar projected breakout stars, such as Aaron Jones, Kerryon Johnson and Marlon Mack, but it will be interesting to get our first look of a player who could be a star for years to come. With Jacobs shouldering Offensive Rookie of the Year expectations, he will get plenty of touches per game, but seeing his transition to NFL play could give us a realistic idea of what to expect out of those touches.
1. Antonio Brown, WR
People really do not want to draft Brown this season. After a tumultuous season off the field, Brown was finally dealt out of Pittsburgh for pennies on the dollar, burning every bridge he had with the Steelers as he left. This ugly departure has left prospective fantasy investors spooked, especially now that Brown plays for a worse team and a worse quarterback. Brown is going as the eighth receiver and 20th overall player off the board due to said concerns, coupled with the usual qualms about new faces taking time to adjust to a new system.
That being said, Brown going as WR8 at the second-third round turn is a ridiculous value for a player whose worst statistics at each category since 2013 are 101 receptions, 1,284 yards and eight touchdowns. His average stat line since that year is 114/1,524/11.
Brown is still arguably the best receiver on the planet, and once he gets over his horrifying foot issues and gets on the field, he’ll remind everyone of that. He’s back to being the clear top receiver on an offense that could surprise a lot of people. And once he shows us that he’s completely healthy, he’ll see himself rising up the draft board.