Fantasy football players to not give up on yet: Drake London, Kyle Pitts lead the way

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The lone member of the Atlanta Falcons going in the first six rounds of ESPN average live drafts has not played an NFL down yet. That is, of course, rookie RB Bijan Robinson and there is little argument about his popularity here. The Texas product should offer immediate fantasy dominance. There are other young Falcons, however, who came into the league with significant statistical promise and fantasy managers do not share enough optimism.

Third-year TE Kyle Pitts and second-year WR Drake London are special talents who might not have looked like superstars last season, but surely fantasy managers should not give up on either of them yet. Perhaps this is a bit of an unfair characterization, since Pitts is a seventh-round pick in ADP and No. 7 at his position, and London is 31st among the wide receivers, a solid ninth-round choice overall. Neither is exactly forgotten, but each should outperform these rather tepid expectations.

Pitts became only the second tight end to surpass 1,000 receiving yards as a rookie, joining Mike Ditka many moons ago, and fantasy managers expected him to greatly increase his touchdown total in Year 2. Well, he doubled it -- from one score to two -- but his overall production suffered as the Falcons leaned heavily toward running the football, and then a knee injury ended his season prematurely. The No. 4 pick in the 2021 draft out of Florida, Pitts still boasts elite size and speed and he should thrive this season.

Similarly, London, the No. 8 pick in the 2022 draft from USC, suffered from Atlanta's preferred offensive style and the play of quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and rookie Desmond Ridder last season. London's first season was disappointing, but his numbers improved working with Ridder in the final weeks, and he topped 100 receiving yards in the finale. London was heavily targeted in the final month. He will be heavily targeted in all the months this season. He is a future WR2 option in fantasy.

ESPN Fantasy projects much from Robinson, as he goes in the first round of most drafts. Ridder did not look like the next Joe Montana in his brief time as a starter, but fantasy managers should bet on talent. Pitts and London are drafted in all leagues, but at a curious discount after their 2022 seasons. Things will improve. Ridder is talented and nobody should look at his small-sample statistics after four games. Do not give up on these young Falcons yet.

Here are other players, ordered by ESPN ADP at each position, who seem to last longer in drafts than either their skills or prior statistics demand they should. Do not give up on them yet!


Aaron Rodgers, New York Jets: The No. 13 QB in ESPN ADP was the NFL MVP in 2020 and 2021, and a top-five fantasy QB both seasons. He has been a top-10 fantasy QB in every full season of his career.

Russell Wilson, Denver Broncos: His first season in a new uniform hardly could have gone worse, but fantasy managers should not dwell on this. Former Saints coach Sean Payton will fix everything.

Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams: Focus not on last season but the 4,886 passing yards, 41 touchdown passes and a Super Bowl title from the prior season. Stafford is hardly too old to thrive again.

Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans: He is also not far removed from a top-10 fantasy season and now he has WR DeAndre Hopkins to aim at. The Titans have options, but Tannehill gets another shot.

Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers: Everyone seems to love Brock Purdy and perhaps the 49ers do as well, but Lance offers considerable upside with his legs. Fantasy managers should not dismiss him in deeper formats.

Running backs

J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens: Now an eighth-round pick in ESPN ADP, Dobbins is capable of top-10 RB production, even sans a significant role in the passing game, if he can simply stay healthy.

Brian Robinson Jr. and Antonio Gibson, Washington Commanders: Neither was a safe fantasy performer last season, but Robinson could rush for 1,000 yards and Gibson can sail past 50 receptions.

Rashaad Penny, Philadelphia Eagles: Injuries derail him on an annual basis, but few players can say they have averaged 5.7 yards per rush in their career. There will be ample space to run behind an elite offensive line if Penny can avoid injury.

Elijah Mitchell, San Francisco 49ers: Nobody debates Christian McCaffrey's greatness, but one 17-game season does not make him durable. He has a history. Mitchell, hardly durable himself, is good and will be involved, too.

Damien Harris, Buffalo Bills: The Bills have options with the younger James Cook, but Harris did rumble for 15 touchdowns in 2021 with the Patriots. The Bills wanted him for a reason.

Wide receiver

Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers: Some will look solely at the giant zero in the touchdown column, but Johnson has a strong track record, an improving, young quarterback and WR2 realism.

Michael Pittman Jr., Indianapolis Colts: Rough quarterback play and the lack of a running game after the Jonathan Taylor injury doomed him, but he should return to 2021 efficiency.

Brandin Cooks, Dallas Cowboys: This veteran seeks a 1,000-yard receiving campaign for his fifth NFL franchise in the past eight years. Ignore his 2022 campaign. He has thrived in a new place before.

Kadarius Toney, Kansas City Chiefs: This New York Giants' first-round pick from 2021 struggles to stay on the field, but with Patrick Mahomes tossing him deep passes, there is clear upside.

Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos: Teammate Jerry Jeudy gets the ADP love, as most expect the aforementioned Wilson to bounce back, but Sutton slips to the end of drafts. Check out his 2019 numbers.

Adam Thielen, Carolina Panthers: The longtime Viking scored 30 touchdowns over the past three seasons and rookie quarterback Bryce Young will surely look his way.

Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay, Baltimore Ravens: If you believe Odell Beckham Jr. will suddenly rediscover his 2016 production, then look elsewhere. Most believe this will not happen.

Hunter Renfrow, Las Vegas Raiders: From 103 catches, 1,038 yards and 9 TDs to an injury-riddled 2022 campaign, Renfrow has shown us extremes the past two seasons. Don't forget the good season.

Tight end

Darren Waller, New York Giants: A top-three TE option as recently as 2020 derailed by health issues, Waller gets a new start on the East Coast and should see a significant target share.

Zach Ertz, Arizona Cardinals: Another 100-reception season seems unlikely, but Ertz averaged 11.6 PPR points per game in 2022, sixth among tight ends. If he recovers from ACL surgery for September action, he will see targets.