Fourth-Year Players Can Be Good Too
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Fourth-Year Players Can Be Good Too

A list of fourth-year players that are looking to hit their prime. Profiled players include Jake Locker, Mark Ingram, LaMichael James, Jerrel Jernigan, and Cecil Shorts.

In May, most fantasy articles were dominated by the NFL Draft. Incoming rookies such as Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and Bishop Sankey sucked every inch of air out of the fantasy discussion. Then came the sophomore-slump articles that discussed second-year players such as Keenan Allen and Zac Stacy potentially heading downhill because defenses will have a full season of tape to study and should understand better ways to defend them. Finally, we got to the third-year breakout candidate articles that stated Dwayne Allen, Michael Floyd and Ladarius Green are due for greatness. A ton of talent came out of that 2011 draft as well – Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Cam Newton and DeMarco Murray are just a few names.

But what about the fourth-year players who have not flourished yet? The following are some players from that 2011 draft, players on and off the fantasy radar, who, if the roster tilts in their favor or they can stay healthy, could rise up from the class and become an every-week fantasy starter for you.

Without getting into his injury history, Locker is probably the toughest to promote on this list. He's been in the league for three years and has played a total of 23 games. He has been injury-plagued to say the least. With that said, Locker has a favorable outlook for the upcoming season.

The offseason moves are notable: Chris Johnson was let go and replaced by rookie Bishop Sankey. He will be the lead back ahead of veteran power-back Shonn Greene and scat back Dexter McCluster. The Titans also allowed Kenny Britt to walk away, choosing instead to go with the WR combination of Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter and Nate Washington. Finally, new head coach Ken Whisenhunt was brought in and is widely expected to keep Locker in the pocket, something the QB hasn't done often. The hope is that the new system and new players will allow Locker to thrive as a passer and improve his odds of staying healthy. He is standing on his last leg in Tennessee and is currently a middling QB2 in the final year of his rookie contract. But the potential for something much better is still here.

Injury Status: Out - Thumb

The downside with Ingram is he's been in the league for three years and has played only one full season without injury. He hasn't been a standout player at all in New Orleans. The Saints also declined to pick up his fifth-year option during the offseason. However, Ingram does have some positive energy going his way.

He boasts a 4.1 yards-per-carry average, and the Saints are moving away from a passing-back scheme to a more traditional power-set formation. Some beat writers have said Ingram, who is 100 percent healthy entering this season, could lead the team in carries ahead of Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson. Ingram is another player who isn't being drafted among the top 50 RBs in our ADP rankings but will have opportunities to break out and help your fantasy squad on the cheap.

James makes this list as a reach-stash of sorts. He was dead last on the 49ers' depth chart behind running backs Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, Carlos Hyde and Marcus Lattimore. There were several reports in the offseason of him possibly being traded or holding out because he wasn't happy with his situation. That situation has changed significantly since.

Hunter has torn his ACL and was waived by the team. Lattimore still hasn't fully recovered from his severe 2012 knee injury in college and has missed more time in camp due to a hamstring injury. That puts James squarely on the radar for third-string duties. Although he recently dislocated his elbow for the third time in his football career, he is expected to be ready to go for the start of the season. He's another one on this list who could provide fantasy value if the roster tilts in his favor.

Jernigan makes this list after an offseason in which he saw quite a bit of hype for good reason. He was the third-highest-scoring fantasy wide receiver through the final three weeks of last season. He caught 19 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns, finishing behind only Calvin Johnson and Pierre Garcon in fantasy points. The buzz grew louder after Hakeem Nicks joined the Colts. The lid blew off when Ben McAdoo was brought in to be the Giants' offensive coordinator since McAdoo is known for using plenty of three-WR formations.

All of the cards seemed to line up for Jernigan. Then they came crashing down when the Giants selected Odell Beckham Jr. with the 12th pick of the 2014 draft, reducing Jernigan to the fourth option in New York's wide receiving corps. Jernigan still has all the talent that surrounded his offseason buzz; he just needs an opportunity or an injury to a player in front of him to get back on the field. With Victor Cruz missing games last season due to a knee injury, and Beckham missing time in training camp due to hamstring troubles, Jernigan is worth a stash in deep-bench leagues.

Injury Status: Injured Reserve

Every year, Cecil Shorts gets brought up as a potential breakout, only for the overly pessimistic to bring up the fact that he missed games due to injury every season. Yes, Shorts has had numerous hamstring injuries throughout his career and suffered two concussions in 2012. He already has another hamstring injury and is expected to miss 2-4 weeks. On top of all of this, the Jaguars selected college studs Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson in the second round of the NFL Draft, each of whom have the potential to start this season.

But we shouldn't forget that Shorts has the skills to be a WR3 option for your fantasy team. In point-per-reception leagues last season, he managed 13.47 fantasy points per game (fppg). That number would have put Shorts right at the No. 25 spot among wide receivers if he hadn't sat out of three games.

In 2012, Shorts did even better in 14 games, averaging 17.85 fppg. That would have been good enough for the No. 9 WR ranking. He is being drafted in the ninth round, 49th among wideouts. Shorts has proven that when he is on the field, he can far exceed that ADP price.

Ryan Foley
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Auburn, NY
FFToolbox Fantasy Football Writer since 2014
Ryan is a 10+ year fantasy veteran who will specialize in NFL analysis and fantasy football coverage here at Toolbox. He will also answer your fantasy questions on our Message Board. Contact him on twitter @NFL_wildcard