While the Dr. typically does his sleeper prognosis earlier in the off season, it is a beneficial exercise to examine who our newest breakout and sleeper candidates are as we approach the final countdown to our drafts. While there’s still a ton of players we like outside of this list, these are some of our favorite late round targets and the reasons why we’re targeting them ourselves.
Tyrod Taylor, QB – CLE
It’s a fair concern for drafters that the Browns selected Baker Mayfield first overall in the draft. With as well as he’s playing, it would make sense to expect him to start at some point in 2018. But the fact remains that Hue Jackson has been unmovable in his stance that Taylor is his starting QB. With the chemistry already building between Taylor and his receiving group, especially Jarvis Landry, a hot start could mean less chatter about him being replaced. Being able to add a potential top 15 QB in the 19th round (current ADP data shows him going around pick 183), sure qualifies as a sleeper to the Dr.
Blake Bortles, QB – JAC
We understand why Bortles is considered a bottom of the barrel NFL starter, but the real-world hate has seriously suppressed his value in the fantasy community as well. According to data supplied by the consensus ADP rankings at FantasyFootballCalculator, Bortles is being selected on average with the 204th pick of drafts. As the 29th QB off the board, it may surprise you to know that 2017 was his worst finish as the QB 15; his previous two seasons were as the QB9 in 2016 and the QB3 in 2015. While we expect a similar finish in 2018 thanks to an elite defense and high end run game, being able to select a borderline QB1 in the 21st round is larceny.
Jeremy Hill, RB – NE
I’ve been pounding the Jeremy Hill drum since he was released from the Bengals in the off season. Much to my delight he landed with my hometown Patriots, and has slowly been working himself into the good graces of the coaching staff and fans alike. Currently, both Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead are on the shelves with non-serious injuries, but their absence opens up the door for Hill who was far more impressive than Mike Gillislee in the teams first preseason action. While it’s unlikely that he’ll receive the massive workload that saw him compile 1,400 rushing yards early in his career in Cincinnati, the chance to be the primary goal line back and work on early downs makes him an intriguing play at 180th overall. His ADP has been climbing steadily, but currently provides incredible value as a flier.
Bilal Powell, RB – NYJ
When Isaiah Crowell was brought in, it was seen by many as a sign that the Jets didn’t believe in Powell as a starting running back. What we’ve seen through the first weeks of the off season is that Powell may have the better chance to start, especially with Crowell experiencing a head injury in the first preseason game. With his role pretty well defined as the third down back, Powell offers excellent value in PPR formats regardless at his current ADP (192nd) but his status with the teams starters means there’s a chance he could provide even more value as the clubs lead back despite Crowell’s presence on the roster. While I doubt he’ll be a full three down back, the needle is pointing up for one of the leagues most underrated backs.
Dede Westbrook, WR – JAC
The wide receiver competition in Jacksonville is wide open with the uninspiring Marqise Lee sitting atop a receivers group that has plenty of depth but not a lot of experience. A lot of folks were high on Keelan Cole after his explosive stretch to finish the fantasy season last year, but talk in camp has centered on 2nd year receiver Dede Westbrook. A talented receiver, Westbrook has been turning heads with athletic plays and his growing chemistry with Bortles. I’m not a big believer in Lee, and while I was in love with Cole last year, it’s sounding more and more like Dede is going to be the late round guy to draft.
Chris Godwin, WR – TB
Staying in Florida, Chris Godwin has been turning up on a lot of these sleeper lists, yet he’s still being drafted on average around the 21st round of only the deepest drafts. The Tampa coaching staff has already expressed it’s interest in starting the young receiver opposite Mike Evans as the teams #2 receiver, and with DeSean Jackson running as often as he has out of the slot, I’m beginning to believe it. Working in Godwins favor is that Evans draws as many double teams as he does, opening up the other side of the field for plenty of work. Expect a bit of a delay in his progress, as Fitzpatrick tends to target his #1 receiver an inordinate percentage of plays, but it won’t be long before Godwin is a must start.
Mike Gesicki, TE – MIA
It’s nearly a clean sweep for the Florida teams, as the Miami Dolphin’s rookie TE Mike Gesicki pops up on our list. A lot was made of the high number of targets that are up for grabs in the Dolphin offense after Landry left in the off season, but all the attention has been on the incumbent receivers and the two off season additions in Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola. What I’ve been reading, though, is that Tannehill has begun to target Gesicki as one of his favorite receiving weapons. In the past, his TE usage has fluctuated, much to the dismay of owners, but I expect a flier on Gesicki to offer a sizable return on that late round investment. I don’t expect a top 5 finish like Engram had last year, but a border line TE1 finish is in the conversation
Michael Gallup looked good in limited action, and the timing pass that Prescott landed in his hands is a good sign that he’ll be heavily involved in Dallas. Jordan Wilkins has been on and off these lists, but with Mack nursing a hamstring injury, a fine showing could move him up the depth chart and put him within striking distance of lead back duties. Jameis Winston may still feel like a risk, but given his pedigree and obvious ability, he’s more than worth a flier in the 19th round. Make sure you have a starter to pair him with, though, for the first three games.
32. New York Jets
It’s low hanging fruit to bash on the listless Jets, but the relative lack of fantasy fire power is hardly a surprise to anyone. Aside from deep sleeper lists and waiver wire conquests, the Jets boast a roster devoid of much except late round fliers.
Worth Drafting: Isaiah Crowell (ADP 102), Robby Anderson (ADP 104), Bilal Powell (ADP 169)
While none of these players should be selected with anything but serious flyer considerations, Powell may offer the most upside in PPR leagues only. Crowell, on the other hand, doesn’t project to work much with the passing game, so it all depends on how you think he’ll be used. I expect this team to pass a lot, similar to how last years team found themselves training early. Anderson could out perform the 11th round price tag, but I expect Quincy Enunwa (undrafted in ESPN leagues at this point) to return to some relevance in terms of offensive workload. Every target he steals from Anderson is a massive hit to his fantasy value.
Deep Sleeper: While Sam Darnold has his work cut out for him behind both Bridgewater and McCown in front of him, it’s only natural that the best QB of the bunch get some consideration. He probably won’t play, but in dynasty leagues he’s worth a late round pick, and as waiver wire fodder he should be on your radar until the team finally names it’s starter.
31. Buffalo Bills
This could be even worse, pending the fallout from LeSean McCoy’s domestic violence accusations. Even if he remains on the team, though, I expect a decline across the board as this team is littered with youth and raw future talents. With the pending media firestorm, I’m out on Buffalo unless it’s dealt with sooner than later.
Worth Drafting: LeSean McCoy (ADP 17), Kelvin Benjamin (ADP 91), Charles Clay (ADP 145)
Obviously McCoy’s inclusion on this is difficult, as the ADP data hasn’t caught up to the fall I’m expecting. If he’s found guilty, he’ll be gone from the league post haste, making this team even worse. Unfortunately for Benjamin and Clay, the prospects working with AJ McCarron and Josh Allen are nebulous at best. While Taylor didn’t have as massive a year statistically as we expected last year, this team should struggle to find consistency.
Deep Sleeper: Zay Jones’ rookie year was a disappointment to those, like me, who had him pegged as a high end rookie option. His 10 starts only yielded 27 receptions and 316 yards; not good enough. Still, the talent is there, and Jones is a downfield threat who may work well with Allen’s monster arm. It’s a long shot, and a player I only look at in the deepest of drafts, but Jones could be a contributor by the end of the season.
30. Baltimore Ravens
A common theme among the teams named to this point are the potential quarterback controversies. While I fully expect Flacco to start when healthy, it’s important to note that Lamar Jackson has the potential to unseat Flacco, especially if he’s awful again this year. To combat that, the Ravens brought in free agent receivers Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead, so expect a bit of an uptick in Baltimore’s overall numbers.
Worth Drafting: Alex Collins (ADP 53), Michael Crabtree (ADP 72), Kenneth Dixon (ADP 180)
One of the more interesting competitions is going to be Collins and Dixon in the Baltimore Backfield. Dixon was labelled as the heir apparent last year before an injury ended his season. Collins was fantastic in relief, giving many the impression that the team had moved on. But even after several off the field issues, Baltimore expects Dixon to be a part of it’s offense. The leash will be short, but this may start as a committee and coaches will likely ride the hot hand.
Deep Sleeper: It’s been a while since Willie Snead has popped up on the fantasy radar, but in Baltimore, he’ll have every opportunity to show the talent that flashed in New Orleans. With John Brown no safe bet to see the field, Snead should be heavily involved in the passing game, and Flacco does love to fling it.
29. Miami Dolphins
A team that maybe deserves a bit more respect than they receive annually, the Dolphin’s roster is a who’s who of mediocre players. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is back, so it’s possible he and Davante Parker rekindle the magic that made them both trendy picks a few years ago, but I’m not going to go that far just yet. Likewise, the questions in the run game need to be answered before I invest heavily in a run game that’s actually produced some fantasy relevant backs in recent years. While Kenyan Drake has the inside track, don’t count out Frank Gore as he will likely see a healthy dose of carries early on.
Players Worth Drafting: Kenyan Drake (ADP 41), Devante Parker (ADP 91), Kenny Stills (130), Mike Gesicki (ADP 165), Frank Gore (ADP 172), Albert Wilson (ADP 182)
It was a strange development that saw the Dolphins bring in an aging Frank Gore via free agency, and Kalen Ballage in the draft. If the team believed in Drake, then I’d argue that at least one of them would be elsewhere. As a 5th round pick, that scares the hell out of me, and may force me to look elsewhere. That elsewhere, in this offense, are the 160 targets vacated by Jarvis Landry. While Parker will get his, Albert Wilson is a sneaky pick to slide into the slot. If the Dolphins like his game more than Amendola’s he could be a monster producer out of the 19th round.
Deep Sleeper: I should probably stop screaming his name from the rooftops if I want to secure him in the later rounds, but Kalen Ballage is an intriguing player in that he possesses all the skills necessary to become a 3 down back in the league. Possessing impressive speed for his size, and above average hands in the passing game, Ballage could easily see his timeshare expand to a level that supports a roster spot.
28. Denver Broncos
The addition of Case Keenum elevates this team from dead last, to near last. That’s not to say there’s no one worth drafting, because I do like some of the talent on this roster, but the days of Denver popping out top 30 players is in the past. While Demaryius Thomas still possesses the skill to overcome sub-par quarterback play, the question is can Case Keenum’s arm support multiple fantasy receivers in Denver like it did in Minnesota? Given the age of guys like Emmanuel Sanders, and the inexperience at TE and in the backfield, and I’m cautious when drafting a Denver player.
Players Worth Drafting: Demaryius Thomas (ADP 38), Royce Freeman (ADP 58), Emmanuel Sanders (ADP 68), Devontae Booker (ADP 151), Case Keenum (ADP 157)
Case Keenum went from draft bust to hero last year as he brought the Vikings to within one game of the superbowl. Cashing in on that success, he’s slated to take over the starting gig and I’m not so sure that he’s the franchise cornerstone that last years performances convinced Denver he was. If he reverts back to the player he was before, and I’d argue it’s far more likely that he does, then this offense could continue to struggle beyond Demaryious Thomas.
Deep Sleeper: 2nd Round pick Courtland Sutton has a steep hill to climb with fantasy stalwarts ahead of him in Thomas and Sanders. Expect him to be up to the task. With Sanders coming to the end of a sparkling career, Sutton may see enough of the field to warrant a roster spot after a few weeks.
27. Dallas Cowboys
Oh how the mighty have fallen. I’m sure there’s plenty of Dallas fans shaking their head at the ranking, but the bottom line is that aside from Ezekiel Elliott, their roster is middle of the road at best. When you consider the talent that walked out the door in Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, it’s easy to see why this roster doesn’t inspire much confidence in the fantasy community.
Worth Drafting: Ezekiel Elliott (ADP 4), Dak Prescott (ADP 122), Allen Hurns (ADP 128), Michael Gallup (ADP 164)
A whole lot of mediocre pretty accurately describes the Dallas passing game. While the bulk of the offense is going to run through the run game, it’s a burning question as to where the passing game will trend. It’s clear that fantasy players are out of Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley, the two incumbent receivers of note, but I think Hurns isn’t talent enough to be a true number one receiver. At his current cost, he’s a low risk option, but I’d ignore him at any steeper a price.
Deep Sleeper: I doubt it will be this way when drafts come along, but Gallup is the best chance Dallas has to replace Dez Bryant with a player on it’s roster. He’s not as talented as Bryant in his prime, but Gallup has all the tools to eat up a ton of targets. It might not happen right away, but he has #1 written all over him.
26. Indianapolis Colts
It’s amazing how poorly a franchise can manage it’s star players, but the job the Colts did last year with Andrew Luck’s injured shoulder takes the cake. By not properly handling the injury, they set back the franchise years and forced fantasy owners to look elsewhere for production. The Jacoby Brissett experiment wasn’t all bad, but it didn’t produce much in the way of fantasy points.
Worth Drafting: T.Y. Hilton (ADP 31), Andrew Luck (ADP 91), Jack Doyle (ADP 97), Marlon Mack (ADP 98), Jordan Wilkins (ADP 185), Eric Ebron (ADP 191), Nyheim Hines (ADP 193)
It’s got to say something for how important you are as a player when the success of everyone on this list comes down to if you play or not. For Andrew Luck, that scenario is very real, and could affect who and when you draft. With Hilton especially, the cost is so high that any doubt you have that Andrew Luck is healthy should dissuade you from drafting him. With half of his yards in only 2 games, he’s a massive bust candidate with Brissett under center.
Deep Sleeper: Ryan Grant may not be a sexy name, but the disregard may work in your favor if Luck is back on the field. A healthy Luck is a safe bet for 550 attempts and someone other than Hilton is going to get involved. Grant is likely to be that guy as the tight ends and depth receivers aren’t great options.
CJ Anderson | CAR – ADP 92 – RB43|
Never finishing a season at less than 4 yards per carry, Anderson’s career best 1,000 yard season last year seems to be a distant memory for drafters as he’s being disrespected to the tune of a RB4 ranking. He won’t see many passing down plays, but Carolina signed him to compliment McCaffrey on the ground and in the red zone. With RB2 potential even if McCaffrey is healthy, this is a player I’ll have my eyes on.
Bilal Powell | NYJ – ADP 160 – RB51 |
The addition of Isaiah Crowell in New York has many in the fantasy community souring on Powell’s upside. Not the Dr. With Crowell proving to be no more than a between the tackles plodder, Powell will likely return to the complimentary role that landed him on fantasy radars to begin with. A return to 60 or so receptions and a time share in the backfield that should see him hit 100-125 rushes, he may not be a weekly start, but he’ll be a valuable flex piece with plenty of upside should Crowell prove ineffective on first and second down.
Kalen Ballage | MIA – ADP Undrafted – RB61|
You may ask yourself why I’m so high on a player who’s at best third on his teams depth chart. The short answer is that I think he’s the best back they’ve got. He’s got the surprising speed for his size, turning in a 4.46 at 6’2″ 230lbs, and he’s far and away the best pass catcher on the team, giving him the best opportunity to steal plays if he can work his way into the third down role exclusively. While he’s beginning to creep onto the communities radar (Matthew Berry lists him with sleeper potential), the potential to grab a bell cow back late in drafts is too good to pass up.
Honorable Mention: Kenneth Dixon was supposed to be the guy in Baltimore, but a series of injuries and off the field issues opened the door for Alex Collins to succeed in his stead. Still, the Raven’s unwillingness to move on from Dixon signals to me that they still believe in the back, a great low risk play in round 13 of your draft.
In the interest of avoiding plucking at low hanging fruit, we’ll ignore players who were duds due to injury, and instead focus on players who underperformed enough that you may have soured on owning them in your leagues.
Jay Ajayi, RB – Phi: Before the season, I cautioned anyone planning on using a first or second round pick on Ajayi to reconsider. His numbers were a mirage propped up on the back of three 200 yard games. Through 7 weeks my point was proven as the listless Dolphins managed to trot out a Jay Cutler led offense that struggled to move the football for long stretch. Ajayi managed a paltry 3.3 yards per game for the Dolphins, prompting the trade that would bring him a championship ring.
Following the trade, Ajayi started running harder. Was it simply a change of scenery or was it because the offense had talent around him? Whatever the case may be, Ajayi managed 408 yards on 70 attempts, good for a 5.8 yard per carry mark. Now, with LeGarrette Blount gone to Detroit, this backfield is his for the taking. While he won’t average 5.8 YPC with an expanded role, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t approach the 1,000 yard mark with 6-8 TD’s.
Samaje Perine, RB – WAS: Before the season, one of the trendiest sleeper picks was rookie RB Samaje Perine, only to see his stock drop precipitously following a disastrous pre-season. Rob Kelley did nothing to dispel the rumors of his impending take over, though, and midway through the season Perine was seeing regular touches. Unfortunately for owners, aside from a two week stretch that saw him amass 47 rushes and over 200 yards, he was uninspiring.
With Alex Smith now under center in Washington, I’d place my bets on this team moving to a more run heavy attack, and that will only benefit the 2nd year Perine. With no one but Rob Kelley in his way for the bulk of carries, there’s little doubt in my mind that he’ll be atop the depth chart when the season starts. Currently ranked 49th at his position by Matthew Berry’s early rankings, that is the kind of value I want out of my late round picks.
Bilal Powell, RB – NYJ: The Jets backfield experienced major upheaval as Matt Forte retired and Isaiah Crowell and Thomas Rawls were both brought in to fill the gap. What does this mean for Powell? I’d argue not much. The Jets were a dumpster fire last year, and the lack of talent on offense kept Powell from rewarding owners who expected massive PPR points from the capable pass catcher.
Despite the addition of these two other backs, Powell should return with a virtual lock on third down work, and with even a slight improvement of the talent around him, Powell should return to the 10+ points per week contributor many expected. While his value in standard (non PPR) leagues is much less grandiose, being ranked 36th at his position is a criminal undervalue.
Honorable Mentions: Jeremy Hill has a lot to prove if he wants to make the roster in New England, but at only 25 years old, and a few years removed from elite performances, he has a chance to return to glory as a Patriot. Likewise, LeGarrett Blount finds himself moving from one crowded backfield in Philly, to another in Detroit. The difference is that the Lions haven’t been able to find a healthy back to carry the load and they hope Blount is that guy. As always, he’ll lack in the catches stat, but should have plenty of opportunity in the red zone with very little competition for those carries on the roster.
For those trying a PPR league for the first time, it’s important to remember that standard scoring rankings need to be adjusted when looking at certain positions. When you league awards a point (or some percentage of one) per reception, players you never thought to target become valuable tools in your quest to become champion.
Running Back Targets
Drafting a PPR running back can be a nerve racking thing; with the exception of a few standouts, pass-catching running backs have a more volatile NFL existence and predicting th usage is difficult. David Johnson (RB1) and Le’Veon Bell (RB2) led all backs with 120 and 94 targets respectively. Here’s the next 5:
- James White, NE (RB51) – 86 targets
- Bilal Powell, NYJ (RB29) – 75 targets
- Duke Johnson, CLE (RB44) – 74 targets
- Darren Sproles, PHI (RB55) – 71 targets
- T.J. Yeldon, JAC (RB74) – 68 targets
A veritable who’s who of middle to late round picks. All of those players finished with 50 or more receptions, and in a 1 point PPR league that’s the equivilant of 500 rushing or receiving yards. Don’t expect all 5 of these players to finish in the top 10 in targets this year though, as turnover in the NFL is expected. Here are five PPR targets for 2017.
- Theo Riddick, DET (RB37)
- Duke Johnson, CLE (RB44)
- Chris Thompson, WAS(RB61)
- Danny Woodhead, BAL (RB32)
- Wendall Smallwood, PHI (RB65)
All five of these players should approach 50-75 targets, providing ample PPR scoring from the later rounds.
Wide Receiver Targets
Things get a little more… muddled when you start looking at middle and late round PPR targets. The top 20 receivers on the board in all formats are likely to be targeted the most, which makes WR’s that much more valuable in general. But there’s always a steal to be had in the late rounds. Here’s five PPR targets for 2017.
- Jeremy Kerley, SF (WR80)
- Quincy Enunwa, NYJ (WR62)
- Willie Snead, NO (WR36)
- Cole Beasley, DAL (WR71)
- Marqise Lee, JAC (WR66)
Sure, the list is a veritable who’s who of undervalued slot receivers, but all are a safe bet to finish in the top 35 of WR targets, and should likely far outproduce their draft values. It’s safe to assume that none of these guys are likely to finish in the top 20 overall, but as leagues continue to value receptions, these are like extra rounds in the chamber.
Over the next few days, we’ll publish a series entitled Sparknotes, each article will take a birds eye view into each NFL division and it’s most important fantasy players.
Despite Tom Brady’s four game suspension and two games with third string QB Jacoby Brissett, the Pats managed to run away with the AFC East yet again, with a 14-2 record. The Dolphin’s backed into the playoffs at 10-6 and both the Bills (7-9) and the Jets (5-11) finished on the outside.
New Englad Patriots
Notable Fantasy Stars: Tom Brady (QB2), Rob Gronkowski (TE1), Brandon Cooks (WR16), Julien Edelman (WR25), Mike Gillislee (RB27), James White (RB51)
Synopsis: The Patriots were busier than usual this past offseason, adding to a Superbowl winning roster with Brandin Cooks from New Orleans and Stephane Gilmore from Buffalo. Brady and Gronk continue as the Patriots two “sure things” on offense, but Cooks and Edelman (in PPR formats mostly) offer plenty of fantasy power. The Running back situation is murky at best; between Gillislee and White, NE projects to be one of the more fluid week-to-week RB committees again.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Jay Ajayi (RB9), Ryan Tannehill (QB20), Jarvis Landry (WR22), Julius Thomas (TE20), Devante Parker (WR40)
Synopsis: After a brutal finish to the season, Tannehill returns with the blessings of head coach Adam Gase. He’ll lead a passing attack that returns high-volume slot man Jarvis Landry and the buzzy Devante Parker, in addition to Gase’s former elite TE in Denver, Julius Thomas. In the backfield, Jay Ajayi will start the year no longer buried behind now-retired Arian Foster. Will he continue to dominate in short stretches? Half of his yards came in three games, so look for more conistency out of the second year back.
Notable Fantasy Stars: LeSean McCoy (RB4), Tyrod Taylor (QB11), Sammy Watkins (WR15), Charles Clay (TE26), Zay Jones (WR65), Jonathan Williams (RB69)
Synopsis: Buffalo may not be any closer to unseating New England in real life football, but this team has a wealth of young fantasy studs. McCoy should continue to see a ton of touches, but Jonathan Williams is quietly earning buzz as a deep sleeper thanks to the departure of Mike Gillislee. One assume if Sammy Watkins is healthy, he’ll be dominant, and the addition of Zay Jones in this years draft means less double teams for Watkins and more weapons for Taylor to use.
New York Jets
Notable Fantasy Stars: Bilal Powell (RB29), Josh McCown (QB30), Matt Forte (RB39), Quincy Enunwa (WR62), Robby Anderson (WR68)
Synopsis: Sorry Jets fans, but this is gonna be a long year. A conservative guess would have this team winning 3 games this year, but a byproduct of being behind in most games means that someone is going to score some garbage time points. All signs point to Bilal Powell (assuming he wrangles a larger chunk of touches from Forte) being the breakout fantasy star, but Quincy Enunwa should get a lot of attention from McCown now that Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker are out of town. Robby Anderson is a nice little reciever but likely nothing more than a waiver wire pick up if things go well for him early.