The “sleeper” is dead. Every intelligent fantasy football analyst has been saying this for years, but it might finally be sinking in. Grantland’s Bill Barnwell had an excellent take on “sleepers” in his column last week. As he pointed out, it’s virtually impossible to predict which players are on the precipice of a breakout, in the mold of Odell Beckham Jr, C.J. Anderson or Justin Forsett from last season, because a lot of that has to do with factors outside of their control like injuries and playing time. So if identifying prototypical “breakout” candidates ahead of time isn’t an exact science, where should fantasy owners invest their late round selections?
It would be a fool’s errand to predict greatness for any late-round pick at this stage in the season so instead of speculating wildly, I have crafted a target list, which is comprised of the best values on the board (in my opinion), among players currently going outside the top 120 picks (10th round or later in 12-team snake drafts) according to MyFantasyLeague.com’s average draft position data (ADP) for point-per-reception formats.
I don’t like the term sleeper because it implies that the rest of your league doesn’t know who the player is. Trust me, they know who everyone is (or at least they think they do). So, I’m calling these players “late round lottery tickets” because at this point in a draft or auction, you’re basically buying scratch tickets. It’s okay to speculate on upside plays that you think have the talent or role/playing time to make an impact, like I have with Knile Davis and Brandon Coleman, but be wary not to ignore the value of veterans in the late rounds either.
Anquan Boldin and Steve Smith aren’t going to carry you to a title by themselves, and definitely aren’t sexy, but they will produce, making them excellent values this late in a draft. Some of the other names on the list are much riskier propositions, but are worth targeting (and holding onto) because they have the talent to make an impact if the opportunity presents itself.
This is my personal list. Feel free to disagree with some of my selections (heck, all of them while you’re at it) but remember this is just a general target list of names to keep in mind, not a “must-have” list that I’m sticking to no matter what. Without further delay, let’s get to it:
Ryan Mathews RB Philadelphia ADP: 119
I know, I cheated already, but I had to. The ideal fantasy lottery ticket mixes talent, situation, and opportunity into a tasty combination the same way that Guy Fieri mashes together rock & roll, frosted tips and grilled meats. With Mathews, you get all three. It’s no secret that the Philadelphia Eagles offensive line is pretty good. That should translate to plenty of fantasy goodness for DeMarco Murray, but you know where I’m going with this. His 392 carries last season are tied for the seventh-most in a single-season in NFL history. The “Curse of 300” isn’t a myth. There is real risk associated with Murray, who has played a full 16-game season just once (last season) in his four-year career. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Murray stay healthy, but if the opportunity arose for Mathews, he would be stepping into one of the best backfield situations in the entire league.
The knock on Mathews (which is fair) is that he never stay’s healthy. When you make this pick, prepare to hear “Is he injured yet?” Don’t let it deter you. Fantasy owners are overlooking just how good Mathews was (4.5 yard-per-carry with three touchdowns in just six games) when he played last season. He’s burned more than his fair share of your league mates over the years, which is why they will gladly let you roster him for virtually nothing. Forecasting injuries is a waste of time, but let’s not blindly ignore them altogether. Mathews is talented enough to make a major fantasy impact and is at least worth a speculative pick.
Knile Davis RB Kansas City ADP: 123
The former Razorback racked up an astounding seven total touchdowns on just 150 touches last season. His fantasy value ultimately depends on 28-year-old superstar Jamaal Charles missing significant time, but based on pure talent alone, there might not be a more talented back in the league without a starting gig than Davis.
I’m not a fan of handcuff strategy or speculating on backup running backs, but if you are going to take a chance on anyone this season, Davis (and Mathews) are the two names I would target in the late rounds. Nobody can predict the future, but if he were to get an opportunity to start, there’s little doubt that he would evolve into one of the most valuable fantasy commodities in the game. I’m not suggesting fantasy owners reach for a speculative play who may not see enough touches to make a major impact, but compared to the remainder of available running backs, Davis clearly stands out.
Anquan Boldin WR San Francisco ADP: 142
Steve Smith WR Baltimore ADP: 143
He may be 34 years old but, Boldin has missed just four games total and recorded at least 106 targets in every season dating back to 2009. He’s coming off back-to-back campaigns in the Bay Area in which he has eclipsed 80 receptions, 1,000 yards receiving and five touchdowns. How he is available at pick 149 (currently going behind guys like Percy Harvin, Jaelen Strong and Devin Funchess) is a mystery to me.
In sporting news, Smith is retiring at the end of the season and if you think he’s going to stumble to the finish line, you clearly haven’t been watching him since he entered the league in 2001. Intangibles matter and you can bet that Smith is going to leave it all out on the field this season. His numbers last season weren’t spectacular (79 receptions for 1,065 yards and six touchdowns), but there is no way he should be available in the 11th or 12th round in any league. Sometimes, finding lottery tickets that you can cash for a profit is easier than you think. Veteran wide outs aren’t sexy, but you know what is: winning your league. Smith will definitely be making a splash in fantasy news this season.
Danny Woodhead RB San Diego ADP: 170
You could argue that some other names like Christine Michael or Alfred Blue are more intriguing names with similar ADP’s, but there are some serious question marks surrounding their ability to perform on the field, which we don’t have with a veteran like Woodhead who has made a name for himself in fantasy updates. He played just three games before a freak ankle injury knocked him out for the remainder of last season, but the year prior, he caught 76 passes for 605 yards and six touchdowns.
Highly touted rookie Melvin Gordon may be in line for work on early downs, but in passing situations, Woodhead will be on the field for Philip Rivers. He excels between the tackles on draws out of the shotgun and is a more than capable pass protector despite his size. Fantasy owners in point per reception formats won’t find a better bargain on draft day than Woodhead, who is currently going off the board in the 14th round. This isn’t a lottery ticket, it’s virtually straight cash (homie) you can pocket immediately.
Roy Helu RB Oakland ADP: 176
I love Latavius Murray. You do too. We all do. As Grantland’s Bill Barnwell described him last season, he’s “basically a Julio Jones starter kit at running back, as he’s listed at 6-foot-3, weighs 223 pounds, and reportedly ran a 4.38 40-yard dash at his pro day. Jones is 6-foot-3, weighs 220 pounds, and ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at the combine.”
There’s a slight problem. Murray hasn’t exactly been the most durable guy. If you’re willing to bank on him staying healthy for a full-season, that’s fine, but I have my doubts, which is where Helu comes in. The ghost of Darren McFadden is gone and Maurice Jones-Drew has ridden off into the sunset. I’ve already mentioned that I’m not a big fan of speculating on backup running backs, but, if you’re stockpiling in the late rounds, Helu is worth a look for a few reasons besides Murray’s questionable durability.
According to Evan Silva of RotoWorld, the Oakland Raiders targeted their running backs 160 times last season. Fullback Marcel Reece received 59 of those targets, which leaves roughly 100 up for grabs entering 2015. Helu racked up 47 by himself in Washington last season, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him double that number in Black & Silver this season. I like the role, the opportunity for an expanded role is clearly there and given that he is going off the board in the 14th or 15th round, there is no downside here.
Brandon Coleman WR New Orleans ADP: UNDRAFTED
Someone is going to fill the void in New Orleans after the offseason departures of Jimmy Graham, Kenny Stills and Pierre Thomas, who combined for 253 targets last season. Marques Colston is now 32 years old and coming off a season in which he caught just 59 passes. Fantasy analysts are expecting a breakout from 21-year-old sophomore standout Brandin Cooks, who caught 53 passes in 10 games before a hand injury ended his rookie campaign. His ADP is currently 28. Not at wide receiver. Overall, which is a bit absurd.
So who else is catching passes from Drew Brees, who most industry projections have leading the league in passing yards this season? The answer might be Coleman, an undrafted free agent out of Rutgers, who didn’t play a single snap last year. As of writing this, he’s the leader in the clubhouse to edge out Nick Toon as the Saints number three option. Given his impressive size (6-foot-6, 225 pounds) he’s going to be a factor in the red-zone, when Sean Payton doesn’t run the ball. We aren’t sure what Coleman can do just yet, but we know there is a huge opportunity for him to make an impact in the Bayou this season.
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