Late-Round Sleepers for the 2018 Fantasy Football Draft

(This article was orginally written for CouchPotatoGM.com)

We are just mere days away from the start of the 2018 NFL season and that means another year of fantasy football. Another year of being a couch potato GM and picking a team that proves to your friends that you truly have the smartest football mind that they know. Everybody knows to draft Todd Gurley or Le’Veon Bell if they have the chance. The first few rounds of a fantasy draft are relatively easy. But it is the late rounds that can make or break your “fake” football team. Those players that you draft in the later rounds could end up being stars and propelling you into the playoffs and fantasy football immortality (at least in your neighborhood). Just remember that Alvin Kamara, the 2017 Rookie of the Year, was drafted in the 12th and 13th rounds last season.

Here are eight guys (two at each of the “real” positions – I stream Kickers and DST from week to week) that you should consider selecting in the late rounds of your upcoming draft. With all of the great research and news coverage out there, very few true “sleepers” exist anymore. I prefer to think of them as value picks. For the purpose of simplicity and click bait, we’ll call them sleepers, but they are really value picks. These players provide a great deal of value relative to where they will be drafted.

When you look at late round sleepers (or value picks), you might be considering someone that is suspended or injured (I won a league in 2014 in part because I took a chance on drafting a suspended Josh Gordon late). You could also look at a player that has a shaky starter ahead of him on the depth chart. You might also consider taking someone late just to horde that position and keep others from drafting them. The late rounds are a great opportunity to take a chance on a guy since you can cut him later.

Even though I give you 8 guys to consider, realize that there are many others that could have made this list. These are the 8 top guys that I personally will be considering when I do my drafts in the next week.

* Note – Expert rank indicates FantasyPros.com expert consensus rank of nearly 100 top experts. ADP indicates average draft position for all drafts so far on the ESPN platform.

QUARTERBACKS

*QB Note – Let your buddies draft Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, or Tom Brady. Yes, they are great quarterbacks. Any team (and fantasy owner) would love to have them. However, I am a firm believer in waiting on a QB, especially when the position is as deep as it is this year. When you wait on a QB, you get to load up on the other positions that can help you win your league. The difference between the top-tier QB’s and the 8-12 QB’s is not as big of a gap as it is at the other positions that can win a league for you. If your league awards 6 points for a passing touchdown or allows a QB to be played in the flex position, then don’t wait. Draft your QB’s as early as possible because they score more than any other position. But when you only play 1 QB each week and they score 4 points per passing TD, then you can wait. You can also think of getting two good QB’s late and streaming them each week depending upon the opponent. Waiting allows you to get another stud WR or RB, which can separate you from the pack. One of my biggest fantasy seasons ever was in 2016 when I streamed my two quarterbacks (Tyrod Taylor and Phillip Rivers) all season. Waiting allowed me to load up at the other positions. Here are the two quarterbacks that I really like late in the draft this year.

PHILLIP RIVERS – Los Angeles Chargers

Expert Rank – 102 (QB12); ADP – 117 (QB14)

The Chargers seem to underachieve on the field and lose the injury battle every year. But they are loaded again offensively (even with Hunter Henry being out). Keenan Allen, Tyrell “the Gazelle” Williams, Mike Williams, Melvin Gordon, and Travis Benjamin all are weapons at Rivers disposal. He has finished as a top-12 QB in eight of the last 12 years. That is what you want out of the position. Last year, he finished as the QB8 and nobody had more 300-yard passing games (6) than he did. In the last three years, he is averaging more than 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns per season. He is currently being drafted as the #16 quarterback in the late 9th round. If you can be patient and wait until the 9th (or even 10th) round, you will strengthen your other positions and still get a very good QB.

MARCUS MARIOTA – Tennessee Titans

Expert Rank – 115 (QB16); ADP – 131 (QB17)

His stats (and game) regressed last year but that might have been expected since Mike Mularkey was considered by many to have one of the least exciting offensive minds. He would eventually get fired after the season. Among starting quarterbacks only Bret Hundley, Deshon Kizer, and Trevor Simien had a worse interception percentage last season. In total, he threw 15 interceptions after throwing only 19 in his first two seasons combined. His passer rating was only 79.3 after being above 90 each of his first two seasons. After throwing 45 TDs in his first two seasons, he only connected for 13 TDs last year. The jury is still out on his NFL career, but he is talented – especially when you consider he can make plays with his legs. Between the coaching staff not showcasing his skills and battling through a hamstring injury, I am going to give him a pass on the 2017 season, especially with new offensive coordinator Matt Lafleur in town. He was the OC last year when Jared Goff and the Rams became an offensive juggernaut. Lafleur was also the QB coach in Atlanta with Kyle Shanahan. Mariota was the QB12 in 2016, so he has shown the ability to be fantasy relevant for an entire season. If nothing else, he makes for a good streaming option week to week, especially with his legs.

RUNNING BACK

MATT BREIDA – San Francisco 49ers

Expert Rank – 149 (RB51); ADP – 153 (RB54)

The 49ers paid Jerrick Mckinnon a lot of money in the off-season to be the featured back but he is hurt right now. McKinnon has been ruled out for the preseason but there is some question whether he’ll be ready for the first game of the season. Knee injuries can be a problem for a running back, especially an athletic back that utilizes a lot of cutting. If McKinnon was healthy, Breida would be a nice handcuff considering he scored three times last season, rushed for 465 yards and caught 21 passes out of the backfield. He also has Kyle Shanahan as his head coach. Shanahan had a lot of success in Atlanta with two high-quality running backs. With McKinnon’s health in question, it might be worth a flier to take Breida late in your draft. If McKinnon looks like he will be ready to go then you can always keep Breida as a nice handcuff back (especially since there has been some question whether McKinnon can be a bell-cow back even when healthy) or cut him and pick up a different player. If McKinnon is out, then you essentially are drafting a starting running back in a high-powered offense for free.

JONATHAN WILLIAMS – New Orleans Saints

Expert Rank – 234 (RB70); ADP – 315 (RB96)

With the release of Terrance West and the suspension of Mark Ingram, Williams is now Alvin Kamara’s backup in New Orleans. Coach Sean Payton has said that it would not be wise to give all of Ingram’s workload to Kamara. If you are to believe Payton, then someone will need to pick up the slack for Ingram. The Saints had an explosive offense in 2017 and expect to be similar this year so there should be enough volume to go around. The Saints were 4th in scoring and 5th in rushing yards last season. They had an explosive offense and expect to be similar this year. There should be enough volume to go around. The Saints backup running back should see much of that workload. For the time being, that looks to be Williams. Once Ingram comes back, Williams will probably be no longer fantasy relevant. However, for the time-being you can get him late and see what his role will be. He is a talented individual that was cut by the Bills at the end of preseason last season despite averaging nearly 6 yards per carry in his three preseason games (off-field issues were rumored to be a factor). Ingram scored 12 touchdowns and rushed for 1,124 yards last season. Williams isn’t Ingram, but the Saints have shown that they are very willing to play two running backs at a time with Kamara’s versatility.

WIDE RECEIVER

KENNY GOLLADAY – Detroit Lions

Expert Rank – 121 (WR48); ADP – 142 (WR53)

Golladay burst on the scene last year with some highlight catches and a two-touchdown performance in the opening game. Unfortunately, injuries, inconsistencies, and being the third Wide Receiver behind veterans Marvin Jones and Golden Tate limited his results last season. So far this preseason, the Lions look to be trying to get Golladay more involved in the offense. In week 3, he was targeted the most by Matt Stafford. In week 2, he played more than Tate when the Lions went to two-receiver sets. Additionally, with Eric Ebron having departed for Indianapolis, there are a whole bunch of targets available. Golladay is one of my favorite late round picks to draft and store up for a rainy day. He is definitely a no-brainer if you are doing a best-ball draft, as he could explode in any game this year.

 QUINCY ENUNWA – New York Jets

Expert Rank – 208 (WR76); ADP – 240 (WR85)

This pick is a gut hunch, but I was high on Enunwa his first two seasons (2015 and 2016) just waiting for Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall to leave so he could take over as the #1 receiver. Unfortunately, a neck injury sidelined him for all of 2017. In 2016 Enunwa led the Jets in yards (857), touchdowns (4), and yards per reception (14.8). His 58 receptions were one behind Brandon Marshall for the team lead. He looked good in week 3 of the preseason catching 2 of his 3 targets for 21 yards against the Giants in his first action since January 1, 2017. Robby Anderson has legal problems, Terrelle Pryor is still not fully healthy, and Jermaine Kearse isn’t exactly a Hall of Famer so Enunwa could be the guy, especially with his ability to play in the slot and get open. I don’t expect the Jets to be good this year so they’ll be playing from behind a lot. A slot receiver like Enunwa could pick up a lot of garbage time points, especially in PPR scoring.

 TIGHT END

GEORGE KITTLE – San Francisco 49ers

Expert Rank – 114 (TE13); ADP – 160 (TE13)

Kittle is a little banged up right now but is expected to return in time for week 1. He has the potential to be a top-tier tight end. He showed flashes last year when he played with three different starting Quarterbacks. Overall, he led the 49ers with 16 red-zone targets last season, despite playing with three different starting Quarterbacks. Kittle really ended up the season on a high note as he combined for 7 catches, 142 yards, and a touchdown against two of the NFL’s best defenses in the Rams and Jaguars. If you are high on Jimmy G at Quarterback going into this season, then his Tight End should be intriguing to you, as well. I expect great things from the second-year athletic Tight End. He will be a priority for me to pick up as my #2 Tight End in the late rounds. In fact, if I made the decision to bypass one of the top-3 Tight Ends and wait until the 11th or 12th round to pick him up as my TE1, I would be okay with that since I really don’t feel like the other Tight Ends are sure things compared to Kittle’s upside in a Shanahan offense.

CHARLES CLAY – Buffalo Bills

Expert Rank – 130 (TE14); ADP – 156 (TE20)

You will never feel great with Clay as your starting Tight End but he is the type of guy that you can get late and he will outperform his draft position. He struggled last year with injuries as he scored only twice, which was a career-low. But he was still targeted nearly 6 times per game on the season despite having Tyrod Taylor as the quarterback. Taylor liked to throw deep and use his feet, which doesn’t always mesh well with Tight Ends. When he got hurt during the 5th game of the 2017 season, he was the 4th-best fantasy Tight End. If Josh Allen starts for the Bills, Clay might become even more valuable as a safety valve for the rookie. I probably don’t want him as my TE1 since he has limited upside but as a TE2, he could be somebody you feel good about in certain streaming matchups or if your TE1 gets hurt.

Jamy Bechler is a fantasy contributor for CouchPotatoGM and FantasyPros. His DFS twitter is @WinningDFS101 and his website is www.FantasyFocusFootball.comWhen he is not playing fantasy sports, Jamy is an author, host of the “Success is a Choice” podcast, and is a leadership trainer, working with businesses and teams across the country (including the NBA). You can also follow his personal twitter account @CoachBechler. Even though he offers his advice on players and contests, after additional information and consideration, he may end up using different players and strategies than what he recommends.