The first five picks in most 12-team, point-per-reception fantasy football leagues are predictable: running backs Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, Ezekiel Elliott and David Johnson. And we can be relatively sure that the players drafted in the first three rounds, or even the first seven rounds, on average, are all going to be heavily owned. But after that, fantasy owners start to mine for gold among the backups, handcuffs and players with high upside, also known as sleepers.
Fantasy football sleepers, a misnomer due to the amount of information available today, can be divided into two types: players who are poised to outperform their draft position; and lesser-known, late-round picks with the potential to blossom into full-time fantasy starters. While few fantasy football leagues have started drafting for real, we can get a sense of player valuation from the over 1,800 mock drafts conducted by Fantasy Football Calculator over the past few days.
With that in mind, here are seven players with an average draft position of Round 8 or later with a chance to exceed expectations and help your fantasy team win a title. (See also our guide to the top 50 keepers. And don’t forget to read the opposite: The riskiest fantasy picks by round.)
(Average draft position, or ADP, is listed in parentheses. Those figures are as of Aug. 12 per the 12-team, PPR drafts found at Fantasy Football calculator.)
Jordan Howard, Philadelphia Eagles, RB (8.03 ADP)
Howard carried the ball 250 times for Chicago last season, producing 935 yards and nine touchdowns. He added 20 catches for 145 yards out of the backfield, but that wasn’t enough to keep him in a Bears uniform — the team traded him to the Philadelphia Eagles for a 2020 conditional sixth-round draft pick.
Rookie Miles Sanders is the No. 1 name on the depth chart, but it’s easy to see Howard getting opportunities under Coach Doug Pederson. Since 2016, Pederson’s first year with Philadelphia, only one running back, Ryan Mathews in 2016, has gotten 15 or more touches in a game more than five times in a season.
Curtis Samuel, Carolina Panthers, WR (8.12 ADP)
Samuel is currently the third receiving option on the roster (behind running back McCaffrey and wideout D.J. Moore), but last season he proved himself a viable pass catcher. Since earning consistent starting time in Week 11, he caught 22 of 42 targets for 315 yards and two touchdowns. That equates to 59 catches, 840 yards and five touchdowns over a full season, which would be good enough to rank among the Top 30 wide receivers for fantasy scoring (173 PPR fantasy points).
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, QB (10.04 ADP)
The No. 1 overall pick from the 2015 draft has fallen somewhat off the radar, but he still managed to turn in productive fantasy football games last season. After serving a three-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, Winston topped the 300-yard passing mark five times and threw two or more touchdowns six times, scoring 196 fantasy points in 11 games. Extend that to a 16-game season and Winston would be on par with the top 15 players at the position from last year.
You can also trust new head coach Bruce Arians to get the most out of his starting quarterback. During his 14-year career as an offensive coordinator or head coach, Arians’s quarterbacks have ranked in the 61st percentile for passing touchdowns and in the 58th percentile for passing yards.
(There are several quarterbacks worth waiting for, in fact.)
Tyrell Williams, Oakland Raiders, WR (12.02 ADP)
Williams was often overlooked by the Los Angeles Chargers the last two seasons despite catching 69 of 119 targets for 1,059 yards and seven touchdowns in 2016. The Raiders, meanwhile, will likely have to rely on Williams this year.
Top wideout Antonio Brown reportedly is suffering from frostbitten feet as a result of a cryotherapy machine, causing him to miss practice. And Oakland lost Jared Cook, Jordy Nelson, Seth Roberts and Amari Cooper from last year’s squad, a quartet that accounted for 284 of the team’s 530 targets (54 percent) in 2018.
|Former player||New team||Targets in 2018|
|Jared Cook (TE)||New Orleans Saints||101|
|Jordy Nelson (WR)||Retired||88|
|Seth Roberts (WR)||Baltimore Ravens||64|
|Amari Cooper (WR)||Dallas Cowboys||31|
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys, QB (12.06 ADP)
Prescott will have a full season with Cooper — the two combined for 53 catches, 725 yards, six touchdowns and a 115.3 passer rating when Cooper was targeted in nine games in 2018 — and also should get help from free agent acquisiton Randall Cobb, a former Pro Bowler who boasts a 70 percent career catch rate.
Prescott is also a threat to score on the ground, rushing 189 times for 944 yards and 18 touchdowns over his three-year career.
Ito Smith, Atlanta Falcons, RB (12.09 ADP)
Smith didn’t get a start for Atlanta last year but he still managed to touch the ball 117 times for 467 yards and four touchdowns in 14 games. And now that Tevin Coleman is with the San Francisco 49ers, Smith’s role with the Falcons could expand in 2019.
“I would anticipate he would be a, a much more productive player this year than he was last year because he has the experience,” Atlanta running backs coach Dave Brock told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He has all the stuff that he’s done, he’s been through, and he’ll grow from it and learn from it.
“He had a really nice first year, but when you get a chance to step back and evaluate what you did and how you did it going into that second year, that’s a nice bump.”
The player ahead of Smith on the depth chart, Devonta Freeman, has seen his touches per game dwindle each year since 2015, the first year Freeman made the Pro Bowl.
Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens, TE (13.07 ADP)
Andrews finished his rookie campaign as the NFL’s sixth best tight end, per the game charters at Pro Football Focus. His 552 receiving yards were the fifth most by a rookie tight end over the past decade. He was also Lamar Jackson’s most productive receiver, averaging 23.7 yards per reception with Jackson under center, with an average of nine yards coming after the catch.
After Jackson took over as the team’s starting quarterback in Week 10, only George Kittle (San Francisco 49ers) and Travis Kelce (Kansas City Chiefs) accounted for more of their team’s receiving yards than Andrews among tight ends.
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