You’ve probably heard the saying that you don’t win your fantasy championship at the draft. I agree with the sentiment for the most part, with a slight adjustment. I believe that you can set up your team to win a fantasy football championship at the draft if you can find over-producing players in the back half of the draft, more commonly referred to as sleepers. To prove the point, just look at the team that could have been compiled from players drafted round 8 or later in 2017. (All ADP data in this article is from 12 team PPR leagues on Fantasy Football Calculator as of 8/22/18)
Every player on this hypothetical team finished in the top tier of their position group. And every one of them was drafted, on average, in the second half of fantasy drafts. If you think it’s cheating a little bit to mention undrafted players, we could replace them with the QB5 Carson Wentz who was drafted at 11.12 and the TE7 Jack Doyle who was drafted at 12.01 and we’d still have a team of all tier one players. Imagine taking this team and sprinkling in a few top end fantasy studs from the early rounds. That’s a recipe for championship success.
Of course, drafting that team is much easier said than done, but therein lies the challenge of fantasy football. So let’s take a look at some possible late round studs for 2018. I’ll dive into my favorite sleeper at each position, then look at some more options to consider. For each player, I’ll have their current ADP in parenthesis.
Quarterback: Andy Dalton (14.08)
Dalton’s draft price is practically stealing compared to his opportunity. He’s never been seriously injured and doesn’t have a young gun breathing down his neck, so it’s almost guaranteed that he plays all 16 games in Cincinnati this season. The Bengals offense as a whole should be improved now that Joe Mixon and John Ross have a season under their belts. AJ Green still has the ability to be a top receiver and Tyler Eifert is heading into the season healthy. The offensive line made key additions through free agency the draft in the offseason. In my eyes, Dalton has a better chance of finishing as the QB12 than where he is being drafted at the QB24.
Other Quarterbacks to Consider:
Phillip Rivers (10.01) is perennially under drafted and will likely finish ahead of his ADP again. Matt Ryan (10.05) is a great candidate to return to his MVP form in the second year in offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian’s offense. Ben Roethlisberger (11.01) is surrounded by some of the best weapons in football with Le’veon Bell, Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and rookie James Washington. Marcus Mariota (12.03) is poised to bounce back as he enters the season healthy and with new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, who coordinated the high scoring Rams offense in 2017.
Running Back: Nick Chubb (10.06)
In recent years we’ve seen numerous examples of rookies buried on a depth chart to start a season. Only to emerge throughout the season and finish as a top 12 back. We have seen Jeremy Hill finish as RB11 in 2014, David Johnson finished as RB8 in 2015, Jordan Howard finished as RB10 in 2016, and most notably Alvin Kamara finished as RB3 in 2017. The highest ADP for any of these backs was Hill at 8.12. With this in mind, I love Nick Chubb to emerge from the crowded backfield in Cleveland. Last season was the first year in his career that Carlos Hyde actually played all 16 games.
While Hyde will likely get the first shot, I believe the explosive Nick Chubb will eventually overtake him. Sure, Duke Johnson will have his role catching passes out of the backfield, but Chubb will get enough goal line work and make enough big plays to finish well above his current draft slot.
Other Running Backs to Consider:
Peyton Barber(9.01) appears to be maintaining his starting job in Tampa, as rookie Ronald Jones has been struggling. James White (9.07) is the most consistent running back in New England and should only see his pass-catching role increase with the departure of Dion Lewis. I still see Rob Kelley (12.09) finishing as the top running back in Washington, despite the signing of worn down veteran Adrian Peterson.
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Wide Receiver:Kenny Golladay(12.11)
Everything is lining up for Golladay to break out in his second season. There was big hype around Golladay headed into his rookie season. Now, while it might have been underwhelming as a whole, it definitely had its bright spots. We’ve already seen Golladay line up ahead of Golden Tate in two wide receiver sets this preseason. Tate spends the majority of his time in the slot. So it makes sense for Golladay to move ahead of him in two-wide sets opposite of Marvin Jones.
I don’t see Jones being able to repeat his massive 2017 season. One where he averaged a whopping 10.3 yards per target and scored 9 touchdowns while finishing as WR11. So even though he was a huge value in 2017, I envision more of those big plays and touchdowns going Golladay’s way in 2018, giving him the bump to finish far ahead of where he is currently being drafted.
Other Wide Receivers to Consider:
Mike Williams(9.12) is a physical freak that can go up and catch the jump ball in the end zone and should see plenty of targets there with the loss of Hunter Henry for the season. Josh Doctson (13.06) took a step forward in 2017 and has potential to score double-digit touchdowns in 2018. John Brown (12.07) is flying up draft boards as the speedster quickly builds a rapport with strong-armed Joe Flacco. Somebody will rise to the top of the receiving corps in Jacksonville. DeDe Westbrook (13.10) has PPR upside while Keelan Cole (14.06) has big playmaking upside.
Tight End: Tyler Eifert (13.04)
This one is pretty simple; when healthy Eifert is one of the best tight ends in the game. He’s a favorite target of Andy Dalton and has a nose for the end zone. He racked up 13 touchdowns in as many games in 2015 and scored five touchdowns in just eight games in 2016. I’m willing to take the chance on a potential top-five tight end so late in the draft given how weak the position is heading into the season.
Other Tight Ends to Consider:
David Njoku (9.08) Is a big red zone target poised to break out in Cleveland’s revamped offense. Austin Seferian-Jenkins (14.02) has the opportunity to flourish in Jacksonville if he can stay healthy and find a rapport with Blake Bortles. Mike Gesicki (14.01) blew people away at the combine and will get every chance in Miami to be the top red zone target. Sam Bradford has always been a quarterback that feeds tight ends, and the athletic Ricky Seals-Jones (14.3) could be the biggest beneficiary in Arizona.
Inevitably some of the players I listed won’t finish in the top tier at their positions. But I believe all of them have the ability and opportunity to get there. It’s extremely unlikely to hit the late round jackpot and finish with a team like the one described at the beginning of this article, but if you can find even two or three top players in the back half of your draft you’ll be set up for a championship run.
You can follow me on Twitter @aalarson to let me know what you think of these sleepers and let me know who you think will grossly outperform their ADP this season.