Fantasy Football: 5 Sleepers to Target Late in Your Draft
The final few rounds in a fantasy football draft can feel like a crapshoot -- in a lot of ways, that's absolutely what it is -- but hitting on a player with one of those final picks can give you a huge leg up in your league.
James White (11.02), Kenny Golladay (11.05), George Kittle (11.09), Tyler Lockett (12.05) Matt Breida (12.10) and James Conner (13.11) were some of the biggest late-round difference-makers in 2018, with last year's standard-league average draft position (ADP) numbers coming via Fantasy Football Calculator.
Of course, it's unrealistic to expect your late picks to put up big-time numbers. The fantasy football market is a smart one, and players going in the double-digit rounds are being taken there for a reason: they probably won't do too much this season.
While there are a lot of variables at play when you're throwing darts late in the draft and luck is certainly a factor, we can try to apply at least a little method to the madness and make educated stabs at some lottery tickets. Looking for guys who may be one break -- like an injury -- away from seeing significant volume is the most obvious way to land a steal, but there are also some players who may be in line for a bigger role than the market is currently accounting for.
I can't promise you this piece has the next Kittle in it, but the following guys -- all of whom are going in the 10th-round or later in half-PPR formats, per Fantasy Football Calculator -- check at least a few boxes and are worth having on your radar in the final rounds of your draft.
Donte Moncrief, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
ADP: 10.04 (WR46)
The number-two receiver role for the Pittsburgh Steelers is up for grabs, and the market is pretty split on who will end up with the job. Donte Moncrief is coming off the board early in the 10th round, and James Washington (11.05, WR51) is being taken a round later. Both guys have some sleeper appeal this year, and if one of them secures a gig as the Steelers' clear-cut number-two wideout, he's going to be a player we want on our fake teams.
Early camp chatter has Moncrief ahead of Washington, so let's focus on him.
Moncrief got a lot of dynasty buzz coming out of the draft when he went to the Indianapolis Colts in the third round, but it never really happened for him in four seasons in Indy. His best year was in 2015, when he parlayed 105 targets into 64 catches, 733 yards, and six scores. But that year was also a season in which Andrew Luck played just seven games, and Luck missed all of 2017, Moncrief's final year with the Colts.
I'm not saying Moncrief is absolved of all blame for his failures in Indy, but there was some rotten luck at play, too. And a lot of what excited us about Moncrief when he entered the league -- his athleticism (at least the 93rd percentile in 40 time, Speed Score and Burst Score, per PlayerProfiler) and a chance to play with a good passer -- is still working in his favor today as he's only 26 years old and is now paired with Ben Roethlisberger.
Our models have Big Ben throwing for 4,548 yards and 30.7 touchdowns, and outside of JuJu Smith-Schuster, there are a lot of unknowns in Pittsburgh's passing game. James Conner and Jaylen Samuels will get some targets out of the backfield, and Vance McDonald will likely have a key role if he can stay healthy. But that still leaves an Antonio Brown-sized hole in the passing game.
While we can't expect one of Moncrief or Washington to gobble up all of the 165.5 targets per game Brown averaged over the last two seasons, there's obviously plenty of opportunity here in what should be a good offense, and if Moncrief is the starter opposite JuJu, he could have a big season.
Justice Hill, RB, Baltimore Ravens
ADP: 12.08 (RB54)
Mark Ingram is a good player -- someone who has probably been undervalued pretty consistently in fantasy circles over the years -- and he was brought in to lead the rushing attack for the Baltimore Ravens. Ingram is being drafted as such, coming off the board as RB23.
There should, however, be room for more than one fantasy-relevant back in Baltimore, and that's where Justice Hill comes in.
Obviously, if Ingram were to miss time, Hill's value would skyrocket, but Hill could have some weekly flex appeal even with a healthy Ingram. This is a Ravens offense that ran the ball a lot once Lamar Jackson took over. I mean, a lot -- at least 40 times in all but one of Jackson's seven regular season starts. They had three times as many games with 49-plus carries (three) as they did with fewer than 40 rushing attempts (one) with Jackson at the controls.
As a result of that approach, Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon -- and to a lesser extent Ty Montgomery -- became things late last year. From Week 11 on, here's where Baltimore's top two backs finished each week in half-PPR formats among running backs.
Not a lot of elite ceiling games here, but in five of seven weeks, the Ravens had two backs finish in the top 39, meaning they offered two runners who were at least flex-worthy or close to it.
On top of that, the Ravens face the second-easiest schedule of rush defenses in terms of run D efficiency this season, per Sharp Football Stats, getting just two defenses in the first 11 weeks who are projected to be top-10 run units.
Ingram is probably a nice value in his own right, and a lot of what makes him appealing also works in Hill's favor. As the number-two back for Baltimore, assuming he edges Edwards and Dixon for the role, Hill can be a nice bench option who is capable of filling in during bye weeks, and Hill would have monster upside if Ingram missed any time.
Devin Funchess, WR, Indianapolis Colts
ADP: 12.01 (WR53)
In a lot of ways, Devin Funchess' career path has followed a similar route as Moncrief's. Drafted into a good situation in Carolina, Funchess never put it all together in his time with the Panthers, but free agency was kind to his fantasy value as he landed with the Indianapolis Colts.
As long as Andrew Luck is healthy -- no guarantee -- the Colts' offense should be a fantasy-friendly attack, and I'm not sure why people aren't a little higher on Funchess. Maybe it's recency bias at play after he struggled last season (549 yards and four scores) following a summer in which he generated enough buzz to be the WR36 in drafts.
Whatever the reason, Funchess has the makings of a post-hype sleeper in Indy. We have the Colts projected to be the league's sixth-best offense and fifth-best passing attack, and Funchess has earned praise this offseason from head man Frank Reich.
We know T.Y. Hilton is gonna be the main guy out wide for the Colts, but the rest of the receiver depth chart is muddled at best, with Funchess and rookie Parris Campbell likely duking it out for the role of number-two wideout. Indy gave Funchess a one-year, $10 million deal, so while they are more invested long-term in Campbell, Funchess was brought in as a win-now piece for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
Funchess is still just 25 years old, and though he wasn't very good in 2018, the Panthers were clearly ready to move on, giving more run to Curtis Samuel and D.J. Moore as the season progressed. The year prior, in 2017, Funchess put up 63 grabs, 840 yards, and eight touchdowns.
If he is deployed in a full-time role for the Colts, Funchess has a great chance to return value at his 12th-round cost.
Darwin Thompson, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
ADP: 13.06 (RB56)
Darwin Thompson has pretty much everything we're looking for in a late-round lottery ticket.
Is he in a good offense? Yep.
Can you find a fairly simple path to volume for him? Yes.
Is he any good? Looks aight so far.
Patrick Mahomes is so great that for however long he's in his prime (should be a while), any player with ties to the Kansas City Chiefs' offense is going to need to be on our radar. I mean, Mahomes has made Damien Williams a justifiable early-round pick, so, yeah, we need to be familiar with everyone in this attack.
Whoever gets the bulk of the touches in the KC backfield will offer a top-end ceiling. Kareem Hunt did just that for the first half of 2018, and then Williams put up huge numbers down the stretch, rattling off half-PPR outputs of 27.3, 17.0, 21.5 and 12.4 points from Week 14 through Week 17.
While Williams, in my eyes, is deserving of his late-second ADP due to the Chiefs saying things like they want him to "be the full-time starter" for the year, it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility that Williams doesn't deliver the goods in 2019. And if he doesn't -- or even if the backfield becomes a split of some kind, something coach Andy Reid hinted at recently -- Thompson could make a big fantasy impact.
At 5'8", 200 pounds, Thompson doesn't profile as an every-down workhorse, but he's got the quickness and pass-catching skills to be a real weapon in this offense, which he showed in Week 1 of the preseason.
Look, no one knows for sure how this KC backfield is going to play out. Maybe Williams keeps the number-one gig all year and feasts. Or maybe Carlos Hyde or Darrel Williams step up and relegate Thompson to the bench. I don't know. But Thompson looks like an electric playmaker, and when you factor in that he'll be a part of one of the league's most explosive offenses, why wouldn't you grab this lottery ticket in Round 13 and see what happens?
Nyheim Hines, RB, Indianapolis Colts
ADP: 13.11 (RB59)
Back to the Colts. They're an intriguing team this offseason from a fantasy perspective, because while the expectation is that they'll have a quality offense (assuming Luck is healthy), they've got just two guys at receiver and running back -- Marlon Mack (3.07) and the aforementioned Hilton (3.03) -- going in the first 11 rounds in half-PPR leagues.
There's a chance here for another back or wideout in this offense to offer big fantasy value. While Funchess is one option, Nyheim Hines is another.
As a rookie a year ago, Hines was used in a variety of ways, and he ended up logging 85 carries for 314 yards and a pair of scores while adding 63 catches for 425 yards and two more tuddies. The 63 receptions ranked third on the team, and he averaged a solid 5.0 scrimmage yards per touch, which also checked in third on the Colts (among high-volume players). Fantasy-wise, Hines finished as the RB32 in half-PPR formats.
Hines did that despite being a rookie and having to share the backfield with Mack, who had a mini-breakout. In the 12 games in which both Hines and Mack played, Mack averaged 37.0 snaps per game while Hines played an average of 25.1 snaps per contest, so Mack was the clear leader of the backfield. And Hines had pretty drastic fantasy splits with and without Mack, totaling 12.95 half-PPR points per game in the four games sans Mack -- a per-game clip which would have ranked 17th for the season -- and 6.46 in 12 games with Mack.
The market has jumped on the Mack train, taking him, on average, in the middle of the third round, and that makes sense as he's the lead back for a really good offense. But Hines showed last season that he could offer some fantasy appeal playing alongside Mack, and Mack has yet to prove he can do it over a full season. If Mack were to miss any time -- he's been out six games through his first two campaigns -- Hines could go off.
Despite the RB32 finish as a rookie, Hines is barely going inside the top 60 backs right now. That doesn't make too much sense given that Indy hasn't added anyone of note to the backfield mix. While the ceiling is capped if Mack is healthy, Hines has enticing upside if Mack was forced to the sidelines for any meaningful amount of time.