In a fantasy football draft, it’s important to avoid busts with your early round picks. It’s also key to hit on some sleepers in the later rounds of your draft. Oh, and unearthing value in the middle rounds is pretty vital, too.
As it turns out, drafting players who are good–no matter the round–is a pretty sound strategy when it comes to fantasy football.
In all seriousness, though, the middle rounds don’t always get talked about enough. While the deep sleepers often make for the sexier picks, there’s no better time to find value than there is during the middle of your draft, when other owners are busy taking defenses or transitioning from slightly buzzed to not knowing what’s going on.
For the purposes of this article, we’re looking at underrated value picks currently being drafted in between the sixth and 10th rounds of 12-team PPR leagues, based on Fantasy Football Calculator’s average draft position data. Guys like Donte Moncrief, Derrick Henry and Kareem Hunt will get a lot of love as sleepers in this range, but we’re searching more for under-the-radar guys.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR< Denver Broncos
ADP: 76nd Overall | 34th WR | Round 7.03
First, a quick blind comparison of two resumes from 2016:
Player A: 15 games, 137 targets, 79 receptions, 1,032 yards, 5 touchdowns
Player B: 16 games, 144 targets, 90 receptions, 1,083 yards, 5 touchdowns
Player B averaged 14.3 PPR points per game, Player A averaged 14.2 (if you don’t count Week 17, in which he played two offensive snaps), they play in the same offense with the same quarterback, and yet Player B is going 47 picks earlier than Player A.
You’ve probably figured out by now that Player A is Demaryius Thomas and Player B is Sanders.
Thomas may have the slightly higher upside, but that’s baked into his ADP, as he’s being drafted ahead of where he finished last year. Sanders, on the other hand, finished as the WR19 in per-game scoring last season, the WR20 in total scoring, and has produced better rate stats than DT, but he’s still being drafted as the WR34.
An excellent bet for 130-plus targets on an offense with no reliable pass-catchers outside of he and Thomas, Sanders is a steal at his current price.
Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
ADP: 113 Overall | 44th RB | Round 10.02
With Doug Martin suspended to start the season, Rodgers will start at least three games. In most leagues, that’s a quarter of the fantasy football regular season.
Now, I can only assume his ADP is this low because the general assumption is that Martin retakes the starting position upon his return. But first of all, that’s not even a guarantee, and second of all, who cares if he does?
The ability to get a workhorse starting running back–he averaged 21.4 carries and 92.4 rushing yards per game in his five starts last year–for three games for basically free is incredibly valuable, and incredibly rare. You can start him as an RB2 or high-end flex for those first three games of the season, and if he is replaced in Week 4, you can cut bait. If you draft him this late, then losing him shouldn’t have a major effect on your team, especially with a handful of waiver-wire pickups likely making a significant impact by that point.
In fantasy football, so much changes so quickly, and things are so unpredictable that your roster is going to look a lot different by Week 4. Getting a productive, high-volume RB2 for this cheap gives you an increased chance to win your first three games. You can worry about the rest later.
Adam Thielen, WR, Minnesota Vikings
ADP: 119 Overall | 48th WR | Round 10.07
There are so many intriguing wide receiver values in the middle rounds. We already talked about Sanders. DeVante Parker is super talented and ready for his third year, which is when breakouts often happen. Randall Cobb and John Brown look like good bets for bounce-back seasons. Pierre Garcon, Cameron Meredith and Quincy Enunwa could all be target monsters and garbage-time heroes as No. 1 options on bad teams.
But Thielen might be the sneakiest. And he has the best price as a WR4/5.
After taking over as a starter in Week 5 last year, Thielen tallied 75 targets, 56 receptions, 822 yards and five touchdowns in 12 games. That’s a 16-game average of 100 targets, 75 catches, 1,096 yards and seven touchdowns, which would have been good enough to make him the WR17 in PPR leagues. Even without that extrapolation, he finished the year as the WR29.
He may no quite replicate last year’s efficiency, but he shouldn’t be far off facing the league’s easiest schedule in terms of opponent pass defense efficiency. And now that he’s entrenched as a full-time starter opposite Stefon Diggs, there’s a good chance he sees an increase in volume.
Ultimately, replicating last year’s finish is obtainable, while there is still upside for more.