Fantasy football sleepers make the world go ’round. Not only can they win you a league, but in start-up dynasty and keeper formats, they have the chance to set you up for a long time.
As always with late-round picks, the goal is upside. It’s easy to drop the players on the bottom of your bench after a few weeks, so it makes sense to target high-risk, high-reward guys.
With that in mind, using Fantasy Football Calculator’s average draft position for 12-team PPR leagues, here’s a look at some of my favorite late-round targets.
Duke Johnson, RB, Cleveland Browns
ADP: 99 (8.12) Overall; RB 40
Johnson was one of the most efficient per-touch backs in the league last year. According to Player Profiler, he finished third among qualified running backs in yards per touch (6.9), fifth in breakaway run rate (percentage of carries that went for 15 yards or more; 8.1%), second in juke rate, fifth in yards after contact per touch and 15th in fantasy points per opportunity.
There’s only one problem. None of those stats count for anything in fantasy football. Rather, volume is king, and Johnson didn’t get nearly enough of it, ranking 54th at the position in opportunity share (percentage of total team RB carries and targets) and scoring just one touchdown on his way to a disappointing fantasy season.
Still, even if the Browns don’t view him as an early-down runner, which is obviously the case as long as Isaiah Crowell is around, it’s clear they are intent on finding more ways to get the ball into the hands of one of their most dangerous weapons, as Johnson has been spending a lot of time at wide receiver this summer:
That echoes what head coach Hue Jackson iterated back in July:
He is just doing everything, honestly. He can catch out of the backfield. He runs the ball. We line him up in different places where we can get an advantage with him. He is a weapon for us. We are just trying to use him as much as we can, and we do.
So, not only are the Browns finding new ways to get Johnson the ball, but they’re putting him in more positions–slot receiver, most notably–where he’s going to get the ball in space. As such, keeping up that elite efficiency from a year ago should be attainable, while volume–more positions equals more snaps equals more touches–should be on the rise.
The biggest hurdle with Duke is touchdowns–he has one on 291 career NFL touches. But he’s too explosive not to positively regress in that regard at least a little bit. Maybe that’s a leap of faith, but that’s a leap of faith I’m willing to take with a highly efficient player who has a growing role and is being drafted as an RB4.
Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit Lions
ADP: 125 (11.01) Overall; TE 12
You probably hear a lot of talk about how players like Derek Carr or Tevin Coleman or Davante Adams are likely to regress back towards more sustainable numbers in the touchdown department.
Enter Eric Ebron.
Last season, the former first-round pick ranked 10th among tight ends in receptions (61), eighth in receiving yards (711) and 29th in total touchdowns (two). And that last number would be even worse if not for a fluky rushing touchdown he had in Week 11.
With Anquan Boldin, who was second in the NFL with 15 red-zone receptions and turned those into eight touchdowns, now gone, there’s a massive opportunity for Ebron to improve in the most important category. Rookie Kenny Golladay is looking like a legitimate red-zone threat, but a rookie isn’t going to completely fill the role left by a 14-year veteran.
Ebron should still get a significant uptick in end-zone looks, and when you combine that with his already solid between-the-20’s production and the fact that he’s still just 24 and improving, he has Top-5 upside at the position.
Zay Jones, WR, Buffalo Bills
ADP: 141 (12.03) Overall; WR 55
As previously alluded, Detroit Lions rookie wide receiver Kenny Golladay is rocketing up draft boards and becoming a wildly popular sleeper:
But while Golladay’s ADP continues to rise and kill his value, pay close attention to another rookie wideout: Zay Jones.
Once again, volume plays a key role. While Golladay could be seen as the fifth option for targets in Detroit (Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Eric Ebron, Theo Riddick), Jones has a legitimate chance to be the No. 1 in Buffalo after the team traded Sammy Watkins.
With Jordan Matthews dealing with a chest injury and Anquan Boldin no longer being a high-volume option at the age of 36, the seemingly rebuilding Bills will likely be peppering Jones with targets.
And he certainly has the talent to go with that potential volume:
The Bills are a run-first team, so Jones’ upside is capped a little. But with intriguing second-round talent and the potential for more than 115 targets, Jones has a good chance to be the No. 1 fantasy rookie WR in 2017. And considering Corey Davis is being drafted about 30 picks earlier, that’s good value.