Full disclosure: I am not a Fantasy Football expert (but I do play one on the internet). However, this is my 27th year playing the sport of faux kings and acting as commissioner among my friends. You would think that I would have more than one title to my name in all those years, but I digress. In this article, I used FantasyPros.Com, which takes an average of many of the popular fantasy site’s ADP (average draft position) rankings. I am also basing my suggestions on the assumption of a 12-team league.
As a wise old prospector once likely said, “There’s gold in them thar’ fantasy football drafts.” But how do you determine what is fool’s good and what’s the real deal? The same player can be a bust or a stud depending on where in the draft he’s selected…just like a piece of gold umm…nope the gold analogy doesn’t pan out anymore. Anyway, here now are some players that you can steal late in your drafts.
Cam Newton (QB, CAR) 10th QB/75th Overall
After a hugely disappointing fantasy and real NFL season for the former Heisman winner, I understand the hesitancy many owners have in drafting Cam Newton again. However, his subpar 2016 performance has created a great value for the Panthers pivot. Keep in mind, Newton is only two seasons removed from being the number one scorer in all of fantasy football. Add in a shiny new toy in Christian McCaffery and 2nd round pick Curtis Samuel and there’s reason for optimism.
This is not to say to bet the farm on Cam Newton returning to 2015 levels, but there’s reason to believe he is better than the 10th overall QB in the fantasy world. The ceiling for Newton is higher than quarterbacks Jameis Winston (9th QB ADP) and Derek Carr (7th). If you can secure a solid backup like a Philip Rivers or Matt Stafford, Cam Newton can be an excellent 7th round pick.
Carson Wentz (QB, PHI) 17th QB/144th Overall
Carson Wentz as the 17th highest rated QB for fantasy purposes is probably about right. However, when you get to this stage of the draft (12th/13th rd) you have to assess where you’re at. Do you have a solid starting QB? If so, you can be a little bit riskier with your backup selection. Why not take a flier on Wentz, who can only improve from last year. I’m probably showing my pro-Philly bias here, but why stash an Eli Manning (who you know you’re only going to start for the one week your starter has a bye) when you can have a player who may just take a giant leap forward this year?
Wentz enters his first season with a full training camp behind him. He’s also the beneficiary of a major upgrade at receiver with Alshon Jeffery (playing on a one-year prove-it contract, no less) and Torrey Smith and a potential workhorse running back in LeGarrette Blount. This is the kind of backup QB that can pay dividends come fantasy playoff time.
Jay Ajayi (RB, MIA) 8th RB/14th Overall
Like Newton, the sky is the limit for Miami’s Jay Ajayi. Although he only ended the year with the 11th highest points for RBs, Ajayi showed his breakout ability with three 200+ yard games, something no other back could match. Granted he seemed to run out of steam towards the end of the year, but a full year as the lead back in Adam Gase’s system should only help. The change from Ryan Tannehill to Jay Cutler shouldn’t affect Ajayi’s value much one way or the other.
Although he may not be as safe a choice as a Jordan Howard (7th RB ADP) or Melvin Gordon (5th), if you’re looking for a potential home run from the running back position on draft day, Ajayi is your man.
Tevin Coleman (RB, ATL) 23rd RB/61st Overall
T.E.V.I.N. Coleman (here’s the reference for those of you who didn’t grow up in the 90’s) has the potential to easily outplay his ADP as the 23rd RB in this year’s fantasy class. Playing for the high powered Falcons offense, he suffers from being the 1B in the two-man RB committee, alongside Devonta Freeman. Although Freeman recently became the highest paid RB in the league, he is coming off an August concussion, which could have the Falcons playing it extra cautious with their new investment. Despite not being the main option, Coleman did manage to put up nearly 1000 combined yards passing/receiving and total eleven TD’s.
At best, he’s one Freeman injury away from inheriting the main starting role (he averaged a healthy 4.4 YPC last year) and becoming one of the top backs in fantasy. Otherwise he’s still a serviceable back likely to at least give you a TD each week. Al B. Sure! to draft him before kicking the tires and going Round and Round on Ameer Abdullah (22nd RB ADP) or a reduced-role Mark Ingram (20th). I’m Ready!
Frank Gore (RB, IND) 32nd RB/72nd Overall
Frank Gore is old. I get it. (He’s also possibly the most beloved RB in Eagle’s history!) However, he’s still the only proven fantasy back (sorry, Robert Turbin) in a Colts offense that should return a fully healthy Andrew Luck this season (even if he doesn’t get the nod in week 1). And yes, third-round pick Marlon Mack is waiting in the wings to compete for carries and potentially overtake Gore on the depth chart.
OK, this isn’t looking too good for Gore…what was my point?
Oh yeah, Gore is listed as the 32nd running back and will likely be drafted in the late 6th, early 7th round. This is a guy who last year totaled more fantasy points than Todd Gurley (10th RB ADP), Lamar Miller (13th), and Isaiah Crowell (15th). Will he be the 12th best running back again in 2017? Not likely. However, I don’t see him dropping to the complete bottom of the pack either. As the 32nd ranked RB, he’s a steal.
Golden Tate (WR, DET) 26th WR/57th Overall
While Golden Tate is certainly not a fun pick, the former Seahawk wideout has been quite consistent since donning the silver and gray for the Lions. In his three seasons in Detroit he’s hauled in 90 catches each year (bonus for you PPR players) and has played in every game except for one dating back to 2011.
Matt Stafford continues to improve in Jim Bob Cooter’s offense (I mean who wouldn’t be inspired working for someone with that ridiculous name?) and Tate continues to be the number one option since the departure of Calvin Johnson. Don’t expect any crazy stat lines from Tate (the touchdown numbers have been pretty pedestrian) but a late, Tate pick could be great (rhymes!) and give you a solid starting option on a weekly basis.
Adam Thielen (WR, MIN) 47th WR/131st Overall
I will always have a love/hate fantasy relationship with Adam Theilen after last season. He cracked my lineup a few times and managed to put up some decent numbers. In my championship game I left him on the bench (I had much better options). Who knew he’d go off for 202 yards and two touchdowns (I still made the right call on sitting him, but it was annoying knowing I could have won it all, had he played)?
Anyway, Sam Bradford gets a full training camp to work with Thielen, and fellow WRs Stefon Diggs and Laquon Treadwell. While I don’t expect Thielen to duplicate his week 16 performance often, I do expect him to put up a few more 80-100 yard games and outplay higher ranked wideouts like John Brown (46th WR ADP) and Mike Wallace (45th).
Zay Jones (WR, BUF) 54th WR/153 Overall
With the untimely departure of star WR Sammy Watkins from Buffalo, QB Tyrod Taylor will need to turn his attention elsewhere. The arrival of slot specialist Jordan Matthews shouldn’t do much to harm rookie wideout Zay Jones’ value, in fact it may free him up for more targets. As with any rookie, it’s hard to gauge what kind of fantasy production you may get, but taking a flier in the 13th round on the former East Carolina standout makes sense. With the Bills in rebuild mode, there’s no reason why Jones won’t see plenty of action this season.
Besides, at this point in the draft, why not gamble on Jones, instead of wasting a pick on a Ted Ginn Jr. (52nd WR ADP), Marvin Jones (49th), or Rishard Matthews (48th) who will likely be a one or two week fill-in at best? Also, don’t you want to be the only person in the league with a “ZAY” on your team? I’d ZAY so.
J.J. Nelson (WR, ARI) 65th WR/199th Overall
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like J.J. Nelson as a fantasy football player (though I do prefer his style of double J-ness to Jay Ajayi). I will not be excited to get him on my fantasy team. However, for a 17th round pick, you can do a lot worse than stashing a guy coming off a 568 yard, six-td season. Larry Fitzgerald isn’t getting any younger, and any injury to him means more targets for Nelson and the Browns (John/Jaron). While it’s hard to predict where in the pecking order Nelson figures, the Cardinals have the potential to be a high scoring offense this year. You might just get a few decent weeks out of Nelson.
Cameron Brate (TE, TAM) 19th TE/177th Overall
Cameron Brate is not going to single-handedly win you a fantasy title. That’s fine. However, he could be a nice late pick if you’re hurting at TE. Brate emerged on the scene with a two-touchdown day in week three and ended the season with TD’s in three of his last four contests (ending the season with eight total) and had the 6th highest fantasy point total at the position.
While the addition of OJ Howard may dilute his looks somewhat this year, don’t expect him to relinquish his hold on the no. one job just yet (just ask Ladarius Green and Hunter Henry how that worked out in San Diego). With a rebounding Doug Martin and the addition of DeSean Jackson and OJ Howard, Jameis Winston is poised to continue his ascension in Tampa Bay. Not a sexy pick, but good late value for a player who very well could give you a TD every other week.
Dustin Hopkins (K, WAS) 13th K/220th Overall
Of course kickers are a crapshoot. You have a few relatively safe options like Justin Tucker and Stephen Gostkowski, and the rest can be sorted by looking at who’s on a good offense. This doesn’t even hold water though, as sometimes having a lousy offense means more FG attempts (and depending on your league’s scoring, those crazy-long FG’s could be added points). So that brings me to last year’s 3rd overall kicker in total points, Dustin “D-Hop” Hopkins (no one calls him that actually, except for when I eventually meet him…he’s going to think it’s great!).
D Hop kicks for an offense, that even minus the aging Pierre Garcon and Desean Jackson, is still poised to put up points (3rd in the league in Yards Per Game) under Kirk Cousins, Jordan Reed and Terrelle Pryor. While I wouldn’t trust him as one of the top three kickers again this year, he could be a nice steal after the first ten kickers or so go off the board. And hey, if you don’t draft him, just draft a different kicker. It probably won’t matter anyway.