A fantasy draft is all about obtaining the most value with each selection. There is value available throughout a draft, and grabbing it is one of the most important keys to a successful fantasy team. This article specifically targets deep sleeper value (players that can be found very late in a fantasy draft). In an attempt to point out this value, we asked our staff to look deeper than the Top 150 and identify players that should significantly outperform their late draft position. These players should be your targets after the 12th round of your draft.
Players Receiving 3 Votes
Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay
Andy Hicks: Cameron Brate came out of nowhere to become a starting tight end in fantasy circles last year. With the Buccanneers drafting O.J. Howard in the first round, it is expected that Brate takes a back seat. Not so fast. Rookie tight ends struggle to produce in their first season with their multiple roles and it is expected that the luxury of having Brate means that Tampa Bay won’t rush Howard. Brate established a good rapport with Jameis Winston and should be a steal in fantasy drafts this year.
Justin Howe: Drafters are gushing over O.J. Howard, and maybe they're onto something - he's a gifted, if flawed, prospect. But rookie tight ends rarely move the needle much - especially ones who hardly caught the ball in college - and many are underrating Brate's channel with Jameis Winston. His emergence was noted frequently throughout last offseason, and his bond with Winston was likely a major reason Austin Seferian-Jenkins was shipped out of town and not merely benched. Brate has Winston's eye, is a studly red zone producer, and is lasting far too long in drafts while owners expect a raw-ish rookie to almost completely supplant him. To me, he's still an upper-tier TE2 with week-to-week TE1 upside.
Jeff Pasquino: Right now, O.J. Howard is the shiny new toy for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after his first round draft selection. If that truly is the case by the time I draft my next team (or teams), I will gladly take Cameron Brate as a TE2 that is very likely to perform as a TE1 this season. Brate broke out last year with six of his eight touchdown catches coming in the final nine games last year. Jameis Winston loves to target the tight end position, and Brate stands to benefit even more with DeSean Jackson added to the mix as the WR2 for the Buccaneers this year. Jackson and Mike Evans will command respect from defenses, opening up the middle of the field for Brate.
C.J. Fiedorowicz, Houston
Jeff Haseley: The Texans had 115 receptions to the tight end position last year, split nearly 50/50 by C.J. Fiedorowicz and Ryan Griffin. The team often used two tight ends in their base offense, but when they only used one, it was nearly always Fiedorowicz who had 171 more snaps than Griffin. The Texans offense was severely hampered last year by Brock Osweiler, which resulted in team-wide decrease in production. The addition of Deshaun Watson may have some early bumps, but ultimately he should be able to improve an offense that struggled last year. I expect to see a spike in productivity across the team, including Fiedorowicz who had 54-559-4 in a down year for the team. An improvement could catapult him into a Top 12-15 finish or even Top 10 if Watson makes a bigger impact than expected.
Chris Kuczynski: Through addition by subtraction, the entire Texan’s offense should be improved simply due to Brock Osweiler no longer being the starting quarterback. Despite the issues at quarterback, Fiedorowicz had a healthy target share, with seven or more targets in nine games last year, and he had the second most catches on the team with 54. He actually had stats very similar to the number 2 target on the team Will Fuller, and there doesn’t seem to be a clear cut third option in the passing game, so that is where Fiedorowicz can be that player. With the addition of 559 yards and 4 touchdowns last year, his stats are comparable to player being drafted considerably higher than him, so he is a solid late round pick that will go under the radar and should outperform his draft spot, particularly if you to waited on the tight end position.
Mark Wimer: Fiedorowicz has increased his targets and receptions every year since entering the league, and last year saw 89 targets for 54/599/4 receiving as the primary tight end in Houston. Given that rookie Deshaun Watson will be slinging him short-to-medium range dump-offs with regularity, I see a clear path to 120+ targets for Fiedorowicz during 2017. He is under-rated - and a enticing bargain at his current ADP. I have been grabbing him often in my mock and real drafts while others are picking long-shot rookie wide receivers or fourth-string running backs.
Jesse James, Pittsburgh
Chris Feery: The starting tight end job for the Pittsburgh Steelers is there for the taking, and our money is on Jesse James to seal the deal in training camp. As such, it’s perfectly reasonable to pencil him in for TE2 production. The Steelers have a ton of weapons on offense, but there remains a ton of value to be had for a player that will essentially serve as Ben Roethlisberger’s safety blanket. Top 10 tight end production for the entire year is too big of a reach, but Top 15 production is not. James is not currently being drafted with that sense of optimism, but he’s a solid choice to fill the TE2 spot on your roster.
Ryan Hester: Ladarius Green is gone, the team has little else at the position (other than potential super deep sleeper Xavier Grimble), and Ben Roethlisberger is his quarterback. Add in that James will have another offseason of reps and a year of experience, and his current “afterthought” status is unwarranted.
Daniel Simpkins: It’s interesting that even with Ladarius Green’s release, James’ stock hasn’t risen dramatically. That’s a mistake considering that James is in a prolific offense, is at the top of the tight end depth chart, and has performed well when asked to play the lead role while injuries sidelined Green. Entering into year three, James has the potential to vastly outperform ADP and afford players wiggle room to spend capital elsewhere in their drafts.
Player Receiving 2 Votes
Jared Cook, Oakland
Andy Hicks: Jared Cook will be 30 this year and has only graced the TE1 fantasy rankings once in his career, with the Rams in 2013. This year however all the stars are aligning for him to be truly utilized as a pass catcher. The offensive line is elite, leaving him to be used more as a receiver. The Raiders will use Marshawn Lynch, freeing up the tight end slot, while Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree give this offense the star receiving slots. All this leaves Cook as a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, one that the Raiders should exploit for fantasy owners benefit.
Jason Wood: Jared Cook wasn’t a stud in Tennesse. He wasn’t a breakout star in St. Lous (LA). His one season in Green Bay was forgettable (30 receptions for 377 yards and one touchdown). It’s understandable if fantasy owners are discounting Cook as he joins his fourth team in nine seasons. Yet, the Raiders are one of the better young offenses and have a void at tight end. Cook will never be consistent enough to view as a must-start fantasy TE1, but he could emerge as a compelling bye week option if he earns the starting role in training camp.
Players Receiving 1 Vote
Evan Engram, NY Giants
Matt Waldman: I don’t like betting on rookie tight ends because the history of fantasy rookie production at the position is sparse. However, the Giants have already shown a willingness to use Engram as a true move tight end, which means there will be a lot less time spent logging meaningful reps as an in-line blocker. Because blocking is the worst part of Engram’s game and the most difficult part of an NFL transition for traditional tight ends, it means the Giants will use him much more as a receiver. Blessed for 4.4-speed and excellent acceleration, Engram will benefit greatly from Odell Beckham, Jr. and Brandon Marshall on the outside. Look for Engram to earn huge matchup advantages that lead to big games. Eli Manning is always a scary fantasy prospect but he is capable of support 3-4 fantasy starters in the passing game. I think Engram will be option No. 3.
Austin Hooper, Atlanta
Ari Ingel: He’s a talented tight end who played great as a rookie, which is rare. With Jacob Tamme gone, Hooper is the unquestioned starting tight end on a team that doesn’t have a dominant receiving option after Julio Jones. Last year he posted a 70.4% catch rate and averaged 14.3 yards per reception, both numbers better than Hunter Henry. Hooper also had 3 touchdowns on only 19 catches last year. I know it’s aggressive, but I think he can hit 55-60 catches this year, to go along with 7 touchdowns. It’s good to bet on ascending players who play on good team’s and with a great quarterback
Vance McDonald, San Francisco
Chad Parsons: The 49ers were one of the toughest offenses to watch in 2016. With a facelift this offseason, Kyle Shanahan is running the show with underrated veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer likely under center. Pierre Garcon was a notable addition to the receiver corps but features little-to-no depth behind him. McDonald is a strong size-athleticism combination at tight end and has a career 11% touchdown rate. McDonald is the best red zone option for the 49ers pass game and a quality bet to be one of the TE1 party crashers from the low-ADP zone this year.
Erik Swoope, Indianapolis
Phil Alexander: If the downfield ability Swoope flashed in limited opportunities last season is any indication, Jack Doyle could end up a value trap. The Dwayne Allen trade was certainly an endorsement of Doyle as both a blocker and receiver, but it also has to be seen as an opportunity for Swoope's role in the offense to grow. After playing only one game as a rookie, Swoope saw limited action in all 16 games last season. His drool-worthy 13.5 yards per target average placed him behind only Rob Gronkowski among tight ends who saw at least 20 targets. At 6'5'', 243 lbs., and with a college basketball background, Swoope also profiles as a red zone weapon for Andrew Luck, who loves his tight ends when the Colts get within scoring range.
Julius Thomas, Miami
Mark Wimer: Thomas has thrived under Adam Gase before (12 TDs per season in 2013 and 2014) , but languished during his sojourn in Jacksonville. Even if he only hits 66% of his former production in this system, we're still talking 8 touchdowns for Thomas this season - and the Dolphins have been saying all year that he's going to be a major part of the offense. He's a great pick for your backup tight end who may well be a fantasy starter by October if things break right for him in Miami.
Jason Witten, Dallas
Stephen Holloway: Witten had a streak of eight straight seasons finishing among the top ten tight ends through 2015 and he has managed to finish TE12 and TE14 in the two years since. Witten is the NFL’s non-quarterback Iron Man, having missed only one game in his 14-year career. Look for Witten to again be more active than expected in the Cowboy’s offense and challenge for another top ten tight end ranking at season’s end. There is nothing more comforting to a young quarterback than having a reliable option that understands where he needs to be.