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.
Player Receiving 4 Votes
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 to go along with 7 touchdowns. It’s good to bet on ascending players who play on good teams and with a great quarterback.
Daniel Simpkins: Many forget that Austin Hooper was in the conversation with Hunter Henry last season for best rookie tight end in the Draft class. Hooper showed promise later in his rookie season, including several catches and a score in the Super Bowl. Camp reports indicate that Hooper and Ryan are building rapport. Hooper also will be the starter this year and will no longer have to split targets with Jacob Tamme, as he did last year. Entrenched in one of the better offenses in the league, Hooper could sneak into the top fifteen among tight ends and allow owners to focus their earlier pick resources on other positions.
Matt Waldman: My top tight end in the 2016 rookie class, Hooper missed much of OTAs and some of training camp due to the Stanford academic system and NCAA regulations. Hooper lacks great speed, but he’s fluid, quick, and physical. One of his greatest strengths as a receiver and runner is winning against physical play. He excels and high-pointing the ball and taking the hit. He also consistently makes the first defender miss and bounces off hits as a runner in the open field. The Falcons have praised Hooper for his work ethic, including Matt Ryan who worked with Hooper during the summer for a few days to focus on rapport. Atlanta only had one fantasy starter in the passing game last year. Many expect Mohamed Sanu to emerge, but he’s had his chance in Cincinnati and failed. Hooper is the best draft day value and in a role as the play-action target that naturally complements the ground game in the red zone.
Jason Wood: Juxtapose the hype for this year’s rookie tight ends against the forgotten men who were drafted a season ago. Austin Hooper only caught 19 receptions for 271 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie, but fantasy owners are making a mistake ignoring the 6’4”, 254-pounder. The Falcons return all the key pieces to the NFL’s top offense, including MVP Matt Ryan. The one missing piece? Veteran tight end Jacob Tamme. Tamme’s departure is a testament to the Falcons’ confidence in Hooper. He could easily see enough targets to return TE1 value for a last-round price.
Players Receiving 2 Votes
Jesse James, Pittsburgh
Chris Feery: Jesse James is in line to fill the safety blanket role for Ben Roethlisberger this season. As such, it’s perfectly reasonable to pencil him in for a decent amount of production. The Steelers have a ton of weapons on offense, but there remains a lot of value to be gleaned from a player that will be another key cog. Despite that, James is flying well under the radar this season. He’s can be had for late round prices, and that could prove to be a steal when all is said and done.
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.
Julius Thomas, Miami
Jeff Pasquino: The Miami Dolphins traded with Jacksonville to get Julius Thomas this offseason, paying just a seventh round pick to reunite the big tight end with head coach Adam Gase (both formerly in Denver). Thomas snagged 24 touchdowns in 27 games while under Gase in Denver, and news coming out of Miami has Thomas as being a big part of the new offensive scheme with 10-12 touchdown upside. Thomas makes for a strong TE2 option in drafts with good TE1 upside.
Jason Wood: Julius Thomas disappointed in Jacksonville but reunites with Adam Gase in Miami. Thomas caught 24 touchdowns in two seasons playing for Gase and will now be one of Jay Cutler’s top options in the red zone. Thomas is massive (6’5”, 246 lbs.), healthy, and has stood out in camp particularly in goal line drills. Taking a flier on Thomas late in drafts is a far better idea than drafting a middling, low upside tight end in the middle rounds.
Players Receiving 1 Vote
Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay
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.
Charles Clay, Buffalo
Ryan Hester: Clay was on the late-round radar prior to Buffalo trading Sammy Watkins. At that point, Buffalo had 144 2016 targets missing just in the form of Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin. Now, Watkins and his 52 targets (in nine games) are also gone. Clay is an athlete (he played almost every offensive position besides lineman in college), and he might be the only skill player not named LeSean McCoy that Tyrod Taylor recognizes when he walks into the locker room. At worst, Clay is a multiple-week contributor to streamers. At best, he’s a top-12 tight end you got post-Round 15 or off the waiver wire. At worst, he was free, so you throw him back for another option.
Jared Cook, Tennessee
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.
A.J. Derby, Denver
Justin Howe: Derby is getting absolutely no ADP love despite his role firmly atop the Broncos' receiving tight ends. The athletic Derby is more slot man than tight end, and the Broncos' wide receiver depth is shaky - even more so if rookie darling Carlos Henderson can't recover quickly from finger surgery. That could keep Derby on the field extensively, and he could easily catch 40+ balls to bring home a strong return on your (next-to-nothing) investment.
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 inline 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.
Coby Fleener, New Orleans
Andy Hicks: Coby Fleener was over-drafted last year with expectations of Jimmy Graham-lite numbers. Now he took a while to gel in the Saints offense, and his draft stock this year has basically plummeted. Fleener may not end up with anything approaching the numbers this position has had in the Saints offense, but he could easily improve enough to be a borderline fantasy starter. If the price is right snap him up and hope to see improvement in his stats. Get a good committee of tight ends just in case he simply isn't good enough.
Antonio Gates, LA Chargers
Ari Ingel: The juice is gone, as he enters his age-37 season. As long as he sees the field, he will catch a ton of passes and many of the ones that count. It's actually quite possible he is only used in the red-zone where he is a beast to cover with his old man box out moves. I just hate investing in a player this old, but he could easily score 7 or 8 touchdowns; easily.
Zach Miller, Chicago
Stephen Holloway: Miller set career highs in Chicago for the second consecutive season in 2016. He caught 13 more passes than he did in his previous career season in 2015. He set high marks of 47 catches for 486 yards in only ten games. Caution is advised as he is recovering from a Lis franc fracture last November. Assuming that he is healthy, he should remain involved in the offense again this year. However, if he is unable to return for the beginning of the season, he could lose his roster spot as he is in the last year of his two-year $5.5 million contract from March last year and the Bears added Dion Sims and rookie Adam Shaheen this off-season.
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.
Ben Watson, Baltimore
Chad Parsons: Watson is one of my favorite deep names for 2017. Baltimore's passing game is up in the air with uncertainty at wide receiver and Dennis Pitta gone from the incumbent ranks of tight ends. Watson was a free agent target last offseason and reports are his Achilles recovery is going well (which derailed his 2016 season). If any Baltimore tight end approaches or surpasses 100 targets this season, it will be Ben Watson. The Ravens are a high-volume passing game and Watson is a darkhorse candidate to lead the offense in targets.
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.