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 players 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
Julius Thomas, Miami
Chris Feery: Julius Thomas never quite delivered on his promise during his time with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but there’s a solid chance he can turn things around now that he’s taken his talents to the Miami Dolphins. There have been many whispers that he’ll be a big part of the passing attack and a preferred red zone target, and we’ll take the bait. Thomas can be had for TE2 prices, but he has a real chance of finishing the season as a top-10 tight end.
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.
Darin Tietgen: Adam Gase gained the tight end Whisperer tag after his years with both Denver and Chicago and while Jordan Cameron didn't pan out in Miami, he did make Dion Sims look halfway decent in the second half of the 2016 season. And we all know what Thomas and Gase did in Denver. Gase and the Dolphins have vowed to get the tight end more involved in 2017. Not sure why Thomas is going at his current ADP. He has a ton of potential and could easily finish in the Top 10 this season.
Mark Wimer: Thomas has thrived under Adam Gase before (12 touchdowns 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 eight 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 starting by October if things break right for him in Miami.
Players Receiving 3 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 three 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 seven touchdowns. It’s good to bet on ascending players who play on good team’s and with a great quarterback.
Matt Waldman: My top rookie tight end in 2016’s class, Hooper could not practice with the Falcons until later in the summer due to the NCAA’s regulations for graduating players in an academic schedule like Stanford. It put Hooper behind and he wound up a role player for much of the year. However, he saw enough looks to flash his after-the-catch skill and fluid receiving with the ball in the air. Once Jacob Tamme got hurt, Hooper showed even more flashes—including a big play in the Super Bowl. While Eric Saubert’s receiving skills are intriguing, Hooper is a better blocker and I expect him to become one of Matt Ryan’s favorite targets this year.
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.
Jesse James, Pittsburgh
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.
Chris Kuczynski: With the release of oft-injured Ladarius Green, there is very little competition at the tight end position, on one of the most high powered offenses in the NFL. By virtue of simply being a starter, he will reap the benefits of the defense focusing all their attention on two of the most dynamic playmakers in the league in Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell. If you were to combine Green’s and James’ stats from last year, you would get a stat line of about 60 catches, 600 yards and 4 touchdowns, which is not unreasonable for what he can accomplish this season.
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.
Players Receiving 2 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.
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.
Coby Fleener, New Orleans
Sigmund Bloom: Fleener was vastly overrated at his ADP last year, but the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction this year. If you choose to wait at tight end and possibly throw more than one pick at the position, why not Fleener? He’ll be better prepared in the offense, which could boost his targets in the prolific, efficient Saints pass offense. Brandin Cooks to Ted Ginn Jr is a downgrade that could also free up some opportunity for Fleener.
Andy Hicks: Fleener arrived in New Orleans with high expectations and while significantly underperforming on expectations, he still had a reasonable year with 50 receptions for 600 yards. With the departure of Brandin Cooks and the expectation of a better running game, that has to benefit Fleener as a receiver. The Saints offense is tough to master for players and a second year in this offense should have a reward for those who are patient with Fleener. At his current draft price, he costs nothing and he could easily, with just minor improvement, walk into starting tight end territory.
Erik Swoope, Indianapolis
Phil Alexander: If the downfield ability Swoope flashed in limited opportunities last season is any indication, Jack Doyle will 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' and 243 pounds 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.
Sigmund Bloom: It’s always good to target a player or two with an unknown ceiling near the end of your draft, and Swoope certainly qualifies. He hadn’t ever played football four years ago, now he’s the No. 2 tight end for the Colts and an instant mismatch as the 25-year old is just coming into his own. The Colts traded Dwayne Allen in part to free up more snaps and targets for Swoope, and if he makes good on the increased opportunity, it could grow. The situation and talent intersection is potentially combustible for Swoope.
Players Receiving 1 Vote
Jared Cook, Oakland
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.
C.J. Fiedorowicz, Houston
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 underrated - and a enticing bargain at his current ADP.
Jermaine Gresham, Arizona
Ari Ingel: After barely being involved to start the season, Gresham had a solid eight-week run from weeks 8-16, logging 34 catches, 317 yards and 2 touchdowns. Extrapolated over a full season and we are looking at rock solid 68/634/4 line. On a team devoid of big receivers, Gresham very well could surprise.
George Kittle, San Francisco
Ari Ingel: Someone to keep an eye on since Vane McDonald might be on the outs. While he didn’t have big numbers in college, he is an impressive athlete, standing 6’4 and 247 pounds with 4.52 forty speed and a huge 11’ broad jump. PFF also logged him with just one allowed quarterback pressure in his final two seasons of college and he received their second best run-blocking grade, just behind O.J. Howard. That is the sort of thing that could have him see the field sooner than later.
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.
Jason Witten, Dallas
Stephen Holloway: This name certainly does not seem to warrant being listed as a sleeper. Jason Witten had eight straight seasons finishing among the top-10 tight ends between 2007 and 2014, and he has continued to be productive, finishing as 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 threaten another top-10 tight end ranking at season’s end. There is nothing more comforting to a young quarterback (Dak Prescott) than having a reliable guy that understands where to be to help out his quarterback.