Once upon a time, sleepers existed in fantasy football. That was long before social media sites blew up as the mainstream news source. Nowadays, the concept of sleepers means nothing more than late-round draft picks, since it’s rare for a player to fly under everyone’s radar.
With that in mind, it’s time to start taking ADP seriously as we focus on the upcoming fantasy football season. And that means identifying late-round players that do more than just satisfy roster requirements. We want winners!
Regarding the concept of what qualifies as a “late-round wide receiver”, the analysis that follows assumes 12-team leagues, with the 10th round being the cutoff (PPR scoring). That’s not necessary an arbitrary number. After 10 rounds, the core of your roster is set and you are merely drafting depth. So it’s fair to say players chosen in the 11th round or later qualify as late-round selections. The number by each player’s name is where they are being selected at their position per our consensus ADP for PPR leagues. For a similar analysis covering late-round running backs, check out this piece.
With the minutia aside, let’s jump in!
Kenny Golladay – WR52
The only thing standing in Golladay's way of becoming an elite fantasy performer is Golden Tate. And even if Golladay doesn’t win the number two spot on the depth chart this year, we can still count on the Lions providing a bounty of targets for multiple players. Matthew Stafford ranked third in passing yards and fourth in touchdowns last year, which paved the way for Tate and Marvin Jones Jr Jr. to both turn in 1,000-yard seasons and top-13 rankings in fantasy points. According to Football Outsiders, Detroit ran three wide receiver sets 76% of the time in 2017—the fifth most of all teams.
Golladay began his NFL career by catching four passes for 69 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1. Unfortunately, a hamstring injury sidelined him for five games, effectively stunting his growth with the offense. But once he regained his health, he also regained consistent playing time. Here is his snap share from Week 13 to Week 17: 79%, 94%, 88%, 100%, and 94%. It’s only a matter of time before his size, speed, and raw ability prop him up as one of Stafford’s favorite targets in a pass-heavy offense. Golladay offers a ton of upside and is typically available after the 12th round.
Tyler Lockett – WR58
Short of Russell Wilson, finding optimism for the Seahawks offense is challenging. For the third year in a row, their offensive line filtered to the bottom-third in pass protection. They also failed to produce a 1,000-yard wide receiver for the fourth time in Wilson’s six seasons. So why would we want to target their WR2? For the answer, let’s head to the Twitter Hype Machine!
— Dugar, Michael-Shawn (@MikeDugar) August 12, 2018
Of course, preseason hype should often be ignored. But if ever there were a season during which Lockett could regain some of that promise he demonstrated as a rookie, it’s 2018. He clearly has developed a connection with Wilson. This will be their fourth year together and thanks to the departure of Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson, Lockett immediately climbs the pecking order of targets. And we should expect even more passing attempts from the Seahawks as their defense fades to mediocrity. Wilson attempted a career-high 553 passes last year, which resulted in him tying his career-high in touchdown passes. Doug Baldwin obviously benefits the most from the Seahawks’ situation, but Lockett is finally healthy and in position for a career year.
Dez Bryant – WR62
Bryant’s quality of play in 2017 leaves room for plenty of debate. Feel free to watch this excellent cut-up of every incomplete pass thrown his way and draw your own conclusions (15 minutes):
He was released by the Cowboys and remains unsigned with not much for buzz outside of the Browns showing interest. But we should expect him to sign somewhere by Week 1 or as soon as injuries pile up. The risks with using a late-round pick on an unsigned, aging wide receiver with a questionable locker-room presence are obvious, but in the right situation, Bryant could turn in double-digit touchdowns.
The Cowboys’ offense was awful last year, partially thanks to Bryant, and he still managed WR2 numbers (finished as WR21 in PPR scoring). If he signs with the Browns, he would immediately be one of Tyrod Taylor’s best options for as long as Josh Gordon is missing. And when Gordon returns, Bryant’s role shouldn’t suffer much, as he’ll basically be the Rob Gronkowski of the AFC North. There’s also a chance that Bryant surprises everyone and returns to dominant form not so unlike Larry Fitzgerald. In either case, Bryant is available in the 14th round or later in most formats and well worth the risk.
Geronimo Allison – WR69
Without question, a healthy Aaron Rodgers raises the tides of fantasy points for all the players around him. Particularly, his offense is more than capable producing a top-five and a top-15 wide receiver in a single season. That shines optimism on Allison who finally has an opportunity for more playing time now that Jordy Nelson is out of the picture. And we know what Allison can do:
The question is, will he hold off the Packers’ group of promising rookies and lock in a consistent role? All signs currently point to Allison earning the WR3 spot on the depth chart, and with Randall Cobb still dealing with an ankle issue, Allison’s role appears safe. The addition Jimmy Graham may split touchdowns, but with Davante Adams drawing every defense’s top cornerback, and Graham clearing the middle, Allison should see plenty of targets his direction.
John Ross – WR71
Ross may be the fastest player in the NFL. But speed only matters if you can also catch the ball. Reports out of camp paint an inconsistent story. It seems no defender can cover him, and it seems he struggles to catch even the easiest of passes (while also making spectacular catches):
The enigma that is John Ross continues. Double moves WJ3, gets wide open, then drops underthrown ball from Barkley.— Jay Morrison (@JayMorrisonNFL) August 11, 2018
Next rep, Ross makes ridiculous leaping catch from Driskel to beat solid coverage from Darius Phillips. #Bengals
Unfortunately, Ross’s rookie season lasted only three games, so there’s not much to hang our hats on in terms of how his elite speed will transfer to the NFL. The release of Brandon LaFell at least indicates that Ross earned duties opposite A.J. Green, who figures to draw top cornerbacks and often double-coverage. The downside comes in the form of the Bengals’ offense, which has typically been a low-volume passing attack. Andy Dalton hasn’t finished as a top-12 quarterback since 2013 and his highest fantasy ranking since then is QB15. That said, the Bengals’ target distribution is one of the most predictable, including those going to Ross, who should at least match LaFell’s 89 from last year. And with his speed, Ross is scoring threat every time he touches the ball. Draft him with confidence.
John Brown – the Twitter Hype Machine has been full throttle regarding Brown’s preseason thus far. All indications point to him being fully healthy and immediately in sync with Joe Flacco.
Eric Decker – despite playing all 16 games, Decker turned in the worst season of his eight-year career in 2017. Perhaps an upgrade at quarterback will bring him back to fantasy football glory. He’s well past his prime and struggling so far learning the Patriots’ offense, but his touchdown-upside might be the best on this list if he secures a fulltime role.
Taywan Taylor – if Rishard Matthews continues to miss time, it stands to reason that Taylor becomes a steady fixture in an offense that's dying to put his speed to use.