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 6 Votes
Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago
Alexander: New Bears coach Matt Nagy comes from Kansas City, where the Chiefs led the league in snaps out of the shotgun on his watch as offensive coordinator in 2017. Run-pass option plays out of the gun suit Trubisky's strengths, and he stands to benefit from something he sorely lacked as a rookie -- legitimate NFL receivers, including Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, Taylor Gabriel, and rookie Anthony Miller. We can't take a Carson Wentz or Jared Goff-type statistical leap for granted, but at least Trubisky is being put in a similar position to succeed. You can currently get him late enough that if he flops, it barely matters. But if he's good enough to capitalize on his improved surroundings (and continue to rush for 20 yards per game and a handful of touchdowns), there's a strong chance he outplays most quarterbacks being taken in the middle rounds.
Gray: In 2018, Trubisky will produce everything the fantasy community expects from Patrick Mahomes. They each are unquestioned starters and will remain on the field as long as they are healthy. They each have a variety of weapons at every skill position. Trubisky even has the advantage of being coached by the best play-caller on the 2017 Chiefs coaching staff. New Bears head coach Matt Nagy rescued the Chiefs from their last-season offensive slumber and will charge up the Chicago offense this year. Trubisky is a great late-round option who could excel in 2018.
Hindery: Despite Trubisky and the Bears offense receiving their fair share of hype this offseason, Trubisky’s low ADP still allows him to qualify as a deep sleeper and there is plenty of reason for optimism. First, Trubisky will be running the Andy Reid-inspired offense under Reid-protege and former Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy, who takes over as the head man in Chicago. Reid’s offense gave the NFL fits last season with Alex Smith and Carson Wentz (coached by Reid’s former offensive coordinator Doug Pederson) both finishing in the Top 3 in fantasy points per game at the quarterback position in 2017. Second, Trubisky will have a deep and talented cast of weapons to throw to. Allen Robinson arrives in free agency as a legitimate WR1 talent. Taylor Gabriel will provide a dangerous deep threat on the opposite side of the field. Second-round pick Anthony Miller should be an excellent slot receiver. Trey Burton is a major mismatch as a flex tight end. Plus, Tarik Cohen could be one of the best pass-catching backs in the NFL. Lastly, Trubisky adds a dual-threat element that could help push him towards fantasy QB1 status. He rushed for over 20 yards per game last season and has the potential to do even more as a runner.
Simpkins: Like the Titans, Chicago is another team primed to make a leap, simply because they’ve got talented pieces and have moved on from outmoded coaching and schemes. Matt Nagy, part of the innovative Andy Reid coaching tree, promises to incorporate the spread and run-pass option concepts that have begun to spring up in the league. Trubisky will be familiar with these, as they are the basis of what he ran in college. Also, Chicago went and rescued the very talented Allen Robinson from a Jaguars offense whose priority is the run. He will be a trusted target for the young passer. Taylor Gabriel’s speed has often been underestimated by NFL defenses, and we’ll see a few defenses get burned by it again this year. When that happens, it will open up the middle of the field for short and intermediate work for the other pass catchers. Additionally, Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen’s strengths and weaknesses compliment one another and that their new system can work with multiple role-playing backs. Finally, Chicago will be able to deploy Adam Shaheen and Trey Burton in the middle of the field to create mismatches that will further strain defenses. Trubisky is the perfect high-upside backup or late-round quarterback that will give you the flexibility to draft other skill position players early.
Pasquino: Do not be surprised if Trubisky pushes for fantasy-starter status by mid-season this year. The Bears have added talent at tight end (Trey Burton, formerly of the Eagles) and Allen Robinson at wide receiver. Chicago was a fantasy wasteland last year, and the Bears knew an overhaul was needed. New head coach Matt Nagy will bring in a more aggressive offense that will put Trubisky in positions to make quick reads and get the ball in the hands of the new playmakers. Of course, it will also help that the Bears are likely to be trailing in most of their games, adding to the passing stats for Trubisky. The cost to draft Trubisky late is next to nothing, but the top-15 upside is there at a very low price.
Wood: Trubisky’s rookie season left much to be desired. He was 4-8 as a starter, completed less than 60% of his passes, and both his touchdown rate (2.1%) and touchdowns per game (0.58) were abysmal. But we’ve learned not to overreact the performance of rookie quarterbacks. Carson Wentz went from middling to a league-MVP favorite in a season. Jared Goff went from potential bust under Jeff Fisher to one of the NFC’s best under Sean McVay. New head coach Matt Nagy, credited with the vast improvement of Alex Smith in Kansas City, brings a dynamic, innovative system that marries spread concepts with traditional West Coast elements. The Bears signed Allen Robinson in free agency; he’s a true No. 1 receiver. They also drafted Anthony Miller, a game-breaker. The team also added Trey Burton and Taylor Gabriel as vital complementary pieces. There are no excuses this year for Trubisky this year.
Players Receiving 5 Votes
Lamar Jackson, Baltimore
Bloom: Jackson will require patience to pay dividends, and there’s a possibility that his presence motivates Joe Flacco to improve his game the way Patrick Mahomes did for Alex Smith last year. If that doesn’t happen, Jackson could get a shot this year and bring his lethal running ability and better than advertising passing to Sundays. Even if he shows that he’ll need an adjustment time to NFL passing defenses, Jackson’s ridiculous productivity as a runner will give him a huge head start for fantasy. It makes him the most likely rookie quarterback to make a fantasy impact this year.
Haseley: It's just a matter of time before Lamar Jackson gets his chance to start for Baltimore. Joe Flacco may have won a Super Bowl with the team, but that seems like a distant memory, especially given how he has performed over the last few seasons. It's time for a change and Lamar Jackson is the weapon who can do it for Baltimore. Jackson is a better pocket passer than most give him credit for and if Deshaun Watson can come in and be a success, why can't Jackson who has a similar skill set with arguably better rushing ability? If Jackson flashes in preseason, don't be surprised to see a short leash on Flacco.
Hester: This isn't a suggestion to draft Jackson. After all, the quarterback position is so deep that drafting anyone who isn't a starter seems like a wasted pick in one-quarterback formats. But it's worth mentioning Jackson here because if he gets the job (which could occur through Joe Flacco injury, ineffectiveness, or through the team not showing playoff potential in the latter part of the season), he has the potential to provide a spark. Any quarterback with rushing ability is worth a look, and Jackson has a live arm as well. Keep an eye on Baltimore's camp and in-season progress.
Tefertiller: Joe Flacco has performed at a pitiful level the past two seasons. Last year, he finished behind Jacoby Brissett, Josh McCown, and even DeShone Kizer. There is a solid chance that Jackson will be starting by midseason. His deep accuracy and running ability offer fantasy upside. Baltimore added weapons at the receiver and tight end positions which could help the rookie produce down the stretch.
Waldman: Contrary to certain big media narratives, Lamar Jackson is an excellent pocket player—the best in this rookie class at hanging in the pocket and buying time in a manner where he’s in a position to deliver the ball. Jackson played in a pro-style offense at Louisville, his accuracy issues are more mechanically fixable than conceptual, and his accuracy stats were deflated by receivers with a high percentage of egregious drops. Michael Vick already said that Jackson is a much better player than he was coming out of Virginia Tech—it's easy to agree with that assessment. Most people will drop a Vick reference with Jackson’s game because he’s an excellent runner with a fine arm. They’ll also cite Ravens coaches Greg Roman and Marty Mornhinweg as a pair who coached Vick. They also coached Steve Young; a player that is a more appropriate aspiration for Jackson’s game. If Flacco gets hurt, Jackson will have some big weeks.
Eli Manning, NY Giants
Bloom: Manning was a wasted pick last year, but as recently as 2014 and 2015, he was a QB1 throwing 30 or more passing scores a season. Manning was coming around last year with two very strong games and a solid outing once Odell Beckham Jr was semi-healthy, but once Beckham went out, Manning’s fantasy prospects disappeared with his star receiver. This year, he’ll get Beckham back and have arguably the best supporting cast of his career with the addition of No. 2 overall pick Saquon Barkley. New head coach Pat Shurmur should also reinvigorate a team that was flatlining under the guidance of Ben McAdoo. Just make sure you draft another quarterback to start Week 1 with Jacksonville coming to East Rutherford.
Hicks: Eli Manning has always been a patchy fantasy option, finishing as a fantasy starter in seven seasons and outside the Top 12 in the other seven. In three of the last five years, he has finished outside the Top 20, which is not only a concern, it should write him off moving forward. It doesn’t, however, because the Giants have surrounded him with premium talent in Odell Beckham Jr, Jr., Saquon Barkley, and Evan Engram. With a how-could-it-not-be-improved offensive line, if Manning can’t get on fantasy radars this year, then the Giants have to and will move on. If he can, at age 37, show he still has something left, he will be a great fantasy reserve option.
Holloway: Eli Manning had a poor year a season ago - only passing for 3,468 yards and 19 touchdowns. However, his decreased ADP seems to blame the Giants' poor offensive play completely on him. His three primary receivers only played in 20 games total (Beckham 4, Marshall 5, and Shepard 11). Manning had averaged 4,258 passing yards and 30 touchdowns from 2014 through 2018 and has elite receivers at wide receiver (Beckham & Shepard), tight end (Engram) and running back (Barkley). Manning should be an obvious value play in 2018.
Parsons: The Giants were poor across the board as a passing offense in 2018, finishing in the bottom-5 of passing expected points, overall offense expected points and overall success rate. Evan Engram was a rookie bright spot with his historic season, but Sterling Shepard missed five games, Brandon Marshall was a shell of his former self before missing the final three months of the season, and Odell Beckham Jr played only four games. In short, Eli Manning had his full complement of weapons for a month or less in 2018. Manning, like Philip Rivers and a few other quarterbacks, gets little recognition for his longevity of production and seasonal upside. Manning has finished as a top-eight fantasy quarterback in four of eight recent seasons, and his with-Odell Beckham Jr splits since Beckham entered the NFL in 2014 show a 36% boost in fantasy production than when Beckham is not in the lineup. A healthy Beckham, a rising Engram, and add a dynamic Saquon Barkley in the backfield and Manning is back on the QB1 track for 2018.
Wood: When McAdoo was Tom Coughlin’s coordinator, he turned the Giants into a pass-happy team, and Manning’s fantasy value flourished. He finished QB8 and QB7, in 2014 and 2015. When McAdoo took over as head coach, things changed. Much of the blame lay at the hands of former general manager Jerry Reese, who let the offensive line become one of the league’s worst. Forced into obvious passing situations, Manning regressed along with the rest of the team and was benched for Geno Smith. New head coach Pat Shurmur hopes to parlay what he learned in Philadelphia and Minnesota and create a balanced, dynamic offensive attack. General manager Dave Gettleman focused on improving the offensive line and added Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick in the draft. Better line play and even modest improvement in the run game should work wonders for Manning. Armed with a talented trio of pass catchers in Odell Beckham Jr, Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram, Manning can easily return to high-end QB2 value.
Player Receiving 4 Votes
Case Keenum, Denver
Haseley: People are forgetting all about Case Keenum in drafts. Let's not forget the breakout season he had last year, including the fifth-best fantasy quarterback from Week 10 to Week 17. Keenum should be able to put up decent numbers with Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and rookies DaeSean Hamilton and Courtland Sutton filling up the depth chart. Keenum may not venture into uncharted Top 10 territory, but he shouldn't fall completely out of the Top 20 either.
Hester: Typically, the deep sleeper category is about looking at ceiling -- especially at running back and wide receiver. But with how fantasy football is played today (streaming, DFS, etc.), it's worth taking note of players like Keenum. Would it be surprising is the quarterback throwing to Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders had four or five top-12 weeks at the quarterback position? Sure, you're not drafting Keenum to be your every-week starter, but there is plenty of merit to not drafting any every-week starter at quarterback. Keenum is the kind of player who makes that possible.
Hicks: It is hard to see if Denver is fully invested in Case Keenum. He appears to be a bridge quarterback, but to whom we don’t know yet. It is even foreseeable that he is only in Denver for one season, given the details of his two-year deal. All that said, Keenum is in position to easily outplay what little the fantasy community thinks of him heading into the 2018 season. In a great situation last year in Minnesota, he finished as a borderline starter and walks into a solid receiving group headed by Demaryius Thomas. When you are picking scraps off the quarterback table, grab this guy first. He is underrated by far too many people.
Pasquino: The AFC West has several teams that could be putting up plenty of points – Kansas City, Oakland, and the Chargers – so Denver will need to not just play strong defense to compete. Offense – and specifically, the passing game – has been a consistent issue in Colorado, so John Elway brought in Keenum to get the ball into the hands of his best offensive players in wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Keenum excelled first as a backup and then as the starter in Minnesota last season, and the smart veteran can do similar things for the Broncos. Add in that the ground game cannot be counted on now that C.J. Anderson is gone, leaving Devontae Booker and rookie Royce Freeman to fill the void, and the likelihood for Keenum to throw 30-40 times a week very high. Keenum costs very little in fantasy drafts but offers QB2 value with some QB1 upside in favorable matchups.
Player Receiving 3 Votes
Derek Carr, Oakland
Brimacombe: The Raiders and Derek Carr had a rough 2017 season, and it almost feels like Carr took all the heat for the team's failures. Carr is an afterthought right now in fantasy circles, and he is an easy selection late in drafts as your second quarterback. He is someone you can draft to keep on your bench and hope for a rebound season. The Raiders have tried to add some additional weapons around Carr with the likes of Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant and are hoping for that big breakout season to finally come from Amari Cooper.
Hicks: Derek Carr presents a great conundrum heading into the 2018 season. Before Oakland’s bewildering 2017 season, he looked the part of an ascendant star. Now he lost his most reliable target in Michael Crabtree. Carr also gets a coach who comes with a big name but was old school when he left the league more than 10 years ago. Carr gets a potentially washed up Jordy Nelson, a proven unreliable player in Martavis Bryant, a wide receiver who was supposed to be a star but looked horrible last year in Amari Cooper, and a running game that could easily be disastrous. Yet somehow there is optimism that it all clicks together and fantasy value galore will be found in Oakland this year. Take with hope, because this is literally going to be boom or bust.
Pasquino: Sure, Michael Crabtree is gone, but what exactly is the problem in picking Derek Carr as your QB2? Carr is the perfect bounce-back candidate that comes for a very cheap price in fantasy drafts. One would love to have him as a second option on nearly any fantasy team this year as he has plenty of upside with 60 combined touchdown passes in 2015 and 2016 Last year was not the best for Carr, but some of that could have been the back issues he was hiding since Week 4. Carr has big upside and has boom or bust written all over him – exactly the type of player you must draft late if you want to win your league.
Players Receiving 2 Votes
Blake Bortles, Jacksonville
Brimacombe: Blake Bortles improved his completion percentage in 2017 to 60.2 percent and led the Jaguars to the AFC Championship game. You could argue that it is the team around Bortles that is the reason why they made it all the way to the AFC Championship game, and Bortles rarely gets any of the praise and is often the butt of jokes. Bortles has not missed a game over the past three seasons and has finished as the 4th-, 9th-, and 13th-best quarterback over that span. Bortles can give you points with his arm, but he also continues to run the ball as he has never had under 52 rushing attempts in a season. Over his career, he averages 3.6 rushing attempts a game with 22.7 yards and an 11 percent chance at a rushing touchdown.
Haseley: This is not your older brother's Jaguars team. Jacksonville has improved on both sides of the ball over the last few years, including everyone's favorite punching bag, Blake Bortles. Since Week 10 last season, Bortles ranked seventh among fantasy quarterbacks. Yes - the Jags lost Allen Robinson to free agency, but they didn't have him last year either. Bortles is virtually going undrafted and has proven that he is at least worth a backup spot.
Josh Rosen, Arizona
Howe: Any time an owner (a) wants a QB3 on their roster, and (b) lets it slip into the final round or two of the draft, it's shrewd to target Rosen’s name. He’s behind a brittle, low-upside starter on a rebuilding franchise. He’s a pocket technician who’ll throw to two strong slot men, one a Hall of Famer and the other a high-drafted, college-productive rookie. The big-time rookie passers all have similar value right now, but Rosen looks poised to be among the first to start.
Waldman: Larry Fitzgerald, Ricky Seals-Jones, Christian Kirk, J.J. Nelson, and Brice Brown lack brand-name notoriety, but it’s a competent group with greater upside than many realize –especially with the likelihood of more short and intermediate passes under the imaginative Mike McCoy. The greatest impediment for Arizona is its offensive line. Much of the unit wasn’t healthy during various parts of 2017 and it left a huge void in the offense. When healthy, Arizona ran the ball effectively opened up the passing game. While Rosen (or Bradford if he overcomes the odds and stays healthy) are both good vertical passers, expect Arizona to run a lot fewer five- and seven-step drops than with Bruce Arians’ scheme. Expect more balance and quarterback production worth considering late in 2018 drafts.
Players Receiving 1 Vote
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati
Bloom: Once upon a time, Dalton was a QB1 for fantasy. A return to that status isn’t as remote as last year’s performances make it seem. The Bengals added a quality starting center in the first round (Billy Price, Ohio State) and traded for a quality left tackle (Cordy Glenn) to address the offensive line woes. Last year’s first-round pick, wide receiver John Ross, is healthy and should stretch defenses and open things up for Dalton and the running game. Tyler Eifert appears to be on track for a sustained return to the field. This should be a different Bengals offense than the one we saw last year, with enough change to make Dalton make one of the best values at quarterback in your draft. Dalton can at least be your starter for Week 1 with a good matchup at Indianapolis.
Tyrod Taylor, Cleveland
Waldman: Taylor does a good job taking care of the football, buys time in the pocket, and has an excellent deep arm. Cleveland has a sound offensive line, the potential for a strong ground game, and talented young receivers, including a physically and mentally healthy Josh Gordon—who might be the best receiver Taylor has ever worked with. The greatest issues with DeShone Kizer last year were inexperience and untimely turnovers. There will be a push to use Baker Mayfield this year, but Taylor has the skills, experience, and surrounding talent to deliver borderline QB1 fantasy production.
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