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
Dan Hindery: It can be easy to forget how young Hooper is (23 years old) and how difficult the transition to the NFL can be for players at the tight end position. Through that lens, his 49 catches and 75 percent catch rate last season look quite a bit more impressive. Hooper spent all offseason working with Matt Ryan and earned praise from both Ryan and head coach Dan Quinn. "Hooper's been like a dog this offseason -- over and over, he'd catch everything Matt threw and bring it back," said Quinn. He is also generating some hype from non-fantasy football oriented writers who have plenty of NFL contacts. Daniel Jeremiah listed Hooper as one of his fantasy football favorites and Peter King predicted a breakout season.
Daniel Simpkins: When players disappoint the year prior, fantasy owners tend to write them off. Hooper is getting such treatment after high expectations were not met last year. While Hooper didn’t play his best football, the whole offense struggled to adjust to Offensive Coordinator Steve Sarkisian’s brand of playcalling. After a year of experience playing in Sarkisian’s system, the players, including Hooper, should be better adjusted. Hooper will be entering year three and his potential as a pass catcher is certainly there. Though he had bad moments with drops last season, there were also instances in which he made impressive plays, too. There is no real competition for his role on the roster in the raw Eric Saubert and journeyman blocker Logan Paulsen. At his current ADP, there is very little to lose with Hooper, but very big upside if he puts everything together.
Matt Waldman: Hooper has improved his timing and rapport with Matt Ryan and it's showing up daily in camp. Last year, we read how hard Hooper was working and that he was doing a lot of that work with Ryan. However, what we read last year was mostly anticipation and projection of improvement whereas this year the coverage is based on specific improvements. While possible that Hopper gets lost in this offense if Steve Sarkisian can't fix his muddled approach to this offense in 2017, Hooper has always shown the hands, body control, and skill after the catch that's indicative of a productive receiver.
Jason Wood: Fantasy owners are a fickle bunch, and Austin Hooper has fallen out of favor. That’s a mistake. Matt Ryan had a down season transitioning from Kyle Shanahan to Steve Sarkisian, but the Falcons remains a talented bunch, and some positive regression is likely. If Ryan does look more like his usual self, there are plenty of targets to go around beyond Julio Jones. Hooper has the same skill set, including strong hands and crisp routes, to flourish in the same way Zach Ertz became a force of nature in Philadelphia.
Player Receiving 3 Votes
Ricky Seals-Jones, Arizona
Phil Alexander: The Cardinals gave Seals-Jones a huge vote of confidence by passing entirely on tight ends in the NFL Draft despite Troy Niklas leaving for the Patriots and Jermaine Gresham recovering from a torn Achilles. From weeks 11-13 last season, Seals-Jones -- essentially a gigantic wide receiver -- never saw more than 24% of Arizona’s offensive snaps, yet still managed to pile up 9 catches, 170 yards, and 3 touchdowns on 16 targets. Outside of David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona is short on offensive weapons. They sorely need a player like Seals-Jones, who can create mismatches when motioned out of the slot or the backfield, and they've left themselves with little choice but to give him a chance.
Ryan Hester: He’s a converted wide receiver with incredible athleticism. And behind Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson, the team’s projected target distribution is anyone’s guess. Seals-Jones flashed briefly last season with three touchdowns in a two-game stretch but ultimately faded. Another offseason of learning his new position could result in enough growth to generate consistency.
Jeff Pasquino: Ricky Seals-Jones was something of a phenom that emerged in November last year for Arizona. He finished with 12 catches, 201 yards and three scores in just seven contests, but the strange part is that he scored three times in his first two weeks on the field. The Cardinals will need receiver help after both John Brown and Jaron Brown have moved on, but the bigger upside for Seals-Jones is likely to come from a change at quarterback. Either Rookie Josh Rosen or veteran Sam Bradford will need a reliable big target, which describes Seals-Jones to a tee. Grabbing him later in drafts offers a ton of upside for a low cost TE2 price.
Players Receiving 2 Votes
Charles Clay, Buffalo
James Brimacombe: Clay always seems to miss time here and there each season as he has nearly averaged a 14-game season in all seven of his seasons playing. On the flip side because of the perception that he gets banged up here and there his ADP shows it and you can draft him at the back end of your draft. The fact is Clay has never missed more than three games in a season and over the past five seasons, he has caught at least 49 passes for at least 528 yards in that span.
Jason Wood: Clay has never finished higher than TE19 as a member of the Bills, but that’s more a function of missing an average of two games per season with various injuries. He’s healthy this year and the Bills are devoid of talent outside of LeSean McCoy. The revolving door at quarterback is going to rely on safety blankets like McCoy and Clay, which bodes well for a career season.
Eric Ebron, Indianapolis
Will Grant: Missing Andrew Luck last season changed the Indianapolis offensive style and Jack Doyle became a huge benefit for anyone who drafted him last year. But with Luck on the mend, the Colts have hinted that they plan to return to the two tight end formations that benefitted Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener just a few seasons ago. Ebron is going undrafted in many fantasy leagues because most remember his minimal fantasy value in Detroit. But 550 yards and five touchdowns is definitely within Ebron’s reach this season and that makes him a borderline fantasy starter. At his current price, he’s worth a late round flyer.
Jeff Haseley: The Colts and Andrew Luck have an affinity for tight ends, especially in the red zone. The combination of Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron should exceed 100 receptions and may reach upwards of 10 touchdowns. Jack Doyle has produced as the default tight end for the Colts, however, he is not as athletic or as versatile as Ebron. Both could thrive and have fantasy relevance, but Ebron might out-produce Doyle and his draft value is much higher.
Ben Watson, New Orleans
Chad Parsons: Ben Watson had a career year with the Saints in 2015. He is back this season where the passing game lacks a strong No.2 receiver presence beyond Michael Thomas and the tight end depth chart lacks any challengers to Watson's lead role. The biggest risk is Watson's physical erosion at 37 years old. However, Drew Brees and Sean Payton are in the 'trust' category of betting on key offensive cogs. Watson is affordable enough to draft as the lesser part of a committee positional plan.
Matt Waldman: He's old but he still delivered starter fantasy production last year while coming off an Achilles injury. This year, Watson returns to the Saints -- a team with a better offense and quarterback. Watson earned a Pro Bowl berth three years ago when he was a Saint. He won't even need to perform this well to outplay his fantasy value. While old and two years removed from a career-threatening injury, Watson has been a freakish athlete since he entered the league as the Patriot's first-round pick. These types of athletes often age more gracefully and that benefits fantasy players.
Players Receiving 1 Vote
Jared Cook, Oakland
Andy Hicks: Jared Cook is a much-maligned character in fantasy football. He is one of only a few tight ends to have 350 receiving yards for eight consecutive seasons. Of course, more touchdowns would be nice, but he offers a solid alternative after all the big name tight ends are gone. At the time you will be considering Cook others are reaching for players that are more likely to flame out than offer anything of substance. New coach, Jon Gruden, uses the position well and I can’t see much of a drop off following a career year in receptions and yardage from Cook.
O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay
Will Grant: Between Howard’s season-ending injury and Camron Brate’s six-year contract extension, fantasy owners are shying away from O.J. Howard this season. But Brate disappeared in the second half of last season and Howard is a former first-round draft pick. He’s the team’s future and Brate is insurance in case Howard is injured. If he has a solid pre-season and starts the year off hot, there’s no reason that Howard can’t take on a much bigger role and provide big value for fantasy GMs. Keep an eye on his as the preseason continues and consider him for a decent late-round sleeper pick.
Tyler Kroft, Cincinnati
Ryan Hester: For fantasy GMs who factor injury proneness and risk into the draft plans, Kroft makes for an interesting late-round flier. Tyler Eifert feels good now but has missed more games than he has played over the last two seasons. Kroft isn’t a quarter of the athlete Eifert is, but he filled in admirably last season, scoring seven touchdowns. After the Tylers, there are no other viable tight end options on Cincinnati’s roster.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jacksonville
Jeff Pasquino: Jacksonville reached out to the free agency pool for their new starting tight end, reeling in Seferian-Jenkins after his career-best year for the woeful Jets in 2017 (50-357-3). The Jaguars will be without Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson this year, as both of their former starting wide receivers left via free agency. That leaves plenty of targets for the starting tight end, as both Julius Thomas and Marcedes Lewis combined for 81 chances through the first 10 weeks of 2017. Seferian-Jenkins will have the opportunity to emerge as a steady target for Blake Bortles over the middle and in the red zone, which could lead to the fifth-year starter pushing for fantasy starter status.
Adam Shaheen, Chicago
Ari Ingel: This is the flip side to my overvalued pick, which was Trey Burton. People are ignoring Shaheen, but he was selected 45th overall in last years NFL draft. The Bears didn’t spend such a high pick on him to keep him on the bench. As mentioned before, Burton (6-foot-2, 224 pounds) is much smaller than Shaheen (6-foot-6, 278 pounds) and is an inferior athlete, posting a 47% SPARQ athletic score compared to Shaheen’s 77% SPARQ score. In fantasy, it’s all about touchdowns for tight ends, and Shaheen could easily catch eight or more.
Jonnu Smith, Tennessee
Andy Hicks: Jonnu Smith was drafted in the third round by Tennessee last year with the intention of eventually replacing the aging Delanie Walker. Although his stats don’t show it, Smith was on the field for a high percentage of snaps as he learned the offense. With Walker turning 34, Smith is a like for like replacement, especially by those expecting Walker to continue on his 800+ yardage seasons. Draft Smith very late, keep him on your roster and watch as the season unfolds. Smith could be a big surprise packet by the time we reach December.
Luke Willson, Detroit
Phil Alexander: The Lions pulled the plug on Eric Ebron and lost run-blocking tight end Darren Fells to free agency. Levine Toilolo was signed to play Fells’ role, which leaves just Willson and Michael Roberts as options for the pass-catching tight end role. By most accounts, Roberts has had a poor training camp, while Willson continues to sit atop the depth chart. Coming out of Rice in 2013, Willson’s athletic profile for a tight end was off the charts. Jimmy Graham blocked him for most of the last three seasons in Seattle, but Willson has been efficient when on the field, catching 65% of his career targets for a solid 8.24 yards per target. He also managed four touchdowns last year on 22 measly targets. At the very least, expect Willson to emerge as a weekly streaming option, but there’s clearly upside for more.