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 7 Votes
John Brown, Baltimore
Phil Alexander: Sometimes the preseason drum beat grows too loud to ignore. Since training camp started, we haven’t gone more than a few days without hearing about Brown exceeding expectations, standing out, or building chemistry with Joe Flacco. Brown is only two years removed from a 101-65-1,003-7 season as a second-year player. His two seasons since were derailed by injuries and complications from his sickle-cell trait. There’s obvious risk Brown can miss action at any time, but it’s also more than baked into his ADP. Playing with a big-armed quarterback, Brown has legitimate WR2 upside you won’t find in players like Eric Decker, who are currently being drafted in the same tier.
Sigmund Bloom: Brown can still play at a high level and has been the best wide receiver in Baltimore’s camp. He has also riffed with Joe Flacco in the deep passing game, which was his forte in Arizona with Carson Palmer. While he has been off of our radar because of his slow-healing sickle cell condition, Brown has stayed healthy in camp and should be a high ceiling WR3/Flex for as long as he can do that in season, and that’s easily worth a late pick.
James Brimacombe: He is a former 1000-yard player who has battled to stay on the field for the Cardinals over the past two seasons. Mix that in with inconsistency at the quarterback position over those two years and Brown has fallen off the fantasy radar. Looking back to 2015 where he finished as WR22 with 65/1003/7 line you know the potential is there for him to succeed. He gets a fresh start in Baltimore and has already been standing out and quickly becoming one of Joe Flacco's favorite targets.
Ryan Hester: After an injury-plagued 2017, Brown saw little interest on the free agent market. He signed a one-year deal in Baltimore, which means he’s been given a second chance to play for his next contract. Brown’s talent has never been in doubt, and he’s already vibing with his new quarterback on deep balls. Brown’s deep speed and Flacco’s accuracy on long passes are a nice match and could provide some memorable moments this season.
Dan Hindery: While Joe Flacco deservedly gets criticism, he throws a decent deep ball and has made speedy outside receivers like Torrey Smith and Mike Wallace fantasy relevant (Wallace finished as WR38 last season). Brown is at least as talented as Smith and Wallace. He has been the star in camp and looks to be seizing a big role in a passing game that returns almost no production from last season. Brown’s talent and situation point to a player who should be going a few rounds higher than his current ADP.
Ari Ingel: Brown is a special player who has been unable to stay healthy due to his battle with sickle cell anemia and a cyst on his back he didn’t know was there. Dry and extreme heat is supposedly awful for people suffering from the diseases, which makes a move from Arizona to Baltimore a good one for Brown. He has been drawing rave reviews in all off-season and that has continued in camp. Fellow receiver Willie Snead IV called him “electric” and ESPN’s Ravens beat writer had this to say: “Joe Flacco is enjoying perhaps the best training camp of his 11-year career, and John Brown is producing what might be the best summer any Ravens wide receiver has ever had.” One of Matt Harmon’s favorite receivers in Reception Perception over the past four years, Brown has Antonio Brown upside. No joke.
Jason Wood: John Brown has burned fantasy owners around the world. Once considered a budding superstar capable of displacing Larry Fitzgerald as the Cardinals No. 1, Brown is now playing on a modest veteran contract attempting to beat out Willie Snead IV for the No. 2 role in Baltimore. Brown’s injury history is soul-crushing, but at his current draft position, he’s a free call option.
Player Receiving 4 Votes
Keelan Cole, Jacksonville
Sigmund Bloom: Cole was a WR1 when Blake Bortles got hot down the stretch last year. The Jaguars brought in Donte Moncrief, but many indications point to Cole being ahead of Moncrief in two wide receiver sets, and his chemistry with Bortles is unquestioned. With his deep speed, he is the highest ceiling Jaguars wide receiver in any given week, and in the first two weeks against the Giants and Patriots, he should get off to a hot start and establish his value.
Clayton Gray: Spoiler alert: there are a few Jacksonville receivers on this sleeper list. Those guys are showing up for a couple of reasons. 1) The Jaguars passing game has a cake schedule - just look at the cornerbacks in their division for a taste, and 2) There are lots of questions about the pecking order among their wide receivers. When in doubt about pass-catchers, take the best route runner. That's Keelan Cole.
Matt Waldman: The best wide receiver on the team, Cole has advanced route skills beyond his years and he can play inside and outside the hash as a perimeter deep threat and a slot option. Although fantasy analysts will talk about his easy matchups down the stretch as the reason for his strong production, they’re ignoring or forgetting his strong performances during the playoffs. People are only beginning to wake up to Cole as an option because he began training camp as the No. 2 receiver on the depth chart and his position won’t be changing. The Jaguars love to throw play-action passes, that exploit linebackers and safeties, to deep targets from the slot. This is something Coach Doug Marrone used when he ran a productive Saints offense. Cole is every bit a productive slot-hybrid option as Doug Baldwin or JuJu Smith Schuster. They’re all different in style, but productive receivers.
Jason Wood: Every fantasy analyst is happy to pro-rate the 49ers final five games to argue for Marquise Goodwin, yet they’re unwilling to do the same for Cole in spite of a larger sample size. Once Allen Hurns went down, Cole was an offensive dynamo. He was on a 65-catch, 1,200+ yard pace in the Jaguars final seven games. When you consider Cole was an undrafted rookie free agent, it’s remarkable how integrated he became in the offense without the aid of major snaps in the preseason as a first-teamer. Although the Jaguars receiving corps is deep, Cole was the best of the bunch last year but is being drafted like the worst.
Players Receiving 3 Votes
Christian Kirk, Arizona
Chad Parsons: Christian Kirk is my bet to lead rookie receivers in 2018 production. While Larry Fitzgerald will man the slot as he has in recent seasons, Kirk has an all-around skill set and free access to 100+ targets this year. Beyond Fitzgerald, there is nothing but uncertainty for the No. 2 role. Jaron Brown saw 69 targets last year (gone), John Brown saw 55 looks in a partial season (gone), and J.J. Nelson is a part-time player who is second-most of returning players at 61. Kirk will see the field early and offers a pro-ready profile out of Texas A&M with returning acumen and inside-outside skills as a receiver.
Jeff Pasquino: Christian Kirk was the 47th player drafted this year, but this second round rookie has all the potential to make an immediate impact for the Cardinals during his first pro campaign. With both John Brown and Jaron Brown gone, the depth chart is wide open for an outside receiver to take a prominent role on the opposite side of the field from veteran Larry Fitzgerald. Kirk had strong numbers at Texas A&M as both an All-SEC receiver and also as an All-American kickoff and punt returner. Look for Kirk to make a big impact out of the gate as a rookie.
Jason Wood: Pull up the Cardinals depth chart and it’s a barren wasteland beyond Larry Fitzgerald unless rookie Christian Kirk makes an immediate impact. Any rookie is a risk, but Kirk is off to a strong start in the preseason and has the skill set to step into the lineup if he can learn the playbook and prove himself as a blocker. By the end of the preseason, Kirk’s ADP is going to skyrocket. Take advantage of today’s arbitrage.
Paul Richardson Jr, Washington
James Brimacombe: Washington has a plan for Richardson as they showed their commitment to him with a 5-year, $40 million contract. His ADP right now is non-existent and with Derrius Guice suffering the season-long injury, the wide receivers in Washington are going to have to be looked to for more touches. Richardson is coming off his best season to date with 44 catches for 703 yards and six touchdowns. Look for an uptick in targets and receptions for him this year with Alex Smith and to me that equals a nice value play with lots of upside.
Matt Waldman: On paper, Richardson isn’t a great match with Alex Smith because, with the exception of last year, Smith has not been a great vertical thrower. Also, Smith doesn’t throw many 50/50 routes, which is another area where Richardson excels. However, Richardson is more than a vertical receiver and rebounding threat, despite the fact that it has been his calling card in Seattle. Washington’s new starter runs good routes and has skill after the catch, which fits what Desean Jackson did productively in Washington. When Jackson played 15 games in 2015 and 2017, he was the No. 17 and No. 30 fantasy receiver, respectively. Richardson’s fantasy points per target were insanely high last year – on par with Antonio Brown. If he can earn volume in a Smith-led offense, he could become the leading option in Washington. If he’s pigeon-holed as a Jackson-like option, he still outperforms his current value.
Jason Wood: Washington signed Richardson to a 5-year, $40 million contract with $20 million guaranteed. That’s impact starter money, yet he’s being drafted after Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson. Crowder may become a PPR-value if Alex Smith takes a liking to him, but he’s also got zero explosiveness. Doctson has failed to emerge and is, once again, dealing with injuries. Richardson is the only receiver on the roster with game-breaking deep speed and can fill the Tyreek Hill role for Alex Smith. Robert Woods got paid similarly by the Rams last year and fantasy owners discounted it. Teams don’t pay players this much without a plan to feature them.
Players Receiving 2 Votes
Jaron Brown, Seattle
Phil Alexander: Brown’s five-year NFL resume isn’t very impressive, but he did set career highs in starts, targets, receptions, and touchdowns last year for the Cardinals. His greatest assets -- 4.34 speed and the ability to track deep passes -- blend nicely with Russell Wilson’s strengths as a quarterback. Even if he never overtakes Tyler Lockett for WR2 targets, Brown is a worthy end-game pick due to the near-certainty he reels in a handful of long touchdowns. And if Doug Baldwin's injury turns out to be more serious than the Seahawks are letting on, we may look back on Brown as the most under-drafted player in fantasy football by season’s end.
Ryan Hester: If Tyler Lockett can’t cut it as a starting receiver, or if Doug Baldwin’s knee injury lingers, the next man up in Seattle is likely Brown. The former Cardinal and Clemson Tiger hasn’t made his way on the field very much. But being behind loaded receiver groups in college and the NFL is as much a reason for that as any lack of talent. Undrafted in even the deepest of leagues (Brown doesn’t even show up on our consensus ADP list, Brown is the ultimate dart throw but worth monitoring during the preseason.
Ryan Grant, Indianapolis
Will Grant: Count me among the guys who did not expect Andrew Luck to make it back. However, his rehab continues to trend upward, and all signs are he’ll be back under center for the Colts this season. That’s good news for all of the Indianapolis receivers, and great news for anyone looking for a deep sleeper. Ryan Grant is still under the fantasy radar, but he’s pushing hard to be a starter in Indy opposite T.Y.Hilton. Grant had a serviceable season in Washington last year, and the Colts liked him enough to give him a shot. He only signed a one year deal so he’ll be motivated to turn it up this year in the hopes of securing a longer-term deal with Indy or another club next year. Lots of upside for a guy who isn’t getting drafted in many fantasy leagues.
Andy Hicks: Ryan Grant was supposed to be a big free agent signing for the Baltimore Ravens, but he failed a physical. Grant instead lands in Indianapolis where the wide receiver depth chart is open and ready for business. He had his best year in Washington last season and looks to be a great complement to T.Y. Hilton. He can be taken for almost nothing and should be a reliable third or fourth receiver for fantasy rosters.
DeSean Jackson, Tampa Bay
Andy Hicks: Desean Jackson is being drafted among the table scraps at wide receiver this year. That is a big mistake. The problem with his first year in Tampa wasn’t with the experienced veteran, it was with Jameis Winston. Jackson had lost none of his speed or acceleration, Winston missed or didn’t even see him wide open numerous times and that is something the coaching staff will be looking to correct heading into 2018. At the very least he will find the end zone a few times on big plays that just missed last year and it will be interesting to see how Ryan Fitzpatrick uses him, while Winston is suspended.
Jeff Pasquino: Last season was a clear disappointment for both Tampa Bay and DeSean Jackson. His numbers fell far below his career standards, as his 13.4 yards per catch illustrate. Jackson topped 17.6 YPC the three prior seasons in Washington and has posted 15.6 YPC or more since 2009. Jackson has been working this offseason with QB Jameis Winston to improve their chemistry. Given Jackson’s career track record, I believe that he can get back closer to his career averages and push for another 1,000 –yard season. The price of a later wide receiver draft pick (after 50+ have gone off the board) is so low that Jackson has a ton of upside if he returns even to 80% of his numbers while in Washington or Philadelphia.
John Ross, Cincinnati
Sigmund Bloom: Ross' preseason debut was up and down, but there’s no doubt that his electric speed and playmaking ability is going to translate to NFL fields after he stole the show during training camp and allowed the Bengals to feel comfortable releasing Brandon LaFell. Ross might have some down weeks, but his deep speed should create a handful of week-winning plays in fantasy leagues and potentially give us a matchup WR3/Flex, including in Week 1 against the mostly anonymous Colts secondary.
Dan Hindery: As Sigmund Bloom smartly reminds us each year, you want to have a couple guys on the bottom of your roster who you should find out quickly about. Ross fits that mold. We don’t know for certain if he will have fantasy value as a true #2 wide receiver for the Bengals or if he’ll rotate heavily with Tyler Boyd and Josh Malone. A Week 1 matchup against the Colts vulnerable pass defense will be a good litmus test as to what kind of season Ross is going to have. It shouldn’t be a shock if Ross has a big game and never looks back. Given his late-round ADP, it is worth gambling on the upside and dynamic athleticism of Ross.
Tyrell Williams, LA Chargers
James Brimacombe: Since the Chargers lost Hunter Henry earlier this offseason they have made no adjustments to their roster in looking to replace him. To me, that spells confidence in their receiving game with the likes of both Mike Williams and Tyrell Williams. The cost of drafting Tyrell Williams right now is incredible as he seems to be an afterthought in the late rounds. The past two seasons with the Chargers he has posted 69/1059/7 and 43/728/4 stat lines in rather quiet fashion and for whatever reason he does not get the respect of other wide receivers putting up similar numbers that will cost you much higher draft picks to acquire.
Ryan Hester: While the other Williams gets more hype in this receiving group, it’s Tyrell who is the more accomplished NFL player and dynamic deep threat. It seems like ancient history now, but it was 2016 when Williams caught 63 passes for 989 yards and 7 touchdowns. And with Hunter Henry’s torn ACL costing him the 2018 season, the Chargers have room for three receivers to be productive. Williams is the least expensive way to get a piece of a high-end offense.
Players Receiving 1 Vote
Danny Amendola, Miami
Dan Hindery: Amendola doesn’t fit the typical sleeper mode. He isn’t an exciting young player looking to emerge. However, he is a proven player guaranteed a starting role in an offense that has few other proven pass catchers. Amendola has been Ryan Tannehill’s favorite target throughout camp and led the starters in targets in the preseason opener. Tannehill has been known to play it safer than most and loves to target his slot receivers, so the volume could be there for Amendola to make a fantasy impact in PPR leagues.
D.J. Chark Jr, Jacksonville
Andy Hicks: D.J. Chark Jr could be nothing or everything. At first glance, it looks like he may struggle to break through the depth chart ahead of him, but really what is that so-called depth? Marqise Lee is not a number one receiver in any language, but a dependable second or third option. Donte Moncrief was signed to a hope for the best one year contract after disappointing with the Colts. Keelan Cole and DeDe Westbrook are more complimentary receivers than future stars. Chark was drafted high and if anyone is the number one in Jacksonville it will be him.
Isaiah Ford, Miami
Matt Waldman: If the Dolphins finally pull the plug on DeVante Parker, Ford could initially platoon with Albert Wilson for playing time. Ford is a second-year option from Virginia Tech with a lot of Parker’s catch-point skills and acrobatics but in a smaller frame. Not as fast as Parker, Ford is a more promising route runner and he has been the star of OTAs and training camp. He’s a long shot at this point of the preseason, but there’s enough skill in Ford’s game that he’s worth monitoring if Parker’s injuries and slow-developing career lead to the Dolphins giving up.
Ted Ginn Jr, New Orleans
Jeff Pasquino: I understand that the Saints added Cameron Meredith, drafted Tre'Quan Smith, and still have Brandon Coleman to compete with Ted Ginn Jr as the WR2 in New Orleans, but Drew Brees is a veteran quarterback who has a very good memory. It will be hard for him to forget that Ginn hauled in 70 passes last year for almost 800 yards, and four scores last season. Ginn just inked a three-year, $11 million contract in March last year and the veteran will be asked to guide some of these younger receivers as they acclimate to the NFL. Ginn is more of a boom-or-bust weekly starter, but having a target of Drew Brees in a high-powered offense is never a bad idea.
Donte Moncrief, Jacksonville
Phil Alexander: The Jaguars are paying Moncrief $9.6 million this year and already shelled out a $4 million signing bonus. He wasn't brought in as depth for that price. It's entirely possible the team views Moncrief as Allen Robinson arbitrage and plan on deploying him in a similar fashion. Moncrief is also absurdly young for a four-year veteran. He is three months younger than Keelan Cole and a mere four months older than Dede Westbrook, both of whom were rookies last season. It's too early to close the book on Moncrief's potential at age 25. Considering he is barely being drafted in traditional 12-team, 16-round formats, these reasons more than justify taking a stab at Moncrief's low-end WR2 upside with one of your last picks.
Dante Pettis, San Francisco
Matt Waldman: The top pre-draft prospect at the position in the Rookie Scouting Portfolio, Pettis runs advanced routes, adjusts to the ball like a mix of Marvin Jones Jr and Brandon Lloyd, and has skills after the catch. He’s one of the best punt return specialists in Pac Ten history. Pettis has been excelling in training camp and showcased his route skills during the first preseason game. The 49ers will likely use Pettis as its fourth receiver who is capable of playing all three receiver positions on the field – and they’ve given him this responsibility. An injury to any of the starting trio of the receivers likely leads to Pettis assuming a high-volume role this year.
Tre'Quan Smith, New Orleans
Andy Hicks: New Orleans has done a fantastic job of getting first-year receivers onto the field with strong productivity. Michael Thomas in 2016, Willie Snead IV in 2015 and Brandin Cooks in 2014. Why can’t Tre’Quan Smith be added to the list? Cameron Meredith is the favorite to start opposite Thomas, but he is coming off an ACL, has had limited practice and was flattered by the lack of competition in Chicago prior to that. Ted Ginn Jr is a 33-year-old deep threat, not a starting receiver. If Smith even sniffs a starting role he should destroy his ADP by a significant margin.
Courtland Sutton, Denver
Ryan Hester: The talented rookie from SMU is combining with Case Keenum to surprise Denver’s coaching staff. The team may have been constructed with a run-heavy mentality in mind, but Sutton’s performance in OTAs and training camp so far have Denver re-designing the offense to include more three-receiver personnel. Sutton’s presence also allows Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders to play in the slot, which helps their fantasy values as well.
Taywan Taylor, Tennessee
Sigmund Bloom: Rishard Matthews injury issue has stretched on for three months now without any meaningful information from him or the team. These kinds of situations rarely yield full seasons or seasons at full effectiveness, and the Titans appear to be preparing for this by getting Taylor a lot of outside reps. He has drawn praise from the team and should get high-value deep targets, in addition to becoming a much more central part of the pass offense this year. The 2017 No. 5 overall pick Corey Davis is impressive but hasn’t quite shaken the injury bug from last year. It’s possible Taylor could be the Titans No. 1 receiver for multiple weeks this year.
Mike Wallace, Philadelphia
Dan Hindery: Wallace has been banged up and hasn’t generated much buzz, which has helped him remain a fantasy sleeper. However, even though he himself hasn’t stood out in camp, Wallace’s position on the depth chart has improved. There’s enough smoke around Alshon Jeffery possibly opening the season on PUP to at least believe he’s going to miss some games. Plus, an expected challenge from Mack Hollins has not materialized. The second-year receiver has reportedly had a rough camp. Wallace looks likely to open the season as a top target in what was one of the most productive passing offenses in the NFL last season.
James Washington, Steelers
Daniel Simpkins: Is it possible that we could have another rookie breakout wide receiver in back-to-back years in Pittsburgh? The constant drumbeat of good news from beat writers out of camp on James Washington would suggest it. His build-up speed as he gets down the field can surprise opposing corners, allowing him to gain separation and make the catch. Pressing him early is a mistake that costs the defender because he’s not easily redirected and can get into his route quicker than the opposing corner can recover. Even if the defensive back can hang with him, he’s very good at making contested grabs. He’s also the best deep-ball tracker of any receiver that came out this year, meaning he’ll be a natural replacement for Martavis Bryant.
Dede Westbrook, Jacksonville
Jeff Pasquino: The slate is wide open in Jacksonville for starting wide receivers to step up this year. After the departure of both Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson, only Marqise Lee and Keelan Cole remain ahead of Westbrook on the depth chart, and those rankings could change quickly. Westbrook was viewed as a major prospect last year that was slowly brought along until later in the year, but he still finished third on the team with 51 targets despite only playing Weeks 11-17. I will roll the dice on Westbrook late in drafts and hope that I catch lightning in a bottle with a young player that could not only land a starting role but could also emerge as the top target on the team.
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