There are a lot of strategies in Fantasy Football. Some owners swear by waiting on running back; others refuse to draft a quarterback before the 10th round. Trends and fads come and go, but one thing remains: value. Fantasy football is not just about what players you have on your team; it’s also about where you get them in your draft. Fantasy is a game of value, and if you can consistently draft players that will outperform their draft position then you’re well on your way to your league’s championship.
Last season saw some great value picks, as guys like DeAndre Hopkins, Brandon Marshall, Allen Robinson and more vastly outperformed expectations. Snagging one (or more) of these players can give you a leg up on your competition, and that’s what it’s all about, after all. Getting guys that become usable really late in drafts can be even more valuable; just ask owners that drafted Michael Crabtree, David Johnson and Doug Baldwin last season.
In a game that can be decided by the slightest of margins, every ounce of value matters, and the draft is where the pursuit of value begins.
Here are 15 players going too late in fantasy drafts:
15 Mohamed Sanu, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Mohamed Sanu didn’t set the world on fire during his time in Cincinnati, but he’s a big wide receiver with strong hands. He actually posted some big games along the way when A.J. Green missed time, but he never truly shined with all of the weapons in Cincy on the field. Playing opposite the dynamic Julio Jones in Atlanta with little competition for targets outside of Jones himself should have Sanu poised for a career year. Yet he’s being drafted later than guys like Jaelen Strong (just 14 catches as a rookie), Anquan Boldin (35 years old) and Dorial Green-Backham (just got traded for a backup offensive lineman). He’s a better option than all of them, and expect him to outperform all three of those receivers. Falcons QB Matt Ryan has expressed that he’s been impressed with the strength of Sanu’s hands, which bodes well for Sanu hauling in plenty of catches from the Boston College product.
14 Christine Michael, RB, Seattle Seahawks
Cue the eye roll from anyone who has bought into the Christine Michael hype in the past. Michael’s vast talent has tantalized fantasy owners for a couple of years now, but this could be the season that it actually pays off. He has drawn rave reviews in Seattle for his work ethic and dedication, things that have plagued him in the past. This guy oozes talent, and if he finally gets it and receives regular carries he could respond by wrestling away the starting gig from Thomas Rawls. Rawls has missed a lot of time this preseason and his lack of work really opens the door for Michael. Michael was a blue-chip recruit coming out of high school, though he has not lived up to expectations since then. Still, the post-hype sleeper is a real thing in fantasy, and Michael could be the latest example. In the 13th round I’m more than intrigued.
13 Charles Sims, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It can take some time to wrap your ahead around playing a backup running back on a regular basis, but there are a few guys that can be worth it. Sims is one of them. Doug Martin had a good year last season, and Sims still managed to approach 1,100 yards from scrimmage and average nearly five yards per carry. This guy is going to catch passes at the very least and should be a solid weekly flex option. Running backs that rack up the receptions are deceptively valuable in fantasy, and Sims does plenty of that. He’s also a talented runner that gets work on the ground when it’s time to give Martin some rest. Being selected in the 12th round on average, Sims deserves better. He’s the kind of player that really comes in handy when your starters are injured or on a bye. He’s at the top end of the bench players this year with massive upside if Martin were to go down with an injury.
12 Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jameis Winston looked a bit lost in his first several games as a pro, but by the end of the season, you could see why he was the top pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. He’s prone to turnovers, as most young quarterbacks are, but that doesn’t kill you in fantasy the way it can in real football. Winston has serious arm talent and he looked to figure out the NFL more and more as his rookie campaign wore on. He’s a great candidate for the player that makes a massive leap this season and has us thinking very differently about him this time next year. He plays in a really good offense with wide receivers like Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson roaming the outside, and he’s been handed the keys as a leader in Tampa. Going toward the end of the 11th round, he could be a huge steal with QB1 upside.
11 Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions
Matthew Stafford started last season slowly, but he really hit his stride with the implementation of Jim Bob Cooter’s offense. From then on Stafford was really good, sometimes great. We know this guy can put up numbers, as he’s done it in the past. Sure, Calvin Johnson is gone, but this Detroit offense still has good weapons at Stafford’s disposal. Golden Tate is a really good possession receiver that has produced with and without Megatron in the lineup in the past. He’s been as steady as they come since he came over from Seattle. Tate should be Stafford’s new top target, but he’s by no means the only one. Marvin Jones came over from Cincinnati in the offseason and he should help stretch the field. Stafford has excelled throwing the ball downfield and Jones’ presence should allow him to do just that. In the 11th round Stafford is fantastic value. Waiting on your QB and hitting can win you your league, and Stafford has the potential to be an every week starter.
10 Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington Redskins
You like that? You like that? Okay, that joke has officially run out of steam, but Cousins has not. Cousins was an absolute beast down the stretch last season, tossing 11 touchdowns in the final three games. Two of those contests came against divisional opponents, and Washington needed wins to make the playoffs. Cousins has taken to this offense well and he’s got nice weapons around him. Cousins has a deep target in DeSean Jackson, who has a chance to score every time he touches the ball. Pierre Garcon remains a reliable target in the short passing game, something that helped Cousins post a really good completion percentage last year. Tight end Jordan Reed could be the best target that Cousins has and, if he stays healthy, Cousins will look to him often. Washington wants to throw and Cousins could be a QB1-caliber player sitting there in the 10th round. Again, waiting on quarterback and scoring a good one can be huge. Just ask last season’s Carson Palmer owners.
9 Sterling Shepard, WR, New York Giants
Staying away from rookies is generally a good policy in fantasy, but Sterling Shepard seems really safe for a rookie. All reports out of Giants camp is that he’s been electric and he should see a lot of space from defenders with Odell Beckham Jr. stretching the field. Shepard boasts good hands and some serious wiggle, which makes for a nice option for Eli Manning on short and intermediate throws. He wasn’t the flashiest receiver in the world at Oklahoma, but the Giants need him to play a large role from day one. Having a reliable quarterback can do wonders for a receiver in fantasy, even a receiver that is not the top target on the team. Manning has proven to be a very good signal caller and Shepard should benefit from learning to play with a veteran that has captured a pair of Super Bowls. Shepard could come out of the gates firing on all cylinders this season and, if Beckham were to miss time, he could have a monster season. Look for him to be excellent value in the ninth round, especially in PPR leagues.
8 Gary Barnidge, TE, Cleveland Browns
Gary Barnidge came out of nowhere last season to be one of the best tight ends in the league. It’s not often than a 29-year-old tight end that has been in the league for years suddenly turns out to be a fantasy star. In fact, that’s probably the case for any position. Still, Barnidge produced big numbers consistently despite marginal quarterback play in Cleveland. His coming out party came in Oakland in Week 3 when he posted 105 yards and a touchdown, and he never looked back. The man that has earned the nickname “Gary Barnkowski” among some in the fantasy community scored nine touchdowns last year and eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark through the air. That is an elite tight end season. Is Barnidge a one hit wonder? It’s possible, but isn’t it worth paying a ninth-round pick to find out when the upside is a Top 3 tight end? I think so.
7 John Brown, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd seem to get more of the headlines and buzz in some fantasy circles, but Brown could very well be the best receiver on the Cardinals. He’s a little dynamo and his coach went as far as to compare him to Marvin Harrison in the past. Marvin Harrison! Okay, so don’t expect Harrison numbers out of Brown this year, but he should eclipse 900 yards and score at least six touchdowns (both numbers would actually be a step down from his 2015 production). We all know that the Cardinals boast one of the best offenses in the league as long as Carson Palmer is healthy and Palmer loves to throw it deep. Brown possesses elite speed, so some deep balls are sure to come his way. He’s going in the eighth round of standard drafts. That’s value. Scoop him up and get a player that you could start on a weekly basis.
6 Frank Gore, RB, Indianapolis Colts
Did you know Frank Gore nearly broke 1,000 yards rushing last season? Probably not. Gore just keeps on chugging along like that Energizer Bunny and he should see a lot more holes to run through with Andrew Luck back in the lineup for Indy. Gore is slipping to the middle of the seventh round and is well worth the selection a round-and-a-half earlier in my opinion. The running back position starts to get a pretty thin around that time in the draft and while Gore lacks the sizzle that some owners look for, he’s a reliable runner that should see plenty of work. He has little competition for carries in Indianapolis and plays in an electric offense. He also gets a lot of goal line work and touchdowns can make or break a fantasy week for an owner. Gore may not be the sexiest pick in fantasy football, but as far as I know they don’t hand out trophies for anything other than wins.
5 Golden Tate, WR, Detroit Lions
Wide receivers are undervalued in fantasy football and Golden Tate is another example. Sure, he doesn’t look like your prototypical number one receiver, the way someone like, say, Calvin Johnson does, but Tate is a really talented guy that should put up numbers this season. Matthew Stafford really took to offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter’s offense last season (see above) and Tate is now the number one option in the Detroit passing game. Tate thrived any time Calvin Johnson missed time over the last two years and he’s now got Marvin Jones flanking him to some draw attention as well. Tate may not be a burner, but he’s the kind of guy that excels in space and get really rack up the receptions. Stafford should rely on him as a familiar target this season, especially early in the year. He could be the kind of player that you look to trade midseason when his value is sky high. If you play in a PPR league, then Tate’s value goes up even further.
4 Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver
At a glance, I understand why Demaryius Thomas is slipping into the middle of the third round in 10-team leagues. People are worried about a Denver passing game that will likely feature Mark Sanchez under center. However, Thomas may be quarterback-proof at this point. Think back to how bad Peyton Manning was last season. Thomas still managed 105 catches and more than 1,300 yards. Those are big-time stats. And please don’t try to say that Brock Osweiler was some kind of stud (sorry, Houston fans). Hell, Thomas played well when Tim Tebow was throwing passes at his feet several years ago. Thomas is a huge target and what quarterback doesn’t love that? This offense has a lot to offer outside of the signal caller and don’t forget that we’ve seen Sanchez put up good numbers in the past. His big problem has been turnovers throughout his career, but that shouldn’t hurt Thomas’ fantasy value too much.
3 Brandon Marshall, WR, New York Jets
Brandon Marshall had 1,500 yards and 14 TDs last season. Let that sink in…1,500 yards and 14 TDs. That is a monster season. Marshall is still with the same team, his quarterback re-signed and his WR running mate (Eric Decker) didn’t go anywhere. Why can’t Marshall put up these numbers again? You can probably expect some regression, but not much. He’s been in the league nine years and he’s cracked 1,000 yards receiving in seven of them. The first year he failed to do so was his rookie year and the second was an injury-plagued campaign. Consistency is king in fantasy and Marshall is about as reliable as they come. He’s a big target with good hands and Ryan Fitzpatrick loves looking for him near the goal line. Marshall is a bonafide WR1, though he doesn’t seem to get the same appreciation as his contemporaries. Score him in the second round and enjoy the first-round value.
2 A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
A.J. Green is currently going early in the second round in drafts, while he’s really worth a first-round pick. With early picks you really want to minimize your risk, because if your first or second pick flames out then you’re going to have a heck of a time winning your league. It’s an uphill battle. Green is the epitome of reliability, and he has been ever since entering the league. Take him over the likes of Dez Bryant, Gronk and Devonta Freeman, players that are all going ahead of him in drafts. There is even the possibility of Green posting a career year this season. The Bengals lost Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu in the offseason, and Tyler Eifert is dealing with an injury. Quarterback Andy Dalton has leaned on Green in the past, but we may see him take that to another level with less options outside of the Georgia product.
1 Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Okay, so this is a weird one. Antonio Brown is the top-ranked player in fantasy football and he’s going first overall in most drafts. However, what’s amazing to me is that he’s not going number one in ALL drafts. Brown is that good. He should be the consensus number one pick. You can’t ask for a better combination of consistency and production. If you get the top pick in your draft, don’t even think about taking anyone else. He carries a high floor and a high ceiling. What more could you ask for? Brown hauled in 136 passes last season for more than 1,800 yards. He also scored 10 touchdowns. And don’t forget that Big Ben missed some time with an injury. Brown’s ascension to the claim of best wide receiver in the NFL has been an amazing one, as he slipped all the way to the sixth round in the 2010 NFL Draft. He’s the top receiver in real life and the top receiver in fantasy. Don’t make the mistake of taking someone else.