Finding value late in fantasy drafts is often the key to winning your league. In my primary fantasy league last year, the winner of the league drafted Allen Robinson in the 8th round, Darren McFadden in the 9th round, and Tom Brady in the 10th. The runner-up drafted Devonta Freeman in the 9th round, David Johnson in the 11th, and Danny Woodhead in the 12th. All of these players shattered expectations last year and there was clear reasoning as to how any one of them could have potentially had a breakout season.
It is imperative to find as many potential late-round steals in your draft as possible. Breakout potential is based on factors such as talent, system, opportunity, and previous production. Instead of fighting for unexpected fantasy studs on the waiver wire in weeks 1-5 and most likely coming up short, why not predict which unproven players have reasonable potential to breakout. It is better to take chances at potential superstars late in the draft rather than loading up on average fantasy players that will put up uninspiring numbers. Loading up with 3-5 possible fantasy studs at the end of your draft will almost guarantee you at least one consistent starter by the end of the season. Think of these players as lottery tickets. It is definitely not a guarantee that any one of them breaks out and has a monster season, but the more chances you take, the better odds you have of acquiring a great player at almost no cost.
Thinking ahead is the name of the game. All it takes to win your fantasy league is to always be one step ahead. These players could give you that competitive edge.
20 Josh Doctson, WR, Washington Redskins
Josh Doctson was selected 22nd overall in this year's NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins. After completing his senior year of college at TCU in which he amassed 78 receptions for 1,326 yards and 14 touchdowns in just 10 games, the 6'4" Doctson grasped the attention of many NFL franchises. The best part for fantasy owners is that Doctson may have landed into the perfect spot for him to put up some big numbers. He'll compete with DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder, and Jordan Reed for targets, but Kirk Cousins threw up 543 passes last year (Good for 12th in the league) and Doctson should be able to find his share of those targets.
19 Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints
Michael Thomas is a prototype NFL WR. He's got size, he's got speed, and he's got great hands. He is a phenomenal redzone target that will excel at handling jump balls at the elite level. The Ohio State standout led the team in receptions, yards, and receiving touchdowns in his final year of collegiate play. Thomas received high praise from his coaching staff and has had a spectacular training camp.
18 Spencer Ware, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Spencer Ware should be thought of as more than just a handcuff for Jamaal Charles owners. Ware has the opportunity to contribute in several scenarios and has massive breakout potential. The 24 year old back experienced a mini-breakout last year when he took over the starting RB role in week 11 after Charles and Charcandrick West went down with injuries. Chiefs reporter, Adam Teicher, considers Ware as the immediate backup to Charles, not West. Ware outperformed West last year as he averaged 1.6 YPC more and scored 2 more touchdowns on the ground despite receiving less than half of the carries that West got.
It has been quite valuable in recent years to own the back up RB for the Chiefs in case Jamaal Charles gets injured (Which let's be honest, happens quite often), but owning the Chiefs' 2nd-string back has never been as valuable as it is this year. Jamaal Charles has torn his ACL twice in the past 4 years and at 29, he isn't getting any younger. In order for the Chiefs to preserve one of their best and most important players, they will likely dial back his workload. Charles will certainly still be the lead back, but Ware will have an opportunity to get in the mix while keeping Charles fresh on the sidelines.
17 Kamar Aiken, WR, Baltimore Ravens
Raise your hand if you predicted that Kamar Aiken would nearly eclipse the 1,000 yard mark last year. That's what I thought. Aiken came out of nowhere last year in what was a relatively unproductive Baltimore offense. Kamar's ascent into fantasy relevance was sparked by a season-ending injury to number 1 wideout, Steve Smith Sr. With Smith out of the picture, Aiken truly shined. From week 8 on, Aiken caught at least 5 passes every game and had legitimate WR2 value.
16 Kenneth Dixon, RB, Baltimore Ravens
The second Raven on this list (Spoiler alert: he's also the last one) is actually in a similar position to the first one. He's young, talented, athletic, and somewhat buried on the depth chart by older, more experienced players. Draft Dixon with caution, as he likely won't produce at a high level immediately. He is currently behind injury-prone 30 year old, Justin Forsett (Who underperformed last year) and pass-catching back, Buck Allen on the depth chart. Forsett is likely in the twilight of his career and there are concerns on whether or not Allen can handle lead back duties after averaging a measly 3.8 YPC last year. These factors could potentially open up playing time for Dixon. It could take several weeks for Dixon to gain a role in this offense, but if/when he does, his talent will justify his playing time.
15 Torrey Smith, WR, San Francisco 49ers
Torrey Smith has been the epitome of an average fantasy WR for his entire career. This year that might just change. With a head coaching change in San Francisco, Smith is in line for some career highs this season. Chip Kelly's offensive scheme has consistently produced respectable numbers from first-string receivers in each of his 3 seasons coaching in the big leagues.
14 Wendell Smallwood, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
I am definitely on the Ryan Mathews hype train this year. He's fast, talented, and has produced very effectively in previous seasons. With the lead back role in a RB-friendly Doug Pederson offense, he is primed to breakout. The only issue is that Mathews has only played a full 16 game season once. Injuries have plagued him for the entirety of his career. This is where Wendell Smallwood comes in. Technically speaking, Smallwood is currently 3rd on the Eagles' depth chart behind Mathews and Darren Sproles. As explosive and fun to watch as Sproles can be, he is simply not built for a feature back role. If Mathews goes down, Smallwood should be next in line for 1st and 2nd down carries.
13 Sammie Coates, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
This guy is just oozing with potential. Sammie Coates has the opportunity to play alongside Antonio Brown as the Pittsburgh Steelers' WR2. In the past two seasons, Martavis Bryant has relished that role, racking up over 1,300 yards and 14 touchdowns in just 8 starts. The best part about this entire scenario is that Sammie Coates is a very similar player to Martavis Bryant. Coates' unique combination of size and speed allows him to be a spectacular redzone target as well as being a deep threat.
12 Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit Lions
Fantasy owners have been waiting for Eric Ebron to breakout since the Lions drafted him 10th overall out of UNC in 2014. The good news is that 2016 might actually be the year we see it happen. The Lions lost Calvin Johnson to retirement this offseason and that means that there are 150 extra targets to go around in this Lions offense. Some of them will be transferred to Golden Tate, some to Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah, and even some will be distributed to newly-acquired Marvin Jones and Anquan Boldin. However, there are plenty of targets left over for Ebron to eat up in one of the most consistently pass-heavy offenses in the league.
11 Paul Perkins, RB, New York Giants
It's time to start getting excited about Paul Perkins. Remember what C.J. Anderson and Jeremy Hill did in 2014? Remember how much of an impact Alfred Morris made in 2012? I promised myself I'd never mention this name again in my life, but I'll make the exception just to prove my point: remember Zac Stacy? He was a fantasy beast in 2013 (2014 wasn't quite the same story). Those players came out of nowhere! Paul Perkins could be just as effective as any of those RBs in those seasons. You don't want to miss out on him. He is the best RB on the Giants' roster and sooner or later, the coaching staff will realize.
Perkins will likely begin getting touches right out of the gate, but I expect an increase in touches as the season progresses. He is currently behind Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen, and Andre Williams on the official depth chart, but he can easily surpass all three of them. Rashad Jennings was fairly inconsistent last year and has an extensive injury history that typically doesn't bode well for 31 year old running backs, Shane Vereen is nothing more than an average 3rd down pass-catching back, while Andre Williams has proved that he cannot be a consistent lead back. Perkins could flourish in this Giants offense and add a legitimate running game to their team.
10 Matt Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions
Matt Stafford has had quite an up and down career so far. After throwing for over 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns in 2011, he has averaged a hair over 4,500 yards and just 25 touchdowns a season. Combine that with the fact that he has put up a not so spectacular 1.69 touchdown to pick ratio, and Matt Stafford has been nothing more than a QB2 on fantasy teams in recent years. Because of this, Stafford is being overlooked in drafts, but people tend to forget about how incredible he was at the end of last year.
In his final 7 games, Staff averaged over 22 fantasy points per game and had no less than 17 points in any game (Standard scoring). If your QB has a weekly floor of 17 fantasy points, you don't need to worry about rostering a backup (Barring injuries and bye weeks). There is also no reason to believe that Staff can't keep up this production. Yes, he no longer has one of the greatest WRs of all time, but new additions of Marvin Jones and Anquan Boldin should help make this passing offense just as solid as it was in the second half of last year.
9 Josh Ferguson, RB, Indianapolis Colts
I know, I know. I've mentioned 3 rookie running backs already, and trust me, I'll be mentioning more. But seriously, why is it that every year at least a few (Often unheralded) rookie RBs emerge into weekly fantasy starters at some point in the season (2012: Doug Martin, Alfred Morris, Vick Ballard; 2013: Giovani Bernard, Le'Veon Bell, Eddie Lacy, Zac Stacy, Andre Ellington; 2014: Jeremy Hill, Tre Mason, Terrance West, Jerick McKinnon, Andre Williams; 2015: Todd Gurley, T.J. Yeldon, David Johnson, Matt Jones, Jeremy Langford, Karlos Williams, Thomas Rawls)? Rookie RBs are beginning to produce more and more as the years go by in the NFL and there will surely be a crop of first-year backs ready to provide week-to-week value this year.
Josh Ferguson has a fantastic opportunity to make this year's list of undrafted rookie RB fantasy over-performers. The talented pass-catching specialist out of Illinois signed as an undrafted free agent with the Colts this summer. So far in training camp, he is showing his explosiveness and making a serious impression on the Colts' coaching staff. The franchise truly believes in his abilities as Colts owner Jim Irsay stated that Ferguson "has a chance to be special." He is currently behind 33 year old bruiser, Frank Gore, and perennially below average Robert Turbin and Jordan Todman on the depth chart, but he can dig himself out of that rut. Ferguson is easily more talented than Turbin and Todman and Gore has accumulated over 3,000 total touches over the course of his 11 year career. With that kind of wear and tear, Gore is bound to begin to break down this season despite his unique ability to avoid that trend.
8 Devontae Booker, RB, Denver Broncos
C.J. Anderson is a living, breathing question mark. In his last two seasons, he has shown that he can be a capable starting RB at times, but has also shown that he belongs nowhere near the field in other scenarios. There is promise for C.J., who shined at the end of last season and was arguably Denver's offensive MVP in their Super Bowl run, but predicting which C.J. Anderson will show up is quite pointless. If you believe in the Denver backfield, draft Anderson with caution and back him up with Devontae Booker. Even if you don't believe in the Denver backfield, drafting Booker is not a bad idea.
Booker racked up nearly 3,400 yards from scrimmage and 23 total touchdowns in just two seasons at Utah. During that span, he averaged 5.0 YPC and earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors in his senior season. Booker has greatly impressed in Broncos training camp and has received great reviews from Denver's RB coach, Eric Studesville. Studesville is confident that he could "put him (Booker) in the game right now," and constantly comments on his pass-catching and pass-blocking abilities.
7 DeAndre Washington, RB, Oakland Raiders
The Raiders are not hiding the fact that they aren't satisfied with Latavius Murray as their starting RB. After averaging just 3.25 YPC in the second half of last season, Murray doesn't look like the answer to Oakland's RB troubles. DeAndre Washington certainly does though.
6 Dwayne Allen, TE, Indianapolis Colts
Just two seasons removed from an 8 touchdown campaign, Dwayne Allen is being heavily slept on. Allen has always been stuck sharing targets with Coby Fleener and it capped his fantasy value. With Fleener now in New Orleans, nobody seems to be talking about Allen's expanded role in this potent offense. All Dwayne Allen needs to produce a double digit touchdown season is 100 targets.
5 C.J. Prosise, RB, Seattle Seahawks
There has been tons of hype revolving around C.J. Prosise this offseason. The 3rd round pick has a wonderful opportunity to shine in a run-heavy Seahawks offense. With injury concerns surrounding expected first-string RB Thomas Rawls, Prosise could get a chance to play as a 3 down back early on in the season. He can even earn himself some playing time in the event that Rawls comes back in 2015-season form. The worst case scenario for Prosise will be getting consistent 3rd down touches, but Prosise can absolutely lock up the starting job for Seattle by the end of the season.
4 Sterling Shepard, WR, New York Giants
Perhaps the most hyped player on this list (Just ahead of Prosise), Sterling Shepard is set to make a bang in his rookie year. The Giants finally have a potential elite playmaker to complement OBJ. Shepard can experience the same type of success that Allen Hurns experienced as the second option in an exciting passing offense.
3 Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jameis Winston could be one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the NFL, and he's only played a year in the league. Jameis had his fair share of rookie mistakes last year (Just like most if not all starting rookie QBs), but all in all, he handled the pressure and expectations fairly well.
The Florida State standout had 22 touchdowns and 15 picks in his rookie season, but also rushed for 213 yards and 6 touchdowns. From week 11 on, he averaged over 19 fantasy points per game and proved to be a consistent QB1. Jameis has a very realistic chance to be a top 10 fantasy quarterback week in and week out but he is being selected as the 16th QB off the board in fantasy drafts. Winston is another "draft a QB late" target for fantasy owners living by that philosophy.
2 Charles Sims, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
...Charles Sims. Don't ask me how Charles Sims' 1,090 yards from scrimmage as a backup to a star RB are being completely overlooked. He doesn't even need Doug Martin to get injured or benched for performance reasons to be a productive flex play. Yeah, he's that good. Sims averaged the same 4.9 YPC that Doug Martin did, but also caught 51 receptions for 561 yards and 4 touchdowns and was an extremely effective 3rd down back for Tampa Bay. He is a uniquely talented runner and an elite pass-catcher. Charles Sims could even be the league's next Matt Forte.
1 Tevin Coleman, RB, Atlanta Falcons
There is A LOT to love about Tevin Coleman. As a junior at Indiana in 2014, Tevin Coleman eclipsed the 2,000 yard rushing mark for the first time in school history. He also ran for 15 touchdowns in one of the greatest seasons ever put up by a collegiate running back. After being selected in the 3rd round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Coleman was the projected starter in Atlanta. He even had a decent showing in his first career game against the Eagles, with 20 carries for 80 yards. Unfortunately, he suffered a rib injury in the first half of his second career game against the Giants. Ouch.
Of course football fans know the rest of the story. Devonta Freeman took over the starting job and became fantasy football's number 1 running back. Although Freeman had an incredible 6 game stretch for the Falcons in Coleman's absence, he averaged an abysmal 3.07 YPC in the final 7 games of the season. He was very effective catching the ball out of the backfield as well, but his performance in the second half of the season proved that he is nothing more than a pass-catching specialist.
This is where Tevin Coleman can become one of fantasy football's biggest steals this year. Coleman is an extremely explosive, skilled runner that can break off any run for a 20+ yard touchdown. With Freeman's inconsistencies, the Falcons will eventually realize that Coleman is the better 1st and 2nd down back and he could take over the starting role. If Freeman gets injured, Coleman becomes even more valuable. Regardless, Coleman has the potential to put up RB1 numbers this year in a very good Atlanta offense. 1,200 rushing yards and 8-10 touchdowns could be the production you receive if you draft Coleman in the 10th or 11th round. Sounds like quite a deal to me.
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