Guess who’s back, back again, JD’s back… seriously though after a brief hiatus I am back behind the keyboard bringing you thoughts and insights as we near that ever exciting start to the fantasy season! Every year with so much attention paid to “who should be drafted in the top 5” or what “early-round players are bulletproof”, fantasy managers sometimes do not focus on the later round gems that put you over the top; your league winner type players if you will. The most recent example that I think of is last year when Stefon Diggs was a late 4th or even early 5th round pick and finished as the WR3. Or someone like Brandin Cooks who finished as a high-end WR2 and was coming off the board outside the top 80 players! It will always go without saying that there is something to be had for taking the “safe” option and building depth on your team, but, when I play fantasy football I play to win and that means finding those diamonds in the rough that are passed off. SO without further ado let’s look at some round 6 or later options that fantasy managers should be making sure they have exposure to this season.
Brandin Cooks: Overall 97, Position 39:
Our first ADP gem might make fantasy managers a little sick when you remember he is a member of the Houston Texans. But hear me out readers and let’s see if I can convince you on why just veteran might be a mid-round boost to your team. At this point in the offseason, everyone is aware of the ongoing Deshaun Watson saga and Cooks ADP reflects that as he finds himself coming off the board in the middle of the 8th round. If Watson ends up staying and playing a majority of games this season, there is an easy path to WR2 production as he has been a model of sneaky consistency throughout his career. However, I am of the camp that Watson has played his last snap as a Texan, so why then would Cooks still be a value at ADP of WR39? The answer begins with that model of consistency that I mentioned Cooks brings with him. Look at the past six seasons will show that Cooks has broken 110 targets five of the 6 averaging a hair over 111 per season. This of course has spanned over four different teams and systems which speaks even more to the talent Cooks brings to the table. Now the next major point you need to look at is the roster construction of this Texans team. Cooks is currently in a WR room with the likes of Chris Conley and Anthony Miller making him the bonafide number one target. Do not forget he also will have potentially one of the worst defensive units in the NFL to work with. In addition to this, Cooks does not have to have a 100 reception, 1200 yard, and 8 TD season to return value for your investment. There is a very real scenario where even with Tyrod Taylor at the helm that Cooks can soak up targets in negative game scripts each week and be a consistent contributor with big-play potential making him the perfect WR3 or even WR4 for a team that went running back heavy in early rounds. My projections for Cooks come out to 90 receptions on 127 targets for 1,182 yards and 7 touchdowns.
Corey Davis: Overall 131, Position 52:
We continue our theme of ADP gems on teams that make you want to run for the hills with a wideout who cashed in on what was easily his best season. Corey Davis enters the 2021 season on a fresh 3 year, 27 million dollars guaranteed contract making him the alpha dog in the Jets wideout room. Now there may not be a more poorly connotated team than the J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets. HOWEVER, the borderline villainous reign of Adam Gase is no more as the Jets have revamped the coaching staff and brought in the potential face of the franchise in the boy wonder Zach Wilson. So let’s examine the new-look Jets and why Davis could be a value. First and foremost as mentioned Davis is coming off of a career year that saw nearly 1000 yards and 5 touchdowns in an offense with AJ Brown and King Henry. He now comes over to an offense where he will be looked at as the main target for Wilson and the 1A receiver with the big contract which is very hard to find outside of the top 125 picks and a WR4 price. While there are notable additions to the Jets offense in the likes of Elijah Moore who is carrying a good amount of hype and Keelan Cole, there is neither will be vying for the top WR role that Davis will have locked down. Finally, the biggest upside that Davis is going to benefit from is the entrance of Mike LaFleur as offensive coordinator. LaFleur brings with him an offense that ranked 10th in total passing yards with the likes of Nick Mullens and C.J. Beatherd under center for much of the season. Now enters the number 2 overall pick in Wilson, a former top ten draft pick in Davis with Moore and Crowder opening up the bottom of the field and you now have the potential for Davis to build off of the nearly 1000 yards that he had in 2020 and continue to improve. When you are picking between guys like Marvin Jones, Henry Ruggs, or Justin Fields (who most likely will not even start the season!?) where are you going to find more potential upside than again, a number one WR on a brand new contract from the current regime on an offense getting an upgraded passing offense. My projections for Davis come out to 81 receptions on 111 targets, 1,076 receiving yards, and 6 touchdowns.
Damien Harris: Overall 83, Position 33:
This next player comes from another typical nebulous of fantasy production and that is the New England backfield. Damien Harris for nearly all reports is going to be the starting running back for the New England Patriots this upcoming season. That in and of itself should vault him into the top 32 running backs drafted from a volume perspective alone. But let’s break down former Alabama running back from last year. After averaging 5 yards a clip Harris showed that he could be a productive back in the system if given the chance. A lot of the concern centering around Harris should come from the goal line sniping from Cam Newton however, if we see a repeat performance from Newton compared to last year we could easily see Mac Jones enter the fray which could lead to not only more goal-line work for Harris but also more rushing attempts between the 20s as they script out majority the designed QB runs that we have come to expect and seen with Newton led offenses. Even last year Newton had 137 carries which clearly will impact any rusher should he start the entire season. Regardless, when drafting in the back of the 6th round, managers should be jumping on the opportunity to still get a starting running back with the potential for high volume touches. Taking into account the Patriots could move into an offense led by Jones gives Harris that RB2 upside that is hard to find in the later rounds. The perfect target for someone going with the zero RB or Hero RB strategy come draft time. My projections for Harris, taking into account a Cam Newton switch, come out to 173 carries, for 853 yards, 10 receptions for 61 yards, and 8 total touchdowns.
Sterling Sheppard: Overall 190, Position 70:
This next wide receiver once again could find themselves as a good sleeper pick should Kenny Golladay continues to deal with a hamstring issue throughout the year. Sterling Sheppard has been an underrated receiver in this Giants offense since he entered the league in 2016. Even though he has missed a handful of games in a few seasons, Sheppard has never seen below 83 targets or 57 receptions which is a great benchmark for someone you are drafting in the 15th round if at all! Now the thing that gets me excited for Sheppard beside his nonexistent price tag is the injury to Kenny G as mentioned above. While 2 to 3 weeks is not much now, hamstring injuries are nearly always something that lingers and could easily come back and flare up during the season causing more time missed. My other favorite note about Sheppard is that his targets could come straight from the slot should Golladay be on the field and Darius Slayton stays healthy on the outside. While there will be mouths to feed in this offense, fantasy managers are going to find out right away whether or not Sheppard is going to have a major role in this Giants offense in the first few weeks. It should be noted that with any of these high upside plays in the later rounds of your drafts, you want to aim for players you are going to have the full picture for right away as the first few weeks of waivers are some of the more important that you will have during the fantasy season. If Golladay re-aggravates his injury and Sheppard continues to start over Kadarius Toney, managers might be getting an early shot at one of the big waiver pickups of the start to the season for free and saved that ever-important priority or FAAB. My projections for Sheppard come out to 76 receptions on 102 targets, 759 yards, and 4 touchdowns.
Cole Kmet: Overall 213 (what??), Position 24:
This final pick is for those of you that completely punt the ever tricky and frustrating tight end position and are looking for that potential next break-out player. Cole Kmet is my favorite pick and late-round TE target to try to find that gem in the rough so let’s dive in. All of the Kmet hype comes from week 13 and onward as we saw him average 6 targets a game as the main TE weapon in the Bears offense. Now enter Andy Dalton, who yes is an upgrade from Trubisky and Foles, or even better enter Justin Fields later in the season and you all of a sudden have a competent quarterback throwing the ball around. Couple this with an offense that boasts another late-round darling yet still not proven option in Darnell Mooney as the number two WR and you now have a great situation for Kmet to step into a much larger target share and consist role in the offense. In nine games last season that Dalton started we saw Cowboys TEs receive 44 receptions that while is not great, is something to note as he was throwing to the likes of three stud receivers and still got the ball to his TEs fairly regularly. This does not even speak to the last time Dalton had a serviceable TE in Cincinnati with Tyler Eifert who put up respectable numbers every year. We transfer this production over to the Bears who as shown, do not have nearly the receiver group that Dalton had in Dallas and we should see the middle of the field get peppered a little bit more resulting in the starting TE getting extra targets. My money is on the former second-round pick coming into his second year and beating out the remains of Jimmy Graham and winning that job. Again, just like we see with Sheppard, managers who are even drafting Kmet in the final round of their drafts are going to know within the first week or two whether or not Kmet has taken the job and run with it. My projections for Kmet come out to 62 receptions on 89 targets for 612 yards and 6 touchdowns. So there you have it Phinest fans! Five of my favorite late-round sleepers from the middle-round starters slipping through the cracks to a few guys that are bound for your waiver wire if you do not scoop them up in the final rounds of your drafts coming up. All ADP data is for half-point leagues and can be found on FantasyPros here! I want to hear what you think and who your favorite sleepers are on Twitter @dipaoljp so let me know! Happy drafting!