Every year there are a few guys that vastly exceed expectations and end up on a lot of championship winning teams. For example, last year Matt Ryan was not considered to be one of the top 5 QBs before the season but put up a monster year. Based on the fact that he was someone who was taken late in most drafts, he represented a great value to those who took him. In this article I am going to identify a few players at each position who are potential “league winners.”
I remember back in 2005 using a draft board with stickers. Before the draft I had identified what I thought to be a “super sleeper” pick and waited until the last round of the draft before making that pick. This stands out to me because this player didn’t even have a sticker and I had to write his name on the draft board. The entire league laughed at me for picking Steelers RB Willie Parker since nobody knew who he was. Week 1 put him on the map because Parker ran for 161 yards and a TD versus the Titans. Parker went on to rush for 1202 yards that season. This is the type of “league winner” move I am talking about…finding that guy that everyone else doesn’t see the value in.
Disclaimer: These are guys you are going to find later in drafts. We all know that Julio Jones is good and could be a guy that helps you win your league. I am also going to avoid rookies in this article as I will do an article on potential break out rookies soon.
Brian Hoyer, 49ers
This is going to seem really odd but I think he is actually pretty good. Over his last 17 games Hoyer has thrown for over 4,000 yards with 25 TDs and only 7 INTs. If he can put that together over 16 games that would be a good fantasy season. Hoyer has another advantage in his coach, Kyle Shanahan, who has done wonders for Matt Ryan and for Kirk Cousins. Hoyer is a guy that most people in your league are going to ignore because he is not a household name and plays for the 49ers. The reality is that with the team being bad could very well help his fantasy value as he will throw more. According to My Fantasy League’s ADP data, Hoyer is currently the 29th QB being drafted leagues. While I don’t see Hoyer producing a Matt Ryan level season, he could be a guy that puts up a Top 10 QB season while being drafted late.
Jared Goff, Rams
There isn’t much of a chance things get worse for Goff and with Sean McVay as his new coach there may be some upside. McVay, while young, worked wonders in Washington turning Kirk Cousins into a top level QB. Goff has the talent as evidence by his being the #1 overall pick last year, and the Rams invested heavily this offseason in surrounding him with some weapons. It is not uncommon to see a drastic improvement in players from year 1 to year 2, and Goff certainly has room to improve. Considering Goff is currently the 26th QB coming off the board in My Fantasy Leagues the risk level is low but with McVay running the team the upside is there.
Darren McFadden, Cowboys
Let’s be honest this is more of a hat tip to the Cowboys offensive line than it is a vote of confidence in McFadden. The Cowboys offensive line is really good and any RB that runs behind it should have success. With that said if something were to happen to Ezekiel Elliott McFadden would be a top 10 RB. Last year Elliott led the NFL in rushing attempts and had a workload of over 300 carries which was only the 18th time since 1970 a rookie back has crossed the 300-carry barrier. The last player to do so was Doug Martin who followed that up by only playing in 6 games the next year. McFadden is worth owning even if nothing does happen to Elliott because the upside is that high with that offensive line. You can look back to 2015 as evidence of this as McFadden ran for over 1,000 yards while adding 40 catches. McFadden is perfect as a late round flier because the potential reward is an elite level back. If you are the team with McFadden on your bench and something does happen to Elliott it very well could be what wins you your league.
Jonathan Williams, Bills
The Bills finished second in the NFL last season in rushing attempts, first in rushing yards and first in rushing touchdowns. If anything were to happen to LeSean McCoy it would be Williams that would take over the lead back role now that Mike Gillislee is no longer on the Bills. There is a lot of upside with Williams as McCoy is 29 and coming off a season where he had over 280 touches (234 rushes and 50 catches). The Bills are a team that needs to run the ball to be successful so if anything happened to McCoy Williams would still see a lot of touches. Williams is definitely worth a late round flier as his upside is an RB1 in Buffalo should anything happen to McCoy.
Kamar Aiken, Colts
Aiken was a popular breakout candidate last year in Baltimore but for some reason it just didn’t click for him. Aiken has found himself in a good spot in Indianapolis as he should be the #3 WR to start and could even move up to #2 if Donte Moncrief continues to not produce. The Colts are a team that throws a lot with Andrew Luck and would offer a good upside for a #2 or #3 WR like Aiken. According to My Fantasy League’s current ADP Aiken is the 90th WR behind drafted on average. There is a high ceiling for Aiken, who just two years ago produced 75 catches for 944 yards and 5 TDs. Aiken is definitely worth a late round flier and could be a guy who ends up helping you win your league.
Chris Conley, Chiefs
All of the hype is going to be thrown onto Tyreek Hill now that Jeremy Maclin is no longer with the team. However, I think Conley is the guy to watch. He is much bigger than Hill but has the ability to stretch the field. Conley, due to his bigger frame, will also be considered the “possession” guy for the Chiefs since we all know how much Alex Smith likes to take the shorter safer throws. Last season Conley only saw 69 targets. If that number increased to around 100 this year you could very well see him jump up to 60 or 70 catches and he might threaten 1,000 yards. While those numbers aren’t eye popping consider he is being taken on average in the 16th round of most MFL drafts and you have found yourself a bargain.
Zach Miller, Bears
Miller was in the midst of a breakout season last year before getting hurt after 10 games. Even in 10 games Miller put up 47 catches and 4 TDs. I expect Miller to take what he did last year and expand on it this season. With a new QB coming in, Mike Glennon, it seems likely that early in the season he will look for some safe throws which means Miller. I would expect Miller to make 60 catches this year for 600-700 yards and a fair number of TDs. Considering he is currently on average the 32nd TE taken in MFL10 that represents a good amount of value.
Ben Watson, Ravens
This is a sneaky one because Watson missed the entire season last year due to an injury. However, he really had a breakout year in 2015 in New Orleans where he caught 74 passes for over 800 yards. I think he could approach those numbers again for the Ravens. Many don’t realize that no team in the NFL threw the ball more often than the Ravens did last year with 679 attempts. Joe Flacco has always loved throwing to his TEs, and with Dennis Pitta no longer being around Watson should benefit from a lot of targets. Last year Pitta caught 86 balls for over 700 yards on 119 targets and if Watson can get that level of targets I would expect similar numbers from him. Considering Watson is basically free in most drafts as he on average is going in the 25th round in MFL10s he could return huge value.
Late Round Gems Lead to Championships
Teams that win fantasy league championships make picks in the later rounds that end up being key players for their teams. These “league winner” picks are what all fantasy players are searching for as they are the ones that let us look smart to our friends. When looking for these players make sure to look for guys that are going to have increased opportunities or are coming back from injuries. Generally, these are the players that get overlooked in drafts. The guys I have identified in this article are ones that have an increased role this season and have a chance to vastly outperform their current ADP. As your fantasy season goes along keep an eye out for these types of players who, if given the opportunity, could positively impact your team.