The 2012 NFL preseason is winding down, and with opening night just over a week away, only one more slate of meaningless exhibition games stands between us and football games that count.
That also means that fantasy draft season has hit the home stretch, with only one more big weekend of drafts remaining.
Fantasy owners heading into that weekend have the luxury of having had the entire preseason to examine draft trends and pinpoint potential sleepers. Here's a look at some late-round gems that will leave you sitting pretty once your league's draft has concluded.
Note: Average draft position courtesy of MyFantasyLeague.com.
Average Draft Position: 15th round (Pick 173, QB26)
All aboard the hype train!
I'll freely admit that this ADP is a misnomer. With rookie Russell Wilson being named the starting quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, the former Wisconsin standout is shooting up draft boards.
However, after an outstanding exhibition season, in which Wilson threw for over 450 yards and added another 150 on the ground, the rookie definitely has the attention of the fantasy community—especially given his ability to scramble.
Sure, there's some risk involved in drafting such an unproven commodity, but you could do a lot worse than Wilson as an upside platoon option at quarterback or fantasy backup.
Average Draft Position: 10th Round (Pick 115, RB39)
My, how things can change.
A few short weeks ago, running back Cedric Benson was a player without a team. Now, he's become a viable fantasy RB3.
Not only did the 29-year-old latch on with the Green Bay Packers, but Benson has rapidly ascended to the top of the depth chart in Titletown. Running backs coach Alex Van Pelt told Vic Ketchman of Packers.com that Benson adds "explosiveness" to the Green Bay ground game.
The eighth-year pro topped 1,000 rushing yards each of the past three seasons. And while the Packers are hardly a grind-it-out team, Benson should see enough work to at least merit consideration as a flex player or quality fantasy reserve.
Average Draft Position: 13th Round (Pick 148, RB50)
I've been hyping New Orleans Saints running back Pierre Thomas as a potential late-round value pick for some time. And with his ADP still hovering around the 13th round, I'm going to keep right on hyping him.
With Mark Ingram nursing a balky knee last year, Thomas was once again a factor in the Saints offense. He totaled nearly 1,000 yards, scored six touchdowns and finished as a top-20 fantasy back in leagues that award a point for receptions.
Despite the fact that Ingram's knee is still an issue, the second-year pro is being drafted a full five rounds earlier than Thomas. But for my money, I'll roll the dice that Ingram misses time and the Saints once again turn to the 27-year-old in the backfield.
Average Draft Position: 10th Round (Pick 113, WR39)
I'll grant that we're likely never going to see a return to the fantasy football glory days for Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin, especially given that, in his two seasons with the Ravens, the 31-year-old has yet to top 900 receiving yards.
However, in each of those two seasons, Boldin also posted at least WR3 fantasy production in 12-team leagues, which makes his draft-day slide a bit puzzling.
Boldin had his best game of the preseason in last week's matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars, reeling in three passes for 39 yards and a score. And as the primary underneath target in the Baltimore passing game, there's an excellent chance that the 10th-year pro will outperform his ADP this year.
Average Draft Position: 13th Round (Pick 156, WR54)
If you're the type of fantasy owner who likes to stock up on running backs or draft an elite tight end or quarterback early, then odds are you'll be combing the later rounds of your fantasy draft looking for a value wide receiver selection.
Enter Carolina Panthers wide receiver Brandon LaFell.
Although the third-year pro has had a relatively quiet preseason, LaFell has locked up the second wideout spot in Carolina, meaning that LaFell should see loads of single coverage opposite Steve Smith.
Brandon LaFell may not blow up the stat sheet, but the odds are good that he'll serve as a solid third wide receiver who can be had towards the end of fantasy drafts.