Fantasy football has plenty of big names that are guaranteed to be drafted early. From Adrian Peterson to Aaron Rodgers and Calvin Johnson to Tom Brady, there are obvious targets during the first few rounds of the draft.
But what are some quality choices that can be had later in fantasy drafts? These aren't exactly sleepers, but many of these players are certainly on fantasy radars, just not for the first few rounds.
Here are five players per each offensive position of relevance who will be nice values come fantasy draft day.
Simply put, kickers and defenses are not included here because they are an absolute crap shoot when it comes to fantasy football. The starting requirements should be abolished.
Like the human appendix, kickers are vestigial players in the fantasy football realm. Their function is seemingly useless, so why not discard them? The evolutionary process has begun in this instance—there are no-kicker leagues out there—but it will be a laborious one until the major players catch on. Until then, you may as well throw a dart to make your draft selection.
Similar things can be said about defenses.
You should never take either position outside the last two rounds or spend more than $1 in auction drafts on each. The element of unpredictability is magnified at these positions, making it impossible to peg "late-round values."
Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
Quick, name the top five fantasy quarterbacks during the second half of the 2012 season. Bet you didn't expect Tony Romo to come in at fourth.
Dez Bryant suddenly turned into the monster receiver we had expected for years midway through last season. His emergence propelled Romo to dizzying heights as a fantasy quarterback.
Nobody seems to remember or care about this when considering Romo in fantasy drafts, however.
The embattled quarterback is barely being drafted as a starter on average, and that is taking into account a league comprised of 12 owners. Romo can be had in the seventh or eighth round on certain websites, though he is more highly regarded on ESPN than others.
Waiting at quarterback is a prudent strategy for the upcoming season. There is much more positional scarcity at running back, for example, and assuring yourself of a strong starting lineup outside quarterback is key.
Romo is an excellent mid-round option.
Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
It's easy to forget Matthew Stafford threw 41 touchdowns just two seasons ago. He threw for less than half of that total last season.
The Lions had a tough time getting into the end zone last season, particularly in the air. Calvin Johnson was tackled within five yards from pay dirt six times last year, leading the league in the gut-wrenching statistic.
Stafford nearly topped 5,000 yards, though it did take a record-setting number of passing attempts. Expect that total to dwindle, but the touchdowns to bounce back.
His draft stock is depressed thanks to that down 2012 season, and he has the potential to put up huge numbers. He is, perhaps, the best potential value in fantasy drafts as a result.
Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
Jay Cutler can be considered a perpetual tease ever since he and Brandon Marshall were up-and-coming teammates back in Denver.
The Chicago quarterback has a rocket arm and a propensity to use it wildly. It has gotten him into hot water with fantasy owners for putting up his share of goose eggs, but he has had a few fantasy explosions to his credit as well.
He is also "borderline football brilliant." This burrito is borderline tasty.
Now in the second year of his renewed vows with Marshall, Cutler might finally get back to the business of consistency and become a top-flight fantasy quarterback.
Perhaps the biggest positive for Cutler, and his potential fantasy owners, is the hiring of Marc Trestman in Chicago. He is the Chip Kelly of Canadian football—okay, that is not exactly true, but he is an offensive guru—who promises to bring a more pass-heavy scheme with him to Chicago.
All this can be had for a late-round pick, if you dare wait until the 12th or 13th round to draft a quarterback.
Eli Manning, New York Giants
Ah, the curse of success. Or injury.
A season removed from another Super Bowl run, the Giants were out of sorts for much of 2012. That included Eli Manning, who took a step back as a fantasy football quarterback.
Part of the reason for this was a rash of injuries that hit the Giants offense. Hakeem Nicks spent much of the season on the injured list. Losing one of the league's best pass-protecting running backs in Ahmad Bradshaw didn't help either.
Manning has a host of weapons at his disposal, however, and the Giants don't usually stay down for long. Nicks, Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle are a nice stable of receivers. Brandon Myers is a nice pass-catching threat to replace Martellus Bennett.
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
There may as well have been cardboard cutouts of wide receivers in Miami last season for Ryan Tannehill. Brian Hartline had a decent season, but he was just about the only weapon at Tannehill's disposal.
Things have changed in Miami.
NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) June 5, 2013
Tannehill saw the Dolphins snag Mike Wallace—for a hefty price, but he is an upgrade nonetheless—Dustin Keller and Brandon Gibson this offseason, upgrading his arsenal in a big way.
You shouldn't draft Tannehill as your starting fantasy quarterback, but he would make for a fine dance partner in a quarterback-by-committee (QBBC).
Andre Brown, New York Giants
The hype train has long since departed the station for David Wilson, the presumptive starter in New York after Ahmad Bradshaw's departure. But don't count out the caboose, Andre Brown.
The fourth-year running back actually outperformed Wilson last year by several measures, including a severely overlooked average of 5.3 yards per carry. Brown is also better between the tackles and in pass protection, both of which should help ingratiate him with Tom Coughlin.
"David Wilson, Andre Brown … there are a few guys who will compete for [the starting RB] job" - Tom Coughlin— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) February 22, 2013
It is easy to forget Wilson was in Coughlin's doghouse last year because of fumbling issues. Wilson eventually broke a few nice runs, which has fantasy owners seeing stars. Brown, meanwhile, signed his second-round tender and figures to play a prominent role for the Giants.
Despite all of this, fantasy owners appear none the wiser. With the exception of ESPN leagues, Wilson is being taken well before Brown, who is falling into the seventh round or later. The latter is clearly more valuable.
Lamar Miller, Miami Dolphins
Reggie Bush is gone, opening the door for second-year man Lamar Miller to take over and do his thing in Miami.
Miller will get competition from Daniel Thomas and rookie Mike Gillislee, but the former Hurricane has all of the upside in that backfield. The Dolphins felt good enough about their situation to let Reggie Bush walk for modest money.
Miami's presumptive starter has plenty of upside at a relatively low price. He won't last into the fifth or sixth round in most leagues—depending on league size and format, of course—but he is a great consolation at the position should you choose to address other positions in the first three rounds.
Ahmad Bradshaw, Indianapolis Colts
Vick Ballard was slotted in here right up until Ahmad Bradshaw signed with the Colts. Like his role on the team, Bradshaw usurped his spot. Or at least when he finally signs.
Well, it might not go that far for Ballard—after all, there is a reason Bradshaw languished on the free-agent market for so long—but, thanks to Bradshaw's arrival, the second-year player could be in trouble when it comes to playing time.
Despite chronic foot issues, Bradshaw has been quite productive when on the field. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry and eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing last season, after all.
Assuming he does land with the Colts—a good landing place for the former Giant—Bradshaw is a great value. His average draft position figures to rise through the preseason if he stays healthy. He could be one of the best bargains by the time Week 1 rolls around.
If the deal falls through, Ballard works here. He is being drafted as an RB3 in many leagues, well worth it if he is the man in Indianapolis.
Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints
It's tough to buy into the New Orleans backfield. There are three players who will split playing time. None of the three will separate themselves from the others barring a massive improvement.
New Orleans is sticking with Mark Ingram, despite his plodding ways and one-dimensional game, but that might not last long if he does not improve. Darren Sproles is the team's pass-catching specialist out of the backfield, unsuited for traditional and short-yardage work.
Pierre Thomas, meanwhile, embodies the best of both worlds and gets the least amount of publicity for his efforts. Injury issues have been a drag for Thomas, but he has the highest career running average in that backfield at 4.8 yards per carry. He can also catch and run out of the backfield.
The best part of all of this from a fantasy perspective is that he has all but been forgotten. Thomas can be had as your fifth running back in the waning rounds of your draft.
Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers
The term "post-hype sleeper" has been bandied about for Ryan Mathews. Indeed, after two offseasons of hype for Mathews, the oft-injured running back has seen his draft stock crash faster than Enron's after a federal investigation.
Mathews might be made of porcelain, but that risk is now baked into his average draft position. Mathews is barely being drafted as an RB2 right now, quite the drop-off from last year, when he was taken higher despite the broken collarbone in the preseason.
There is no question Mathews possesses the talent to put up good fantasy numbers, particularly in PPR leagues. There are plenty of questions, however, about whether his body can stand up to the rigors of the NFL.
Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers
The wide receiver position is simply loaded, meaning you can get great value later in the draft without a huge drop-off.
Steve Smith is one such value, going as a mid-level WR3 in many drafts to date. This is a receiver who finished 19th in standard fantasy scoring last season despite a scoring drought that left him with just four touchdowns on the year.
Smith was sixth in fantasy scoring the year before.
Cam Newton makes the Panthers offense dangerous, and Smith has plenty left in his tank.
Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints
One of the more underappreciated receivers of his time, Marques Colston flies into the 2013 season under the radar once more.
Would you believe Colston has eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving in six of his seven years in the league? Consistency is key for Colston, who has finished 11th in standard fantasy scoring in the past two seasons and no worse than 17th over the past four.
Another WR who could have a huge year is Marques Colston. Healthy. Brees/Payton combo back. Run game?Easily, the NFL's most underrated WR.— Chris Trapasso (@ChrisTrapasso) May 29, 2013
Despite his consistent production, Colston cannot buy a lifeline with fantasy owners. Well, at least not the respect he deserves.
The talented receiver is being drafted somewhere in the fourth or fifth round on average, depending on the website.
Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens
You cannot get Smith in the later rounds, but he is still an excellent value for where he is going in mock drafts thus far.
Smith will step in as the No. 1 receiver for the Ravens, a role that is sure to boost his fantasy production. The speedy receiver only caught 49 passes, but he was targeted 104 times.
The fact that he led the league (subscription required) in average depth of target (aDOT) was a big factor in his poor catch rate—Joe Flacco targeted him deep quite a bit.
Smith's role will expand to beyond the deep threat this season, which should raise his target count and catch rate. More opportunities and higher efficiency could catapult Smith into the top 10, but he isn't being taken anywhere near that high in most drafts.
Stevie Johnson, Buffalo Bills
Everyone seems to be forgetting about Stevie Johnson up in Buffalo.
Not only is he talented, but the Bills also finally got some wide receiver talent to help him out. They also theoretically upgraded at quarterback, though it remains to be seen if EJ Manuel is up to the task. Kevin Kolb is not exactly inspiring as a starter.
Just ask Larry Fitzgerald.
DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles
A disappointing year of grousing followed by an underwhelming post-contract season for DeSean Jackson has left fantasy owners with a bitter taste in their mouths about the speedy receiver.
Chip Kelly's brilliant mind has finally made its way to the NFL, and with it will come boosts in fantasy scoring all around. Jackson might not be a No. 1 receiver in the mold of Calvin Johnson or even Marques Colston, but he still has his best asset: speed.
Jackson is generally being taken as a WR3 across the web, on average. That's a nice price for a guy capable of going supernova any given Sunday.
Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings
You might think that finishing second in touchdowns at the position and going off in the Pro Bowl might clue fantasy owners in about Kyle Rudolph, but he has yet to experience the love.
Maybe it's that whole Christian Ponder thing.
Rudolph is poised to join the upper echelon of fantasy tight ends this season.
Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions
He hasn't quite lived up to his billing thus far in the NFL, but Brandon Pettigrew hasn't been a bust, either.
The fact remains that Pettigrew is the starting tight end on a good offense with a great young quarterback. Matthew Stafford will heave the ball plenty, even if he doesn't eclipse the record number of attempts he had last year.
More importantly for Pettigrew's fantasy prospects, he will continue to be the next best red-zone option to Calvin Johnson in the passing game, and defenses are sure to continue zoning in on Megatron.
Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns
This might not be as big of a value by the time your league drafts at the end of August or beginning of September, but Jordan Cameron is an absolute steal at this stage.
Cameron is now the starting tight end for the Cleveland Browns. While that is an uninspiring sentence without context, it bodes well for him and the Browns.
The Jordan Cameron hype machine is out in full force.Jimmy Graham similarities with his quickness and basketball background.— scoutPRO® (@CSAscoutPRO) June 7, 2013
Rob Chudzinski has been credited with developing Kellen Winslow (the soldier) Jr. and Antonio Gates as offensive weapons. Former TE coach.— Josh Moore (@4for4_Josh) January 11, 2013
It will be interesting to see just how much Cameron can do in his first year as the starter, but he is cheap enough that you can get him as your second tight end without fuss.
Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers
There is no denying that Antonio Gates is a shell of his former self. Even he scoffed when the NFL Network ranked him No. 73 overall among his current NFL peers. But all that has done is depress his fantasy value to where he is worth taking.
Gates is an all-time great, and the offense is bound to turn around. He is being drafted as a borderline starter, which makes his price right.
Rob Housler, Arizona Cardinals
If there was a prize for most preseason hype, Rob Housler would be locked in a heated battle with the aforementioned Cameron.
I think Rob Housler is going to have a big year.— Ian (@extrapointIan) June 1, 2013
I've loved Rob Housler's game coming out of college. The vet QB & improved line play will definitely elevate his game in 2013.— Jayson Braddock (@JaysonBraddock) May 15, 2013
Rob Housler has yet to score his first NFL touchdown. That will change in 2013. #Cardinals— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) June 5, 2013
The offense in Arizona has theoretically improved with Carson Palmer now under center, and Housler stands to benefit. He flashed his potential last season, to be sure.
Housler would be your backup tight end, if you choose to run with two, so the investment won't carry any risk.