Fantasy Football 2014: Breaking Down Best Late-Round Steals and Deep Sleepers
It's getting closer and closer to that time of year.
Draft season in fantasy football is just around the corner. In fact, many dynasty leagues are already holding their rookie drafts.
Even in redraft leagues where the draft is still a ways off, savvy fantasy owners are already beginning some early draft prep, checking reports from camp and scoping out players who could represent excellent value late in drafts.
After all, second-round picks don't win fantasy football leagues. On the other hand, 12th-round picks who wind up producing like second-round picks do.
With that in mind, here are some players being selected very late in drafts so far in 2014 who could have that sort of potential.
Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
Maybe it's the red hair.
Last year, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton threw for 4,293 yards and 33 touchdowns. Both were career highs. Last year, in NFL.com default fantasy scoring, only Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints and Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos scored more points among quarterbacks.
So where is Dalton being drafted among quarterbacks this year? fifth? ninth?
Try 16th. In the 11th round, on average.
Granted, part of that is simply a factor of the depth available to fantasy owners under center this year. Another part is the (reasonable) assumption that the Bengals won't throw as much under new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.
Still, that doesn't mean the Bengals aren't ever going to throw the ball. Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu told Geoff Hobson of the team's website that Dalton was the "best I've seen him" in OTAs. Dalton has a nice array of weaponry in the passing game, including one of the NFL's best receivers in A.J. Green.
The whole thing has Heath Cummings at Football Guys perplexed:
We're talking about a 26 YO QB that's improved every year & finished as QB3 last year...and almost no one thinks he'll be a top 12 QB? Weird
— Heath Cummings (@heathcummingssr) June 13, 2014
We agree. Even if Dalton slides to the back of the top 10, he'd still be a great value in this spot.
There aren't many fantasy backups at quarterback who can carry your team for a significant stretch if disaster strikes.
Dalton can, so give the ginger some love!
Pierre Thomas, RB, New Orleans Saints
It's an annual rite of passage in fantasy football.
Spring turns to summer, fantasy draft season rolls around, and everyone forgets that New Orleans Saints running back Pierre Thomas exists.
On some level it's understandable. After all, the 29-year-old only rushed for 549 yards last year. Yawnage.
Only, it's totally not.
See, Thomas also caught 77 passes for another 513 yards. That's over 1,000 total yards, five total touchdowns and a top-25 fantasy finish in standard-scoring leagues.
In leagues that award a point for receptions, Thomas cracked the top 20.
Those numbers were so good that Thomas is currently being drafted as the 37th player at his position, in the 11th round.
Well, I guess it's reasonable, given that Darren Sproles is still around to siphon passing-down work.
Oh wait, he's in Philadelphia now.
Mark Ingram's still around, though, the former first-round pick who has been so impressive throughout his NFL career.
Except only two of the three things said about Ingram in that sentence are in any way true.
Unless Khiry Robinson and Barry Sanders (circa 1990) suddenly switch bodies ala "Freaky Friday," I have a hard time buying that Thomas is somehow going to see less work in 2014.
And yet that's how fantasy owners are acting.
Lorenzo Taliaferro, RB, Baltimore Ravens
Odds are, unless you play in a deep fantasy football league. Baltimore Ravens running back Lorenzo Taliaferro won't even be drafted.
The rookie is currently the 70th running back being selected, in the 19th round of 12-team leagues.
Granted, Taliaferro didn't do himself any favors by getting arrested over Memorial Day Weekend, but before that the youngster had been turning heads in camp, according to Ryan Mink of the team's website. Head coach John Harbaugh said:
He looks like he is a big guy, a downhill guy. I was very impressed with what kind of shape he is in. There is not an ounce of fat on him, and he is 230 pounds. [He is] very good at pass protection. I thought he showed excellent hands and get-away ability on his routes when he went against a linebacker. So [it was] all good that way.
There's a reason why that sentence is in boldface.
If there's one thing that will keep a young running back off the field more than anything, it's the inability to pick up blitzers. If Taliaferro can show that he won't get the Ravens' $20 million quarterback's eyebrow knocked off, Harbaugh is going to feel a lot better about giving Taliaferro carries.
It wouldn't be the most shocking thing in the world to see the fourth-round pick open the season as the lead back, if only until Rice gets out of the principal's office.
Unless, of course, Talaiferro impresses and holds on to the job.
Anquan Boldin, WR, San Francisco 49ers
There aren't many great constants in fantasy football, but there are a few that are true in far more leagues than not.
One is that just like kids on Christmas morning, everyone loves shiny new toys. It often leads to rookies being overvalued.
The second is that as soon as fantasy owners lay eyes on those new toys, the old ones go into the bin, never to be seen again.
Whether they're better or not.
So it is with San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who is barely being drafted as a WR5 in 12-team leagues.
You know, because the 33-year-old was so horrible last year, what with the 85 receptions, nearly 1,200 yards and top-15 fantasy numbers in PPR scoring systems.
Yes, Boldin isn't getting any younger. Yes, he's not the fleetest of foot. Yes, the San Francisco 49ers get Michael Crabtree back, and yes, the team brought in Stevie Johnson.
Still, all last year Boldin was open even when he wasn't, bodying up defenders like a power forward going for a rebound. He was a huge part of the Niners' NFC title-game run.
Do you really think Jim Harbaugh and Colin Kaepernick have forgotten that?
Fantasy owners seem to have.
Andrew Hawkins, WR, Cleveland Browns
Before anyone skitters off to the comments to snidely point out that it's unlikely that Andrew Hawkins makes a huge fantasy dent in his first season with the Cleveland Browns, I'm way ahead of you.
They don't call them deep sleepers for nothing.
However, there's also a difference between a slim chance of fantasy numbers and no chance at all, and Hawkins' chances are actually better than slim—just not quite husky.
OK, I'll stop now.
For starters, there's the simple fact that someone is going to have to catch passes in Cleveland in 2014. Josh Gordon's suspension has yet to be announced, possibly because Roger Goodell had to buy a bigger calculator to figure out how long it will be. Free-agent acquisition Miles Austin probably strained a hamstring while this was being written.
That leaves tight end Jordan Cameron as the de facto No. 1 receiver, but it will also leave Cameron as the primary focus of opposing defenses in the passing game.
Then there's Hawkins, whom the Browns signed to a surprisingly lucrative $13.6 million contract that the Cincinnati Bengals chose not to match.
At 5'7" (yes, 5'7"), no one is going to confuse Hawkins with Gordon, but the 28-year-old has been drawing rave reviews in camp, according to Zac Jackson of Fox Sports Ohio. Head coach Mike Pettine said:
He's been one of our most consistent guys through spring. He comes out here and he's one of the hardest workers we have. He doesn't know any speed other than full speed. He is a guy that is truly trying to get better every day that he takes the field.
I think that's a great example for our younger guys. If you had to rate our players in the spring, he'd be right near the top.
Besides, in the 19th round, what do you want? A sure thing?
Ladarius Green, TE, San Diego Chargers
San Diego Chargers tight end Ladarius Green sort of falls in between the two types of players who have been featured in this slideshow.
He's not an established veteran like Thomas or Boldin. He's far from it, as evidenced by his whopping 17 receptions in 2013.
However, it's not really fair to call Green a "deep sleeper," either. He averaged an eye-popping 22.1 yards a catch on those 17 grabs last year. Over a three-week stretch from Week 11 to Week 13, Green was fantasy football's seventh-ranked tight end in PPR leagues, eight spots higher than teammate Antonio Gates.
The same Antonio Gates who is 33 and has made it through all 16 games once in the past four seasons.
Add it all together and Brandon Funston of Yahoo Sports sees a lot to like with Green:
San Diego Union-Tribune Chargers beat writer, and friend of the Yahoo family, Michael Gehlken recently listed Green as his first choice when asked to name a Chargers offensive breakout player this year.
It could be argued he already had a semi-breakout in the second half of '13, as he finished among the top 15 tight ends in fantasy points over his final eight games. But, again, we are talking about a freakish talent that hardly saw the field through the first 11 games of last season, when he averaged just 15 snaps.
The light bulb finally went on for the Chargers in Week 13, as Green averaged 40 snaps per game over the final seven games of the year, including two postseason contests. He should finish inside the top 25 at TE in total snaps this season, and with his talent and that kind of workload, I've got bullish top 10 feelings for Green at the TE position.
Given that Green went in the 15th round of a recent industry draft (login required) I took part in, it's not hard to see why.
Average draft position data (348 Redraft League Drafts as of 6/13/2014) courtesy of My Fantasy League.
Gary Davenport is an NFL and Fantasy Football Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.