By the time August rolls around each year, fantasy football enthusiasts are well aware of which players will be their early-round targets. The late rounds of fantasy drafts, however, will be where leagues are won.
Correctly identifying rookies and sleepers to target will lead to league championships every single year. Just a season ago, selecting Alshon Jeffery late in fantasy drafts paid huge dividends to owners who targeted him as a potential breakout player.
Who will be this year's version of the Chicago Bears wide receiver?
Let's break down a list of veterans and rookies with some significant sleeper value—players with big upside and an average draft position of the tenth round or later—and analyze their impact on your fantasy team.
|Flex Rankings for Rookies and Sleepers|
|15||Odell Beckham Jr.||WR||Giants||14.10|
|Sean O'Donnell's Rankings|
*Average draft position (ADP) based on 12-team leagues, courtesy of FantasyFootballCalculator.com.
Kenny Stills, WR, New Orleans Saints
Stills tops this year's list of sleepers with an ADP of 10.12. The New Orleans speedster can be had late in the 10th round of fantasy drafts, but his value is significantly higher due to his role in this high-octane offense.
While Stills may not be slated as a starter yet, according to Ourlads.com, expect him to be treated like one throughout the regular season.
Marques Colston is now 31 years old. While he's still a reliable target, he's struggled with nagging injuries over the past couple of seasons and is more of a possession receiver than a big-play threat.
Robert Meachem has been one of the most erratic wide receivers in the league. He dazzled in 2009 with 722 yards and nine touchdowns, but he's been a disappointment for fantasy owners since.
Stills, on the other hand, broke out last season with 32 receptions for 641 yards and five touchdowns with an average of 20.0 yards per catch—not bad for a fifth-round selection. He's more of a likely candidate to see plenty of deep targets this season to offset the threat of tight end Jimmy Graham.
The fact quarterback Drew Brees has thrown for over 5,000 yards in each of the last three seasons certainly doesn't hurt, either.
Marvin Jones, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Jones comes in just behind Stills in these rankings—and with good reason.
The Bengals have been looking for a complement to All-Pro receiver A.J. Green since his breakout rookie season. The team found one last year in Jones.
The 2012 fifth-round selection out of California didn't begin the season as the team's No. 2 wide receiver, but he earned it quickly. Jones racked up 51 receptions for 712 yards and 10 touchdowns despite a limited snap count.
In the middle of last season, Adam Levitan of Rotoworld noted an increase in Jones' snap count:
Jones ended the 2013 season with at least 60 receiving yards and one touchdown in three of his final four games. With the receiver beginning the 2014 season as the Bengals No. 2 receiver, according to Ourlads.com, expect that trend to continue for a full 16 games.
In 2013, quarterback Andy Dalton set new Bengals single-season records with 4,293 passing yards and 33 passing touchdowns. There's plenty of targets to go around in Cincinnati, and Jones will benefit.
Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Evans rounds out the top three on this year's list of rookies and sleepers.
While fellow first-round wide receiver Sammy Watkins is currently being selected in the seventh round of fantasy drafts, Evans has significant value as a 10th-round selection.
Veteran quarterback Josh McCown is taking the reins in Tampa Bay this season, and he's a big reason why Evans' value is fantastic right now.
Last season in Chicago, McCown threw for 1,829 yards and 13 touchdowns in eight appearances while throwing jump balls to the 6'4" Brandon Marshall and 6'3" Alshon Jeffery. Now, he'll be repeating that strategy with the 6'5" Vincent Jackson and 6'5" Evans.
The NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah already noted why this duo will give opposing defenses fits this season:
Evans is progressing nicely in camp so far after a slow start due to a hamstring injury. Buccaneers wide receivers coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker had some praise for the rookie during an interview with Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com:
His physical gifts are there a lot of times. He's 20 years old. He's young. Been in college. From a college spread-type offense. To learn to be a pro from a guy like Vincent Jackson is invaluable. I think he's in the right environment. I think it's the perfect team for him to foster and really grow. To stick his roots deep in the ground I really think it’s the perfect place for him.
Rookie wide receivers can be a gamble, as first-year numbers continue to bring mixed results. However, Evans has as good of a chance as any to delight his fantasy owners right out of the gate.