Fantasy football is all about value. Accumulate the most bang for your buck on draft day, and a first-place finish is in the cards.
Even if drafters don't always discuss the game in this matter, current trends indicate they understand the principle at its core. Peyton Manning led most leagues in points scored last season, and he's a solid candidate to do it again. Yet he's still not a top-five pick, or even a first-rounder in some circles, due to the overwhelming depth at quarterback.
Besides, owning Manning hardly guaranteed a fantasy championship. If anything, the managers who stole Philip Rivers, Knowshon Moreno, Josh Gordon, Alshon Jeffery and Julius Thomas at massive discounts sauntered to victory more often. Owners lucky enough to draft or add these guys received star production for a minimal cost.
The marquee names are more obvious anyway, so where's the fun in talking about the first round? Take safe studs early in the game, and keep shooting for the stars in later rounds to find that breakout performer.
In a standard league, almost all of these guys should cost no more than a late pick to fill out your bench. If one of these guys is your No. 1 quarterback or occupying your flex spot in a 10- or 12-team format, you probably reached too high, robbing yourself of potential value.
Pick your spots, and these players could lead you to glory.
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Miami Dolphins
Quarterback is so loaded that you want to be weary of looking at the late-round gambles that occupy such a list. Including Tony Romo, Jay Cutler or Russell Wilson here felt too cheap, but all three of them have an average draft position above 80, per FantasyPros.
Let's say you took a starting signal-caller in that tier, and you're looking for a low-cost, high-upside reserve just in case your top choice is nothing special. Once you pass the obvious names, Ryan Tannehill is the best bet to crack the list of relevant fantasy gunslingers.
While his sophomore season was nothing special, he took some steps in the right direction, doubling his touchdown total while increasing his accuracy. His progress, however, mostly came from getting more opportunities to air it out.
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Under new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, those attempts will rise even more. The former Philadelphia Eagles offensive guru will bring his uptempo spread offense to Miami.
According to The Miami Herald's Adam H. Beasley, Lazor has no interest in babying his third-year quarterback: "My job right now is to push him. I’ve got to make it very hard for him out here on the practice field. I heard a rumor that some people reported that we’ve made it hard for him on the field. That’s on purpose. That’s how you build a quarterback, and he’s coming."
Khiry Robinson, RB, New Orleans Saints
No New Orleans Saints running back has accumulated 175 or more carries since Deuce McAllister in 2006. Temper expectations about any one rusher transforming into a superstar while Drew Brees absorbs all of the defense's attention, but give Khiry Robinson a look as draft dray dwindles to an end.
Which running back will lead the New Orleans Saints in carries?
After averaging 3.7 yards per carry last season, Pierre Thomas should be relegated to Darren Sproles' old role as a pass-catcher. As long as Sean Payton remains averse to making Mark Ingram—who is a solid mid-round play in his own right—a workhorse, Robinson could take a helm as the Saints' primary rusher.
The 6'0", 220-pound back averaged 4.1 yards per carry during his rookie campaign, compiling 102 yards and a touchdown on 21 handoffs in New Orleans' two postseason games.
At the very least, Robinson could snatch some precious goal-line work in an offense that has no trouble moving the chains. Given his current 134 ADP, it'll take next to nothing to determine how Payton divvies up the backfield workload early in the season.
Greg Jennings, WR, Minnesota Vikings
Given the unlimited platter of enticing young wideouts, it may seem surprising to see a 30-year-old on the downtick nominated for this slot.
After all, Greg Jennings was nearly unanimously declared a bust last season, and for obvious reason. He went from playing with Aaron Rodgers to not playing with Aaron Rodgers. That would explain his 68-catch, 840-yard, four-touchdown season.
Yet as you should have surmised by now, there's reason for optimism. While Jennings exhibited no chemistry with Christian Ponder, he synced well with Matt Cassel. During the seven full games Cassel started, Jennings caught 41 passes for 492 yards and four touchdowns.
Per Fox Sports' Jay Glazer, Cassel is Minnesota's starting quarterback.
Vikings players were informed this morning that Matt Cassel will be the starting QB in Minnesota over Teddy Bridgewater— Jay Glazer (@JayGlazer) August 25, 2014
Also, Jennings is going for dirt cheap. On average, he's the No. 52 wide receiver off the board, which means you can theoretically obtain him as your fifth wideout. At that bargain price, why not see if he can sustain his success when teamed with Cassel over a full season?
Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs
If you want to be boring and take Heath Miller at tight end, be my guest. At best, such a veteran won't hurt you, and maybe he'll help during a couple of weeks.
But considering the little separation among tight ends after the top tier, it makes more sense to wait out the desperation runs and take a high-upside gambit in Travis Kelce deep down the proceedings.
Through three preseason contests, Kelce has caught 10 passes for 185 yards and two long touchdowns. ESPN's Keith Lipscomb laid out the roadblocks that prevent him from warranting a higher ranking but also noted the immense potential.
Anthony Fasano is the expected starter at tight end, but I expect Andy Reid and Doug Pederson to use plenty of two-tight end sets in an effort to create mismatches that will take advantage of Kelce's impressive athleticism. Reid's teams have often fed the tight end in the past -- think Celek and L.J. Smith -- and Kelce has the ability to get downfield and do enough damage to make him worth a late-round selection, especially in deeper leagues. The ceiling is high, but the floor is basement-level because we're talking about a player still waiting for his first NFL catch.
Does a big athletic tight end catching a bunch of touchdowns in the preseason remind you of anyone? Think Jordan Cameron, who lived up to last year's darling sleeper label by tying Jason Witten as ESPN's fifth-best tight end at a major fraction of the cost.
Every defense and kicker should be a late-round selection. Both positions are often too erratic to successfully predict, especially defenses. The Kansas City defense largely went undrafted last season, yet it finished as the elite unit due to a barrage of unpredictable touchdowns.
As for kickers, the margin between the best and replacement-level is marginal at best. Under ESPN's scoring, top-rated kicker Stephen Gostkowski averaged 2.6 more fantasy points per game than No. 13-ranked Shaun Suisham.
Devote your time researching the other positions and address defense and kicker in the final two rounds, or three if you have enough bench spots to roster two defenses.
Note: All ADP info courtesy of FantasyPros.