It doesn’t take a fantasy football expert to know that drafting players like Peyton Manning and LeSean McCoy will lead to league titles.
However, picking the right sleepers or even deep sleepers (the players who are even more under the radar than the typical sleepers) could be the difference between a victory and defeat when those key players are on a bye.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some deep sleepers to keep an eye on in the late rounds of your draft.
Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles
When fantasy players think of the tight end position and the Philadelphia Eagles, Brent Celek probably comes to mind. However, Zach Ertz should not be overlooked.
The second-round pick out of Stanford played in all 17 games as a rookie in 2013 and totaled 469 yards and four touchdown catches. Most importantly, he became more productive as the season progressed and his playing time increased.
He tallied 68 receiving yards and two touchdowns against the Arizona Cardinals and 57 receiving yards and a beautiful touchdown catch against the Minnesota Vikings in two separate December contests. Ertz also scored against the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs.
New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty was certainly impressed when his squad practiced with the Eagles in training camp, via Geoff Mosher of CSNPhilly.com:
He’s a good tight end, an athletic guy, stretches the field. Really, I think, understands how to get open against good defenses. That’s always good work when you can go against good tight ends. They have a bunch of them. At the safety position we got some pretty good work going against them the past two days.
The late-season production from Ertz should have fantasy players anticipating more of the same this season. Ertz is clearly more comfortable in an NFL offense than he was at the start of his rookie season, and that uptempo Philadelphia attack means more plays every game.
It also means more yardage and plenty of fantasy points to go around. Some of those will certainly go Ertz’s way, especially if he uses his athleticism to split the seam and beat linebackers over the middle.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Houston Texans
There is a certain value in being a starting quarterback in the NFL when it comes to fantasy. We can’t all have Peyton Manning or Colin Kaepernick lining up under center every week, which is why Ryan Fitzpatrick is worth a look.
Fitzpatrick has Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins on the outside. That combination of consistent production and game-breaking speed will make the quarterback’s job a lot easier every week, which will lead to more fantasy points.
Houston also has Arian Foster at running back, which means teams will have to stuff the box to stop the running attack. That will open up Johnson and Hopkins for deep routes, and Fitzpatrick should be able to deliver.
As ESPN.com points out, Fitzpatrick was actually 12th in ESPN standard league scoring in 2011 and threw at least 23 touchdown passes in three consecutive seasons from 2010-12. He also has 11 games with three or more touchdown passes in the past four seasons, which is more than Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler or fantasy stalwart Cam Newton.
If nothing else, Fitzpatrick is a solid quarterback who can cover for you when your starting quarterback is on a bye week.
Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers
All Carlos Hyde did in his senior season at Ohio State was run for 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns even though he missed three games. He was one of the most productive running backs in the country, but the San Francisco 49ers brought him to a team that was loaded at running back.
Since then, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James both suffered injuries, and the door opened for Hyde in the race for the backup job. He certainly turned some heads during the preseason, including those of Yahoo Sports’ Brad Evans, Ronnie Lott and Tony Bruno:
Frank Gore is still the starter for the 49ers, but he is 31 years old and will need someone to spell him throughout the season if he wants to be fresh come playoff time. That means Hyde should see plenty of carries.
Hyde is an absolute bowling ball at 6’0” and 235 pounds, but he has the speed to help him beat linebackers to the edge. He can run over people up the middle as well and should be comfortable in pistol sets next to Kaepernick because of his time in Urban Meyer’s spread in college.
Hyde has the physical attributes needed to be a productive back in the NFL, a playoff-tested team around him and the potential for plenty of carries behind Gore. Look for him late in the draft.
Follow me on Twitter: Follow @ScottPolacek