Fantasy Stud WR Austin Collie dives for a pass in a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
We all remember those weeks of August and early September, as our web pages were clogged with mock drafts and we all tried to prepare to get the most possible out of our fantasy football drafts. Would we go after a running back in the first round, or try something different? When was the best time to get a quarterback? How could we avoid forgetting those overlook-able tight ends?
And then, when it was draft day, we each sat down at our computers or in a friend's living room and made pick after pick that would determine much of our success in the upcoming fantasy football season. The Chris Johnsons came off the board and then the Peyton Mannings, Brandon Marshalls, Cedric Bensons and Vernon Davises.
But after a while, it came down to the late rounds. Suddenly, it was prime time for kickers, defenses and backup tight ends. But, occasionally, it was also time for the much-anticipated late-round fliers. Which players would come out of the blue to earn a starting spot? The last rounds were the time to grab our best guesses at these dark horse superstars.
However, six weeks into the season now, we've gathered a fairly good picture of the haves and have-nots in the fantasy world. There's the usual bunch of surprises, busts, week-in, week-out performers, and hope-you-get-lucky starters. However, looking back, which players that could've easily been drafted in the 13th, 14th or 15th rounds turned out the best? Which late-round fliers really paid off?
Note: Average draft positions were taken from Fantasy Football Calculator's statistics for a 10-team, 15-round draft. Fantasy points are the typical default settings, with one point per ten yards for rushing and receiving and six points for a touchdown, one point per 20 yards passing and four points for a touchdown, etc. Only RBs, WRs, QBs and TEs, drafted in round 10 or later, are included.
Average Draft Position: 10th round, 5th pick
Fantasy Points to Date: 89.7
LaDainian Tomlinson, after a serious off-year during his last season with San Diego, is back.
Coming into the season with his new team, the New York Jets, as the clear backup to running back-of-the-future Shonn Greene, fantasy owners were wary of the longtime star, not drafting him until at least the 10th round. In fact, he averaged as the fifth pick of the 10th round in ten-team leagues during the preseason drafts.
However, Tomlinson quickly proved he was not just worth owning, he deserved to be a weekly starter. After a 7.8-point performance in Week 1 against Baltimore, a game where Greene was completely stifled, Tomlinson saw his carries begin to rise, and so did his points.
Since that first game, he's yet to fall short of reaching double-digits and has had three performances of more than 14 points, including his biggest game in Week 4 against Buffalo, when Tomlinson put up 27 fantasy points.
In the end, Tomlinson may not have been the craziest late-round flier choice, but it's unlikely that his owners expected this kind of season from him at the start of the year. His 490 rushing yards and 107 receiving yards, along with five touchdowns, are good enough to rank Tomlinson fifth among all running backs at this point.
Braylon Edwards jumps to catch a touchdown pass.
Average Draft Position: 11th round, 2nd pick
Fantasy Points to Date: 60.7
Like the aforementioned Tomlinson, Braylon Edwards is among several Jets players to explode for huge, unexpected starts to the 2010-2011 season. Edwards had just one catch in Week 1 during bad weather, but has been anything but quiet since.
With 343 yards and four touchdowns already, Edwards has entered double-digits four times in six games, and fallen decimal points short of 15 points twice. He's a sure bet to produce, as his skills have earned him favor in quarterback Mark Sanchez's mind over teammates Santonio Holmes and Jerricho Cotchery.
Edwards' success also has earned him recognition among a wide range of fantasy owners, as he's owned in 88 percent of Yahoo! Fantasy Football leagues, a far cry from his 35-40 owned percentage to begin the year. Additionally, Edwards has moved up to 13th on the list of highest scoring receivers, a massive increase from his rank as the 40th most-drafted WR during fantasy drafts.
Average Draft Position: 12th round, 1st pick
Fantasy Points to Date: 67.4
McFadden certainly was benefited by Michael Bush's unexpected injury, but he was very decisive in taking over the role. McFadden rolled over the Tennessee defense in Week 1, running for 21 points, and never fell below 12 points for each of the first four weeks.
Since an injury has kept him out of both of the last two weeks, McFadden has slipped considerably down the rankings, but while he's been healthy, he's been averaging among the most points-per-game of any rushers. McFadden's also become a viable receiving threat, as he's added over 150 yards and another touchdown on the pass-catching end.
Despite the injury, the former Arkansas star has finally found a groove at the NFL level and delighted fantasy owners while he was at it.
Average Draft Position: 12th round, 10th pick
Fantasy Points to Date: 46.9
Although Kenny Britt isn't close to the point total of some of the others on this list, so far, he's managed to explode for four touchdowns in his last four games, including a 14.6-point performance in Week 5 against Dallas.
Britt's never been a fantasy star, but he's beginning to get some recognition in a Titans passing game that is just now starting to blossom. While there's a long way to go before we'll see whether the Tennessee aerial attack is reputable or whether Britt is a reliable option, he's begun to move his way up the ranks in terms of WRs and is also getting some risky owners to jump on him while he's available.
You might not have needed to draft Britt to be able to own him today. However, if you did and hung on during his slow start, you've been rewarded lately for your pick.
Average Draft Position: 13th round, 2nd pick
Fantasy Points to Date: 84.3
Recent injuries and surgeries aside, Austin Collie is the clear top standout from a crowded bunch of mediocre receivers drafted late in fantasy drafts. He's tied for the league lead in receiving points (along with Broncos' WR Brandon Lloyd, who didn't even have an average draft position), and is tied with Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin and Giants WR Hakeem Nicks for the most receiving touchdowns with six.
Collie hasn't been as consistent as a few other receivers here, but his two weeks with more than 20 points, especially the 29 points he put up in Week 3, is clearly the best, so far, of any of the Colts' wide array of pass catchers, a talented unit that includes players like Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Pierre Garcon.
While he's expected to be out for a few weeks with a hand injury, even once he returns, Collie will remain as one of 2010's biggest late-round surprises.
Dustin Keller stretches for the goal line.
Average Draft Position: 13th round, 8th pick
Fantasy Points to Date: 64.3
Dustin Keller is among several Jets players that have seen a gigantic jump in the rankings, but he was clearly the most underrated of them. With an average draft position right in the middle of the Kingdom of Kickers, it's obvious that no one expected much from Keller in the rush-heavy Jets offense. However, that balance has shifted as the season has worn on, and now Keller is targeted often every game.
He's taking advantage of it, too. Keller already has 343 yards receiving and five touchdowns, giving him the second most fantasy points so far out of all tight ends with 64.3 points, a number topped only by Antonio Gates.
Despite less than two points in Weeks 1 and 5, Keller still has kept the production coming with more than 14 points in each of the second, third and fourth weeks of the season. As the intensity grows for New York, who is 5-1 and right at the top of the AFC, they will look to Keller more than ever, and his status as a "major sleeper" will begin to change to an "elite player".
Average Draft Position: 14th round, 6th pick
Fantasy Points to Date: 58.6
Although the Cowboys 1-4 start to the year has severely downgraded the stock on Dallas stars such as Tony Romo, Marian Barber, Felix Jones and Miles Austin, Roy Williams has been the bright spot of the year for "America's [Least] Favorite Team."
With just over 300 yards and a team-leading five touchdowns—three more than second-place Miles Austin—Williams has finally found his place in the Dallas offense after two disappointing seasons the past two years.
Williams ranks 15th among WRs at the moment despite, on average, being drafted as the 62nd one off the board, if he was even drafted at all. Williams has also exploded for three straight games above 14 points, exciting fantasy owners across the country who were lucky enough to come across this late-round, or waiver-wire, gem.
Fred Taylor is tackled in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
No matter how many LaDainian Tomlinsons, Braylon Edwardses, Darren McFaddens, Kenny Britts, Austin Collies, Dustin Kellers and Roy Williamses there are to be found in the late rounds of a fantasy draft, there's always ten times as many that don't turn out quite so well.
For example, let's take Steve Slaton, who we thought might just take over injured Ben Tate's role; he has 10.4 points. We could consider Mohamed Massaqoui, the key needed to jumpstart the Browns' woeful offense? He has just 17.5 points to date.
What about Bernard Berrian, the hidden beneficiary of the Vikings receivers' injuries? Just a measly 4.5 points. Or, as a last-resort option, how about Fred Taylor or Larry Johnson, two former stars looking to get a little bit more out of their careers? Taylor has just 10.4 points, and Johnson didn't even make the team.
So, as there are always a few jewels hidden in the late rounds, there are always going to be many, many more who just can't get it going. It just makes the few that were lucky enough to grab a late-round jewel feel all the better.