Fantasy Football 2018: Deep Sleeper Candidates Who Can Help Win Your League

Matt Camp@TheMattCampFantasy Football Lead WriterAugust 10, 2018

Fantasy Football 2018: Deep Sleeper Candidates Who Can Help Win Your League

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    Don't sleep on Alex Smith in Washington.
    Don't sleep on Alex Smith in Washington.Steve Helber/Associated Press

    Getting picks wrong in the last quarter of your fantasy football draft won't cost you a chance at the championship. By that point, it's apparent who will be in your starting lineup when the season begins, so it's a matter of finding the proper depth for your bench. 

    If even one of those players turns into a regular contributor, you've done well. Sometimes, one of those picks can help take you over the top.

    For the most part, picks made this late in the draft are about low-risk, high-reward players. The ceiling would be considered a fantasy starter, while the floor would be a candidate to cut loose as early as Week 2.

    A look back at 2017 ADP info shows players like Carson Wentz, Nelson Agholor, Cooper Kupp and Evan Engram were all selected after pick 121, but they all turned into regular fantasy starters. While Wentz may have been the ultimate find late in drafts, even a consistent contributor like Kupp easily outperformed his ADP.

    The other type of player to look for late in drafts is one who can provide reliability even if his perceived value is far lower.

    Cameron Brate saw his value take a hit when the Buccaneers drafted O.J. Howard, yet he still managed to post his second straight top-10 season. Alex Smith's perceived fantasy value has plummeted after a career year in 2017, although he's walking into a potentially profitable situation in Washington.

    The players covered below are cheap lottery tickets. They won't cost you much if they fail, but the hope is that one or two outplay their draft position. If any of them hit big, a fantasy championship could be the reward.

              

    Note: All ADP data and fantasy stats used to calculate finishes from FantasyPros. All advanced stats calculated using data from Pro Football Reference. All stats are based on points per reception (PPR) format.

Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants

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    The addition of Saquon Barkley and return of Odell Beckham makes Manning a sneaky, late pick.
    The addition of Saquon Barkley and return of Odell Beckham makes Manning a sneaky, late pick.Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    After the Giants ended Eli Manning's consecutive starts streak at 210 last season, it appeared as though his time with the team was coming to an end. Following that botched decision, the team fired general manager Jerry Reese and head coach Ben McAdoo, which opened the door for Manning to stick around for at least another season.

    When the Giants selected Saquon Barkley instead of a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft, Manning's hold on the starting job was reinforced just months after it looked like he'd be playing elsewhere.

    The 2017 season was miserable for Manning and the Giants for a variety of reasons, although injuries were at the top of the list. Odell Beckham Jr. played only four games after both he and Brandon Marshall suffered season-ending injuries in Week 5. Sterling Shepard was also injured in the same week and missed the next two games.

    Shepard returned to action and wound up leading the team's receiving corps with 13.9 percent of the overall target share. Rookie tight end Evan Engram was called upon to play a much bigger role, which turned out to be a team-leading 19.1 percent of the target share. 

    The Giants enter this season with a healthy receiving corps and a big upgrade in the backfield in Barkley. Over the last five years, the Giants haven't ranked higher than 18th in rushing, including finishes of 29th and 26th the last two years, respectively. In addition to providing a major boost to the ground attack, Barkley is a capable receiver, which gives Manning yet another reliable option in the passing game. 

    Manning is buried at QB22 with an ADP of 159.8. That's understandable after he finished 21st and 23rd in the last two seasons, respectively. However, Manning was the 10th-best fantasy QB in both 2014 and 2015, which were Beckham's first two seasons.

    With a healthy Beckham leading a receiving corps that includes Shepard and Engram in addition to Barkley in the backfield, that gives the Giants four players with ADPs inside the top 110, three inside the top 65 and two inside the top 10. If those ADPs translate into similar production, Manning could easily be a top-15 QB.

    If you can ignore the mess of 2017 and focus on the Giants' offensive improvements, Manning is worth a look in the late rounds.

Geronimo Allison, WR, Green Bay Packers

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    With Aaron Rodgers back under center, Geronimo Allison is on the fantasy radar in Green Bay.
    With Aaron Rodgers back under center, Geronimo Allison is on the fantasy radar in Green Bay.Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

    Some players are worth a late-round flier largely because they're part of a good offense. That's the primary reason to take a shot on Geronimo Allison.

    In 2017, Allison wound up with 7.0 percent of the Green Bay Packers' target share, which unsurprisingly trailed Davante Adams (21.1), Randall Cobb (16.6) and Jordy Nelson (15.9). Nelson's departure does open up a sizable target share, although some of that could go to Jimmy Graham, who figures to command more than the combined 13.2 percent split that Lance Kendricks and Martellus Bennett shared last season.

    Still, Allison does merit a look, since those targets mean a little more coming from Aaron Rodgers

    Allison's value could skyrocket if Cobb's ongoing ankle issues linger into the regular season. While Cobb has been at the majority of practices since he underwent a procedure on his ankle in June, he has missed some time. If that injury sidelines him in the regular season, Allison could see an uptick in playing time and targets. 

    While you wouldn't consider targeting a No. 3 WR on bad teams, Allison's potential to be on the field in a Rodgers-led offense puts him on the fantasy radar. His ADP is 200+ at WR71, so you likely won't have to use anything more than one of your last two picks to take him.

Alex Smith, QB, Washington Redskins

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    Alex Smith seems to be overlooked by fantasy players after a career season.
    Alex Smith seems to be overlooked by fantasy players after a career season.Steve Helber/Associated Press

    Last season, the No. 4-ranked fantasy QB racked up 4,042 yards, 27 total TDs and 295.1 fantasy points. In 15 games, he finished inside the top 10 nine times, a number topped only by Russell Wilson and Carson Wentz.

    In those 15 games, he was a top-15 QB on 11 occasions, which was second only to Wilson. In 2018, the No. 4 fantasy QB from 2017 has an ADP of 133.8, which puts him at QB18.

    That QB is Alex Smith.

    So, why is Smith being so undervalued as a 12th-round pick in a typical 12-team league? Last year was easily Smith's best fantasy season, as he had only two other seasons as a top-15 QB during his five years in Kansas City.

    Smith's arrival in Washington brings about additional trepidation and concern about his ability to repeat the success he had last year with the Chiefs. While that's a fair point, plenty of regression is built into his current ADP even though he's going to a solid situation. 

    Under Jay Gruden, Kirk Cousins was a top-eight QB in each of the last three years in Washington. The Redskins have only added talent to their offense with rookie RB Derrius Guice and WR Paul Richardson. They join big-play threat RB Chris Thompson and reliable WR Jamison Crowder as the top threats in this offense. And between Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis, the Redskins had seven top-10 finishes and 11 top-15 finishes at the TE position last season.

    Washington's ceiling may not be as high with Smith as it was with Cousins, but the floor isn't as low, either. Cousins was the No. 6 QB in 2017, yet he managed only seven top-15 finishes. Smith should provide more consistency this season in both reality and fantasy.

    While you don't have to draft Smith as a starter, take him as a high-end backup with the potential to work his way into your starting lineup.

Ryan Grant, WR, Indianapolis Colts

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    Ryan Grant has solidified his position as the No. 2 WR in Indianapolis.
    Ryan Grant has solidified his position as the No. 2 WR in Indianapolis.Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Ryan Grant didn't make a major impact during his four years with the Redskins. However, he had his best season in 2017, when he finished with 45 receptions for 473 yards and four TDs on 12.2 percent of the target share.

    He's been an afterthought for years, so when signed with the Colts this offseason, it didn't make much of a blip on the fantasy radar. That should change this month. 

    As the positive reports on Andrew Luck continue to roll in, the fantasy value of those connected to him will rise. The obvious names are T.Y. Hilton and Jack Doyle, as they're the only two current members of the Colts receiving corps with an established connection to Luck.

    A healthy Luck should be able to support impressive fantasy campaigns beyond those from Hilton and Doyle, though. That's why Grant's name must come up when deep sleepers are mentioned.

    According to Andrew Walker of Colts.com, head coach Frank Reich said Hilton and Grant "have really separated themselves" from the rest of the team's receiving corps. Even if Hilton matches his 23.1 percent target rate from last season, that still leaves 19.3 percent left over from the departures of Donte Moncrief and Kamar Aiken.

    If Grant can pick up 13-14 percent of that in what should be a pass-friendly offense, he'll have fantasy value.

    Based on ADP, Grant is the deepest of the deep sleepers with an ADP of nearly 300 and a consensus ranking outside the top 100 WRs. A starting WR playing with a healthy Andrew Luck deserves far better than that, but try to take advantage of how buried he is until more people get a look at the Colts offense throughout the preseason.  

Charles Clay, TE, Buffalo Bills

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    If he stays healthy, Charles Clay might be the most reliable target in Buffalo.
    If he stays healthy, Charles Clay might be the most reliable target in Buffalo.Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    As we enter the 2018 season, it's fair to say the TE position isn't deep with proven, reliable players. That's why mostly unproven TEs like George Kittle and Trey Burton are consistently drafted as top-12 options.

    While there's upside and hope for those two to pay off, you won't get that potential at a discount.

    If you're looking for a discount on a proven veteran who might lead his team in targets, consider taking a shot on Charles Clay. He's basically a free pick with an ADP of 171.5 as the 19th TE off the board.

    Last season, Clay's 15.8 percent target share in Buffalo was second only to RB LeSean McCoy at 16.5 percent. While Kelvin Benjamin and Corey Coleman may cut into those targets, Clay could be a reliable security blanket for AJ McCarron or Josh Allen. 

    Unlike younger options such as O.J. Howard, Austin Hooper, Tyler Kroft or the aforementioned Kittle and Burton, Clay doesn't offer much in terms of upside, but he's stable. Clay finished 11th amongst TEs who played at least 10 games with 9.0 fantasy points per game in 13 appearances. That made him a low-end starting option when healthy.

    If you're worried about Clay's durability, just remember that at his current ADP, you assume no risk with him.

    Opportunity goes a long way in fantasy football, especially at a position that lack proven depth. Considering how weak the Bills' WR corps appears, Clay should have an important role out of necessity. If you draft him late and he doesn't work out, cutting him loose won't be difficult.

Chris Carson, RB, Seattle Seahawks

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    Chris Carson continues to push Rashaad Penny for the starting job in Seattle.
    Chris Carson continues to push Rashaad Penny for the starting job in Seattle.Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Rashaad Penny is the shiny new toy in the Seahawks backfield. Chris Carson is the reclamation project that got pushed to the side when Seattle surprisingly spent a first-round pick on Penny in April.

    The Seahawks made a point to address a major need after finishing as a bottom-10 rushing offense in each of the past two seasons. Penny was the obvious name to target for fantasy purposes as soon as Seattle drafted him.

    Don't forget about the reclamation project, though.

    Around this time last year, Carson's named started to pop up more and more as a standout in a Seahawks backfield that didn't have an obvious choice to lead the way. He started three of Seattle's first four games before he suffered a broken leg in Week 4 that ended his season. Over those four games, he rushed 49 times for 208 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and caught seven of eight targets for 59 yards and a TD.

    Between losing Carson and mustering another poor rushing performance as a team, the Seahawks had enough motivation to address their backfield issues by selecting Penny. They had no major commitment to Carson, a 2017 seventh-round pick, so it made sense for them to invest what they did to fill a need.

    However, it appears as though Carson, not Penny, is in line to begin the season as Seattle's RB1.

    On Tuesday, head coach Pete Carroll said Carson was "really the star of the offseason in that he was just so fit, so strong and so explosive from the moment we got back," according to Andy Patton of USA Today. Patton noted that "Carson ran with the first team in Seattle's scrimmage game on Saturday, catching a pass on a wheel route for a touchdown on the first play of the game," while Penny ran with the second team. 

    Based on his talent and where the Seahawks drafted him, it's fair to see Penny with an ADP of 49.8 as RB22. He eventually may be the clear lead back and pay off that ADP, but Carson can't be ignored. He's currently RB44 with an ADP of 132.8.

    If he can stay in the mix throughout the season, grabbing him that late is a heist. Even if Penny supplants him later in the year, Carson is still likely to provide a positive return on where you draft him.

Paul Richardson, WR, Washington Redskins

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    The Redskins spent a lot of money on Paul Richardson, but he's getting almost no love in fantasy drafts.
    The Redskins spent a lot of money on Paul Richardson, but he's getting almost no love in fantasy drafts.Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Why is a player who signed a five-year, $40 million deal with $16.5 million guaranteed being largely ignored? You should ask yourself that question if you see Paul Richardson on the board in the final rounds of your drafts over the next month.

    While far from spectacular, Richardson is coming off the best season of his four-year career, all of which he spent with the Seahawks. In 16 games last year, he caught 44 of 80 targets (15.2 percent target share) for 703 yards and six TDs.

    Even though he was inconsistent, Richardson still posted three top-20 finishes and two top-15 finishes. Compare that to new teammate Josh Doctson, who had only one finish inside the top 15 or 20 while catching 35 of 78 targets (14.6 percent target share) for 502 yards and six TDs.

    Doctson finished 56th at WR last season. Richardson was 39th. 

    Neither player will cost you much, but there seems to be a prevailing belief that Doctson will finally overcome the injuries and disappointing start to his career. His ADP of 144.6 puts him at WR52. Richardson can be had two rounds later at 168.6/WR62.

    Even if you don't believe Richardson deserved the money the Redskins gave him, they still paid him to be much more than an afterthought in this offense.

    In the last week alone, Doctson dealt with heel and shoulder issues, and an Achilles injury limited him to two games as a rookie in 2016. While neither player will cost you much, it might be wiser to take Richardson in the final rounds knowing there is less risk involved.