When it comes to getting maximum value out of your fantasy draft, it's all about the sleepers.
Yes, you have to pick the right players in the early rounds to build a successful core. Landing a player who isn't worth starting by midseason is an easy way to derail your championship hopes. However, a lot more goes into building a playoff-bound roster.
Quality depth is important. Players get hurt, bye weeks exists and some players inevitably do disappoint. Ideally, you want to have several starting-caliber buys on your bench so that if a swap does have to be made—or if the right matchup presents itself—you can move a guy up and continue rolling toward fantasy glory.
This is where sleepers come into play. Don't look at the back end of your draft as something that doesn't matter because "these guys aren't going to start anyway." Instead, take a chance on some upside. Target handcuffs. Target rookies or young players with an opportunity to break out. Pay attention to overlooked players in beneficial situations. These late-round picks can make or break your fantasy season.
With this in mind, let's take a look at some top 2019 sleepers and where they're currently being targeted.
*All average draft positions (ADP) according to Yahoo Fantasy.
Austin Ekeler, RB, Los Angeles Chargers (103.8 ADP)
Though he isn't exactly a player you want to target for a starting RB slot, Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler does have the potential to become a reliable RB2 or flex option. A lot obviously depends on when/if Melvin Gordon decides to end his contract holdout.
If Gordon doesn't return early in the season—and the Chargers have little reason to make this happen—L.A. is going to go with Ekeler and Justin Jackson as its primary backfield tandem. According to ESPN's Eric D. Williams, the two are likely to see a 50-50 split:
It's this potential split that has Ekeler trending toward the back half of fantasy drafts. It's important to remember, though, how Ekeler performed last season.
Despite making just three starts in 14 games, Ekeler still managed to rack up 958 combined rushing and receiving yards. He caught 39 passes and found the end zone six times. When Gordon was healthy and in the lineup, Ekeler rarely saw anything close to 50 percent of the touches.
We can expect a rise in production from Ekeler this season, at least until/unless Gordon returns. Don't be afraid to take him for your first bench slot or even as a flex starter.
Josh Gordon, WR, New England Patriots (117.8 ADP)
The NFL has conditionally reinstated New England Patriots wide receiver Josh Gordon. Now, fantasy footballers have to wait and see how the Patriots plan to handle the oft-suspended pass-catcher.
"For the past eight months, Josh's situation has been entirely a league matter," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said in a statement, per the Boston Globe. "When Josh returns to our program, we will evaluate the entire situation and do what we feel is best for Josh and the team."
This is a situation that bears watching. If it seems evident that the Patriots will add him to the offense by Week 1, Gordon is worth every bit of a mid-round selection. In 11 games with New England last season, he amassed 40 receptions, 720 yards and three touchdowns.
Prorated over a 16-game schedule, that's a 1,000-yard season, and only 20 players produced at least 1,000 yards receiving last year.
Even if the Patriots are going to take their time integrating Gordon back into the offense, he's worth a flier anywhere in the back half of the draft. If Gordon does return, he should immediately become Tom Brady's top deep threat.
Just be careful not to overdraft Gordon. He's one misstep away from landing back on the suspension list, so grabbing him in, say, Round 6 because there's a run on receivers is not advisable.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens (120.3)
You should not wait until Round 10 to draft your starting quarterback. If you do, however, Baltimore Ravens signal-caller Lamar Jackson is the guy to target. In fact, there's no reason to wait that long to scoop him up.
As a dual-threat quarterback, Jackson has immense fantasy value. He started the final seven games of the 2018 season, and in that span, he produced 1,114 yards passing, five passing touchdowns, 556 yards rushing and four rushing touchdowns.
Prorated over a season, that's roughly 2,546 yards passing, 11 passing touchdowns, 1,270 yards rushing and nine rushing touchdowns.
The rushing numbers alone would make Jackson a starting-caliber fantasy running back. The passing numbers are just icing on the fantasy cake—and they should improve in 2019.
The Ravens drafted receivers Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin to help improve the weapons around Jackson. They have also worked to improve his accuracy in the offseason. Even with improved passing numbers, Jackson isn't going to produce like a traditional quarterback, but that's OK.
"I'm not playing for myself. I'm playing for my team," Jackson said, via the team's official website. "My teammates know I'm all about winning."
As long as your league awards points for quarterback rushing, Jackson can help you win too.
ADP for Other Top Sleepers
93.9; Corey Davis, WR, Tennessee Titans
105.0: Rashaad Penny, RB, Seattle Seahawks
109.0: Miles Sanders, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
111.0: Curtis Samuel, WR, Carolina Panthers
119.0: Courtland Sutton, WR, Denver Broncos
121.6: Adrian Peterson, RB, Washington Redskins
123.6: Mitchell Trubisky, QB, Chicago Bears
124.2: Kalen Ballage, RB, Miami Dolphins
124.7: DK Metcalf, WR, Seattle Seahawks
125.3: Sam Darnold, QB, New York Jets