With the overflowing abundance of fantasy football analysis now available at our fingertips, it’s become harder and harder to find true “sleepers” to target in your fantasy draft. With draft cheat sheets, expert rankings, and most importantly, consensus average draft position (ADP) lists all just a mouse click away, your predraft research into unheralded fantasy breakout candidates is likely seeing diminishing returns; fantasy football is so mainstream now that even guys like Keke Coutee and Geronimo Allison are approaching household-name status.
Instead, the best way to get an edge is to mine for value on draft day. Once the first couple rounds are in the books, the challenge becomes identifying players who are poised to significantly outperform their ADP. With that in mind, here are a few players in line to outplay their average draft spot in 2019.
WR Julian Edelman, Patriots
At 33, Edelman is on the downslope of his career, but that doesn’t mean he’s being drafted appropriately. The veteran pass catcher is currently coming off the board as the WR15 in PPR leagues with an ADP of 39th overall—the result, perhaps, of fantasy drafters’ perception of a “down year” in 2018. Of course, Edelman’s total numbers from last season were down: He finished with a modest 74-catch, 850-yard, six-touchdown stat line. But Edelman’s bottom line was hurt by the four-game suspension he served to start the season, and his per-game fantasy scoring average was strong: The savvy playmaker averaged 17.3 PPR points per game from Week 5 on, the WR12 during that stretch.
Edelman has the chance to produce even bigger numbers in 2019. He’s the unquestioned go-to guy in a New England offense devoid of proven pass catchers. Rob Gronkowski is gone. Josh Gordon’s future in the league remains murky. Chris Hogan is a Panther. That trio leaves 195 targets and nine touchdowns on the board. With rookie N’Keal Harry drawing tepid reviews in camp, Edelman will have to shoulder a massive burden in the team’s passing attack. He will get a million targets, and should be expected to finish as a low-end PPR WR1. That’s a great potential value for a third-round pick.
RB Mark Ingram, Ravens
Ingram seems to be getting the “over the hill” treatment in drafts thus far too. The Ravens’ new runner is currently the RB23 with an ADP of 49th overall—a draft slot that seems way too low for a guy with 1,000-yard upside and the potential to score 10-plus touchdowns in Baltimore’s unique, run-centric offense under coordinator Greg Roman. The team is building its scheme around Lamar Jackson’s legs, and that should pay off for its running backs. From Week 11 on last year (after Jackson was named starter), Baltimore ran the ball a league-high 316 times―more than 45 rush attempts per game―and all signs point to a repeat of that philosophy in 2019. As Pro Football Focus’s Scott Barrett points out, “Baltimore’s running backs ranked second in carries [in that stretch], first in rushing yards, and first in yards per carry (a whopping 5.34).” Ingram, who came over from New Orleans, stands to inherit a huge chunk of that action. He could even be one of the team’s go-to options on third downs as a pass catcher, further boosting his value. He’s got low-end RB1 upside for the cost of an early fourth-round pick.
RB Chris Carson, Seahawks
Carson is right behind Ingram on the ADP list, the current RB24 with an average draft slot of 53rd overall. The threat that Carson could lose his job to Rashaad Penny is clearly depressing his perceived value, but in my mind (and that of Seahawks beat writer Michael-Shawn Dugar, who recently wrote that “Carson continues to look like the best running back on the roster”), Carson’s the clear lead back. The Seahawks may look to give Penny, their 2018 first-rounder, more carries this year, but he’ll have plenty of slack to pick up after Mike Davis (112 carries in 2018) left in free agency. There’s enough volume to go around in the run-heavy Seattle offense.
Carson was the RB15 in PPR last year, averaging 14.4 points per game. That output may go up this season, too, even if he cedes a few carries to Penny; Davis also left 42 pass targets on the board when he left in free agency for Chicago, and the Seahawks are already talking about how they need to get Carson more looks through the air. As offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said this week, “[Carson’s] got unbelievable hands and he’s a problem for people coming out of the backfield.” I’m bullish on Carson as an all-around weapon in Seattle’s backfield and I’m grabbing him in every draft I can. He’s got high-end RB2 upside at a fourth-round cost.
WR Alshon Jeffery, Eagles
Injuries can muddle overall fantasy outlooks from year to year, and Jeffery’s surprisingly low ADP is probably connected to the fact he missed three games in 2018. The Eagles’ no. 1 wideout finished as the PPR WR26 (a high-end WR3) thanks to a 65-catch, 843-yard, six-TD stat line. But his per-game average of 14.3 PPR points would’ve ranked him as the WR23 over a full season. Jeffery’s now healthy, as is Carson Wentz—who loves to target his big wideout. Wentz posted a 111.7 passer rating when throwing to Jeffery last year, and as PFF’s astoundingly-great-named Daniel Kelley notes, Jeffery’s “PPR points-per-game average is 2 points higher with Carson Wentz at quarterback than without.” Kelley adds that “in the three years of his career that [Jeffery’s] played all 16 games, he’s averaged a 13th-place PPR finish among receiver, including two top-10 years.” Jeffery is currently the WR28 with an ADP of 71st overall. Getting a receiver with top-10 upside in the fifth round is a good way to give yourself an edge over the competition.
WR Will Fuller, Texans
After missing all but seven games last year, health is the main concern with Fuller, and the lack of faith that he can play a full season has translated into a WR32 ranking with an ADP of 79th overall. But at that sixth-round price tag, his upside is far too scintillating for me to pass up. Fuller’s an elite deep threat and a touchdown-maker of the highest order. He’s also got an incredible connection with quarterback Deshaun Watson, whose game jumps to a new level when Fuller is on the field. In the 11 games Fuller and Watson have played together, Fuller has recorded 45 catches for 782 yards and 11 TDs. Extrapolate that to a full season and you get WR1-type numbers: 65 catches for 1,137 yards and 16 TDs. Even a regression on Fuller’s absurd touchdown rate would put him into WR2 territory, and that’s an excellent value in the middle of the sixth round.
QB Lamar Jackson, Ravens
Jackson, perhaps more than anyone else on this list, has a chance to annihilate his current QB18 spot in drafts and far outplay his ADP of 129th overall. His rushing ability, almost alone, gives him the upside to finish as a top-five scorer at his position. Jackson, who started seven games as a rookie last year, set the record for rush attempts by a quarterback with 147 last season, gaining 695 yards and scoring five times on the ground. That helped make him the QB7 in that stretch—and that was with a wholly underwhelming 1,201-yard, six-TD, three-interception passing line. This year, expect Jackson to run less (though Ravens coach John Harbaugh said to “bet the over” for Jackson’s rush attempt total when Cam Newton’s career-high 139 carries was thrown out), but don’t be surprised if he makes a leap as a passer with the help of rookie receivers Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin and the smart scheming of Greg Roman. He already has a solid floor just from his rushing, but with a big jump in passing efficiency, Jackson could be a league-winning quarterback.
WR Albert Wilson, Dolphins
Wilson played just seven games in 2018 before a hip injury ended his season, but the Golden Tate–esque playmaker was one of the most dynamic run-after-the-catch threats in the NFL when he was on the field. The frequent tackle breaker finished first in yards after the catch per reception (13.3 yards), per PFF, and while that number is bound to regress in 2019, it wasn’t a complete fluke. Wilson was second among qualifiers in yards after the catch per reception in 2017 (7.5), too, and finished ninth in that metric in 2015 (6.3). He averaged 13.8 PPR points per game in 2018, which would’ve been good for a WR25 (high-end WR3 bordering on WR2) finish over a full season, and he’s currently being drafted as the WR69 with an ADP of 208th overall. He’s got to stay healthy this year for the Dolphins, but he represents an opportunity for major value—and you can essentially get him for free.