Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
In this weirdest of summers, we can all use whatever diversion we can get. We’ve watched Tiger King. Rewatched The Mandalorian. Pulled the old Nintendo Wii out of the closet and played Mario Kart until our thumbs fell off. Some of us have even gone so far as to talk to our families.
Desperate times and all that.
For fantasy football enthusiasts, a most welcome diversion has arrived. With NFL training camps about to open, fantasy draft season is starting to ramp up in earnest. We may have to do it at least six feet away from one another in 2020, but folks across the country are still getting together online to draft their fantasy squads for the upcoming season. And with drafts just around the corner, fantasy managers are neck-deep in research. Looking for value plays to target and busts to avoid.
And no fantasy research session is complete without identifying late-round gems with the potential to become weekly starters—or even league-swinging studs.
That’s right—it’s sleeper time.
Each of the following players has an average draft position (ADP) at Fantasy Football Calculator of at least the 10th round. It isn’t going to cost you much of anything to acquire these players, but the return on investment could pave the way to a fantasy championship.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers (ADP: QB16, 11th Round)
That’s right—we’ve reached the point where a two-time Super Bowl winner and likely first-ballot Hall of Famer is now a fantasy sleeper.
Steven Senne/Associated Press
It’s somewhat understandable that Ben Roethlisberger is flying under the radar in many drafts. The 38-year-old has now missed time in four of the past five seasons—including most of the 2019 campaign with an elbow injury.
However, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin indicated on a conference call that Roethlisberger’s elbow isn’t expected to be a major issue in 2020, per Dale Lolley of DK Pittsburgh Sports:
“He is doing great thus far. He is in great physical condition. Rehabilitation in regard to the injury itself is going well. I hear nothing but positive reports from that standpoint. There have been no bumps in the road. The fact that the injury and subsequent surgery happened so early in the season in 2019 is probably an asset to him and to us as we push into 2020. I think everybody is comfortable with where things are. We’re excited about him and what he is going to do for us this year.”
As recently as two seasons ago, Roethlisberger led the NFL with 5,129 passing yards and tossed a career-best 34 touchdown passes. In that 2018 season, Roethlisberger trailed only Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes in fantasy points among quarterbacks.
Granted, that came with Antonio Brown as his top wide receiver. But it’s not a stretch to say that even with his current cadre of pass-catchers, Roethlisberger still has a top-five fantasy ceiling.
He’s being drafted as a backup.
Darrell Henderson, RB, Los Angeles Rams (ADP: RB50, 10th Round)
After piling up over 1,900 rushing yards and averaging almost nine yards a carry in 2018 at the University of Memphis, Darrell Henderson was a trendy pick late in fantasy drafts last year. But the 5’8″, 208-pounder’s first NFL season was a forgettable one; Henderson had fewer than 50 touches total, gained just 3.8 yards a carry and failed to amass even 200 total yards.
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
Still, per Stu Jackson of the team’s official website, Rams head coach Sean McVay insisted he saw reasons for optimism in Henderson’s debut year:
“With Darrell, he was a guy that when you do a lot of work on him coming out of Memphis, you love everything about his game. Complete player, a home run hitter, but you saw on some of the runs that he got last year where he’s a finisher, too. I mean, he’s an elusive back, but he’s got some power and he’s got some thickness that can allow him to really have some great contact balance and finish.”
Anytime you select a running back in the double-digit rounds of a fantasy draft, it’s a dart throw. But with Todd Gurley in Atlanta now, the backfield situation in L.A. is wide-open. Veteran Malcolm Brown is a replacement-level player. Rookie Cam Akers has talent, but he also has yet to so much as hit an NFL practice field, much less play in a game.
Henderson is going to get in 2020 what he didn’t in 2019—a real chance to show what he can do. If he seizes that opportunity, look out.
Anthony Miller, WR, Chicago Bears (ADP: WR50, 11th Round)
Asking fantasy managers to invest in any pass-catcher for the Chicago Bears whose name isn’t Allen Robinson will probably get you a look akin to offering them a week-old egg salad sandwich.
At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be much to get excited about with Anthony Miller—he posted a 52/656/2 stat line in 2019 and finished outside the top 50 in PPR fantasy points among wide receivers.
Matt Ludtke/Associated Press
But as Marc Sessler wrote at NFL.com, those modest numbers don’t tell the whole story of Miller’s potential in his third NFL season:
“Allen Robinson roams as Chicago’s top wideout, but Miller offers breakout potential after surging down the stretch in 2019. He piled up 445 of his 656 yards after Week 9, highlighted by a 9/118/1 line against the Packers and 140 yards off nine grabs in a Thanksgiving win over the Lions. Taylor Gabriel’s exit means more snaps while the addition of Nick Foles—if he stays upright—could flip the switch for one of the game’s more impossible-to-watch passing attacks of 2019.”
The Bears desperately need a receiver to slide in as a viable No. 2 option behind Robinson (who is undervalued in his own right this year). In theory, the addition of Foles will improve the play under center in the Windy City. And from Week 10 on last year, Miller quietly posted high-end WR3 numbers in PPR fantasy leagues.
The table is set for a third-year breakout.
Jack Doyle, TE, Indianapolis Colts (ADP: TE17, 13th Round)
Outside of Indianapolis, you won’t see Jack Doyle get a lot of run as one of the NFL’s better tight ends. He doesn’t have elite speed. Or size. He’s never had 700 receiving yards or six touchdown catches in a season. And he’s essentially an afterthought in fantasy drafts in 2020.
Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press
However, as Andrew Walker reported for the Colts’ official website, Doyle is a smart, gutsy player who has earned the respect of tight ends coach Jason Michael:
“In terms of the details of not giving away things, being able to make all of his routes look the same, the top of his routes of being friendly for the quarterback, being in a position for the quarterback to give him a chance to catch the football and not allow the DB to make a play on it, or if it does, it’s a broken-up pass and not an interception. And it’s just that trust of knowing he’s going to be in the right place at the right time, and then handle it the right way for the guy throwing him the football.”
That ability to be in the right place at the right time will no doubt appeal to new Colts quarterback Philip Rivers—a signal-caller who has been known to target the tight end spot with regularity. With Eric Ebron now in Pittsburgh, Doyle is the unquestioned top dog at his position for the Colts in 2020. Provided he stays healthy, it’s not that hard to imagine him getting 90-plus targets.
The only other time that has happened in his career (2017), Doyle caught 80 passes and finished sixth in PPR fantasy points at his position.
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