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Danny Karnik/Associated Press
The NFL preseason is now underway in earnest, which means fantasy football draft season is as well.
With draft day rapidly approaching, managers should be preparing for the most important date on the fantasy calendar. There are cheatsheets to compile. Lists of sleepers to target and busts to avoid.
And perhaps most importantly, the must-have middle- and late-round picks.
While the first few rounds of a fantasy draft are important, they’re also much easier to predict. Early-round bust can tank a season, but getting a pick right in Rounds 1 or 2 isn’t going to win the day.
But if you find a player who vastly overperforms his draft slot, those are the picks that win fantasy leagues.
The following players all have an average draft position outside the first five rounds, according to FantasyPros, and each one should return excellent value in 2019.
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Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press
ADP: QB6 (6th Round)
Many fantasy drafters like to exercise patience before selecting a quarterback given the depth at the position. Others prefer to make an early investment in an elite option.
With Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons, you can essentially have the best of both worlds.
In 2018, Ryan threw for 4,924 yards and 35 touchdowns, which wasn’t far off from his MVP season in 2016. That made him the runner-up to Patrick Mahomes under center in NFL.com fantasy scoring.
Ryan also benefits from an offense with no shortage of passing-game talent.
Julio Jones is one of the NFL’s best wide receivers. Fellow wideout Calvin Ridley is an immensely talented youngster who hauled in 10 touchdowns as a rookie. Mohamed Sanu and tight end Austin Hooper are capable pros, and the Falcons invested two first-round picks in fortifying the offensive line.
The Falcons also play a staggering 13 of their 16 games indoors this season. Their three outdoors games are in Charlotte, San Francisco and Tampa. Ryan will largely duck the cold, and he could avoid rain and wind, too.
Ryan possesses elite fantasy upside with a price tag outside of the top five at his position. There isn’t better value to be had under center.
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Gail Burton/Associated Press
ADP: QB18 (11th Round)
Every year, there’s a disconnect between some players’ overall ADP and where they go in “expert” or industry drafts. The folks who write about fantasy football and/or play in high-stakes contests target some players much earlier or later than the general public.
Such is the case with Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson.
Overall, Jackson is being drafted as a mid-range QB2 in the 11th round. But the second-year pro is regularly coming off the board much earlier relative to other signal-callers in expert leagues.
Jackson was a top-10 fantasy option once he entered the Ravens’ starting lineup in 2018, and Matt Harmon of Yahoo Sports believes a repeat performance is more than possible.
“Jackson will not be used the same way here in 2019 as he was during his rookie year after being forced into an offense designed on the fly. That is not a bad thing. He’s still one of the most dynamic runners we’ve ever seen at quarterback. A floor of 700 yards on the ground feels manageable. Progression as a passer would simply take him from ideal streamer to a top-10 weekly solution. Baltimore just spent two top-100 draft picks at receiver and Jackson has shown flashes of his arm talent along with admittedly shaky moments. His fantasy ADP almost seems to have failed to bake in a ceiling. He has great odds to out-kick that.”
Jackson is a prime example of the upside available late at quarterback this year.
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Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
ADP: RB31 (6th Round)
Instead, we’ll focus on another tailback who many drafters are lukewarm on, largely because he now plays in a crowded backfield.
On a San Francisco 49ers team that also features 2018 free-agent addition Jerick McKinnon and youngster Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman faces plenty of theoretical competition for touches. But McKinnon is working his way back from an ACL tear, and Breida had his own injury issues in 2018.
There’s also the matter of Coleman’s familiarity with and fit in Kyle Shanahan’s offense after their time together in Atlanta.
Heath Cummings of CBS Sports highlighted Coleman as a great target for teams that employ the “Zero RB” strategy and eschew running backs early.
“If you’re skipping running back in the first five rounds, you should spend the last two hoping Tevin Coleman lasts to Round 6. Because he fits perfectly. Coleman has a solid floor as a top-30 back with good exposure to the passing game on an above-average offense. The current health situation of Jerick McKinnon and injury history of Matt Breida gives Coleman enormous upside as well. San Francisco running backs ran for 1,769 yards and caught 53 passes for 457 yards last season. Even 60 percent of that could make Coleman a league-winner if he’s surrounded by an elite receiving corps. Don’t underestimate how good he is in the passing game; he’s averaged 8.1 yards per target over the past three seasons.”
Even if you do grab one back early, Coleman can be a cheap source of RB2 production.
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Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press
ADP: RB41 (9th Round)
The 2018 season was an unmitigated disaster for Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II.
As a rookie, Jones managed only 23 carries while averaging less than two yards per carry. The No. 38 overall pick played only 8.1 percent of the team’s snaps, per Pro Football Reference.
However, Jones appears to be determined to put last year’s struggles behind him.
According to Jason Kanno of Bucs Wire, Jones “looks to be back on track.” He is reportedly practicing “with far more confidence in this year’s training camp,” per Kanno.
Those improvements have led some in the fantasy community—including Ben Gretch of CBS Sports—to predict Jones could be on the verge of a second-year rebound.
“Jones is another back with red flags, and they are plenty. A hamstring injury he dealt with last offseason seemed to linger into the year. He was so bad when he did play that he couldn’t beat out Peyton Barber, the first 250-touch back to fail to reach 1,000 yards since 2013. But Jones was the youngest back in his class, an elite producer in college, and a second-round pick, suggesting the team will give him more chances. Guys like Melvin Gordon and Devonta Freeman remind us Jones wouldn’t be the first back to break out in year two.”
Jones isn’t a sure bet by any stretch of the imagination. But if the USC product is anything close to the player Tampa Bay thought it was getting, he’s a more explosive back than Barber.
For the price of an RB4, it’s worth rolling the dice that Jones will realize his potential under new head coach Bruce Arians.
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Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press
ADP: RB51 (11th Round)
The Miami Dolphins are going to be one of the NFL’s worst teams this season. That could cap the upside of a rushing attack that may have to be abandoned in some games.
Despite that, few running backs have built more fantasy momentum over the past few weeks than second-year pro Kalen Ballage.
Heading into training camp, Kenyan Drake seemed poised to serve as Miami’s No. 1 back. Instead, Ballage—a 232-pounder with 4.46 speed—opened training camp receiving first-team reps.
As Matt Harmon of Yahoo Sports noted, that development should pique the interest of fantasy drafters.
“At this point, if you’re willing to ignore the building drumbeat on Ballage, I almost have to commend your stubbornness. The reports of him getting first-team reps along with Kenyan Drake have been a constant in Miami. Ballage was a mercurial college prospect but was an 85th percentile SPARQ athlete who flashed with 4.4 yards after contact per attempt, per Sports Info Solutions, in a tiny sample as a rookie. The Dolphins figure to get a pace boost this year with an influx of Patriots coaches. New England ranked second in plays run in 2018, while Miami finished in the basement. Ballage is as solid a bet there is outside the top 40 running backs.”
Drake is still going to be a factor in the Dolphins backfield. But any time you can acquire legitimate fantasy upside at running back in the double-digit rounds, it’s worth exploring.
If Ballage does wind up as the lead back in Miami, this is the kind of pick that wins leagues.
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Adam Hunger/Associated Press
ADP: WR30 (7th Round)
After flirting with 1,000 yards and scoring seven touchdowns two years ago, Robby Anderson’s numbers dipped in 2018. He finished with 50 catches for 752 yards and six touchdowns across 14 games (nine starts).
While speaking with Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, Anderson said last season was a disappointment but 2019 would be different.
“That was a down year for me,” Anderson said. “I know my capabilities. I know what I want to become…and that’s the best receiver in the NFL. My eyes are on the prize more than ever. I’m just more focused than ever.”
There’s reason to believe that proclamation could be more than just bluster.
Anderson caught fire at the end of last season, piling up a gaudy 312 receiving yards and three touchdowns from Week 14 through Week 16. Over that span—which coincides with the fantasy playoffs—only DeAndre Hopkins of the Houston Texans had more PPR points than Anderson.
Is Anderson going to sustain that kind of statistical production over an entire 16-game season? Probably not. But he showed real chemistry with quarterback Sam Darnold late last season, and he should serve as Gang Green’s No. 1 option in the passing game this year.
His current asking price in WR3 territory is far closer to his fantasy floor than his ceiling.
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Matt Ludtke/Associated Press
ADP: WR44 (10th Round)
There’s no question who the No. 1 wide receiver in Green Bay is. But after Davante Adams, the waters muddy quickly.
But those waters may be clearing a bit—to the benefit of second-year pro Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
“I think one guy that has really jumped out, in the spring, was Marquez (Valdes-Scantling). He’s always timing really fast. Now he’s playing to his time,” Rodgers said. “Marquez is starting to play with more confidence, and that’s pretty good to see.”
Per Wes Hodkiewicz of the team’s website, Valdes-Scantling said he spent time in the offseason working with Randy Moss in an effort to become a more well-rounded receiver. Packers cornerback Tramon Williams said he’s seen a difference in camp.
“You think about MVS’ body type. You think about Randy Moss’ body type. Similar. To get a chance to have a work out with a guy of that magnitude, it can do a lot for your confidence. MVS already has a lot of ability. He’s probably got Moss-type speed. He’s shown a lot already and he’s going to be one of the guys who we’re depending on this year.”
There will be plenty of available targets in Green Bay this year. There should be plenty of single coverage opposite Adams, too.
Late-round receivers should be all about upside, and Valdes-Scantling has a ton of it.
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Matt Rourke/Associated Press
ADP: WR50 (11th Round)
Who says you can’t go home again?
DeSean Jackson spent the first six years of his NFL career with the Philadelphia Eagles. He topped 1,000 receiving yards in three of those seasons and emerged as one of the league’s top deep threats.
After five years with the Washington Redskins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jackson is back in Philly. And the 32-year-old told Dave Zangaro of NBC Sports Philadelphia that he can’t wait to get back on the field in Eagles green.
“I can’t wait. What is it? Sept. 8 is the first game? I can’t wait. We got the Washington Redskins coming to town, a former team of mine. I’m just excited. We can’t fast-forward any faster. We gotta work. We’re in training camp mode. Every day we’re just getting ourselves better and competing. And I think this team right here is very special and everybody has one common role. We want to go out there and make each other better.”
Jackson isn’t getting any younger, but he led the league last year with 18.9 yards per reception.
Over the first month of the 2018 season, with Ryan Fitzpatrick mostly at the helm in Tampa, Jackson was a top-15 PPR receiver.
According to numerous reports out of Philadelphia, Jackson has quickly built a rapport with Carson Wentz. The two have routinely connected on long throws throughout the offseason and training camp.
Jackson has always been a high-variance fantasy option, but he’s still capable of monster weekly stat lines.
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Chris Carlson/Associated Press
ADP: TE6 (6th Round)
Fantasy owners can take one of three paths at tight end this year.
The first is to spend an early pick on one of the “Big Three”: Travis Kelce of the Chiefs, Zach Ertz of the Eagles and George Kittle of the 49ers. All three have sky-high upside but carry a hefty draft-day price tag.
You can also throw a late dart at a young up-and-comer like Austin Hooper of the Falcons or an aging veteran like Delanie Walker of the Titans. The asking price is a lot lower, but success is far from guaranteed.
Otherwise, you can split the difference by investing a middle-round pick in a second-tier player like Hunter Henry of the Chargers. Henry missed all of the 2018 season with an ACL tear, but he ranked seventh in PPR points per game among tight ends in 2017.
Henry is healthy again now, and Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt told ESPN’s Eric Williams that he appears primed for a big-time rebound.
“He looks really good. It’s great to have Hunter back. He’s explosive and fast, obviously. He does a lot of things for us, whether it’s lining up outside or it’s inside as a blocker—even some of the stuff in the backfield. He’s one of those unique guys that’s a good combination of size and speed. He has great hands and a good feel in the run game.”
If you’re looking for top-five fantasy upside at tight end outside of the fifth round, you should be on the Hunt(er) for Henry.
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Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press
ADP: TE17 (14th Round)
Last year, 49ers tight end George Kittle came out of nowhere to set an NFL record with 1,377 receiving yards. He finished the season as the third-ranked PPR tight end in the process.
In a year where tight ends are easily the biggest question mark in fantasy football, drafters are searching for the next breakout star.
David Latham of Last Word on Pro Football put his money on Mark Andrews of the Baltimore Ravens.
“The Ravens won’t throw the ball that often, so he might not match Kittle’s 1,300 receiving yards. However, he’s still Baltimore’s best receiving threat with considerable red-zone upside. He’ll easily eclipse Kittle’s five touchdowns and could even record double-digit scores. Don’t be surprised when Andrews ends up finishing as a top-five fantasy football tight end.”
A top-five fantasy finish is a bold prediction for a player who managed a pedestrian 34 receptions for 552 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie. But as Clifton Brown of the Ravens website noted, Andrews and quarterback Lamar Jackson have been clicking on the practice field—especially in the red zone.
At this modest asking price, Andrews doesn’t have to be a top-five tight end to be a draft-day steal.
Anything in weekly starter territory would make the 22-year-old a bargain.