The final rounds of a fantasy draft are where legends are born. Swipe this year’s Miles Austin, Sidney Rice or Jamaal Charles at the end of your draft and your league mates will be talking about your fantasy acumen for years to come. Even more important than your newfound status as a fantasy god, you’ll substantially improve your chances of winning a championship.
So let’s get started. Depending on the size of your league, the last few rounds of your draft probably fall somewhere from pick 135 and beyond. For purposes of this article, I’ve identified players who meet four criteria:
- Average Draft Position of 135 or higher (as of 8/23)
- Favorable opportunity to turn in quality fantasy performances before Week 5
- Upside to become a consistent fantasy contributor
- Only QBs, RBs, WRs and TEs and are listed (find your own kickers and defenses)
Matt Cassel, QB, Chiefs
Matt Cassel didn’t have the kind of season most people were expecting in 2009. His poor showing has many people doubting whether he’ll ever mature into a quality fantasy QB. I’m not ready to declare that Cassel has arrived, but I like the direction the Chiefs are headed. The team has surrounded their young QB with a bevy of talent, including Jamaal Charles, Thomas Jones, Dwayne Bowe and the electric Dexter McCluster. Those weapons along with Charlie Weis’ tutelage should lead to a year of fast growth for Cassel. Look for Weis to protect his QB by ensuring there’s plenty of opportunity for check downs to his RBs. If you grab Cassel as your second quarterback, don’t be surprised if you’re getting offers from other owners in your league by midseason. Then again, with matchups against the Seahawks, Broncos and Rams near the end of the year you might want to hold onto him for your own benefit.
Chester Taylor, RB, Bears
NFL running backs who average less than 4.0 yards per carry don’t go on to have long, productive careers as starters. They get benched for better RBs. It’s a fact. Look for that storyline to play out this year in Chicago. Matt Forte has averaged just 3.8 yards per carry in his two seasons in the NFL (3.6 last season). He’s an ordinary runner who doesn’t have the speed or moves to create his own holes, nor the power to run people over. To make matters worse, his offensive line is average at best. Forte’s saving grace is he can catch some passes out of the backfield, but all-around talent will ultimately win out in the Windy City. Look for the versatile and underrated Chester Taylor to secure a 50/50 timeshare by Week 4 and earn the majority of the touches by midseason. Mark him down as a darkhorse to finish among the top 20 fantasy RBs this year.
Anthony Dixon, RB, 49ers
Glen Coffee abruptly retired during the preseason, which makes rookie Anthony Dixon the backup RB on a team with an offense that’s on the rise. It won’t be surprising if Dixon makes a huge impact in 2010. Starter Frank Gore is a top fantasy RB but he has a habit of getting nicked up. In his five-year career, Gore has only once played a full 16-game season. While the team signed Brian Westbrook to serve as a change of pace back, Dixon would likely be the workhorse if Gore was to miss time. Westbrook’s days as a full-time player are over. Draft Dixon as a handcuff to Gore or a keeper/dynasty prospect.
Mike Tolbert, RB, Chargers
Let’s step away from the altar and put down the anointing oils. Ryan Matthews doesn’t have a single carry yet in the NFL. We haven’t seen how he runs. We haven’t seen how he catches. We haven’t seen how he pass protects. The very fact that there he’s still an unknown commodity, makes the San Diego RB depth chart one to watch closely. Darren Sproles will no doubt get some work as a change-of-pace back. But should Matthews stumble, I like Mike Tolbert’s chances of seeing a serious uptick in playing time. During one stretch in 2009, Tolbert scored three touchdowns in four games. He proved to be a capable pass catcher, averaging over two receptions per game over the second half of the season. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry. It’s also worth noting that Tolbert is a bowling ball of a RB, ideally suited for goal line work. As a point of fact, during the Chargers first preseason game, the team marched down the field with Matthews carrying six times. Yet it was Tolbert who punched it in from the one-yard line. Owners in TD heavy leagues should take note. In this offense, if Tolbert earns short-yardage duties, he could put up 10 TDs on 100 carries plus add enough gravy in the passing game to make him relevant for fantasy.
Jabbar Gaffney, WR, Broncos
Be on the lookout for Gaffney toward the end of your points-per-reception league drafts because this guy has the makings of a PPR powerhouse. Denver lost their two most consistent receivers in Brandon Marshall and Tony Scheffler. The door is open for Gaffney to become Kyle Orton’s favorite security outlet and go-to receiver. In case you missed it, Gaffney isn’t exactly unproven. In his last two games of 2009, he posted a total of 282 yards and two touchdowns. I think his upside is 90 receptions. He will be this year’s Steve Smith (NYG).
Bernard Berrian, WR, Vikings
Berrian defies the typical Late Round Legend criteria. While most “Legends” are shrouded in a cloak of anonymity, Berrian is a known commodity and has been a relevant fantasy player in previous years. Before you write off the veteran, understand Berrian was plagued by a hamstring injury for much of 2009. The injury along with the emergence of Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin has caused Berrian’s stock to plummet. But this year it’s Rice (hip) and Harvin (migraines) who are battling injuries. Both players could deal with their issues all season long. Berrian is an intriguing late-round grab who could flirt with 900 yards and 6-7 touchdowns. Don’t let him go undrafted in your league.
Devin Thomas, WR, Redskins
Looking for this year’s Sidney Rice? Thomas could be the guy. Follow me here. Rice was a third-year WR last season and was given a huge boost by a new QB (Brett Favre). Thomas is a third-year WR this year and could be given a similar boost by Donovan McNabb. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Thomas will put up 1,300 yards. What I am saying is Thomas has always had the talent. Now he has the QB. If he can maintain mental discipline, he has a good chance to break out. The guy is still just 23 years old so I’m willing to chalk up his first two disappointing seasons to immaturity. Take a gamble on Thomas and hope McNabb’s poise can rub off on him.
Legedu Naanee, WR, Chargers
My favorite sleeper. With the suspension and likely holdout of Vincent Jackson, San Diego’s WR corps offers the potential for lucrative fantasy points from unlikely players. One of the wideouts on this team is going to step up and be a consistent performer for the first half of the season—if not for the duration of the season. I’m not especially high on Malcom Floyd, who drops too many balls and will likely draw coverage from each opponent’s top cornerback. Instead, I’ll grab Legedu Nannee in the late rounds of the draft. What I like best about this kid is he’s playable right out of the starting block with creampuff games against the Chiefs, Jaguars and Seahawks. How good will it feel to start this relative unknown in Week 1 and talk some trash on your league message board after he posts 100 yards and a touchdown?
Louis Murphy, WR, Raiders
The Raiders pass offense has been so bad for so long, many fantasy owners are steering clear of Oakland’s wideouts entirely. But with a new quarterback under center, there’s value to be found among the Silver and Black’s receiving ranks. In addition to TE sleeper Zach Miller, WR Louis Murphy is one to watch. Murphy plays a similar brand of ball to Anquan Boldin. He doesn’t have blinding speed but can use his strength to get open and he catches the ball well in traffic. Plus he has excellent work ethic. Don’t bank on Murphy being an every week starter. But if he’s your fourth WR, you’ll get a quite a few matchup-based starts out of him. The Raiders have a favorable schedule against the pass—especially over the first half of the season.
Aaron Hernandez, TE, Patriots
The TE ranks are top heavy this year with plenty of talent to choose from in the early and middle rounds. However, if you’re in a deep league and you’re scouring the bargain bin at the end of your draft, take a flier on Patriots rookie Aaron Hernandez. He’s a true pass-catching TE with a bigger build than a WR but excellent body control. Hernandez was drafted 113th overall, falling in the draft because he reportedly failed a few drug tests (marijuana). If he can clean up his off the field act, he has a chance to breakout in a big way. So far Hernandez has been the most targeted Patriots player during the preseason. New England hasn’t had a reliable TE since the days of Ben Coates but something tells me this kid is going to make an impact before the 2010 season is over.