Call them sleepers. Call them fliers. Call them what you will. The final rounds of a fantasy draft are where legends are born. Strike gold here and you’ll have a story to tell your grandkids. Well, perhaps not, but landing a productive player with one of your final two or three draft picks will give you instant street cred among other league owners. More importantly, it’ll give you a leg up on the competition.
I’m a bit of a late-round fantasy junkie. I spend far too many hours surfing the web and browsing blogs with the hopes of finding that special, sneaky player who will take the NFL by storm. Last season’s Late Round Legend list uncovered talent like Steve Slaton, Eddie Royal, DeSean Jackson and Leon Washington. There were of course misses, as well (Robert Meachem, ack!), but more readers showered me with congratulations that rotten tomatoes, which is a sure sign of success.
Depending on the size of your league, the last couple rounds of your draft probably fall somewhere between pick 140 and 200. For purposes of this article, I’ve identified players who meet four criteria:
- Average Draft Position of 140 or higher
- Favorable opportunity to turn in quality fantasy performances before Week 5
- Upside to become and every week fantasy contributor
- Only RBs, WRs, TEs and QBs are listed (find your own kickers and defenses)
Bernard Scott, RB, Bengals
All that’s standing between Scott and a starting job is Cedric Benson. There’s not much else that needs to be said, is there? I’ll say more anyway. The scouting report on Scott is that he has the speed and quickness to get to the perimeter. That would make him perhaps the ideal change of pace for Benson, whose game is based on power. QB Carson Palmer indicated during training camp that Scott "has made the most plays and dropped the most jaws" of any Bengals rookie. With the team’s decision to release Kenny Watson, look for Scott to start getting touches early in the season and overtake Benson as the featured runner by the midway point.
Glen Coffee, RB, 49ers
Frank Gore has seen his production drop both of the last two seasons. The downward trend along with a checkered injury history should be red flags for fantasy owners. The fact is Gore’s best NFL days may be behind him. If Gore should miss time, rookie Glen Coffee would become the workhorse. But even if Gore manages to stay healthy, don’t be surprised if a backfield by committee approach materializes. Coffee has been the star of San Francisco’s preseason and has even drawn praise for his pass protection skills — something that generally holds rookie RBs back.
Justin Fargas, RB, Raiders
Fargas is typically being drafted somewhere in the early 200s. Not surprisingly owners are favoring Oakland’s younger RBs Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. But the Raiders unofficial depth chart says Fargas is the starter. At the very least he’s worth a flier in the late round on the off chance that holds true. Imagine getting a starter from a solid rushing team with one of your last couple draft picks.
James Davis, RB, Browns
Davis is the third rookie RB on the list but he may prove to be the best value. With an average draft position of 216, he can be had in the last round of most fantasy leagues. Davis is an electric rookie who sits behind the aging Jamal Lewis. Remember, Lewis showed signs of wearing down last year. Head coach Eric Mangini has been impressed with the rookie this preseason and comes from a coaching lineage that doesn’t shy away from a backfield-by-committee approach.
Earl Bennett, WR, Bears
The Bears opted not to pursue a trade for a disgruntled wide receiver like Brandon Marshall or Anquan Boldin this offseason. The reason? They’re counting on major production from second-year man Earl Bennett. Bennett played with QB Jay Cutler at Vanderbilt so the two have a natural rapport. More importantly, Bennett has been a star during training camp. He easily beat out Rashied Davis for the starting spot opposite Devin Hester. Bennett reportedly has the best hands of any WR on the Bears roster. The upside is an Eddie Royal-like breakout year.
Davone Bess, WR, Dolphins
Hey, you in the PPR league. If you don’t know about Bess, you’re doing yourself a disservice. He’ll be available at the end of your draft and is well positioned to catch 80+ passes this season. Everyone knows Chad Pennington has a noodle arm. Pennington is a possession receiver’s best friend. Bess should win the starting job opposite the speedy Ted Ginn Jr., beating out 2008 PPR phenom Greg Camarillo. Although the Dolphins have a more difficult schedule this season, Bess should deliver quite a few games with six or more receptions. If you don’t draft him, remember him for waiver wire purposes.
Mario Manningham, WR, Giants
How the Giants wide receiver corps shakes out is one of the 2009 preseason’s biggest questions. Steve Smith is the guy who’s getting the most attention in fantasy circles. I agree that he has good upside, especially in PPR leagues. But Mario Manningham is the WR who I think has the best chance to replace Plaxico Burress as the deep threat. Like Burress, I think Manningham will be somewhat of a feast or famine type player—a guy who will catch 2-3 passes per game but one of those will be a bomb.
Bobby Engram, WR, Chiefs
While manning the ship in New England last year, QB Matt Cassell hooked up with slot WR Wes Welker for over 100 pass completions. Now that he’s in Kansas City, it’s not unreasonable to think he’ll continue to find security from the inside wideout. That will be Bobby Engram, who came over from the Seahawks. With TE Tony Gonzalez out of the picture, Engram could develop into KC’s go-to-guy for third-down situations. Consider Engram a poor man’s Welker and laugh all the way to the bank if you’re able to nab him in the final few rounds.
Jermichael Finley, TE, Packers
Finley only caught six balls in 2008 and is off the radar for most fantasy owners. Take a flier on him late in deep leagues and you’ll be pleased when he usurps Donald Lee as the Packers starter. QB Aaron Rodgers called Finley “un-guardable” in the passing game and head coach Mike McCarthy has indicated he’s absolutely comfortable with Finely in any blocking situation. That’s huge because it’s blocking that hampered Finley’s development last year. Finley possesses surprising speed for a TE and can get downfield. He should produce some outstanding yardage performances this season. 800+ yards and six TDs are achievable goals.
Shaun Hill, QB, 49ers
It may surprise you, scratch that, it may stun you to be told that Hill scored the same amount of points per game as Peyton Manning in 2008. It’s true though. Hill averaged 19.76 points per game last season, the exact same total as Manning (by TheHuddle.com scoring). In nine starts last season, Hill posted 13 touchdowns and 2,046 yards passing. Watch Hill in a game and you probably won’t be all that impressed, but at the end of the day he’ll put up some good numbers for you. In fantasy football, that’s all that counts. Take him as a No. 2 QB, who you can use as a spot starter.