It’s fantasy football season! Where over-drafted busts crush dreams. The great philosopher Gollum described each fantasy football league - there’s one ring to rule them all. To put oneself in a position to earn said ring, each team needs to maximize their drafts by finding late sleepers who may be in a situation to have a breakout season.
Let’s look at three players at every position who are selected in drafts after pick 100 who may be in a spot to return significant value in the draft. Their ADP (Average Draft Position) is calculated by FantasyPros. Finding late-round steals that can be reliable contributors may be the difference between the consolation bracket and an elusive fantasy football championship.
Trevor Lawrence, JAC (ADP 118)
Putting one’s chips into a rookie quarterback basket can be intimidating, but the strategy would have worked last year with Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert. We all know the hype around Lawrence - the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck. He’s athletic, has incredible arm talent, and is paired with a great offensive mind, albeit it has been collegiately successful.
Along with Darrell Bevell and Brian Schottenheimer, Urban Meyer will look to maximize the young Clemson stud. There’s an excellent complement of offensive weapons, including 2020 second-round pick Laviska Shenualt, veteran wide receiver Marvin Jones, and big-bodied speedster D.J. Chark. The team also added Lawerence’s Clemson buddy Travis Ettienne in the first round of the draft.
Furthermore, the Jaguars’ defense will force the team to throw well into most fourth quarters. The unit ranked 31st in yards allowed and in points per game allowed. Lawrence is an excellent target as a quarterback two in super-flex leagues. He will not be available after 100 in that format, but he may be a solid option at that price in single quarterback leagues. The situation of the Jaguars should lead to good fantasy production.
Trey Lance, SF (ADP 137)
Kyle Shanahan with running quarterback should make a lot of fantasy football players salivate. Yes, Jimmy Garoppolo lead this team to the Super Bowl just two seasons ago, but the 49ers spent the third overall selection in the draft on Trey Lance - how long do you think they’ll hold him off the field? Garoppolo has dealt with significant injuries throughout his tenure in San Francisco, so those issues could continue to plague the former Patriot. Only now the Shanahan has Lance instead of C.J. Beatherd and Nick Mullins.
Lance isn’t overly experienced - only started 19 college games - but Shanahan is an excellent teacher who has extracted the most value out of most quarterbacks he’s coached. Lance lands in a perfect spot with Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle, and an elite rushing game that Lance’s athletic ability will enhance. He could be a late-round rookie quarterback that helps fantasy players win their league down the stretch of the season - a la Justin Herbert in 2020. Draft quarterbacks who will use their legs. Their floor is very high, and the ceiling for these players is also very high.
Tua Tagovailoa, MIA (ADP 154)
Unlike Herbert and Burrow, Tagovailoa struggled to impress his fanbase during his rookie season. Tagovailoa’s playbook was simplified. He was coming off a severe hip injury and seemed wildly uncomfortable on the field. There’s not much glitz or glamour when a fantasy player hits select on Tagovailoa’s name on draft day. However, the circumstances around the team have changed a bit.
The team’s defense should still be good, but Miami made a significant investment in their skilled-position players - much like the New York Giants (and yes, Daniel Jones is a sleeper as well at the ADP of 192). Adding Jaylen Waddle and Will Fuller to a group that already consisted of DeVante Parker, Preston Williams, and Mike Gesicki furthers the speed and athleticism of the unit while maintaining the size/physical receivers that can win contested-catch situations.
Last season, when he was behind with the playbook, he had fourteen touchdowns and five interceptions while passing for 1,923 yards. I think he can certainly take the next step in his second season. However, I would rather have Jones at the ADP of 192 than a Tagovailoa. We discuss Jones frequently on this great site, but he deserves the acknowledgment for the possible step he can take with his new weapons as long as the Giants’ offensive line holds up.
Jamaal Williams, DET (ADP 126)
The Lions pursued their former Packers’ rival in free agency. Detroit signed Williams to a two-year, $6 million contract, and there’s been nothing but a steady drum-beat ever since. Williams was always the 1-B running back behind Aaron Jones in Green Bay. He’s physical, has solid contact balance, and provides value on third-down.
Star running-back DeAndre Swift has been dealing with a groin injury in camp. Before the injury, Swift said he viewed himself and Williams as a “Tandem.” Lions’ knee-cap munching head coach Dan Campbell, who has ties to Sean Payton in New Orleans, also stated that Swift and Williams could be utilized like Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray. Offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn has also heaped praise on Williams - I can see Lynn also using Williams in the passing game.
Williams has 10 career rushing touchdowns and eight career receiving ones. The Lions’ offensive line was upgraded in the off-season with the addition of Penei Sewell. Center Frank Ragnow is also one of the more underrated players in the NFL. The Lions will attempt to run the football - until game script disallows them the opportunity. Swift, who dealt with concussions last season, is already on the mend. If you decide to go zero RB, the 26-year-old Williams is a prime back to target late in the draft.
Latavius Murray, NO, (ADP 124)
Drew Brees has retired from his illustrious career with the New Orleans Saints. This leaves a battle at the quarterback position between gadget runner Taysom Hill and former first-overall pick Jamies Winston. The offensive line of the Saints is one of the more elite units in the NFL. I expect a run-heavy approach that features a lot of Alvin Kamara and a solid amount of carriers for the 31-year-old Murray. Murray has seen 71 targets in the last two seasons with Sean Payton as his coach, which gives him a small floor in PPR leagues.
If something were to happen to Kamara, then Murray his catapulted into a possible fantasy star. Giant great Devonta Freeman and former Packer Ty Montgomery are the two-backs behind Murray. This offense just lost Michael Thomas for several weeks, if not more, with that contentious situation brewing in New Orleans. Back-up receiver Tre’Quan Smith is also dealing with an injury. Both Winston and Hill aren’t Hall of Fame-caliber quarterbacks, so, again, I expect a more run-heavy approach. Murray isn’t a terrible target in the double-digit rounds of drafts.
Xavier Jones, LAR (ADP 175)
Cam Akers’ injury was a devastating blow to a horizontal rushing attack that had significant success late last season. Darrell Henderson will now have the first attempts to secure the lead running-back role in this offense - we have seen this script before. Henderson has dealt with a lot of nagging injuries throughout his career. Henderson was essentially benched last season after a mostly inefficient showing - it didn’t seem like the coaching staff was in love with his skill-set.
There have been rumors that Henderson was dealing with injuries last season as well. Nevertheless, Jones is a name that attracts hype around Rams’ camp. Jones was a very productive running-back in college but struggled with fumbles. Head Coach Sean McVay spoke glowingly about Jones, and it appears his chances to make the final-roster are attainable. If Henderson struggles to impress the coaching staff, Jones can find his way onto the football field with one of the best play-callers in the NFL, a possible hall of fame quarterback, and potent receiving weapons. With one of the last picks in the draft, Jones could return a lot of value. Stay tuned for pre-season.
Darnell Mooney, CHI (ADP 133)
The selection of Mooney in the 2020 fifth round may have saved general manager Ryan Pace’s job. Mooney routinely found ways to create separation and be open - his quarterbacks just couldn’t hit him on deep passes. The combination of Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles struggled to locate Mooney on deep targets. NFL Next Gen stats had Mooney’s separation ability at 3.2 yards from the closest defender. That’s comparable to DeAndre Hopkins, Jarvis Landry, and Devante Adams. Mooney was targeted 22 times for 20+ yards, and an incredible 17 of those targets were deemed uncatchable.
In a better situation, Mooney can thrive - Andy Dalton and/or Justin Feilds is a better situation. Bears’ head coach Matt Nagy can’t stop raving about the route running ability Mooney displays every day in training camp. Allen Robinson is on the last year of his deal and will command coverage. Anthony Miller was traded to the Texans. This year is the Darnell Mooney breakout year. Draft him at value, and it’ll pay dividends.
Mike Williams, LAC (ADP 112)
The 2017 first-round selection has yet to live up to the top-10 hype, but the presence of Justin Herbert offers immense upside. Herbert has a cannon for an arm, and Williams is a true deep threat receiver. Williams averages a 16.2-yard aDot (average depth of target). Out of receivers that played at least 50% of their team’s snaps, Williams ranked first in aDot during the 2020 season. Williams also ranked seventh in contested catches last season.
He is a contested-catch specialist with exceptional body control, tracking, and catch radius (88th percentile for WRs). Injuries have plagued him, but he’s only 26-years-old. He recorded 48 catches on 81 targets for 756 yards and five touchdowns last season. Keenan Allen isn’t getting any younger, and Hunter Henry’s 87 targets are in New England. These opportunities will be provided to Austin Ekeler, who missed most of last season, but Williams’s skill-set meshes well with Herbert’s abilities.
Laviska Shenault Jr, JAC (ADP 105)
Like Trevor Lawrence, Shenault will have so many opportunities through a football game because his team will be trailing a lot. The reports from Jaguars’ camp are all very positive about Shenault; the opposite can be said of his fellow teammate D.J. Chark. The explosive, thick, wide receiver will be a focal point for Urban Meyer’s offense.
Shenault had 58 catches on 77 targets for 600 yards, and five touchdowns last season. He was also used a lot on the ground. Shenault could be the new version of Curtis Samuel, a player who thrived in Meyer’s offense at Ohio State. He will have to stay healthy, but he could be in for a second-year breakout on a team that will throw the football often. Also, look for Marvin Jones Jr. as a late-round pick. His ADP is 137, and I believe his veteran leadership will assist the raw Lawrence. Jones isn’t an eye-popping selection, but he’s been consistent for a while.
Adam Trautman, NO (ADP 178)
This ADP is going to rise soon. Trautman is stepping into an offense that loves targeting the tight end position. An offense that allowed Jared Cook and his 73 targets to walk, and an offense that also allowed long-time backup Josh Hill to pursue another team. Sean Payton spent a third-round pick on Trautman in 2020. Trautman stepped in as a rookie and earned the best Pro Football Focus blocking grades among tight ends.
How does that benefit fantasy? It gets him on the field and makes him an interchangeable and versatile part of the offense. The Saints are down Michael Thomas and Tre’Quan Smith at the moment. Trautman is going to destroy this ADP. He only had 16 catches for 175 yards and a touchdown last season, but he had 70 catches for 916 yards and 14 touchdowns at Dayton. If you punt on the top tight ends (Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, George Kittle, etc.), then target two of these tight ends. If you can only get one, select Trautman.
Tyler Higbee, LAR (ADP 135)
The phenomenal end of the 2019 season seems like a long-time ago for Higbee. He was very hyped heading into last season, but the Jared Goff-led offense let Higbee’s fantasy owners down. However, Goff is now in Detriot, and Gerald Everett is now in Seattle which leaves Higbee as the primary tight end in 11 personnel.
Matt Stafford will make McVay’s offense more explosive, leading to more touchdowns and fantasy points. Higbee’s situation is upgraded in several ways and he can rebound from the disappointing 2020 season where he received 47 catches for 530 yards and five touchdowns. Those stats don’t seem too bad, but three of those touchdowns came in week two against the Eagles.
Irv Smith Jr, MIN (ADP 145)
Smith will assume the third-option role as a receiver behind Justin Jefferson and an aging Adam Theilen. Kyle Rudolph is now on the New York Giants. Smith only had 30 catches for 365 yards and five touchdowns last year, but that was only on 304 passing snaps as the number two tight end behind Rudolph. He just turned 23.
Minnesota’s offense is based on the stretch-zone, play-action, pass that features a lot of bootlegs. Smith does an excellent job in check-release situations, and he’s a solid route runner in short to intermediate parts of the football field. Minnesota spent a 2019 second-round selection on Smith, and I expect him to have fantasy relevant season. The opportunity is there to be seized.