Guest Article by Ty Miller
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Fantasy Second-Line Sleepers
As the picks are made, it becomes quickly apparent that your target list is shrinking. You may even die a little inside every time someone plucks an elite name from your list but this is why you need some foresight. Understand you won’t be able to have every stud you want, so similarly to life, prepare to settle for a knock-off.
At the draft, everybody will have their updated rankings or fantasy magazines, and the primary names you’ve heard all summer long will be in bold letters. While your league mates are highlighting their first-round desires, go ahead and skip down that list a little to where you have an edge. When those middle rounds come along, your opponents may begin to take longer to make a pick. They’ll be unsure of the names they’re scanning over. All the while, you’re sitting there with a sinister grin on your face, because you have this draft in the palm of your hand.
In this article, I am going to spotlight nine players that make up a perfect supporting cast for your early-round talent; the guys flying under the casual owner’s radar. These players are cheap, have substantial upside and most importantly, have the opportunity. They are not the top fantasy option on their team and because of that, they are commonly overlooked. These are the Second-Line Sleepers.
Falcons | Wide Reciever
If you have been following my work, you know I laid out the reasons why I love Mohamed Sanu back in March, over at Rotoviz. Since then, I’ve become even more confident he will be fantasy relevant because Atlanta didn’t make an effort to add competition via the NFL draft.
One of the primary positives for Sanu is the upgrade at the quarterback position. Over the last five seasons, Matt Ryan has averaged 38.2 passing attempts per game. In comparison, Andy Dalton averaged 32.4 attempts. Add in Matt Ryan averaging nearly three and a half percent more completions over that same time period, and you can see the positional upgrade with your own two eyes.
Sanu also finds himself in a Falcons offense with over 140 vacated targets from a year ago. Atlanta attempted nearly 40 passes per game in 2015 and the offense has essentially remained unchanged, other than at the receiving position.
According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Sanu’s current Average Draft Position (ADP) is mid-11th round. Amazingly, it hasn’t changed much in over four months. If you’re interested in reading more on Mohamed Sanu, check out the article I linked previously.
Lions | Running Back
Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick are solid receiving backs, but they aren’t ideal bludgeons to move piles between the tackles. It should also be noted, Zenner isn’t just a bowling ball. He is a vital special teams player, which makes it more likely he’ll make the final cut in his sophomore season. Further helping Zenner stick on the team, Abdullah is just now shedding his non-contact, red jersey which he has worn all training camp since undergoing labrum surgery on his shoulder. His surgery was performed in January.
The release of Stevan Ridley secures Zenner’s inside-running role. Zenner is also so cheap, he doesn’t even have an ADP, so steal him in the last few rounds of your draft.
Chargers | Wide Receiver
What’s not to like? Benjamin is the WR2 opposite Keenan Allen in a pass-first offense, led by Philip Rivers, who is one of the best values in all of fantasy football. The one immediate player primed to take some targets away from Benjamin was Stevie Johnson and he was injured before the first preseason game. Johnson is now out for the season and a lot of people are hyping sophomore receiver Tyrell Williams now. The Chargers brought in James Jones too. I think those two guys are just distractions from who drafters should be targeting. Allen and Benjamin are the pass catchers to own in that offense for 2016.
Historically, Rivers has a 65 percent completion rate. Pour in 600 or more passing attempts, and you have a 400 completion cocktail. Break that down between Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin, Antonio Gates and Danny Woodhead, and you’ll see Benjamin has the opportunity to nail down 70-plus catches this year.
Travis Benjamin’s ADP is early-10th round.
Bucs | Wide Reciever
The fact remains, he is the WR2 in an offense that should tally at least 600 passing attempts. When Bucs Head Coach Dirk Koetter was in Atlanta, his offenses ranked eighth, third and third in passing attempts, averaging 631 attempts over that three-year span. Last year, Tampa Bay ranked 22nd in passing attempts but Jameis Winston was a rookie, so take 2015 with a grain of salt.
Jackson’s ADP is late-11th round.
Eagles | Running Back
Wendell Smallwood was one of my favorite rookie backs coming into the league this offseason. He has bell-cow traits, plays behind Ryan Mathews (cue the hospital emoji) and his main competition is Kenjon Barner and undrafted rookie Byron Marshall. While I do like Marshall and Barner, I think Smallwood is well-rounded and could find a steady role by Week 6.
At West Virginia, Smallwood led the Big 12 in rushing yards. He can also catch the ball, hauling in 65 receptions over his three-year collegiate career. Over that same time period, he averaged 6.4 yards per carry, placing him in the 82nd percentile, according to Player Profiler. At the combine, he locked down one of the best times of this running back class, posting a 4.47 40-yard dash.
Of course, none of this matters if Ryan Mathews stays healthy all season long, but that is a feat he has a hard time achieving. Mathews has only played one full 16-game season in his six years as a professional.
Smallwood doesn’t have an ADP.
Patriots | Tight End
Other than being the King of Quotes, Martellus Bennett is now a New England Patriot. On the surface, this looks like a “Nothing to see here, folks” player, but dig a little deeper and the “Black Unicorn” becomes intriguing. Dion Lewis is sidelined indefinitely with another knee surgery, potentially leaving even more targets to go around- especially once Tom Brady returns in Week 5.
I don’t want to kick a hornet’s nest, but if Gronk is unavailable at any time during the regular season, Bennett will be worth his weight in gold. Bennett is infamous for scoring nearly all of his touchdowns early in the season and then fading away after the first few weeks but perhaps playing on a team that looks to feed the tight end position frequently will change his fortunes. Let us not forget Scott Chandler, who managed to get targeted 42 times last year, and some would say Martellus Bennett is a slight upgrade over Chandler.
Bennett is currently being drafted in the early-11th round.
Redskins | Wide Receiver
I guarantee Dynasty Frank, my co-host on The Bull Rush Podcast, just stopped reading this article and blocked me on Twitter. He loves rookie WR Josh Doctson and hates anything positive said about the Redskins WR2, Pierre Garçon. The reality is, Garçon is a possession receiver with DeSean Jackson stretching defenses thin on the other side of the field. If Jackson misses time, history suggests Garçon will see a bump in value.
Dating back to the beginning of 2014, Garçon and Jackson have played together in 24 of a possible 32 games. When Jackson is playing, Garçon averages a very modest 6.33 targets, 4.04 receptions and 46.21 yards per game- a mere 9.9 PPR-points per game. Without Jackson in the lineup, Garçon’s numbers shoot up to 8 targets, 5.38 grab and 52.5 yards per tilt- a 37.4% increase. Since D-Jax has missed at least one game in six of the past seven seasons, there’s a better-than-average chance he’ll get hurt again in 2016, and Garçon’s production will trend upwards.
Though many, including myself, love sophomore wideout Jamison Crowder, he’ll likely have to wait one more year to replace Garcon, since Garcon’s contract leads to the likeliness of him being gone in 2017. His ADP is early-14th round.
Giants | Tight End
Normally, I don’t get excited over second-string tight ends, but Tye showed us something special last season. He did what is really uncommon- he produced as a rookie! In 2015, Will Tye caught 42 balls on 62 targets. His college dominator rating, which is the percentage of total team receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, was through the roof at 36.1 percent. To put that in perspective, Rob Gronkowski’s rating was 19.1 percent. Despite that stat, I’m certainly not advocating that Tye is better than Gronk.
As of now, he is still listed behind Larry Donnell but there is a plausible chance that won’t be the case soon. ESPN Giants reporter Jordan Raanan said Will Tye is the starting TE for Big Blue, on August 22nd. If all indications hold, he will be one of the best late round picks, as he is essentially free of charge.
Seahawks | Running Back
Don’t do it. Do not disregard Christine Michael because he has burned you in the past. CMike looked like a real running back late last season after Thomas Rawls broke his leg. All offseason, owners have debated whether or not to invest in Thomas Rawls for 2016 or to focus on one of the several other RBs in that Seattle backfield. Given Rawls’ price tag of the mid-fourth round, I’d much rather take a 25-cent shot on Christine Michael towards the end of my draft.
Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has already hinted at what we should expect in the backfield, and it isn’t exactly glowing news for Rawls. Bevell recently said Christine Michael has had an awakening. You can correct me if I am wrong, but that sounds like a good thing.
Michael’s ADP is mid-13th round.
It Takes a Village
As glorious as it’d be to draft a plethora of stud players, the reality is you can’t. Go into your draft prepared to dominate the middle rounds, instead of the first couple. A championship roster doesn’t consist of one good player and a bunch of trash. A championship roster usually has a safe floor and a lot of upside. All of the guys I listed above have promising opportunity and the talent to take advantage of it if called upon.