It’s the time of year when fantasy enthusiasts obsess over draft order and which players will be available when the time comes to make that fateful first-round pick. Adrian or Jamaal? Luck or Rodgers? OBJ or Megatron?
But as important as your initial pick can be, it pales in comparison to the handful of selections you’ll make – or miss – several rounds later. After all, as happy as you may be to land C.J. Anderson, Justin Forsett or Odell Beckham, Jr. now, they won’t be the bargains they were last year for the savvy players that stole them late and rode them into the postseason.
Fantasy veterans know the secret to great drafting is not simply choosing the best players available, but doing so no earlier than necessary. You may share my belief that Ryan Tannehill is on the verge of a breakout season; but you’re hurting yourself – and, worse yet, begging for ridicule from your opponents – if you pull the trigger too early.
Who are this year’s hidden gems? Let’s take a look at my Sleeper Picks of 2015, broken down by position.
▪ Carson Palmer, QB, Cardinals. With an aging Larry Fitzgerald and two young speedsters in his receiving arsenal, Palmer is always a threat to put up QB1 numbers. Of course, health is his bugaboo; but as long as he’s upright, he’ll be slinging it.
▪ Ryan Tannehill, QB, Dolphins. If you believe in career progression, Tannehill is your guy. He has shown significant improvement in each of his first three seasons, and with a slew of veteran playmakers at his disposal, he has a chance to dabble in elite territory.
▪ Todd Gurley, RB, Rams. Everyone recognizes his potential. The question is how soon Gurley will be worked into a significant share of the workload. Once he’s fully healthy, he should be an every-week fantasy starter and could be an invaluable weapon in your championship run.
▪ Charles Sims, RB, Buccaneers. Go ahead and buy the hype on Doug Martin returning to form. I’ve seen enough. (By the way, his “elite form” as a rookie was mostly a mirage.) Sims is a big, strong runner with excellent hands, and he excelled last year behind the same line that Martin struggled with. Look for Sims to win the starting job early in the season and become a solid week-to-week fantasy play.
▪ Ameer Abdullah, RB, Lions. The rookie has been wowing the Lions ever since he arrived in camp. With starter Joique Bell recovering from a pair of leg injuries, Abdullah has earned Reggie Bush’s previous touches, at worst. He could even make a play for a starting gig.
▪ Jonas Gray, RB, Patriots. Sports Illustrated cover boy one day, in Bill Belichick’s doghouse the next. Gray’s slate has been wiped clean and he is expected to start in Week 1 while LeGarrette Blount serves his suspension. If the second-year grinder excels, he could earn a prominent, even starting, role going forward.
▪ Davante Adams, WR, Packers. With Jordy Nelson (knee) presumably lost for the season, it’s no secret that Adams is the next man up. He was already having a strong camp and was expected to play a bigger role in the offense. Now, it’s go time.
▪ Markus Wheaton, WR, Steelers. Martavis Bryant is getting all the attention as the presumed No. 2 behind Antonio Brown, but Wheaton could very well emerge as a starter. He has not been a big red-zone threat to date, but he has massive upside in Pittsburgh’s high-octane offense as a late-round flier.
▪ Jarvis Landry, WR, Dolphins. Landry is the only starting receiver remaining from last season, and his rapport with Tannehill was undeniable. Expect him to be the go-to target again, while the speedier wideouts take the heat off his inside routes.
▪ Brian Quick, WR, Rams. He was having a breakout season last year before a shoulder injury derailed him. Quick is clearly the class of St. Louis’ receiving corps, but he has yet to spend quality time with Nick Foles. Grab him late and stash him away for when he connects with his new quarterback.
▪ Owen Daniels, TE, Broncos. Julius Thomas was a nobody before he went to Denver. Daniels isn’t a nobody, but he has never lived up to expectations. Peyton Manning could change that overnight.
▪ Josh Hill, TE, Saints. Only 10 tight ends collected more TD catches than Hill’s five in 2014, and he was a backup. Hill has the talent to emerge as the starter over Ben Watson. He’s worth a late-round flier as Jimmy Graham’s replacement.
Next week: My oft-imitated, always controversial, yet magically delicious Perfect Draft.