Fantasy owners rarely have a chance to compete if they misfire on their early selections, but finding gems late in drafts is the best way to take your team from a good playoff squad to a great one that can contend for a championship.
Several players either emerge or bounce back seemingly out of nowhere on a yearly basis. Those players can be found on the waiver wire at times, but snagging them in the draft before your opponents have a chance to get their hands on them is what can set your team apart.
As NFL teams continue to trend toward finalizing their rosters in preparation for the start of the regular season, here is a look at a few sleepers you should consider targeting in the latter stages of your draft.
One of the great annoyances fantasy owners have been dealing with for many years is New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick‘s handling of his running backs. That factor has caused many fantasy owners to steer clear of the Pats’ backfield.
While that strategy has worked at times, it has also been proved that running backs can be very effective within New England’s offense. Taking one is always a risky proposition, but fourth-year back Jonas Gray is worth that risk late in your draft.
With projected starter LeGarrette Blount suspended for the first game of the regular season, someone will have to step up in his place in Week 1.
Gray is the likeliest candidate to fill in, as he has 96 yards, one touchdown and a yards-per-carry average of 7.0 through two preseason games. Also, Gray showed an ability to be a featured back last season when he rushed for 201 yards and four touchdowns against the Indianapolis Colts.
Unfortunately for the former Notre Dame standout, he overslept and missed practice the following week, which resulted in him carrying the ball just 20 times over the final seven weeks of the campaign.
One can only assume that situation was a learning experience for Gray as he seems to have the right attitude entering the 2015 season, according to Glen Farley of the Patriot Ledger:
Gray also seems to believe he is better prepared to make an impact this season after shedding a few pounds, per Mike Giardi of CSNNE.com:
I think it’s just a mindset. When you feel lighter, you play a lot faster. That physical part of my game is never going to leave, but being able to run away from guys and get more yards and get more out of plays, you know, from watching film last year and seeing runs I had that I could have taken the distance, or gained more yards on it. I knew this year that was going to be a difference between was I going to play more, or play a little bit.
The 25-year-old running back has a golden opportunity in front of him as he should get the lion’s share of the carries in the season-opening game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
If he manages to impress, then it is entirely possible that Belichick will stick with him as the No. 1 guy even when Blount returns. That volatility is usually a bad thing for fantasy owners, but it could pay dividends for those who gamble on Gray.
The starting running back job in New England is a valuable spot, and Gray will be an every-week starter in fantasy if he manages to seize it.
The Carolina Panthers offense took a major hit when No. 1 wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin was lost for the season due to an ACL tear, but his absence opens the door for second-round rookie Devin Funchess to make an immediate impact.
There were plenty of question marks surrounding Benjamin’s speed and overall ability to be a go-to guy during his rookie season, but he proved the naysayers wrong by catching 73 passes for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns. Asking Funchess to equal those numbers may be a bit much, but he is similar to Benjamin in many ways.
Benjamin is 6’5″, while Funchess is listed at 6’4″, which means he has the type of size and leaping ability that quarterback Cam Newton tends to gravitate toward. In fact, the talented signal-caller already has a great amount of confidence in his new weapon, according to ESPN.com’s David Newton.
“He’s a competitor,” Newton said. “He’s a guy that wants to be great. We talk often. I’m pretty much a person that he can trust and that I know I can trust when the game comes on the line.”
Newton may have to trust Funchess in some important situations since Carolina’s lack of quality options at wide receiver is alarming. Tight end Greg Olsen will almost certainly be the No. 1 option, but aside from he and Funchess, Newton’s weapons are the likes of Jerricho Cotchery, Corey Brown, Ted Ginn, Jarrett Boykin and other less-than-ideal possibilities.
Funchess will have to be a factor very early in his career if the Panthers are going to have success, and Nerdy Football’s Matt Miller believes he can be an important cog in their attack:
While Funchess may not top 1,000 yards and approach double-digit touchdowns like Benjamin did last season, he is easily the most talented wide receiver on the roster and should have no shortage of chances to succeed.
Selecting him as a No. 4 or No. 5 receiver on your fantasy team is a worthwhile risk since he could become a starting option assuming he ascends to No. 1 on Carolina’s depth chart.
The Atlanta Falcons have an excellent quarterback in Matt Ryan as well as a dynamic pair of wide receivers in Julio Jones and Roddy White, but they have been looking for an answer at tight end ever since Tony Gonzalez retired at the end of the 2013 season.
Levine Toilolo didn’t make much of an impact as the starter last season, which is why the team went out and signed former Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts tight end Jacob Tamme.
While Tamme had only 293 yards and three touchdowns combined between the 2013 and 2014 seasons in Denver, he was stuck behind Julius Thomas and a litany of skilled receivers in the pecking order. That won’t be an issue in Atlanta.
Tamme is penciled in as the starter, and he may very well be the No. 3 receiving option behind Jones and White since slot receiver Harry Douglas is now with the Tennessee Titans. Tamme is a smaller tight end who should be able to fill the role Douglas vacated.
There are mixed feelings regarding Tamme‘s ability to be a true difference-maker, but Andy Benoit of Sports Illustrated believes he is the best option Atlanta currently has:
It also hasn’t taken the 30-year-old veteran long to make an impression on his teammates, as White has really liked what he’s seen out of Tamme, per Larry Vaught of the Advocate Messenger:
Jacob ‘I catch everything’ Tamme? Yeah, that guy is amazing. Our tight ends have played well throughout the camp for the first week. They’re catching a lot of balls, just going out there and making strides in the blocking game and getting on their guys and understanding the offense, what they want out of those guys, and they’re doing a good job, man. They’re doing a heck of a job.
There is very little hype surrounding Tamme right now after two down seasons, but he has proved to be productive in the past. The former Kentucky standout totaled 555 yards in 2012, and he set career bests with 67 grabs for 631 yards and four scores in 2010.
Selecting Tamme as your starting tight end isn’t ideal since it remains to be seen how the Falcons will utilize him, but he is absolutely worth a flier in the final round, and he could very well become a weekly fantasy starter if he fills a role similar to the one Douglas vacated.
Potential Team Names
50 Shades of Gray: Not only is this a play on Jonas Gray’s name and a popular movie, but it also perfectly describes Bill Belichick’s hoodie collection.
The Brady Funch: Pulling this name off will require selecting both Tom Brady and Devin Funchess, but if you’re able to do that, then don’t hesitate to spoof the classic television show.
Tamme You Love Me: If you’re a fan of both Jacob Tamme and the obscure former HBO series Tell Me You Love Me, then this name is for you.
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