Top 5 Mid-Round Fantasy Steals

When it's getting late... and you don't know your draft fate.... who you gonna call? numberFire!

It’s an overly common cliché in Little League, corporate seminars, and the Greek phalanx: “You’re only as strong as your weakest link”. Many people think the top players automatically win in fantasy, regardless of what the lower-tier starters do. If you have the top performer, you’ll win, period. But while Aaron Rodgers may put up 30 points a week, if you have nothing surrounding him, then you’ll lose. It’s the laws of math, son.

It’s incredibly important to nail those picks in the middle rounds: that’s what separates the champs from the chumps. Most fantasy sites can guess at the best breakout candidates in those rounds, but numberFire’s FireFactor rating can give numbers to back up those guesses. Here’s a look at the five guys numberFire has rated high outside of guys currently going in the top 50 of most mock drafts.

Top 5 Fantasy Mid-Round Steals

5. RB Jonathan Stewart - Carolina Panthers
numberFire Projected Rank: #33 (#16 RB in our Fantasy Draft Kit)
ESPN Projected Rank: #64 (#24 RB)
Average Draft Position: #86 (#35 RB)
numberFire Projected Fantasy Points: 162.9

For years, the two-headed, generic-named monster of Stewart and Williams in the Carolina backfield as given fantasy owners fits. Last season, Williams had more rushing yards and touchdowns, but Stewart was a much more effective backfield receiver. But if there was ever going to be a season where Stewart was going to burst ahead, why not 2012? He’s only turning 25 compared to Williams’ 29, he’s played in all but 2 games over his 4 year career, and he ended the 2011 season scoring a touchdown in 3 of his final 5 games. The Panthers also picked up Mike Tolbert and Cam Newton often steals goal-line carries, but Stewart should be considered the starting back for all intents and purposes. He’s at least worth higher than an 8th round selection.

4. WR Dwayne Bowe - Kansas City Chiefs
numberFire Projected Rank: #50 (#13 WR in our Fantasy Draft Kit)
ESPN Projected Rank: #57 (#21 WR)
Average Draft Position: #58 (#24 WR)
numberFire Projected Fantasy Points: 251.87

Dwayne Bowe wasn’t going to duplicate his 15-touchdown season from 2010; anybody who told you otherwise had their face painted red and yellow. However, 81 catches and 1159 yards isn’t half bad, especially from a guy who supposedly had a down year. Bowe’s currently in the middle of a hold-out, but I see little reason to believe that he won’t be in camp. Bowe may have a new offensive coordinator, but Brian Daboll was also the man who helped Brandon Marshall rediscover his form in Miami last season.

3. TE Jason Witten - Dallas Cowboys
numberFire Projected Rank: #37 (#4 TE in our Fantasy Draft Kit)
ESPN Projected Rank: #69 (#5 TE)
Average Draft Position: #72 (#7 TE)
numberFire Projected Fantasy Points: 130.3

The major difference between numberFire and other fantasy services here is the relative importance placed on the tight end position. Both sides agree that the two top guys (Gronk and Graham) should go in the first 25 picks. But a solid mid-round tight end solidifies a spot where others may take occasional zeroes - Witten has exactly one season (Witten, 2005) under 100 fantasy points since 2003. While he’s not worth near the #37 overall pick due to his position, he could easily be had in the 6th round as a solid contributor and could be worth more than other receivers (Brandon Lloyd, Percy Harvin) taken near the top of 5th round.

2. QB Matt Ryan - Atlanta Falcons
numberFire Projected Rank: #20 (#5 QB in our Fantasy Draft Kit)
ESPN Projected Rank: #73 (#11 QB)
Average Draft Position: #74 (#11 QB)
numberFire Projected Fantasy Points: 266.84

A lot has been made on this site already about Matt Ryan being our number five overall quarterback. In fact, when he was taken in the second round of the numberFire mock draft, many people (including stats guru Keith Goldner and contributor Abe Schwadron) called it one of the reaches of the draft. But if he’s still sitting there in the mid-rounds and you’re without a quarterback? You’d be crazy not to take him. Both his yardage and touchdowns have increased each of the past 3 seasons, and he’s topped 300 fantasy points in a standard league each of the past two. He’s also not moving out of that Atlanta dome any time soon. Perhaps most telling: after the week 9 bye last year, when both Roddy White and Julio Jones were healthy, Ryan was the #4 fantasy QB, throwing for 2388 yards, 18 TDs, and 4 INTs in 8 games.

1. WR Steve Johnson - Buffalo Bills
numberFire Projected Rank: #35 (#11 WR in our Fantasy Draft Kit)
ESPN Projected Rank: #60 (#23 WR)
Average Draft Position: #61 (#26 WR)
numberFire Projected Fantasy Points: 153.61

Steve Johnson can be a little outspoken at times. But the man can play football. His first two years in the starting lineup for Buffalo, he’s put up 1000 receiving yards each year, with 10 TDs in 2010 and 7 TDs in 2011. Those worried about his drop-off late last season shouldn’t be – Johnson played with a torn groin that he says is fully healed, while Ryan Fitzpatrick ended the season with a cracked rib. True to form, he claims that he wants to double his yardage total… which would give him over 2000 on the season. Are you going to tell him he can’t? While he’s currently going in the sixth round on average, he may be worth looking at as high as the fourth.