Fantasy Football: 7 Late-Round Best-Ball Targets
Let's just both agree this article is not addressing sleepers. With the amount of information and analysis at our fingertips, there are few examples of a player that nobody has predicted to break out. The sleeper is dead; long live the sleeper.
Instead a target, or value pick, is the new sexy top-down convertible. Spotting a value in the late rounds is the key to success, especially in best-ball leagues.
If you're unfamiliar, the concept behind best-ball is rather simple. All of the work is done in the draft; there is no in-season trading, free agent pick ups or even lineup setting. Each week your team's fantasy score is automatically your best possible lineup. It means finding the perfect balance between upside and value late in drafts, to differentiate your team with a combination of week-winners and floor-saving role players. In short, it's a whole lotta fun.
For the purpose of this article, we'll define "late-round" as anyone with an average draft position (ADP) of pick 121 or higher, per FantasyPros' consensus best-ball ADP. Essentially, we're looking at anyone you would draft after the 10th round of a traditional 12-team league.
This is when consensus rankings differentiate the most and when it's much more difficult to find weekly or spiked-week contributors. But it's where the money is made. Last year, you could've drafted Austin Hooper, Dak Prescott, Lamar Jackson, Deebo Samuel, Courtland Sutton, John Brown and Ronald Jones in this range, among others. Time to find this year's potential cheap league-winners.
One final ironic note: I clearly struggle with brevity. The hope is you glean valuable nuggets throughout this piece, but reading the final paragraph under each player serves functionally as a TL;DR summary. I'm just glad you're here.
Jack Doyle, TE, Indianapolis Colts
I love Football Guys writer Andrew Davenport's summation of Jack Doyle's fantasy prospects: "Having Jack Doyle is like opening socks on Christmas morning - it may not be very exciting, but they'll keep your feet warm." Well said. As a future dad runner Hall of Fame inductee, the Indianapolis Colts tight end doesn't exactly make one excited to get out of bed in the morning.
But that's sort of the point. Doyle's lack of sex appeal -- at least, er, from a fantasy lens -- has him as simply undervalued by the market.
Last year, Doyle's quarterback was Jacoby Brissett. Among quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs, Brissett ranked 17th in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back despite playing behind an offensive line that ranked third in ESPN's pass block win rate metric. Now he gets an upgrade to ol' reliable Philip Rivers, who ranked 12th in Passing NEP per drop back. Rivers' best days are behind him, but he should benefit by a significant offensive line upgrade, and his primary tight end has been a top-12 scorer three of the last four years. The only time that didn't occur, he was throwing passes to 38-year-old Antonio Gates and Virgil Green.
Notably, Doyle has surpassed 70 targets in three of the past four seasons. Last year, he was 13th at the position in target share and sixth among tight ends in snaps played. Eric Ebron has taken his 52 targets to Pittsburgh, and Indy replaced him with Trey Burton on a very meager one-year deal that's short of $1 million. With years of experience in the offense, Doyle should again be near the top of his position in snaps, providing an excellent safety blanket for his aging quarterback.
Most importantly, despite an improved quarterback, offensive situation and less tight end target competition, Doyle's market price has dropped. Last year, he finished as the TE15. This year, his price is three spots lower than that. With TE9 and TE13 finishes already under his belt in his career, Doyle is a cinch high-floor value pick that can serve as a solid TE2 or can fill out a late-round scatter shot tight end best-ball strategy.
Anthony Miller, WR, Chicago Bears
ADP: 140.0 (WR51)
Buckle up for this truth bomb: From Weeks 11-15 last year, Anthony Miller was the WR13 by points per game. WR13! Don't be fooled by a potential Allen Robinson slump, as the Chicago Bears' alpha receiver was the WR10 over that same span.
Over that span, Miller and Robinson posted 0.76 and 0.95 Reception NEP per target, respectively, both exceeding the average mark for wideouts (0.70). When both were involved, both excelled, and that means they can be a strong 1-2 punch for Chicago.
It's a small sample, but Miller flashed the potential that caused the Bears to trade up for him in the second round of the 2018 draft. This wasn't out of nowhere, either. Miller led the team with seven receiving touchdowns (on just 33 catches) as a rookie.
Taylor Gabriel's departure might not seem significant, but he soaked up 5.33 targets per game when he played. Here are Miller's 2019 stat lines in the games Gabriel sat out: 2/11/0, 4/52/0, 9/140/0, 3/42/1, 9/118/1, 1/2/0, and 1/5/0. There are a few duds from when the Chicago Bears were out of contention, but it's notable that all of Miller's best games came with Gabriel sidelined.
A potential quarterback change is another key to Miller's value. The Bears offense ranked 30th in Adjusted NEP per play last year. Unsurprisingly, Mitchell Trubisky also ranked 30th among passers in Passing NEP per drop back. If Nick Foles wins starting duties, there's nowhere for this offense to go but up. Even a modest uptick for this offense's efficiency should result in more catches, yards and scoring opportunities for Miller.
Foles' presence is also pivotal because of how his skillset aligns with Miller's. Miller ran 60% of his routes from the slot last year, while, per Sports Illustrated, Foles targeted the slot at the 6th-highest rate in the league from 2016-2018 (he missed most of 2019).
With proven talent, less target competition and an expanding role in an offense that should improve, Miller is a potential WR3 at a WR5 price tag.
Boston Scott, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
ADP: 137.0 (RB50)
This late in the draft, we want paths to touches at running back. As the clear-cut second running back on a team notorious for splitting backfield touches, Boston Scott has a logical touch path that isn't reflected in his price.
Jordan Howard (now with Miami), who is much more one-dimensional than Scott, faced 8-plus defenders in the box on just 17.65% of his 2019 carries, which ranked 28th in the league. That number dropped to 11.73% when the more pass-adept Miles Sanders lined up in the backfield. Rushing behind a good offensive line, it's no surprise that the Philadelphia Eagles offense ranked 14th in Adjusted Rushing NEP per play. Point being, this is an efficient backfield situation that faces stacked boxes at a low rate.
From Weeks 14-17 last year, with Howard injured, Scott played 47.8% of the Philadelphia Eagles offensive snaps. This makes sense, as he replaced Howard's role, which had averaged 44.3% of the snaps to that point. Miles Sanders maintained a 60% snap share. When Sanders and Scott were splitting backfield duties over this four-week period, Sanders was the RB9. Scott was the RB10.
Alright, so you're not convinced by a four-game sample. Across his 10 games played last year, Howard averaged 10.6 half PPR points per game, good enough to be RB29. But that number is actually deflated because Howard randomly played just one snap in Week 17. When we remove that game from his average to create a more accurate statistical picture, Howard averaged 11.8 points per game, which jumps to RB24.
Howard also leaves behind a team-high eight carries inside the five-yard line. While you might think Sanders just walks into that role, Scott actually saw four of these carries to Sanders' six last year, suggesting a more even red zone split is possible.
Both Sanders and Howard turned in RB2 seasons while splitting this backfield. And even if you're projecting a snap and touch raise for Sanders in year two, it's very unlikely he turns into a true bellcow. It's just not something we've seen happen in any Doug Pederson offense in Philadelphia.
Clearly, there is room for both Sanders and Scott to succeed. And if Sanders were to miss time, Scott naturally becomes the 1A in this backfield and gains a true league-winning ceiling. At RB50, he's the exact mold of a late-round best-ball target.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Carolina Panthers
ADP: 164.0 (QB24)
When it come to late-round picks, we're looking for a combination of league-winners, spiked-week players or sturdier floors than meet the eye, all at a below-market price. It's possible Teddy Bridgewater checks all three boxes.
Teddy earned the right to run an offense after going 5-0 with a 9:2 TD:INT ratio across five starts last season. Among players to attempt at least 100 passes, Bridgewater impressively ranked 10th in Passing NEP per drop back.
We know he was efficient last year, which should translate well in his new offense given how his weapons will accentuate Teddy's low average depth of target (aDOT) skillset. The combination of D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, Robby Anderson, Ian Thomas and Christian McCaffrey is one of the most talented receiving corps in the league, with an ideal medley of skills.
Moore is a true alpha as a route technician with elite yard-after-catch skills. Samuel plays inside and out, and he too excels with manufactured, short touches so he can win after the catch. Anderson is a true lid-lifter, who is now reunited with his college coach. Thomas is an ideal middle-of-field big, athletic target (more on him below). And that McCaffrey guy might just be the best receiving back of all time. If Teddy can just get the ball in these guys' hands, half the work is done for him.
Outside of Tom Brady and DeAndre Hopkins, you can argue the most notable offensive addition in football this year is Joe Brady to the Panthers. Brady architected a historic, up-tempo offense that resulted in Joe Burrow, Justin Jefferson and Clyde Edwards-Helaire all getting drafted in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. It's exciting that before LSU, Brady was an offensive assistant with the New Orleans Saints for two years. If anyone knows how to maximize Teddy's strengths, it's likely Brady.
Carolina might also find itself in a lot of shootouts. This is a defense that ranked 23rd in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play last year, then lost leader Luke Kuechly, top corner James Bradberry, leading tackler Eric Reid, sack leader Mario Addison and another 19.5 sacks combined from Bruce Irvin, Gerald McCoy and Vernon Butler without meaningful replacements. The NFC South is a shootout division full of good offenses, further buoyed by two games indoors against the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons.
Carolina's weaponry boosted Kyle Allen to be the QB28 last year. It's inconceivable when factoring in the talent gap and new offensive outlook that Teddy's ADP is just a smidge higher than Allen's seasonal finish. Bridgewater's high-percentage playing style and diverse YAC weaponry will ensure a rock-solid floor, while his new offensive coach and leaky defense open a path up to true week-winning explosions. Again, all for the cost of a 13th-round pick.
Gardner Minshew, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
ADP: 162.5 (QB25)
This is another classic example where Gardner Minshew's QB25 ADP just doesn't match up with the numbers. Even as a sixth-round rookie who wasn't prepped to be the starter, Minshew was QB18 last year (by points per game), so we already have a market discrepancy. And that doesn't account for improved weapons or even a nominal second-year jump in play.
Minshew formed an instant connection with second-year breakout receiver D.J. Chark. Still just 23 and a former second-round pick, the ceiling is pointing straight up on the 6-4, 198-pound Chark in his third NFL season, providing Minshew a true alpha target.
Jacksonville sneakily supplemented Chark's supporting cast, as well. In a reduced role, Tyler Eifert finally played a full 16-game season in 2019. He provides a solid, athletic frame in the end zone that this roster was sorely missing. Chris Thompson also struggles with injuries, but he instantly steps in as the best pass-catching back on the team.
Second-round pick Leviska Shenault profiles as an explosive yards-after-catch maven, another skillset lacking in Minshew's 2019 weaponry. Finally, Jay Gruden enters as offensive coordinator, with a history of elevating passing games to fantasy relevance. From 2015-2017, when Gruden had a competent quarterback running his offense, the Washington Redskins ranked 4th, 5th and 14th in Adjusted Passing NEP per play.
Across 14 games last year (and just 12 starts), per Pro Football Focus, Minshew ranked second in scramble yards with 350. When we remove his non-starts, Minshew averaged a healthy 27.5 rushing yards per game. This is an excellent boost to his weekly floor/ceiling combo, with room for growth considering he didn't reach the end zone on the ground.
Among the 28 quarterbacks with at least 25 rushing attempts last year, only Minshew and Teddy Bridgewater didn't score at least one rushing touchdown. The average among these players was 2.7 rushing touchdowns, suggesting Minshew should regress to the mean in this category as an already elite producer on the ground.
Draft stock tends to follow players throughout their careers, and it's possible this subconscious bias is depressing Minshew's ADP. Former first0round picks Kyler Murray (ADP: QB3) and Daniel Jones (QB14) have already shot up draft rankings, but Minshew had a better record, yards per game, passer rating and Passing NEP per drop back than both.
Similar to Bridgewater above, Minshew might be forced into shootout battles, which are fantasy gold. The Jaguars' defense ranked 24th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play last year, traded Jalen Ramsey midseason, and then traded top corner A.J. Bouye and edge rusher Calais Campbell. They will rely mostly on draft picks to soften the blow.
Remember, we're after ceiling. Despite everything working against him, Minshew threw for 300 yards and/or 3 touchdowns in 25% of his 2019 starts, and he rushed for 30-plus yards on six occasions. With underrated and improved weapons, a new offensive coordinator, rushing equity and a terrible defense to boot, Minshew is severely under-priced by the market.
Allen Lazard, WR, Green Bay Packers
ADP 170.5 (WR63)
Allen Lazard's case is similar to Miller's above, except he's nearly four rounds cheaper. He's a third-year breakout candidate with proven college production, no significant new target competition, and saw increased playing time in 2019. The big difference is his ADP, and the fact that he doesn't need to bank on an improved quarterback or offense. The Green Bay Packers ranked 13th in Adjusted Passing NEP per play last year and 6th overall as an offense.
Lazard is the exact type of ascending third-year receiver who's worth an upside flier. He was productive in college, with a 71st-percentile breakout age and 85th-percentile college target share, while his 6-3, 225-pound frame is that of a true alpha receiver.
Opportunity is Lazard's biggest hurdle en route to fantasy relevance, though it's more secure than meets the eye. From Week 7 on last year, Lazard averaged 64.8% of snaps played per game. Looking later in the season from Week 15 through the NFC Championship Game, that number jumps to 70.6%. Lazard played more snaps than Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Geronimo Allison and Jake Kumerow per game, entrenching himself as the team's second wideout.
Green Bay added minimal target competition this offseason. Devin Funchess was signed to a one-year "prove-it" deal after a broken collarbone rendered his 2019 a lost year, and third-year, sixth-round pick Equanimeous St. Brown returns from a season-ending ankle injury. That's it.
It's notable that in just 11 games, Lazard finished second on the team in receiving yards. 34.3% of his receptions went for first downs, and, per Zack Kruse of PackersWire.com, "Among receivers with at least 40 targets in 2019, Lazard ranked 12th in passer rating when targeted (117.9), per PFF."
The secondary target role is wide open in Green Bay, and Lazard has the strongest rapport among his fellow competition -- a significant feather in his cap in a challenging offseason that reduces time to build chemistry. With an ascending role as a big play threat in an efficient offense, Lazard profiles as an ideal spiked-week player with a below-market price tag.
Ian Thomas, TE, Carolina Panthers
ADP: 152.5 (TE22)
Ian Thomas' ADP makes no logical sense. As of now, there is no player I will have a higher share of in 2020 best-ball drafts. Join me?
Thomas steps right into the role vacated by Greg Olsen. Even in his age-34 season, Olsen ranked fifth among tight ends with an 82% snap share. In the two games Olsen missed, Thomas stepped right in and played 91% of the snaps. The three-down starting role belongs to Thomas.
Incredibly, despite playing in an offense that ranked 28th in Adjusted Passing NEP per play and was led by Kyle Allen -- who ranked 36th(!) in Passing NEP per drop back -- Olsen finished as the TE12 by points per game. He led the team with nine targets inside the 10-yard line, whic tied for second among all tight ends.
It's clear this was a juicy fantasy role last year, even amid horrid conditions. Now, the aforementioned Teddy Bridgewater is quarterback.
The five-game sample is small, but Teddy ranked 10th in Passing NEP per drop back last year (among passers to throw 100 or more passes), which put him ahead of Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan. The numbers suggest Teddy is actually good, but a leap from basement-level to even average quarterback play will be a significant boost to the offense.
Add in new up-tempo offensive coordinator Joe Brady -- the mastermind behind arguably the greatest college football offense of all time -- and there are fantasy points brewing in Carolina.
Clearly, Thomas' role is enticing. But combine that with excitement over the player, and we have an ADP market gap that is exciting to exploit. Thomas is extremely athletic with a 91st-percentile SPARQ score, which ranked second among a tight end class that included Mark Andrews and Dallas Goedert. And per Evan Silva of Establish The Run, "Thomas banked stat lines that extrapolate to a 70/728/6 pace over Greg Olsen’s last eight games missed."
Over a full season, those numbers would've ranked Thomas as the TE7 last year. Again, that extrapolation can be dangerous, but there are numerous factors that suggest the arrow is screaming up for this offense. It's equally as possible that's his floor.
Most importantly, and I can't stress this enough, the cost of entry to find out if Thomas possesses a top-10 floor/ceiling combination is basically free. It's illogical that he's TE22 in ADP despite Olsen banking TE12 numbers with Kyle freaking Allen at QB.
A third-year incredibly athletic tight end with an elite snap share in an ascending offense? Shut up and take my money. Thomas is this year's Darren Waller -- put it on my headstone.