Late draft picks are likely to wind up in free agency just a few weeks into the season. Regardless of how deep your league is, there will be sleepers available later on that could emerge as starters, even if only as a bye week replacement. Here are some players to consider at the end of the draft for value:
Calvin Johnson is obviously the desired Detroit receiver in fantasy, but he will also go in the first round of pretty much every draft. Broyles can be grabbed at the end of the draft, and while he won’t put up Calvin Johnson numbers, he could put up better numbers than any other second receiver in the league. Calvin Johnson commands so much defensive attention that whoever lines up on the other side of the field should have no problem getting open. The Lions threw more passes last year than any team in NFL history, so there will be plenty of targets for everyone. Titus Young was released after multiple issues with law enforcement, so Broyles is the favorite to step in and produce in his spot.
Palmer was actually in the top ten in the league in passing yards in 2012, showing he still has the potential to be fantasy relevant. He may improve those numbers in 2013 with “quarterback guru” head coach Bruce Arians and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald immediately becomes the best receiver Palmer has ever played with, and second year receiver Michael Floyd is a potential breakout candidate. Palmer can be drafted very late, and is a good alternative if you miss out on the top tier of quarterbacks.
Britt probably has more upside than anyone else on this list, but also more risk. He seems to either get injured or into legal trouble every season. Sometimes both. Injuries and off-field issues aside, Britt is in the prime of his career and has been highly productive on the field for some bad Titans offenses. He was most explosive when he was last fully healthy in 2010-11, and he seems to finally be back in great shape with no injury concerns. To provide extra motivation, he is entering a contract year. A new contract for a player with so many red flags is in no way guaranteed, but Britt has the potential to go out and show teams that he should be one of the highest paid receivers in 2014.
Sanders is coming off of his best season as a professional player. Luckily for him, top receiver Mike Wallace is gone, opening up a starting spot opposite Antonio Brown. Sanders has enough experience and talent to succeed in the starting role. If the Steelers, one of the best organizations at player evaluation, believed otherwise, they would have addressed wide receiver as a need in free agency or drafted one before the middle of the third round.
Daniel Thomas was expected to compete with Miller for the starting job, but the competition is both looking and sounding over. Reggie Bush has moved on to Detroit, making Miller the immediate favorite to get the majority of carries. Miller has looked significantly quicker and in better shape than Thomas this offseason, leading quarterback Ryan Tannehill and other members of the Dolphins organization to believe he will emerge as the starter. His pass blocking ability allows him to potentially be an every-down back, and wide receiver Mike Wallace will open up some running lanes by stretching the field with his speed.
Jones takes over for recently departed receiver Anquan Boldin, who is now with the 49ers. Jones displayed his blazing speed in the playoffs, often catching defenses off-guard. He won’t fly under the radar anymore, but his late touchdown to put away Denver in the playoffs coupled with his two touchdowns in the Super Bowl win show his dynamic ability to score from anywhere on the field. Jacoby Jones will start, and he can turn pretty much any play, reception or return, into a touchdown.
Manningham’s stock took a hit when the 49ers acquired Anquan Boldin from the Ravens. Manningham’s fantasy value was essentially written off and he shot down draft boards. Top receiver Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles two months later, and it re-opened a starting position for Manningham for at least a majority of the 2013 season. Manningham could be a steal at the end of a draft, but make sure to keep updated on Crabtree’s recovery.
Myers was able to put up better receiving numbers than anyone else in Oakland in 2012. He doesn’t have the raw talent of a Vernon Davis, but he does have consistency in his production. This is especially impressive when you consider he was playing for a weak offense in Oakland, and he should see less coverage and more balls with the Giants. For anybody who misses out on Jimmy Graham, the next best option may be taking Myers late in the draft.
Gordon was probably the most impressive player for the Browns offense as a rookie in 2012. He will miss the first two games of next season due to suspension, but this shouldn’t scare owners off. In fact, this may allow you to steal Gordon in the final few rounds of your draft. Gordon had four 80-plus yard games a year ago, and will come into this year as Brandon Weeden’s most trusted target. New offensive coordinator Norv Turner once again proved that he can’t be a successful head coach in the NFL, so he returns to his natural position where he enjoyed his most successful stints of his career. Turner certainly gets the most out of his offenses as a coordinator, and I expect him to get the most out of Josh Gordon in order to do so.
Hilton displayed instant chemistry with fellow rookie Andrew Luck as well as explosiveness in 2012. Despite his small frame, he still caught seven touchdowns. Both he and Luck should improve now that they have a year of professional experience under their belts. Hilton also holds some extra value in the return game, as he recorded a 75-yard punt return touchdown that turned out to be the difference in a win over Buffalo.