Every season the fantasy football community is blown away by a few players that seemingly take off out of nowhere. Keep in mind, all of the players mentioned are suggested with the idea that they will outperform their current ADP, and end up being extremely valuable components of a team that will lead you to a fantasy championship. The trick is to identify those players early on and strategically add them to your roster. You may get a few people scratching their heads at your selection or giving you grief at how you reached for a mediocre player, but you’ll be the one laughing when you’re on your way to dominating your league. This article is designed to help you pick out some of those hidden gems. Some of them are obvious choices, but all of them have the potential to outperform their projected ADP to finish in the top 5-10 at their position.
Derek Carr – ADP 108 – QB 14
Carr was great in spurts last season. He threw for multiple touchdowns in 11 weeks of his 2015 campaign, and there were only 4 weeks where he threw for less than 200 yards (two of which came against stingy Chiefs and Broncos defenses). In two seasons he has thrown 53 touchdown passes, which is second only to a certain Hall of Famer named Dan Marino. Carr has two great weapons to toss the pigskin to in Michael Crabtree and Amari Copper. The latter of which I expect will take another large step forward in his sophomore season. The Raiders look to be a team on the rise, and Carr very well could outperform his current draft stock.
Jameis Winston – ADP 120 – QB 18
Winston is a tough player to pin down. Is he a sleeper and afterthought in your draft? Or has he already broken out due to his impressive rookie season? I would argue that he has already broken out, and we all simply haven’t noticed yet. Like Carr, Jameis Winston is at the helm of a young and exciting offense. Third year wideout Mike Evans has already shown that he is a force to be reckoned with on the football field. There seemed to be some growing pains with Evans and Winston getting on the same page last season, but I’m looking for both players to take a huge step forward in 2016. Furthermore, the resurgence of Doug Martin should help keep defenses honest and give everyone’s favorite Crab Leg Commandeer(er) enough breathing room to operate this season.
Dak Prescott – ADP 120 – QB 28
The recent news of Tony Romo‘s back injury has sent the fantasy community into a frenzy. Some are immediately downgrading the likes of Dez Bryant and Ezekiel Elliott based on the speculation that Captain Glass (TM) will be out for 6-10 weeks. I, however, am not ready to hit the panic button just yet. The Cowboys’ offense looks to be in the hands of a much more capable and dynamic playmaker than it was just a year ago when Romo went down for the count with a shoulder injury. I’m sure we can all agree that after only a few sample sizes that Dak Prescott seems to be a much more stable option than the likes of Brandon Weeden and Company (sounds like an 80s cover band). There are also those out there that are comparing the Romo/Prescott situation to the year that Drew Bledsoe was injured for the New England Patriots. That injury led to the emergence of a fairly decent player by the name of Tom Brady. Am I comparing Dak to Brady? Absolutely not. I am, however, suggesting that if Romo does miss significant time it wouldn’t be unrealistic to see the Cowboys stick with Prescott if the team is on a roll. Again, don’t reach for him but ready to pull the trigger if he falls into your lap.
Lamar Miller – ADP 15 – RB 7
Miller has spent the last few seasons as a fantasy conundrum with the Miami Dolphins. Often underutilized and overlooked, he quietly finished the 2015 season as a top 5 running back. Despite his performance last year, I am often watching him being drafted after Le’Veon Bell and Doug Martin. Granted both of those players are well worth an early draft pick, but I see Miller taking another step forward to dominate fantasy football this year. The Houston Texans are going to be a football team that wants to run the ball early and often to help keep the pressure off first year starter Brock Osweiler. I don’t feel like its outside the realm of possibility that Miller finishes the season as a top 3 RB being the undisputed bell cow of an explosive offense.
Jeremy Hill – ADP 48 – RB 23
The Bengals have often been a somewhat frustrating enigma for both fantasy players and Cincinnati fans alike. They’re a team that makes the playoffs every year but can’t quite get over the hump. Similarly, owning fantasy stock in them can be equally disappointing. They have a more than competent quarterback in Andy Dalton and roster one of the NFL’s elite wide receivers in AJ Green. From a fantasy standpoint the frustration lies in the committee they employ at the running back position. Jeremy Hill has long been a breakout out candidate but has never quite lived up to the hype. I think he makes a huge leap forward this season. There were four running backs that were able to find the end zone 11 times last year. Adrian Peterson, Devonta Freeman, Deangelo Williams, and Jeremy Hill. He has the goal line duties locked up for the Bengals without a doubt. Cincinnati does still have 3rd down specialist Giovani Bernard. However, the running back position is the most volatile and injury ridden in the game. It only takes one play to put Jeremy Hill into a one man backfield. If he can limit his fumbling issues and stay out of the dog house, then I see big things happening for him this year.
Melvin Gordon – ADP 69 – RB 29
To say Melvin Gordon’s rookie season was a letdown would be an understatement. There were 41 running backs that carried the football more than 111 times last year. The former Wisconsin star was the only one that failed to find the end zone. San Diego’s line was terrible last season, and Gordon was seemingly less than 100% with a knee injury. He returns this year as the lead back in a high powered offensive attack that should put up a lot of points. Gordon was showed impressive burst and speed in the preseason, and the knee looks to be in good shape going into his sophomore campaign. I look for Gordon to have a bounce back season and finish the season as a top 10 running back.
Ameer Abdullah – ADP 92 – RB 31
Abdullah, another underwhelming rookie from last season, has all the tools to make a significant impact in the NFL. He got off to a slow start and had issues holding on to the football last season. However, Abdullah came on late and can certainly carry that momentum over to this year. The release of Stevan Ridley and Joique Bell shows the organization’s confidence in him and paves the way for Abdullah to assume the majority of carries in the Lions’ backfield. He has the starting job in Detroit locked up and should only come off the field in passing situations. I expect him to greatly outperform his current projection.
Sammy Watkins – ADP 29 – WR 16
Watkins has been an up and coming player for the Buffalo Bills over the last few seasons, but I think this is the year he becomes a household name within fantasy leagues. He finished the 2015 season with 60 catches for 1,047 yards and 9 touchdowns. While the numbers are not mind blowing, he managed that stat line while missing 4 games due to injuries. If Sammy can stay healthy he has an opportunity to vault into the upper tier of wide receivers this season. With Bills quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, essentially playing for a long term contract, we can expect him to look for his star wideout early and often.
Amari Cooper – ADP 28 – WR 13
The 2015 4th overall pick saw immediate success in the NFL after being drafted by the Oakland Raiders last season. He came out with a bang racking up over 100 yards in back to back games in weeks two and three last season. However, he lost some momentum as the year wore on due to a foot injury. The Raiders are a young, rising team led by another breakout candidate in Derek Carr. The only real downside to Cooper’s game is the 10 dropped passes he accrued last season. If he can limit the drops I think he can have a huge season as the focal point of a high powered offense.
Donte Moncrief – ADP 60 – WR 26
Moncrief was a popular sleeper pick last year and was well on his way to a breakout season. In the first 7 weeks of the season he either accumulated at least 75 yards or scored a touchdown in all but one week. The Colts faced two of the best defenses in the NFL in the Panthers and Broncos in weeks 8 and 9 before disaster struck the Indianapolis offense. Superstar quarterback Andrew Luck was injured for the remainder of the season forcing Moncrief to retrieved passes from players such as Matt Hasselbeck and Charlie Whitehurst. Luck should be back to full strength this season, which will allow Moncrief to continue his upward trend. The Colts run game as looked atrocious so far this preseason, so expect the offense to be forced to turn to an aerial attack early and often.
Kelvin Benjamin – ADP 54 – WR 23
Benjamin was a monster in the red zone in his rookie season back in 2014 where he also racked up over 1,000 yards on 73 receptions. The sky was the limit for the 6 foot 5 245 pound playmaker, but things took a turn for the worst when he tore his ACL last year in the offseason. The Carolina Panthers’ enjoyed an outstanding year in 2015. With Benjamin returning this season it isn’t difficult to see them repeating and exceeding their performance from last year. There are some out there that believe Devin Funchess will play an equally large role in the passing game this season, but I have a hard time believing he repeats his success from last season with Kelvin Benjamin making a triumphant return.
Coby Fleener – ADP 74 – TE 6
Just a few short years ago the New Orleans Saints rostered one of the league’s premier tight ends in Jimmy Graham. While Graham was an elite talent at the position, many argued that a large part of his success stemmed from him being heavily involved in one of the NFL’s perennial high powered offenses. This proved to be true when 36 year old Benjamin Watson enjoyed the best season of his 12 year NFL career last year. The Saints lost Watson to the Ravens in free agency, and now it is Coby Fleener’s time to turn heads in the Big Easy. Fleener was able to accumulate over 2,000 yards with the Colts over the last few seasons in spite of splitting time with Dwayne Allen. If the last few seasons are any indication it’s not crazy to speculate that Fleener has a shot to finish within the top 3 at the tight end position this year.
Zach Miller – ADP 132 – TE 16
Martellus Bennett was a disappointment in the Windy City last season, and that opened up the door for Zach Miller to emerge in week 10. Miller was able to put together a few top 10 weeks over the final stretch of the year but failed to establish any real relevancy due to shaky quarterback play by Jay Cutler. Bennett was signed by the Patriots in the offseason, so Miller will now be the Bears’ number one option at tight end. Jay Cutler is still the quarterback, and Alshon Jeffrey and Kevin White will be in line to see a lot of targets this season. However, Jeffrey has struggled to stay on the field in his career, and Kevin White missed his entire rookie season with an injury. If the Bears are bit by the injury bug again this year, then look for Zach Miller to become one of Cutler’s top targets.
Eric Ebron – ADP 139 – TE 14
The amount of hype pieces that have been written on Eric Ebron over the last couple of seasons could fill a small library. Injuries and lack of opportunity have so far limited the former 10th overall pick in his young carreer. Still, Ebron is once again in a position to become one the NFL’s elite tight ends. The surprise retirement of Calvin Johnson has left a ton of targets on the table in the Detroit Lions offense. They still have Golden Tate on the roster and signed Marvin Jones from Cincinnati this offseason. However, Ebron saw around 70 targets come his way last season, so that number should still increase in 2016. If Ebron can stay healthy and get on the same page with Matt Stafford, then I believe he has a chance to finish as a top 5 TE this season.
I hope this article is able to help point some of you in the right direction in your fantasy drafts. Keep in mind, all of the players mentioned are suggested with the idea that they will outperform their current ADP. I would not advise getting trigger happy and drafting all of them too early. However, I feel that all of the players included can aid you in your quest to win a fantasy championship this season. Good luck to you all.