August brings many good things to football and fantasy football fans alike. Training camp kicks off near the end of July, and we creep ever closer to fantasy drafts in late-August. Which means Training Camp Battles start, and all kinds of Draft Prep articles or podcasts are coming up. Almost all of these articles tend to focus on the early rounds or mid round breakout picks, but what if you play in a 16 team league or a 12 team league with 20 man rosters? In those types of leagues you need to find deep sleepers or players with high upside. When I look for these types of player, I define a “Late Round Sleeper” as someone who is currently going after pick 150, or undrafted in a standard 10 team league in our Re-Draft ADP. Let’s cut to the chase and dive deep into these guys who could help you win your league.
Spencer Ware, RB, Kansas City Chiefs (170th overall, RB 55)
When Jamaal Charles went down with an injury in 2015, the primary backup seemed to be Charcandrick West. At least until another back broke into the fold. Spencer Ware was the 14th RB in standard scoring from Week 11-17 after not seeing more than 2 touches in a game before Week 11. During 11 games last year, Ware rushed 72 times for 403 yards, 5.6 YPC, and 6 TDs, while catching 6 passes for 5 yards. He averaged 0.56 FP/Carry, which was good for 3rd in the NFL, and .01 FP/Carry better than Thomas Rawls, who also flashed upside before his ankle injury.
Charcandrick West has been denoted as Charles’ backup this season due to his comparable receiving skillset. However, West is nowhere near the same caliber of runner Ware is, only rushing for an average of 4.0 YPC on 160 carries. If I decided to handcuff Charles (which I don’t typically do), West wouldn’t even be my “handcuff” to Charles. Spencer Ware is. Not only does Ware have value if Charles suffers a setback in his recovery from a torn ACL, he possesses stand alone value. He scored 6 TDs in 11 games vs West’s 4 in 16 games. Reports have been coming out that Ware was catching lots of passes at OTAs and that he’s already been named the #2 in KC. I like Spencer Ware as either one of the last picks you make in a standard draft (150th overall) or around a 15th round pick in leagues with larger rosters.
DeAndre Washington, RB, Oakland Raiders (151st overall, RB 51)
Washington barely qualifies for this list, going off the board 151st overall. The slightly undersized DeAndre Washington, profiles to be the primary back up to Latavius Murray in 2016. Even as a backup and rookie, Washington could have 2016 value and not just as a handcuff.
As the backup, it’s completely possible that Washington starts games this year, whether due to Murray’s extensive concussion history or even by winning the starting job. In early May, the Raiders GM raved about Washington, saying all the right things such as, “We think he’s a complete back, and when he gets out in space, he can make you look silly. He can catch the ball, but he can run between the tackles as well as well as bouncing it outside. We think he’s the total package as a runner. We really like him.” The Raiders backed up their hype by giving Washington multiple opportunities to run with the first team during the early offseason workout.
Washington seems like a guy who would be perfect to come in late in the regular season and help you win a championship, provided he gets the opportunities. With his current role being relegated to being a 3rd down back, Washington’s ADP of 151 makes sense, but that’s not how I construct my fantasy football teams. I look for the upside and Washington brings that in spades as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. Based off of my roster construction, I could see reaching for Washington as high as pick 120, 12th round or so in a 10 team league.
Sammie Coates, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers (173rd overall, WR 63)
Opportunity. That’s what’s staring Sammie Coates in the face in 2016. Currently embroiled in a training camp battle with Markus Wheaton, Coates has much improved this offseason and has steadily improved for the Steelers. The Steelers need Coates to step up this season with Martavis Bryant’s suspension, and this offseason he seems poised to take the role.
Frequently compared to Martavis Bryant coming out of college, Sammie Coates has an opportunity to replace him in his second NFL season. At 6’1″, 212 lbs, and running a 4.43 40 yard dash, Coates is a size – speed nightmare for defensive backs. Due to the suspension of Martavis Bryant and Heath Miller’s retirement 110 Rec, 173 targets, 1,300 yards, and 8 TDs are up for grabs in the Pittsburgh offense. Projecting Ladarius Green for 65/850/6 seemed reasonable early in the offseason, but that was before his ankle injury news and his inability to recover from that injury.
What about Markus Wheaton? Well, Wheaton was surprisingly productive overall, posting a 44/749/5 line, but a closer examination of the numbers tells a different story. Wheaton had 3 games of over 3 receptions (4, 6, and 9), 7 games above 2 receptions (4, 6, 9, 3, 3, 3, and 3), and only 4 more games with 2 receptions. Not including his Week 12 explosion, Wheaton had a total of 548 yards throughout the season, with much of his production coming as the WR 3 after Bryant and Antonio Brown. With the chance to be the WR 2 in Pittsburgh with Bryant missing the first 5 weeks, Wheaton caught 9 passes for 228 yards and 1 TD, with the TD coming on a 72-yard reception, his only reception during that game.
It shouldn’t take much for Coates to pass Wheaton on the depth chart and one could argue that his training camp has been enough to surpass Wheaton. We’ve seen Wheaton try to be a WR 2 in an offense and he didn’t impress. On the other hand, we haven’t seen Coates and as the much more intriguing athletic prospect, I’m buying into Coates. His potential in the Steelers offense is crazy and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him as a top 30 WR, outperforming his WR ADP by 33 spots. Coates is a late round pick with tremendous upside that I’m comfortable paying for as soon as the 11-12th round in a 12 team draft, or 120th overall.
Vance McDonald, TE, San Francisco 49ers (Undrafted)
Vance McDonald is not someone you would peg as a value based off of past production. With just 30 rec for 326 yards and 3 TDs in 14 games, McDonald finished 2015 as the 30th TE in standard leagues. Just looking at his seasonal numbers doesn’t express his upside, over McDonald’s last seven games, he finished as TE8 in standard scoring leagues with 23 receptions on 35 targets for 280 yards and three touchdowns. Most of McDonald’s production came when he was the featured TE in San Fran after Vernon Davis was traded to Denver.
This isn’t the only reason to draft McDonald because Chip Kelly has come to town. We know that even if a Kelly offense isn’t efficient, there will be a ton of volume. The Eagles ran 1105 plays last season, going no huddle on 795 (71.95%) of those plays. Not only did they run a ton of plays, they passed on 622 or 59.64% of their plays. Outside of Torrey Smith, who has been massively undervalued this year, the 49ers have no other established pass catchers. McDonald has the potential for 100+ targets in 2016, a threshold 9 TEs cleared in 2015. With the massive opportunity in front of him, McDonald has top 10 TE potential.
Certain players are always underrated in fantasy without proper regard for their upside. The players with this huge upside are the ones that win players their leagues. Without taking risks on upside players, there is a very slim chance of winning your fantasy leagues.