Fantasy seasons are rarely won or lost in the early rounds of drafts. Outside of the occasional fluke injury or contract-related holdout, the players in the first two rounds of drafts will more often than not be dependable fantasy options for most of the season.
It’s the later rounds where fantasy champions are made, as grabbing a tenth-round pick that performs like a second-round pick can give your roster a massive boost. These five players with an average draft position (ADP) after pick 75 have a chance to perform like a top option at their position, making them sleepers that you have to draft in 2019.
Kyler Murray (QB, Arizona Cardinals, #103 ADP)
Despite the fact that he has never even played a preseason game in his NFL career, Kyler Murray has been one of the most hyped players in fantasy football circles in 2019. So how does Murray still qualify as a sleeper? Because his ADP has not yet caught up to the hype. Murray goes off draft boards in the pick 90 to 100 range overall, making him on average the ninth to fourteenth quarterback off the board. With a chance to legitimately challenge the elites at his position, Murray deserves your attention as a high upside quarterback that won’t break the bank.
As a passer, Murray has intriguing upside year one, more so than your typical rookie quarterback, due to the offensive system that he will play in. Many rookie quarterbacks are asked to be game managers, and the limited passing volume hurts them in fantasy football. New head coach Kliff Kingsbury brings the air raid offense to the NFL, an offense that emphasizes spreading the field with four wide receivers and throwing short quick passes, essentially using the passing game as an extension of the running game. Coupled with a Cardinals defense that will be missing star cornerback Patrick Peterson for six games due to a suspension, and Murray could find himself chucking the ball all over the field in shootouts, while often playing from behind as well.
Rushing ability can be a secret weapon for quarterbacks in fantasy football, so Murray’s 1,001 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns at Oklahoma last year should immediately get your attention. As the first overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft, Murray didn’t even need to run the 40-yard dash, but he’s claimed to have clocked a lightning-fast 4.3 second 40 time. Mobile quarterbacks have a good track record of bursting onto the scene in fantasy football due to their explosive rushing ability, and Murray looks poised to do the same. Below are quarterbacks in their first year starting in the NFL who can compare to Murray’s rushing potential, and how that first season ranked among the best fantasy seasons of their careers.
|Player||Pass Yds||Pass TD||Int||Rush Yds||Rush TD||Fan Pts||Career F Pts Rank|
As you can see, Michael Vick and Cam Newton caught the league off guard and recorded the second-best fantasy season of their careers in year one, even more impressive considering the lengthy careers they’ve had. Robert Griffin III and Vince Young, while ending their careers as disappointments, actually had their best fantasy seasons right out of the gate, as they relied heavily on their rushing ability. While we hope that Murray has a long and successful career, there’s a chance that 2019 could actually rank near the top of his best fantasy seasons when all is said and done.
The tantalizing part of Murray’s game is his passing upside in the air raid offense. He will have no problem surpassing 3,000 yards passing in today’s NFL, and if he could reach 4,000 while showing off his rushing ability, Murray could post a fantasy total in the neighborhood of what Newton did as a rookie. Newton’s 369 fantasy points from his rookie year would have ranked as the QB2 in 2018, trailing only Patrick Mahomes. While we can’t expect Murray to match Newton’s rookie-year total of 14 rushing touchdowns, Murray could make up for that with more passing touchdowns and fewer interceptions. While execting Murray to be the QB2 this year is optimistic, his potential upside is what makes him a must draft in the later rounds in 2019.
Curtis Samuel (WR, Carolina Panthers, #122 ADP)
As the 43rd wide receiver drafted and with an ADP in the 110-115 range, Curtis Samuel is a steal in the ninth round of your fantasy drafts. Mike Miklius took a deeper dive on Samuel than I’ll be able to provide here, so make sure to read his article if I don’t convince you of his value. But it’s easy to see Samuel’s potential to outperform the receivers being selected ahead of him in the middle rounds of drafts.
A 2017 second-round pick out of Ohio State, Samuel offers elite athleticism with his 4.31 40-yard dash time. After starting slow his rookie season and injuring his ankle in Week 10, Samuel went into 2018 as a bit of an afterthought. His ankle injury lingered, costing him several games last year as well, but after returning, Samuel reminded everyone of the potential that made him the 40th overall pick.
Samuel showed a knack for scoring touchdowns last year with five receiving touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns in just 13 games and 8 starts. Samuel’s two rushing touchdowns came on just eight rushing attempts, and he was able to bust runs of 33 yards and 25 yards in his limited rushing work, showcasing his big-play ability. Through the air, Samuel saw target totals of 11, 8, and 13 within the last five games of the season, even while playing with an injured Cam Newton who was struggling to get the ball downfield. The Panthers clearly wanted to get the ball into Samuel’s hands down the stretch, which bodes well for his 2019 fantasy outlook.
With Newton looking recovered from his shoulder injury, Carolina appears set to build on a promising first year under offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Samuel will be competing with elite pass-catching running back Christian McCaffrey and yards after catch specialist D.J. Moore. However, Samuel provides a downfield threat that neither of his competitors can match, and his route running makes him a potentially lethal option against man coverage.
Samuel has been drawing praise all summer from the coaching staff, and while the fantasy community has begun to take notice, he is still a steal in drafts. You could start making a case for him as early as the seventh round, and he may pay huge dividends even at that draft price.
Miles Sanders (RB, Philadelphia Eagles, #77 ADP)
The Eagles don’t strike me as the type of organization that would spend a second-round pick on a player that they won’t utilize, especially when it’s at the generally devalued position of running back. So the selection of Miles Sanders as the 53rd overall pick in this year’s draft should set off alarm bells for fantasy owners. Sanders is a 77th percentile athlete according to Player Profiler, immediately giving him a higher upside than his competition in the Philadelphia backfield.
Competing for the job with Sanders is Jordan Howard, who the Eagles only gave up a 202o 6th round pick to acquire from the Bears. Howard brings nothing to the table in the passing game, limiting his upside and usage in an offense that should be able to throw on even the best of defenses. Recently signed Darren Sproles is certainly a nuisance for those looking to draft Sanders, but the 36-year-old pass-catching running back was limited to six games last year due to injury, and received very little interest on the open market this offseason. The remaining competition is Wendell Smallwood, a fifth-round pick from 2016 that may be in danger of not making the roster, and Corey Clement, an undrafted player who just recently returned to the field from a knee injury. While the sheer number of options available to the Eagles is concerning for those looking to draft Sanders, none of those players even remotely resembles the all-around difference-maker that Sanders could turn into.
Sanders is being selected as the 32nd running back in drafts, typically going off the board towards the end of the seventh round. Sanders showed explosiveness at Penn State that makes him an intriguing pick at that cost. He was able to hurdle defenders on runs and break big plays, as well as split out wide and convert first downs as a pass-catcher. His overall ability gives him an opportunity to take over a backfield that could be among the most diverse and explosive in the NFL, with an excellent quarterback and offensive line to help support Sanders in his rookie year.
Sanders likely won’t be a bell-cow running back, but very few players are in 2019’s NFL, and those players are taken in the first round of fantasy drafts. With an ADP around pick 82 overall, Sanders has the potential to look like the steal of the draft in retrospect.
Damien Harris (RB, New England Patriots, #132 ADP)
Traditional fantasy football advice pertaining to Patriots runnings backs is to take the least expensive player on draft day. The reason being that the Patriots are unpredictable with their running back usage, making an early-round fantasy investment at the position risky. However, the Patriots have ranked in the top 5 in offensive points scored in each of the last nine seasons, making the primary New England running back a lucrative role if you can land it.
Unless you want to draft Rex Burkhead this year, who struggled with injuries in 2018 and may be fighting for a roster spot this year, Damien Harris is your man. The third-round pick out of Alabama is going anywhere from pick 100 to 125 overall in fantasy drafts, well behind teammates Sony Michel and James White. With White focusing primarily on the passing game work, and Michel already showing early-career knee problems that are a carryover from college, Harris could sneak his way into a significant role on one of the leagues finest offenses.
Harris showed good burst at the combine, though is not an elite athlete overall. He shared work with first-round pick Josh Jacobs at Alabama and is a versatile player that can contribute on the ground, in the air, and in pass blocking, making him a rookie that should be able to earn the trust of the coaching staff quickly. Reports out of camp reinforce the notion that Harris will be a quick contributor.
His versatility makes him an interesting option when compared to the lack of versatility from the other primary Patriots running backs. Michel was a zero in the passing game last year, with a minuscule 11 targets in 13 games. And while White is a talented pass catcher, he’s a limited rusher, as he set a career-high last year with just 94 carries in his fifth season in the NFL. Harris looks like the primary backup to both White and Michel, making him an easy selection in the 9th or 10th rounds of fantasy drafts. An injury to either White or Michel could lead to a massive season for Harris at a value cost in drafts.
Keke Coutee (WR, Houston Texans, #131 ADP)
All Coutee needs to do is stay healthy to pay off on his 10th round ADP. After battling a hamstring injury most of the year, Coutee was limited to six games in his rookie season. He has a role as the slot receiver when he’s active, as evidenced by his 11 catch 109-yard performance on 15 targets in his first NFL game in Week 4 of last year. Coutee would go on to play 5 more games, and while his Week 4 performance was his highlight, he still wound up averaging almost seven targets per game.
So far in camp, reports are encouraging on Coutee, as he is healthy and practicing, which was even an issue at this time last year. Coutee will be competing with Will Fuller for work behind Deandre Hopkins, but really, there is plenty of work to go around. Quarterback Deshaun Watson is one of the leagues most talented passers, and the Texans barely pass to their tight ends and running backs, leaving ample opportunities available for the three Texans wide receivers. Additionally, Fuller has missed time in each of his three years in the league and is unlikely to play all 16 games if his track record is any indication.
In one of the more shocking target distributions at the team level in the entire league, after Hopkins and his 163 targets, no other Texans pass-catcher topped 50 targets. Outside of Coutee and Fuller, the rest of the Houston target leaders are uninspiring names like Ryan Griffin, Lamar Miller, Demaryius Thomas, Alfred Blue, Jordan Thomas, and Jordan Akins.
Coutee has all the opportunity in the world as a much needed short-range target for Watson, and a healthy season could see Coutee putting up WR2 numbers in your fantasy lineup. It’s rare to find a talented option on one of the league’s best offenses available at a discount like this. Make sure Coutee ends up on your fantasy rosters in 2019.
Featured image by Nathan Mills (@NathanMillsPL on Twitter)