INDIANAPOLIS --- Fantasy Drafts are firing up across the land, and the key to winning a championship is often finding those diamonds in the rough in the middle to late rounds. The larger your league, the tougher it can be to unearth those valuable players.
After publishing my 2015 rankings, I have combed through the lists to find players that I have ranked at least one round higher than their average draft position:
Sam Bradford (PHL, ADP QB18, my ranking QB13) - The Eagles offense under Chip Kelly has produced viable fantasy options, and that's saying something considering he's done it with an aging Michael Vick, Nick Foles, and Mark Sanchez. Only Drew Brees, Andrew Luck, and Peyton Manning have more fantasy points than the Eagles starting quarterback, since Chip Kelly took over. It's possible I still might have Bradford too low at QB13, but you have to factor in the injury risk. He's a great option to pair with another late round QB, like Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, or...Tom Brady (ducks to dodge tomatoes).
Carson Palmer (ARZ, ADP QB20, my ranking QB19) - Again, you have to factor in the injury risk, but when he was healthy, he was great with Bruce Arians. 20, 18, 16, 21, and 19 points in the games he played in last season. He's a low risk back-up QB selection, with top-12 fantasy QB upside.
Duke Johnson (CLE, ADP RB50, my ranking RB38 in standard, RB33 PPR) - 91% of fantasy writers across the country are ranking Johnson higher than his ADP of the 50th RB off the board. If I'm drafting a Browns RB this year (and I may not, honestly, with how hard it was to predict the touches last season), then it will be Johnson. Mike Pettine has not expressed confidence in his returning backs Isaiah Crowell and Terrence West. The rookie out of Miami could see his value increase more and more as the year goes on. He should easily outperform where you have to draft him.
Danny Woodhead (SD, ADP RB47, my ranking RB36 in standard, RB26 PPR) - Drafters are assuming Danny Woodhead's value is shot with the Chargers drafting Melvin Gordon in the first round. I think this has created an opportunity for savvy drafters. Woodhead should still be the 3rd-down back, because he is a superior pass-catcher to Gordon. Woodhead should also be on the field when the Chargers go uptempo. If Gordon's pass protection isn't good enough, he could lose even more snaps to Woodhead. Don't get me wrong: Gordon is the top back in San Diego, but Woodhead had 1,000+ total yards and 8 touchdowns in 2013, and his 76 receptions made him even more valuable in PPR leagues. Plus, TE Antonio Gates is suspended four games. Woodhead would make a great RB4 on your roster, with potential RB2 upside in PPR leagues (flex in standard).
David Cobb (TEN, ADP RB44, my ranking RB34 in standard, RB41 in PPR) - This could turn into a fantasy black hole in the Titans backfield, but I saw enough from Bishop Sankey last year to know I'd rather have a rookie from this year's much more talented RB draft class. The starter in this backfield though is TBD, so stay tuned.
Eddie Royal (CHI, ADP WR51, my ranking WR35 in standard, WR28 in PPR) - Eddie Royal has played with Jay Cutler before during his rookie year in 2008. The former 2nd round pick had 91 receptions. Brandon Marshall? Gone. Kevin White? Injured. Eddie Royal could follow Emmanuel Sanders as the next breakout receiver in John Fox's offense (although not to Sanders 2014 levels, who had Peyton Manning at QB). Royal looks like a steal to me.
Devin Funchess (CAR, ADP WR49, my ranking WR45 in standard, WR45 in PPR) - He's not a direct replacement in terms of talent to Kelvin Benjamin, but somebody has to catch the ball in Carolina right? Other than TE Greg Olsen, it's probably Funchess. Considering the pricetag, he could easily outperform his ADP and my ranking.
Devante Parker (MIA, ADP WR52, my ranking WR43 in standard, WR43 PPR) - Parker did not practiced in training camp, rehabbing since foot surgery in June. I watched enough of him in college at Louisville though to know Parker is special. He's only my WR43 right now because of the foot. This could be a case where he starts slow, but if he gets healthy enough to play in 2015, he will instantly be the most talented target on the field for Ryan Tannehill in Miami, over Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, and Jordan Cameron. He's going outside the top 150 in drafts, meaning he's not even being drafted in 10-team leagues. Stash him. If the foot doesn't cooperate, it didn't cost you anything. If it does, look out.
Richard Rodgers (GB, ADP TE24, my ranking TE13 in standard, TE13 in PPR) - Tight end will be the most important position to find a sleeper in 2015, because there is so much uncertainty after Gronk, Graham, Olsen, and Kelce. Here's why I like Rodgers, with Jordy Nelson out for the season. Rodgers is 6'4", 257 pounds. The Packers top 3 receivers now? Randall Cobb (5'10"), Davante Adams (6'1"), and Ty Montgomery (6'0"). That's not great when you are in the red zone. You need some size down there, and Rodgers can provide that. Reports are he is developing a rapport with Rodgers in that area in practice and is beating out Andrew Quarless to start.
Vernon Davis (SF, ADP TE17, my ranking TE11 in standard, TE11 in PPR) - I know, I know, but I'm giving him one more shot ONLY because his overall ADP is pick 160. What do you have to lose at that price? Maybe a new head coach will help him.
Delanie Walker (TEN, ADP TE12, my ranking TE7 in standard, TE7 PPR) - I like Jason Witten a little more than Walker with DeMarco Murray no longer in Dallas, but Walker slips past Antonio Gates for me due to his suspension. I'm also higher on him than Julius Thomas, given the offenses. I have slightly more faith in Mariota than Bortles. Walker was the #9 TE in standard last year (#8 in PPR) with 63 receptions, 890 yards, and 4 touchdowns but was 5th in targets among TEs. With improved quarterback play in Mariota, Walker's TE ranking should rise.