Jordan Reed in 2015. Matt Ryan in 2016. Dion Lewis in 2017. Any idea what those three players had in common in those specific seasons? All were league-winners, yet all were selected after the first 150 picks in a typical fantasy draft. Lewis was a top-five back in the final eight weeks of last season after being the 167th pick off the board in a standard draft. Ryan won the MVP in 2016, but was the 152nd pick—and 19th quarterback—by average draft position that season. Reed broke out in 2015, catching 87 passes for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns. His ADP that year was 158.4.
Nearly every season, a player comes from outside the top 150 to become a fantasy star. Even in seasons where one late-round flier doesn’t make a star turn, picks No. 151 through the end of the draft produce plenty of value, including a handful of regular starters. Here are the players most likely to be part of that group this season. And who knows, one of them may be the next league-winner in line after Reed, Ryan and Lewis.
All ADP data courtesy of the 4for4 Multi-Site ADP app.
John Brown, WR, Ravens (ADP: 205)
After four up-and-down seasons in Arizona, Brown signed with the Ravens this offseason. It’s an entirely new-look crew for the Ravens, with Brown joining Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead at the top of the receiving corps. While Crabtree is clearly the No. 1, Brown figures to run ahead of Snead, in terms of targets, and brings plenty of upside to the table. After catching 65 passes for 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns in 2015, Brown has been limited by injuries the last two years, from the types of maladies you’d expect for any professional football player, to a cyst on his spine and a sickle-cell trait diagnosis in 2016. He played in 25 games his final two seasons with the Cardinals, but started just 11 of them, and regularly saw snap rates south of 50%. That’s not expected to be the case in Baltimore, where Brown is enjoying a fully healthy summer. He has already caught one touchdown pass from Joe Flacco in the preseason, and is clearly the team’s best deep-ball receiver. Flacco may not be elite, but he has always had a monster arm, and that should mesh well with Brown’s skill set.
Chris Godwin, WR, Buccaneers (ADP: 205)
Godwin had a relatively quiet rookie season, catching 34 passes for 525 yards and one touchdown. He gets a pass for the first half of the year, however, during which he played sparingly and never got more than three targets in a game. He was much more productive in the second half of the season, recording 26 of his catches, 442 of his yards, and his lone score. He’ll have to fight both DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries for playing time, but Dirk Koetter has named him a starter alongside Mike Evans. That could be more than half the battle for a player who didn’t start getting regular snaps until more than halfway through last year. Godwin enjoyed a strong college career at Penn State, hauling in 128 passes for 2,083 yards and 16 touchdowns in his final two seasons.
Rob Kelley, RB, Redskins (ADP: 203.1)
Talent is great, but sometimes all a running back needs to be valuable in the fantasy world is volume. The bet here is that Kelley is going to get that in Washington this season. Yeah, the Redskins just signed Adrian Peterson, but he was entirely worthless for the Saints and Cardinals last year, and being one year older typically isn’t a good thing for a running back. Kelley should hold off him and Samaje Perine to hog most of the early-down work in Washington this season. Chris Thompson is a dynamic player, but he’s too significant a receiving weapon to risk in a meaningful way in the run game, especially since he’s coming off a broken leg. I’m not a huge fan of Kelley, the player, but I am a big enough fan of his situation to take a shot on him at his essentially free draft-day cost.
Danny Amendola, WR, Dolphins (ADP: 181.3)
Amendola has always been good at what he does, operating around the line of scrimmage and in the short and intermediate areas of the field to get open for high-percentage throws. He caught at least 70% of his targets each of the last three seasons, and, lest you think that’s driven entirely by Tom Brady, had a 66.9% catch rate in four years in St. Louis, playing with late-career Marc Bulger, early-career Sam Bradford, A.J. Feeley, Keith Null and Kyle Boller. This year, Amendola joins a Miami team that is searching for a way to replace Jarvis Landry’s production. Amendola isn’t the threat that Landry is, but he should be the primary slot receiver for the Dolphins. He may cede some snaps there to Albert Wilson, but the former Chief is likely to mix in with Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker outside the numbers, as well. Given that the Dolphins don’t have a significant receiving threat at tight end, Amendola could be the team’s primary weapon on short and intermediate routes.
John Ross, WR, Bengals (ADP: 216.3)
Ross was the ninth overall pick in last year’s draft, but played in just three games because of nagging knee and shoulder injuries that both previously required surgery. The most important thing about his performance at training camp and in the preseason is that he looks completely healthy, with both the knee and the shoulder giving him no problems. Ross is one of the fastest players in the league, and could be a nightmare for defenses to have to think about while they also scheme ways to slow down A.J. Green and Joe Mixon. A player with Ross’s skill set could be the perfect complement to an elite receiver like Green, and he deserves a pass for last year’s injury-riddled campaign. We’re basically looking at a top-10 overall pick in his rookie year, and that alone makes Ross worth a shot late in your drafts.
Ricky Seals-Jones, TE, Cardinals (ADP: 199.3)
Seals-Jones was largely a bit player for the Cardinals last season, playing fewer than a quarter of the team’s total snaps, and getting more than three targets in just four games. It’d be silly to look at his stats or through his game logs hunting for numbers to encourage us about his 2018 prospects. We can, however, piece together other factors to build a case for Seals-Jones as one of this season’s premier deep sleepers. First, Jermaine Gresham is gone, which places Seals-Jones in firm command of the team’s starting tight end gig. Second, new Arizona offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has always made good use of his tight ends, even though he hasn’t always had weapons at the position. In five years of play-calling duty between Denver and San Diego, McCoy’s tight ends finished 12th or better in target share three times, finishing in the top seven in PPR scoring all three years. Third, outside of David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, the usage tree in Arizona is wide open. There’s plenty of room for one more player to step in and be a regular fantasy starter. Seals-Jones is the best bet to be that third pass-catcher.
Corey Coleman, WR, Bills (ADP: 237.4)
Sometimes, a player really does need a change of scenery. Anyone who saw that painfully awkward Hard Knocks scene with Coleman in Hue Jackson’s office asking for a trade, which seemed a little artfully edited in a way that would paint Coleman in a bad light, could tell that the third-year player needed to find a new home. He got it, and from an opportunity standpoint, it may prove to be an ideal landing spot.
To be fair, there’s a non-zero chance that Buffalo has the worst offense in the league this year. With A.J. McCarron nursing a shoulder injury, rookie Josh Allen or noted five-interception-thrower Nathan Peterman could be in line to start Week 1. That may not be an ideal situation, but Coleman is in a better spot now than he was in Cleveland. Previously, he would’ve been fighting Jarvis Landry, Josh Gordon, David Njoku and Duke Johnson for targets. Now, he’s looking at Kelvin Benjamin, Charles Clay and LeSean McCoy as his main competition. Coleman will easily see more targets in Buffalo than he would have in Cleveland.
Despite the ugly ending in Coleman’s first NFL home, he played relatively well when he was healthy. In 19 games with the Browns, he caught 56 passes for 718 yards and five touchdowns. Both of his first two seasons were cut out from underneath him right as he was getting going. He had seven grabs for 173 yards and two scores in the first two games of his career, but missed the next six games after breaking a bone in his hand in practice. Last year, he had five receptions for 53 yards and a touchdown in the Browns’ season-opener, and then again broke a bone in his hand, this time in the team’s Week 2 game against the Ravens. He missed the next seven games, and was never quite the same the rest of the season. If he can stay healthy this year, he’ll have every opportunity to be the go-to receiver for whoever’s under center for the Bills.