Anyone can take Le’Veon Bell with their first round pick. That’s easy. It’s what you do in the later rounds that determines if you’re going to win a title, or quit setting your lineup by week 6. Just playin’, if you abandon your team mid-season you should be put in jail. Don’t do that. Here’s my list of guys who can outscore their draft position and produce big numbers at a small price. Getting these types of picks right can make you look like the smartest guy (or gal) in the room, and who doesn’t want that? Let’s go:
Patrick Mahomes (KC): Looking at the quarterbacks this year, Mahomes is really the only guy I see that could come out of nowhere and surprise you with a dominant season. You pretty much know what to expect from the rest of them. Mahomes is in a great position to succeed this year, so it’ll be tough for him to be a bust. Kansas City handed him the keys after a sneaky great season from Alex Smith, so they seem to like him a little bit. He’s got explosive weapons all over the field, and will likely do a fair share of rushing as well. A little rust is to be expected for the first few weeks while he settles in, but loading up your roster with RB and WR depth and then grabbing Mahomes late could be the type of strategy that pays huge dividends.
Jared Goff (LAR): You may only know him as the guy that was drafted a spot before Carson Wentz, but Goff was surprisingly productive last year after a forgettable rookie campaign. He finished the season with 3,804 yds, 28 TDs, and perhaps most importantly, only 7 picks. The Rams should be even better this year, and so should Goff. He’s already got arguably the best RB in football in Todd Gurley and an upgraded WR corps that swapped Sammy Watkins for Brandin Cooks. I think an increase in both yardage and touchdowns is inevitable.
Kerryon Johnson (DET): Like pretty much every other RB in the league, Johnson has some nice college tape, but that’s not why I consider him a sleeper. The reason is the team that drafted him and the potential opportunity he has to take over the backfield in Detroit. The Lions haven’t had a productive running game since the Great Depression, so they’d be thrilled to finally have someone they can rely on to carry the rock. Super Bowl champion Legarrette Blount is in town, but he’s really not much more than a complimentary option at this point. Johnson could handle a surprisingly big workload in his rookie year.
Chris Thompson (WSH): From weeks 1-8 of last year, Thompson was quietly putting up RB1-type numbers despite his role as the passing down back in Washington. Some of that production could be attributed to the other backs on the roster stinking up the joint, but some of it is the result of Thompson being good at football. In 10 games (including the game he left early due to injury) he averaged right around 80 yards from scrimmage along with 6 total TDs. The injury to Derrius Guice doesn’t necessarily mean the Skins are going to let Thompson run it 25 times a game, but an increase in carries and receptions is a lock.
Ty Montgomery (GB): The Ty Montgomery Experiment didn’t go too well last year, did it. The converted-WR-turned-RB came out of the gate hot, but unfortunately that lasted exactly 3 games before wrist and rib injuries basically derailed the rest of his season. The silver lining is that you don’t have to pay nearly as much to draft him this year, and his role as the passing down back in GB should be locked up. I think GB will find ways to get him the ball and he could be surprisingly productive despite not being the “starter” anymore.
Duke Johnson (CLE): It sounds weird to say, but the Browns might actually be decent this year. And if you haven’t paid close attention, Johnson has actually been very decent in his career so far as well. He’s averaged over 940 scrimmage yards and 63 receptions a year since entering the league, and has the honor of being the only running back in the league with 3 straight seasons of 50+ catches and 500+ receiving yards. Not too shabby. He’s also coming off a career high in both of those categories so the numbers are no fluke. While some drafters might be stressing over whether Carlos Hyde or Nick Chubb is going to get the most carries in Cleveland, skip the headache and target Johnson instead.
Chris Carson (SEA): Seattle doesn’t seem to think spending a first round pick on a running back is that big of a deal I guess. Rashaad Penny was the 27th overall pick in this year’s draft, but the Hawks look like they’re going to make him earn his carries since it was Carson who opened training camp as the starter. That depth chart hasn’t changed yet this summer, and Penny missing a month due to a broken hand should only solidify Carson’s position as the starting RB. It’s possible that Penny eventually takes over as the lead back, but it’s also possible that Carson runs away with the job and keeps it all year. If that’s the case he could be a steal. Let’s not forget that Carson also won the starting job last year before a broken leg knocked him out for the season.
Corey Davis (TEN): I loved Davis coming out of college, but he didn’t really have a chance last year. He basically missed all of his rookie training camp with a hamstring injury. Some might say that’s ‘valuable time’ that he wasn’t able to participate in. Even after missing camp, he still drew 10 targets in week 1 en route to a 6 catch, 69 yard day. The injury flared up the following week and he wasn’t right for the rest of the regular season. Now healthy, Davis takes the top WR spot on what should be an improved Titans offense. Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis in the backfield should help open things up for Marcus Mariota and allow Davis to enter the conversation of stud WRs. He could be a huge steal.
Jamison Crowder (WSH): Perhaps everyone was a year early in anointing Crowder as a breakout pick. Coming off a surprising 2016 that saw him notch 67 rec, 847 yds and 7 TDs, it was almost universally assumed that Crowder was going to take a step forward and become a PPR monster. Welp, he went on to see a decline in all 3 categories on his way to a bust of a season. What that means for this year: you can now pick him up at a deep discount instead of slightly overpaying like you had to in 2017. Alex Smith is now under center in Washington, and prior to last year’s unexpected offensive explosion with the Chiefs, Smith was always a ‘game manager’ dink and dunk type of QB. That works out well for Crowder who plays primarily in the slot and who should be the recipient of those dinks and dunks. Looking at Washington’s WR depth chart, I don’t see anyone I would call “good at football”, so there should be plenty of targets for Crowder this year.
Marquise Goodwin (SF): One of the surprises of the 2nd half, Goodwin kind of came out of nowhere to put together a strong 7 game run to end the season. Sure, some of that had to do with Pierre Garcon missing time due to injury, but Goodwin won’t be a forgotten man with Garcon back. If you expand his numbers from week 10-17 over an entire season you’d have yourself approximately 78 rec for 1,250 yards and 5 scores. Just for reference, AJ Green put up 75 for 1,078 and 8 last year. With a full offseason to connect with up and coming stud Jimmy Garoppolo, I’d expect a surprisingly productive campaign for Goodwin. With improvements on both sides of the ball, the Niners are on the rise.
Allen Hurns (DAL): This has more to do with opportunity than anything else. As of now, Hurns is going into the season as the #1 option on the Dallas depth chart. That alone should get him north of 100 targets. While I firmly believe that Dak Prescott STINKS, he still can’t hand the ball to Zeke every down. Not only did Dallas cut Dez Bryant, they lost Jason Witten to retirement. That’s 220 targets from last year that have opened up. Unless you’re a big Cole Beasley believer, you have to assume Hurns will be the main target in this offense by default.
Cameron Meredith (NO): One of the more underrated signings of the offseason, Meredith looks like he’ll be taking the slot WR role in New Orleans and I’m expecting him to capitalize big time. With Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn stretching the field, and Alvin Kamara beasting in the backfield, how do you cover Meredith? He hasn’t put up huge numbers in his short career due to injuries and being stuck on atrocious Bears teams, but that’ll change this year in New Orleans. I think Chicago is going to regret letting him go.
Jordan Reed (WAS): Reed isn’t necessarily a ‘sleeper’ by definition, but he’s being extremely under drafted due to injury concerns. The concerns are legit (he averages 10 games played per year in his career) but so is his production when he gets on the field. In his healthiest season in 2015, Reed put up 87 catches for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns in 14 games. That’s a top 10 WR pace right there. It’s possible the injury woes continue and he drives you nuts every week, but it’s also possible he wins you a championship if he can play a full season. It’s almost mandatory to draft a backup tight end if you take Reed, however, so plan accordingly.
David Njoku (CLE): Njoku only caught two passes in his preseason debut, but they both happened to be in the end zone. Even better, one was from Tyrod Taylor and one was from Baker Mayfield, so regardless of which one ends up starting, they’ve both shown they’re already looking for this guy when it’s time to score. This is a big, big boy so he should clean up in the red zone. It still feels dirty to think of drafting anyone on the Browns, but they should at least be able to put up some points this year with all their new additions on offense.
Trey Burton (CHI): This must be what it’s like to see your kid grow up and send them off to college… Burton refined his craft in Philly, and now he’s off to Chicago to major in End Zone Studies with a minor in Reception Arts. Matt Nagy is the head coach in Chicago this year. His last job? Offensive Coordinator in KC. His tight end in KC? Travis Kelce. Travis Kelce’s numbers? DOMINANT. Burton should be a big part of the Bears offense. While the rest of the scrubs in your league look to take Gronk in the 2nd round, sit back, relax, and let Burton fall to you while you load up on studs elsewhere.
– The Elder
Follow me on Twitter @joeybaconbits and Instagram @joeb55 for more content and Q&As during the season