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NFL Fantasy Draft: Each NFC team’s best sleeper pick

How many of you drafted Kareem Hunt in the first round last year? How about Alvin Kamara? Yeah… me neither.

It is not uncommon for NFL Fantasy Championships to be decided in the later rounds. That’s why we read articles like this. Maybe we’ll hear something that makes us pick a Marvin Jones. Then we’ll swear we knew all along he’d be the WR-5.

Here is a crop of potential game-changers from the NFC. I am saving a couple of late round picks for these folks, because late round NFL Fantasy draft sleepers win NFL Fantasy Championships.

Philadelphia Eagles: WR Mike Wallace

Here’s the scenario. Mike Wallace fell out of favor in Baltimore. He replaces a receiver who saw 67 targets, 40 less than what Wallace averaged in the past five seasons. With those 40 extra targets, he had the 38th most NFL fantasy points among wide receivers. But…

Philadelphia’s top dog, Alshon Jeffrey, will miss “at least” two games recovering from shoulder surgery. Nelson Agholor can only do so much. Wallace rejuvenates his career by becoming Carson Wentz’ go-to guy deep while Jeffrey struggles with immobility.

He might not get his 105 targets, but 80, along with deeper routes expected in his role, keeps Wallace in the WR3 discussion. With a few touchdowns, he jumps to a top-20 receiver.

Dallas Cowboys: WR Michael Gallup

Jimmy Jones brought a slew of wide receivers into training camp this season. None of them, including the only two incumbents, has ever been a number one. Personally, I thought Allen Hurns would step up and take charge, but the only wide receiver turning heads is the rookie, Michael Gallup.

Gallup was drafted in the third round out of Colorado State. He had good metrics, but nothing that stood out. He is about average in weight and height.

But he has been the guy all preseason. He beats press coverage. He finds a spot in zones. He runs crisp routes. He has good speed. He catches the ball. He is the best bet to emerge as the number one receiver for Dak Prescott.

Washington Redskins: WR Paul Richardson

Astute NFL Fantasy Football prognosticators say newly signed Paul Richardson will have trouble finding targets when (if) the Redskins get all their other targets (Crowder, Doctson, Reed, and Thompson) back on the field.

I say “bunk!” Dan Snyder didn’t spend $40 million to watch Doctson try to shed the potential label again. Thompson is a little nervous about his injury and says he won’t be 100% until November… maybe. Reed will get Vernon Davis’ preseason targets and Crowder… Well, he’ll be the top receiver. But expect a new quarterback with no ties to past actors to feed the only wide receiver he’s familiar with. Richardson gets enough targets to be a solid WR-2 for Alex Smith.

New York Giants: QB Eli Manning

Never underestimate the power of love. There was absolutely none of it last season between head coach Ben McAdoo and Eli Manning. From the minute McAdoo told the Giants he wanted an experienced backup on the roster to the day he left, McAdoo showed little respect for the Giants icon.

Make no mistake about it, Manning did not pass the eye test last season. He was painful to watch at times. How much of that was because he didn’t buy into the system? Even when the Giants went 13-3 in McAdoo’s first year, the Giants never scored 30 points in a game.

Enter a new coach and GM, a huge act of faith, a happy and healthy Odell Beckham, a shuffled offensive line, and a running threat, and all is right again in Eli’s world. He is literally dancing, moving in and out of the pocket by design. He is excited and re-energized by the new offense. Manning’s second career top-ten NFL Fantasy season comes at the ripe age of 37.

Los Angeles Rams: TE Tyler Higbee

It was the forgotten position on one of the most potent offensive attacks last season, and it never made sense.

New head coach Sean McVay came from a stint as the Washington Redskins offensive coordinator, where he utilized Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis to great effect. McVay was a tight ends position coach before that. Los Angeles had a top-rated rookie in Gerald Everett and a huge, athletic second-year tight end in Tyler Higbee.

Higbee is listed as the starter in 2018. He can block effectively at the line and against linebackers. He has good hands, speed, and runs good routes. After watching film all winter, we expect McVay to find him a role in the Rams offense.

Seattle Seahawks: WR Tyler Lockett

Hardly an unknown name, Tyler Lockett is the #2 wide receiver for a top-ranked NFL fantasy quarterback without a pass-catching tight end and little competition from Seattle’s WR-3 candidates. Yet he is coming off NFL Fantasy draft boards as the 68th wide receiver.

If there was any doubt about the Seahawks’ faith in him, the three-year extension he just signed should put that to rest. Brandon Marshall would be a nice story if he has a rebound year. Jaron Brown, too.

But for now, it’s Doug Baldwin on a less-than-healthy knee and Tyler Lockett in a powerful offensive division. Lockett could be a big bargain at the end of your NFL fantasy draft.

Arizona Cardinals: WR Christian Kirk

This is another situation where someone has to step up and become the second wide receiver for Ryan Fitzpatrick or Josh Rosen. Even with running back David Johnson snaring a large number of targets, there has to be some value in being a wide receiver 2.

Carson Palmer tried to create a viable WR-2 last season, but no one stepped up as a consistent option. Arizona jettisoned the bulk of those receivers and signed Brice Butler in free agency. Then, they drafted Christian Kirk.

Kirk has easily beaten all comers in the quest for the WR-2 job. While the competition might not impress you, understand that Kirk shows the speed, route running, and hand control needed to not only be Larry Fitzgerald’s wingman but his eventual successor. It starts in 2018.

San Francisco 49ers: RB Alfred Morris

When largely forgotten multi-year Pro Bowler Alfred Morris got the chance to cover Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension games last season, he looked good enough to play a role for somebody in 2018. But the free agent went uncalled for much of the preseason.

Finally, his former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan called him to fill a gap in San Francisco. It wasn’t likely Morris was in the 49ers regular season plans as much as he was just going to fill in for resting starters in the preseason. Then he got on the field.

Only a penalty kept Morris from running for over 100 yards in the Niners’ third preseason game. Shanahan’s praise was effusive. Morris’ size and power are something San Francisco lacks among their collection of pass-catching backs. That is why he could rack up decent yardage in a limited role that includes all the goal line rushes.

Minnesota Vikings: RB CJ Ham

John DeFilippo takes over the Minnesota Vikings offense in 2018. From day one, CJ Ham reports he has practiced a two-back offense. With the questionable status of the Minnesota offensive line, that makes sense.

Ham is the only fullback on the roster. In the last preseason game, it was a pair of passes out of the backfield that highlighted Minnesota’s best drive of the preseason. Ham is a part of the basic attack and provides a dump-off option to Kirk Cousins.

The converted halfback can surprise with an occasional rush, but his role in the pass-catching game could make him as useful in a PPR league as Duke Johnson.

Detroit Lions: RB Theo Riddick

Kerryon Johnson and LeGarrette Blount figure to split the bulk of rushing opportunities in Detroit this season. Considering his reputation as a power back, Blount is notoriously weak as a pass blocker or catcher. Johnson is a work in progress.

Enter Theo Riddick, back in the role that first made him an NFL fantasy name. Concentrating on the passing game should help Riddick bounce back from an underwhelming performance last year. Muscle memory will help Stafford find his familiar target out of the backfield and make Riddick a good PPR option.

Green Bay Packers: WR Geronimo Allison

Aaron Rodgers enters 2018 with a well-rested arm and a glint in his eye. Rodgers will see something he has only seen once before in his productive career. That is a third-place schedule. The last time it happened, it took an upset by the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL final to keep him from the Super Bowl.

With all the talk of a solid running game, Rodgers is going to want to throw early, often, and for touchdowns. That brings us to Geronimo Allison. Allison effectively replaces Jordy Nelson in the Packers offense. That would be the same Jordy Nelson who saw 152 targets in Rodgers’ last healthy season.

Allison will cede some of those targets to new tight end Jimmy Graham, as well as a few to Devante Adams and Randall Cobb. But Allison has the speed, size, and trust of Rodgers needed to be the breakout receiver of 2018. Look for him late in your NFL Fantasy Draft.

Chicago Bears: RB Tarik Cohen

Chicago’s new head coach came via Kansas City, where he directed one of the most explosive attacks in the game. When he says he has enough tools to do the same thing in Chicago, it’s interesting. When he keeps calling Tarik Cohen, “Tyreek”, it’s NFL fantasy board changing.

We’re not talking about the similarity in names or the coach getting tongue-tied. We’re talking about when Matt Nagy says he sees a lot of Tyreek in Tarik. We’re talking about how Tarik plays the role of Tyreek in the motion game introduced in the third preseason game.

Mostly, we’re talking about Tarik on the field more, with and without Kareem… I mean, Jordan Howard. There is a reason Cohen was called “the human highlight reel” when he came into the league. Nagy will make better use of him than his predecessor.

New Orleans Saints: WR Cameron Meredith

Cameron Meredith gets a new football life in New Orleans starting this season. He plans to make the best of it.

Working mostly out of the slot, Meredith could easily be the 2015-16 version of Willie Snead, who finished as a WR 25. He could also do better. This is despite a passing game that shares plays with the Saints dynamic new running attack and a top-ten NFL fantasy receiver in Michael Thomas.

Meredith finished right behind Snead in NFL fantasy ratings in 2016 with Jay Cutler throwing to him. Playing with a bit of a chip on his shoulder over his release from Chicago, Meredith has a much higher ceiling with Drew Brees dealing the ball.

Carolina Panthers: WR Curtis Samuel

Most of the talk regarding Carolina is about how Christian McCaffrey is going to run or catch a pass on every offensive play. That is only a slight exaggeration.

When wide receivers come up, rookie DJ Moore and newly acquired Torrey Smith are usually cited as being the major upgrades that will help Devin Funchess break free. Meanwhile, a healthy Curtis Samuel continues to have the best preseason of any of them.

Cam Newton will feed the ball to a variety of targets, but it is clear he is comfortable with what Samuel can do when he gets the ball. Expect Samuel to be a solid WR2, or 3 if you count McCaffrey.

Atlanta Falcons: Defense/Special teams

Not many defenses finished 2017 with a top ten ranking against the run and a top ten ranking against the pass. Atlanta did. Their 302 points allowed ranked them ninth in the league.

The reason they were not a top ten NFL fantasy D/ST is that they did not force many turnovers. This season expect them to correct that.

Returning most of their key players, the defense to a man is determined to finish the season as a top-five unit. They know they need to force turnovers to make that happen. We’re rolling the dice on them to break out among NFL fantasy defenses in 2018.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: RB Peyton Barber

Ancient NFL fantasy wisdom says that when undecided on a late round running back, look for the starter on a bad team. If the team runs the ball at all, the starter is always a risk to have a big game or two.

Using that strategy with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Peyton Barber could prove very rewarding. Despite some injury concerns on the offensive line, Barber fended off rookie Ronald Jones (and his bad hands) by averaging over five yards per carry and showing improvement in every facet of his game.

With the plethora of receiving options on Tampa, running backs might be limited in value. But the weak offensive line makes it important to establish a running game to keep defenses from teeing off on the quarterback. Barber is at least a RB-2 this season.

Other Notables

Seattle’s Chris Carson appears set to win the running back job in Seattle behind an improved offensive line. But the history of Seattle rushers is not good, and I do not trust anything that comes out of coach Pete Carroll’s mouth when it comes to future game plans.

Joe Kelly came into the preseason lighter and quicker. If Adrian Peterson repeats his fail of 2017, look for Kelly on the waiver wire.

WR Kenny Golladay could kick it up a notch in Detroit this season. For a deep sleeper, consider Jake Kumerow, who turned into a favorite target of Aaron Rodgers in preseason. Two long touchdowns help his case to be the fourth wideout in the potent Packer attack.

I almost listed a kicker as a sleeper. Isn’t that ridiculous? But rookie Daniel Carson nailed everything this preseason, including a 57-yarder, in beating out Kai Forbath in Minnesota.

If you miss out on the higher ranked defenses, consider Arizona. They have looked tremendous overall, but more importantly for NFL fantasy value, they are on the verge of setting a preseason record for forced turnovers.

What do you think? Do you have other sleepers in mind? Share them in the comments below!