If you are a fantasy football manager, you are well aware that while the early rounds are important, you win fantasy football drafts in the later ones. The value of drafting a fantasy stud after the eighth round is unmatched — it takes your team from being mediocre to a league winner. Here are my favorite late-round sleepers, each of which have tremendous upside.
1. Trey Sermon RB33 ECR: 88
If you are unaware of Trey Sermon, please allow me to introduce you to him. Sermon was a very productive back throughout his college career, but never took on a starter’s workload. During his first three years at Oklahoma, Sermon split time with Rodney Anderson and Kennedy Brooks, and endured a knee injury during his junior season. With only a year of eligibility left and knowing he had to make a name for himself, Sermon decided to take his talents to Columbus. However, this did not go as planned, and Sermon found himself in a timeshare yet again with fellow running back Master Teague. It wasn't until the Big Ten Championship game that Sermon was able to prove his worth. With Teague going down with an injury early in the game, Sermon was thrown into the starting role. He made it worthwhile, rushing 29 times for 331 yards and two touchdowns, and earning MVP honors for the game. He rode this wave into the semi-final against Clemson, rushing 31 times for 193 yards and one touchdown. These two performances were enough for Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers to trade up and invest a third-round pick on him.
If you are in a dynasty league or a keeper fantasy league, Sermon is a great selection for his potential this year, but more so for the potential in the upcoming years. As of right now, it is a crowded backfield filled with Raheem Mostert, Wayne Gallman, Elijah Mitchell, JaMycal Hasty, and Jeff Wilson, but this shouldn't dismay you from getting a piece of the Trey Sermon stock. And if I'm being blatantly honest, none of these other guys scare me. Sure, Mostert has looked great when healthy, but let's not forget what he was before the 49ers: a career journeyman. As for the rest of the backs, they have all served in backup roles, with the exception of fellow rookie Elijah Mitchell. There is no reason to be afraid of the other backs in the running back room; Sermon will get his fair share of touches in due time.
It's also important to note that Shanahan has consistently shown his love for riding the hot hand. WHEN Sermon gets playing time and IF he makes the most of the opportunity (similar to how he made the most of his opportunities this past year at Ohio State), Sermon has the ability to generate massive returns. The 49ers have one of the most prolific rushing attacks in the NFL and they invested draft capital in Sermon to go up and get him, they will use him sooner or later. He's upside this year is a toss up, but in the future, the sky is the limit for the young running back.
All things considered, Sermon has relatively fresh legs given his role in college. Compared to other rookie running backs, like Pittsburgh’s Najee Harris and Jacksonville’s Travis Ettiene, who both sit well above 600 career college carries, Sermon only has 438.
2. Jonnu Smith TE14 ECR: 124
I mean, how can you not love Jonnu Smith on the Patriots? This was one the most underrated moves of the offseason, and I believe Smith will put the league on notice this year.
During Smith's time in Tennessee he served as their TE2 behind Delanie Walker. Given that he was behind a veteran like Walker, Smith struggled to see a large target share early on in his career. As a rookie, Smith saw only 30 targets and converted 18 of them into catches. As time went on, Smith began to show his athletic prowess and what he was capable of. This past year Smith increased his activity within the offense by being targeted 60 times while converting 41 of them into catches for 448 yards and 8 touchdowns.
During this offseason Smith signed a four-year contract worth $50 million with the New England Patriots. This may seem like far too much for a second-string tight end, and when you factor in the addition of fellow top-five tight end Hunter Henry, this doesn't appear ideal. However, Josh McDaniels made Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez a deadly tandem that gave defenses plenty of trouble. I would even argue that Smith is the bigger receiving threat, whereas Henry is more of an all-around tight end. Smith is more than capable of dominating the tight end targets and potentially even leading the team in targets — he's that athletic and seriously that good of a receiver.
This is a match made in heaven for the Patriots and I fully expect Jonnu Smith to blossom in his first year as a primary target in an offense.
3. Rashod Bateman WR63 ECR: 162
Ja'Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith, and Kadarious Toney. These are all of the wide receivers that were taken in the first round before Rashod Bateman. Oddly enough, Bateman has the potential to become one of the best wide receivers in this draft. The four receivers all have valid arguments and are explosive players, but there's a safe floor with Bateman. His frame, skillset, and ability to win jump balls is indicative of a true number one wide receiver.
At Minnesota, Bateman started during his freshman year and made some great plays, but it was nothing compared to his sophomore breakout season. During this year, Bateman racked up 60 catches for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns. Bateman put on a display of the skills I alluded to earlier, forcing scouts to take notice of his tremendous upside.
Fantasy football is about opportunity, and of this rookie class, Bateman might be in the best situation of all. The Ravens have notoriously struggled in their passing game and of recent, Lamar Jackson has caught quite a bit of criticism for his ability to be an efficient passer. The Ravens used their first-round selection because they believe in Bateman and want him to quiet the critics. The Ravens also have Sammy Watkins and Marquise Brown, but they are nothing to worry about. Brown has struggled to get his footing in the league and is not built to be an all-around threat. As for Watkins, he has been primarily a number two option and has struggled to stay on the field for all 16 games.
It is important to note that Bateman recently injured himself in training camp, but remember this is a long term investment that will pay dividends later on in the year.