Honestly, winning your fantasy football league comes down to one thing: hitting on your early picks—and being lucky enough not to have your team suffer any major injuries. Ok so two things. Even a team perfectly constructed from waiver wire darlings and sleepers isn’t going to beat Saquon Barkley, Todd Gurley, Antonio Brown and Stefon Diggs all playing at the height of their powers. However, when was the last time you nailed the first four picks of your fantasy draft? I can promise you, it has never happened to me.
This is where league winners come into play. These are the players who are likely to perform much better than their ADP and could be the difference maker for you when one of your top picks don’t land. Patrick Mahomes was a big time league winner last year as he made up for every possible mistake you could’ve made while drafting if you were lucky enough to snag him off waivers (again, luck is key in this whole fantasy thing).
Here are five players, all outside the top 15 at their position, who if they finished top 10 in their position, I wouldn’t be surprised. Hell, a few of these guys could even end up being top 5. That’s what I call a league winner.
Cooper Kupp — WR19, ADP: 5.01
Between Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and Kupp, it can be difficult to decide exactly which Rams receiver is the right one to draft in fantasy. I can’t tell you not to draft Cooks as I’ve been a long time proponent for him, but I can tell you that of the three, I’m taking Jared Goff’s favorite red zone target, who also happens to be going a full round later than his teammates.
Last year, despite playing only eight games, Kupp still managed to rack up 11 red zone targets (and a whopping six touchdowns in that time) which averages to 1.4 targets per game, highest among the Rams last year. This following a rookie year in which Kupp led the Rams by a wide margin with 20 red zone targets. (Sammy Watkins was second that year with 10.) I understand buying touchdowns is a risky game, but Kupp’s potential in the high-flying Rams offense is too good to pass up at his current ADP. Don’t be shocked when he finishes 2019 near or at the top of the NFL in receiving touchdowns.
Sony Michel — RB21, ADP: 3.11
I’ll fully admit I’ve been all over the map when it comes to Sony Michel. I’ve spent much of this offseason fretting about Damien Harris stealing goal line touches from Michel and the Patriots basically using him as just a two-down back. Welp, seems like all the fretting was for not.
According to reports coming out of Patriots camp, Michel has been everything a team could want from a former first-round running back. He’s looked strong running through the hole and has made noticeable improvements on his pass catching ability. And he’s shown this progression in game as well. Against the Panthers in Week 3 of the preseason, Michel went for 36 yards on 10 carries but that doesn’t count the two long runs he had called back because of holding penalties. With the Patriots having the fourth easiest schedule for fantasy backs this year, Michel seems primed for a breakout season and could thrust himself into top 10 contention.
Mark Ingram — RB23, ADP: 4.02
If you miss on Michel, don’t worry! Just three picks later you can land yourself Mark Ingram who finally is going to play in an offense where their number one motivation in life is to run the football, and then run it some more. From Scott Barrett over at PFF:
Last season, once Jackson took over as the team’s starter, Baltimore’s running backs ranked second in carries, first in rushing yards, and first in yards per carry (a whopping 5.34).
This is the offense Mark Ingram is now stepping into. The same Mark Ingram who has finished a top 15 running back in four of his last five season. I feel like I don’t need to make any more points. I think I’ve fully explained why Ingram will win you your fantasy league. If you aren’t drafting Ingram in the fourth round—again, the FOURTH round—I don’t know how else to help you.
Oh, and the Ravens have the easiest running back schedule. DRAFT MARK INGRAM!
Dede Westbrook — WR33, ADP: 7.07
It might be a little bit of a stretch to think Westbrook could finish a top 10 fantasy receiver, but I could certainly see top 15. After all, he was WR31 last year with freaking Blake Bortles as his quarterback. Say whatever you want about Nick Foles, but Foles is a definite upgrade over Bortles.
Westbrook is clearly the number one receiver in Jacksonville after seeing the bulk of first-team targets in Week 3 of the preseason, catching four balls for 29 yards and a touchdown. His developing connection with Foles was on full display and could lead to a heavy target share this season against the easiest receiver schedule. Getting a WR1 anywhere after the first four rounds is a great get in my book and snagging one in the seventh is a deal too good to pass.
Lamar Jackson — QB13, ADP: 9.08
I mean, duh. You know I couldn’t write this whole damn piece without mentioning our lord and savior Lamar Jackson at least once. When I said “a few of these guys could even end up being top 5” in the intro, I was talking about Jackson. There’s 37.4% of me that believes Jackson will be the QB1 this year, so watch out all you crazy people spending a second round pick on Patrick Mahomes. (For the record, Jackson broke PFF’s record for fantasy points per dropback last year with 0.83. Mahomes has a measly 0.67.)
From Week 10 on, when he took over the starting job, Jackson was the QB10 in fantasy, averaging 18.6 points per game. This is an impressive feat considering that in that time he threw for a pedestrian 1,114 yards and five touchdowns. Obviously it was the 556 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns that helped boost Jackson to top 10 QB status.
While the Ravens are expected to use Jackson less as a runner, it’s not too hard to expect his passing numbers to take a big step forward, especially with the additions of rookie wideouts Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin (and new offensive coordinator Greg Roman). With Jackson’s already high floor thanks to his rushing ability, he’s ceiling could be out of this world if he takes literally any step forward passing the football. And the great thing is that he’s cheap enough that you can draft him as your QB2 so there’s really no excuse not to draft him. Don’t let him fall onto someone else’s team. You’ll regret it.