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A fantasy draft is all about obtaining the most value with each selection. There is value available throughout a draft, and grabbing it is one of the most important keys to a successful fantasy team. This article targets deep sleeper value (players that can be found very late in a fantasy draft). In an attempt to point out this value, we asked our staff to look deeper than the Top 150 and identify players that should significantly outperform their late draft position. These players should be your targets after the 12th round of your draft.
Here are the players who received the most votes:
And here are all of the payers mentioned and the reasons why.
Player Receiving 7 Votes
Adam Trautman, New Orleans
Victoria Geary: Everyone has hit on the main reasons Trautman can break out this season. Tight ends Jared Cook and Josh Hill were both waived this season, and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was cut, leaving the No. 2 receiving role wide open. Trautman boasted a 38.1 College Dominator Rating playing for the University of Dayton, accounting for 38% of his team's receiving production. It's worth noting that his Dominator score was higher than both Darren Waller's and Travis Kelce's. Trautman was PFF's best-rated run-blocking tight end in his rookie year, meaning he will stay on the field and see plenty of snaps this season. He has the athleticism and skill set to highly outperform his ADP.
Jeff Haseley: I am coming around to the possibility of Trautman playing a much bigger role in 2021 than his 15-171-1 line from 2020. One positive about Trautman is that he is a good blocker, which will get him on the field and give him target opportunities. The Saints don't have many offensive options other than Alvin Kamara, Marquez Callaway, and Tre'Quan Smith. Not only could he carve out a role in the red zone, but he has an outside shot at having a decent volume of targets.
Ryan Hester: Even without Drew Brees, this offense can still be effective. Last season, Brees’ best days were a thing of the past. Jameis Winston has the arm talent to make at least a couple of pass-catchers fantasy-relevant. And Trautman should be third, at worst, in the team’s pecking order behind Alvin Kamara and whoever the top receiver is with Michael Thomas out. His outlook is good, and that doesn’t even factor in his athleticism, which is high-end among his tight end peers in the NFL.
Andy Hicks: Emmanuel Sanders, Jared Cook, and Drew Brees are gone. Michael Thomas may as well be. Someone has to catch the ball from whoever is throwing it. The wide receivers are a patchy unit, and Alvin Kamara can’t catch everything. New Orleans believes that Adam Trautman is ready to be the man to step in. The risk is that he only has 15 career catches and is inexperienced. His upside is worth the risk, though, but he should not be drafted as your starter.
Jordan McNamara: Adam Trautman would make a list of tight ends that could lead their team in receiving, which may be more of an indictment on the New Orleans offense than a compliment to the second-year tight end. Outside of the backfield, there is not a great solution in a Michael Thomas-less wide receiver core. For the sake of the New Orleans' offense, New Orleans better how Trautman pays off as a deep sleeper.
Chad Parsons: Trautman is a trendy breakout candidate, but the formula makes sense. Day 2 pedigree, entering Year 2, with an unsettled passing game and Michael Thomas-less wide receiver depth chart to begin the season. Trautman offers a late-round chance to have a clear Week 1 starter with top-12 upside.
Jason Wood: The Saints let Jared Cook walk and then did nothing in free agency or the draft to bolster the position. That's a massive endorsement of Sean Payton's confidence in Trautman, who has above-average athleticism and profiled as more of a receiving threat than a blocker coming out of college. Trautman could be one of the Saints' top targets, particularly with Michael Thomas out following surgery and Tre'Quan Smith banged up again.
Player Receiving 6 Votes
Gerald Everett, Seattle
Phil Alexander: Everett has always possessed the size, speed, hands, and run-after-the-catch skills to cause mismatches for opposing defenses but only showed occasional glimpses of his ability in the Rams' crowded passing game. In Seattle, he'll enjoy a massive quarterback upgrade, have room to roam the seam while defenses contend with DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett downfield, and he's familiar with the offense Shane Waldron wants to run from their time together with the Rams. Commanding targets while playing alongside Metcalf and Lockett caps his ceiling, but at the very least, Everett is a priority streamer with the upside to become an every-week starter.
Sigmund Bloom: Everett is at the intersection of a lot of positive fantasy factors. He spent four years with new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron with the Rams. Waldron's offense will pick up the pace and disguise their intentions better than previous Seahawks offenses. The Seahawks don't have an established or even experienced No. 3 wide receiver. Everett is a receiving tight end and should be the best player for that role.
Ben Cummins: Without much in the way of target competition behind DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, there’s a huge opportunity for a tight end to step up in a big way in this offense. We’ve seen glimpses of this already. Jimmy Graham caught ten TDs in his final year with Seattle in 2017, and even Jacob Hollister caught 41 passes in limited action in 2019. Enter Gerald Everett, a very athletic player whose shown flashes of brilliance in his early NFL career. Playing with a first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback in an offense that will unleash him, Everett will be the latest mid-career tight end to put it all together finally.
Andrew Davenport: The distribution of tight end targets in Seattle is cause for concern for Everett's chances. They did throw the ball to their tight ends 108 times (20.4%), but Everett would need to grab a larger share of that pie than they were willing to give last year as Jacob Hollister led the team with only 40 targets. Nevertheless, he's the most exciting player they've had at the position in a while, and they gave him $6 million guaranteed to have an impact. Drafters are naturally skeptical, so he's cheap to roster and has as good a chance as any late tight end target to sniff the Top 12 if things come together.
Pat Fitzmaurice: Everett goes from playing with Jared Goff to playing with Russell Wilson, and there should be ample opportunity for Everett to contribute. Greg Olsen and Jacob Hollister combined for 77 tight end targets in Seattle last year. They're both gone, and Seattle doesn't have much at wide receiver beyond DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Everett has already worked with Seattle's new offensive coordinator, Shane Waldron, which should help Everett fit in seamlessly with his new team.
Ryan Hester: Seattle should be more pass-happy and uptempo this year with new Offensive Coordinator Shane Waldron in town. The Seahawks have two high-end receivers in DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett but minimal proven talent behind them to compete for snaps and targets. Enter Everett, with whom Waldron is familiar from his last job as Quarterbacks Coach with the L.A. Rams. Chris Carson is somewhat versatile but isn't the kind of back who will command 90+ targets, leaving plenty of looks for the athletic Everett, who won't leave the field often.
Players Receiving 2 Votes
Dan Arnold, Carolina
Phil Alexander: Arnold could surprise in Carolina. He was both productive and efficient in limited playing time for the Cardinals in 2020 and possesses the requisite size and athleticism we want in a fantasy-friendly tight end. Before Adam Gase tried square-pegging Chris Herndon into a blocking role, Sam Darnold frequently looked for his tight end during his time with the Jets. Arnold should become a favorite of Darnold's, especially in the red zone where D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson aren't the types of receivers we should expect to box out defenders for jump balls.
Jeff Haseley: First, the bad news - Carolina was 28th in the league in red-zone touchdown efficiency percentage, and they only had 27 receptions to tight ends in 2020. Then they went out and did something about it by acquiring free-agent tight end Dan Arnold. At 6-foot-6 and 222 pounds, Arnold is more of a big wide receiver than a tight end, and he plays like one too. He is coming off a career-high 31 receptions for 438 yards and 4 touchdowns. He has 7 career touchdowns on 78 targets which is a touchdown every 11.1 targets. According to reports, he is developing a rapport with Sam Darnold and scoring at will in practices. He's practically free as a TE2 or even TE3, and he could pay big dividends.
Anthony Firkser, Tennessee
Victoria Geary: Most people have fallen out of love with Firkser as a late-round steal since Julio Jones was traded to the Titans, but he is still a fantastic dart throw. Firkser ran over 70% of his routes lined up from the slot in 2020, the highest rate out of all tight ends in the league. We should expect the Titan's defense to regress from 2020 as they finished with an 11+ turnover ratio, which bodes well for the pass catchers on this team for the upcoming season. The volume for targets won't be as high as we once projected, but the team still needs a capable red-zone threat as defenses laser-focus on Jones and A.J. Brown.
Ryan Weisse: Firkser went from sleeper to top-10, to bust, to deep sleeper all in one offseason. The addition of Julio Jones has sent his draft stock plummeting, but it has gone too far. In this offense, Firkser is likely to see 75 very efficient targets from Ryan Tannehill and could score all of the touchdowns we know Julio Jones is allergic to. He has a better chance to finish top-10 than he does to play down to his ADP.
Cole Kmet, Chicago
Ben Cummins: Kmet’s usage breakout already happened last season. Starting in Week 10, Kmet out-snapped Jimmy Graham in each of the final seven games. Usage didn’t equate to production in this case, though, due to horrendous quarterback play. Fortunately for us, that means Kmet is essentially free heading into the year. Kmet is an athletic 6-foot-4 and 262-pound beast who was just drafted last year in the second round. Justin Fields projects to upgrade the Bears’ quarterback situation significantly, Matt Nagy loves utilizing the tight end in his offense, and Jimmy Graham turns 35 in November. Many tight ends take years to develop before becoming fantasy relevant. My money is on Kmet being an outlier.
Pat Fitzmaurice: Kmet's snap count steadily increased as the 2020 season wore on, and it seems inevitable that he'll pass Jimmy Graham as the Bears' primary pass catcher at tight end (if he hasn't already). Justin Fields' eventual takeover at quarterback will boost the value of Chicago pass catchers, and Kmet could ascend to the TE1 level as early as this year.
Players Receiving 1 Vote
Jordan Akins, Houston
Ryan Weisse: Outside of Brandin Cooks, the Texans have very little returning receiving talent from last season. Enter Jordan Akins. Akins has been targeted 129 times in 45 games since 2019. He only started 20 games in that same span and had most of the tight end touchdowns vultured away from him. Now, he's the only veteran tight left in Houston. Yes, the quarterback situation is a mess, but Akins has a genuine chance to be second in targets on a team that should be throwing more than they'd like. He should hit 70+ targets very easily, and if he adds five touchdowns, he'll be competing for the Top 12 at the position.
Tyler Conklin, Minnesota
Andrew Davenport: This is going pretty deep, but Kyle Rudolph's departure has people thinking Irv Smith is automatically going to take over. But more often than not, teams still tend to retain their identity, and instead of funneling more targets to Smith, they'll do what they did with Smith and Rudolph last year, only using Conklin in the rotation instead. Over the last four games of 2020, when Rudolph didn't play, Conklin played the same amount of snaps as Smith and out-targeted him 21-20. Smith had the decided edge in the red zone usage, but Conklin's average of 9.5 PPR points per game over that span was good enough to be TE13 last season, and he would've crossed 60 catches and approached 700 yards at that pace. Don't count Conklin out as a possible fantasy factor.
Jared Cook, LA Chargers
Chad Parsons: Cook is one of the recent Rodney Dangerfield players at tight end (no respect). In 12 seasons, Cook has finished in the top-24 in nine seasons and the top-12 on three occasions. Two of his three best career aPPG finishes have been in the past three years. Cook ventures to the Chargers in free agency, paired with a strong quarterback and wide receiver questions beyond Keenan Allen. Cook is on track to outkick his market sentiment again this season.
Zach Ertz, Philadelphia
Jason Wood: Zach Ertz is going to demolish ADP if he stays healthy. It looks like he'll remain in Philadelphia, after all, and he's been demonstrably better than Dallas Goedert during training camp. If there's one Eagles tight end worth drafting, it's Ertz. And based on how great he's looked this summer, he should be a lock for a top-10 ranking if another team trades for him as their new starter.
Hunter Henry, New England
Andy Hicks: You would be forgiven for thinking that Hunter Henry had a horrible fantasy season with the Chargers in 2020. He was top eight in receptions and a TE1 for yards. He missed two games and was a starting fantasy tight end on a points per game basis in a system that didn’t suit his skills. He arrives in New England expected to play second fiddle to Jonnu Smith, but he presents excellent value for fantasy managers in 2021. New England knows how to use two tight ends and has no wide receiver expected to be a fantasy starter. As a late-round pick, Henry has mid-to-bottom TE1 capabilities this year. Both he and Smith are battling injury but should be fine to start the season.
Blake Jarwin, Dallas
Sigmund Bloom: Jarwin got a three-year, 22-million dollar extension before the 2020 season, and he was ready to take over the starting tight end role in a potent pass offense. He tore his ACL in Week 1, but the offense still targeted the tight end well over 100 times, even with very average Dalton Schultz at the position. Jarwin is back and should resume being a downfield threat against defenses stressed out defending the elite wide receiver trio and Ezekiel Elliott.
Donald Parham Jr - LA Chargers
Matt Bitonti: Here are the traits for Parham: He's 6-foot-8 and 240, runs a 4.6 40-yard-dash, and vertical leaps 36 inches. Sure, the team signed Jared Cook to be TE1, and Cook has familiarity with new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi from their time together with the Saints. But Cook is 33 years old and has not made it through a full season since 2018. Meanwhile, the team has been using Parham in 12-personnel (single-back, double-tight end looks). Parham is unlikely to play in preseason game two due to a bruised tailbone but should be fine for the season opener. He's a late-round Cook handcuff and an anytime-touchdown play on Sundays.