All fantasy players know that hitting on a few late-round sleepers can power your team to a title, redraft or dynasty. Sure, you need to not whiff on your early picks, but hitting on the late guys can give your squad a massive boost.
It’s tough to gain an edge at the top of rookie drafts- we all know who the good players are. We all have the same information. After the locked-in studs are gone, focusing on the right types of profiles can help you build value and add league-winning production.
I pulled publicly available ADP lists from FF Calc and FantasyPros and cross-referenced them with a database containing some important metrics, a count of “hit” seasons, and an average of PPR points scored. I used @pahowdy’s Market Share Database for most of the data. He’s cool, it’s a great resource, check it out, toss him some loot.
I identified late-round (pick 25 or later) hit players (top 24 WR/RB or just useful assets) and searched for patterns.
It didn’t take much effort to see that, while overall hit rates are pretty rough in that range, most of the relevant players had similar elements in their profiles.
Let’s go through season by season and look at the results. You don’t need player profiles on these guys (but if you do, they’re all available at Dynasty Nerds- and I’ve linked them for all the recent guys!). You know who they are. So let’s just highlight the high notes of their profiles (their superpowers!) and the red flags that made them drop.
|Pick||Name||NFL Draft Position||Speed Score||College Yards||College Y/TCH or Y/REC||Total DOM||BOA (20%)||NFL hits||1-3 PPG||College|
|2.11||Amon-Ra St. Brown||112||81.3||2270||11.7||.33||18||1||13.4||USC|
2021 Late-Round Rookie Hits / Near Hits
- Amon-Ra St. Brown
- Superpowers: college production, DOM, opportunity, BOA, route running
- Red flags: subpar athleticism, poor DC
Amon-Ra had serious hype in the 2021 rookie class, right up to the moment he failed to get drafted on day two. His falling draft stock likely had a lot to do with his relatively weak athleticism. Still, the truthers were vindicated in the end, as Amon-Ra’s route prowess and hard-nosed play earned him a featured role in the injury-depleted Lions offense and let him break out in a major way. His year 18 BOA, crisp routes, and nice .33 DOM led many to believe in St. Brown even when the NFL did not.
- Elijah Mitchell
- Superpowers: athleticism, college production, scheme fit
- Red flags: lack of DOM, poor DC, undersized
Elijah Mitchell caught some buzz leading up to the draft but much more after the 49ers took him in the 6th round of the draft. While it was far from a consensus opinion, several analysts pointed out that his speed and success with outside zone runs made him the perfect fit for a Shanahan offense, despite fellow ’21 pick Trey Sermon being taken several rounds earlier. This was quickly proven true as Eli blazed his way to the starting job in training camp and never looked back.
Mitchell’s 86th% speed score, 84th% YPC, and impressive 3769 total college yards were nice signals for this emerging stud RB.
- Rhamondre Stevenson
- Superpowers: efficiency, workhorse size, opportunity, beat out other NFL players
- Red flag: day 3 DC, weak college production, subpar athleticism, weak DOM
Rhamondre is classic example of the guy that stunk it up on the track but whose play speed doesn’t match up, and this was immediately apparent during Patriots preseason games as he ripped off long gains and outran defenders. His college production and weak combine drove him down to day 3 of the draft, but his solid tape, workhorse size, and 94th% efficiency in college were nice signals to scoop him in the 3rd round of rookie drafts. Stevenson didn’t win leagues in 2021 but he’s an injury away- or a season, until Damien Harris enters free agency- from being a major fantasy asset.
|Rank||Pick||Name||NFL Draft Position||Speed Score||College Yards||Y/TCH or Y/REC||Total DOM||NFL hits||PPG||College|
|29||3.06||Chase Claypool||49||133.1||2159||14.4||.33||1||12.3||Notre Dame|
|41||4.5||James Robinson||udfa||94.5||4462||not found||.48||2||15.2||Illinois State|
|34+||4.1+||Darnell Mooney||173||91.7 (4.38 40)||2572||17.8||.37||1||9.5||Tulane|
2020 Late-Round Rookie Hits / Near Hits
- Antonio Gibson
- Superpowers: athleticism, efficiency, draft capital
- Red flags: no college production
Many were out on Gibson as his lack of college production gave absolutely zero positive comps, but his freakish athleticism- as indicated by his speed score- was undeniable, and it’s foolish to ignore day two draft capital.
Two years in, he hasn’t hit “CMC-lite” status like many hoped, but he’s established himself as a rock-solid RB2. Managers that chased his athleticism and DC have profited.
- Chase Claypool
- Superpowers: athleticism, draft capital, solid Dominator (DOM)
- Red flags: low college production, some disliked his tape
The buzz leading into the draft was that Claypool should switch to tight end as he wasn’t good enough as a WR. But his market share profile wasn’t bad, and his measurables showed off a truly elite size/speed combination.
Claypool’s second season didn’t yield the full breakout many were hoping for, but Old Ben’s fading arm may have contributed. Year 3 could well be a different story.
- James Robinson
- Superpowers: college production, DOM, opportunity
- Red flags: no draft capital, subpar athleticism, small school
Smart players knew to target the JAX backfield as a potential source of value but Robinson shocked us all with his RB7 overall finish in 2020. Often, small school guys don’t get their due in the draft, and his average athleticism didn’t help, but Robinson showed there’s more to being a successful back than just speed.
Two years in Robinson has established himself as a solid NFL starter and a great fantasy asset, though a late-season Achilles injury has left his status in doubt for 2022.
- Darnell Mooney
- Superpowers: college production, DOM, opportunity, speed, route-running
- Red flags: poor draft capital, undersized, small school
Mooney flashed in his rookie year but really broke out in 2021, supplanting perennial fantasy favorite Allen Robinson as the Bears’ WR1. Like most late-round, small school guys, he had to earn his way onto the playing field, but he’s kept his place there with speed, smooth routes, and plain old production.
|Rank||Pick||Name||NFL Draft Position||Speed Score||College Yards||Y/TCH or Y/REC||DOM||NFL Hits||1-3 PPG||College|
|32||3.04||Terry McLaurin||76||114.4||1251||16.7||.18||3||13.7||Ohio State|
2019 Late Round Hits / Near Hits
I threw a couple of non-hits in here as they are still players that have helped your dynasty team. I could have listed Jakobi Meyers here as well; his profile isn’t too different from Renfrow’s.
- Diontae Johnson
- Superpowers: draft capital, DOM, opportunity
- Red flags: athleticism, small school, production
Johnson snuck into the second round of rookie picks based on the NFL draft alone. His college tape was good but he was nearly unheard of until the Steelers took him. I have his DOM at 40%, and that’s more or less what we want for small school kids, to completely dominate their competition.
DJ has established himself as a premier receiver in the NFL.
- Terry McLaurin
- Superpowers: Athleticism, efficiency, draft cap, opportunity
- Red flags: weak college production, weak DOM
McLaurin put himself on the map with a strong combine and senior bowl, though his teammate Paris Campbell soundly outperformed him at Ohio State. WFT’s barren depth chart helped rocket him to immediate stardom.
McLaurin is still counted amongst the best receivers in the league though two years with truly terrible QB play has stunted his value considerably.
- Myles Gaskin
- Superpowers: College production, DOM, efficiency, opportunity
- Red flags: Subpar athleticism, poor draft cap, undersized
Gaskin found himself highly relevant in 2020 and managed to provide some production again this year, though he was slowly worked out of the offense as the season went on (in favor of 29-year-old Duke Johnson, ouch!).
Still, at his draft cost of “completely free” for the waiver-watching dynasty manager, he’s been a useful asset. Hopefully you were abe to trade him!
- Hunter Renfrow
- Superpower: opportunity, route-running, quickness
- Red flags: athleticism, draft capital, college production
I had Renfrow on this list last year, and he’s only solidified his status as a solid fantasy producer since, finishing as the PPR WR10 in 2022. The “technician” type slot man will always get faded in the draft due to supply and demand but they’re great pieces to have on your fantasy team as a WR4 or 5.
|Rank||Pick||Name||NFL Draft Position||Speed Score||College Yards||Y/TCH or Y/REC||DOM||NFL Hits||PPG||College|
|29||3.03||D.J. Chark||61||116.6||1340||20.3||.25||1||6.5||Louisiana State|
2018 Late Round Hits / Near Hits
- D.J. Chark
- Superpowers: Athleticism, efficiency, opportunity, draft capital
- Red flags: subpar college production, DOM, raw tape
Many thought Chark a bust after his near-zero rookie season. In his second season he took off, showing off athleticism and ball skills, and found his way to the top of the JAX depth chart.
His 2021 started off strong but was curtailed by injury, and now Chark has to take a prove it deal somewhere (likely back in JAX) to show that he’s still got the stuff.
- Chase Edmonds
- Superpowers: college mega-producer, DOM, efficiency
- Red flags: average athleticism, small school, undersized
Edmonds didn’t hit right off the bat but he’s been an excellent piece to own the past few years, averaging 10.5 PPG in 2020 and 11.9 in 2021.
Hit fits a very distinct, often successful profile- the undersized but talented back with pass catching upside. This is a great profile to chase with your late picks.
- Mark Andrews
- Superpowers: huge production for college TE, athleticism, efficiency
- Red flags: crowded depth chart
Looking back at this article, I thought it crazy that I didn’t include the athletic TE profile here originally. In 2021 Mark Andrews solidified his position at or near the top of dynasty rankings and Dallas Goedert has begun to break out as well. Both were had in the 3rd round of 2018 rookie drafts.
Andrews never should have made it there but he was overshadowed by first-round pick Hayden Hurst. His 86th percentile speed score and massive production at Oklahoma should have made him an easy pick.
|Rank||Pick||Name||NFL Draft Position||speed score||College Yards||Y/TCH or Y/REC||DOM||NFL Hits||1-3 PPG||College|
|30||3.03||Chris Godwin||84||107.8||2421||15.7||.32||4||14.1||Penn State|
|32||3.05||Kenny Golladay||96||113.5||2285||14.3||.42||2||11.5||Northern Illinois|
|43||3.08||Tarik Cohen||109||93.8||5619||6.5||40.8||1||9.9||North Carolina A&T|
2017 Late Round Hits / Near Hits
- Chris Godwin
- Superpowers: Athleticism, draft cap, efficiency
- Red Flags: average raw production
It’s mind-boggling that Godwin was going in the third, but this was a superior class. He had a great profile with athleticism, production, efficiency, and draft capital as well, Not sure how he fell.
Four seasons in, he’s once of the best WRs in the league and just hitting his prime.
- Kenny Golladay
- Superpowers: Athleticism, efficiency, DOM, draft cap
- Red Flags: small school, weaker raw production
Golladay likely slipped a little due to being a G-5 guy (and hot on the heels of relative bust Corey Davis). He had all the signals of a great WR prospect, though recent seasons haven’t lived up to his early promise.
- James Conner
- Superpowers: Production, DOM, efficiency, opportunity
- Red flags: health issues, draft cap
Conner dropped in the draft mostly due to his off-field health issues in college; otherwise, he was a solid profile.
After a few down seasons Conner has re-emerged as a major asset at RB with a change in scenery in AZ, though his draft cost still reflects the uncertainty of his 2020 bust year.
- Tarik Cohen
- Superpowers: mega-producer, efficiency, DOM, pass-catching, opportunity, quickness
- Red Flags: small school, undersized
Cohen had some nice moments in PPR leagues, though, it’s worth noting, there doesn’t seem to be much repeat success from guys this small. Probably a guy to trade while you can.
I’m sure you’ve gotten the gist of where I’m going with this if you made it this far. The patterns are pretty evident.
- Draft capital. Players with draft capital (and at least a few other decent elements to profile) should be auto-picks in the thirdrd. Players made this mistake last year as well, letting Brandon Aiyuk fall to the middle of the second.
- Athleticism. If you want a late-round guy with staying power, make it a highly athletic, raw type of player. Many of the best hits we found matched this type of profile. Most of these players seemed to fall due to weak production profiles.
- Small school guys with nice profiles and production. Players like Golladay, Diontae, and James Robinson had decent enough production profiles but were off-the-radar predraft due to their small-school status. Look for gems with this profile. Darnell Mooney has been a hit from this type as well.
- Highly productive, undersized backs. The Myles Gaskins and Chase Edmonds of the world aren’t likely to be your weekly starter, but they offer useful production when they get an opportunity, perhaps more so than a bigger, jaggy back would. I didn’t include receiving profiles as part of this study, but common sense tells me this profile needs to be a pass-catcher to succeed. I’d slot Eli Mitchell in here as well.
- Efficient, skilled backs with missing time or flawed profiles. James Conner doesn’t fit any of the other buckets here so started a bucket of his own, and others have fallen in. Rhamondre Stevenosn slots in here; Trey Sermon and Jermar Jefferson were of this type as well but neither has done much in the NFL to date. This year, CJ Verdell may be a fit in this catergory.
- Skilled route runners without elite athleticism. This is the Cooper Kupp / Amon-Ra / Hunter Renfrow profile. These guys rarely get day-2 capital, mostly because there are a lot of good slot guys and each team only needs a few- there’s just not that much demand. But we’ve seen over the past few years that this type can become solid fantasy producers.
- Athletic tight ends. Unless they’re Kyle Pitts, we typically don’t take tight ends in the 1st round of rookie drafts. But if you grabbed guys like Mark Andrews and Dallas Goedert in the 3rd round of rookie drafts, you realized a massive profit, even in non-TEp formats.
- Opportunity. I’m going to chase those first few profiles, but keeping an eye out for opportunity is a surefire way to profit in dynasty fantasy football. All my J-Rob and Gaskin shares were scooped on this premise, as were guys like Amon-Ra, Jakobi Meyers, or Hunter Renfrow. The truth is that mostly- with exceptions- the best move with these players is to let them accrue even a small amount of value and then flip them for profit, as they tend not to have staying power in the league.
Obviously, not all players with these profiles hit. I didn’t calculate the actual hit rate for each one of those archetypes, but I’m sure they’re no lock- for each hit I can think of several similar players that just rotted on your bench
On the other hand, if all the hits came from these types- and the vast majority of the repeat hits from an intersection of draft capital & athleticism- this makes it really simple to screen out the noise and focus on the prospects that have the best shots at panning out.
Ok folks, that’s it for this one. Tune in again soon; I’ll be dropping some late-round sleepers to target in your ’22 rookie drafts!
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