Our staff plays fantasy football to win and our advice is always driven by our desire to see our subscribers win. We’re looking for upside in every round of the draft and, when it comes to the last few picks of drafts, our focus on upside is even more amplified. Rather than fighting for emerging players on the waiver wire during the season, our goal is to already have these players on our team before the season starts.
John Hansen started this article more than a decade ago and it covers the best upside options available at least 150+ picks into typical drafts. We highly encourage our readers to swing for the fences with these late picks and to not be afraid to swing and miss. Remember, hitting a home run with one of these picks and striking out on other late-round picks is better than hitting a couple of singles with your picks.
Mining a waiver wire gem before the season even starts can easily be done by following our suggestions. And even if you can’t draft some of our favorite late-round players, it’s important to know who they are and why they might succeed in case you’re in a position to roster one of these players once the season starts.
Let’s dive into our top Mr. Relevant candidates, sorted by position, using ADP from the last three weeks from our partners over at the NFFC.
Players removed from this update
DeAndre Washington (RB, KC) — Washington is on the roster bubble because of Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s performance in camp and Darrell Williams has established himself as the top option behind CEH.
Devonta Freeman (RB, FA) — Freeman remains unsigned heading into the final weekend without football for the rest of the year. He’s not worth a draft pick at this point as it looks like he’ll be waiting for a call during the season.
Players we’re targeting who just finished inside the top 150 picks
T.J. Hockenson (TE, Det, ADP 141)
Jonnu Smith (TE, Ten, ADP 142)
Joe Burrow (QB, Cin, ADP 146)
Cam Newton (QB, NE, ADP 148)
Brandon Aiyuk (WR, SF, ADP 150)
Ryan Tannehill (Ten, ADP 159) — Tannehill was a veritable league-winner last season, owing in large part to his absolutely massive 7.7% TD pass rate and 9.6 yards per attempt. But the obvious regression for Tannehill is baked into his 13th-round ADP — remember, he was the QB3 in total fantasy points over his 10 starts from last season. We still have Tannehill averaging under 30 pass attempts per game, but his well-designed offense plays to his strengths, WR AJ Brown is a rising star, and Tannehill can run a bit (he had 4 rushing TD in 2019). We understand fantasy players thinking he might have been a flash in the pan, but his ADP accounts for that, and there’s very little downside to drafting him.
Jimmy Garoppolo (SF, ADP 169) — Garoppolo’s disastrous fourth quarter in Super Bowl LIV and the Niners’ penchant for being a run-first team have buried Jimmy G’s ADP, But it’s worth pointing out that the Niners ran super-hot last year, playing a ton from ahead, limiting Garoppolo’s second-half pass attempts (he averaged just 29 per game total last year). But in Kyle Shanahan’s 12 years as an offensive coordinator or head coach, his teams have been top-half in passing yards 10 times, and Jimmy G benefits from having one of the best groups of YAC receivers ever assembled, even if Deebo Samuel (foot) has to miss some regular-season action (it appears there’s some positive traction toward his playing in Week 1). Even with the favorable game scripts, from Weeks 9 through 17, Garoppolo was 13th in FPG. His current ADP? QB21. That ADP isn’t going to be rising in the next few weeks, with Samuel still uncertain for the early part of the season and Brandon Aiyuk (hamstring) a little dinged in camp.
Teddy Bridgewater (Car, ADP 185) — We’re not huge Teddy fans, and it’s possible that he’s a… *ahem* … bridge QB for the Panthers, but let’s look at the facts. He’s a checkdown artist QB who has the best checkdown receiver in the game in RB Christian McCaffrey. WRs DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel can be fantastic after the catch. WR Robby Anderson is here to take the top off the defense, and TE Ian Thomas is an emerging youngster. And this Panther defense is going to be really bad. Want proof? New HC Matt Rhule and company didn’t use a single NFL Draft pick on the offensive side of the ball. There could be a lot of volume here for Teddy, and while he’s not as affordable as he was a few weeks ago, a 13th-round ADP is more than fair to pay for that volume.
Gardner Minshew (Jax, ADP 179) — Is there a little bit of “Fitzmagic” in “Minshew Mania?” He plays on a Jacksonville team with one good receiver (DJ Chark), a poor defense, and in a division with three teams far better than his. He also runs around a lot — his 24.6 rushing yards per game were 5th-most among QBs last year, and more than Daniel Jones, Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, Patrick Mahomes, and Ryan Tannehill. The Jags are going to be playing from behind a ton. It might not be pretty, but Minshew’s volume and rushing ability could propel him to a much better fantasy finish than his QB25 ADP. Keep in mind he’s also playing for his future — the Jags, if they’re as bad as the Vegas markets indicate (lowest projected win total), they’re going to be in the market for a QB next year. Our Greg Cosell talked glowingly about Minshew during a Sept. 3 Livestream, andMinshew wants to make that decision as hard as possible.
Derek Carr (LV, ADP 196) — Everyone is skeptical of Carr, most of all the Raiders, who were definitely courting Tom Brady this past off-season. But Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock surrounded Carr with a ton of weapons this off-season, with both rookie WRs Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards making standout plays in training camp. TE Darren Waller broke out last year, while second-year WR Hunter Renfrow is reliable in the slot. Carr lost Tyrell Williams (shoulder) for the season, which could be a blessing in disguise if Edwards breaks out earlier as a rookie now. The next step — and it’s why Carr is only QB28 in ADP — is for Carr to actually use his big arm and be more aggressive. That might not be something Carr can do — aggressiveness might just be baked into a QB’s DNA. Another thing keeping Carr’s ADP low is the presence of Marcus Mariota, who in theory is a high-level backup (we’re told from people in the league that Carr has been miles better than Mariota in camp). But that low ADP is essentially free.
Bryce Love (Was, ADP 190) — Love’s been getting some buzz in “Football Team” camp, including getting some first-team reps when Adrian Peterson takes an “old man” day. He has to contend for snaps with Peterson, Antonio Gibson, and JD McKissic when all are healthy, but the pathway to relevance isn’t as long here as you might think — Peterson is old, Gibson is a rookie, and McKissic has never been more than rotational player. Love redshirted in 2019 — he tore his ACL in his final game at Stanford after an ill-fated decision to return to college, just after finishing second in the 2017 Heisman race. There’s talent here, he might just need an opportunity to unlock it. And that opportunity came when Washington released Peterson on Sept. 4, opening up a path for Love to see significant early-down work if he pushes ahead of the pedestrian Peyton Barber. Love must’ve impressed enough in camp for the Football Team to feel comfortable releasing Peterson so make sure to target Love late in drafts.
Joshua Kelley (LAC, ADP 169) — The rookie Kelley has been a standout player at Chargers camp so far, earning reps with the first team alongside Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson. A back coach Anthony Lynn has openly expressed his admiration for, Kelley is a nasty, downhill runner who might well complement the style of Ekeler more than Jackson, who is more of a slasher, does. Kelley could also earn goal-line carries if with his physical running style. Our take all off-season has been that Kelley will eventually move past Jackson for the bigger-back role in this offense. The question, of course, is just how much he’ll play with Ekeler as the lead dog and the Chargers looking like a low-volume offense.
Darrel Williams (KC, ADP 219) — The Chiefs are so happy with Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s performance in camp so far that they’re considering cutting DeAndre Washington when they shrink down to 53-man rosters. Williams has played 18 games with the Chiefs the last two years, scoring four TDs in 2019. Williams has been significantly cheaper because the fantasy-playing public viewed Washington as the more talented player, but the Chiefs love Williams’ knowledge of the offense and they love his size (5’11”, 224 pounds) to bring some hard running into the offense. The Athletic’s Nate Taylor even suggested Williams could split carries with CEH early in the year if they’d ease the first-round pick into a big workload. It’s not out of the question that Williams could have some low-end FLEX appeal this season if he sees 25-30% of the snaps next to CEH, and he’d be a high-end RB2 Edwards-Helaire would miss time. Make sure to find Williams on your drafting platform so you remember to draft him late.
Chris Thompson (Jax, ADP 181) and Devine Ozigbo (Jax, ADP 261) — Following the release of Leonard Fournette, expect both ADPs to rise here, just like we’re anticipating with Ryquell Armstead. Thompson is better for PPR leagues — in OC Jay Gruden’s eight full seasons as a head coach or offensive coordinator, Gruden’s leading rushers have averaged just 15.3 receptions per season, and Thompson was a part of that low receiving volume for grinders in Washington given his prowess as a scatback. If you miss on Thompson but still want a piece of this backfield, keep an eye on Greg Cosell favorite Ozigbo, who was making some noise in Jaguars camp before Armstead was activated off the COVID list in mid-August. It stands to reason Thompson could lead this backfield in snaps given how awful the Jags are projected to be and will be playing from behind a lot, but he’s had his fair share of injury woes, it goes without saying. Ozigbo and Armstead will battle it out for the early-down role but don’t forget about UDFA James Robinson, who has made some noise in camp.
Jerick McKinnon (SF, ADP 179) — We were skeptical all off-season about McKinnon — how often does a player come back from missing two consecutive seasons with serious injuries and contribute, especially at the RB position, where the 49ers have good depth? But he’s been one of the standout players in 49er camp so far, and we’ve heard he’s even looked better than Tevin Coleman, who is presumed to be in a 1A and 1B rotation with Raheem Mostert. If McKinnon is close to the player the Niners signed him to be two years ago, he can give them a little more in the passing game than Coleman or Mostert can. There’s really no downside to drafting McKinnon at this ADP — if he is a shell of his former self, you just drop him. But the upside is palpable in Kyle Shanahan’s beautifully designed run game. How many people were talking about Mostert at this time last year?
Giovani Bernard (Cin, ADP 205) — This one is as simple as it gets. If starter Joe Mixon goes down, Gio is one of the best handcuffs in all of fantasy football. Across Bernard's last four games without Mixon on the field, he averages 80% of the team's snaps, 13.0 carries, 5.3 targets, and 19.4 fantasy points per game. Those are hammer RB1 numbers. One of the reasons Mixon is an appealing first-round pick is that Gio is so cheap — there is simply no premium you need to pay the way you do to handcuff someone like Ezekiel Elliott, Dalvin Cook, or Alvin Kamara. Gio is a proven rotational back who can handle 20 opportunities in a pinch. And it’s worth noting that Mixon has been sitting out of practice this week with migraines. Two weeks away from the season, that’s absolutely noteworthy.
Ito Smith (Atl, ADP 227) — One of the reasons many in fantasy are still “on” Todd Gurley is because of the perceived lack of depth in the backfield. And it’s true that there are no studs in the group of Smith, Brian Hill, and Qadree Ollison. But longtime Falcons beat man D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution expects Smith to get snaps alongside Gurley to keep Gurley fresh, he told our John Hansen on SiriusXM Fantasy Football. The Falcons’ official website has been talking up both Smith (calling him “dynamic”) and Ollison (he may “carve out a bigger role”). Meanwhile, HC Dan Quinn has been very impressed with Hill! You can dabble in whichever guy you like, but it seems like the shifty Smith has the best chance to work in a rotational role independent of Gurley’s availability.
Anthony McFarland (Pit, ADP 189) — It’s been a pretty quiet training camp for McFarland so far, at least until he ended up in concussion protocol this week. Hopefully, he’s ready to go by early in the 2020 campaign. It appears he’s running behind at least James Conner and Benny Snell so far, but if Conner were to miss time — not exactly uncommon for Conner — Snell isn’t likely to handle receiving work out of the backfield, and that’s where McFarland comes in. Jaylen Samuels just hasn’t looked the part of a full-time NFL RB, and veteran beat writer Ed Bouchette told our John Hansen on SiriusXM Fantasy Football that Samuels isn’t a lock for this roster. A Graham Barfield Yards Created favorite, McFarland has some serious upside if Conner is unavailable.
Malcolm Brown (LAR, ADP 228) — Brown is a no-frills competitive runner who succeeds in short-yardage situations, and he's also an excellent pass protector who has shown off solid receiving chops in limited work. But he also lacks special traits that would suggest he'd earn a bigger role than the one he already has, and that's why the Rams spent a third-round pick on Darrell Henderson in 2019 and a second-round pick on Cam Akers in 2020. But Brown is the type of back every team likes to have, because he can play on third downs and on special teams. If Akers is slow off the mark given this challenging off-season, and Henderson’s struggles from 2019 continue, Brown will find his way onto the field. Henderson also has gotten dinged a little bit in camp, so keep an eye on Brown, who has had a few goal-line vultures in the past.
Michael Pittman (Ind, ADP 151) — The Colts landed a pro-ready prospect in Pittman, and he’s looking to quickly become Philip Rivers’ new big possession receiver like Keenan Allen was with the Chargers. Our Greg Cosell compared Pittman’s size (6’4”, 220 pounds) to Mike Evans and his competitiveness to Michael Thomas. T.Y. Hilton has been the top receiver for the last seven seasons, but a multitude of small injuries may have him on the downside of his career as he enters his first full season in his 30s. Pittman isn’t going to blow away perimeter defenders with his explosiveness, but he’s a big receiver who runs routes like a smaller receiver, which should quickly make him a favorite for Rivers. He’s well worth a look late in drafts, and it’s not inconceivable he could be the team’s leading receiver if Hilton struggles to stay healthy again. Pittman has had an uneven camp, but the Colts need him on the field early in his career.
Allen Lazard (GB, ADP 151) — Lazard is locking himself into the #2 WR role behind Davante Adams with a strong training camp performance. His quarterback Aaron Rodgers raved about his performance after Lazard posted a 77-yard TD and a 33-yard catch in a recent practice. Rodgers said, “Everybody’s talked about Allen, and it’s pretty easy because the guy is a professional. He has worked on his game. I think for him to separate himself, he needs to continue to improve on the things he did last year.” Marquez Valdes-Scantling created some buzz for stringing together a couple of good practices, but Lazard is still the favorite to finish second in receiving in Green Bay. Lazard is worth free pick 150+ selections into drafts, and it’s notable that Davante Adams has missed games in each of the last three seasons.
N’Keal Harry (NE, ADP 168) — It feels a little odd to suggest that a receiver is in a better position to succeed with Cam Newton over Tom Brady, but Harry was one player who probably welcomed the change after an extremely disappointing rookie season. The Pats showed some trust in Harry by passing on the wide receiver position during the draft. It makes sense for them to make Harry an integral part of this passing game moving forward with Julian Edelman entering his age-34 season in his first season without Brady in his career. Harry has had mixed results in training camp, but it’s not a bad idea to bet on highly drafted second-year WRs who are projected for huge roles and have been written off after rough rookie years (e.g. D.J. Chark as a sophomore in 2019). The Patriots also cut Mohamed Sanu so he’s being given every chance to break out this season.
Parris Campbell (Ind, ADP 167) — Campbell flopped last season as a second-round pick out of Ohio State because of a slew of injuries as a rookie. It’s amazing he even managed to appear in seven games last season as he broke his hand, he broke his foot, he needed sports-hernia surgery, and he dealt with a balky hamstring. His sophomore is also off to a rough start after he suffered a concussion in a minor car accident, but he’s back to practice at the end of training camp. Campbell set the 2019 Combine on fire by running a 4.31 40-time and by posting a 4.03-second 20-yard shuttle at 6’0”, 205 pounds. He's looking to finally show off his speed and quickness in his sophomore season. T.Y. Hilton has been the top receiver in Indianapolis for the last seven seasons, but a multitude of small injuries may have him on the downside of his career as he enters his first full season in his 30s. Campbell has some untapped potential if he can stay healthy for any length of time.
Bryan Edwards (LV, ADP 199) — Edwards ascent to the starting lineup didn’t take long after Tyrell Williams tore the labrum in his shoulder, ending his season. Edwards was already getting praise from his QB Derek Carr, who compared him to his old Fresno State teammate Davante Adams, and he’s the team’s new starting X receiver heading into the season. The only reason Edwards fell to the third round was because of injury concerns. Edwards finished his South Carolina career as one of the best SEC receivers of all time (we hear they play good football in that league). His 234 catches rank third in SEC history while his 3045 receiving yards rank fourth. Edwards certainly has the pedigree to succeed and he’s now on the fast track to snaps and targets sooner than anticipated. He should be considered in the final rounds of all formats.
Randall Cobb (Hou, ADP 184) — Bill O’Brien has big plans for Cobb after they handed the slot receiver $18.75 million in guaranteed money at the start of free agency. Someone has to step into the 30% target share and the 34% air yards share left behind by DeAndre Hopkins, and Cobb could handle a chunk of it after he averaged a healthy 6.0 YAC last season in Dallas. Cobb will be playing with one of the league’s best QBs in Deshaun Watson in an offense that may not have a true #1 WR. Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks have scary injury histories so Cobb could have a bigger role than anticipated entering 2020.
Curtis Samuel (Car, ADP 165) — It seems unlikely that Samuel develops into a game-changing vertical threat with Teddy Bridgewater at the helm this season, especially after the Panthers signed Robby Anderson. The best hope for Samuel is that creative new OC Joe Brady starts using him like the versatile weapon he was coming out of Ohio State, giving him more touches around scrimmage. Samuel finished behind only Deebo Samuel among WRs in rushing yardage last season with 19/130/1, and Brady could potentially expand his role in their rushing attack. Samuel posted 172/1285/15 rushing at Ohio State. It also wouldn’t hurt if Samuel starts playing more out of the slot with Anderson and D.J. Moore more likely to stick to the outside. Bridgewater lives in the short-to-intermediate areas of the field with his attempts, which gives Samuel some post-hype appeal if he’s featured heavily out of the slot.
Steven Sims (Was, ADP 196) — Sims is set up to be the #2 receiver in a thin Washington receiving corps behind Terry McLaurin. Sims could also see more time as the Z receiver this season in Scott Turner’s offense after primarily playing in the slot last season. Curtis Samuel played the Z-receiver spot in Turner’s offense last season, and Sims has a similar skillset to Samuel. Sims had a minuscule 6.9 average depth of target (aDOT) last season, which could be on the rise this season since he should be asked to run more deep routes — Samuel had an aDOT of 15.9 yards last season. Sims would also be more of a full-time player if he earned the #2 receiver role, and Washington is desperate for WR help. It’s time to seriously consider Sims as a viable pick in the final rounds of drafts.
Tee Higgins (Cin, ADP 230) and Auden Tate (Cin, ADP 269) — Tate has been generating daily buzz in the early part of training camp for his work on the perimeter with A.J. Green, John Ross, and Higgins each missing time. He’s pushing to be in the mix for snaps early the season along with Higgins, who returned to practice off a hamstring during the week of Aug. 24. Both Higgins and Tate could be factors this season playing with a potentially potent Bengals offense led by first overall pick Joe Burrow, especially if Green and/or Ross struggle to stay on the field once again in 2020. Both Higgins and Tate have great length and huge catch radiuses, which could make them factors in the red zone and as downfield threats with their contested-catch ability. The Bengals have the potential to have an above-average offense if Burrow plays like a third-year player instead of like a rookie, and you can get cheap access to the offense by drafting these receivers late.
Russell Gage (Atl, ADP 232) — The Falcons did nothing of note to improve their wide receiver depth chart this off-season, which was a huge victory for third-year prospect Gage since Atlanta is extremely thin behind Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. The Falcons traded away slot WR Mohamed Sanu in the middle of last season and they let TE Austin Hooper walk this off-season, which vacated 139 targets from 2019. Gage replaced Sanu in the slot for the final nine games, and he averaged 7.3 targets per contest with a generous 17% target share. Gage could be used more down the field with a little more experience playing with Ryan, and Hooper’s replacement Hayden Hurst certainly isn’t a proven commodity with just 43 career catches in two seasons. It’s tough to find a WR with Gage’s high floor 200+ picks into drafts, and he has some upside if Hurst flops or if Julio or Ridley go down in front of him.
Josh Reynolds (LAR, ADP 234) — Reynolds has had some success over the last two seasons when he’s been needed in the lineup. He’s seen north of 80% of the snaps in nine of 10 games missed by either Cooper Kupp or Brandin Cooks over the last two seasons, averaging 3.2/46.9/.5 receiving per game on 5.8 targets in those contests. Reynolds is best equipped to play the X receiver out of LA’s top four WRs, with Van Jefferson being better equipped to backup Z receiver Robert Woods and slot receiver Kupp. Jefferson has made some serious noise during training camp so Reynolds and Jefferson could be in more of a rotation than initially anticipated. Reynolds is the likely downfield replacement for Cooks this season and, at 6’3”, he’ll be targeted in the red zone after seeing a team-best 18 end-zone targets over the last two seasons. Reynolds has way more upside than his rock-bottom price would indicate.
Chase Claypool (Pit, ADP 247) — The Steelers surprised many by selecting Claypool 49th overall, and they’re hoping they landed their next stud WR. He’s so massive at 6’4”, 238 pounds that many evaluators believed he may transition to tight end in the NFL, but he put those thoughts to rest when he ran a blazing 4.42 40-time at the Combine. Claypool’s size and athleticism on the perimeter will remind Ben Roethlisberger of former downfield and red-zone threat Martavis Bryant. After a strong training camp, Claypool will most likely be a rotational player with James Washington early in the season. He could be a big factor later in the year if Big Ben takes a shine to him. It wouldn’t be surprising if he emerges at some point as a fantasy option because he could see the most coveted targets in fantasy: deep passes and end-zone targets.
Miles Boykin (Bal, ADP 247) — Boykin has the profile of a potential dominant X receiver as a downfield and red-zone threat in the future if he can put it all together. He’s massive at 6’4”, 220 pounds and he tore it up at the 2019 Combine by running a 4.42 40-time with a 43.5-inch vertical and a ridiculous 140-inch broad jump. The Ravens used a heavy rotation with all their WRs last season, and Boykin will look to separate himself from Willie Snead and Devin Duvernay to be the #3 receiver behind Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown. Lamar Jackson, the reigning MVP, will likely throw it more than the 29.4 attempts per game the Ravens averaged last season (fourth-fewest) so there could be some runway for Boykin to take off in 2020.
Dante Pettis (SF, ADP 293) and Trent Taylor (SF, ADP 277) — Pettis has been creating some buzz in training camp after showing up in much better shape after getting beat out for playing time as the team’s incumbent top receiver last summer. Pettis had a sudden fall from fantasy relevance last summer, but he showed flashes of brilliance at the end of his rookie season after the 49ers drafted him 44th overall in 2018. Pettis shouldn’t be brushed aside after his disastrous sophomore season, especially with all of the injuries the 49ers are currently dealing with at WR. HC Kyle Shanahan told our John Hansen at the 2019 Combine that Pettis quickly learned all three WR spots as a rookie and that he was the team’s #1 WR heading into the 2019 season. A potentially motivated Pettis has the chance to regain some footing in this WR corps in 2020. Shanahan also talked up Taylor during his talk with The Guru, and Taylor could be in store for a big role out of the slot this season when the 49ers actually have three WRs on the field. The 49ers need all the help they can get with all their WR injuries
Chris Herndon (NYJ, ADP 151) — Herndon has been the talk of Jets training camp with HC Adam Gase calling Herndon the team’s starting TE while heaping praise on him for his offensive versatility. Slot WR Jamison Crowder also called Herndon the “X-factor” for this offense this season. Herndon has been lining up in the slot, as an outside receiver, and in tight during training camp, and he’s impressed both as a receiver and as a blocker. Herndon is coming off a wasted sophomore campaign, but he averaged 10.2 FPG in Weeks 6-16 of his rookie season. He also finished behind only Mark Andrews at the TE position with an average depth of target of 11.0 yards. Herndon is the closest player to a Darren Waller type at the end of drafts this season as a late-round TE who has a legitimate chance to lead his team in receiving this season.
Blake Jarwin (Dal, ADP 157) — Jarwin is getting his big chance this season after the Cowboys handed him a big raise ($9.25 million guaranteed) and after they let Jason Witten walk this off-season. The ancient Witten ate up 75% of the snaps, a 14% target share, and a 16% reception share last season. Jarwin will bring more juice to this already potent passing attack with his ability down the seams after he finished seventh in yards per route run (1.82) among 40 TEs with 30+ targets last season. The Cowboys already had one of the best offenses last season, and Jarwin has the potential to make this passing game even more lethal. Jarwin has the ability, the opportunity, and the offense to make him an upside TE to target toward the end of fantasy drafts.
Irv Smith (Min, ADP 181) — Smith has a runway to take off in his second season as the #2 receiving weapon for Kirk Cousins after the Vikings traded away stud Stefon Diggs this off-season. Diggs' departure opened up a massive 41% air yards share and a 21% target share from last season. The Vikings aren’t exactly flush with great receiving options behind Adam Thielen, and Smith should see his opportunities rise like they did when Thielen missed time last season. Compared to the first six games of last season, Irv saw his routes run per game nearly double (24.8) in Minnesota’s final nine meaningful games with Thielen in and out of the lineup. Smith played on 60% of the snaps last season, and new OC Gary Kubiak will continue to run plenty of two-TE sets. Smith will still have to contend with Kyle Rudolph, especially in the red zone, but Irv should find steady enough targets to consider as a late-round option.
Dawson Knox (Buf, ADP 226) — The Bills are planning to expand Knox’s role in Year Two after an impressive rookie campaign. The Bills used him on deeper routes last season with an aDOT sitting at 9.1 yards, but he caught just 56% of his targets last season, struggling with drops. Knox (6’4”, 254 pounds) posted a 4.58 40-time and a 34.5-inch vertical at the Combine, and OC Brian Daboll believes that Knox can be a mismatch for slower LBs and smaller safeties. Knox has tough competition for targets in the Bills receiving corps, but he has the traits to be a TE1 in the near future.
Jimmy Graham (Chi, ADP 244) — Our Adam Caplan has said all summer that the Bears are excited to get Graham involved in their passing attack this season after Matt LaFleur failed to take advantage of Graham as a move tight end last season. Graham is coming off his worst season since his rookie campaign back in 2010, but he’s dominated against the Bears’ defensive back in 1-on-1 drills, and he’s already proven to be a significant upgrade over Trey Burton. Graham can be had for nothing in drafts right now, but he’s viable as a third TE in best-ball formats or as a late-round flier in deeper re-draft formats.
Devin Asiasi (NE, ADP 268) — We typically fade rookie TEs since it’s one of the hardest transitions to the league of any position. Asiasi, a 2020 third-round pick, has the potential to be an exception because of a desolate New England TE depth chart. He showed some big-play ability by averaging 15.2 YPR at UCLA despite a thick frame (6’3”, 257 pounds). Asiasi is getting plenty of camp buzz for his work with the Patriots first-team offense, showing well both as a blocker and as a receiver. Asiasi has the thinnest TE depth chart in the league to scale during training camp, which was made even thinner following Matt LaCosse's opt-out). Asiasi has the receiving talent to be a sleeper fantasy option this season.
Jace Sternberger (GB, ADP 215) — Sternberger is off to a slow start in training camp because of an extended stay on the COVID-19 list after seeing just one target in six games as a rookie because of an ankle injury. We’re still optimistic about Sternberger because of the barren receiving corps in Green Bay behind Davante Adams. The last time Sternberger had a prominent role, he hung 48/832/10 receiving (17.1 YPR) for Texas A&M against SEC competition. Our Greg Cosell compared Sternberger’s route running and his ability after the catch to Travis Kelce coming out of college. Sternberger has the chance to be the #2 receiver for a motivated Aaron Rodgers with the Packers doing nothing of note at TE or WR this off-season. Sternberger has the talent and the opportunity that we like to bet on.