Fantasy Sleepers: Five late round lottery tickets

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Liz Loza
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Can Devin Funchess overtake Kelvin Benjamin as Carolina's No. 1 WR? (Getty)
Can Devin Funchess overtake Kelvin Benjamin as Carolina’s No. 1 WR? (Getty)

Paying full price, whether in reality or fantasy, stinks. That’s why it’s important to comb the double-digit rounds of fake football drafts for potential. Landing on the right guy, one who emerges as a must-start anchor for you squad, could be the key to a Week 16 appearance. So don’t let the beer and wings set in until after your draft. Stay focused and zero in one of the below values.

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Spencer Ware, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
It took five weeks, but the Chiefs learned in 2015 that replacing a talent as prodigious as Jamaal Charles would require not one – but two – players. By Week 11 Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware were in a near 50-50 timeshare, with West handling passing downs and Ware mixing in on early downs and at the goal line. Over the final seven games of the regular season Ware averaged nearly 12 totes per contest and was the tenth most productive fantasy player at the position.

At 5-foot-10 and 229 pounds, Ware is a good sized back who’s hard to take down. He’s not super fast or crazy elusive, but he’s a physical player who fights for every yard. Down the stretch last year Ware averaged an impressive 4.6 YPC and 3.7 YAC (the highest yards after contact percentage of any RB from Weeks 11-17). He also scored five TDs over the last six regular season games in which he played.

While the hope is that the JC of KC returns to the starting lineup this fall, Ware’s presence at the goal line shouldn’t be dismissed. Wanting to keep the face of the franchise on the field, Ware figures to see more action in 2016. Stepping in to do the dirty work, the former sixth round pick is likely to garner 10-14 carries per game. He’s also the primary backup to Charles, as evidenced by the team’s preseason opener in which he played ahead of West and capped off KC’s first drive of the game with a one-yard TD. Available in the thirteenth round of 12-team exercises, Ware is a solid stash in standard formats.

Devin Funchess, WR, Carolina Panthers
Sifting through preseason coach-speak and hyperbolic camp buzz can be tricky. When a player consistently receives rave reviews, however, some attention needs to be paid. Funchess has been showered with platitudes since early June, suggesting that the second-year receiver is on the edge of glory.

Selected in the second round of the 2015 NFL draft, Funchess was an ultra-raw WR/TE hybrid. At 6-foot-4 and 232 pounds, the Michigan product proved he was more than just a big body, running a 4.6 second 40-yard-dash, which placed him in the eighty-sixth percentile for size/speed (per Player Profiler). An organization with a history of developing young talent, those metrics were enough for the Panthers who clearly viewed Funchess as a red zone weapon in the making.

Kelvin Benjamin’s absence forced Carolina to utilize the former Wolverine sooner than they had perhaps hoped. The rookie struggled mightily over the first half of the season, dropping six balls on 32 targets and scoring only once. By Week 11, though, Funchess earned his first start and increased his efficiency, dropping just two balls on 43 targets and racking up 4 TDs over the final seven regular season contests.

Still working to get back into football shape after tearing his ACL a year ago, Benjamin isn’t a sure thing. The younger and more athletic Funchess, on the other hand, appears to have picked up where he left off in early 2016. Being drafted behind guys like Laquon Treadwell and Willie Snead, he offers WR3 potential at a WR4/WR5 price.

Bruce Ellington, WR, San Francisco
Cousin to Andre of the Cardinals, the South Carolina product is an explosive player with strong hands and mind-bending agility. His after-the-catch ability is tantalizing, as evidenced by the 70-yard TD he scored in the final preseason game of 2015. Previously used primarily on special teams, Ellington appears in line for a promotion.

A standout throughout camp, beat writers have showered the 25-year-old with praise, naming him the team’s “most improved” player. Expected to open the season as the Niners’ No. 2 receiver, Ellington figures to handle the bulk of the underneath work in Kelly’s system. Back in 2014, then-rookie Jordan Matthews filled a similar role for Chip in Philly, hauling in 67 grabs over sixteen weeks. Entering his third pro campaign, Ellington’s ceiling is even higher. Take note PPR enthusiasts, because this is a steal in thirteenth round.

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Jordan Cameron, TE, Miami Dolphins
Two seasons removed from a top-five fantasy finish, the former basketball standout isn’t coming off the board until the very end of drafts, if he’s being selected at all. After a series of concussions put a damper on his time in Cleveland, many expected he’d bounce back upon relocating to Miami. While the Cali native suited up for sixteen consecutive starts in 2015 (the first time in his career he was able to do so), his usage was limited – and some say suspect – as the result of various coaching changes.

At 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, Cameron possesses ideal size. His measurables are also off the charts. In fact, the metrics site Player Profiler comps him to Julius Thomas. Interestingly, Thomas was a TD machine in 2014 while playing under Adam Gase, who is, ironically, Miami’s newly installed HC.

Running a TE friendly system, Gase has freely admitted his affection for the position and his eagerness to work with a specimen of Cameron’s caliber. For his part, Cameron appears equally excited. It was recently reported that he took a $1.5 million pay cut in order to play for Gase. Understanding QB Ryan Tanehill’s downfield limitations in tandem with Gase’s history of elevating the position (heck, even the Bears’ Zack Miller was a top-five fantasy play over the final 9 weeks of last season) Cameron’s potential reward well outweighs his minimal late round risk.

Clive Walford, TE, Oakland Raiders
Walford scored the first TD of his pro career just after the Raiders’ bye in Week 7 of last year. From that point on his usage increased, surpassing veteran TE Mychal Rivera on the depth chart. Between Weeks 7 and 17, Walford was on the field for an average of 30 snaps per game (compared to Rivera’s 21), which means he was utilized for 47 percent of the offensive action through those 11 contests.

Third in targets behind Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, the Miami product was looked-to a total of 43 times over the final two thirds of the season. Five of his six red zone targets came down the stretch as his rapport with QB Derek Carr developed and his grasp of the playbook became more obvious. At 6-foot-4 and 251 pounds, Walford is a looming red zone target for the young QB. In fact, the 24-year-old matched Cooper and Crabtree’s red zone production, scoring the same number of times (2) inside the twenty-yard line despite fewer opportunities.

Assuming that defenses key in on Cooper, and taking into consideration a favorable strength of schedule, Walford appears primed for a classic second-year breakout. Currently the twentieth tight end coming off of draft boards, the talented upstart offers oodles of upside. Missing minicamp due to a knee injury wasn’t ideal, but his showing thus far in the preseason indicates a juicy offensive role for the ATV enthusiast.

Follow Liz on Twitter @LizLoza_FF