In competitive fantasy football leagues like Apex’s, identifying breakout players is a crucial element to winning. This is the reason that August is dedicated to pumping out “sleeper” and “upside” articles – if you can find the player who was drafted late but performed as a top player, you will have added significant value to your team and give yourself an increased probability of winning your league. Here are some of the league winning values in 2017.

Coaching Matters

The top player this season was a top pick last season as well: Todd Gurley. Held back by Jeff Fisher, Gurley finished as RB15 in 2016 despite playing in all 16 games. With new coach Sean McVay, Gurley showed that he was the talented player that we thought he was – but did so with a repressed average draft position. Often selected in the third round of Apex leagues, including our Expert Writers League, Gurley became a league winning value.

The lesson we can take from this is, disappointing seasons sometimes result in extraordinary values. While Gurley didn’t have the coaching and in turn offensive scheme to produce in 2016, the expectations were fulfilled in 2017. Evaluate price when deciding whether to draft a player and note, the same player I was willing to draft first overall is now available in the third round. One season does not determine a player’s future.

Rookie Running Backs

Obviously, it’s hard to predict players that we haven’t seen before but trends can be recognized. Perhaps fantasy’s biggest value was Alvin Kamara, who was consistently drafted outside of the top ten rounds. In our rookie running back article, we noted that Kamara’s receiving ability perfectly matches the Saints offensive scheme that throws frequently to the running back position.

With Adrian Peterson and Mark Ingram as the primary ball-carriers, Times-Picayune’s Larry Holder expected third-round RB Alvin Kamara to play a “Reggie Bush/Darren Sproles-type role”. When Kamara flashed in the second week of the preseason, we noted he could have significant PPR value.

Kareem Hunt was also a huge value but how much of a value depends on if your league drafted before or after Spencer Ware was injured. Once Hunt was locked into the starting role, the historical trends of Andy Reid’s running backs yielded promising results.

Mark Ingram was another league winning value pick. Despite finishing 8th in running back scoring last season, the addition of Adrian Peterson scared owners into drafting Ingram as the 24th running back off the board. Prior to the season, we identified Ingram as one of the value picks at running back.

Late Round Quarterback

Late round quarterback has become a popular strategy in fantasy football leagues. Carson Wentz, Alex Smith, Ben Roethlisberger, Matthew Stafford, Jared Goff, and Phillip Rivers were all drafted outside of the top-12 quarterbacks but finished as QB1s.

Ballers Ball

Like Gurley, DeAndre Hopkins disappointed his fantasy owners last season. This resulted in a decreasing ADP, leading to Hopkins being consistently selected in the third round. With improved quarterback play, Hopkins reminded owners why he was consistently drafted as a first-round pick in 2016.

Another value pick was Keenan Allen. Currently 2017’s third-best wide receiver, Allen was consistently undervalued because of injury concerns. His play clearly warranted a higher ADP but injury concerns gave Allen the opportunity to become a value pick. Despite season-ending ACL and kidney injuries, are we sure that Allen is more likely to get injured than others?

Adam Thielen was extremely impressive last season, finishing second behind Julio Jones in yards per target. Despite coming into 2016 with just 31 career targets, Thielen actually outperformed teammate Stefon Diggs last year – registering 64 more receiving yards on 20 fewer targets. There were many reasons to believe that Thielen was a very good football player.

After multiple disappointing seasons, the fantasy crowd was down on Zach Ertz heading into 2017. Despite missing two games and still finishing 2016 as TE6, Ertz was drafted as TE11. When slot receiver Jordan Matthews was traded to the Bills, we wrote about how Ertz had been dynamic with Matthews out, averaging 30.9 PPR points per game. Still, his ADP didn’t jump much, as many owners had felt that they were burned by Ertz too many times.

The Lesson

Like Davante Adams last year, we must remember not to get too high or low on young players. Unexpected struggles may take place early in their careers but there is always a chance that a player can turn it around. For that reason, players must be drafted in reference to price and their future opportunity, opposed to their past performance. Don’t be afraid to zig when others are zagging, league winning values are often created by players who previously burned fantasy owners.