Is there anything better than winning your fantasy football league? Whether or not you get to rub your victory in your friend’s faces or just let it rain greenbacks, winning in fantasy football is supremely satisfying.
But winning is easier said than done.
Of course, if you could guarantee that you’d have Le’Veon Bell, Jamal Charles, Megatron, A.J. Green and let’s say Jimmy Graham on your team then winning would be easy.
But assembling a team like that is never going to happen… unless you play in a four-team league.
Yes, you need studs to win at fantasy football, but they aren’t invincible. They can get injured, have poor matchups and even go into slumps.
The people who win fantasy football champions are the ones who best identify those players who are severely underrated and grab them at such an amazing value that everyone thinks they are some kind of fantasy savant.
Identifying players that no one else thinks is going to break out is fun, challenging and super frustrating.
So here are some players for the 2015 season that are extremely underrated that just may help carry your team to fantasy football glory.
1. Ryan Tannehill, QB, Miami Dolphins
Believe it or not Tannehill finished last year as a top-10 fantasy quarterback. Not bad for someone who went undrafted in most leagues. Now he enters his second year under offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s system and while the Dolphins let Mike Wallace walk (boo hoo), they added some serious weapons in Kenny Stills, Jordan Cameron, Greg Jennings and explosive rookie DeVante Parker to go along with their current stud wideout Jarvis Landry and finally No. 1 RB Lamar Miller.
Tannehill is also a decent runner for a quarterback; last year he finished fifth in QB rushing yards, which are just bonus points when it comes to QBs in fantasy football.
The reason Tannehill is tops on this list is not only because of his ability, his weapons or his gaining experience, it’s because he also won’t cost nearly as much on draft day. Tannehill will put up top-5 QB numbers this year and he will be drafted anywhere from being the eighth off of the board at the position to No. 15.
In some drafts, guys like Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick are being drafted before him, that’s just crazy. If you wait on a QB and fill up your other roster spots and can grab Tannehill in, let’s say, the ninth round, you’re making the playoffs – guaranteed.
My guess: 4,372 passing yards, 28 TDs
2. Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans
Cooks was having himself a decent rookie season until Week 10 when he broke his thumb, ending his 2014 campaign. He was getting better and better each week and you could tell that he was quickly becoming one of Drew Brees’ favorite targets.
Now Cooks enters his second year fully healthy and as the Saints’ most explosive playmaker. Gone are Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills, and while Marques Colston is still around, his value and production have gone down each of the past three years.
This is the year that New Olreans switches to a more balanced and more run-focused offensive approach with Mark Ingram showing that he can carry the load, along with the addition of C.J. Spiller. But while Drew Brees might be on the decline (see my top 8 overrated players), he still is going to throw for over 4,000 yards and get 30 TD passes. Someone has to catch those balls, and Cooks will be the man.
The other thing to note here is that because Cooks missed the last six games of last year, he probably won’t be on many people’s radars this year. This is where you can swoop in and reap the benefits as he puts up solid WR1 numbers.
My guess: 79 catches, 1,117 yards, 9 TDs
3. C.J. Spiller, RB, New Orleans
Remember 2006 when the Saints had a dynamic running back duo in Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush? That’s the last time that head coach Sean Payton has had a thunder-and-lightning RB tandem. That year both McAllister and Bush finished in the top 15 in fantasy scoring among RBs. Not bad.
Now past production is not a good way to predict future success, especially when it come to fantasy football, but if you look at the Saints, what do you see?
An aging quarterback in Drew Brees, who has lost some of his magic, a team that traded away it best offensive weapon in Jimmy Graham for a stud center in Max Unger and whose No. 1 wide receiver is a second-year guy coming off a broken thumb (but also a player I view underrated).
The trade for new center Max Unger should really stand out. This year the Saints will transition to more of a balanced run team utilizing Mark Ingram between the tackles and Spiller in the open field and on screen plays.
If you are in a PPR league get your hands on Spiller as quickly as you can. He will be an excellent RB2 and will fight to be a RB1. Not bad for a guy going in the fourth round of most drafts.
My guess: 160 carries, 768 rushing yards, 3 TDs, 71 receptions, 623 receiving yards, 4 TDs
4. Jeremy Hill, RB, Cincinnati
How can a guy who was a top-3 fantasy running back in the second half of last year be considered a breakout candidate this year? Well, if you do some research you’ll notice that Hill is usually being drafted in the mid-to-late second round and is currently ranked on average as the 11th RB. The eleventh-best running back? You should take that ranking all the way to the bank when Hill finishes as a top-6 fantasy RB this year.
After Giovani Bernard suffered a hip injury in Week 8, Hill managed to gain over 140 yards rushing four times in nine games and scored nine TDs. No one can trust Andy Dalton to carry a team to any kind of success, and even with stud WR A.J. Green and his counterpart Marvin Jones coming back from injury, the only way the Bengals make the playoffs and lose in the first round again, is on Hill’s legs.
Now it’s true that Bernard is healthy and ready to go to start the season, but Hill is the man in the Bengals’ backfield. Unfortunately Bernard is too talented to keep off the field, so Hill won’t be the third down back or get many chances to catch balls in the open field.
What Hill will do is get you almost 100 yards rushing every game and score a ton of TDs. That’s what you want from every running back, especially one that you might draft as your RB2.
My guess: 280 carries, 1,316 rushing yards, 13 TDs, 26 catches, 247 yards, 1 TD
5. Eli Manning, QB, NY Giants
Most people don’t want anything to do with the other Manning unless their starting QB is on a bye week. It makes perfect sense. Two years ago he was terrible – throwing 18 TD passes and a whopping 27 picks. It also didn’t help that Manning and the entire Giants offense really struggled out of the gate last year as they adapted to new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s new system.
Then came along is guy named Odell Beckham Jr. and what happened? Manning took off – he finished the year with over 4,000 passing yards, 30 TD passes and only 14 picks.
Now Manning is in his second year of McAdoo’s system (and by the way McAdoo’s the guy who ran the Green Bay offense until last year and it’s safe to say that Green Bay had an okay offense) so he’ll be more comfortable and his numbers will rise.
Manning also should get a full year out of Beckham Jr. (provided his most recent hamstring issue is nothing serious), will welcome Victor Cruz back from injury, has an ever-improving Reuben Randle as his No. 3 WR, an emerging tight end in Larry Donnell and a fairly deep stable of running backs.
If the Giants are going to be any kind of serious contender this year they will do it on the arm of Manning, aided by the one-hand catches of Beckham Jr.
Manning is ranked outside of the top 12 QBs, which means he’s being drafted in the late rounds as a QB2. If you take the strategy to wait on a QB and stockpile fantasy gold at other positions and end up with Manning as your starting QB, you might not love it at first, but you will.
My guess: 4,885 yards passing, 32 TD passes
6. Latavius Murray, RB, Oakland
If you can get a top-15 running back in the fifth round you can go to sleep with a big smile on your face.
Murray is the man in Oakland after he finally grabbed the starting job in December and flashed the crazy raw skills that have tempted many fantasy owners over the previous two years. Think of Murray like this – he’s got Eddie George size (6-3, 225) and Jamal Charles-like speed (he ran a 4.38 40 at his pro day).
Add all of that together with the fact that Murray has zero competition for the starting job (no, Roy Helu doesn’t count) and that second-year QB David Carr will improve on a decent rookie season. Especially with the addition of coveted rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper.
The Raiders’ offense is going to be better than a lot of people think and Murray is going to be a big reason why. He won’t catch many balls out of the backfield, but he will get his carries and score TDs. That’s a recipe for success, especially coming from a guy who is being drafted as the No. 23 option among RBs.
My guess: 1,113 rushing yards, 8 TDs, 21 catches, 186 yards, 1 TD
7. Justin Forsett, RB, Baltimore
When you think of the Baltimore Ravens you don’t usually think of fantasy football stars. But that needs to change this year because in the offseason the Ravens hired ex-Bears coach Marc Trestman as their new offensive coordinator.
With Trestman on board the sky's the limit for Forsett. He will be used exactly the same way that Matt Forté was used in Chicago. Forté was always a first-round pick in fantasy drafts. Forsett is currently ranked on average as the 16th-best fantasy running back and is being drafted in the fourh and fifth rounds.
Last year Forsett came out of nowhere (at the start of the season he was fourth on the Ravens’ depth chart) and he finished the year as fantasy’s No. 8 RB. While it’s true that this year Forsett turns the much dreaded running back age of 30, he has never been a feature back before so he has plenty of gas left in the tank.
Forsett also will be a PPR monster. Last year in Trestman’s offense Forte caught a single-season RB-record 102 passes. That’s insane value from a RB in a PPR league. Forsett might not catch 100 balls, but he’s going to get a lot of opportunities and you should target him early in a PPR league.
My guess: 1,236 rushing yards, 6 TDs, 78 catches, 685 yards, 4 TDs
5 other players that are severely underrated…
Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore – because he has Marc Trestman as his offensive coordinator
Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans – because the Saints are going to run the ball more than ever
Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco – because last year Frank Gore ran for over 1,100 yards at the age of 31
Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego – because he’s healthy this year and his value has dropped
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina – because IF he can stay healthy, he can be a top-10 fantasy RB
— Written by Michael Horvath, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Horvath is a Canadian who also happens to be a fantasy football (not to be confused with CFL) and fitness nut. Follow him on Twitter @realmikehorvath.