Fantasy Football Sleepers
Don’t look now, folks, but the fantasy football season is right around the corner. Heck, it’s already here. One of the best ways to prepare for upcoming fantasy drafts, and to win your league, is to try to find value players. As far as fantasy football vernacular is concerned, they’re known as sleepers. That is, essentially, under-the-radar players who we believe have the opportunity to outperform their average draft positions (ADPs), or, simply, players being drafted later than we think they should be drafted.
In the case of most fantasy sleepers, they are the beneficiaries of circumstance. Four of the five following players had teammates depart who were above them on the depth chart. (Spoiler alert) For Paul Perkins it was Rashad Jennings, for Breshad Perriman it was Steve Smith and Kamar Aiken, for Jamison Crowder it was DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon and for Jack Doyle, it was Dwayne Allen. These guys have a great opportunity to take over their respective positions and are practically guaranteed to see tremendously increased volume.
Players in these circumstances are begging to be underrated, and, as such, begging to provide value. Remember, sleepers are completely objective and always up for debate, so feel free to pitch in with other sleeper options either in the comments or on Twitter.
Note: ADPs as of 06/01 via FFcalculator
ADP 9.11 – QB14
Some things change and some things stay the same. For the Chargers, they’re moving to Los Angeles, but the one constant is, and has been, Philip Rivers. The veteran quarterback is one of the most unheralded players in the NFL and in fantasy football, partly due to him being so unlikable.
Yet, year after year, Rivers produces at a high level. Since his first year as a starter in 2005, Rivers’ average finish is QB9, including a QB6 finish last year despite leading the league with 21 interceptions. It helped that he threw 33 touchdowns, which were good enough for fourth most in the league. What’s more is that Rivers has not finished outside of QB1 territory since 2007. That’s nine straight seasons of QB1 numbers. Feel free to gasp or emote. The only other quarterback to accomplish that feat is Drew Brees; although Rodgers would surely be in their company if it weren’t for the fractured collarbone he suffered in 2013.Rivers has a nice collection of weapons, too, even without Danny Woodhead now. One of Rivers’ favorite strategies was simply to dump the ball off to Woodhead and let Woodhead scamper for what he could find. There are plenty of playmakers to help continue Rivers’ success, though. Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Travis Benjamin, Tyrell Williams, Hunter Henry and Antonio Gates must have Rivers licking his chops. Plus, the Chargers improved their offensive line this offseason by drafting guards Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney.
The bottom line is that Rivers will finish in QB1 territory again this year if he can remain on the field. Seeing as he’s played in all 16 games for 11 straight years, that’s pretty much a lock. The best news is that Rivers’ ADP is basically in the 10th round. Remember, he hasn’t even been a QB2 since 2007. You don’t need to draft a quarterback in the early rounds when Rivers is sitting there in the 9th or 10th round. He provides tremendous value and is a guarantee for No. 1 fantasy quarterback numbers.
Other QB sleeper candidates: Tyrod Taylor, Matthew Stafford, Blake Bortles.
ADP 7.06 – RB33Perkins really came on late in his rookie campaign last year, culminating in a 102-yard performance in the last game of the season. The last four games of the season saw Perkins receive 55 percent of the carries he was given all season long. In total, Perkins touched the ball 127 times for 618 total yards as a rookie, averaging a respectable 4.1 yards per carry. The one drawback is that Perkins still awaits his first career NFL touchdown. Even so, the Giants clearly gained more trust in Perkins as the season progressed. He even tallied 13 touches in New York’s playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers.
What Perkins really has going for him is that Rashad Jennings is no longer wearing a Giants uniform. Head coach Ben McAdoo has already pegged Perkins as the Giants’ starting running back and the Giants have 181 carries and 42 targets available from Jennings’ 2016 season. The targets could easily be gobbled up by a receiving corps comprised of Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, and Sterling Shepard, but Perkins will be the main beneficiary of most of the leftover carries. The Giants did sign Shaun Draughn and drafted Wayne Gallman in the offseason, but Draughn and Shane Vereen are almost exclusively change-of-pace, pass-catching backs, and Gallman should only spot Perkins from time to time.
Perkins won’t necessarily take the NFL by storm in his sophomore season. He has improvements to make and is part of a committee, but there’s a reason he’s already been named the Giants’ starting running back. Perkins is a great late-round addition and has the ability really outperform his current ADP as a potential low-end RB2 to high-end RB3 as he snags the baton from Jennings.
Other RB sleeper candidates: Bilal Powell, Danny Woodhead, Derrick Henry, Kareem Hunt, Jamaal Williams, Alvin Kamara.
ADP 7.08 – WR33
DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon have departed the District of Columbia and Terrelle Pryor now dons the red and yellow. With Pryor taking over the No. 1 wide receiver position in Washington, Crowder is ready to fly under the fantasy radar.
Crowder was actually the best wide receiver on the Redskins last year from a fantasy standpoint, finishing just ahead of Jackson and Garcon (Yes, all three were healthy, Jackson missed just one game). Garcon (116) and Jackson (100) were the only Redskins with more targets than Crowder (97), and Crowder’s 67 catches were second to Garcon’s 79. Of course, Kirk Cousins counted on those three more later in the year due to Jordan Reed missing four games with a shoulder injury.
Crowder will spend most of his time in the slot again in 2017, with Pryor and Josh Doctson playing the X and Y roles, so don’t be surprised to see an increase in Crowder’s receptions, especially considering the fact that Kirk Cousins has averaged 574.5 targets over the last two seasons. There’s always the possibility of Reed being injured, too, since he’s missed 18 games in his four-year career.
Pryor and Reed will likely see more targets near the endzone, which will limit Crowder’s touchdown opportunities, but Crowder will be utilized heavily between the 20s. If he can finish as WR29, which he did in 2016, with Jackson and Garcon also on the field, he is more than capable of a WR2 season.
ADP 12.08 – WR54
With Steve Smith and Kamar Aiken gone, Baltimore’s wide receiver corps belongs to Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman. Perriman was somewhat of an underachiever last year, tallying 33 catches for 499 yards and three touchdowns. To Perriman’s credit, though, Joe Flacco mostly looked the way of Wallace, Smith and Dennis Pitta. Plus, Perriman was coming off a rookie year in which he did not play a single game due to a torn ACL.
Perriman’s bread and butter is the deep ball, and while Flacco did shy away somewhat from the deep ball in 2016, Perriman was one of 12 receivers with at least 60 targets to average more than 15 yards per reception last year. His opportunities will greatly increase this year, too. Smith and Aiken leave behind 151 targets, not to mention the 63 targets Kyle Juszczyk and Justin Forsett had combined. That’s 214 targets vacated from last season. Furthermore, Dennis Pitta’s career could be over after re-injuring his nagging hip. That could be another 121 targets to go around.
The hype has already begun for the third-year receiver. Perriman has been pegged as the most impressive Baltimore player during organized team activities and has developed a rapport with Flacco this offseason. His ceiling isn’t quite in the WR2 arena, but WR3 status is certainly within Perriman’s reach.
Other WR sleeper candidates: DeVante Parker, Willie Snead, Cameron Meredith, Pierre Garcon, Tyrell Williams, Quincy Enunwa.
ADP 13.01 – TE14
Doyle has sleeper status written all over him. He finished as the TE12 last season even with Dwayne Allen starting ahead of him. Doyle will be the starter now with Allen in New England, but he’s still not receiving a lot of attention so far this offseason. There may be times when Erik Swoope steals the spotlight from Doyle and vultures some touchdowns — the Colts like two-tight end sets — but Doyle will be the main man. What makes Doyle really attractive is that he scored five times on just 75 targets last season. That’s where Doyle does most of his damage — inside the 20. He had 12 red-zone targets in 2016, five of which were his five touchdowns.
Andrew Luck already trusts Doyle near the end zone, and with an uptick in volume and maintained efficiency it would be a surprise not to see Doyle’s scores increase. Doyle may not catch a ton of passes, but his scoring should make up for that. If Doyle managed a TE1 year in 2016, he is more than capable of achieving mid-TE1 numbers this season.
Other TE sleeper candidates: Eric Ebron, Julius Thomas, Jared Cook.
Zach hails from the bustling metropolis of Cheyenne, Wyoming. Three things Zach enjoys are football, food and water. Three things Zach doesn’t enjoy are kale, mushrooms and the company of those who enjoy either (except hobbits). Zach is a life-long Broncos fan and has been playing fantasy football longer than he hasn’t. He had top-five finishes in FantasyPros’ 2016 NFL DFAC competition and the 2016 SFB480.