Fantasy Football Sleepers 2016
Gridiron Experts tries to avoid the word “Sleeper” at all costs. Mainly because it’s a term in the fantasy football community that means so many different things. To some, a sleeper is a player that is not on the radar. A player that no one is talking about, yet goes on to do great things. That is an unrealistic description of how we (and most) feel what a sleeper is. To us, a fantasy football sleeper is about value. A fantasy sleeper in our minds is a player being drafted in a position we feel will far exceed expectations. That could be a player with an average draft position in the middle rounds that we expect will put up excellent numbers or a player you can draft late that could become a productive starter for your weekly starting lineup.
For this article Gridiron Experts head writers Jody Smith and Mike Rigz have teamed up to give you 20 fantasy football sleepers (10 each) that they feel are going to outperform their average draft position in 2016. In this article each writer shares a sleeper, PPR sleeper and deep sleeper for Running back, Wide Receiver and Tight End along with Quarterback, and their favorite team defense for 2016. Become a Gridiron Experts Member to read them all!
Jody Smith’s Quarterback Sleeper
New York Giants
The quarterback position has been beefed up with an influx of young talent but for fantasy purposes, the value comes from waiting for underrated veteran talent. Those signal-callers include excellent choices like Philip Rivers, Tony Romo and Tyrod Taylor who all scored high in my QB draft value metric.
Eli Manning also scored highly in that article and looks like one of the best values in all of fantasy football. Manning has finished as the QB8 and QB7 over the past two seasons while averaging 4,423 passing yards, 32 touchdowns and 13.5 interceptions per season.
For 2016, former offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo has been promoted to head coach, so we can expect the offense to remain relatively unchanged and Manning to continue to produce top-10 fantasy results. If anything, the emergence of young talent like TE Will Tye, budding second-round star WR Sterling Shepard and the return of veteran WR Victor Cruz gives Manning the deepest supporting cast he’s had in a long time.
Perhaps the biggest sleeper appeal for Manning is the absurd value that he represents. With an ADP well into the double-digit rounds, Manning is a tremendous reward for savvy fantasy drafters who load up on talent at scarcer positions and wait to attack quarterback with later picks. Eli Manning is the ideal high-floor/high-ceiling target that can allow you to build up a formidable roster, while still boasting an every-week star signal-caller.
Mike Rigz’ Quarterback Sleeper
Kirk Cousins had a surprisingly strong 2015 fantasy campaign. Many probably do not remember, but Cousins ranked 5th in total QB fantasy production with 4,166 passing yards, 29 passing touchdowns, and five rushing scores. I’m not sure anyone went into the season actually planning on making Cousins their starting fantasy quarterback, but his production couldn’t be ignored. Cousins lead the NFL in completion percentage (69.9%) just slightly above Drew Brees and Russell Wilson.
This season the Redskins QB finds himself lumped into a lower tier of quarterbacks you would be fine with picking out of a hat. If you’re waiting until the 10th round to draft your QB, you’re already prepared to stream quarterbacks and do not see Cousins over a Matthew Stafford or Andy Dalton any different. But the Skins are on the rise. The team ranked 10th in points per game in 2015 but were trending upwards near the end of the season where they won five of their last six games with a points-per-game average of 27.8, which would have ranked them 4th, only behind the Patriots (26.4) Cards (30.6) and the Panthers (31.2.)
With the added addition of rookie WR Josh Doctson (who is expected to be ready for Week One) and the arsenal of weapons at his disposal, I fully expect another top-10 fantasy performance for Kirk Cousins.
Jody Smith’s Running Back Sleeper
New England Patriots
In standard leagues, more emphasis is placed on scoring touchdowns than in overall skills or pass-catching prowess. That blueprint fits Blount quite well, as he should remain the main inside and short-yardage runner for a team that has been a top-4 scoring unit in each of the past six seasons.
With Dion Lewis expected to miss a chunk of the season, and QB Tom Brady suspended for New England’s first four, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Bill Belichick call an unusually-high number of runs for Blount as the team tries to protect QB Jimmy Garoppolo. Blount is the kind of plodding back that the club will use to grind out the clock to protect late leads.
It’s Blount’s scoring prowess that make him an appealing late-round fantasy pick. Including postseason games, the 250-lbs. veteran runner has scored 26 touchdowns in the New England’s last 45 games. Despite being limited to 12 games in 2015, Blount scored seven touchdowns and ended up as the RB29 in standard scoring.
Tom Brady might be suspended for September, but don’t discount this team’s ability to remain a dangerous, high-scoring offense. The Patriots’ backfield is in a bit of flux, but Blount’s role as the first-and-second down grinder looks secure. With a current ADP all the way down into the 13th round, Blount is a superb bench target for standard league drafters.
Mike Rigz’s Running Back Sleeper
I’m constantly hearing how much people dislike Derrick Henry in the fantasy football community this summer, and I’m not sure why. So far in the small preseason action that Henry has made he has displayed and excellent balance of speed and power. For a big kid, 6’3″, 247lbs., you’d think he would run like an ogre. But Henry’s speed around the corner and vision are very impressive.
“He’s a stud,” Teammate OLB Brian Orakpo said. “He has a few things to work on as far as keeping his pads down low when he gets down to the goal-line and things like that, but overall the guy is going to be a stud in this league.”
The running back by committee drops Derrick Henry down most people’s fantasy boards, but the offense in Tennessee should be an exciting group this season. One that could feature and smash-mouth running back duo that each could hold value in fantasy. Ideally, fantasy owners want zero competition, all the carries and goal line touches for their rostered running back, but you aren’t going to get that here. What you are going to get is a rookie sharing carries with DeMarco Murray who is on his third team in five years and have amounted 1,127 carries (225.4 touches per year.) Could Henry steal the starting role from Murray? – probably not, but he could outshine him. As a late RB2 option for a fantasy owner that is drafting with a Zero RB strategy, Henry will be a perfect new addition to your powerhouse roster.
Jody Smith’s PPR RB Sleeper
Doug Martin‘s breakout 1,402-yard season netted him a big contract and grabbed all the fantasy headlines, but the Bucs very quietly had two outstanding running backs last season. Martin finished as the PPR RB4, but Charles Sims wasn’t far behind at all- finishing the season as the RB16.
These days it’s normal operating procedure for teams to trot out multiple rushers, but the Bucs have the luxury of utilizing two incredibly talented backs. Both Martin and Sims boasted the same 4.9-yards per carry. Martin almost tripled Sims in carries and rushing output, but Sims made a much bigger impact as a pass-catcher.
Let’s not forget that Doug Martin missed 15 games in 2013-2014. It’s also not unusual at all for players to ease up after cashing in on a lucrative contract. Those two factors make Sims an appealing handcuff to Martin and his receiving prowess make him a high-upside RB3 or flex pick in the ninth round.
Mike Rigz’s PPR RB Sleeper
For the first time in years, the Cleveland Browns don’t look like the Cleveland Browns. The team cleaned out their front office, had a smart, strategic draft in which they loaded up on picks to build for the future -while also grabbing a play-making talent in Corey Coleman- and hired Hue Jackson as the team’s head coach. Jackson comes over from the division-rival Bengals and will try and manage a team that has been out of sorts for years.
Surprisingly, the Browns ranked as having the fifth-best offensive line in 2015. Duke Johnson has a ton of potential and could be a safety valve for RGIII this season catching passes out of the backfield. Johnson’s 74 targets ranked him sixth in the NFL amongst running backs. His impressive 61 receptions that went for 534 and two touchdowns ranked him 4th for catches in his positional group.
The potential for a big season is there, but Isaiah Crowell’s role in helping the Browns win games isn’t going anywhere. Most people avoid running back by committee’s, but in a PPR league, Johnson’s ability to keep producing points as the Browns trail we assure he remains fantasy relevant.
Jody Smith’s Deep RB Sleeper
The former fifth-rounder looked phenomenal in limited action for the Bills last season. In only five games, Gillislee scored three touchdowns, including 50- and 60-yard gallops. With Karlos Williams no longer with the team, Gillislee is now the clear No. 2 option behind oft-injured starter LeSean McCoy.
McCoy has missed games in four of his past six seasons, including a 4-game stretch just last year. In 2015 we also saw Rex Ryan try to limit punishment to McCoy by assigning short-yardage carries to the bigger Williams. It’s entirely within reason that the club could give those totes to Gillislee this season.
Gillislee did suffer a concussion in Buffalo’s second preseason game, so his recovery will need to be closely monitored. But as it stands, Gillislee has shown a ton of potential and is in a system that is conducive for multiple running backs to make a fantasy impact. And Gillislee is barely being drafted in most fantasy leagues, so that makes him an ideal, high-upside final pick.
Mike Rigz’s Deep RB Deep Sleeper
I’ve been talking about Alfred Morris all year. Why? I just have a gut feeling.
I’m not going to back this sleeper pick up with stats or a formula; I’m purely looking at the opportunity of where he’s being drafted and the team he is on. With the mountain of pressure riding on Ezekiel Elliott to succeed, especially in Dallas, I just feel at some point Morris -being the more proven running back -will take over. In no way, shape or form am I saying Zeke is going to fail, I just think that he may burn out or hit a rookie wall. As I mentioned in our latest podcast, the low ADP along with the potential of the Cowboys offensive line makes Morris worth the gamble. The opportunity for production can’t be overlooked. Currently, Morris’s ADP is 14.08, around the time the noob in your draft is taking a defense or kicker.
Jody Smith’s Wide Receiver Sleeper
Green Bay Packers
Cobb struggled in the No. 1 role for the Packers last season, and that has caused many fantasy leaguers to have little interest in drafting him again this year. Understandable, but with Jordy Nelson back and a new slim-and-trim Eddie Lacy in the backfield, I’m betting on a big bounce-back for Cobb.
During the three seasons that Cobb has played with Nelson in the lineup, Cobb has been a top-16 fantasy wideout all three instances, including two top-8 finishes. Averaged out for a full 16-game pace, Cobb has produced an impressive 87/1,167/11.6 slash in the three years he’s played with Nelson.
Cobb is also Green Bay’s primary red zone target. Even in a down 2015, Cobb still commanded the fifth-most red zone looks in the league. With an ADP in the third or fourth round range, Cobb is considered to be a decent WR2, but I think he’s a fringe WR1 and an excellent value pick in 2016.
Mike Rigz’s Wide Receiver Sleeper
With an impressive showing in training camp and the preseason, free-agent acquisition Rishard Matthews has put himself into position to claim the No. 1 WR role for the Tennessee Titans. Although Tennessee’s “exotic smashmouth” offense doesn’t necessarily sound conducive to passing production, don’t discount the ability for a run-based offense led by a strong-armed QB being able to take advantage of play-action opportunities downfield.
Matthews emerged last season for Miami, averaging a healthy 12.1 PPR-points per game in the 11 games he played. With his strong preseason showing, Matthews has put himself into position to lead the Titans’ receiving corps in targets.I Matthews is currently going near the end of drafts, or even undrafted. Either way, if you can lock up a team’s No. 1 wideout with your final pick, that’s a solid way to establish a deep bench.
I liked Matthews as soon as Tennessee signed him and thought he could play an important role for the rebuilding Titans. Matthews is currently going near the end of drafts, or even undrafted. Either way, if you can lock up a team’s No. 1 wideout with your final pick, that’s a solid way to establish a deep bench.
Jody Smith’s PPR Wide Receiver Sleeper
Teammate Sammie Coates has picked up a lot of sleeper chatter as a replacement for suspended wideout Martavis Bryant, but Wheaton has quietly secured the starting spot opposite of Antonio Brown. Wheaton isn’t the big-bodied deep threat that Bryant or Coates could be, but he is a strong route-runner who showed a tremendous rapport with QB Ben Roethlisberger in 2015’s second half.
Beginning in Week 12 last season, Wheaton averaged almost five catches a game for Pittsburgh’s final six contests. He also racked up 476 receiving yards in that stretch and scored four touchdowns. Even if you remove that huge 9/201/1 game Wheaton had in Seattle, he was still the PPR WR28 in the final five weeks of 2015.
With RB Le’Veon Bell suspended for the first three games, Wheaton might see a boost in targets to start the season. If his momentum carries over into 2016, Wheaton has the potential to exceed 60 receptions and 900 yards for a potent Pittsburgh offense. Those are tantalizing numbers for a player who currently commands a very low ADP.
Mike Rigz’s PPR Wide Receiver Sleeper
I know what you’re thinking, Anquan Boldin is not who you’d expect to see on a sleeper list. Most sleeper articles include rookies or 2nd-year players and here I am adding a 35-year-old wide receiver. It doesn’t make sense, or does it? Matthew Stafford needs a reliable target now more than ever after Calvin Johnson retired. Both Golden Tate and Marvin Jones are exciting playmakers, but as far as a clutch, check-down receiver goes, there is nobody more effective in the slot this season that Boldin. The veteran wide receiver ranks among the NFL’s top-20 with 1,009 catches and 13,195 yards receiving. He has scored 75 touchdowns and started 182 games with Arizona, Baltimore and San Francisco over the previous 13 seasons.
Boldin’s game experience will be needed throughout the 2016 season, and I believe Stafford will learn to trust Boldin to make the tough catch early and often. Will Boldin break a big play and scamper 60 yards for a long touchdown this season? – probably not, but he will be a red zone target and a player that could have six to seven catches a game. Don’t overlook the old guy for a shiny new rookie. Our WR projections are a little modest with his season totals, but if he can stay healthy I think he could end the season in the 60 to 70 receptions (4 to 4.3 receptions per game) range.
Deep Wide Receiver Sleeper
New Orleans Saints
With the signing of TE Coby Fleener and second-round selection of WR Michael Thomas, Brandon Coleman became the perceived odd man out in New Orleans. But QB Drew Brees has long been known to toss the ball all around, and there might be just enough production left to make Coleman an intriguing late-round stash.
With all those new weapons, Coleman’s roster spot was considered in danger before training camp. But after my observations from the sidelines of the Houston Texans/New Orleans joint practice here in Houston, I can confirm that Brees and Coleman had tremendous red zone chemistry. In fact, the 6′ 6″ wideout was the clear No. 1 choice in the end zone throughout the practice session.
As long as Sean Payton and Drew Brees are together, we can expect stellar passing numbers from the Saints offense. There should be enough production to warrant several fantasy-relevant pass catchers and Coleman has the size and skill to warrant a roster spot in deep fantasy leagues.
Deep Wide Receiver Sleeper
Terrell Suggs jokingly ask, “Who’s the new guy?” at Ravens practice recently. Which is a perfect way to describe the team’s first-round pick (26th overall) from the 2015 NFL Draft.
Perriman is not only a deep sleeper, he’s a risky pick. Perriman has had injuries and shouldn’t be drafted high. Yet, he has a ton of upside, and I believe that if he can just make it through a couple of game this season and everyone can let out a sigh of relief that he won’t get hurt, he’ll develop confidence and regain his impressive form from a season ago. Remember, before blowing out his knee in training camp last season, there were daily reports about his potential and hype.
Jody’s Tight End Sleeper
Jason Witten is one of the most underrated players in all of fantasy football this season- especially in PPR leagues. Last year, despite having an absolutely miserable supporting cast around him, Witten still commanded over 100 targets and didn’t have a single drop all season. Even at 34, Witten is still playing at a high level.
Witten’s longevity has been tremendous. He’s never missed a start and has rattled off 12-straight top-10 fantasy tight end seasons. With QB Tony Romo back under center and No. 4 overall pick RB Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield, Witten looks like a sure bet to have another top-10 finish in 2016.
Currently, Witten is being drafted as late as the 13th round- the 17th TE off the board. With a dozen consecutive TE1 seasons under his belt, there’s no reason to think that Jason Witten will drop off so dramatically. My favorite approach in 2016 drafts is to simply disregard tight ends altogether until I can nab Witten in Round 12 and lock up another season of over 75 grabs and 700 yards.
Mike Rigz’s Tight End Sleeper
Barnidge is entering his eighth season in the NFL, fourth with the Browns. He is a huge target standing tall at 6’6″ and weighing in close to 250 lbs. Barnidge was limited early in Browns camp because of offseason surgery to repair a sports hernia but he is now participating fully with the team. Most fantasy owners see him as a lower-tier TE1 or depth player to stream based on matchups. Last season Barnidge broke free from the blocking role and became more involved in the passing game. He caught 79 balls for 1043 yards and found the end zone nine times. The 2015 season put Barnidge’s name on the fantasy map, and I believe Hue Jackson is too smart of a coach to overlook his talent and skill. Barnidge regularly beat coverage in the redzone and was targeted a team-high 26.4%. While Hue Jackson will be running an entirely different offense in Cleveland this year, you have to at least acknowledge the offensive system’s success with tight ends. Tyler Eifert was targeted 22.7% in the red zone in 2015 -catching 11 touchdowns on 15 targets.
Cleveland isn’t usually looked at as a team you want to load up on fantasy players, but I have two sleepers on my board highlighted this yer. The team should be competitive and will often be trailing in games and have to look to their passing game to catch up and get points.
Jody Smith’s Deep TE Sleeper
Head Coach Gary Kubiak loves to feature tight ends in his system, frequently targeting them on bootleg and play-action routes. With a strong preseason showing, Green looks like he’s emerged ahead of Jeff Heuerman as the favorite to start for Denver in Week 1.
Last year, TE Owen Daniels had the second-most red zone targets on the team and led the Broncos with four red zone touchdowns. In all, tight ends accounted for 18.5% of Denver’s red zone throws but caught 31% of the team’s touchdowns in that area of the field.
Green has the size and ability to be a factor as a pass-catcher and if he can hold onto the starting role, has the real chance to be a top-20 fantasy tight end- and he’s going undrafted in almost all leagues.
Mike Rigz’s Deep TE Sleeper
San Fransisco 49ers
Chip Kelly’s offense is heavily rooted in speed, mismatches and using size to win battles in the red zone. Both Zach Ertz and Brett Celek flourished in Kelly’s offense in Philadelphia and often became major contributors in adding points to the scoreboard.
The 49ers offense is in total disarray, starting with the mess at the quarterback position. It’s unlikely Kelly will be able to turn things around as fast as he did in Philly, but whoever gets the start under center will likely lean on his big target to pick up yards and points over the middle. Considering Vance McDonald is practically going undrafted I think he is a perfect late sleeper for your fantasy draft
It seems like every year an unheralded defense comes out of nowhere to finish as a top-10 unit. With a sudden influx of young talent, the Jags just might be that team in 2016. In addition to signing DL Malik Jackson away from Denver, Jacksonville’s stop unit will be bolstered by the addition of arguably three top-5 talents in CB Jalen Ramsey, LB Myles Jack and 2015 first-rounder Dante Fowler, who missed his entire 2015 rookie campaign with a training camp knee injury.
The Jags also get the benefit of an easy schedule that features six games against AFC South offenses that more or less were a mess last season. Jacksonville is the ideal risk/reward DST to grab in best ball formats.
The Boo-birds are going to be a polar opposite team in 2016, and fans may need time to adjust to it. Chip Kelly was all about speed, high-risk and big plays, whereas Doug Pederson is a very conservative coach who wants to drain the clock, battle for field position and lean on his defense to pull out wins.
The Eagles added some new faces to their defense for 2016, which usually doesn’t bode well for a team looking to gel, expect for the fact that the new defensive coordinator is Jim Schwartz, and that most of the players that were brought in were players that played with him in Buffalo.
If there is one word that best describes Schwartz’s coaching philosophy, it’s “attack”. Check out this awesome article filled with examples of how this new defensive system will aggressively get fantasy owners sacks, forced fumbles and create turnovers in 2016.
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