Fantasy Football Sleepers 2018
With the 2018 NFL Preseason underway, the regular season will be here before you know it. That means it’s fantasy football draft season. Heading into your drafts, you must be prepared to win. And I’m not talking about the stars of the fantasy football universe — Aaron Rodgers, Ezekiel Elliott, and Antonio Brown — either. When I say “be prepared,” I’m referring to the preparation for the mid-to-back end of your draft. Why? Because you win your leagues with the nucleus of players you target at that point of the draft. It’s a fact.
For example, if you’ve already had your draft and happened to select Redskins RB Derrius Guice, who was placed on the injured reserve list with a torn ACL, you better hope that you also roster a good mixture of quality and upside running back depth behind him to soften the blow. Otherwise, your season could be over before it begins. And for those of you who haven’t drafted yet and were thinking about selecting Guice, it is imperative that know who will be stepping in to fill his shoes as the RB1 on the Redskins. Will it be Samaje Perine, Chris Thompson, Robert Kelley or Adrian Peterson? One thing is for sure, whoever eventually breaks out will be viewed as a fantasy football sleeper.
What is a Fantasy Football Sleeper?
If you’ve followed my sleeper articles in the past, you’ve seen this definition before. However, I’d like to insert it here for the new guy (or gal). So even if you’ve seen it before, give it another read. There isn’t anything wrong with a little reinforcement!
Typically, a late-round pick or waiver-wire selection who exceeds his statistical expectations and becomes a prominent option in fantasy leagues. A sleeper can be a rookie, such as Anquan Boldin in 2003, or a player who has yet to live up to his potential, like Jeremy Maclin. Third-year wide receivers often are good candidates to be sleepers because many take a couple of years to develop — definition courtesy of NFL.com
However, I’d like to take the definition a step further and give you my two cents. For me, anyone can qualify as a fantasy football sleeper depending on the situation. And before you kill me on social media, hear me out. At one time, Adrian Peterson was in Ezekiel Elliot’s place in the fantasy football rankings, which was many moons and many touches ago. But when the Cardinals acquired him from the Saints to lead their running back group following the David Johnson wrist injury last season, Peterson was very much a sleeper despite being a future Hall of Fame rusher. And while sleepers are also typically viewed as late-round picks, I’d also like to include a player like Jets RB Isaiah Crowell in the conversation.
Despite having a late-seventh round ADP in standard scoring formats at Fantasy Football Calculator, many wouldn’t view Crowell as a sleeper. However, give me a second to challenge that sentiment. Since he was one of fantasy football’s biggest disappointments a year ago — he finished 2017 as the RB30 — Crowell’s once prominent ADP has plummetted from the third round to the 7.07. As a result, he has fallen to a value for a player that many from the fantasy football community once viewed as a sure-fire RB2. If you believe Crowell holds similar upside in 2018, and he does, considering that he’s the clear-cut Jets RB1, then doesn’t that qualify him as a sleeper? I’d say yes.
What do you consider a fantasy football sleeper? Let me know on Twitter @therealnflguru!
Now without further ado, pull up a chair, sit back, relax and let’s take a step toward winning fantasy football gold!
32 Fantasy Football Sleepers for 2018
(One For Each NFL Team)
I’ve been on the Chris Ivory bandwagon ever since he signed with the Bills back in March. I love his opportunity behind LeSean McCoy. And no, my obsession isn’t about McCoy’s alleged off the field actions, it’s more so about how Bills RB2s performed in two of the past three seasons. While McCoy’s backups — Mike Tolbert and Taiwan Jones — were invisible in 2017, the combination of Karlos Williams and Mike Gillislee in 2015 and 2016 were the polar opposite — Williams and Gillislee combined for 909 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2015 and Gillislee totaled 627 yards and nine scores in 2016.
However, after moving on from both players in consecutive years, the Bills were left with Tolbert to play the role of the touchdown vulture behind McCoy, which didn’t work out very well in 2017. As a result, McCoy managed his most touches (346) in a single season since the 2013 campaign (366), which equates to four years and 1,207 touches ago.
It was evident that the Bills rode McCoy to their first playoff berth in 17 years last season, but in doing so, they also rode the 30-year-old rusher into the ground. And since Ivory, who is also 30, has less wear and tear on his body — he hasn’t been featured nearly as much as McCoy had been throughout his career — I fully believe he will make an impact in 2018. At his no-risk 14.12 ADP, I’m buying all the Chris Ivory stock I can get my hands on in 2018.
Remember what I said above in the “what is a fantasy sleeper?” portion of the article? Well, apply that here. Frank Gore, a potential NFL Hall of Famer, is in the sleeper conversation in 2018. While entering the year playing second-fiddle to Kenyan Drake, I believe Gore will remain a quality fantasy contributor despite his RB2 designation — it’s also no secret that I’m not super high on Drake at his 4.03 ADP.
When both Drake and Damien Williams were healthy and active last season, the Dolphins featured both players following the Jay Ajayi trade. In fact, it wasn’t until Williams succumbed to a shoulder injury in Week 12 and was sidelined for the duration of the 2017 campaign until Drake began garnering a full workload. Up to that point, many viewed Williams as the RB1.
While I believe Drake will draw more than his 11 touches per game he averaged from Weeks 9-to-12 — the timespan in which he split time with Williams post-Ajayi — I don’t see him commanding the 21.6 touches per game average he drew following Williams season-ending injury. Not with Gore behind him, who even at the ripe age of 35, can be viewed as an upgrade at RB2. At his 13.08 ADP, I expect Gore once again to surpass expectations this season and return respectable fantasy value. While another Top 18 finish would be a stretch, Top 30 isn’t out of the question.
Phillip Dorsett III
It’s no secret the New England Patriots are hurting at wide receiver. Not only did they lose Brandin Cooks this offseason, but they will also be without Julian Edelman for the first four games of 2018 due to his PED suspension. Not to mention the fact that Edelman has been looking slow at practice since returning from a torn ACL this offseason.
To make matters even worse, the Patriots also lost Jordan Matthews and Kenny Britt — Matthews was expected to garner a significant role in Edelman’s absence but suffered a training camp hamstring injury which landed him on the injured reserve list and Britt was recently granted his release. As of now, it looks like the Patriots will open the year with Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson, Eric Decker, Riley McCarron and Phillip Dorsett III rounding out the WR depth chart. That is of course unless they decide to address the need via trade or free agency — ahem Dez Bryant.
Despite the recent addition of Eric Decker, reports are suggesting that he is struggling to catch the football, citing that drops are something he “obviously has to address.” And if he continues to struggle to hold onto the football, I don’t think he’ll last very long with Bill Belichick’s strict ball-control policy. Perhaps Decker is at the end of the road in his NFL career. If that’s the case, I believe Dorsett will be the Patriots wideout who will benefit.
After the Colts traded Dorsett, their former first-round pick in 2015, to the Patriots as a part of the Jacoby Brissett deal last offseason, I began paying attention to him. After all, the Patriots aren’t going to bring in a talent that they don’t see anything in. And although he played only sparingly in 2017, he’s been receiving some praise from Patriots brass this offseason and is even getting work in the slot at training camp.
While he may have begun camp low on the depth chart, it didn’t take long for Dorsett to begin to creep up, Following an impressive string of preseason practices and game-action, it is looking more and more like Dorsett will enter 2018 as the Patriots WR2. At his no-risk late-round ADP — he’s going undrafted in most formats — I’m happily taking a late round flier on Dorsett on his talent and opportunity alone. His upside, while Edelman is out, is significant, but if he plays well enough, he could carve out a lasting role.
During the 2017 offseason, the fantasy football community was extremely high on Quincy Enunwa. Making noise during the 2016 campaign by totaling a 58-857-4 stat line, the door was open for Enunwa to emerge as the Jets WR1. However, Enunwa would suffer a preseason neck injury, which forced him to the injured reserve list. He missed the entire 2017 season as a result. Then out of nowhere, Robby Anderson happened. He screamed onto the scene with a monster year, hauling in 63-of0114 targets for 941 yards and seven touchdowns. You can also make the case that if Josh McCown never went down with a broken hand in Week 14, Anderson’s numbers would have been amplified. He finished as the WR18.
With Anderson locked in as the Jets WR1, I’m expecting Enunwa to settle in as the WR2 ahead of Jermain Kearse. While Kearse will be a player to stretch the field, Enunwa is in line to emerge as the possession receiver out of the slot. He lined up in the slot 53. 4 percent of the time in 2016, the last time he took the field in 2016, which bodes well for his fantasy value in PPR scoring formats. At his WR71 ADP, Enunwa is an opportunity-dependent bench stash for the upcoming year. The Jets offense was surprisingly productive with Josh McCown under center last season — their weapons shouldn’t be over-looked as each one of them could be had at a tremendous value.
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I feel like I’m the only one who believes Joe Flacco has some gas left in the tank. If not, it certainly feels like it. However, the consensus perception is warranted. While he hasn’t been the most reliable fantasy quarterback in recent memory — he finished as the QB26, the QB20 and the QB24 sequentially in each of the past three seasons — Flacco is only three years removed from a QB13 finish in 2014. Moreover, in the six years leading up to his big 2014 campaign, Flacco has finished as a QB20 or better since his rookie year in 2008. While Flacco hasn’t exactly lit the league on fire throughout his career, he’s been a quality QB2 and streamer.
Looking in even further, while he followed up his 2014 season with the before-mentioned dud of a QB26 finish, he only appeared in 10 games that season (2015), which played a role in his regression. In reality, the only down year in which he played in a full 16-game slate occurred last season — and I can’t put it all on Flacco. First off, Flacco battled a lingering back injury for the bulk of the 2017 campaign which he sustained in the preseason, and his production in the second half of the year clearly backs up that theory.
While from Weeks 1-to-12 Flacco was the QB30 — he only had one game in which he accumulated at least 20 fantasy points — he was QB6 from Weeks 13-to-17 and reached the 20 point plateau three times in that time span, which is in line with when his back injury began to heal. And that’s without mentioning that his weapons were severely depleted to boot — his top and most reliable pass catchers were a 36-year-old TE Ben Watson, aging speedster Mike Wallace and let’s not forget free agent bust Jeremy Maclin, who isn’t even in the league right now.
However, things will be different in 2018. Not only did the Ravens bring in John Brown, Willie Snead and Michael Crabtree via free agency, but they also added a pair of young tight ends — Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews — in the draft. And while they traded back into the first round to select Flacco’s eventual heir-apparent Lamar Jackson, I fully believe the only way the rookie takes the field is if the Ravens are mathematically disqualified from postseason contention or a Flacco injury. But don’t count on it. Aside from his injury-shortened 2015 campaign, Flacco has never missed a game and is proven durable.
With his upgraded weapons and health intact, expect Flacco to bounce back in 2018. His late-double-digit round ADP is disrespectful for one of the prime QB2s or fantasy streamers in the game. While his immediate value is buried early-on in single QB leagues — he’ll catch on once the injury bug rears its ugly head — I’m taking a late-round flier on him in 2QB and SuperFlex formats.
While the Cleveland Browns took Baker Mayfield No. 1 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, he is their quarterback of the future. In the now, Tyrod Taylor is the guy. Similar to Flacco, Taylor could also be considered one of the most disrespected signal callers in the NFL. Not only was he forced out of Buffalo after leading the Bills to their first playoff berth in 17 years, but he also wasn’t a terrible fantasy player either. In fact, since joining the Bills in 2015, his first opportunity to start in the league after playing second-fiddle to Joe Flacco in Baltimore for his first four seasons as a pro, Taylor finished as fantasy football’s QB14, QB9 and QB16 consecutively. And he accomplished that trio of QB16 finishes or better while the Bills were not only trying to force him out of town, but they were also depleting his arsenal of weapons.
Taylor had to get the job done with pass-catching misfits that include Zay Jones, Kelvin Benjamin, Jordan Mathews and Deonte Thompson last season — Buffalo’s leading receivers were Charles Clay and LeSean McCoy, a tight end and a running back. A dual-threat quarterback, Taylor rushed for at least 427 yards and four touchdowns in each of the past three seasons.
Now the field-general of a team that wants him there — the Browns traded the 65th overall pick in April’s draft to acquire him — Taylor is poised to have yet another mid-range QB2-caliber season or better. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if this is another year in which he finishes as a top 10 fantasy QB — he finished as the QB9 in 2016. With ample weapons at his disposal — Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry, Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson and David Njoku. Plus, an elite offensive coordinator in Todd Haley, who has a productive track record everywhere he’s been, Taylor could be the steal of fantasy drafts at QB. At his 14.05 ADP, Taylor is my top late-round quarterback sleeper.[the_ad id=”79657″][the_ad id=”79658″]
I’ll admit, I was high on John Ross coming out last season — accountability is everything. However, it is no secret that he was one of fantasy football’s most disappointing rookies. And to be honest, he never even saw the field. Playing — if you can call it that — in only three games, Ross caught one pass for 12 yards and a fumble. But 2018 could be different, and I expect it to be, especially since he’s entering year-two because it is no secret that Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis misuses rookies — go and ask Joe Mixon owners.
There is also the under-looked fact that the Bengals cut WR Brandon LaFell at his agent’s request last month. I fully believe that LaFell would still be in Cincinnati if Ross wasn’t ready to take a positive step forward. LaFell has been one of Andy Dalton’s favorite targets — not named A.J. Green — since joining the club in 2016. With LaFell on the roster, I’m not sure Ross would receive his opportunity. LeFell earned Dalton’s trust during their time together.
With LaFell out of the picture and a slew of fellow unproven commodities led by Tyler Boyd to compete with, I expect Ross to emerge as the Bengals WR2 almost by default. Afterall, he is only one year removed from being the team’s first-round pick (ninth overall). While Green will occupy the opposing defense’s top cover corner as well as drawing the safety on a double team in addition to the offensive line upgrade in the likes of Cordy Glenn, which will improve the running game and pass-protection, Ross should receive every opportunity to live up to his top 10 draft status. At his 14.04 PPR ADP, Ross is a lottery ticket that I’m taking a chance with this season, though he is extremely boom or bust.
With Vance McDonald garnering all the attention for the Steelers at tight end from the fantasy football community this offseason, mainstay Jesse James has been flying under the radar. However, since training camp began, McDonald, who was once touted as the upside TE-to-own from Pittsburgh, has fallen from grace. McDonald suffered a foot injury early in training camp and hasn’t been seen on the field since. While at one time it was perceived that McDonald was going to be a “big part” of the offense, it doesn’t look like he will be healthy enough to open the year as an active player, which is my assumption since there is no timetable for his return. As a result, the door is wide open for James to be the TE1.
While he isn’t a top 20 fantasy tight end, James isn’t a terrible option in deep leagues. Hauling in 43-of-63 targets for 372 yards and three touchdowns, James finished 2017 as the TE22 in PPR scoring formats. And since he hasn’t missed a game in the past two seasons after only appearing in eight in his rookie year in 2015, James is also more durable than McDonald, who has never played in a full 16-game slate. Even if McDonald is healthy and active in Week 1, I’m still taking a shot at James if I had to pick one in fantasy. He is the most reliable Steelers tight end since Health Miller retired. Finishing 2017 ranked 19th amongst TEs in end zone targets (eight), James is a touchdown-dependent TE2 flier.
Anthony Cervino is a lifelong NFL enthusiast, especially of the Dallas Cowboys. He has been infatuated with the game since childhood and was introduced to fantasy football as a young teen. Back then, the league commissioner typed out the weekly newsletter and used the Daily News to tally scores. In a statistic-driven game of fantasy football, Anthony believes that sometimes you have to rely on that good ole gut instinct. Anthony resides in New Jersey where he lives with his wife, son and a pomeranian that is named Roman (after Tony Romo). When Anthony is not immersed in the NFL or fantasy football related activities, he enjoys bodybuilding and spending time with his family. Anthony is committed to giving you his best analysis and most accurate statistics to help you win championships. Don’t hesitate to tweet Anthony @therealnflguru about anything NFL or fantasy-related topics. He will always respond in a timely fashion.