As futile as the exercise may seem this early, identifying sleeper candidates is one of the most important pieces of research you can embark upon. Below we’ll identify three leading candidates for you to keep an eye on before the preaseaon starts.
Danny Woodhead – Baltimore Ravens | ADP 75 – RB28 | The running back situation in Baltimore has been in flux since the release of Ray Rice, and Woodhead looks to fill a void. While he can’t be relied upon for 250 rushes, the likelihood of 100 rushes and 75 receptions makes him an intriguing option, especially in PPR leagues. Prediction: 350 Rushing Yards, 750 Receiving yards, 6 total TDs
Doug Martin – Tampa Bay Buccaneers | ADP 105 – RB 36 | Reports out of Tampa regarding Martin are encouraging as he’s been seen in better shape and exhibiting better burst and speed in OTAs. While most take these reports with a grain of salt, Martin tends to be on the wrong side of the pre-season buzz, and he’s still the breadwinner in that backfield. Prediction: 1,000 Rushing Yards, 250 Receiving Yards, 8 Total TDs
Jamaal Williams – Green Bay Packers | ADP N/A – RB59 | This is a deep cut considering Williams isn’t being drafted enough in ESPN mock’s to show up in their ADP data, but Green Bay’s converted RB Ty Montgomery occupies a very specific slice of the offense leaving plenty of room for rookie RB Jamaal Williams to exist. While he’s unlikely to make a major impact early in the season, for dynasty and keeper leagues he’s worth a late round look. Prediction: 700 Total Yards, 6 Total TDs
Honorable Mention: Jamaal Charles, Den (ADP 116), Latavius Murray, Min (ADP 122), Chris Thompson, Was (ADP 170+)
A suprising start and all-too-familiar finish for the Minnesota Vikings was only major surprise from a division that’s had clearly defined roles for it’s four teams for the last 5 – 6 years. Green Bay is the class of the division and Minnesota looks like it’s ready to push them, but Detroit and Chicago both look to toil at the bottom of the standings for some time yet.
Green Bay Packers
Notable Fantasy Stars: Aaron Rodgers (QB1), Jordy Nelson (WR6), Martellus Bennett (TE9), Ty Montgomery (RB23), DeVante Adams (WR18), Randall Cobb (WR44)
Synopsis – Aaron Rodgers looks to pace the QB field again this year, and GB finally gave up on the TE experiments and signed big name free agent Martellus Bennett to provide an additional weapon on one of the NFC’s best offenses. Jordy Nelson will be his regular studly self, but DeVante Adams and Ty Montgomery figure to be the middle ground players who may put up better numbers than expected. Unfortunately that means Randall Cobb’s time in the spotlight is likely at an end as he drifts further down the depth chart.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Kyle Rudolph (TE9),Sam Bradford (QB24), Dalvin Cook (RB26), Stefon Diggs (WR28), Latavius Murray (RB36), Adam Thielen (WR46)
Synopsis – Now entrenched as the starter, Sam Bradford returns his top two targets in Kyle Rudolph and Stefon Diggs as Minnesota looks to improve on a disappointing collapse. The addition of Latavius Murray and draft pick Dalvin Cook suggest that the Vikes should have a more balanced offense despite the departure of AP to New Orleans. This team also features one of the better sleeper candidates in Adam Thielen whos’s being drafted as a WR5 but has potential of Minnesota throws the football to approach WR3 numbers.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Eric Ebron (TE12), Matthew Stafford (QB16), Golden Tate (WR24), Ameer Abdullah (RB24), Theo Riddick (RB37), Marvin Jones (WR52)
Synopsis – Detroit figures to be a better fantasy team than real life football club again with Matt Stafford likely to approach 600+ attempts for the 5th time in his career. The duo of Golden Tate and Marvin Jones is going to be difficult to quantify as Stafford tends to lean on one or the other but rarely together; Tate should be the more consistent option despite the lack of TDs. Those will be Eric Ebron’s calling card as this team lacks a true bruiser in the goal line area. Abdullah, if healthy, will carry the bulk of the carries, but Theo Riddick remains one of the best PPR options in all of football.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Jordan Howard (RB6), Mike Glennon (QB27), Mitch Trubisky (QB37), Cameron Meredith (WR42), Kevin White (WR57)
Synopsis – With any bottom feeder team, one must exhibit caution when selecting players. Jordan Howard is the safest bet, and in standard scoring could be a top 5 back this year. Mike Glennon showed flashes in Tampa Bay, but neither Cameron Meredith nor Kevin White can be relied upon as a true number one receiver. If either or are healthy to start the year you can risk a late round pick but temper your expectations.
Over the holiday weekend, Green Bay Packers TE Andrew Quarless was arrested for discharging a firearm in public. Police report that they recovered the firearm after two shots were fired after an argument between a few men and women and that Quarless was attempting to hide the firearm in a potted plant.
After a rather successful off-season and praises by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, it appeared that Quarless would make the jump into fantasy relevance. This arrest has all but killed that. Although he has yet to be suspended by the league or team, it’s highly unlikely in the wake of similar events over the years that he won’t see a hefty suspension.
In Quarless’ stead, Richard Rogers will get the bulk of the TE work, but I’m still skeptical that he’ll contribute enough to the offense to be relevant on draft day. I’d imagine this will impact Eddie Lacy as he’ll have a small uptick in opportunities when Quarless may have been an intermediate target, and Jordy Nelson may have a few extra TD’s thrown his way in the red zone.
Ryan Tannehill quietly put together a borderline top 10 QB season, and Lamar Miller proved he could run the football with some consistency and catch it on occasion in the passing game. The receivers on this team are young and talented, with high volume option in Jarvis Landry and burners in Kenny Stills and Rishard Matthews. Adding Jordan Cameron only makes it harder for defenses to match up when they want to spread you out. Worth Drafting: Ryan Tannehill will likely be valued lower than he should be, as a later QB1 he’s worth it. Lamar Miller may have some competition later in the year from the uber talented Jay Ajayi, expect him to be a workhorse if healthy. Landry should be a good bet for 70+ catches, and Stills could be a weapon for Tannehill over the top. Jordan Cameron, if healthy, will step in and replace Charles Clay’s production very well.
11. San Diego Chargers
Philip Rivers manages every year to put together a top 10 QB season, and expect this year to be no different. Keenan Allen and Malcom Floyd should still see the bulk of the passes, new addition Stevie Johnson has a lot to prove and could be a nice late round WR addition. Despite Ledarius Green’s presence, Antonio Gates went out and killed it last year, and I’ll never again doubt the big mans ability or drive. Worth Drafting: Philip Rivers as always falls just shy of the NFL elite, but is a solid QB if you miss out on the top teir guys. Keenan Allen has the tools to be a WR1 and Michael Floyd will still stretch the field a bit (16.5 YPC last year). Stevie Johnson is a risk/reward player as his pedigree may trick owners into jumping early. Antonio Gates should be himself again this year, and I would caution against Ladarius Green fans against expecting any real fantasy value unless Gates gets hurt. Melvin Gordon could be this years highest scoring rookie… don’t be afraid to draft.
10. Chicago Bears
I know what you’re thinking, “the Bears in the top 10?” They may not be a top 10 NFL team, but we’re talking in terms of fantasy contributions. Jay Cutler may be inconsistent, as is evidenced by his second half slide, but he still has plenty of tools and a big arm. Alshon Jeffery will have an uptick in attempts as Cutler has shown a propensity to seak out his top target despite double teams. Matt Forte is a top 10 RB and top 3 in PPR formats, and Martellus Bennet moves into the top 3 conversation at TE thanks to Jimmy Grahams change of scenery. Worth Drafting: I was high on Jay Cutler last year, and this hasn’t changed. If you look at his first 5 or 6 weeks last year, he had some pretty good numbers that would have been even better if he didn’t turn the ball over. Kevin White is an unknown quantity but he should replace Marshall in the long run with the same kind of build. Jeffry should be a top 10WR and Bennett is a top 3 TE.
9. Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan did the best he could with the rash of injuries that clipped the Falcons wings last year, but a healthy squad will make a world of difference. Ryan is a top 10 QB even without his top two targets healthy. Tevin Coleman could push Devonta Freeman but both are talented and whoever makes it out of camp as the #1 should see above average RB numbers. Roddy White is still an every week start even with the top 3 WR in Julio Jones across from him. They have question marks at TE as Toilolo Levine led their active TE’s with 62 points last year (in 1pt PPR). Worth Drafting: Matt Ryan had a few brutal weeks and still managed a top 10 finish, he’ll have a better grasp on this offense and health not withstanding should be a top 10 QB this year as well. Julio Jones has the talent to finish #1, and he’ll likely go in the first 15 picks. Roddy White gets over looked more every year but he’s still a top 20 WR. The real question is Devonta Freeman or Tevin Coleman? I think it’ll be a battle in camp, and both guys should have some fantasy relevance come week 1.
8. New York Giants
The world was against the Giants after a brutal season prior, but Eli Manning still finished top 10 at QB, and Odell Beckham emerged as a top WR threat. With the return of Victor Cruz this offense could have two scary weapons for Eli to use. Rashad Jennings may be a little older than the other top RB’s, but he still averaged 10-11 points per week (depending on your scoring system). Larry Donnell put together an admirable season and the Giants like to use TE’s in the passing game. Worth Drafting: Eli is a safe bet to out perform his numbers last year if he has a healthy WR corps. Beckham will likely be drafted incredibly early, but with Cruz back, he’ll be hard pressed to repeat his second half numbers. Rueben Randle is the real steal here, as his value takes a huge hit with two studs in front of him, but in a passing offense, he should out perform his ADP. Rashad Jennings was fine when he played, but grab Andre Williams late as a handcuff if you need to use Jennings as a RB 1 or 2.
7. Detroit Lions
I hate to say that Matthew Stafford is overrated, because I think he’s an entertaining gun slinger in the Brett Favre mold, but his terrible efficiency actually lowers his ceiling despite as often as he throws the football. That being said, he has two elite WR’s in Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. Either one can carry the torch if the other isn’t performing. At TE, they have two question marks: is Brandon Pettigrew capable of being used in the passing game and can Eric Ebron be healthy enough to contribute. I think Ebron is the TE the Lions would rather emerge. Joique Bell got a lot of touches last year, but averaged under 4 YPC. His value lies in the passing game, but the Lions served notice in drafting what they think is a 3 down back in Ameer Abdullah. A great talent, he should push Bell for touches early and often. Worth Drafting: Matt Stafford at the right price has enough volume to contribute but he’ll drive you crazy. Calvin Johnson slipping down the ranks only helps the owner who gets him, he’s still the best in the game in my opinion. Golden Tate is a solid second option, and a good one two punch in Bell and Abdullah in the backfield make this a formidable offense. Ebron is the TE to look at with a much higher ceiling.
6. Seattle Seahawks
The beautiful thing about this offense is that it’s predictable and consistent. Russell Wilson will beat you through the air or on the ground, and his ability to run at the right time means he’ll get you a ton of points that other QB’s won’t. Marshawn Lynch is a workhorse unlike any in the league. He’ll touch the ball with greater consistency and efficiency than anyone else. The homeruns aren’t always there, but 4-5YPC and double digit touchdowns make him my #1 back. Doug Baldwin has proven to be a solid #1 for a team that doesn’t throw it that much, his value will reflect that. Beyond him, Jimmy Graham should give Wilson a redzone threat, but no one else is more than a flier. Worth Drafting: This team features three top 5 position options. Russell Wilson ran for 850 yards last year… he’s in my top 3 for QBs. Marshawn Lynch may not have as many 30+ point weeks as a Le’Veon Bell, but his unparralleled consistency (12 weeks above RB average) make him my #1, and Jimmy Graham will likely be the #1 option inside the 20 plus just a tick behind Baldwin elsewhere. Draft all three confidently. Doug Baldwin is a safe WR if he’s available after the top options are off the board.
5. Dallas Cowboys
My value of the Dallas Cowboys is contingent on the offensive line. Darren McFadden’s ability hasn’t been his big question, it’s been his health. If he can stay on the field he’ll benifit greatly from the O-Line that helped DeMarco Murray lead the league in rushing last year. Dez Bryant and Tony Romo have a special connection, allowing both to creep towards the top 5 in their catagories. Cole Beasley should be a good value pick in PPR leagues, and Jason Witten is ageless and productive. Worth Drafting: At their relative ADP’s I’d say nearly all of the offensive weapons are worth a look. Bryant, Romo and McFadden all three will be drafted in the first 4 or 5 rounds. Witten, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley all have a good chance to produce weekly for this team as well.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
Who knew Le’Veon Bell would bounce back from a tough rookie year to lead the league in fantasy scoring? We knew he’d be good, but it gave the offense the freedom to throw different looks at the defense. They were rewarded with a career year by Roethlisburger and the emergency of Antonio Brown as a top WR office. Marcus Wheaton will put up solid WR fantasy stats as well, and Heath Miller, although no longer Elite, still has some gas in the tank. Worth Drafting: Ben Roethlisberger may not finish with the totals he had last year, but he’s a good bet to finish at or near a top 5 QB. Le’Veon Bell is going to miss a few games to start the year, but it’s clear he’s the focal point of that offense and he’s young enough to eat up 300+ touches and is a beast in PPR. Antonio Brown is the Marshawn Lynch of the receiving game. Quietly posting 300 or so points in PPR leagues and nearly 15-20 points every week. Bell and Brown are likely first or 2nd round picks. Don’t sleep on Miller either as there is really only 5 or 6 elite TE’s on the board, and after you’re looking at either consistency (miller) or home run weeks.
3. Denver Broncos
This wouldn’t change if Peyton Manning was 50 years old, and that’s because they finally found their RB to compliment their lethal passing game. Peyton is a general, and will use his elite weapons liberaly, and will make mediocre talents look even better. Julius Thomas is gone but anyone that can run routes will look solid in this offense. CJ Anderson as a 3 down back compliments Manning in ways Montee Ball never could, averaging 180+ points in PPR formats over the final 7 weeks (on par with Le’Veon Bell). Worth Drafting: Manning may be falling behind his contemporaries a bit but should still finish in the top 5. Demaryius Thomas looks to be a top 2 WR with Emmanuel Sanders not far behind. CJ Anderson is a bit of an unknown quantity but even if he’s only a quarter of the back he was over the last 7 weeks, he’ll be a top 10 back. Not sure about Virgil Green, but I think we said the same thing about Julius Thomas a few years ago, and Manning turned him into a top option.
2. Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Eddie Lacy… do I need to say more? A high powered offense with consistency and familiarity unlike any squad in the league, they could break records if the schedule shakes out for them. They play through the air, and on the ground, but they give everyone their due which is rare for a team with as many options. Worth Drafting: Aaron Rodgers may have been supplanted by Andrew Luck, but he hasn’t fallen far. All four of the players above will be gone in the first 3 or so rounds, which is scary for opposing defenses. Andrew Quarless is the other player to target, but they’ve never been a heavy TE use team.
1. Indianapolis Colts
AFC Championship withstanding, this is the most outstanding offense in football. A team that is often in shootouts, Indy has a quarterback to compete with them all. Adding Andre Johnson, Frank Gore, and Phillip Dorsett through the draft makes this offense even better than last year. Luck could (and I’d argue should) crest 5k yards and 50 TD’s, contributing to TY Hilton’s continued emergence as a 2nd round WR. Frank Gore has proven he can play forever, and in this Indy offense should contribute on the ground and in the air, and Andre Johnson may have lost a step but as a route runner, the dangerously accurate Luck should have no problem finding him in the soft spots of the defense. Worth Drafting: Andrew Luck will finish the year as the highest scoring player in football, draft him in the first round if you want him, he’s that good. TY Hilton and Andre Johnson should both have 70-80 Receptions with 1100 plus yards, although I expect Johnson to be the bigger red zone threat and higher ADP. Frank Gore may not be a top 5 or even top 10 RB, but expect some huge weeks from the old dog as he will be highighted in the passing game. Even Dwayne Allen, for all his deficiencies, should finish inside the top 10 of the TE ranks.
If you have a problem with any of these rankings, I say good, because debating and conversation is the best way to explain why we feel the way we feel. Tell me where I’m wrong, and who is your Fantasy Elite?