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.
Austin Hooper – Atlanta Falcons | ADP 178 – TE 21 | It’s not fair to Austin Hooper that TE’s in Atlanta will be compared to all-time great Tony Gonzalez, but that’s the long and short of it.
With Jacob Tamme gone, Hooper will reprise his role from primarily a blocking TE to catching the football. So far, Matt Ryan has rung his praises, and the Falcons are preparing to get Hooper involved in the high flying offense in Atlanta. Prediction: 750 Receiving Yards, 8 TDs
Julius Thomas – Miami Dolphins |ADP 134 – TE 19 | While Thomas was certainly on these lists over the last few years, it was a combination of poor health and poor fit that caused him to disappear from fantasy relevance. Well queue the music because Thomas finds himself reunited with Adam Gase (the man responsible for his fantastic TE1 seasons in Denver). Despite this, and the fact that Miami has effectively used TE’s in the past (eg. Charles Clay, Jordan Cameron), Thomas is still being drafted as the 19th best TE. Prediction: 900 Receiving Yards, 12 TDs
Erik Swoope – Indianapolis Colts | ADP 319 – TE 42 | Just when you though I wouldn’t go deeper than Julius Thomas, here comes Erik “won’t get drafted” Swoope to round out the TE sleepers. While Jack Doyle is being considered the heir to departed Dwayne Allen’s starting TE gig, it’s Swoope, the former college basketball player, who has the athleticism to make a difference in Indy’s pass first offense. Averaging almost 20 yards per catch, Swoope will inhabit at the very least the targets that went to Allen, meaning he can expect 60-80 targets regardless. Sure he won’t average the same 19.8 ypc he did last year but he carries massive upside from the very last round. Prediction: 800 Receiving Yards, 6 TDs
Honorable Mentions: Dwayne Allen, NE (ADP 221), Jared Cook, Oak (ADP 198), Jordan Legget, NYJ (ADP 315).
As Eric Decker continues to recover from hip and shoulder injuries that stole most of his 2016 season, news is coming out of New York that Woody Johnson is planning on cutting the veteran wideout before the end of the week. Of course, Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson benefit the most by being bumped up the depth chart, but take that with a grain of salt as the Jets offense looks to be below average again.
What teams could use Decker?
I’m not reporting rumors of any kind, these speculations are made based on my own observations.
Baltimore Ravens – With the retirement of Steve Smith, the Ravens are left with a hole that they hope to fill with a healthy Breshard Perriman, but beyond he and the aging Mike Wallace, the Ravens could use a veteran presence like Decker.
Indianapolis Colts – T.Y. Hilton is fantastic, but the Colts have a lack of consistent talent after Moncrief failed to live up to the hype and Philip Dorsett continues to be non-existent. The Colts will need to score points and Decker’s size and skill fit the offensive mold in Indy.
Kansas City Chiefs – I fully expect the Chiefs to use Hill and Kelce as their two top targets, but the void left to Chris Conley may be better filled with a veteran presence. Of course it’ll likely come down to the contract as the Maclin cut seemed to be about the money. If he fits in the cap it wouldn’t hurt to have a deeper stable of wideouts.
Chicago Bears – The Bears look like they’ll be a mess and maybe that’ll disuade them from adding talent or from Decker considering them, but between Meredith and White there’s no garuntee that this team starts the season with an actual #1. Decker could fill that void.
Carolina Panthers – If you believe last year was an aberation and this team is still good enough to contend for a championship, then Decker would be a fantastic weapon to add to Newtons arsenal. Funchess, despite preseason buzz every year, has been a disappointment and the focus of defenses has shifted due to lack of talent beside Olsen and Benjamin (for the three weeks he’s healthy).
Los Angeles Rams – This is a team without a true number one. Tavon Austin is a fine little player, but lack of size and competition has this team a few weapons away from success. With it becoming more apparent that Goff will be under center come week one, the Rams would be smart to add weapons to help him succeed in the NFL.
Where do you think is the most likely landing spot for Decker? Is it one of the teams above or does he end up a surprise signing for a contender looking to put them over the top? Let us know in the comments!
Below is a list of the top 10 teams in terms of total offensive plays in 2014.
- Philadelphia Eagles (1,127 plays)
- Indianapolis Colts (1,105)
- New Orleans Saints (1,095)
- New York Giants (1,086)
- New England Patriots (1,073)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (1,068)
- Denver Broncos (1,067)
- Houston Texans (1,062)
- Carolina Panthers (1,060)
- New York Jets (1,052)
What’s important to understand is that this merely a baseline to understand how often a team puts its offensive players in position to score fantasy points. The uptempo offenses in Philly and Indianapolis enabled them to run 70.4 and 69.1 plays per game; this means players who line up in large percentage of their teams offensive snaps have a greater ability to procure fantasy points. This would seem rather obvious, but is important to note nontheless. Below is a list of the top 10 players ranked by participation percentage (using snap count statistics gathered at Sportingcharts.com)
- Torrey Smith* (1,098 total snaps, 96.7% of team snaps)
- Jordy Nelson (1,083, 96.5%)
- Dez Bryant (935, 93.7%)
- Vincent Jackson (969, 93.5%)
- Brandon Marshall* (988, 93.4%)
- A.J. Green (1,056, 93.3%)
- Mike Wallace* (951, 92.6%)
- Larry Fitzgerald (998, 92.1%)
- Demaryius Thomas (1,106, 91.6%)
- Alshon Jeffery (963, 91.0%)
*players have changed teams
What can be gained from these statistics? Well for starters, you can infer based on usage that a player like Kevin White in Chicago is in for a large number of snaps as Brandon Marshall vacates the roster. The same for Kenny Stills in Miami as the new top target for Ryan Tannehill in place of Mike Wallace. It certainly appears that Chicago uses their two top targets an awful lot, running them out for more than 90% of their snaps on offense. You could also argue that Vincent Jackson and Larry Fitzgerald are both heavy target receivers with a better QB outlook this year, and if the numbers are consistent could be in for a bump in usage.
A few surprises on this list would be players who were used far less than surface stats indicated in 2014.
TY Hilton only saw usage on 71% of Indianapolis’ offensive snaps. A number that if rising could mean enormous stats for the possession beast. Doug Baldwin as the top target in Seattle only saw 74% of the snaps, proving again that Seattle doesn’t trust its passing game, this is likely an indication of Baldwins value in the future. Houston, one of the leagues leaders in terms of total offensive snaps, had both the departed Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins in the 88% range, this could mean a huge uptick in Hopkins usage considering the lack of weapons behind him.
Like anything, it’s important to view these kinds of statistics as secondary, I’m not suggesting that Vincent Jackson should be ranked even close to Antonio Brown (4% less usage), but it’s fair to say that he’ll have far more opportunity then someone like Michael Floyd in Arizona who sees the field less than 85% of their offensive snaps.
Face it, we all look at our favorite storied franchise with rose colored glasses. Open any local team news resource and it’ll be spelled out plainly through the biased coverage. “Our team rules, your team drools!” But only one team can win the big one, and only so many teams even compete. There’s always a team sliding backwards, so lets examine who’s moving in which direction with this weeks Turnover on Downs.
Oakland Raiders – We’ve been here before, and this team seems to make “positive” strides every year. But for every step forward, there seems to be a Jamarcus Russell sized step backwards. This year feels different. Adding a difference maker to each side of the ball in wideout Amari Cooper and defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. will go a long way towards stabalizing overall balance. More importantly this team cut fat by parting ways with mecurial RB Darren McFadden and moving forward with Latavius Murray. As Derek Carr enters his second year under center, the Raiders look poised to leap frog some of the teams they’ve long been behind.
Buffalo Bills – Another team known for its smoke and mirrors, Buffalo has teased us before, but never to the extent that we’ve seen this offseason. An already elite defense gets a great defensive coach in Rex Ryan, a slight upgrade with Matt Cassell at QB, and a premier RB in LeSean McCoy to be the focal point of a run first team. This team has shades of the Rex Ryan coached Jets teams that made it to the AFC Championship in spite of Mark Sanchez’s obvious short comings. They still play in a division with the Patriots, so in the end it may be a moot point, but this team on paper has improved significantly.
Minnesota Vikings – Teddy Bridgewater should keep pace with his second year counterpart in Oakland thanks to the probably return of Adrian Peterson and an upgraded WR corps that sees Mike Wallace enter a young and exciting receiving group. On defense, youth and talent will be injected through the draft and free agency, the only obstical now is the same as above; a tough division to play in.
Indianapolis Colts – Deflated footballs aside, this team felt the sting of defeat in a lopsided AFC Championship game and decided they were going to load up. Adding Andre Johnson and Frank Gore during free agency and drafting speedy WR Phillip Dorsett makes them the premier offense in the AFC. Bolstering defensive depth through both the draft and free agency will be the biggest question mark going into the year, but Andrew Luck and company should be able to outscore anyone on any given night.
New York Jets – While everyone in the division got a little better, the Jets did very little in the offseason to correct it’s biggest deficiencies. Sure, there formidable front 7 on defense got better with the addition of Leonard Williams, but until they have someone other than Geno Smith or the newly acquired journey man Ryan Fitzpatrick, this team won’t be able to keep up with the Patriots or Dolphins offensively, and Sexy Rexy has a better version of the blueprint in New York. With aging WR’s and no playmakers in the backfield, this could be another long season for the J – E – T – S Jets.
New Orleans Saints – After losing Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills, this once formidable Saints offense will have to rely on RB Mark Ingram more than ever, and I’d argue that’s a terrifying prospect. Sure, he had a good season last year, but we’ve seen this story before, and I’m not convinced that Josh Hill or Marquese Colston are good enough to step into the shoes vacated by Graham and Stills.
Cleveland Browns – Defensively, this team falls middle of the pack, but they did not make strides on either side of the ball in free agency or the draft to fill the voids that caused them to stumble last year. Quarterback in Orange and Brown is a black hole as the team added 36 year old Josh McCown and sent Johnny Manziel to rehab. Josh Gordon is being replaced at WR1 by Dwayne Bowe, who had a solid season in KC but could’t break the plane in the endzone. Coupled with a few “Meh” receivers and an uncertain log jam at RB, this team could be looking at a top 5 pick.
St. Louis Rams – Nick Foles is still an unknown quantity, but my opinion is that he’s not good enough to carry a team in the NFL. He’ll face a new challenge in St. Louis as the talent around him dips as well. Todd Gurley will be a great player, but he’ll be slowed this season by an ACL injury, and Kenny Britt cannot be counted on to be a number one. This team will probably flirt with .500 early, but they’re trending down until they find a QB that makes sense.
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?