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.
Eli Manning – New York Giants | ADP 127 – QB 16| Manning had a down season last year finishing as the 19th best QB, but in true Giants fashion, this offseason was about bulking up his receiving corps by adding former Bear / Jet Brandon Marshall. With the backfield in flux, Manning is going to be asked to throw it and throw it a ton. Prediction: 4,600 yards – 33 TDs – 16 INT
Joe Flacco – Baltimore Ravens | ADP 179 – QB24 | I was vocal in my support of Joe Flacco from a sleeper perspective even before they added Jeremy Maclin and Danny Woodhead to his cache of weapons. With a favorable schedule and the commitment of his front office, Flacco can be expected to approach career numbers. Prediction: 4,300 yards – 25 TDs – 11 INT
Carson Wentz – Philadelphia Eagles | ADP 128 – QB 18| Coming off the board in the 13th round, second year QB Carson Wentz already proved he can operate an NFL offense. Give him a bonafide #1 WR in Alshon Jefferey and a balanced running attack featuring bruiser LeGarette Blount, and Wentz is primed to take the leap. Prediction: 4,200 yards – 28 TDs – 13 INT
Honorable Mention: Sam Bradford, Min (ADP 170+)
It seems like I’ve been talking about the Baltimore Ravens an awful lot lately, and you’d not be wrong. This offseason has seen a ton of turnover on the Ravens roster, and to add a layer of complexity, they have signed ex-Eagles and Chiefs wide out Jeremy Maclin to a two year deal.
The signing comes a week after they cut receiving TE Dennis Pitta and Maclin figures to feature prominently in the passing attack.
If you’re wondering how much of an impact Maclin will make, it’s important to start by looking at vacated targets, something this team has a lot of.
Dennis Pitta: 121 Targets, Steve Smith: 101 Targets, Kamar Aiken: 50 Targets, Kyle Juszczyk, 49 Targets. That’s a total of 321 targets to players who no longer play for the Ravens.
While Joe Flacco is unlikely to repeat his 672 attempts, even around his career average of 526 attempts, that leaves significant room for Maclin to fill in (even with pass catching guru Danny Woodhead on the roster).
A conservative prediction would be in the 120 target range. Extrapolating Maclin’s career averages (which are fairly consistent) you’re looking at 75 catches for 950 yards and 5 TDs.
Expect his draft position to rise slightly, but as of right now (an ADP of the 12-14th round) he can be expected to far outproduce other assets selected in the same area of drafts. VERY worthy of a WR3 tag with upside to approach WR2 territory.
After reading an ESPN article about how The Ravens are the Biggest Nightmare in Fantasy Football, I found myself quietly wondering if this perception surrounding the Baltimore offense is warranted or if Joe Flacco may be flying under the radar just in time for a triumphant bounce back season.
In 2016 Flacco finished as the 18th best fantasy QB according to ESPN standard scoring; hardly a world beater, averaging 13.6 points per week. With no significant editions outside of PPR darling Danny Woodhead, and the loss of Steve Smith to retirment, it’s easy to see why fantasy pundits would knock the gunslinger down a few spots.
To that I say, hold your horses!
To start the season, Flacco was dismal. Throwing for 1837 yards (262 average) with 5 TD and 6 INT, it looked like the season would be a write off.
Queue the bye week.
When he returned Flacco was a different QB. Over the final 9 games, Flacco threw for 2480 yards (275 per game average) and a much better 15 TD / 9 INT split. It’s important to note that these numbers came inspite of the competition (the Ravens played the Bengals twice, and the Pats, Cowboys, and Steelers once each).
Looking forward, this team is going to miss the presence of Steve Smith, but by all accounts Brashard Perriman is looking ready to take that next step and should suppliment the Mike Wallace/Dennis Pitta duo just fine. With Woodhead in the fold, and a more defined role for Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon, I expect a more efficient offense for the Ravens and a better TD% for Flacco than the awful 2.9 he posted last year (inspite of the yards totals).
It’s up for debate whether you believe in Strength of Schedule data, but it’s worth noting that the Ravens are listed with the 7th most favorable fantasy schedule for QB’s. When you start doing the math, it’s easy to see how Flacco (QB25 with an ADP of 176) could be a fantastic return on investment in 2017.
Every year we spend our fantasy prep time pouring through periodicals and compiling statistics based off of “expert” analysis. And while this information is invaluable, we often times ignore the most important players to a championship team: The Bench.
Finding these hidden gems can be difficult but rewarding when your first and second round picks start experiencing the injuries that come with playing as often as elite NFL players do. We’ll examine who from the bargain barrel section of the drafts can help you when they inevitably enter the fray.
Surest Thing – Mike Wallace: Despite the appearance of a crowded receiver team, Mike Wallace is my surest bet amongst the late round WR picks based on his ADP (around 179!) Simply put, he’s hiding behind an unproven journey man in Kamar Aiken and a 35 year old Steve Smith Sr. and whatever mess at TE they decide to roll out (Maxx is a competent NFL TE but he’s going to eat significant targets away from any of the players already mentioned, nor is Gillmore). If Aiken regresses and/or Smith Sr. misses time with injury, the speedy Wallace should find himself hooking up with the strong armed Flacco more and more often. For a late round pick, he offers the highest ceiling with the lowest floor.
Highest Risk Reward – Devin Funchess: Despite pedestrian numbers in 2015, Funchess showed that he could be a productive player in the NFL, and there are two sides to the coin surrounding the return of Carolina’s “main man” Kelvin Benjamin. The majority of fantasy players expect Benjamin to step back into his #1 role, and you’d be justified, but I expect there’s a decent chance that having extra time to work with Funchess will result in better numbers for a WR being drafted in the 12-14th round. Obviously with Cam Newton, there’s no
garuntee that skill player A performs the same week in and week out, as the play breaks down Cam’s on of the best in the game finding the open man. Still, the reward if he turns into Cam’s saftey blanket far outweighs the risks.
Big Ole’ Bust – Marvin Jones: Maybe it’s low hanging fruit, but Marvin Jones has the easiest road to ruin of any WR in the entire league. For starters, Matthew Stafford is is entering his 8th NFL season, and his attempts have dropped significantly as his mileage piles up. With Golden Tate proving he can carry the mantle, it’s highly unlikely Jones (who has no history in the NFL of carrying an offense) will step in and replace the departing Calvin Johnson. It’s more likely that Stafford adjusts his targets to Tate, Ebron, and Abdullah and Jones is left as the 4th or 5th player in touches.
Bonus – Chris Hogan: It’s easy to overlook the former Bill as he dons the enemies attire with New England this year. Why? Well, Gronkowski, Edeleman, Lewis, and Amendola to name a few. But the truth is that it’s highly unlikely the New England offense stays healthy, and each of the names just mentioned has a lengthy injury history. Hogan is a sure handed blue collar guy who is likely to slide right in and pick up where guys like Lafell fit (when he was productive). He’s being drafted in the final rounds of drafts, so feel free to take a flier on him.