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+)
- Adrian Peterson – Peterson is still the king and will be until the numbers say otherwise. 1700 total yars and 11 TD’s and enough in the passing game to plant him at the top even in PPR leagues, he’s the most likely of the top 10 to finish the season atop the most volitile position in Fantasy Football.
- Todd Gurley – He average more per touch than anyone not named Doug Martin (that carried the ball a significant amount). With a new QB in rookie Jared Goff, it will be interesting to see what he’ll do with more informed defensive schemes. I expect he’ll be just fine, but don’t be surprised if he has stretches where he disappears.
- Jamaal Charles – Every year he could be number one, but his injury history isn’t promising. If there was ever a handcuff candidate, it’s the ultra talented Jamaal Charles.
- Lamar Miller – I’m firmly on the hype bandwagon surrounding Millers move to Houston. A team that knows how to run the football will use him as their bellcow… a rarity in the NFL these days. It’s not a stretch to see him approach the league lead in combined yards by the end of the year.
- David Johnson – Carson Palmer was healthy all last year, and Johnson emerged as the Cardinals lead back. Now he has to prove it as the starter that it wasn’t just flash and smoke. If healthy, he’ll be a top 5 back.
- Le’Veon Bell – The only back in the Gurly/Peterson level of fantasy production, Bell did his owners a disservice by being suspended to start the year a second season in a row. Even missing 4 games, he’s nearly a top 5 RB.
- Mark Ingram – Will he be 100% to start the season? Who knows, but the New Orleans offense will put up points, and Ingram has proven that he can do what the coaches ask of him in both the run and the pass game.
- LeSean McCoy – Is Reggie bush an insurance policy or motivation? There’s some question marks with McCoy, and adding Bush to the backfield added just one more to consider when making that late 2nd round RB pick.
- Doug Martin – I feel like I’m being a bit harsh with the “Muscle Hamster” – after all he put up a top 3 season last year. But he’s always been mercurial and he’s just as likely to return to earth as he is to continue at the top of the position.
- Eddie Lacy – I haven’t seen a lot of lists that have Lacy in their top ten, and I can say honestly that I’m excited about getting him later in drafts than he should be going. Lacy clearly heard the chatter surrounding his awful season last year, and he’s put the work in over the offseaon to come into camp ready to go. If it’s one thing Mike McCarthy is, he’s loyal to the players who do what the team asks. Green Bay is still a top 5 offense, and Lacy is likely to get the bulk of the work early on to see if he’s indeed the same player they thought he was when they drafted him.
Missed the cut
Ezekial Elliott (I don’t care that Dallas has the best O-line in football, he’s done nothing at the NFL level to justify a top 10 pick), Devonta Freeman (Whether or not he’ll put it together for 16 strong games remain to be seen. Freeman is gifted and could be a steal if he gets it together), Latavius Murray (A monster, Murray touched the football more than all but a handful of NFL backs. He’s likely to get even better as the youthful offense in Oakland gels) Thomas Rawls (This is a player I’m intrigued by. He’s quietly accepted the mantel from the departing Beast Mode, and we all know how stubborn Pete Carroll is. They’ll run the ball a ton and he’ll have a chance to put up huge numbers if he can run the offense beside Russell Wilson).
Casual fantasy fans be damned, the most fun you can have playing fantasy sports (in this humble bloggers opinion) is by building your team not just for this year, but for years to come. Dynasty and Keeper leagues are becoming more popular every year even as daily fantasy sports like Draft Kings and Fan Duel are soaking up the spot light.
But what’s the right way to do it?
Now, for those of you who haven’t experienced the joy of keeping the top ranked RB in the 6th round, a keeper league (or dynasty league) is simply put: A fantasy league that you keep a certain amount of players. I’m not hear to discuss the best way to run one of these, instead we’re going to decide when it’s time to throw a player back.
I play in a competative Keeper league that allows a limited number of years on a players “contract”. After said time they are thrown back into the draft pool and will find their way to a new home (unless your Lamar Miller… then I’ll draft you every single year). Some people don’t put limits, while others have a sliding scale that moves the pick closer and closer to the top of the draft as the years tick by.
It’s all well and good in year two when you have to decide who to keep and who to throw back, but when you’ve had a player for several years and they haven’t quite reached the promise of the first campaign, you face a difficult choice.
How long is too long?
I’ve had Le’Veon Bell since year one, and I’ve enjoyed every minute he’s been on the field for my squad (sure… it’s been rough going the last two years but still). But our format only allows me to keep him for one more year. The value is right even with the suspension (I have him currently in the 6th round). But do I sacrifice one of the three keeper spots for a player I’ll have for 10-12 more weeks? Or do I dump him and commit that to a player for a longer term?
Now, the beauty of fantasy sports is this: It’s all up to you! Rankings be damned, if you love a player and think he’ll help your team, draft em when you want em. (You think the buddy of mine who drafted Brady/Moss in 2007 remembered the ball busting by the end of the year?) The same concept applies here. For a reference, I decided against keeping Bell. Not because the player I traded him for was better, but because I’d rather have Latavius Murray late in the draft for the next 3 years than 3/4 of a season out of Bell.
My suggestion to you is don’t hold onto players too long. They may have helped you last year, or the year before, but don’t get too caught up in what they did instead think about what they can do in the future.
Every day more news trickles in from training camps around the league and with it come the whispers of change as position battles rage and our preconceived notion of how things will shake out, get shaken up. Below are 4 early contenders to see their value plummet as the find themselves in the midst of the bad buzz machine that so often derails our fantasy preparations. (this is in no way ranked in order of importance.)
Terrance West – RB / Cleveland Browns – The second head in the two-headed monster in Cleveland last year has seen his stock take a hit with the continued surge of Isaiah Crowell as the lead back and the addition of third down specialist Duke Johnson. Word out of Browns camp is that West isn’t even safe in terms of making the 53 man roster. While I may not be ready to right the eulogy on his career in Cleveland, it’s a safe bet that West sees very little meaningful time on the field barring a catastrophic injury ahead of him.
Charles Clay – TE / Buffalo Bills – Any move that sees you go to a team like Buffalo has to make one pause when considering a players fantasy viability, but we all pointed to the freakish athleticism and the ability to be an impact player on a team that desperately needed one in the middle of the field as reasons why we considered Clay an obvious sleeper. Now, a full week into training camp, reports have Clay being targeted by Bills QBs a whopping 0 times. That’s right, you can’t divide by the number of time’s he’s been thrown at because it isn’t even a number. We’re a ways off from actual NFL games, and this could turn around for the gifted TE, but it’s a bad sign when a bad offense isn’t even TRYING to get you involved.
Darren McFadden – RB / Dallas Cowboys – Once upon a time McFadden was expected to blossom into an elite NFL runner. Then the injury history we all conveniently ignored became the present… and then the future. Now he’s becoming a frequent footnote in fantasy circles as well. What began as an off season filled with cautious optimism (for no reason other than we wanted to be right eventually) has turned into what we always knew it would be; another injury riddled campaign for the much maligned running back. A pulled hamstring is not the end of the world, but it is an other entry in the long list of obstacles that McFadden has to overcome to gain the starting gig… not least of which is that Joseph Randle now holds the keys to the castle. Steer clear of McFadden until the picks don’t matter; that way you won’t mind dumping him when he finds his way to the IR.
Marquise Lee – WR / Jacksonville Jaguars – A second round pick last year, Lee came into the league lauded as one of the top WR options in the draft; expectations where he’d immediately make an impact in the absence of suspended #1 Justin Blackmon. Inconsistency and injury derailed the promising players rookie year, and as we begin camps, it appears as though Lee is the odd man out with Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns playing their ways into starting roles, and several touches being siphoned by new RB TJ Yeldon and free agent TE Juluis Thomas. Lee is very low on my list of maybe-sleepers.
Honorable Mentions: Bishop Sankey – There’s been very little good news this off season for the first RB selected in last years draft. He has stiff competition in the form of rookie arrival David Cobb. Trent Richardson – Early reports had him cutting weight, now they have him on the outside of the bubble as Murray and Helu (on third downs) look to lock up the backfield. Joique Bell – This one has been beat to death so much that Bell seems to fallen out of favor with both fans and pundits as Ameer Abdullah continues to carry the torch as Bell returns from an injury. Unless he falls in drafts, his value is taking a major hit.
Lets now take a look at my WAAAAY too early RB rankings.
- Marshawn Lynch
- Jamaal Charles
- Adrian Peterson
- DeMarco Murray
- Le’Veon Bell
- Eddie Lacy
- Arian Foster
- CJ Anderson
- LeSean McCoy
- Lamar Miller
- Jonathan Stewart
- Alfred Morris
- Mark Ingram
- Jeremy Hill
- Latavius Murray
- Melvin Gordon
- Joique Bell
- Darren McFadden
- Justin Forsett
- Frank Gore
- Andre Ellington
- Isaiah Crowell
- Giovanni Bernard
- Carlos Hyde
- Rashad Jennings
- Todd Gurley
- Doug Miller
- LeGarrette Blount
- TJ Yeldon
- Bishop Sankey
- Chris Ivory
- Reggie Bush
- Devonta Freeman
- Shane Vereen
- Ryan Mathews
- CJ Spiller
- Stevan Ridley
- DeAngelo Williams
- Tevin Coleman
- Tre Mason
- Joseph Randle
- Khiry Robinson
- Montee Ball
- Andre Williams
- Zac Stacy
- Alfred Blue
- Ameer Abdullah
- Jonas Gray
- David Johnson
- Knile Davis
- Lamar Miller – After it was apparent that Miller had lost his job to Knowshon Moreno prior to the 2014 season, fantasy owners soured on the often over valued Miller. He rewarded his owners with a solid, consistent fantasy year. Confident in his starting position and with new weapons in the Miami offense, Miller should have more room to run.
- Latavius Murray – The Raiders coaching staff has been vocal in the off season that they want to taylor the run game to Murray’s strengths and use him as a way to protect their young upstart QB in Derek Carr. Murray could be a middle round workhorse.
- Jonathan Stewart – The once crowded backfield in Carolina has shed it’s dead weight and the onus will be on Stewart to tote the rock. When he’s played a larger role, Stewart has been an elite fantasy option in the past.
- DeMarco Murray – If you’re looking at a RB to regress significantly, there’s no better candidate than Murry. Whether you point to the Dallas O-Line for his success or at LeSean McCoys inability to churn out yards despite toting the ball 340 times, there’s so many questions and not a lot of answers.
- Darren McFadden – The man tasked to replaced Murray, McFadden has begrudgingly been moved up many draft boards, but his injury history doesn’t bode well with the fact that Dallas likes to use their RB’s. Joseph Randle ran the ball well in limited exposure last year, so I’d worry that McFadden won’t finish the year in the top spot.
- Jeremy Hill – The excitement around Jeremy Hill had in part to do with how easily he fished the starting gig from Giovanni Bernard. Still, the numbers don’t bear out that he’s worth where he’s being drafted. In fact, his numbers look similar to Bernards when set side by side, don’t expect him to have an outrageous amount of touches.