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+)
The frustration is real as fantasy owner when a player you invest heavily in doesn’t return that investment. We see it every year, and subsiquently that players value drops, leaving him falling on draft day. Are you an owner who likes to grab a previously touted player in hopes that he’ll bounce back and pay off in spades in the later rounds? If you are, and I’d gamble most of us are, then keep reading for a list of bounce back candidates.
QB – Robert Griffin III : Injuries that derailed his electric rookie seaon can be pointed to as the cause for the mental issues that have since plauged the outlandishly athletic Griffin in seasons since. It’s gotten so bad that at the conclusion of this last season, Jay Gruden alluded to the fact that he no longer believed in his QB and speculation that he’d be dealt or demoted ran rampant. Fast forward to the post-draft news and we see that RG3 is back again in the drivers seat for the QB job in Washington, and I’m confident that a new Griffin will be taking the field this year. Time to adjust to the game and to his injury history should allow Griffin to return to a semblance of the player we saw his rookie year: a rocket arm, good decision making, and the ability to make something out of nothing. Although he won’t finish as a top 10 QB, I expect him to bounce back as a solid QB2 worth a late round pick if you’re in need.
QB – Sam Bradford : Another highly touted prospect coming out of college, Bradford has shown glimses in his brief career, but a hefty injury history has left him on the scrap heap come draft day as owners have grown weary of the letdown. Shifting from St. Louis to Philadelphia should work wonders for Bradford on the field. He finally has weapons around him and a running game to keep defenses honest. He may be an in vogue pick come draft day, but if he starts the year healthy (and this is always an if with Bradford) I expect a much better year than he’s given in the past.
RB – Doug Martin : A lot of owners watched their ships go down in flames when they invested a top 5 pick in Martin a few years ago. Last year, Tampa Bay was the worst team in the league, securing the #1 overall pick and finally shoring up a QB position that features Mike Glennon as the top guy. I’d argue it’s tough to find running room when your team can’t complete more than 10 passes in a game. Still the top option in Tampa Bay, Martin should find more success after finding himself under 100 fantasy points last year. He could likely be had as a 4th RB, and should far outperform this ranking.
RB – LeSean McCoy : McCoy had 175-180 points in PPR formats last year, but was disappointing in terms of consistency. He touched the ball more than 300 times but struggled to return the top 3 pick spent on him. He’ll likely still be drafted early but has the pedigree and the situation to replicate the 1500-2000 total yard years that we’d become accostumed to out of McCoy.
WR – Larry Fitzgerald : For some, this was just the writing on the wall as Fitzgerald found himself scoring at or under 10 points per week for the first time in his career. The problem was that after Carson Palmer went down, John Skelton and company couldn’t keep the offense clicking, and Fitzgerald suffered. A Healthy Palmer creates more opportunities for Fitzy and inside the 20’s he’s the go to guy, and I expect him to crack to finish inside the top 25 WR’s this year.
WR – Dwayne Bowe : A supremely talented wideout, Bowe has never had a great QB throwing him the football, and that won’t change this coming year. But being a number 1 on an offense that managed to coax good to great seasons out of Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron and Andrew Hawkins will help Bowe regain some of that swagger he had before Alex Smith got to KC. He won’t challenge for the top spot, but Bowe is an afterthought in leagues but should provide some scoring punch from the bench, for byes and in case of injuries.
TE – Vernon Davis : A freak of nature, Davis has the skills at the TE position to dominate his competition. This wasn’t the case this year as Kaepernick struggled to find consistency. If offseason reports of improved pocket pressence and throwing motion are true, Kaep could bounce back and this would impact Davis the most. Expect the consistency to continue to frustrate, but he’ll jump back in to the top 15 TE’s.
TE – Kyle Rudolph : He may have all the tools to be the best TE in football, but he’s rarely put it all together. Another year of Teddy Bridgewater and the return of AP makes this Minnesotta offense formidible for the first time in a long time. Without a proven #1 wide receiver, a healthy Rudolph could be asked to do more than he has. I think this is the year we finally see Rudolph ascend to an elite TE.
With the NFL draft complete and most of the big time trades and free agent moves in the rear view mirror, the ultra dedicated among us have started our fantasy prep work. If you’re playing in a keeper league, there are so many things to take into account when deciding who you need to have on your roster next year. Using 2014 ADP numbers, we evaluate who are the best candidates to be kept in your leagues.
- Le’Veon Bell – ADP 27: In all likely hood due to his DUI arrest, Bell was drafted later than the back end of the 2nd round. All Bell did was turn in a top 5 RB season and show up as the top pass catching back in the league. Bell is a 1st round target this year, and if you’re lucky enough to have drafted him later in the draft (like I did in the 4th round) he’ll be a heck of a keeper.
- TY Hilton – ADP 56: It’s rare that a player exceeds the pre-draft hype like Hilton did last year. Finishing near the top ten for WR’s in fantasy scoring, Hilton is a volume reciever in an elite passing offense. The only concern here is that recently aquired Andre Johnson may eat into his numbers a little bit. Still, I expect Hilton to be a 2nd round pick.
- Emmanuel Sanders – ADP 67: When Eric Decker left and Sanders came in, we figured he’d slide in as the 4th option behind the two Thomas’ and Wes Welker. All Sanders did was finish with 100 catches, 1400 yards and 9 TD’s. With Julius Thomas gone, it’s a good bet that Sanders will continue to see elite numbers.
- Sammy Watkins – ADP 73: The hype surrounding Watkins was for real as Watkins caught 65 balls for 900+ yards and 6 TD’s. This is even more impressive when you consider he’s the only weapon in the Bills offense. If the parts around him improve, he’s a safe bet for 70-80 catches and 1100 yards.
- Russell Wilson – ADP 84: It’s amazing to me that in Fantasy circles Wilson still doesn’t get any respect. Sure, he may not have the aqumen under center to be mistaken for a Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, but combine his skills on the ground with an efficient passing game, and Wilson finished in the top 3 for Fantasy contributions among QB’s. Not bad in the 8th round.
- Greg Olsen – ADP 94: Olsen has always been an above average TE in the passing game, but he became a true threat this year in Carolina’s offense. With a healthy Cam Newton, expect Olsen to finish at or near the top of the TE rankings again this year.
- Mike Evans – ADP 96: The knock on Evans was that his game played a lot like Vincent Jackson’s and with a lack of QB skill, he may not live up to the hype. Flash forward and Evans finished as the #1 rookie WR in terms of fantasy contributions. A freakish athlete, should continue to produce with Jameis Winston likely being better than the rotation of QB’s the Bucs used last year.
- Carlos Hyde – ADP 103: It was bound to happen at some point. Frank Gore is no longer a 49er, leaving the door wide open for the talented Hyde to run away with the job… pun intended.
- Lamar Miller – ADP 124: Knowshon Moreno arrived from Denver prior to the 2014 season and many thought it signaled the end of Miller in Miami. When the Fins lost Moreno for the year due to injury, Miller stepped his game up and contributed nearly 1100 yards and 8 TD’s on the ground, and was a factor in the passing games for PPR owners. With the passing game getting better through the draft, expect more room to run.
- Jeremy Hill – ADP 134: Hill had to battle for playing time from Giovanni Bernard who was expected to be a 3 down back for the versatile Bengals offense. Instead it was Hill who put up great numbers and enters the year firmly entrentched as the number one option in Cincy.
- Jordan Matthews ADP 150: 67 Catches and 870 yards made for a great season for Matthews. The departure of Jeremy Maclin means that Matthews can expect a bump in production. The only cloud over his 2015 season is that Sam Bradford holds the keys to the car now, and an injury could throw a wrench in the gears.
- Odell Beckham ADP 154: This one shouldn’t surprise anyone, down the stretch Beckham was the most devestating fantasy player, racking up 20+ points (even more in PPR leagues) in 5 of the final 6 weeks of the season. There’s no reason to believe that he won’t perform at the top of the WR rankings.
- DeAndre Hopkins ADP 168: When you’re performance is enough for a team to send Andre Johnson packing, odds are you wowed some people. Hopkins finished 12th in yards (1210) and 20th in receptions (76) all while hauling in 6 TD’s. Now that Johnson is gone, Hopkins is a bonafide #1 and will likely go in the top 30 picks of your draft.
- Mark Ingram ADP 186: Ingram did what other first year busts like Trent Richardson and Darren McFadden couldn’t. He finally came through for owners. Running away with the starting gig, Ingram has 980 yards in 13 games for the Saints. An offseason that saw the Saints look to balance out the offense, Ingram stands to gain the most from the changes and could challenge for a top 15 RB spot.
- Derek Carr ADP 200: I hesitate to put QB’s on here because they are a dime a dozen in the middle of the pack, but Carr was drafted near the end of most standard drafts, and with the addition of Amari Cooper and finally having a competent back means that Carr could be a breakout in his sophomore season.
- Ryan Tannehill ADP 215: Tannehill had a coming out party in 2014, quietly leading an efficient offense in Miami that only got better in the offseason. He may never approach the elite status, but he’s a safe bet to put 4,000 and 25-30 TD’s along with a few hundred yards on the ground.
- Darren McFadden ADP 218: It would take a strong stomach to keep a guy like McFadden, but with DeMarco Murray gone and no RB’s coming in through the draft, McFadden will be the guy running behind the best O-Line in football. If he stays healthy (a big if) he’ll WAY outperform his ADP from 2014.
- Travis Kelce ADP 248: There was a lot of hype surrounding Kelce coming into the season. A massive and athletic TE who can catch, block and score he was drafted criminally low. Drafters won’t be fooled this year as Kelce has very little competition to catch passes in KC from the TE spot.
- Sam Bradford ADP 245: Similar in situation to Darren McFadden the oft injuried but talented starting QB of the Eagles should benefit from having a much better team around him in Philly than he ever did in St. Louis. Just like how Foles and Sanchez had great performances in the Chip Kelly offense, I expect Bradford to finally return the investment that drafters made when taking him.
- Steve Smith Sr. ADP 248: Even at his advanced age and with the addition of Perriman in the draft, Smith should continue to be a PPR machine. He may not command a top 30 pick, but he’ll go well before his 2014 ADP.
- C.J. Anderson ADP – : Anderson was likely a waiver wire guy in your league, and now he’s the stud in an offense full of them. With the Broncos looking to protect Peyton Manning, Anderson could finish as a top 10 RB.
- Brandon LaFell ADP – : There was speculation the Patriots could try to bolster it’s offense in the draft, instead LaFell gets the vote of confidence as he will be the main WR target for Tom Brady in 2015. Gronk and Edeleman will have a lot of touches, but LaFell should finish inside the top 30 WR’s.
- Delanie Walker ADP – : Undrafted, Walker was a beast early in the season. He has the tools to be a top 5 TE in the league, and with Tennessee improving on offense with the addition of Marcus Mariota, a healthy Walker could be in for a bump in production even over a successfull 2014 campain.