While we acknowledge that every fantasy analyst provides a “sleeper” list every year, we attempt to look deeper to avoid giving you a cookie cutter, paint by numbers list. While not everyone of our sleeper picks will pan out, the reason we’ve selected most of them is that the value their draft position represents makes them worth the risk in our opinion.
Golden Tate, New York Giants (WR 41 – ADP: 105)
It’s not often a player with a proven track record for success finds himself filling the kind of void left by a player of OBJ’s caliber, but Tate fits the bill as the Giant’s newest passing game addition. I will caution anyone who thinks his inclusion on this list means I expect him to see ALL of Beckham’s targets, but even if Shepard sees his target share increase from 107 to closer to 125, that means Tate can expect nearly 100-110 targets himself, and that’s all a player of his caliber needs to be relevant.
Even when splitting time between two deficient offenses last year (Philly and Detroit) he managed 74 receptions on 110 targets, giving me faith that he can duplicate that in a similar offense in New York. Of course, don’t expect him to average more than 10-12 yards per reception, but 80 for 850 and 5 TDs is a modest projection, and would make him a steal at that draft price.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Green Bay Packers (WR 52 – ADP: 136)
The big rookie flashed at times in 2018, but struggled with consistency as for every monster performance, he seemed to turn in two duds. Of course, as a fifth round rookie, it’s not surprising that he wasn’t as efficient with his opportunities. Still, seeing 72 receptions and being a season long piece of one of the leagues most proficient passing offenses puts him in a unique position in 2019.
At best, he’s the number two option in the Green Bay passing game as Davante Adams is one of the leagues more elite receivers, but all he’ll need is to improve on his catch percentage to blow his current ADP out of the water. Combined with his youthful inefficiency, MVS saw a mediocre yards per target mark of 8.1 yards (49th among qualified receivers) and was saddled with an abysmal catchable target rate of 68.1% (only 49 of his 72 targets… 98th among qualified receivers). If any of this improves, and with Aaron Rodgers at the helm it should, then MVS is poised to pay off investors in spades.
Adam Humphries, Tennessee Titans (WR 71 – ADP 215)
Humphries turned down an offer to play in New England to go to Tennessee, and the fantasy community has docked him hard for it. Currently being drafted as the WR 71, you’re basically able to target him as a waiver wire pick up if you’d really like. Of course, this becomes much more confusing when you consider that as the third option in Tampa Bay last year, Humphries managed to finish as the wide receiver 24 in PPR formats.
With his primary role as a slot receiver, he should improve the Titans offense from the jump, providing Mariota with a valuable target over the middle and on shorter routes. Given the lack of success they’ve had down field, I don’t feel that I’m out on a limb expecting Humphries to pace the Titans in receptions, and should well out perform his ADP, providing real value in the late rounds.
Honorable Mention: Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers (WR 24 – ADP 59) His ADP doesn’t present the kind of value the guys above do later in the draft, but many forget just how high the Chargers were on Williams when they drafted him early in the first round a few years back. Now completely removed from any injury history, he’s a borderline WR1 even if Allen stays healthy. If Allen goes down, then Williams becomes a potential top 10 receiver.
Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams (QB 11 – ADP: 99)
We admit that despite his torrid pace over the first 12 games of the season, Jared Goff’s 2018 went fully off the rails down the stretch. Still, despite the poor showing late, he finished as the QB7, a feat that shouldn’t be overlooked. With the pending return of Cooper Kupp, his cupboard is again full as he joins Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks as one of the deepest pools of talent at the position in the entire league.
It’s also important to note that if Todd Gurley is limited, Sean McVay and company could need to lean on their first round quarterback even more in 2019. I’m not predicting any regression, and given that he’s being selected outside of the top ten, I see him as an absolute value in the 10th round or later of drafts. As we saw last year over the first 11 weeks of the season, his ceiling is near the top 5 at the position, and is one of my favorite draft day targets.
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys (QB 18 – ADP: 134)
Last year, the Cowboys endured a particularly difficult off season. Stud running back Zeke Elliott was suspended four games, safety blanket Jason Witten announced his retirement, and very little was done to bolster a lack luster receiving corps aside from the draft. When the season opened, Dak Prescott predictably struggled, eliciting painful memories of former fantasy busts RG3 and Colin Kaepernick. By the time the team had its bye week, Prescott owners were in full blown sell mode.
If you happened to stick by him, or work out a trade for him like I did in one league, then you saw how quickly the arrival of Amari Cooper boosted Prescotts output. Prior to the week 8 acquisition, Prescott was averaging a meager 16 fantasy points per week (QB 16 over that stretch). Following Cooper’s arrival, Prescott’s output spiked to 19.3, which was 8th among QB’s during the home stretch.
With Jason Witten returning from retirement, Zeke Elliott not facing a similar suspension, and his receiving corps intact, there’s no reason to expect Prescott to fall outside of the top 10 at the position. In the 14th round, he may prove to be one of the drafts most valuable picks.
Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions (QB 23 – ADP: 168)
The 2018 Detroit Lions were a mess, something that feels true of most years in the franchise’s history. While I certainly lay a portion of the blame at the feet of Matt Patricia (the most overrated head coach in the league), we have to admit that the maelstrom of destruction that seemed to hit nearly every major skill position player on the team at one point or another was an obstacle too large for Stafford to overcome.
We expect Stafford to be fully recovered from the broken bones in his back, and with his weapons restocked through free agency (Danny Amendola) and the draft (T.J. Hockenson), we’re not sure there’s evidence to support his QB23 ranking. Finally featuring an effective running game, and several big time receivers at his disposal, Matthew Stafford is a prime candidate for positive regression. We won’t tell you we expect him to push the top 5 at the position like the other names on this list, but if you’re looking for value in the last few rounds of your draft or need a second starter for a league that allows you to start two QBs, then Stafford may be an excellent consolation prize for drafters who like to wait.
Honorable Mention, Jimmy Garoppolo – San Francisco 49ers (QB 20 – ADP: 151) Jimmy G was the talk of the town following his 5 game stretch to close out 2017. A season ending injury has set the signal caller back significantly as he sees his ADP drop to the 16th round. Still, he’s the starting QB in a Kyle Shanahan offense, he has several weapons to throw to in TE George Kittle, 2nd year pro Dante Pettis, and old Shanahan buddy Tevin Coleman, so we expect a major bounce back for Tom Brady’s former backup.
When healthy, Michael Crabtree is one of the NFL’s most underrated goal line threats, and if his current ADP is any indication, he’s not getting nearly enough respect after signing with the Ravens in the off season. Since 2012, Crabtree is one of only four players with four seasons over 8 TDs; Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, Michael Crabtree, and Brandon Marshall.
Aside from Marshall (who’s not worth drafting after he proved last year he’s washed up), Green and Brown are consensus top 10 players at the position while Crabtree is being selected way down in the 8th round. Is it because the recency bias has us down on the Ravens as a passing attack? Is it because he was shipped out of San Fransisco early in his career with the too-soon label of draft bust?
Whatever the reason, it’s safe to say he’s been getting the Rodney Dangerfield treatment pretty much all off season. Going into 2018, Crabtree is the undisputed #1 receiver in an offense that is looking to improve all over the field. With pressure from having Lamar Jackson in the fold, reports out of Baltimore is that Flacco looks as good as he’s ever looked, and that he’s targeting Crabtree heavily in the red zone already.
If you’re looking for your low risk WR3 who has massive upside, look no further than Crabtree in the 8th. Currently going around 77th overall, expect him to far out perform those around him. With a lack of proven performers around him, Crabtree should factor in heavily in targets; I expect him to hit the 120 mark, collecting around 70 receptions and 750 yards while seeing the end-zone around 9-11 times. If he can carve out the 140 target range, he’s a high end WR2 with a very manageable floor.
We’ve been pounding the Devante Parker drum pretty loudly in the debate between Parker or Stills, but overlooked in all of this is that someone is going to play in the slot, and its not likely to be either of those players. Albert Wilson was our early favorite to absorb a lot of the targets Landry vacated from that position, especially given the contract he was handed in the off season (3 years, 24 million). Now, it’s looking like that may not be the case.
In a recent article by Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, there are signs that Albert Wilson isn’t getting the kind of attention with the starters that many of us expected he would. Currently, Danny Amendola has been playing with the team’s ones in the slot, adding fuel to the fire that he may somehow usurp the starting gig from Wilson.
How Miami intends to use it’s 4 wide outs remains a mystery, and with the money they handed out for both guys, it’s an interesting camp battle to watch. While we still think Wilson is the guy to target late in drafts, don’t sleep on Amendola as a potential break out.
Whoever wins that job out of camp is in line for 100+ targets, and that’s nothing to sneeze at as late as both guys are going.
It’s rare that a player with as much talent as John Brown has struggles as much as he has to stick with an NFL team. Of course, it can largely be attributed to his ongoing health issues as he continues to deal with a sickle-cell trait. But what John Brown provides this year is a prime example of a post hype breakout candidate.
The news out of Baltimore is mostly positive, as explained most recently in a tweet by The Athletic-Baltimore senior writer Jeff Zrebic in a tweet on Saturday 7/28.
Breshad Perriman also had a nice practice. Beat Humphrey deep on one play. Made several other plays. John Brown continues to stand out among WRS.
— Jeff Zrebiec (@jeffzrebiec) July 28, 2018
While every off season program has it’s fair share of pump-the-tires hyperbole, it’s far from surprising given the flashes we’ve seen from Brown in the past. It wasn’t long ago that the former Cardinals receiver posted 65 receptions on 101 targets for over 1,000 yards and 7 TDs. The fantasy community was ready to pounce in 2016, with his ADP at the time creeping into the late stages of the 7th round.
Unfortunately, the breakout never came, and after two sub-par seasons in Arizona, Brown was jettisoned as a lost cause. Clearly he’s making a case to be one of Baltimore’s top wide outs as Joe Flacco’s weapons seem to be restocked in a way they weren’t in years past. If he does earn himself a starting spot, a healthy Brown opposite Michael Crabtree could be a tough match up for defenses.
In fantasy terms, aside from staying on the field, his ceiling is incredibly high considering he’s not even being drafted in most mock drafts. Of course we don’t advocate taking a swing at him early, but in the last few rounds you could do worse than a wide out who’s already got one 1,000 yard season under his belt. While Michael Crabtree will get all the attention from fantasy owners, keep Brown in your back pocket as the season creeps on.
It seems that lately, all anyone wants to talk about is the incoming class of rookie backs and what their fantasy contributions may be. While I agree that the topic is a hot button debate, there still exists a narrative surrounding second year starter Mitch Trubisky, and what he’s capable of with Matt Nagy as his head coach.
While the offensive Coordinator for Kansas City, Nagy took a career “game manager” in Alex Smith and improved on his down the field passing game. From 2016 to 2017, Smith improved from QB15 (15.5 points per game) to QB3 (19.9 points per game). Using data over at PlayerProfiler.com it’s easy to see the transformation just by looking at the numbers.
- In 2016, Smith was the QB15 with 15.5 points per game. This was a result of a lack of dynamic play calling; he was 21st in attempts (489), 15th in red zone attempts (70), and 26th in deep balls attempted (46).
- In 2017, he was 3rd in points per game at 19.9. He finished 9th in red zone attempts (68), 6th in deep ball attempts (68), and 2nd in deep ball completion percentage at around 45%
Now, this kind of growth can’t be expected to just pop up in Trubisky’s game despite the talk that it will. Trubisky was QB29 in points per game last year, and many of his metrics graded out even more poorly than Smiths’ 2016 season. While I do expect him to creep out of the basement in terms of down the field passing (he was 32nd among qualifying QB’s with on 30 passes over 20 yards last year), it may be a bit extreme to expect this team to pass the ball with enough consistency to produce a player worth starting every week.
Last year the Bears finished 29th in Passing Play Percentage (data provided by teamrankings.com) with 52%. With Jordan Howard a safe bet to collect 275 carries, it’s reasonable to expect Trubisky to have somewhere in the 475 attempts range. Our prediction for a full season is as follows:
- Passing: 470 attempts, 290 completions, 3450 yards, 24 TDs and 15 INTs
- Rushing: 50 rushes, 315 yards, 2 TDs
Overall, the Dr. expects about a QB14 finish, but with any young QB the range of outcomes is somewhat severe. If he regresses with a new scheme, we could be cutting bait with him early. Still, at an average draft day price of about 18th round, he’s likely your back up QB, and if he pans out as we expect him to here, then he’s a steal at that current price.
4. Green Bay Packers
The only thing this team is missing to be in the top three is a viable run game, but the mere presence of the best quarter back in the league helps elevate the entire passing game. Add to his arsenal an elite red zone weapon in tight end Jimmy Graham, and you have a recipe for success for one of the leagues best passing attacks.
Players Worth Drafting: Davante Adams (ADP 22), Aaron Rodgers (ADP 23), Jimmy Graham (ADP 61), Randall Cobb (ADP 88), Jamaal Williams (ADP 105), Aaron Jones (ADP 124), Ty Montgomery (ADP 131)
The real question becomes “is there anyone who can handle the rushing duties?” It feels like forever ago that Eddie Lacy was a first round pick, and after last years three back committee failed to churn out more than a spot start here and there, the hunt is on as all three return in some capacity. While Aaron Jones looked more impressive in his opportunities, it looks like Williams will get the first crack at the job.
Deep Sleeper: Last year I tore into the idea that Ty Montgomery was a viable three down back, and following an injury, it seemed that I was right. Still, neither Jamaal Williams nor Aaron Jones did enough to erase the memories of Montgomery shredding defenses in the passing game. When healthy, and by all accounts he is, he’ll handle the passing downs, and in the 15th round, he’s got far too high a ceiling to not be a target.
3. New England Patriots
Yes, I’m concerned about the Patriots ability to return to the Super Bowl given the on going off season drama, but I’m not concerned about the elite players turning in elite fantasy seasons. Tom Brady may take a bit of a step back this year due to age and unfamiliar pieces, but even a Tom Brady at 90% is better than most in a league that values decision making and smarts. It’s the run game that could potentially produce the biggest surprises in New England this year.
Players Worth Drafting: Rob Gronkowski (ADP 19), Tom Brady (ADP 31), Sony Michel (ADP 51), Chris Hogan (ADP 69), Julian Edelman (ADP 80), Rex Burkhead (ADP 114), James White (ADP 145), Jordan Matthews (ADP 188)
With 1st round back Sony Michel the first NE back coming off the board, it sure seems like the public believes the Patriots are going to do what every other NFL franchise does when it drafts a player that high. I’ll go out on a limb and say that, while Michel is a nice player, it’s Rex Burkhead that’s the Patriot to own at running back. His versatility and rapport with Brady is undeniable, and with less time to prepare thanks to his off season hold out, Brady will need to lean on Hogan and Burkhead to get the offense going.
Deep Sleeper: I may be a bit higher on Jordan Matthews than most, but I see a low risk pick that has the chance to start the season as the top slot option in a passing attack that targets it’s slot receivers at a higher rate than most of the league. With Edelman missing 4 games and over a year removed from playing football, there’s a very good chance that this is Matthews best chance to showcase his skills.
2. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles are a team on the rise. With a capable backup quarter back, even a delay in the return of franchise QB Carson Wentz isn’t a death sentence for the elite players this roster boasts. Zach Ertz is a no doubt TE in any format, as he continues to be the top target in the red zone. Alshon Jeffrey and Nelson Agholor return as a fantasic complimentary duo, with both players a threat to his 800-1000 yards.
Players Worth Drafting: Zach Ertz (ADP 32), Jay Ajayi (ADP 43), Alshon Jeffrey (ADP 46), Carson Wentz (ADP 53), Nelson Agholor (ADP 117), Corey Clement (ADP 181)
Targeting a running back here could get tricky. You may be tempted to jump early at Ajayi after he posted some pretty impressive numbers in an Eagles uniform. I’d caution against it. While he certainly has the skills, he’s in an unenviable position of being type cast in the early down role with Darren Sproles handling the passing downs and Corey Clement chewing into red zone touches.
Deep Sleeper: Currently falling into the “undrafted” category, Darren Sproles returns as the primary pass catcher for the Eagles. While the diminutive scat-back certainly has the injury history to make one squeamish, he also has the skills to haul in 50+ balls from the waiver wire.
1. Minnesota Vikings
It may surprise you to see the Vikings here, but after paying big money to bring in Kirk Cousins, the offense in Minnesota now features a top 20 player at every counting position, and several top 10 candidates. Kirk Cousins’ big arm should only help Diggs close the game with Thielen (if not pass him) and a Dalvin Cook/Latavius Murray backfield should scare defensive coordinators who want to abandon the box to stop the down the field passing.
Players Worth Drafting: Dalvin Cook (ADP 14), Adam Thielen (ADP 25), Stefon Diggs (ADP 35), Kirk Cousins (ADP 76), Kyle Rudolph (ADP 84), Latavius Murray (ADP 155)
You may be wondering why Cook is being valued as high as he is after only playing 4 games as a rookie before suffering a big time injury. The truth is that, while he could certainly return a different player, it’s expected he’ll return healthy and continue to receive a three down workload. In those 4 games he averaged over 5 receptions and 100 combined yards, further supporting Minnesota’s intentions to use him even on passing downs.
Deep Sleeper: Allow me to talk out of the other side of my mouth for a moment and plug Latavius Murray as one of my favorite deep sleepers of the year. With Cook’s return imminent, his draft value continues to fall, making the former Raider a fantastic value given how well he played in Cooks absence last year. I’ve sung his praises in years past, and the freak athleticism he possesses should help him see the field regardless of Cooks’ effectiveness upon his return.