Picking the right fantasy sleeper can carry a team all the way to a title. Thinking outside the box and picking an undervalued player can result in getting a draft steal in some cases. But what defines a “fantasy sleeper?” They are guys who will exceed their projected scoring by a wide margin and will end up being better than their average draft position at the end of the season. Basically these guys are going to get drafted way later than they should because they are either unknowns or had a down season last year statistically. These are the payers that no one is talking about right now that everyone will be kicking themselves for passing up.
The biggest sleepers of last season were by far the rookie running backs. Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, and Leonard Fournette were taken way later than they should have been last season and carried a lot teams to the fantasy championship. Drafting any rookie in fantasy is unpredictable and risky, but running back would be the spot to find a sleeper rookie back, especially in this year’s draft class. Sleepers could also be players in a new situation that affords them a bigger opportunity to have more touches. Players that make this list will be good bets to out perform their pre season ranking, so they should not be slept on. Some of these guys are already stars, but since 2017 was not their year, they will be undervalued. Other players on the list are under the radar and will have a break out year in 2018.
Even though Eli Manning is considered one of the best quarterbacks in Giants’ history, he has never really been considered a great fantasy option. He is also coming off of perhaps his worst season as a pro where he was benched for a mediocre Geno Smith. However he enters this season with the best weapons he has had in his entire career. He has two great outside receivers in Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Sheppard. He has an elite tight end in Evan Engram and he finally has a running game to support him with number 2 pick Saquon Barkley in the backfield. With that much talent around him, Manning could have a resurgent season and could actually be a legit option at quarterback in fantasy as a result.
The most under the radar rookie running back with an open opportunity to have a big impact in fantasy next season is Royce Freeman. The Broncos are one of the more balanced offenses in the league and their leading rusher CJ Anderson was let go in the off season. There will be plenty of carries to go around and Freeman could be the one getting them. His main competition is Devontae Booker and he has somewhat disappointed in his first two seasons in the league. If Freeman can play well early in the year, he could easily surpass Booker for the starting role. The Broncos also expect to score a lot more points next season because of the arrival of Case Keenum in free agency. Freeman should be the beneficiary of a lot of goal line work as a result and that could lead him to have a big rookie season.
Injuries derailed Mike Williams’ rookie season before it ever got started and he could never get healthy enough to make much of an impact. If he can actually stay on the field, he can be a legit weapon for Phillip Rivers to go to next year. He only caught 11 passes last season, so he will probably be taken at the end of drafts in most leagues or not drafted at all. However he is worth the risk drafting in the last few rounds because his upside is so high. The Chargers have a ton of weapons to throw too, but Williams is the only one that they invested a first round pick in. He also might be the best red zone and possession receiver of the bunch because of his big frame and leaping ability.
After being taken with the number 3 overall pick last season, Mitchell Trubisky played well enough in preseason to overtake Mike Glennon as the starter for Chicago. He mainly underachieved in that role in his rookie season, but he did flash signs of being a potential franchise quarterback. The lumps he took in year one could help him take a major leap forward in year 2 under a new head coach. Now he has a legit number one target with Allen Robinson added in free agency and he still has the ability to provide some points on the ground with his legs (had 248 yards and 2 touchdowns rushing last season). That combined with the Bears likely being behind in most games and throwing a lot, means that Trubisky could be worth a late round pick in fantasy as a back up or in 2 quarterback formats.
The Cincinnati Bengals backfield has been very crowded the past few seasons, and last year that stunted the growth of running back Joe Mixon. Both Giovanni Bernard and Jeremy Hill took carries away from him and that limited his fantasy value last year. Now it looks like Mixon will be the feature back for the Bengals and they should give him plenty of carries to make his ceiling a RB1 for this upcoming season. Mixon showed potential to be a home run hitter and have the wherewithal to run between the tackles consistently as well. Mixon will be a solid second tier running back to draft and could end up being one of the biggest steals when it is all said and done.
Derek Carr’s down season did not just affect his own fantasy performance last year; his number one target Amari Cooper also suffered the negative consequences as well. He also suffered because Michael Crabtree was also hurt and all the coverage was focused on him. That caused him to not produce like many fantasy owners expected, so he could be a great value pick at receiver this season. Cooper could flourish in a new offense lead by John Gruden, and he probably will not see as much double coverage since they added proven veteran receivers like Martavis Bryant and Jordy Nelson.
It is always a risky bet putting the future of a fantasy season in the hands of a first year starter. However it could be worth it to take a chance on the new Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Two seasons ago the Chiefs thought he was so talented that they traded up to get him with the 10th pick in the draft even though they already had Alex Smith. Now with Smith gone it is Mahomes’ offense to run and he has all the weapons to have a big fantasy season. His best attributes will be his elite arm strength and athleticism. Drafting Mahomes will only cost a late round pick and he could provide big plays with his arm down the field and can even rack up points with his legs as well.
When you are thinking of the top fantasy running backs, Lamar Miller is not one of the first names that comes to mind. However when Deshaun Watson was on the field last season, he was one of the most dangerous backs in all of football. With most of the defenses focusing in on the air assault combination of Watson and DeAndre Hopkins, that left some spaces for Miller to run freely. He also became a much more involved pass catcher with Watson on the field and in PPR formats that makes him even more valuable. Sophomore D'Onta Foreman could take away some of his touches on the goal line, but the Texans should score enough points for Miller to put up solid fantasy numbers next season.
The Ravens have been searching for any sort of stability at the receiver position the past few seasons. They have history helping rejuvenate careers like Steve Smith and Mike Wallace. They can easily do the same thing for Crabtree after him having somewhat of a down season last year due to injury. He had a 1,000 yard season in 2016, but in 2017 he dropped back to 618. As the new number one option for the Ravens, he could top 1,000 yards for the third time in his career. The only receivers he will have to compete for targets with will be Breshad Perriman, Willie Snead, and John Brown and the latter two are recently acquired as well. Quite frankly all of them could be considered sleepers because they will not be drafted high, but they all have an opportunity to put up big numbers because of the Ravens obvious need at the position.
When Marcus Mariota is healthy, he is a very viable fantasy option at quarterback. Even though he is coming off of one of his worst seasons statistically, so he could be a great sleeper pick if he has a bounce back season. He has a really high ceiling because his duel threat ability allows him to score in variety of ways. His durability issues and his increased turnovers from last season could cause him to be undervalued in drafts. The Titans peaked at the end of last season and even got a playoff victory against the heavily favored Chiefs, and Mariota’s play was a big reason why.
One of the more sought after running backs on the free agent market this off season was Jerick McKinnon, but he will not as popular in fantasy, so he is a great value pick. He was primarily a back up and a third down back during his time with the Minnesota Vikings, but he will have a much bigger role on his new team this season. He should get the majority of the carries and passes out of the backfield for the San Francisco 49ers utilizing his versatility. Jimmy G should take enough attention from the defense in the passing game leaving McKinnon to run against fronts with less defenders.
Jamison Crowder had somewhat of a break out fantasy campaign in 2017, but he continues to be slept on. With Alex Smith coming in from San Francisco this offseason, his numbers could easily see an increase. Smith performed at a Pro Bowl level last season and his best receiver was Tyreek Hill who is similar to Crowder in size and skill set. Crowder could be the guy that Smith looks for to stretch the field and he can also take a screen pass to the house with his run after the catch ability. Crowder will most likely be drafted as a second or third receiver, but he could end up producing like a WR1.
After Derek Carr and the Raiders had such a successful 2016 season, there were expectations that they would follow it up with an even better 2017 campaign. However Carr and the Raiders mainly disappointed last season and his poor performance negatively affected a ton of fantasy teams. The biggest reason for his fantasy struggles was because he was injured for practically the entire year. He missed some games and even when he was on the field he was a shell of himself. If he can stay healthy he is due for a bounce back year. He has two new receivers in Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant that will compliment Amari Cooper well. He also has John Gruden that has been known as a quarterback whisperer of sorts since his first stint as head coach of the franchise.
The only thing that has been holding Derrick Henry back in his career so far has been his lack of touches. When he has gotten the ball he has looked like the battering ram that won the Heisman Trophy in college. His primary competition for carries his first two seasons was DeMarco Murray who was once one of the best veteran running backs in the game. Now with Murray calling it quits this offseason, Henry's only competition is Dion Lewis, who figures to be more of a catch-passing back. With this significant increase in carries, Henry could end up being one of the best backs in all of fantasy football. He will definitely would worth the asking price of a mid round pick and could produce at a RB1 level all season.
Because of mediocre quarterback play, Emmanuel Sanders’ fantasy numbers have been down the last couple of seasons. Case Keenum should bring a consistency to the position that has not been seen since Peyton Manning retired. In his first three seasons with the Broncos he had over 1,000 yards and 5 touchdowns, but last year he only managed 555 yards and only 2 touchdowns. That poor performance will surely have ranked way too low in preseason fantasy rankings and he will be available as a second or third receiver in most leagues. Sanders has already proven that he can be a legitimate fantasy option when he has a solid quarterback throwing him the ball, and he is definitely worth taking a chance on with a middle round pick.
Before last season, Jared Goff had already been declared a bust after his disappointing rookie campaign. Then in year two under new head coach Sean McVay he had a break out season. There should be no reason why he should slow down next season either. He has perhaps the best running back in the league to take the focus of most of the defense and his receivers are a solid group as well. Newly acquired Brandin Cooks should have a positive impact on the offense and could add some big plays to Goffs yardage total. Running one of the league’s highest scoring offenses could make Goff an interesting sleeper play going into next season.
The Seattle Seahawks running game was horrendous last season, but they might have solved their issue with their first round pick, Rashaad Penny. He consistently dominated his opponents last season and was one of the best running backs in college football. His bruising style could be what the Seattle offense has been missing since Marshawn Lynch retired and then went to play for Oakland. He will battle for carries with Chris Carson who looked solid before he was injured last season, but he should have every opportunity to have a great fantasy season. He is for sure the go to guy on the goal line for a team that has relied on Russell Wilson to be their leading rusher the past couple of seasons.
One of the more surprising moves of the 2017 season, was when the Carolina Panthers traded Kelvin Benjamin to the Buffalo Bills before the trade deadline. That trade opened the door wide open for Devin Funchess to fill the void as Cam Newton’s number one target. He is as big and physical as Benjamin and he has a little bit more speed to go along with it. After Benjamin was traded, Funchess had 5 touchdowns in 7 games compared to 3 touchdowns in 9 games with him on the roster. Funchess will also now be the go-to guy for the Panthers in the red zone, so he could find the end zone even more in 2018.
Matt Ryan is only two years removed from an MVP season, so it is hard to consider him a sleeper. However he could be slept on in most fantasy drafts this year because of his down season in 2017. He consistently disappointed his Fantasy owners last season dealing with a new offensive coordinator, but he could easily rebound in year two with some familiarity in the same system. The addition of Calvin Ridley should also balance out the passing attack and take away some double teams from Julio Jones. If Ryan returns to MVP form he is going to be a steal because he will probably be available at the back end of most fantasy drafts.
Tampa Bay was desperate for someone to step up as the number one guy in the backfield all last season. Now with Doug Martin leaving in free agency, they will be looking even harder for someone to pick up the workload he left behind. Insert rookie running back Ronald Jones and he could be the savior for the Buccaneer running game. He looked terrific in his junior season for USC showing big play ability with his break away speed. Some draft experts have compared him to Jamal Charles and if he has a career even close to his then he will surely be satisfied. Jones definitely will not be drafted as high as other running backs in his draft class like Saquon Barkley, and that lack of attention could make him this year’s version of Kareem Hunt or Alvin Kamara.
When Will Fuller V returned from injury last season he immediately turned into one of the best fantasy plays at receiver in both daily and regular leagues. He caught 7 touchdowns in his first 4 games of the season. All of those touchdowns came when Deshaun Watson was under center, then after he went down for the season, Fuller’s numbers went down with him. He had zero touchdowns the rest of the season, but if Watson is healthy then he could be one of the best sleeper receivers to have this season. They could have one of the more explosive passing offenses in the league and with DeAndre Hopkins on the other side of him, he will rarely see the other teams best corner in coverage.