Fantasy football season is right around the corner and you must be looking for that extra edge to beat out your friends and take home the trophy this season. Well this is just what you're looking for, a quick 15 player list of guys who could put your team over the top. Being a huge fantasy football guy myself, I know how important sleepers can be. I've found my yearly one or two sleepers that have helped my team a ton and, this year, I think is the year of the sleeper running back. Sleepers are really important to your draft, because as we all know, there will be a top draft pick of yours that will get injured or even be a bust, and finding that one "Diamond in the rough" sleeper will undo any of the damage that poor early pick did to your team. On top of that, it feels good to seem like a fantasy football guru to your friends. Keep in mind though this is not a draft guide, and none of these players will go in the first few rounds. These are all mid to late round sleepers, picks like Doug Martin or Allen Robinson from last year or Josh Gordon from two years ago. Basically anyone who would be able to add a ton of value to your team with little risk. So without further ado, let's get started!
15 Devontae Booker, RB, Denver Broncos
Let's start this off with a deep sleeper candidate, Devontae Booker. The Broncos are going to try to use the same game plan as they did last year, which is relying on an elite defense and trying to grind out the clock running the ball, while also throwing in some play action and deep passes. The current starting Broncos running backs are iffy at best. Ronnie Hillman is injury prone and CJ Anderson, possibly the biggest letdown in fantasy last season, has been inconsistent. With that in mind, it paves the way for a fresh legged running back coming off a Heisman caliber season. Devontae Booker was exceptional at Utah last season, racking up 1,200 yards on the ground and 11 rushing TDs in only ten games. On top of that, he was pretty good in the passing game as well, finishing with 37 catches and 316 yards. He's definitely someone you want to consider snagging in the late rounds and stashing, especially if you are in a dynasty league.
14 Robert Griffin III, QB, Cleveland Browns
Why is RGIII a deep sleeper candidate, you be might asking? Because he can make plays. In Washington, he was a Rookie of the Year winner and could've beat a very good Seahawks team in the playoffs, if not for a bad knee injury. He's got a huge arm and, if used correctly by Hue Jackson, can still rack up yards on the ground as well. Just analyzing what he has to work with on offense this year, it's easy to see a definite upgrade from what he had in Washington. In week four, he will get back Josh Gordon, who is a top talent in the league, while he has another Baylor beast in rookie Corey Coleman, a monster tight end in Gary Barnidge and quite easily a better offensive line than he had in Washington. He has two deep threats to spread the field, a tight end to open up the middle and an offensive line that will actually block for him, which sounds like the perfect situation for a comeback. A late round pick as a backup QB is perfect for this secret weapon who can be a QB2 with potential to become a QB1.
13 Colin Kaepernick, QB, San Fransisco 49ers
I know that the narrative this whole offseason has been negative about Kaep, but he's coming off a surgery this offseason and is coming into a new (or maybe not so new) offense. However, he has a new coach, Chip Kelly, who basically designed his offense at Oregon after the things Kaepernick was doing in college at Nevada. So, this "new system" may not be as new as people are letting on. Let's not forget that it was not too long ago that he was burning teams as a dual threat on his way to a Super Bowl appearance before he had this fall-off. If there is one person that can get him back to his top-tier form, it would have to be Chip Kelly. So watch his preseason games closely and see how he is progressing. Remember though, Kaep is a “Boom or Bust” guy, but his boom potential is definitely bigger than his bust potential because of how little you have to invest in this sleeper candidate.
12 Jacksonville Jaguars Defense
Last year, no one would have ever thought that the Jaguars defense would be a candidate for a top defense this year, or ever for that matter. However, they have made some serious improvements to their team this offseason. Their big additions being defensive tackle Malik Jackson, an underrated safety in Tashaun Gipson, and a solid corner in Prince Amukamara, to name a few. Those are some huge difference making additions, but that's not all they got either. They essentially have three first round draft picks coming in this year with Dante Fowler Jr. coming back from injury, Jalen Ramsey their first pick, and second round steal Myles Jack. Add them to a decent core, made up of young defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks, veteran linebacker Paul Posluszny, up and coming linebacker Telvin Smith and underrated safety John Cyprien and you have a scary defense. So, with all the additions and improving players, look for big things and keep this defense a secret. Depending on the draft, take them in the mid to late rounds for the best value.
11 Mohamed Sanu, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Signing from Cincinnati, Mohamed Sanu gives Atlanta a second option to Julio Jones and will act as a younger, more athletic version of Roddy White. In years past, the Falcons two wide receiver attack was lethal and it even got them pretty deep in the playoffs while putting up big numbers.
Last year with the Bengals, Sanu put up some lackluster numbers. but he was really a third or fourth option at best. That is good though because it puts his ADP lower than it should be. He has the ability to hit an end around for a TD and even throw the ball on occasion, so you can expect some pretty interesting things from the Falcons new number two receiver. As a second option in Atlanta, he could be used in a lot of ways and could put up career numbers. As long as he stays healthy this year, he will be a real viable WR3 or flex option in most standard leagues. So, use a late round pick on Sanu while other managers waste picks on another players.
10 Zach Miller, TE, Chicago Bears
Last year. Zach Miller sort of broke out at the end of the season. After being behind Martellus Bennett at the beginning of the season, he got his shot late season and made the most of it. Now he's the starting tight end for the Bears, after Martellus Bennett was traded to the Patriots, and will have a more open center of the field with Kevin White coming in and Alshon Jeffery finally being healthy. In the past, Coach John Fox has used the tight end quite well. Most notably with Julius Thomas in 2013, who also was a sleeper that year. Although he had an MVP level Peyton Manning throwing to him, the system could still work for a quarterback like Jay Cutler. The biggest reason for that is that Julius Thomas before his Jaguar days made most of his plays in the redzone, where any tight end should shine. Translate that playbook to a harder throwing Jay Cutler and there is more room for crossing route touchdowns. So, look for big things from Zach Miller this season as a high end TE2 with the potential to be a mid level starting TE. Use a late round pick on this guy.
9 Dion Lewis, RB, New England Patriots
Many may have forgotten about the Patriots outlet back, but he was a top scoring RB up until an ACL injury cut his season short. Reports this offseason look good though, as the Patriots expect him back by week one. Look for him to comeback as strong as last year, especially with Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm. For the first four weeks of the year, Garoppolo will be the Patriots' starting quarterback and will most likely be looking for more dump down passes, which adds even more value to Dion Lewis, who does most of his damage catching passes rather than running the ball. He's a very consistent player, like most Patriots players, so look for him to pick up where he left off last year. Take him in the mid to late rounds of your draft as an RB2 or solid flex player.
8 Jared Cook, TE, Green Bay Packers
One of the few Green Bay Packers additions over the years, Jared Cook is looking to make a splash this season. He is basically a Jermichael Finley clone, if anyone remembers how good that combo was, except he has more upside. While you may be hesitant because he's burned you before, take a late flyer on him. In the past, he's been on below average Rams teams with way below average quarterback play, so any plays he made were mostly his doing. Now, he has the best quarterback in the NFL throwing the ball to him. Plus, the Packers are very stingy with signing free agents and when they do it, it's usually for a reason and it usually pays off too, like with Julius Peppers. Also, with Jordy Nelson back and Eddie Lacy thinned out, he may very well have the middle of the field open for the taking in the Packers pick your poison offense. Take him in the later rounds as a good TE2 with the potential to be a TE1.
7 Charcandrick West/Spencer Ware, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
As much as I love Jamaal Charles, no one knows how he's going to hold up this season after tearing his ACL for a second time. In the wake of Charles’ injury last year, Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware each made a home in the Chiefs backfield, putting out huge games consistently. It's most likely because the Chiefs have an above average line and a smart coach in Andy Reid, but they are both good players. With this one, you could go with either player late because, at the moment, it's not too evident how the depth chart will play out behind Jamaal, so keep note during the preseason and make sure you get the right guy. Now while they are both good players, do not expect much out of them unless Jamaal goes down because as stated before he's still the clear starter. With this in mind, pick up West or Ware in the late rounds and stash them in case Charles can't make it through the year. If that unfortunately happens, look for one of them to have RB1 value.
6 Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jameis Winston, the last QB on the list is a good sleeper candidate because of his upside. Last season as a rookie, he struggled early, but really turned it on late when he went on a six week run with 12 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. On top of that, he made plays with his legs pretty often, running for 6 TDs. To add onto this, there have been a ton of reports on how he has really stepped up in the locker room as a leader and how he has spent time this offseason getting into even better shape. Lastly, he even has an offensive minded head coach in Dirk Koetter now, who will hopefully add an even bigger boost to Jameis and the Bucs offense. If Mike Evans can improve in his third year and drop less balls, look for Winston to make a big year two jump. Take him in the mid rounds as a low QB1/high QB2.
5 Coby Fleener, TE, New Orleans Saints
Coby Fleener was one of Andrew Luck’s favorite targets in Indy, but he had to battle with fellow tight end Dwayne Allen for targets, especially in the redzone. He was used to stretch the field rather than be a bigger redzone target because he has a lot of speed for a tight end. Now he's the Saints number one TE in an offense that is famous for exceptional tight end play. Last year, journeymen Ben Watson has a career year with 825 yards and 6 touchdowns. Now, we don't expect Saints Jimmy Graham-type numbers, but we still expect TE1 numbers because of the lack of other options in this offense. Drew Brees throws the ball a lot and with Brandon Cooks as his only other established target, he will get a lot of targets in the red zone. Overall, his speed will stretch the field and he will make big plays, so use a late round pick to lock up this TE1 that not enough people are looknig at.
4 Arian Foster, RB, Miami Dolphins
Jay Ajayi was an underrated guy out of Boise State who is a hard runner, but is kind of injury prone, while Arian Foster is, well, Arian Foster. If given the opportunity, he will put up big numbers like he always does. While he is getting up there in age, he still has plenty to give, so I was surprised it took a team so long to add him to their roster this offseason. It will be important to watch how the preseason goes, but it's looking like the Dolphins are leaning towards giving Foster more of the carries to start the season at least. With that in mind, I would use a mid to late round pick on Foster and expect RB1 production from him when he's healthy. Back in 2014, people were sleeping on Foster because of injuries and he went on to rush for 1,246 yards and 8 touchdowns. Don't let him slip through your hands again.
3 Kevin White, WR, Chicago Bears
In his pseudo-rookie year, Kevin White will look to make a move up the ranks. The Bears are trying to recreate the B-Marsh/Jeffery combo, so White has some big shoes to fill. Accompanying his teammate Zach Miller on this list, this Bears offense has a chance to be really good. It helps that he has a veteran QB like Jay Cutler and a top tier WR on the other side in Alshon Jeffery to relieve pressure too. The Bears also have a second year running back in Jeremy Langford who made an impact last year in the absence of Matt Forte.
There's a reason White was a top-ten pick last year and I think that they will look to get him the ball whenever Jeffery calls for double coverage, which could be often. There is also the question of Alshon Jeffery's health. While he is very good, he's had a lot of leg injuries in the past, so that could open up White to some number one wide receiver snaps. In the that event, his value will increase a ton. Look to snag him in the mid to late rounds as a WR3 with the potential to be as good as a WR1.
2 Sammie Coates, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Sammie Coates is an interesting pick, mainly because everyone is thinking Markus Wheaton is going to be the number two guy in Pittsburgh. But, they are not taking into account that the Steelers don't need another small receiver to come over the middle and make plays, as they already have the best in the game at that in Antonio Brown. They need a bigger guy who can control the outside the way Martavis Bryant did last year. That's something Coates did well in his college days in Auburn with his sure hands. We didn't get to see it much last season though, due to how deep their wide receiver core was, but now that Martavis Bryant is suspended for the year, he will definitely get extra opportunities. It will be important to watch him over the preseason and see how he is being used. Look for him to be the Steelers number two WR and use a late round pick on him, expecting some WR3 numbers.
1 Carlos Hyde, RB, San Fransisco 49ers
Lastly, there is Carlos Hyde. He had a huge game in week one last year then disappeared after he got hurt. That being said, he has showed flashes of greatness in the past. In Ohio, he was an absolute monster and with the 49ers running a heavy run/option offense executed by Chip Kelly and Colin Kaepernick, this will be a great change for his style and he may be able to emerge as a top RB in the NFL. A high volume of carries and power plays will look to lead him to a big season. His skills are not restricted to just the ground game though, as he has proved to have sure hands coming out of the backfield and can also be used for screens. So, hopefully his deep sleeper candidate quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, can perform and open up lanes and options for him to make plays. Use an upper-middle round pick on him to make sure you secure this beast with RB1 potential.
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