As the 2016 NFL season draws closer, so does analysis and speculation about this year's crop of fantasy prospects. Naturally, a new season gives way for new possible outcomes for many players throughout the league. Schemes, coaches, and personnel groups all inevitably change for various teams every year, and this one is no exception. As per usual, it will affect many players of interest to fantasy owners.
It could be argued that keying in on players primed for a breakout season is what makes any given fantasy team sink or swim. It's much easier to predict which established stars will continue their dominance than it is to see a new one in the making. These sleeper picks can serve as a great value to any fantasy team, making the difference in success or failure in your league. As the season progresses, and injuries increasingly come into play when managing your team, it is of paramount importance to have the depth necessary to maintain a similar point total from any position. The players listed here may not be getting the most press at the moment, but they are all candidates for a productive season. Target them after the marquee stat monsters are off your draft board.
Ranked below are the top 15 fantasy sleepers for the 2016 NFL season.
29 DeVante Parker, Dolphins
Parker really came on late in the year for Miami, and looks to establish himself as the clear WR2 in their offense in 2016. He only had 494 receiving yards last year, but averaged a robust 19 YPC, which clearly spells his potential. He's bound to get his share of targets, as opposing defenses will try and gang up on elite WR Jarvis Landry, leaving Parker in more single coverage. This will give him the opportunity to gain favorable matchups, and capitalize on an increased number of targets next season. The Dolphins figure to be a pass-heavy offense with the loss of RB Lamar Miller, and given that QB Ryan Tannehill has proven that he's a reliable perennial starter, I would be buying on the Dolphins WRs. Looks for a lot of upside from Parker this season. With Rishard Matthews and Greg Jennings out of the picture, Parker is the clear second-best option for Miami at this point.
27 Derrick Henry, Titans
The Titans offense remains somewhat of an enigma, but head coach Mike Mularkey figures to run the ball in large quantities. The acquisition of DeMarco Murray and drafting of Henry speaks to this, but who will be getting the lions share of the carries? Murray clearly lost a step last season with the Eagles, likely due to overuse in Dallas the year prior, averaging under 4 YPC. I'm not sure if he can regain his 2014 form. In that case, Henry will be slotted in as the RB1. There's been a lot of talk about his lack of vision, and being the product of a stout Alabama offensive line, but really, Henry is probably the Titans most effective option in the backfield when it comes down to it. Even if Murray remains in the RB1 role, Henry is bound to get some red zone touches, meaning he would still be worth the late-round selection in your draft. It's a running offense with the potential for Murray to fall flat. Lots of opportunity for Henry in his rookie season.
25 John Brown, Cardinals
With the sheer amount of effective pass-catchers that Arizona has, it would be easy for Brown to get lost in the shuffle. Though he plays alongside Larry Fitzgerald and Malcolm Floyd, Brown has a skill set all his own. He's a certified burner with great hands, and a prime target for Carson Palmer's deep-ball accuracy. Brown broke 1,000 receiving yards last year, with 7 TD receptions as a second-year player, and taking into account that he plays on an offense stocked with weapons, that's an impressive feat. Yet, he's not the subject of much conversation, and he's likely to fall to at least a mid-round level in most drafts. This is a high-value pickup that any fantasy owner could potentially use as a WR2 or Flex on any given week. Brown is that dynamic a player that remains under the radar. Though he plays next to a lot of weapons on the Cardinals offense, he'll still get consistent looks.
23 Duke Johnson, Browns
This decimated Browns offense is going to have to make their own playmakers in 2016, and one of the best places to begin that task, would be elevating second-year RB Duke Johnson. The value here is in his pass-catching ability, making him a prime late-round target in PPR leagues. He had 534 yards receiving last year as a rookie, but just 379 on the ground, for a mediocre 3.6 YPC. Still, he figures to get a lot of touches this season, and to reiterate, he is a dual threat, though clearly more adept as a pass-catcher than a runner. Johnson will serve as a matchup-dependent Flex option, but is bound to have several standout games, just by virtue of Cleveland lacking many other dependable skill players. Again, buy late on Johnson in your draft, but realize that the potential is there for him to have a breakout season.
21 Phillip Dorsett, Colts
At first glance, it would seem that Dorsett didn't live up to his first round hype in 2015. However, consider the fact that he was playing with backup QBs for half the season, as well as a less-than-healthy Andrew Luck (when he was on the field), and things become much clearer. It's no secret that the Colts were in a bit of a chaotic situation last year, and that doesn't help for a rookie trying to look for stability in a new team. With head coach Chuck Pagano signed to a new deal, and Luck healthy for the upcoming season, Dorsett predicts to have a much better year. He's a flat out burner, with dynamic deep threat ability, and the opportunity to catch his passes from one of the best arms in the league. A mid-late round draft selection on Dorsett could prove a quality Flex option. Yes, he'll have to compete for targets with T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief, but the upside is there. With his speed, he's a constant TD threat, and is bound to have several big games this year.
19 Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Buccaneers
Now that Jameis Winston has gotten used to NFL speed, and seems to be on the rise, he'll begin to target different weapons on the Bucs offense. One of them is Seferian-Jenkins who has flashed glimpses of effectiveness the past two seasons, despite both being cut short by injury. With Mike Evans establishing himself as a clear WR1, combined with the presence of the always-reliable Vincent Jackson, there's room for Seferian-Jenkins to work the middle of the field, and prove he's a capable and consistent pass-catching threat. This would definitely be a certified late-round selection, given his injury history, but there's a reasonable scenario that says he could have a breakout year. He's shown the ability before, now it's about putting it all together.
17 Robert Woods, Bills
As frightening as it may be for Bills fans, if Sammy Watkins isn't on the field, Woods is probably the number one target for Tyrod Taylor to throw to. Watkins is currently suffering some injury bugs, and it remains to be seen how much he'll play this year. The good news? Woods isn't a total detriment, and is worthy of a mid-late round selection in any draft. In three seasons he has 11 TD catches, and nearly 2,000 yards receiving. Not elite numbers by any measure, but they give enough hope that he would be able to fill in as a WR1 when Watkins is hurt. The other pass-catching option next to Watkins is TE Charles Clay, but Woods is going to see his share of targets this year regardless, even in a run-based offense like the Bills predict to use. Look for Woods in the later rounds, especially if Watkins injury projection isn't good by August.
15 Zach Ertz, Eagles
Considering what Doug Pederson's offense did for Travis Kelce in Kansas City last season, Ertz is a likely candidate to be the next breakout pass-catching TE. In his three seasons in the league, Ertz has seen his receptions and receiving yards increase each year, culminating in a 75-catch, 853 receiving yard campaign in 2015. He was never used as much as he should have been in the red zone under Chip Kelly, and considering his 6-6 frame, Pederson will likely use him more in that role. Given the lack of established receiving options currently on the Eagles' roster, Ertz is a steal if available in the mid-rounds in any draft. There's a real chance that he establishes himself as an upper-tier TE in the league this year. A clear cut TE1 option in any league, Ertz is a worthy pickup that doesn't get much press.
13 Karlos Williams, Bills
Williams had one of the most underappreciated rookie seasons last year, though he only appeared in 11 games. It was enough to make an impression on the run-heavy Bills offense. He accumulated 517 yards for a stellar 5.6 YPC, adding 7 TDs onto his stat line. If he can keep up similar production this year, and LeSean McCoy falters with increasing age, expect Williams to be a fantasy steal this season. Buffalo has a solid offensive line, and Williams' power-running style and second-level quickness has a real chance to succeed behind it with increased usage. Even if "Shady" McCoy remains in the RB1 role, Williams is going to get use as a change-up RB and goal line presence. If he falls to the mid-late rounds in your draft, it would be wise to snag him. There's real RB1 potential here, and given the uncertainty that is currently the Bills' passing game, Williams having a breakout season is a reasonable possibility.
11 Kevin White, Bears
Chicago's 7th overall pick in the 2015 draft never saw the field his rookie year due to injury. White has to be one of the biggest "boom or bust" candidates for the upcoming season. He'll be helped playing alongside elite WR Alshon Jeffery, giving him ample targets as opposing defenses look to take away the most obvious weapon. Left unaccounted for, White has the potential to burn defenses. He had a lightning 4.35-second 40-yard dash time, and Jay Cutler has the arm strength to get him the ball deep. The middle and short routes pose more of a question, but overall, White is worth a pickup in any draft, it's just a matter of when he's available. Picking him before round 7 isn't advised, but if he's around after that, it could be the steal of the draft. With the departure of TE Martellus Bennett, White is definitely the second best receiving option at the Bears' disposal.
9 Corey Coleman, Browns
Continuing the rookie WR trend, a quick look at the Browns' depth chart says that he has a real opportunity to be the number one WR headed into the season. The Baylor product was selected 15th overall by Cleveland and are hoping that he finds synergy with RGIII quickly. He has a great opportunity to establish his presence on a WR corps that is in desperate need of help after losing Travis Benjamin to the Chargers in the offseason. There's a potential for high-volume targets here, and some may believe that Coleman would be worth a mid-round selection. Cleveland has more talent in the passing game than they do in the rushing, and they should be expected to throw the ball quite some bit. I'm buying Coleman as a WR3 or Flex option to start the season, with his upside erring on the side of a WR2. A real chance for success here.
7 Markus Wheaton, Steelers
Wheaton has been a spot starter and a WR3 for the Steelers the past three seasons, and this year could be the one where he sees high-caliber production. With the unfortunate absence of WR Martavis Bryant this season, and opposing defenses keying in on the elite Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell, there's going to be room for Wheaton to do some serious damage on a weekly basis. He previews already as a deep-ball threat, and if Roethlisberger can stay healthy for the majority of the season, Wheaton could be looking at a 1,000 yard campaign. He already had 5 TD receptions last year in a limited role, and that only looks to improve. There's a chance that Wheaton sticks around long enough on the draft board for him to be taken at a bargain price, in which case, he should be selected to be a WR3 or Flex option.
5 Rueben Randle, Eagles
One of the most neglected signings of the offseason, Randle is a prototypical, big-bodied possession receiver, that could get a bevy of targets. While with the Giants the past four seasons, Randle racked up 20 TD receptions, and over 2,600 yards receiving. He filled in for Victor Cruz when he went down with an injury in the 2014 season, and was a consistent target for Eli Manning. While there are questions about his route-running, he's objectively the second best WR currently on the Eagles' roster, next to Jordan Matthews. The narrative is that he won't be starting on the outside when the season starts, but training camp could play a role in changing that. This is someone to keep an eye on as the season approaches; Randle could be a big part of Philadelphia's offense. There's little demand at all for him, and he'll be available after round 10 most likely. If the outcome works to his favor, he could be a huge late round steal. Red zone threat who is effective in the mid-range passing game.
3 Sterling Shepard, Giants
The Giants are aware of the unlikely scenario that has Victor Cruz replicating his pre-injury output, and have basically selected Shepherd to be the WR2 next to Odell Beckham. Shepard figures to play in the slot, and could wreak havoc on nickel corners in man-coverage, as the opposing defense tries to neutralize Beckham. There's a fair amount of risk to this selection, because if Cruz comes back healthy and productive, Shepard will likely see less of a role in the offense. However, given that he hasn't seen the field in a a year and a half, I'm erring on Shepherd's side for this season. He's coming into a Giants offense that has one elite weapon to consume the defense, but not enough weapons for him to be neglected in the passing game. He's not a burner, but is a great route-runner who's going to have a big year as Beckham's sidekick in the Giants' passing attack. Pick him up in the mid-rounds of your draft.
1 Marvin Jones, Lions
This was a great pick up for Detroit after losing Calvin Johnson to retirement, and Jones figures to be the top target for Matt Stafford in the upcoming season. He stood out on a Bengals team that had a ton of weapons including A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, and could really establish himself as a WR1 on the Lions. He'll be the prime target in the passing game along with Golden Tate. After Tate's disappointing 2015 season however, there is room for Jones to clearly surpass him. With his breakneck speed and reliable hands, Jones could have a career-year in Detroit in a clear-cut passing offense. If he's available in the mid-rounds on any draft board, it's an obvious choice. He's not getting a lot of press, and is likely to fall out of the first four rounds, which could give your team three WR1-level players by the middle-rounds, which is a huge advantage. I'm buying Jones' 2016 production, as he emerges as Detroit's best skill player.
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