Fantasy football season is quickly approaching. While some have already drafted their teams and are eagerly awaiting the start of the NFL regular season, others are patiently waiting it out till week three or four of the preseason where most of the starting line-ups and injuries are out in the open. If you’re one of the latter then kudos on your patience. Despite what some might think fantasy football isn’t just a game of pure luck. It requires a good deal of research, extensive knowledge of the current happenings in the NFL and a fair amount of intuition to boot. Yes there is a little bit of luck involved but those who find success are those who do their research before the draft and constantly look at ways of improving their teams over the course of the season.
One popular method of getting the one up on fellow fantasy players is trying to identify certain sleeper picks for the upcoming draft. Sleepers are under the radar plyers who are generally taken later on in the draft and who’re thought of as candidates to become break out stars. Looking at a team’s depth chart regularly, reading up on training camp reports and watching multiple preseason games are all excellent ways of identifying potential sleeper picks. Of course this varies from individual to individual as different fantasy players will have their own sleepers they’re interested in targeting. So with that being said the following list contains 20 sleepers who – at this point in the offseason – look to be gearing towards great things in 2015. They might not get taken very early on in your drafts but have no doubt that these guys can definitely make an impact if starting on your team this year.
20 Eddie Royal
Here’s a name that’s been off the radar of most fantasy players for several years. Eddie Royal has spent the last couple of seasons as a decent WR3-WR4 option in San Diego and while he’s been an under the radar guy come draft time, he’s always been a decent waiver wire pick-up once the seasons kicked off and injuries take hold. In fact Royal ranked 30th out of all receivers in fantasy football last season. With Kevin White’s injury threatening to keep him out of the 2015 season, Royal has a legitimate shot of being the Bears 2nd receiver come September.
19 Eli Manning
2013 was not a good year for Eli Manning. The two-time Super Bowl MVP led the league in interceptions and looked as though he’d hit a wall. But a scheme change can do wonders for players, especially quarterbacks. Once the offense had gotten over the learning curve that came with new coordinator Ben McAdoo’s system, Manning – along with several other veterans on the Giants offense – looked fantastic. With Odell Beckham Jr. leading the receiving corps and Rueben Randle, Shane Vereen, Larry Donnell and an optimistic Victor Cruz at his disposal in 2015, Manning could very well serve as a team’s borderline QB1 if their RBs and WRs are strong enough to carry the team on one of his off-days.
18 C.J. Spiller
As a member of the Buffalo Bills, C.J. Spiller flashed a ton of talent but failed to stay healthy long enough to make an impact on the team. Spiller has the potential to be a dangerous weapon in fantasy football as both a runner and a pass catcher. He’s quick, elusive and has a knack for making plays. The Saints have no problems utilizing their runners to the most of their abilities. The only negative aspect of him playing in New Orleans is him sharing the backfield with Mark Ingram. But while Ingram will get the brunt of the groundwork, Spiller should get a ton of reps on passing downs on a team that’s looking for a new number 1 target in the passing game.
17 Pierre Garcon
If you were watching the Redskins preseason game against the Browns this past week, you most probably saw Pierre Garcon drop a bomb thrown by Robert Griffin III that would’ve ended up as a touchdown. Well get over it. Garcon doesn’t have a habit of dropping wide open throws. The former Pro Bowl receiver has had problems over the last couple of years and isn’t as prominent as he was expected to be when he signed with the Redskins. But with DeSean Jackson out for an undisclosed amount of time and both a quarterback and head coach who need to succeed this year, Garcon is going to be looked at as one of the offense's biggest hopes. If RG3 improves his play and continues to build a rapport with his receiver Garcon could fit in as a nice WR3 to start the season.
16 Delanie Walker
Delanie Walker broke franchise records last year and didn’t get too much attention for it. Why? Well because he was on a losing team. The Titans tight end is certainly not one of those players that gets thrust into the spotlight. But with 63 catches last season for over 800 yards and four touchdowns, perhaps he should be on a few more fantasy player's draft radars. The tight end market is thin and guys like Gronkowski and Graham might go off the board a little too early for some people's liking. Walker can be grabbed in the middle rounds once you’ve got a general idea as to what your team’s going to look like and he can put up numbers similar to the top tier talents at his position.
15 Joseph Randle
After DeMarco Murray’s fantastic season last year, the former Cowboy took to free agency and signed with the division rival Philadelphia Eagles. Bringing in former Raider Darren McFadden, Dallas looked to have a running back battle at camp. However, Randle seems to assert himself to be the clear favorite early on in the process. However an oblique injury has him out for several weeks. We don’t know how this is going to affect his draft stock in the next two weeks but given the inexperience of those behind him and McFadden’s injury history, it wouldn’t be all too surprising to see Randle reclaim that starting job once he comes back. Other unproven backs like Andre Ellington and Toby Gerhart last year were selected higher than they should’ve been in retrospect. This injury might bump Randle down a few rounds and that’s not necessarily a bad thing from a fantasy players prospective.
14 Devonta Freeman
Steven Jackson is no longer the feature back in Atlanta. The veteran power runner will most likely be watching games this season on his couch unless someone gets injured. The new starter in Atlanta – as of right now – is second year man Devonta Freeman. While Atlanta might be more known as a passing team, they’ll need the help of a solid ground game to keep their offense moving. Don’t expect Freeman to touch the ball 20+ times a game. His value isn’t in the quantity of his carries, it’s what he can do with those carries over the course of a game. Freeman should be worked into the passing game at times this season as well which only increases his value.
13 Brandin Cooks
Compared to some of the other wide receivers selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, Brandin Cooks’ season was relatively quiet, but expect that to change during his sophomore campaign. Cooks only played in 10 games last year but caught over 70% of the passes thrown his way. With Jimmy Graham out of the picture in New Orleans, Cooks should get the opportunity to fill Graham's shoes since he’s one of the most explosive guys they’ve got. Be it trick plays or plain old rout running, Cooks can take it to the house using his speed and elusiveness. Currently projected as an early 4th round selection in Yahoo! leagues, Cooks offers players a potential WR1 at a point in the draft where all of the big name guys at that position are most likely gone.
12 LeGarrette Blount
Now this is a very tricky but potentially favorable situation that’s unfolding with the Patriots running backs. Much like Mike Shanahan, Bill Belichick is often fickle with who gets how many touches at running back. That can be a nightmare for fantasy players. But let’s look at the current situation at running back for New England. LeGarrette Blount looks like the de-facto starter with promising young Jonas Gray the only major threat to Blount’s spot on the depth chart. While this may worry some, Blount just seems to be a different person in a Patriots uniform. He has a good relationship with Belichick and offers the Patriots a veteran presence in the running game. With all the insecurity surrounding his position on the depth chart, some fantasy football players might shy away from him early on in the draft, giving the more savvy players the opportunity to grab him towards the middle of the draft.
11 Austin Seferian-Jenkins
The tight end class of 2014 was pretty quiet last year with Eric Ebron, Jace Amaro and Austin Seferian-Jenkins all failing to make much of an impact on their teams, but out of those three, Seferian-Jenkins looks to have the brighter future, at least for this upcoming season. A highly athletic target who can create mismatches with his unusual mixture of size and speed, Seferian-Jenkins will look to play a huge role in Tampa’s offense this year despite the presence of Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. Jameis Winston might’ve been the first overall pick this past year but he’s bound to have a few struggles early on. For a young quarterback, having a reliable tight end to rely on is key to helping cut down on errors early on in their careers. Seferian-Jenkins can greatly benefit from this role and could easily be a top 10 tight end by the end of the year.
10 Teddy Bridgewater
He had a solid rookie year last season but Teddy Bridgewater is looking to do even better in 2015. The Vikings young franchise quarterback is expected to breakout this season and make the move from a match up based QB2 to a solid QB1. One big reason as to why people are expecting him to succeed is the return of Adrian Peterson. With him back in the picture, the Vikings running game should return to the dominant presence it was before the 2014 season. While that might sound like it takes away from the passing game, it provides Bridgewater with one if the most explosive playmakers in the league and takes a ton of pressure off his shoulders as well.
9 Frank Gore
After many years as a San Francisco 49er, Frank Gore is taking his talents to Indianapolis where he’s expected to provide the team with the stability at the running back position that they’ve been looking for for the last few years. Though he’s in his 30s, Gore has put up solid numbers year in and year out while also incorporating himself as a viable option in the passing game. While there are those who bump Gore down on their list due to concerns over his age, the seemingly ageless Gore has proven that he’s still got plenty of gas left in the tank.
8 Ryan Tannehill
Since first coming into the NFL, Ryan Tannehill has given Dolphins fans something to cheer about. He’s showed steady improvement every year he’s been in the league and should continue that pattern in 2015. He ranked eighth in fantasy among all quarterbacks last year. That means he’s good enough to be a team’s QB1, but he doesn’t get the attention he deserves and therefore will probably go later than the elite at his position. This is another great opportunity of stocking up on those highly valuable skill players early on in the draft process and still nabbing a solid quarterback a little later on.
7 Martavis Bryant
While Antonio Brown may be top dog in the Steelers receiver room, we’ve seen that a solid number 2 receiver can very well take away targets from an elite number 1, much like Golden Tate did to Calvin Johnson last year, though that had a lot to do with injuries as well. Martavis Bryant is a favorite to take on the number 2 role in Pittsburgh. The offense looks set with a strong passing and running game, where Bryant figures in as their home run threat.
6 Cody Latimer
Last year was a disappointment for Cody Latimer as he failed to make an impact on the field. Now in his second year, Latimer finds himself underneath Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders on the Broncos death chart. However with Julius Thomas in Jacksonville there is an opening for someone to emerge as Peyton Manning’s third option in the passing game. That might very well be Latimer. The two already have good chemistry but that doesn’t mean he’ll be putting up numbers that are higher than Thomas and Sanders. He’s a good WR3 option that can be picked up when most people are taking their WR4 and WR5 in the draft.
5 Ameer Abdullah
Last year many rookies contributed to a number of different fantasy squads. While last year’s crop of rookie receivers stole the headlines, this year’s rookie running back group looks to be equally as promising from a fantasy perspective. Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley are two fairly well known rookies heading into this season, so they’ll be on a lot of people's draft boards. Someone who might fly under the radar is Lions rookie Ameer Abdullah. He’s a threat running and catching the ball and looks a lot like the kind of back Reggie Bush was during his tenure with the Lions. If he can push through and take the starting role from Joique Bell – or at the very worst split carries – fantasy owners should see a lot of production from this promising young star.
4 John Brown
Having come out of nowhere last year as a rookie, John Brown is primed to make an even bigger impact in Bruce Arians’ offense in his second year as a pro. While he is playing behind both Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, Brown’s arrow is still pointing up in 2015. With Fitzgerald getting on in age and Floyd nursing some broken fingers, Brown can very well take charge of the Cardinals receiving corps in 2015. Add in the fact that they’ve got virtually no one at tight end and you can expect Brown to stand out in Arizona this upcoming season.
3 Josh Hill
Undoubtedly the most shocking trade this offseason was the New Orleans Saints shipping off their star tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks, leaving the team with a huge gap at the position. A player of Graham’s caliber is almost impossible to replace and no one’s expecting anyone to duplicate his success. However people within the organization have been talking up Josh Hill who, while not as physically gifted as Graham, will most definitely see a decent amount of targets this season. It’s no sure thing, but with the lack of big play talent at tight end recently, taking a flyer on this unproven kid is far from the worse you can do in your upcoming draft.
2 Charles Johnson
Mike Wallace might be the new face in Minnesota, but fellow receiver Charles Johnson is looking to build off his momentum from last year. The young receiver will look to line up on the outside and use his size and physical style of play to move around defensive backs. He’s a target Teddy Bridgewater is familiar with yet is rarely mentioned in that Vikings receiving corps. He might not yet be a top 15 receiver in the league but he’s definitely shown that he can be productive at the pro level. He’s someone that’ll get targets and is going to get some looks inside the 20. Never a bad thing to have in a wide receiver.
1 Sammy Watkins
The first rookie receiver taken off the board last year was somewhat underwhelming compared to his fellow rookie receivers. The Buffalo Bills wide out might not have a steady quarterback throwing him the ball, which admittedly is detrimental to a receiver’s performance. But he’s been impressing this offseason and was drafted in the top five because of his knack for making plays. Despite the Bills’ problems at QB, Watkins should see plenty of targets and is the Bills’ undisputed number 1. You can do much worse in your drafts this year towards the middle rounds. Watkins should start off the season as a WR2-WR3 prospect and should lean more towards being a WR2 if he gets as many targets as he’s projected to.