Fantasy Football Sleepers: First Edition
“Fantasy Football Sleepers” is almost a dead term. Those who are really #hardcore about fantasy football know that sleepers don’t really exist. The Kansas City Chiefs fifth-string running back undrafted free agent isn’t even a fantasy football sleeper because someone, somewhere has written an article about how he is the next big thing. Do I personally think it is a dead term? I don’t. What fantasy football players tend to ignore is boring situations that can lead to QB1/RB2/WR2/TE1 potential or team situations where a starting player is viewed as entrenched but is pretty clearly on the downslope of their career. Using our ADP vs Projections tool, I’ve highlighted four players who are legit fantasy football sleepers at this point in time.
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Fantasy Football Sleepers
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton, a fantasy football sleeper? Before you accuse me of lazy analysis, this is the exact point that I am making. Players with Cam Newton’s ceiling being taken later in drafts are how you win leagues. The entire thesis of the Late Round Quarterback strategy is to aim for QB’s in your draft who has the ceiling to become weekly starters. In Newton’s career, he has only finished outside the top 12 in QB scoring twice: 2014 and 2016, both years where he missed games with injuries. Newton has been a top 5 fantasy quarterback five times and the top overall quarterback once. The reason that he is going in the 11th round of fantasy drafts at the moment is injury concern. The price he costs in drafts is now so long that if he is just hurt, you just cut him and move on! There is almost no risk in taking Cam as your top quarterback and he is one of maybe five quarterbacks in the NFL who offers legit league-winning upside at the position.
DeaSean Hamilton, Denver Broncos
If you have been reading RotoExperts throughout the course of this summer, you know that Hamilton is one of my favorites. Emmanuel Sanders still has a long way back to recover from his Achilles injury but the overall Denver passing game forecasts to be better than last season. There is some upside with Drew Lock and Joe Flacco can at least be as decent as Case Keenum was last season. Flacco and Keenum’s adjusted yards per attempt in 2018 were only .32 different with a slight edge to Flacco. The team added Noah Fant at tight end and Courtland Sutton should theoretically be ready to handle starting boundary wide receiver duties. When Sanders went down with an injury last season, it was Hamilton who lead the team in targets in his absence. Hamilton caught 66.7% of his targets last year and really looked like a prototypical NFL slot wide receiver (the role that Sanders is projected to play). Even with our projection of Sanders playing for the Broncos in 2019, Hamilton is a value at his ADP with massive target upside if Sanders is not able to make his way back effectively.
Rex Burkhead, New England Patriots
Every year, the cheapest Patriots running back in fantasy football drafts ends up becoming a value. In 2018, James White was drafted after Michel and Burkhead and had his career high in touches. In 2017, Dion Lewis had 212 touches while Mike Gillislee had 105 and Burkhead had 94 in 10 games. While the Patriots drafting Damien Harris with the 87th overall pick seems to have spooked fantasy football drafters from selecting Burkhead, I’m not sure. In Burkhead’s time with New England, he’s averaged 9.1 touches per game, 5.1 yards per touch and scored nine touchdowns in 18 regular season games. Burkhead also had more touches in the Super Bowl than James White. I’m fairly certain the Patriots will do with Damien Harris what they did with James White. Keep him on the roster, integrate him slowly and let the more experienced players handle the bulk of the important work. Last season, Rex Burkhead ended up being a horrible value as he was over-drafted and then injured. This year, the blowback from fantasy football drafters makes him a legitimate fantasy football sleeper.
Ricky Seals-Jones, Arizona Cardinals
Despite seeing only 70 targets in 2018, Ricky Seals-Jones finished with 704 Air Yards. That was only a hair less than sixth-round pick David Njoku, more than Austin Hooper, Kyle Rudolph, Mark Andrews, O.J Howard and Ben Watson. Yes, the Arizona Cardinals did sign old man Charles Clay to the roster but the two basically play different positions. Clay is a strict in-line tight end at this point of his career. Seals-Jones played 536 snaps last season and blocked on only 149 of them. Compare that to Clay who played 504 snaps and had more blocking snaps than routes ran (251 routes ran to 263 blocking snaps). In the Kilff Kingsbury Air Raid, the team won’t have much of a use for a blocking tight end. RSJ will have more routes run, more targets and more opportunities than many other late-rounds tight ends simply because of the offense that he plays in. Even if he ends up fifth on the Cardinals in targets, that could equate to the eight or ninth most targets at the tight end position. I am making Ricky Seals-Jones a priority fantasy football sleeper late in drafts.