The NFL season comes closer as each day passes and with it comes the beginning of fantasy drafts. Some fantasy GM’s have been studying and prepping for their draft since the day after the Super Bowl. Other GM’s have been enjoying the time away from the trash talk and analysis that comes with the competition. Whichever one you may be, this article looks to help by giving you some fantasy sleepers in your upcoming draft that will give you the last laugh as you take home your fantasy championship.
So, what is a fantasy sleeper? Well in the fantasy world it’s a late round or surprising pick that exceeds the expectation of their draft position or game performance. Basically, it’s the guy your buddy is hyping up all week and you ignore him every time until, at the end of Sunday, the player has over 20 points and your friend has the win. Trust me, it happens.
For this article, I am using a 12-team standard league as the format and FantasyFootballCalculator.com. The calculator is to see the ADP, average draft position, of the players. If you have more or less than twelve, you can adapt accordingly. So let’s get into it.
1. Hunter Henry, TE, Los Angeles Chargers (ADP: 97/8.10)
In his first year, Hunter Henry was 2nd among all rookies with eight receiving touchdowns (Michael Thomas had 9). While 37-year-old Antonio Gates had more snaps than the rookie last year, in some games we saw Henry take over that main role and be productive. Add that to some reports this off-season talking about how Henry is expected to receive more play and Henry looks to turn out into a top five fantasy tight end. Last year he was tied for most touchdowns among tight ends, a top 20 fantasy play. If Henry gets the play everyone expects, then his catches and yards will increase drastically with his touchdowns staying around eight or nine. I expect his stats at the end of the season to look about 60/700/9 and that would put him as a top fantasy tight end.
2. Robert Woods, WR, Los Angeles Rams (ADP: 192/14.06)
This is one of the more risky plays. In PPR, Robert Woods is a much safer pick. But, I argue he will launch into a standard sleeper role. Look, there is no one on the Rams receiver depth chart that has proven anything in the league. Tavon Austin may have the money but he’s not the number one wide receiver that Woods can potentially be. Being at the top of the depth chart means gaining the majority of the targets Kenny Britt left behind. Britt last year had 68 receptions putting him over the 1,000-yard mark for receiving and had five touchdowns. Now with the coaching change and the expectation for Jared Goff to improve in his sophomore year, we could see Woods take over and he’s expected to lead the team in targets. If he can even replicate Britt’s numbers, he’s a safe pick late in drafts that will surprise you.
3. Samaje Perine, RB, Washington Redskins (ADP: 79/7.06)
The hype train keeps on going for the rookie runner. Perine is already considered the best back in this backfield. The Redskins #1 running back battle will continue when the Redskins start training camp but a lot of reporters are already giving the crown to the rookie. Perine’s play at Oklahoma was amazing and he holds their all time rushing record. He is a power back that is a lot quicker with the ball in his hands than you would expect. Sharing the ball with Joe Mixon did not even hide the runner’s talents. If he wins the job, Perine will have great touchdown upside and get most of the short yard carries and eventually develop a role as a runner. I would be a little concerned if the coaches incorporate more of a committee backfield early on, but by midseason, it will be Perine’s job.
4. DeVante Parker, WR, Miami Dolphins (ADP: 91/8.06)
The expectations for Parker are becoming a little crazy, but there are some good reasons for it. The Dolphin’s offensive coordinator himself told reporters to expect a “gigantic year” from the third-year wide receiver. Another reason is that Parker is finally fully healthy. After struggling with injuries his first two seasons, all reports show Parker has changed and is taking more care of his body. The scary thing about this pick is Kenny Stills and Jarvis Landry. Those two will eat up targets, especially Landry. But for me, the coordinator sharing his feelings tells us a lot. Parker has proven he has the talent and if he is on the field consistently, expect to see Kenny Stills lose a lot of targets to the young hot shot.
5. Adam Thielen, WR, Minnesota Vikings (ADP: 133/11.08)
After a breakout year in 2016, Adam Thielen is still falling out of the first ten rounds. That’s fine, it just means you can secure a great late round pick. Now, Stefon Diggs was hindered by an injury last season and that contributed to Thielen’s production. However, the guy is now the second wideout on the depth chart and will contend with tight end Kyle Rudolph for the second most targets on the team. If the Vikings can keep Sam Bradford from getting hit in three seconds this year, we know that Bradford trusts Thielen and will have no issue giving him the ball. Scoring more fantasy points than Diggs last season should also give you the confidence to pick this guy. The touchdown upside and improvement of the offense as a whole puts Thielen as a sleeper to target in the later rounds.
6. John Brown, WR, Arizona Cardinals (ADP 106/9.05)
There was a heavy amount of off-season praise for the fourth-year wide receiver. Going into a contract year, Brown is expected to take on the number two role behind Larry Fitzgerald in the 2017 season. After battling the sickle cell condition that kept his numbers low last season, we can expect Brown to return to 2015 form and maybe even better. If Brown can go above 1,000 yards and catch around the seven touchdowns he caught when he was healthy in 2015, then he will be an absolute steal this late in drafts. With Michael Floyd gone, Brown just has more targets he can eat up. If you want to take this even further, Carson Palmer and Brown lived together this off-season. They have to trust each other pretty well after that. If he can stay healthy, Brown will be a top fantasy player.
7. Bilal Powell, RB, New York Jets (ADP 73/6.11)
This high in the draft it’s hard to be a sleeper pick. Powell is the exception because what else do the Jets have? A quarterback room led by Josh McCown and Quincy Enunwa as the number one target. You can read my opinions on the Jets as a whole here, that way I can focus on Powell and not the train-wreck that is the Jets. Matt Forte basically lost the job at the end of last year due to injury and a younger Powell providing more plays. The Jet’s want us to believe it will be a committee once the season starts to collapse, which honestly has already started, you have to see what you have in your younger players. Powell’s already shown he can play and if his touches drastically increase, he’ll put up some fantasy points and we will see top-15 numbers.
8. Jack Doyle, TE, Indianapolis Colts (ADP 139/11.12)
There’s not much to say about the tight end position. Fantasy football last year at the tight end position was weird and somewhat non-existent. But Doyle was a top-15 play at tight end and offers a touchdown upside in his second year as the number one tight end. I understand the reasons for taking an early pick on someone like Rob Gronkowski or Travis Kelce but those guys are going in rounds three and four. Doyle is going late and could very easily turn in a top 10 year with Andrew Luck as his quarterback and an improved Colts team. If you don’t land one of the top three tight ends, Doyle is a safe late sleeper.
9. Jared Cook, TE, Oakland Raiders. (ADP 162/13.09)
Here it is, the weirdest pick on this list. Jared Cook was not great last year with the Packers. He just wasn’t. But he steps into a role where he will be the clear number one tight end on one of the top offenses in the league. Clive Walford crashed in a sophomore season and no one can really see him getting much playing time. It just makes sense for Derek Carr to use his new toy and it will open up the offense even more if Cook emerges as a threat. There are a lot of mouths to feed in this offense, but for this price, you can take a risk on this guy.
10. Eric Decker, WR, Tennessee Titans (ADP 100/9.01)
This might be my favorite sleeper. Last season for Erick Decker was one to forget. If we do, this pick looks so easy. Decker is one of the best red zone targets, when healthy, and he goes into a situation where he can easily lead receivers in targets. Also, his quarterback Marcus Mariota is one of the best passers in the red zone. This could be dangerous if Decker can remain healthy. In 2015 with the Jets he had 80 receptions for 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns. The offense in Tennessee if much better and Decker gets to be Mariota’s number one man. His ADP right now is low if he can replicate those numbers. Don’t let last season scare you away from this good receiver.