A Fantasy Football sleeper is not just a player that the majority of people pass over.
Sometimes, the best sleeper is a player that has been highly touted as a sleeper in the previous season or two but let down on these expectations.
Really, the sleeper player is just someone that is under-valued; someone that you can pick up later in drafts that will out-perform many of the guys taken ahead of him.
These are the guys that win titles for you. They provide first-round production and cost late-round prices.
How does one find this mythical beast that will take you to the championship?
How to Spot a Fantasy Football Sleeper
If a sleeper was easy to find, then he would not be a sleeper. To figure out how to spot one, let’s look back. Who was a quality sleeper in previous seasons?
So who was drafted late and provided starter-worthy production?
For this instance, let’s call a sleeper a QB/TE drafted outside of the Top 15 at their position and finishing in the Top 10, or a RB/WR drafted after the sixth round and finishing in the Top 20.
We will also use .5PPR scoring to encompass all leagues.
QB: Blake Bortles and Kirk Cousins
RB: Charles Sims, Chris Ivory, Devonta Freeman, David Johnson, Darren McFadden, and DeAngelo Williams
WR: Allen Hurns, Doug Baldwin, Michael Crabtree
TE: Benjamin Watson and Gary Barnidge
QB: Eli Manning
RB: Andre Ellington, C.J. Anderson, Fred Jackson, Jeremy Hill, Justin Forsett, Matt Asiata
WR: Anquan Boldin, DeAndre Hopkins, Golden Tate, Kelvin Benjamin, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., and Steve Smith
TE: Coby Fleener and Travis Kelce
What can we learn from these previous sleepers?
An injury sleeper is someone who becomes a viable Fantasy Starter strictly due to injury/suspension. Of the above players, Williams, Watson, Forsett and Asiata fit this role.
Since injuries are impossible to predict, this type of sleeper is as well. The only way to draft these guys is usually as a handcuff.
However, these handcuffs are harder and harder to predict. While DeAngelo Williams was an especially easy one to see last season due to LeVeon Bell’s suspension, the other guys were not exactly the top backup options.
Over the past two seasons there have been three quarterbacks, 12 running backs, 10 wide receivers and four tight ends that would qualify as a sleeper.
It is no secret that the best quarterbacks are consistent. The elite tight ends are reaching that level of consistency as well. This will naturally lead to less sleepers popping up along with starting less of them per week.
Either way, there are enough capable starters at both positions that waiting for yours is profitable. While the elite may stay the elite, the second tier shuffles every season.
At first I was surprised that there were almost as many wide receivers as running backs. However, I noticed something about 2014; the rookie receiver revolution.
There was only one rookie wide receiver taken in the first six rounds the past two seasons. That was Amari Cooper last year. And I think that had a lot to do with the rookies from the year before.
There have been five rookie running backs drafted in the first six rounds the past two years.
What I am getting at is that the rookie running back provides more flash and gets drafted higher than the rookie receiver. I mean 2014 had arguably the greatest rookie receiver class ever. Not one of them was a high Fantasy Draft Pick.
However, spare backs like Bishop Sankey and T.J. Yeldon are repeatedly over-drafted. How can we use this to our advantage?
RB Sleepers vs. WR Sleepers
Every wide receiver sleeper on that list was once highly touted except Doug Baldwin. Whether they were a high draft pick by their NFL team, or had a significant starting Fantasy Season previously in their career, they were not a complete unknown.
Even Baldwin had his moments in big games and strong stretch of Fantasy production.
Some of the running backs came out of nowhere. Of the 12, I would say five were complete surprises (Anderson, Asiata, Forsett, Ivory, and Sims).
What I gather from this information is that a running back sleeper is a more common occurrence. Every one of those receivers was at least drafted in leagues with any sort of bench. Half of the running backs came off of the waiver wire.
People seem to think that there is a “shortage” of good running backs. The reality is there are just as many Top 20 backs as receivers. That sounds obvious and stupid, but it is the truth.
The difference between the top player and 20th at both positions is not that wide. The difference in ADP is where the gap is found.
This tells me that acquiring a wide receiver sleeper is harder to get post-draft than a running back. The wide receiver sleeper is usually drafted before a game is played. You have to hit on one of your precious few draft picks to get one.
A running back sleeper can be found by playing the waiver wire. This leads me to use my high draft picks on WRs to provide more guaranteed production. I then can take my lottery tickets on running backs. If I strike out, I still can play the waiver wire to fill my need.
Types of Sleepers
Now let’s use what we have seen from the past two seasons to categorize different sleepers. With the candidates, I am not positing that they will be sleepers. Just check out our sleepers’ articles for those.
These are just candidates who could fit the mold of each type. You can then use your intuition to decipher which players could become sleepers.
Previous: Blake Bortles, Gary Barnidge, Kirk Cousins, and Travis Kelce
These are younger guys that are getting their chance to succeed after proving themselves in limited action. They were never that highly touted, but did provide production in limited duty.
Candidates: Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Teddy Bridgewater, and Tyrod Taylor; Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Clive Walford, Dwayne Allen, and Eric Ebron
Previous: Anquan Boldin , Chris Ivory, Darren McFadden, Eli Manning, Fred Jackson, and Steve Smith
This type of sleeper has had a down year or what seems like a bad change of scenery. This pushes their stock too far down, but sometimes it is better to trust the past than the cloudy future.
Candidates: Chris Ivory, Danny Woodhead, Jay Cutler, Jimmy Graham, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Michael Crabtree, Rashad Jennings, Torrey Smith, Vincent Jackson
Previous: Charles Sims, DeAndre Hopkins, Doug Baldwin, and Golden Tate
Especially for PPR leagues, targets are one of the most important statistics. If you are not getting targets, you are not scoring. These players saw a dramatic increase in their target-share due to a variety of factors. Whether it was a new scheme, team, or a departure of a top-option, their targets soared.
Sims got the targets as the coaches looked to lower Doug Martin’s workload. Doug Baldwin benefitted from a downfield scheme. Tate became the second option to Megatron that had been absent. Hopkins took over the lead role after Andre Johnson left.
Theo Riddick currently RB36 (8th round ADP). Was RB27 in 2015. Ameer not 100%, and Joique/Calvin gone so 267 touches/targets up for grabs.
— A Football Friend (@AFootballFriend) June 13, 2016
Candidates: Darren Sproles, Devante Parker, Donte Moncrief, John Brown, Marvin Jones, Markus Wheaton, and Theo Riddick
Previous: Andre Ellington, C.J. Anderson, David Johnson, Devonta Freeman, and Duke Johnson
If a player is touted as a sleeper then does not live up to it, you can guarantee he will be a bargain the next season. Furthermore, if there is another player on his team being labeled as a sleeper, he will be overlooked.
Freeman was well-regarded as a rookie then disappointed. He was cast aside after Tevin Coleman was drafted by the Falcons. Anderson was seen as the third back in Denver before the season behind “sleepers” Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman.
Ellington was a trendy sleeper pick in 2013 and failed. He came back with a nice year in 2014 to again, become a sleeper. Of course, David Johnson then led the backfield in points.
Candidates: Ameer Abdullah, Giovani Bernard, Kevin White, Melvin Gordon
The Rookie Wide Receivers
Previous: Kelvin Benjamin, Mike Evans and Odell Beckham Jr.
While not on the level of that 2014 class, this group of rookie wide-outs could still make some noise.
Candidates: Corey Coleman, Josh Doctson, Laquon Treadwell, Rashard Higgins, Sterling Shepard, Tyler Boyd, and Will Fuller
Waiver Wire Running Backs
Previous: C.J. Anderson, David Johnson, DeAngelo Williams, Justin Forsett, and Matt Asiata
These are the backs who became noteworthy Fantasy options after injuries/suspensions.
Candidates: Alex Collins, Cameron Artis-Payne, Charcandrick West, C.J. Prosise, DeAndre Washington, Devontae Booker, James Starks, James White, Jerick McKinnon, Jordan Howard, Kenyan Drake, Paul Perkins, Spencer Ware, Tevin Coleman, Wendell Smallwood and Zach Zenner
As you can see, the longest list is the waiver wire backs. All 16 of those running backs are just one turned ankle or fumbling issue from being Fantasy Stars.
Once again, when it comes to finding a sleeper, I am looking at these groups of running backs after locking in sure things at wide receiver.
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