The evolution of the internet has led to the extinction of several important pieces of cultural phenomenon. Newspapers, Privacy, Pamela Anderson, talking to other humans and Fantasy Football sleepers are now a thing of the past due to the amount of information at our disposal.
The days of Jeff Fisher being an innovative successful average functional coach and magazines providing us with a list of names we otherwise would never have drafted are long gone (even though there’s still at least one person in your league who prefers the fine print to the mobile device).
The standard Google search, “Fantasy Football Sleepers” will most likely populate the same fifteen or so guys until depth charts begin to take shape. It’s likely some of the players I have listed below fall into that description but I’ll give you some alternatives as well.
David Johnson, Doug Martin, Brandin Cooks, Larry Fitzgerald, Jordan Reed and Michael Crabtree all exceeded expectations in 2015. Sleepers come in all forms and last season was no different from any other. Rookies, aging veterans, bounce backs and players with improved health generally make up the majority of the sleeper list by year’s end. I’ll give you a mix of players who fall into those same categories.
Sit back, dust off your copies of Encyclopedia Britannica (kids are like, tf is that?!), rewind your Baywatch VHS tapes and let’s give this Fantasy Football sleepers thing a try, old school style.
Top 12 Fantasy Football Sleepers of 2016
Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
How good has Derek Carr been through his first two seasons? Last year Derek Carr surpassed Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson to move into second place all time with 53 touchdown passes in his first two NFL seasons (Dan Marino sits at number one with 68). Rex Ryan considers the Buffalo Bills the champions of the 2016 offseason but the Raiders are certainly contenders for that crown.
The team has significantly improved it’s offensive line and is now arguably a top 5 unit. The defensive should be improved as well, adding pass rush help in Bruce Irvin and secondary depth in Sean Smith. Most notably, the team re-signed free agent WR Michael Crabtree and drafted a pass catching RB in DeAndre Washington.
The Raiders clearly believe in incorporating the RB position into the passing scheme, as Latavius Murray caught 41 passes in 2015. Murray, however, is not well suited in this role, as his 5.6 yards per reception ranked last in the NFL for RBs who caught 40 receptions or more. Throughout his four years at Texas Tech, Washington hauled in 124 passes for 1,091 yards, averaging over 9 yards per reception his final two seasons.
Carr is the number one QB on my Fantasy Football sleepers list, as he’s a QB who doesn’t need to be drafted until the second or third tier, yet has the ability and situation to end up as a top 5 scorer by season’s end.
DeAndre Washington, Oakland Raiders
The Derek Carr write up provides insight into why I think Washington can outperform expectations. If that wasn’t enough, the Raiders have made headlines over the last two seasons by pursuing some expensive RBs in the free agent market, notably DeMarco Murray and Doug Martin. The Raiders’ pursuit of an established back shows they believe there is room for another productive back alongside Latavius Murray.
Washington is being labeled by some as simply a threat in the passing game due to his ability to catch the ball and lack of size. At 5’8″ and 200 lbs, Washington’s stature may limit his ceiling but over the years there have been a number of Fantasy relevant RBs his size, or even smaller: Dion Lewis, Giovani Bernard, Darren Sproles, Brian Westbrook and Warrick Dunn.
Jay Ajayi & Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins
Jay Ajayi will likely appear on every single Fantasy Sleeper or Fantasy Bust list on the interwebs this offseason, but don’t overlook his likely running mate, Kenyan Drake. The current Miami Dolphins depth chart after Ajayi and Drake is Damien Williams, Daniel Thomas (yes, that Daniel Thomas) and Isaiah Pead (yes, that Isaiah Pead). Gross.
New Miami head coach, Adam Gase has apparently already introduced more passing routes than what Ajayi was exposed to in his rookie campaign and early reports suggest it hasn’t exactly been a seamless transition thus far. I anticipate Ajayi being the lead back and in Gase’s offense that means a fair share of pass catching opportunities. If Ajayi underperforms or gets injured, Drake then becomes the option with the highest upside. Drake has a slight build and wasn’t utilized as a lead back at Alabama but he’s large enough at 6’1”, 210 lbs and skilled enough as a pass receiver to play a meaningful role if called upon.
Over the previous three seasons, Adam Gase had at least one RB on his squad who was a fantasy relevant player. In 2013, Knowshon Moreno (The Morgan Freeman of crying) accumulated over 1,600 total yards and 13 touchdowns while Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson all averaged over 4.0 yards per carry that year. 2014 saw the emergence of C.J. Anderson as the lead back with nearly 1,200 total yards and double digit TDs. His running mate, Ronnie Hillman totaled over 500 yards and 4 TDs himself. In his lone season in Chicago, Gase helped turn 2016 bust, Jeremy Langford into a usable Fantasy option to go along with ol’ reliable, Matt Forte. The offensive track record is there. The opportunity is there. The uniforms are still terrible however.
Paul Perkins, New York Giants
I will gladly eat my words if I’m wrong about Perkins (but I’m not) but to say that Andre Williams, Shane Vereen and Rashad Jennings are a capable backfield is so egregious it’s almost negligent. The New York Daily News published an article stating they don’t see Paul Perkins making much of an impact this season. Personally, I find that declaration inconceivable.
Sure, my Celtics just had one of the worst drafts in recent history and I’m several adult beverages into my evening because of it, so it’s certainly possible this might sound a tad bit more aggressive than what I intended, but the point stands. Side note: Danny Ainge is the most overrated GM in the NBA, maybe in sports. In 13 seasons he has never drafted one All Star (Rajon Rondo was a trade) or signed a player who has averaged 12 points per game or more.
For those who don’t know much about Perkins, think Jamaal Charles minus his top end speed. Perkins isn’t fast enough to be a game breaker but he’s plenty quick, has good balance and has some serious juke to make tacklers miss.
I was prepared to dive into a bunch of statistical analysis to prove my point about Perkins but the reality is he’s the most talented RB on the roster by far, and since Tom Coughlin is no longer the head coach, that actually means something. Andre Williams? Seriously? No.
Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns
A 12 seed always defeats a 5 seed in the NCAA tournament and a RB everyone has in their 3rd tier always finishes as a top 12 back. If you want your NFL team to finish with a top 10 rushing attack then hire new Browns head coach, Hue Jackson. During Jackson’s two years in Oakland as an offensive coordinator and then head coach, the team ranked in the top 7 in rushing attempts, rushing yards and rushing TDs. The two years Jackson spent as Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator weren’t that much different, as the team ranked well above the league average in most rushing stats.
On the surface, Crowell may appear to be another undrafted player who has found a role for himself in the league. The reality is, he was once a top level recruit who was considered to be one of the most talented RBs in the country. The pedigree is there for Crowell and the pairing with Jackson may catapult him into a different tier by season’s end. Duke Johnson and Isaiah Crowell, the new Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill?
Robert Woods, Buffalo Bills (Champions of the 2016 off-season)
Disclaimer: Sammy Watkins is nasty but I labeled him one of my Top 12 Fantasy Football Busts of 2016.
Labeling Sammy a bust opens the door for a Fantasy Football sleeper. The Bills did Bills things by allowing Chris Hogan to get promoted as he signed with the New England Patriots. The current Bills WR depth chart looks like this: Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, poop emoji.
Woods is entering into his fourth year in the NFL but is still only 24 years old. He has established himself as a solid WR option, capable of consistent reliability to go along with the occasional big play. We saw a healthy Woods haul in 65 passes in 2014 and his 2015 totals most likely would have been quite similar had he not missed two games. If we factor in the likelihood Sammy Watkins misses some time during the season, we could be looking at this year’s Kamar Aiken in Woods.
Chris Hogan, New England Patriots
Hogan is best known for his staring role as “7-11” in 2012’s season of HBO’s Hard Knocks. The real hard knock life started in 2013 when Hogan was relegated to the Buffalo Bills. Hogan performed admirably considering the adversity of playing for Buffalo and has improved each of the last three seasons, unlike the fans in Buffalo, New York.
It’s not yet July and reports are already flooding in from local New England reporters claiming Hogan has been a stand out at practice and has already begun clicking with Tom Brady. The Patriots have a history of resting premier players towards the start of camp so Hogan will most likely have an opportunity to develop a rapport with Brady.
Julian Edelmlan, Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski will remain in their plastic bubbles until Week 1 which should give Hogan time to carve out a role for himself. Edelman has now undergone two separate procedures on his broken foot and we all know Gronk’s injury history. If either were to miss time during the season, expect an immediate uptick from Hogan but even if all the troops remain healthy, Hogan’s ability to play on the outside and challenge for balls downfield will separate him from the other WRs currently on the squad.
Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks
Since 1992 there have been 30 wide receivers in their rookie season to have eclipsed 50 receptions, 660 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns and yes, Lockett is among them. Randy Moss, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham, Marvin Harrison, Torry Holt, Larry Fitzgerald are some of the members of that same list yet it was Lockett who caught the highest percentage of his targets, with a catch percentage of 73.9.
Assuming the Seahawks and Russell Wilson continue to evolve their passing game, Lockett is a sure bet to see an uptick in targets from last season. My only concern is Lockett becomes too hyped as the offseason continues and his sleeper status is foiled because of it.
Justin Hardy, Atlanta Falcons
I’m a believer in Matt Ryan’s ability to sustain multiple Fantasy relevant players simultaneously (Julio Jones, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez). I am not a believer in Mohammed Sanu. Justin Hardy isn’t a dynamic play maker by any means but he is a sound blocker with reliable hands who has some quickness to his game. Reports out of Atlanta in late June suggest Hardy has made huge strides from his rookie year and has begun to separate himself already. Stay tuned.
Zach Miller, Chicago Bears
Gary Barnidge ruined plenty of Fantasy seasons as he broke out in the 7th year of his NFL career. I don’t expect that to be the case with Zach Miller but a career season certainly seems to be ahead of him.
Miller showed us he was capable of Fantasy relevant production during a stretch late last season that coincided with the absence of The Black Unicorn, Martellus Bennett. During Weeks 14-16, Miller totaled 18 receptions for 211 yards and a score. Kevin White is a new addition to the offense for Chicago but with Martellus Bennett now in New England, the starting TE gig is Miller’s and with Matt Forte somewhere in New Jersey, there should be some short and intermittent targets available.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Seferian-Jenkins is just 23 years old and has already amassed 42 receptions, 559 receiving yards, 6 touchdowns to go along with a yards per catch average of over 13. Only twenty one other TEs in NFL history have achieved those numbers by the time they were 23. Consider ASJ has played just 16 games in his NFL career and was still able to accumulate enough receptions, yards and TDs to be on that list. Sure, ASJ has also missed 16 games over the course of his two seasons and has been wildly inconsistent but if that wasn’t the case then he wouldn’t be a Fantasy Football sleeper.
Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, Doug Martin and Charles Sims are all in their prime, just as Vincent Jackson is beginning to fade. With below average WR depth after Evans and an aging Vjax, the opportunity is there for ASJ to step up.
Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions
Many have been quick to label the former 10th overall pick a bust yet he’s still only 23 years old. Ebron may have finished just 4th on the team in receptions in 2015 but he was productive, hauling in 47 passes for over 500 receiving yards and 5 TDs, as a 22 year old.
Calvin Johnson and his 149 targets from last season are gone and while newcomer Marvin Jones is probably in store for 90-120 of those, that still leaves a sizable amount of opportunity for someone like Ebron. If this information hasn’t impressed you, let me also point out Ebron is only the 11th TE in NFL history to have as many as 47 receptions in a season before his 23rd birthday. Some of the other players on that list include Mike Ditka, Tony Gonzalez, Rob Gronkowski, Jason Witten, Aaron Hernandez and Jeremy Shockey.
Well folks, there are your 2016 Fantasy Football Sleepers. Agree or disagree? Leave me a comment and we’ll discuss or feel free to hit up the team on Twitter at @SoCalledFanEx
Don’t forget to check out the So-Called Fantasy Experts Top 200 staff rankings!
Fantasy Football Sleepers, Honorable Mention: Kenny Bell, Jordan Howard, Keith Marshall
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