Everyone has a sleeper or three for fantasy football. Of course, once we all talk about them, everyone knows about them, their ADP climbs and they really don’t feel like sleepers anymore. You know, like back in 2013 when David Wilson and Lamar Miller were the sexiest sleepers alive and then you had to spend a third rounder or higher to get them. And then they busted.
For me, the point of a true fantasy football sleeper isn’t to bust, but to get them at such a nice spot that if they do “bust”, it simply won’t matter. I’m talking years ago before the then fragile Matthew Stafford went nuts with his 41-touchdown and 5k yardage season. The summer before that, that dude wasn’t even going before the 10th round. He was a king kong-level sleeper, and he paid off. But had he face-planted like his previous two seasons, you would have given none of the shits and moved on.
Regular sleepers aren’t like that anymore. A sleeper better work out these days, because you need to pick him in the first 6-8 rounds to get him, if not much higher. That’s when deep fantasy football sleepers come to life and represent major value. Why? Because they’re true sleepers and aren’t going to be drafted a ton because they aren’t guaranteed to do jack. Of course, they have the talent and potential to be amazing, though. And that’s why we need to pay attention to them and consider using one of our late round draft picks on them. That, or at least monitor them on the waiver wire.
That’s another key part of fantasy football. Often, you don’t win/lose your season in the draft. Even if you scoff at these guys now, keep them in mind as the season starts. They just might be the difference between winning and losing come fantasy playoff time:
Note: In order to qualify for this list, players must not be a current starter and must have an ADP of round 13 or later in standard 15-round, 12-team league drafts). ADP stats from FantasyFootballCalculator.com.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland Browns (ADP: Undrafted)
Dude flopped as a rookie, isn’t the starter, entered rehab, hasn’t looked great in practice, is still behind Josh McCown and basically no one is giving him a chance. Yeah, I think he qualifies as a deep sleeper. Of course, that’s only if you think he has the talent and ability to produce once given a chance. I still do, as the kid is a fine athlete and has a better gun hanging from his shoulder than he’s given credit for. Last year Johnny Football didn’t give enough of the cares and now he’s actually buying into the NFL and learning his playbook. It might take a while, but he’ll start games eventually and after stinking up the joint in two starts last year, I don’t see any direction for him to go but up. People called him small and slow last year (cocaine is a hell of a drug), but I think he’s plenty quick and even fast in space. His mobility is where it’s at, though, as he can make defenders miss at this level. He just needs to know the offense better and increase his awareness and improve his decision-making. It’s a lot to ask for a former party boy bonehead, but the kid has talent. Here’s to hoping he proves everyone wrong.
Matt Jones, RB, Washington Redskins (ADP: Round 13)
Alfred Morris is a solid running back. He’s no burner, lacks explosiveness and doesn’t do anything in the passing game, but if you want a North/South runner that gets yards and can score touchdowns, he’s a solid get. That’s a good reason why a quality talent like Jones is lasting until round 13 in fantasy football drafts, if not longer. However, head coach Jay Gruden didn’t draft Morris and he did draft Jones. He also reportedly is enamored with the kid and the early word is he’ll eat into Morris’ load right away. I can’t see him totally rendering Morris useless right away, but I think there is some Flex value to be had here. That’s nothing great, but if Morris goes down or Jones proves to be the better talent (which he absolutely is), we could see fireworks.
Jones is a big and strong, yet fairly compact. He has the build to potentially move piles and be effective inside and near the goal-line, but he’s a much flashier runner than Morris could ever hope to be. He has terrific open field running ability, as he can make people miss and makes the most of his blocks. He’s without a doubt one of my favorite rookie running backs and if he gets a path to carries, you’re going to want to keep tabs on him.
Cameron Artis-Payne, RB, Carolina Panthers (ADP: Round 13)
DeAngelo Williams is gone and only Jonathan Stewart stands in this rookie’s way. I know J-Stew was awesome last year, but we’re still talking about a dude that has missed 20 games over the past three years. Twenty. That’s one huge reason why you might want to pay a little mind to the guy who could be Stewart’s top backup. He also happens to be pretty freaking good.
As you can see, Artis-Payne is a compact back with some serious shiftiness, balance and vision. He’s a little on the smaller side but comparing him to Ahmad Bradshaw isn’t completely silly and he has some upside to his game. I like his ability to hit holes and he can even bounce outside. If we want to poke holes we can be bitter about how he dances around the line at times and that he isn’t necessarily the most explosive back of all-time. He’s a solid rusher, though, and he’s probably going to be the main man if Stewart goes down – which is just about guaranteed, is it not?
Jaelen Strong, WR, Houston Texans (ADP: Round 14)
Jeff Janis, WR, Green Bay Packers (ADP: Undrafted)
Man, do I love me some Jeff Janis. Basically a Jordy Nelson clone, Janis is a small school product that too many scouts over-looked. He came into the league pretty raw, but he’s cleaned things up quite a bit and is now ready to bust out if given the chance in year two. That may not happen with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb locking down the top two spots, as well as DaVante Adams penciled in as the third receiver. Of course, Cobb and Nelson have both dealt with injury issues in the past and Nelson actually had a hip issue that required surgery this summer. If one of them went down, Janis would suddenly have WR3 upside, while a lack of a reliable tight end could call for more 4-5 wide receiver sets, regardless. Janis certainly needs a lot of things to go his way and isn’t really a deep sleeper to draft just yet, but if you’re not watching him closely this summer, you’re crazy.
Virgil Green, TE, Denver Broncos (ADP: Undrafted)
Hey, remember when everyone was saying how Julius Thomas was about to bust out and be a stud fantasy tight end in 2013? Yeah, me neither. Anyone who said anything was just taking a shot in the dark, but if they vouched for him, it paid off. This year, another athletic Broncos tight end is riding the pine behind Owen Daniels, who is inexplicably going off draft boards in round freaking eight. I get the upside here. Daniels has produced for much of his career, Gary Kubiak offenses love tight ends and Peyton Manning likes throwing to them. But this is Owen Daniels, an old, brittle tight end who doesn’t score touchdowns. Enter Green, who figures to be his top backup. Green is known for his quality blocking, which alone should get him on the field. He’s otherwise done nothing thus far in his young career, thanks to Thomas breaking out, as well as injuries. This is Green’s chance, and if you saw what he could do at Nevada (below), you’d be more inclined to think he’s about to bust out.