It’s way too early to get overly serious about the 2017 fantasy football season. After all, the current season hasn’t even finished with Super Bowl 51 yet. Still, it’s never too early to at least think about some sneaky fantasy sleepers that you’ll want to eye in the middle or later rounds of fantasy football drafts.
Some sleepers are so tantalizing that they start out as sleepers now in late January, and then by the time summers rolls around, everyone is targeting them in fantasy mock drafts. Perhaps that’s what ends up happening with some of our favorite 2017 fantasy sleepers.
Either way, if you like planning ahead for your fantasy football draft, we’re right there with you with five guys that could rise up the ranks and be big performers next season:
Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
Everyone knew the Eagles were drafted a raw product when they took Carson Wentz with the #1 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. He was an enticing prospect who had a big arm and elite athleticism, but he also dominated at the DII level. There was work to be done, yet he thrived early on in his rookie season and showed glimpses of special ability throughout the 2016 regular season.
Even though his first year drew mixed reviews, Wentz still put up respectable numbers, passing for over 3,700 yards and 16 touchdowns, while adding 150 yards and two more scores on the ground. Those numbers aren’t eye-popping and he wasn’t always consistent, but Philly also tried to mask him as he learned on the fly. Things broke down in what turned out to be a losing season, but that’s par for the course with a rookie passer.
In 2017, the Eagles could be much improved and they should be ready to unleash Wentz. Considering we already saw him approach 4,000 passing yards, it’s a fair bet to project him close to that, while it makes sense to project him for 20+ passing scores. The Eagles probably want to protect their franchise passer to a certain degree, but considering how big and athletic he is, 46 rushing attempts and 150 yards on the ground is a low starting point. His running numbers should increase across the board.
You’re buying low on Wentz, which is why he’s a sleeper and why you’ll want to take a stab at him. He’s still raw and there’s no guarantee he blossoms into Cam Newton or even Marcus Mariota in just his second season. He could be something closer to Ryan Tannehill initially, though, and that could make him an appealing QB2 late in fantasy football drafts. I’m not saying you hang your entire season on him in 2017, but he’s a viable quarterback sleeper we need to take a good, long look at.
DeAndre Washington, RB, Oakland Raiders
With former Raiders starting running back Latavius Murray set to hit the open market, Oakland could be thinking about the future on the running back position. Murray could be back, as the Raiders have voiced a desire to keep their core players on the roster. Of course, it could be easy to let go of an inconsistent Murray if the Raiders believe backup DeAndre Washington is ready to take on a bigger role.
It’s tough to buy that solely based off of what we saw in 2016, as Washington was merely passable in a few spot-starts in the middle of the year. However, Washington has displayed elite athleticism and explosiveness and we never saw that better than in week 16 when he busted off for 99 yards and two scores on just 12 rushing attempts.
The sample size is small overall, but Washington is a tantalizing talent who could see marked improvement in his second season. After posting a healthy 87-467-2 line with an elite 5.4 yards per carry average, there is real optimism Washington could be ready to take over full-time in 2017. Oakland probably wouldn’t mind that, as Murray hasn’t been as reliable as they would have hoped and Washington stepping up could save them a lot of cash.
None of this means Washington is a sure thing. He is still young and we can’t know if he’d flop in an enhanced role. That being said, he’s a terrific athlete and has the versatility to potentially be a dynamic starter. If the Raiders don’t bring back Murray on a long-term deal, Washington will be the front-runner to get the bulk of the carries in Oakland, making him a high level fantasy football sleeper for 2017.
Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans
Henry is another interesting running back sleeper to target in fantasy football drafts, but we probably need to pay attention to him even if he doesn’t open 2017 as the locked-in starter in Tennessee. DeMarco Murray was a flat out beast for the Titans last year, but the 29-year old rusher ended the year with foot problems and is slowly approaching the end of his prime.
Some combination of age, natural regression and injuries could very well give way to Henry, who impressed across the board during his rookie season. In short, Henry was a bit of a monster when he got an opportunity to prove himself, as he ended the year with a productive 110-490-5 line. Henry still has to prove himself himself as a reliable receiver out of the backfield, but otherwise has displayed the size, strength and burst to be an every down menace in the backfield.
The only real question with Henry is what his role will be. If Murray comes back healthy and is handed the keys to the running game again, then he’s the guy who is likely to again be a monster. However, there is an argument that Henry is the better talent to roll with now and it would make sense for the Titans to shift their roles to help keep the more versatile Murray fresh for later in the year.
We can’t know for sure yet what will happen for Murray, but the chances of the wheels falling off or Tennessee slowly handing him more touches are pretty good. If the former happens, Henry could be a fantasy stud and we’ll want to have rolled the dice on him. He’s far from an early round lock, but he could be worth a shot in the middle rounds due to his sheer upside.
Corey Coleman, WR, Cleveland Browns
Coleman could be a very interesting wide receiver sleeper for 2017, just because we already saw what this guy is capable of as a rookie last year. Coleman is on a terrible team that struggled offensively and went just 1-15 last year, but he still displayed amazing big-play ability and ended his first NFL season with a palatable 33-413-3 line. Considering the constantly horrid quarterback situation and an injury causing Coleman to miss six games, it’s pretty arguable he did about as well as he could have.
Coleman was a one-trick pony as a rookie and defenses seemed to figure him out down the stretch, but we saw his upside in week two when he roasted the Ravens for 104 yards and two touchdowns off of just five catches. One game doesn’t make a star and Cleveland continues to have serious concerns at quarterback, but Coleman is locked in as one of Cleveland’s two starting wide receivers and things can’t possibly get worse from here for the Browns.
There is no denying the risk in drafting any Browns players, while it’s also going to be fair to grade Terrelle Pryor (assuming he stays in Cleveland) over Coleman. However, Coleman is the more natural receiver and seems to have more explosive ability down the field. He’s going to be worth a shot late in drafts regardless of Cleveland’s quarterback situation, but if they can bring in a competent starter, his value could see a bump.
Hunter Henry, TE, Los Angeles Chargers
There has been a lot of change for the Bolts and more could be coming in 2017. Not only did the Chargers move from San Diego to L.A. and fire their head coach, but they also may have to think about serious personnel changes on offense. Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead are two key passing game cogs that are returning from devastating knee injuries and aging tight end Antonio Gates could retire or come back in a more limited capacity.
Regardless of what happens, the athletic Henry showed early and often during his rookie season that he’s ready for a huge role. If Gates stays, that should mean more time as the starter – or at the very worst – more two-tight end sets for the Chargers.
Henry already was a bit of a monster for fantasy owners in his first season, putting up a nice 36-478-8 line. With Gates likely being set up for a reduced role and the Chargers requiring Henry to see the field more, either way, Henry could be primed for an even better run in 2017.