With the draft months behind us and OTAs now in full swing, it’s safe to say that we’re now at the dullest point of the offseason. It’s a time where we dramatize a player’s performance in Training Camp and get excited over rookie’s jersey numbers. On a more relative note, it’s also a time to get into the swing of fantasy football.
For hardcore fantasy football owners like you and I, research starts now. This means pouring our blood, sweat and tears into countless hours of film study, article reading and mock drafts. Well, maybe not that intense, for most of us at least. Beside the fact, we’re all looking for that upper-hand in our fantasy leagues year after year.
Every year there are a crop of players who burst onto the scene and leave us thinking “who is this guy, and why did nobody draft him?” Sleepers and breakout players are a vital component to the fantasy football game. Sometimes they can prove to be the difference between a championship, and on the wrong end of a pre-season bet that forces you to get a tattoo of the champion on your rear-end.
These so-called sleepers tend to be found on the waiver wire mid-season. Luckily for you, we compiled a list of sleepers below so you can snag them before the competition. Whether it’s a standard one-year league or a dynasty league, the names below could be of service for you. Some may be legitimate options as a starter in your lineup whereas some may just be worth a bench stash based on upside. Whatever the case, all 32 names below are names to watch for this year in fantasy. Good luck and enjoy!
Feel free to comment some sleepers of your own below. Follow me on Twitter @JonValencia_WiB for non-stop fantasy football insight along with advice whenever you’re faced with a tough decision whether it’s a trade or gameday lineup decision.
Atlanta Falcons: WR Justin Hardy
Even with the signing of Mohamed Sanu over the offseason, the Falcons will need someone to step up behind Julio Jones in the WR corps. While Justin Hardy may not match the production of Sanu, he’s surely a viable option in fantasy this season.
The 2nd year WR out of East Carolina enjoyed an extremely productive college career. He is your prototypical slot WR. He will make a living in the short to intermediate passing game and can be a reliable 3rd down option for Matt Ryan as he is sure-handed as they come. Last season he only caught for 194 receiving yards with no TDs, but I can easily see him triple those numbers in 2016.
Arizona Cardinals: WR J.J. Nelson
The Cardinals drafted J.J. Nelson in the 5th round of the 2015 NFL Draft for one reason and one reason alone, and that reason is speed. While he’s undersized, J.J. Nelson has world class speed that make him a vertical threat every time he sets foot onto the field. As long as Carson Palmer stays healthy, the Cardinals will continue to torch opposing defenses through the air.
Last season Nelson reeled in only 11 catches, but he racked up 299 receiving yards – averaging an astounding 27.2 yards per catch. In his 2nd season, expect Nelson to see an expanded role in the offense and for Bruce Arians to incorporate him in more ways.
Baltimore Ravens: TE Maxx Williams
The 2nd year TE out of Minnesota was selected in the 2nd round of the 2015 NFL Draft. The Golden Gopher didn’t quite live up to expectations as he hauled in only 1 TD in 14 games. The rookie did, however, manage to average 7 targets per game in the final three weeks to finish the season – perhaps indicating things to come in 2016.
While the group of TEs is a bit crowded in Baltimore with guys such as Ben Watson, Crockett Gilmore and the returning Dennis Pitta – the sophomore Williams will have his fair share of opportunities to make plays during his 2nd season. Williams is a good athlete with a wide catch radius which should payoff in the endzone this season.
Buffalo Bills: WR Leonard Hankerson
This may be a little reminiscent of last season, but Leonard Hankerson finds himself back on the ‘sleeper’ radar. Expected to emerge in Atlanta’s offense last season behind guys like Julio Jones and Roddy White, Hankerson didn’t quite live up to expectations after a sub 350 yard, 3 TD season.
After Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods, the Buffalo Bills need someone to step up in the WR corps. Guys like Chris Hogan and Percy Harvin have moved on, so that leaves a whole for someone to fill. You look at a guy like Marcus Easley, but I feel Hankerson has the better chance to breakout. His combination of size and speed make him a solid weapon, he just has to put together his talent and find the right fit, which very well could be in Greg Roman’s offense.
Carolina Panthers: RB Cameron Artis-Payne
In what I found to be somewhat of a surprising move, the Panthers elected not to draft a running back in this past NFL Draft. Part of their reasoning may be based on their pick of Cameron Artis-Payne in 2015. As a rookie, CAP managed 45 carries for 183 yards on the ground, but he will see an expanded role in 2016.
Even though Jonathan Stewart is coming off a good year in 2015, he enters his 10th season and as it goes for RBs, he’ll likely take a step back, which opens the door for Artis-Payne. CAP, like Stewart, is a thick, downhill runner with power who can give you some burst out of the backfield. Artis-Payne will get a lot more touches as a sophomore and be the spell back to Stewart. Definitely a guy to look at on the waiver wire if not late in the draft.
Chicago Bears: WR Kevin White
Finally, we’ll now be able to see Kevin White suit up in a Chicago Bears uniform on Sundays. The 7th overall pick from 2015 missed his entire rookie season due to a leg injury – but he is set to return this season.
While White doesn’t carry the ‘sleeper’ label as heavy as some other players on this list, he’s still a player who will fly under the radar based on his absence last year. White is a pure playmaker who has tremendous ability with the ball in his hands – a natural ball catcher. He will still be drafted in most fantasy leagues, but he’s a guy who should probably go higher than he will.
Cincinnati Bengals: TE Tyler Kroft
As if losing Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu over the offseason wasn’t bad enough, star TE Tyler Eifert will likely miss the start of the 2016 season due to an ankle injury, although the timetable for his return is still up in the air. This leaves a void at the TE position where he proved to be one of the best last season.
With Eifert out with injury, enter Tyler Kroft. The 2nd year TE out of Rutgers was solid in limited time as a rookie. He was efficient in the passing game, hauling in 11 of his 14 targets for 129 receiving yards and a score. He’s big, tall and athletic and will have a big role in the passing game with Eifert out coupled by the departures of Jones and Sanu.
Cleveland Browns: QB Robert Griffin III
Say what you want about RGIII, but I consider him a sleeper at the QB position. He will go undrafted in most, if not all fantasy drafts, which is understandable. However, RGIII carries arguably the most upside of any non-rookie QB in the league.
He enters a situation in Cleveland with the coaching staff behind him 100% and a solid array of weapons at his disposal. If, and this is a big if, Robert Griffin can stay healthy, he can put up big numbers with the Browns. I look back at Josh McCown last season and the tremendous run he put together. Assuming there’s no learning curve with RGIII and he can pick up where he left off before his injury derailed days in Washington, he can be a reliable fantasy QB week in and week out.
Dallas Cowboys: WR Lucky Whitehead
This one is coming completely out of left field, but I present to you, Lucky Whitehead. Yes, he has one of the coolest names in the league, but that’s not why he’s a fantasy sleeper. Last season Whitehead assumed return duties and flashed big play ability. This should translate into the offense this upcoming season,
While he’s listed as a WR, consider Whitehead the Swiss Army Knife of the offense. He actually had more carries than catches during his rookie year, averaging a whopping 10.7 yards per rush. Jason Garrett and the Cowboys will integrate Whitehead’s versatility and big play ability into the offense – watch for him to make a name for himself this year.
Denver Broncos: RB Devontae Booker
The 4th round pick out of Utah finds himself representing the Broncos on this sleeper list. The rookie has already come out and said “I’m here to steal someone’s job”. Big talk from a first year guy, but maybe warranted. Last season we saw C.J. Anderson struggle for a good chunk of the year as he split time with Ronnie Hillman, can Booker step up and emerge as the #1? I think so.
After Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry, I had Booker as my 3rd RB in this past draft class. He’s a workhorse in the backfield with a good combination of speed and power. A great fit in Denver, I think he will gain steam as the season goes on and be given a big role running the football.
Check out the 2016 fantasy football profile for Devontae Booker.
Detroit Lions: WR T.J. Jones
The sudden retirement of Calvin Johnson took the NFL by storm this past offseason and brings a huge question to Detroit’s offense. They are now faced with the task of replacing the best WR in franchise history, how will they do so? Golden Tate is a solid #1 option, and the signing of Marvin Jones should help as well. However, that won’t be enough production to match the absence of Johnson, someone else needs to step up.
Looking at the rest of the WR corps, the name that pops out at me is T.J. Jones. The 2nd year WR out of Notre Dame is poised for a breakout season. Jones was decent as a rookie and came on stronger towards the end of the season. He fits well in the slot and has the combination of hands and route running to be lethal on the inside. Could see upwards of 500 receiving yards and a few TDs.
Green Bay Packers: WR Ty Montgomery
Coming out of Stanford, Ty Montgomery was a guy I was very high on based on his versatility and playmaking ability – he found himself in a great fit with the Packers. The 3rd round pick was limited to 6 games last season due to an ankle injury, and even then saw decent production.
With the absence of Jordy Nelson, the Packers’ offense failed to gel last season, but there should be much more cohesion this season. Even with a reportedly healthier Eddie Lacy, the Packers and Aaron Rodgers will continue to sling the ball and spread it around which bodes well for Montgomery. He’s one of my favorite players on this list.
Houston Texans: WR Jaelen Strong
With all the weapons the Texans added over the offseason, Jaelen Strong is a guy flying under the radar in Houston’s offense. Remember, he was considered one of the most talented WRs in the 2015 NFL Draft despite being picked in the 3rd round. Strong showed great signs of flashes last season, although he ended the season with only 161 receiving yards with 3 TDs.
Even though the drafted Will Fuller in the 1st round, I expect Strong to emerge as the more reliable option. Fuller will prove to be a hit or miss type weapon which will open the door for Strong in crucial game opportunities. Strong has great size at 6’4” with strong hands and he can win 1-on-1 situations. One of my favorite players on the list.
Indianapolis Colts: RB Josh Ferguson
While he went undrafted, Josh Ferguson brings a lot of talent to the thin Indianapolis Colts backfield. He brings a different running style than that of Frank Gore. At this stage of is career, Gore is more of a bruiser whereas Ferguson brings speed and quickness.
With an unreliable Gore (health wise) and Robert Turbin leading the charge in the backfield, Ferguson should easily be able to scrounge up some carries and prove himself worthy of an expanded role. His speed and electric cutting ability bring another dimension to the offense which will be coveted in Rob Chudzinski’s scheme.
Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Rashad Greene
After a breakout season from Blake Bortles and the Jacksonville Jaguars passing attack, they’ll be on the national radar this season. Both Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns surpassed 1,000 yards and proved to be arguably the best WR tandem in the league – but who will step up behind them? Bryan Walters did surprisingly well last season, and we’re still waiting for Marqise Lee to prove his consistency.
The name I’m looking at is 2nd year WR out of Florida State Rashad Greene. Greene is your prototypical slot receiver; he has long speed, elusiveness and runs good routes. He can make a living on the inside of Jacksonville’s offense on short routes and use his ability after the catch to rack up fantasy points. He had a lackluster rookie season, but he did have the same amount of TD receptions as Walters and Lee combined.
Kansas City Chiefs: TE James O’Shaughnessy
The 2nd year TE out of Illinois State is probably an unknown to even the deeper fantasy gamers. The former 5th round pick sat out most of last season and hauled in only 6 catches on the season. However, he was a high upside guy when he was drafted with dynamic athletic ability at the TE position – he very well could be ready to take a step forward this season, even with limited experience as a rookie.
With only Travis Kelce ahead of him on the depth chart, O’Shaughnessy should see his fair share of opportunities in twin TE sets. The “basketball” tight end should see the field based on his athleticism alone – we’ll get to see if he has developed at all in the past year or two. If Kelce were to go down with injury, he’s the next guy in line.
Los Angeles Rams: WR Nelson Spruce
It was extremely difficult to find a sleeper on this team. The whole team revolves around Todd Gurley, or at least it did last year. With the drafting of Jared Goff, they now have somewhat of a relevant passing attack. The only problem is lack of proven receivers. After guys like Tavon Austin and Kenny Britt, the Rams have a handful of WRs looking to earn a roster spot – including a group of rookies. The most impressive in my eyes is Colorado’s Nelson Spruce.
Despite going undrafted, Spruce enjoyed a productive career in the Pac-12. He has the skill-set to be a productive NFL slot receiver. While he’s one of the bigger longshots on this list, he offers more upside in dynasty leagues. Could develop into a Goff favorite within the next couple years.
Miami Dolphins: RB Damien Williams
The Dolphins’ backfield took a hit this past offseason with the departure of Lamar Miller. This led to the drafting of Kenyan Drake in the 3rd round. Still, Miami’s backfield remains thin as they look to replace Miller’s production – which will come by committee. Jay Ajayi will lead the charge and Drake will get his fair share of touches, but Damien Williams is the wildcard who could have an impact.
The 3rd year running back out of Oklahoma looks to breakout this season. He hasn’t seen much of a workload in his first two seasons, but he is surely to see more touches this year. He offers a good pass catcher out of the backfield – both career TDs came through the passing game. In fact, his career receiving yards almost double that of his rushing yards. Williams looks like a better option in PPR leagues.
Minnesota Vikings: TE MyCole Pruitt
MyCole Pruitt is just a slightly bigger receiver out there on the field for the Vikings, except he lines up at TE. The 2nd year TE out of Southern Illinois has tremendous athletic ability. Still a little raw when drafted in the 5th round last year, an extra offseason should’ve done Pruitt well.
After Kyle Rudolph, Pruitt is expected to see most of the snaps at TE. He has good speed to stretch the seam and is a pure hands catcher. He should be able to develop into a lethal redzone threat this year for Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikings.
New England Patriots: WR Chris Hogan
Every year there seems to be a Patriot come out of nowhere and burst onto the fantasy scene. For example, last year we saw Dion Lewis make a huge impact before getting injured. The Patriots brought in Chris Hogan over the offseason from Buffalo as a restricted free agent.
Over the past two seasons, Hogan has combined for 876 receiving yards and 6 TDs – those numbers are surely to take off in New England’s offense with Tom Brady. There are a lot of WRs that could take off this season behind guys like Edelman and Amendola, but Hogan is the best bet after what the Pats invested in him. Hogan offers a good skill-set with size and flexibility – a perfect fit in the Pats’ offense.
New Orleans Saints: RB Daniel Lasco
After Mark Ingram, the backfield is quite thin for New Orleans. Khiry Robinson departed for New York. While we saw Tim Hightower have a productive season, who knows if he can match that. Mark Ingram is now at that age where RBs start to decline. Who is next in line for the Saints? 7th round pick Daniel Lasco.
The former California Golden Bear had a breakout senior season which gave him natural recognition leading to him being drafted. Lasco is a dynamic athlete who Sean Payton will surely look to incorporate into the offense. He’s an improving receiver and lethal in open space. Look for him to catch on in the 2nd half of the season.
New York Giants: TE Jerell Adams
One of my favorite picks of the entire 2016 NFL Draft, Jerell Adams was a top performer at the combine. The Giants got a steal in the early part of the 6th round. Adams is a pure athlete with improving pass catching skills. He has the combination if size and athleticism to win battles in traffic – a great threat in the redzone as well.
The Giants are already have guys such as Larry Donnell and Will Tye. Donnell missed half of 2015, but had a surprisingly productive 2014 campaign. Tye was 4th on the team last season in receiving yards. While Adams may not see much action from the get-go, give him another year or two before he has an expanded role in the offense. A legitimate option in dynasty leagues.
New York Jets: QB Geno Smith
The potential divorce between Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Jets has stolen the headlines throughout the offseason in New York. Flying under the radar during this period has been Geno Smith, the replacement for Fitzpatrick – assuming he’s not re-signed by the start of the season. I know what you’re thinking; “Geno Smith as a fantasy sleeper?!?!” For now, yes. Let’s remember that Todd Bowles was prepared to give Geno the starting job last season, until the ‘infamous punch’ sidelined him for the first few weeks of the season which set up “Fitzmagic” to steal the starting job.
Entering his 4th year, Smith has seen steady improvement over the years. He was flat-out terrible as a rookie, but a little better in his 2nd season. Last year he saw a little bit of playing time and didn’t look half bad. (265 passing yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 64%) He was still quite raw when he entered the league, so a year on the bench could’ve done wonders after starting his first two years. Smith has the arm talent and physicality to succeed in the NFL – we just need to see improved decision making and accuracy. He has the legs to rack up fantasy points on the ground – scored 7 rushing TDs through his first two seasons. I’m not saying Smith is going to come in and torch opposing defenses, but his progression is surely something to monitor. Could possibly make for a good bench QB/spot starter with the weapons at his disposal – assuming he actually plays of course.
Oakland Raiders: RB DeAndre Washington
Despite a Pro Bowl appearance this past season, Latavius Murray has received mixed reviews from the Oakland coaching staff and media through the early stages of OTAs. Looking at the rest of the backfield, Roy Helu and Taiwan Jones are the next guys in line – although they combined for only 33 carries last season. The guy I’m watching for is rookie DeAndre Washington.
The 5th round pick out of Texas Tech brokeout this past season in the Big 12. Despite his 5’8” size, he made a highlight reel worth of plays and made a name for himself. Washington is very quick and shifty – lethal in open space. He has killer speed and is a guy who can turn the corner at top speed and break it for a long run. He offers even more as a receiver and will surely be on the field on most 3rd downs. He can see a steadily increased workload as the season goes on. A good dynasty option as well.
Philadelphia Eagles: WR Rueben Randle
Rueben Randle is a guy I feel isn’t getting nearly enough love on the fantasy scene. He comes over to Philadelphia after a productive four seasons with the rival Giants. Randle has averaged 782 receiving yards over the past three seasons while accumulating 17 TDs as a volume receiver. In a thin Philly WR corps, Randle could put up big numbers.
After the Nelson Agholor incident in early June, his future is now in jeopardy -if he were to see some sort of suspension, this will bring even more targets to Randle. Aside from Jordan Matthews, Randle is the only proven outside receiver on the roster. Playing on a one year deal, he’s going to be productive as he looks to cash in during this next offseason. Randle has the potential to lead the Eagles in receiving. Very well could be the biggest sleeper on the list.
Pittsburgh Steelers: WR Sammie Coates
The rookie out of Auburn caught only one pass during his first season in the NFL. Despite that, he lands on the ‘sleeper list’ as I anticipate a breakout season for the sophomore WR. Drafted in the 3rd round, Coates entered the league as a raw height/weight/speed specimen with unreliable hands. Why exactly is he on the list then?
With the year-long Martavis Bryant suspension, someone else in the Pittsburgh WR corps will need to step up behind Antonio Brown. While Markus Wheaton is set to see a productive season, as well as new acquisition Ladarius Green, Sammie Coates is in for a breakout year of his own. I’m expecting Coates to put his talent together this season. While he may commit a drop here and there, his ability to take the top off zones makes him a big play threat in Pittsburgh’s offense. Big Ben is among the best QBs in the league at distributing the ball, so Coates is certain to see his fair share of targets. I can see a 500-600 yard season with a handful of TDs from Coates.
San Diego Chargers: WR Javontee Herndon
This was another difficult team to identify a legit fantasy sleeper for. I’m going out on a limb here in Javontee Herndon. The Chargers have a crowded WR corps – especially after the addition of Travis Benjamin. However, Herndon saw the field as an undrafted free agent last season and could be the 4th WR on the depth chart behind Keenan Allen, Stevie Johnson and Allen. He’s a guy the San Diego coaching staff is very high on.
Herndon is coming off a year in which he caught 72% of his targets. He’s a versatile weapon who caught 24 passes and saw sometime in the backfield as well. The Chargers will look to incorporate his big-play ability and speed. A very deep sleeper here, but someone worth keeping an eye out for.
San Francisco 49ers: TE Blake Bell
Regardless of who is named the starting QB, Blake Bell is a guy I could see be given an expanded role under Chip Kelly. He fits the mold as a Chip Kelly player due to his combination of athleticism, versatility and size – this should lead to more snaps for the former college QB.
Last season we saw Bell show good glimpses down the final stretch of the season which I expect to carry over into this season. A year of experience plus another offseason to improve his route running and overall receiving skillset will bode well for the young converted TE. Bell has tons of potential in a Chip Kelly engineered offense, a viable waiver wire option if he takes off early.
Seattle Seahawks: WR Kenny Lawler
The Seahawks got a steal in the 7th round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Kenny Lawler was Jared Goff’s favorite weapon at Cal for a reason. Straight up, Lawler makes plays. He runs sharp routes, has reliable hands and is a plus athlete. He has large hands and a wide catch radius which makes him a weapon in the redzone.
Looking at the Seahawks WR corps, of course guys like Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and Tyler Lockett will steal the show. However, Lawler has a legitimate shot at seeing a fair share of targets as the season goes on. I think he’ll even pass up 2014 2nd round pick Paul Richardson on the depth chart. While he may not make an impact from the get-go, he’s definitely worth a pick-up in dynasty leagues.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Kenny Bell
Aside from Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, the Buccaneers are very thin depth wise in their WR corps. If they want to make a run in the NFC, they’ll need someone to step up behind the twin towers on the outside – Kenny Bell will be that guy. The 5th round pick from last year missed the entire season after a hamstring injury forced him to the IR.
Bell is a lengthy, speed guy who can take the top off opposing defenses. He adds a different dynamic to Tampa Bay’s offense. He’s great at attacking the ball and can win the one-on-one battles in the air. Has the versatility to play inside or outside. Love his upside with Jameis Winston in that offense. Worth a stash in bigger standard leagues.
Tennessee Titans: WR Harry Douglas
Often the afterthought on a young, talented WR corps in Tennessee, Harry Douglas was 2nd on the Titans last season in targets and even with the addition of Rishard Matthews over the offseason, he’s a guy I think Mariota will continue to gives looks to. Douglas has that veteran savvy and is a reliable target for the young QB to throw to.
Whether it’s on the inside or outside, Douglas will produce this season. While it won’t matchup to that of a guy like Dorial Green-Beckham or even Matthews for that matter, he can still provide solid depth in expanded leagues.
Washington Redskins: TE Vernon Davis
Entering his 11th season, how could Vernon Davis be considered a fantasy sleeper? For one, he’s caught only 2 TDs the past two seasons and his prime is behind him. However, there are a bunch of bright spots to him signing with the Redskins.
For one, Jay Gruden’s pass happy offense surely benefits Davis, along with the rest of the weapons at Kirk Cousins’ disposal. I love the potential in 2 TE sets with Jordan Reed and Davis – they both offer mismatches based on athleticism and size. Remember, Davis is just two years removed from a 13 TD season. Could a better system and better QB inflate his numbers and see him rejuvenate his career? It’s very possible.
Check out some other free agent signings you’re sleeping on in fantasy this year.