With free agency now in the rearview mirror as we gear up for the NFL Draft, we can now start to prepare for fantasy football which will be here before you know it. There was a lot of movement this past month or so – too much to keep track of. That’s why we’re here.
While you’re aware of the big moves such as Brock Osweiler to Houston or Matt Forte to New York, you can dig much deeper than that. Some under the radar signings will provide quality players in fantasy football this season.
Every year we see players come out of nowhere and burst onto the scene as blue-chip pieces on your fantasy team – paving the way as you make your playoff push. Take a look at our top sleepers for this upcoming season, free agency edition.
RB, Donald Brown, New England Patriots
The former first round pick never lived up to the bill. After five decently productive seasons in Indianapolis, Brown signed with the Chargers where he spent the past two years as a reserve running back. He only scored one touchdown and never broke 250 rushing yards in a season in San Diego. With that being said, why would you want anything to do with a guy like Brown?
First off, the fact that the Patriots signed him leads me to believe they have some plans for him – they’re not a team that signs players just for the hell of it. While he may be buried on the depth chart behind Dion Lewis, James White and perhaps even Brandon Bolden, he is still going to see playing time. Lewis has durability concerns, and Brown is very reliable when it comes to staying on the field. Brown seems like a good fit in Foxborough. He excels as a receiver which is coveted by Bill Belichick and that offense – Brown has 3 seasons of 200+ receiving yards.
Now I’m not saying go out and draft Brown in the first round of your fantasy draft, or even draft him at all for that matter. Just keep an eye on him. The Patriots are a team who cycle through players, so he’ll see a fair share of snaps this season. Plus, whoever they put in the backfield has the chance to breakout in any given week, so it seems.
RB, Stevan Ridley, Detroit Lions
The former 1,000 yard rusher says that his best years of football are ahead of him. That could be true, but it’s pivotal that he stays on the football field. Ridley has been dealing with injuries over the past two seasons and barely saw any legitimate playing time in a one-year stint with the Jets last season.
Just three years removed from his 1,000 yard season, you know the former Patriot has tons of talent. I like the fit in Detroit. Joique Bell is no longer there, and I’m certain he’ll get more playing time than beloved Theo Riddick. Plus, if Ameer Abdullah can’t find a cure for his “fumbleitis, that will open up even more opportunities for Ridley in the backfield.
Ridley is a slasher out of the backfield who comes to an offense in dire need of production with the sudden retirement of Calvin Johnson. Of the three RBs on this list, he carries the most upside and I would take with a late round pick – I could see him develop into a quality FLEX as the season goes on.
RB, Khiry Robinson, New York Jets
Overshadowed by the signing of Matt Forte, Khiry Robinson joins the former Pro Bowler in the Jets backfield. The Jets made out good this offseason, swapping Chris Ivory for the package of Forte and Robinson. The latter comes over after a successful stint in New Orleans to start his career.
Robinson is a big, powerful runner. He averaged over 4 yards per carry with the Saints and reached pay-dirt 8 times. His receiving ability gradually improved each season which will translate well in the Jets offense. An offense that is still without a staring caliber QB as Ryan Fitzpatrick remains unsigned.
At this stage of his career, Matt Forte is a liability when it comes to staying healthy. This is what made the insurance signing of Robinson necessary. He will likely benefit from Forte’s age and questionable durability. Also, if the Jets don’t acquire an upgrade at QB, they will lean on the running game which will bode well for Robinson. He’s worth a late round pick in my eyes and a decent FLEX option.
WR, Chris Hogan, New England Patriots
This may go down as the biggest under the radar signing of the entire offseason. The Patriots snagged Chris Hogan away from Buffalo as a restricted free agent after the Bills declined to match the Pats’ offer – a move they very well may regret.
The Monmouth product has had himself a quietly productive past two seasons which has seen him rack up nearly 900 receiving yards and 6 TDs in a limited workload. Hogan fits the mold as your prototypical New England receiver, much like a Julian Edelman or Danny Amendola – with a tad more size.
Not a guy I would personally draft, but he may be worth a late round flyer in deeper leagues based on his upside in New England’s offense. You know the Patriots have a tendency to inflate a receivers’ numbers, and Hogan very well could benefit from that trend.
WR, Mike Wallace, Baltimore Ravens
Why even bother anymore with Mike Wallace? After emerging as one of the league’s best receivers with division-rival Pittsburgh five or so years ago, Wallace has been a disappointment after signing a huge contract in Miami and more recently in his one season with the Vikings.
There’s no doubt that Wallace has lost a step and isn’t as explosive as he once was. However, he is just one year removed from a 10 TD season. Even at 31 years old, he still brings that dynamic ability to stretch the field and go over the top. He’s now in a better-suited offense that compliment his skills. A strong-armed Joe Flacco will be able to hit him on the deep ball more-so than a conservative Teddy Bridgewater as Wallace saw career lows in just about every category.
I’m very optimistic regarding Wallace in fantasy this season. The Ravens get Steve Smith back, Breshad Perriman should progress and Kamar Aiken solidified himself as a solid option in the passing game; however, Wallace is a great fit in this offense and has the potential to tear this division apart as it’s mostly filled with lacklusters secondaries. You know he’s going to do everything in his power to go off against his former team, which he can do twice.
TE, Jared Cook, Green Bay Packers
This was my favorite ‘under the radar’ signing of free agency. Jared Cook brings substantial upside to Green Bay’s offense. While he has seen steady production throughout his career, Cook hasn’t broken out like many projected year after year. 2016 looks like a make or break season for the veteran tight end.
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers struggled last season and failed to get in sync for a large part of the season as the absence of Jordy Nelson clearly effected them. They didn’t make a lot of buzz in free agency, but the signing of Jared Cook is a great acquisition. His combination of size and athleticism will be lethal in that offense. Forming him with Richard Rodgers will be a great tandem – they compliment each other well with Cook bringing that vertical threat and Rodgers providing more of a redzone option; still, Cook will get his fair share of looks inside the 20.
I really like Cook’s chances to excel this year in the fantasy landscape. He’s in a much better situation than he was in with the Rams and finally has a top tier QB throwing him the ball. Despite his 29 years of age, he could be in for a breakout season. Definitely worth a draft pick.
TE, Vernon Davis, Washington Redskins
Like Mike Wallace, Vernon Davis is another guy with his best days behind him. He couldn’t use the excuse of poor QB play in San Francisco anymore once his production stayed flat when he was acquired by Denver at the trade deadline this past season. I do, however, love the fit in Washington.
The Redskins are a team who far exceeded expectations last season thanks to the breakout of Kirk Cousins. Davis should benefit from Jay Gruden’s pass-happy offense – the departure of Alfred Morris will lead to more opportunities in the passing game as well. While Davis has just 2 TD catches in the past two seasons, he is just to years removed from a career-high 13 TDs.
Davis is still an elite athlete at the tight end position and presents a mismatch against linebackers. Being paired with Jordan Reed forms a great 2 TE set for the Redskins and gives Gruden a lot of flexibility, especially in the redzone. Davis is a legitimate fantasy sleeper; I could see around 400 receiving yards with 4-5 TDs – solid production from a tight end.