Three True “Deep Sleepers” for 2022 (Fantasy Football)
The term “sleeper” is thrown around more frequently than the football in the NFL community, but it’s become an overused phrase in a lot of ways. From my view, a sleeper is someone that you genuinely never see coming, or who has very little buzz around them at all going into the season. Late-round picks are late-round picks, but sleepers are the players that make most casual drafters say “who in the heck is that guy?”. If you found someone that your league mates will be dumbfounded by when you already have them on a roster, then that guy is likely a sleeper. The three guys listed here are obviously long shots to be fantasy relevant, but they fell into situations that have historically produced fantasy relevance when things break the right way.
I said in an article earlier this summer that it wouldn’t be the last time I mentioned the new Patriots rookie, and consider this my delivery on that promise. The New England running back room is extremely crowded, and historically a bit unpredictable. This can be frustrating for fantasy managers but can be an excellent breeding ground for sleepers and value. Rhamondre Stevenson was someone I touted heavily last year going into the season, and he returned a lot of value on his ADP at times throughout the year. He’s now a potential breakout running back and one of my favorite late-round targets, but he doesn’t fit the mold of a true “sleeper” anymore.
Pierre Strong Jr certainly does. He was a late-round pick that came from a small school, but his college production was incredibly impressive, and his combine metrics were excellent. He finished his 2021 campaign as the leading rusher in the FCS and was a two-time All-American and a finalist for the Walter Payton award in his sophomore season. His production trajectory is exactly the type of path that we should be looking for when identifying a potential diamond in the rough. The big question with players like Strong is whether or not they can compete with the defensive athleticism at the highest level. He’s a decent-sized back with a 5’11 frame weighing in at 207 pounds, but he had the fastest 40-yard dash time amongst running backs in the 2022 combine.
He runs well through the line of scrimmage, but his skill set is more closely aligned with a pass-catching specialist in the modern NFL. He has a full 20 pounds on James White, yet ran his 40 a full two seconds faster. White is battling a long-term hip injury and is no spring chicken, so the door is wide open for passing game work in the backfield. Strong and Stevenson are the two guys I’d put my money on to battle for work here, but Belichick’s background actually leans towards someone like Strong as a true specialist like White has been for their staff. Keep an eye on his usage in the preseason, and stash him on your dynasty roster if you have a spot.
Isaiah McKenzie – WR, Buffalo Bills
This might seem shocking that I have a Bills receiver not named Gabe Davis in an article, but the hype surrounding Davis is taking care of itself, and frankly, becoming a bit much. His best ball ADP is ridiculously inflated (WR20), and he’s on the verge of becoming a risk for casual drafters. I still think he has a solid season, but at this point, he needs to deliver surprisingly impressive numbers to return value on his ADP. Stefon Diggs is alive and well, and the Bills are going to spread the ball around plenty. This bodes well for Davis, but it also bodes well for any other playmakers in the offense looking to make an impact.
Both Dawson Knox and Jamison Crowder are expected to be involved, but too many people are forgetting about a feisty 5’8 slot receiver with some explosive ability entering his second season. McKenzie was utilized in specific packages in 2021, but his quick feet and agility scream slot receiver, and the Bills have been in need of someone to man that spot since the departure of Cole Beasley. If I were a betting man (which I am), I would still pencil in Jamison Crowder as the starting slot receiver in 2022 because of his history as a reliable security blanket, but that’s far from guaranteed. He may be the obvious choice on paper, but he’s now missed five straight days of camp and doesn’t have much of a leash as a 29-year-old possession receiver on a one-year deal. There is also a lot of positive buzz about McKenzie from the first week, with Ken Dorsey heaping praise on him less than 48 hours ago. Beat reporters are raving about his consistency, and he appears to be involved in a lot of goal-line packages. This could all be pointless when Crowder returns, but the best ability is availability. Stash McKenzie on your dynasty teams while everyone looks the other way.
This is a bit of a post-hype breakout narrative in a few ways, but there is a lot to like about the Colts’ offense in 2022. Matt Ryan is an underrated pocket passer who has helped elevate pass catchers throughout his career, so there is going to be an uptick in production in more places than just Michael Pittman’s stat sheet. Behind the third-year alpha receiver, there is very little to like about the Colts’ passing game. The next two most frequently targeted players in 2021 behind Pittman were Nyheim Hines and Jonathan Taylor, who both play running back. The entire offense is built around JT, but Ryan’s ability to put the ball on the numbers is going to demand a lot more play action in 2022.
Mo Allie-Cox has been slightly underwhelming since he entered the league despite his solid combination of size and athleticism. He’s entering his sixth year in the league, but the Colts just inked him to an $18M deal over three seasons. We should always be following the money, and that type of investment typically reflects a potential uptick in usage. The departure of Jack Doyle opens the door for someone like Allie-Cox to walk through it, and it’s very possible the Colts see Allie-Cox as the next man up. He’s best utilized in the red zone and near the goal line which bodes well for his potential as a sleeper tight end. He’s never going to be the type of guy to catch 80 passes, but he could be on tap for a touchdown-heavy Eric Ebron-like season if the Colts passing rate increases substantially. Matt Ryan is the key that could unlock any pass catcher not named Michael Pittman. There are always one or two tight ends that come out of nowhere, and this situation is the perfect platform for it to happen. I’m still treating him like a waiver wire option until there is more clarity on the Colts’ depth chart, but he should be watched very closely in camp.