Early 2017 Fantasy Football Sleepers

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There are few things better in fantasy football than snagging a sleeper that leads you to a #FootclanTitle. It’s not really time to discuss sleepers this early in…who are we kidding? There’s never a bad time to discuss sleepers. Some fantasy fanatics (yours truly included) are drafting in best ball leagues already.

There is no singular definition of what a sleeper is, but I will apply two conditions.

  1. The first is that they are drafted in the 8th round or later.
  2. The second condition is that they are drafted after ‘starting’ rosters are theoretically filled in typical 12-team leagues. This normally means players drafted after the QB12, RB24, WR36, and TE12. For example, Jameis Winston is being drafted in the 10th round, but he’s the QB12 so he won’t qualify as a sleeper.

Note: The Average Draft Positions (ADPs) come from 12-team PPR drafts from myfantasyleague (MFL10/25) best ball leagues that started after February 1st and fantasyfootballcalculator.com. At this point in the season, I trust the draft spots in the MFLs more because they are filled with paying drafters.

Quarterback Sleepers

Andy Dalton (QB17)
MFL ADP: 136, FFC ADP: 133

How can you ignore a guy who throws to Brandon LaFell? The Red Rocket quietly threw for just over 4,200 yards last year despite injuries to key players A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, and Giovani Bernard. I wouldn’t be excited about starting Dalton on a weekly basis but Dalton could be useful in best ball leagues or if you’re going to play the matchup game with a couple QBs on your roster. Non-divisional matchups against Indianapolis, Buffalo, Chicago, and Detroit should be useful (I almost included Jacksonville, but their defense looks solid on paper).

This is a lukewarm recommendation, but Dalton has finished QB12 or better in three of the last five years including a third overall finish in 2013. There seems to be a QB that cracks the top-5 after being drafted late and Dalton is capable if things break right for the Cincinnati offense. At his 12th-round price tag, he’ll be easy to get away from if the Cincinnati offense continues to look pedestrian or get bit by the injury bug again.

Blake Bortles (QB20)
MFL ADP: 147, FFC ADP: 164

I never pretended this list would look pretty. Bortles looked terrible last year, but he still finished the year as the 8th overall fantasy QB. The only thing crazier than his finish as the 8th best fantasy QB is the fact that it was down from his 3rd overall finish in 2015. We also need a little context. Not that Bortles was lighting up the world before he faced Tennessee in October, but he apparently suffered a partially separated shoulder in that game. He went on to finish the second half of the season while dealing with the separated shoulder and wrist tendonitis.

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I’m not suggesting that Bortles is a great quarterback, but there are reasons to be more optimistic about his 2017 season. Actually, I thought there might be, but it’s a stretch at best. Basically, we’re hoping Jacksonville’s defense and run game struggle, which forces Bortles to throw over 600 times for the third year in a row. I don’t care who you are, if you’re an NFL quarterback throwing a lot of balls to Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee, you’re going to be fantasy relevant. It doesn’t look like Bortles will have competition for the starting job so there you have it. Top-10 potential from a 13th-round pick.

Running Back  Sleepers

Jerick McKinnon (RB42)
MFL ADP: 124, FFC ADP: 156

McKinnon is about two teams away from falling into Christine Michael territory as a guy with all the physical tools that can’t seem to put it together. None-the-less, McKinnon currently sits atop the Minnesota RB depth chart with AP and Matt Asiata (leader of the fantasy football morale suppression team) testing the free agent market. McKinnon was inconsistent while running behind a pitifully ineffective offensive line, but he did receive an uptick in work during the second half of the season that included 28 receptions over the final five games of the season.

The Minnesota backfield is a tough situation to figure out with lots of moving parts as our own Ryan Weisse recently pointed out. McKinnon should have a role even if AP or Asiata come back and/or Minnesota elects to chase a running back in the draft. If he can establish himself as the primary back in Minnesota, he could be a steal, especially in PPR leagues.

Jalen Richard (RB55)
MFL ADP: 177, FFC ADP: Not Drafted

DeAndre Washington looked like the back to own behind Latavius Murray last year, but Richard played his way to a near even split with Washington while Murray plodded along 4 yards at a time. Washington managed 5.4 ypc behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, but Richard bested Washington with 5.9 ypc. Richard also added 29 receptions on his way to a 685 yard and 3 TD rookie campaign. Oakland will almost certainly add to their backfield through free agency or the draft, but Richard is a name to keep in the back of your mind. Richard probably won’t be drafted in most leagues, but his upside is huge if he can finagle 200 or more touches behind Oakland’s dominant line.

Wide Receiver Sleepers

John Brown (WR51)
MFL ADP: 112, FFC ADP: 158

This was one of Jason’s favorite breakout candidates heading into 2016, but a previously undiagnosed sickle-cell trait in Brown created all sorts of medical issues and kept Brown on the sideline. Sickle-cell can be controlled and plenty of elite NFL players mitigate the effects with proper medical attention, which bolds well for Brown. Michael Floyd notoriously wore out his welcome in Arizona and Fitz isn’t getting any younger even though he’s still capable of playing at an elite level. I’m ready to give Smoke another shot, especially if I only have to use a 10th-round pick on him.

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Pierre Garcon (WR59)
MFL ADP: 130, FFC ADP: Not Drafted

Garcon hit free agency and landed in San Francisco with former coach Kyle Shanahan, someone whom he has a history with as Keaton Denlay recently pointed out. Garcon had no less than 105 targets in the last four years with Washington despite the offense supporting DeSean Jackson and Jordan Reed. Garcon should have no trouble attaining 100 targets as the guy in San Francisco. The obvious problem is the quarterback situation in San Francisco that will likely feature Brian Hoyer in 2017. Hoyer is not a name that garners much fanfare, but he’s played reasonably well for the likes of Cleveland, Houston, and Chicago the past three years. It’s not a great situation in San Francisco, but “there’s fantasy gold in them thar hills.” There won’t be many players available in the 11th round that have an excellent shot at 100+ targets and 1,000+ yards.

Tight End Sleepers

Austin Hooper (TE16)
MFL ADP: 147, FFC ADP: 176

If you think the QB situation was bad, things get rough after the first six TEs. Actually, things get downright ugly after Cameron Brate who is the TE12. One of the few TEs that inspire any sort of optimism is Hooper. He only logged 19 receptions for 271 yards in his rookie campaign with Atlanta, but he managed 3 TDs with those receptions and notched a TD in the Super Bowl. No TE stood out last year in Atlanta, but Hooper, Jacob Tamme, and Levine Toilolo all had over 200 yards receiving and combined for 9 TDs. Tamme is gone and Toilolo is primarily a blocking TE. I think Hooper has a reasonable shot at a 60-750-8 type season. Even if the TE position bounces back from a down year in 2016, those numbers should be good enough for a top-10 finish. He’s worth the 13th round price especially in a very sparse field of TEs.

Coby Fleener (TE18)
MFL ADP: 154, FFC ADP: 185

I told you the TE field was thin. Fleener burned a lot of fantasy drafters, myself included. He takes a special sort of bad to be a TE that can’t produce with Drew Brees who is the TE friendliest QB in the league. That’s pretty much my argument for Fleener. Cooks is gone, this will be Fleener’s second season in the system, and Brees is still the QB. Keep your eye on Josh Hill though. If it looks like Hill can win the starting job over Fleener (again), switch your pick to Hill who isn’t being drafted at all.

Looking for more sleepers to give you that edge for the 2017 season? Make sure you pre-order The Ultimate Draft Kit for access to Andy, Mike, and Jason’s sleepers, busts, and break-outs, as well as constantly updated rankings, projections, and insights.

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