Fantasy Football: 2018 Rookie Sleeper Candidates

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Each and every season, incoming rookies are overlooked due to draft capital or an unfavorable landing spot. Among these former collegiate athletes are potential hidden gems in the fantasy football world. At next to no cost, there is minimal risk associated with selecting such a player in a redraft or dynasty league. With that idea in mind, I have identified three sleeper candidates to consider drafting from the 2018 rookie class that could significantly exceed expectations for this upcoming season. Below, I describe how each asset can contribute from a fantasy perspective by reviewing their college resume and potential impact on offense at the NFL level.

Get a full list of sleepers for the 2018 NFL season in the 2018 Ultimate Draft Kit.

Richie James

Despite being a seventh-round selection in the NFL Draft, Richie James owns perhaps the most prolific college pedigree of any wide receiver in the 2018 class. For context purposes, understand that he posted receiving lines of 108-1346-8 (2015) and 105-1625-12 (2016) during his breakout campaigns at Middle Tennessee. However, his 2017 season was basically lost as he was limited to just 5 games after he suffered a high-ankle sprain and a broken collarbone.

Yes, he is a bit undersized on paper for the professional level at 5’ 10”/183 pounds. At the same time, James excels as a route runner with reliable hands and remarkable short area quickness.

At the moment, James is off of the redraft radar. However, he could prove to become a popular waiver wire commodity come the regular season. As a slot receiver, his main source of competition for snaps in San Francisco is Marquise Goodwin and Trent Taylor. Pierre Garcon remains entrenched as the team’s primary receiver and fellow rookie Dante Pettis figures to be involved all over the field. This leaves James with a legitimate path to fantasy relevancy in a friendly passing offense that is directed by Kyle Shanahan.

In dynasty formats, James should be viewed as an ideal roster stash with serious upside. His current ADP hovers around the fifth-round of rookie drafts, making him virtually free to acquire with little to no risk. Pencil him in as a sleeper this offseason, but also realize that buzz could begin to generate quickly about the underrated rookie receiver.

Kalen Ballage

A popular offseason headline leading up to the NFL Draft involved the future of Kenyan Drake’s workload with the Miami Dolphins after his RB32 finish in PPR formats last season. Based on the capital that was allocated in the fourth-round to secure Kalen Ballage this past April, it appears that the organization does not believe that a workhorse running back is currently on its roster. Keep in mind, Frank Gore is also now a member of what appears to be a crowded backfield platoon in Miami.

Given the unpredictable usage rate he will earn as a rookie in 2018, Ballage is best viewed as a sleeper for fantasy football purposes. At 6’ 2” / 228 pounds, the former Arizona State product possesses a rare profile of size and speed. Consider that Ballage posted a 4.46 forty time at the NFL Scouting Combine, and it becomes clear that he is an exceptional athlete for his stature.

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Perennially underutilized at the collegiate level, Ballage never earned more than 153 rushing attempts in a single season as a Sun Devil. He did, however, eclipse 650 yards rushing in two campaigns, and even managed to showcase his versatility with 44 receptions in 2016 alone.

At the moment, Ballage is not being drafted in redraft leagues. That trend is bound to change after Adam Gase’s recent remarks about the talented 22-year-old, as Miami’s head coach praised his potential to be a lead back on offense. It should then come as no surprise that Kalen’s ADP currently resides in the second-round of dynasty rookie drafts, as he is expected to contribute in some capacity as a rookie while simultaneously offering a high ceiling long-term to fantasy owners.

Nyheim Hines

Due to the fact that Nyheim Hines is listed at 5’ 8” / 198 pounds, it is easy to label him as merely a receiving specialist out of the backfield. Before assuming that narrative is true, understand that the 21-year-old prospect ran for 1,113 yards and 12 touchdowns at North Carolina State in 2017. Sure, his 4.38 speed indicates that he will be used in space at the NFL level as a member of the Indianapolis Colts, but Hines is also a more than capable rusher as indicated by his college resume. In fact, he recorded three rushing touchdowns of 50 or more yards in 2017 alone to demonstrate his big-play ability. Savvy dynasty owners appear to be well aware of Nyheim’s pedigree, as his ADP is firmly located in the second-round of offseason rookie drafts.

Outside of Marlon Mack and perhaps Jordan Wilkins or Robert Turbin, Hines has a clear route to volume in an offense that lacks legitimate skill position talent outside of T.Y. Hilton. Head coach Frank Reich has already stated that Hines will be used extensively as a running back and slot receiver in Indianapolis, which should provide his fantasy owners with a relatively safe floor in PPR formats.

Let me be clear, Hines does not project to become a lead back in the NFL. Fortunately, he can contribute in the fantasy landscape as a hybrid weapon out of the backfield. As the offseason progresses, Hines will inevitably emerge as a sleeper in redraft leagues. Be sure to make note of his name well in advance, as it will be that much easier to secure his services before others in a draft this upcoming season.

Editor’s Note: Check out a list of 2018 Rookie Bust Candidates.

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