Fantasy Football: 3 Pre-Draft Sleepers for 2018

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You know fantasy season is just around the corner when we start talking about sleepers. It’s obviously early in the season and the draft will move people up and down the draft board, but it doesn’t mean we can’t think about sleepers now.

First I’m going to define what a sleeper is for each position:

Sleeper Running Back: A player drafted outside the first 5 rounds and 24 RBs taken in 12-team drafts that can finish as a top-12 RB.
Sleeper Wide Receiver:  A player drafted outside the first 5 rounds and 24 WRs taken in 12-team drafts that can finish as a top-12 WR.
Sleeper Tight End: A player drafted outside the first 5 rounds and 12 TEs taken in 12-team drafts that can finish as a top-6 TE.
Sleeper Quarterback: A player drafted outside the first 5 rounds and 16 QBs taken in 12-team drafts that can finish as a top-10 QB.
Sleeper Kicker: No such thing.

Devin Funchess, WR
Carolina Panthers

There are a few WRs I debated about putting in here, but this may be a no-brainer. The Carolina offense was uninspiring last year, but Funchess still managed 8 TDs on 63 receptions. That high TD rate was also witnessed in his first two years where he scored 9 times on only 54 receptions. The TDs will be there for Funchess while the problem is volume. Funchess had 11 games with four or fewer receptions last year, including five straight to close out the season where he also scored 3 TDs. To get Funchess over that WR1 hump, we’re going to need to see him get closer to 80+ receptions.

Funchess will be entering this year as the clear number one receiver for Carolina, but Christian McCaffrey will continue to get targets and Greg Olsen is on pace to return following foot surgery. We know McCaffrey will continue to soak up targets in Carolina. He actually did hit the 80 reception mark last year. The wildcard is Olsen.

Up until last year, Olsen had flirted with 80 receptions in four straight years. If Olsen returns to form and McCaffrey keeps getting the looks, Funchess’ volume will be capped at last year’s rate. For Funchess to become a top-12 WR he’s going to need Carolina to shift more offensive focus to him, which may happen with the arrival of Norv Turner following last years 28th place finish in passing offense.

Funchess is showing an 8th round ADP and 40th WR taken, but you can expect to see him go closer to the 6th round. The sixth round is a fair price to pay for last year’s performance, but it doesn’t take into account his ceiling, which is WR1 territory. I’d be fine taking him at the end of the fourth round where you see Larry Fitzgerald, Demaryius Thomas, Josh Gordon, Allen Robinson, and Julian Edelman.

Other WRs considered:
Chris Hogan, Randall Cobb, DeSean Jackson, Jordan Matthews

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Rex Burkhead, RB
New England Patriots

Normally I detest drafting the first New England Patriot RB off the board, but I think the fantasy community feels the way I do which has kept Burkhead’s ADP at a reasonable 8th round price. Dion Lewis left for Tennessee, which leaves Mike Gillislee, James White, newly added Jeremy Hill and Burkhead. New England brought in Hill, but Burkhead, White, and Gillislee managed to stay on the team (so far) that’s notorious for churning through RBs. Hill adds a wrinkle to the formula, but he’ll be on a short leash i.e. Gillislee 2017.

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All three of the returning New England RBs showed sparks at times throughout the season, but Burkhead led the pack with eight TDs (five rushing and three receiving) through an injury-riddled season. Burkhead is pretty much a cheap option that could easily exceed double-digit TDs in an offense that consistently ranks among the league leaders in fantasy points earned by RBs. It also helps that division rivals Buffalo, Miami, and New York all placed in the top-10 for fantasy points allowed to opposing RBs.

Other RBs considered:
James White, Mike Gillislee, Marlon Mack, LeGarrette Blount

Mitchell Trubisky, QB
Chicago Bears

I don’t really like to use the term dumpster fire, but I don’t know how else to describe Chicago’s offense last year. To say that Chicago’s receiving group was a weakness would be an incredible understatement. Cameron Meredith went down with an ACL tear and missed the entire season. Luckily Chicago had WRs Kendall Wright, Josh Bellamy, and Dontrelle Inman to pick up the slack (if you can’t detect the sarcasm, there may not be hope for you).

Chicago’s obvious weakness in 2017 is starting to shape up to be a strength in 2018 starting with coaching.  They hired Kansas City’s former offensive coordinator Matt Nagy to be the new Head Coach and Mark Helfrich to be the offensive coordinator. They went out and snagged Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, and Taylor Gabriel in free agency. Hopefully, they keep Cameron Meredith (at the time of this writing, Chicago had two days to match an offer made by New Orleans). Chicago still has Tarik Cohen who was explosive, yet criminally underused in the passing game, and second-year TE Adam Shaheen, who led the team with three receiving TDs on only 12 receptions.

Trubisky himself showed glimmers of hope, although it’s impossible to judge his outlook given the lack of offensive talent and horrible coaching from last year. His passing statistics look dismal, but he did display athleticism amassing 248 yards and two TDs on the ground. There is now a lot of offensive talent surrounding Trubisky with coaching changes that should give Chicago’s offense a new uptempo look. It’s up to the young quarterback to make a huge step forward in year two. Trubisky’s ability to run could be the difference between what should, at a minimum, be an average performance and top-10 QB territory. All of this for a QB who is among the last to be drafted.

Other QBs Considered:
Tyrod Taylor, Andy Dalton, Blake Bortles

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