Sunday, July 29, 2018

Fantasy Football Sleepers 2018: 16 Players to Target Beyond Round 10

If you asked 100 different people to define a fantasy football sleeper, you may get 100 different answers.

In fact, you could easily argue that there is no such thing as a "sleeper" given the volume of year-round fantasy football analysis.

For purposes of this post, however, we'll refer to sleepers as players available after Round 10 of 12-team leagues.

So, even though the players on this list may be household names, they all have an average draft position of 121 (or later) based on consensus average draft position (ADP) data (via FantasyPros).

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Certainly not an exhaustive list, here are 16 fantasy football sleepers to target late in your draft(s):

QB - Alex Smith, Washington Redskins (ADP: 136, QB20)

Roughly half of the draft-day cost of Kirk Cousins, Smith is coming off the best fantasy season (QB3) of his career. Even though that was the first top-12 fantasy season of his career, it shouldn't be difficult for Smith to clear the bar (draft-day cost) set for him to generate a profit for his fantasy owners.

As great as Smith was last season, he enters a favorable fantasy situation in Washington. Not only has Cousins finished as a top-eight fantasy quarterback in each of the past three seasons, Jay Gruden coordinated Cincinnati's offense in 2013 when Andy Dalton finished as the QB5. So, in other words, Gruden has coached a QB8 (or better) season in four of the past five years.

Averaging a career-high 8.0 Y/A last season, Smith threw for 4,042 yards and 26 touchdowns, both of which were career highs. One of the league's more mobile quarterbacks, Smith has rushed for 350-plus yards in three of the past five seasons with 10 rushing scores over that stretch.

Will he finish as fantasy's QB8 next season? Most likely no, but a top-12 season is certainly within reach.

QB - Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars (ADP: 174, QB25)

No team ran the ball more often than the Jaguars last season and despite 102 fewer pass attempts, Bortles finished the 2017 season as fantasy's QB13. Before last year, he finished as fantasy's QB4 (2015) and QB10 (2016).

With fewer pass attempts, Bortles played more efficiently and he played his best football down the stretch. Especially if that carries over into 2018, it wouldn't be unreasonable for him to have a better season than he had last year (QB13).

While I would not feel comfortable starting the season with Bortles as my every-week starter in a standard-sized, one-QB league, he's more than a viable QB2 option in 2-QB formats and worth a long look as a streaming option. No quarterback has a more favorable fantasy strength of schedule than Bortles.

More: Blake Bortles 2018 Fantasy Football Profile

RB - Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks (ADP: 138, RB46)

Playing only four games before a season-ending injury, Carson carried the ball 49 times for 208 yards and added seven catches for 59 yards and a score last season. A sleeper going into last season, Carson seemed poised for a breakout this season before the Seahawks drafted Rashaad Penny in the first round.

But, wait.

Carson currently sits atop the depth chart and the Seahawks have generally disregarded draft pedigree or free-agency price tags when determining roles and workloads.

It's certainly possible that Penny emerges as the lead guy, but it's not out of the question that Carson, fully healthy now and a recipient of plenty offseason praise from Pete Carroll, maintains that role.

RB - Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals (ADP: 145, RB48)

Joe Mixon is a top-15 back in my rankings and Bernard won't be drafted to start in 12-team (or smaller) leagues. But he does represent a value opportunity when compared to his current ADP.

Down the stretch, Bernard was highly productive. Even if partly due to Mixon missing time, Bernard had 507 YFS, averaged 4.75 YPC with 24 receptions and two scores over five December games.

Projected for 813 YFS and 45 receptions in 2018 fantasy football running back projections, Gio offers late-round value as a back that could return flex value.

More: Gio appeared on my list of 12 Undervalued Players in Fantasy Football

RB - Latavius Murray, Minnesota Vikings (ADP: 159, RB52)

Finishing as a top-20 fantasy running back in three consecutive seasons, Murray has the 10th-most fantasy points amongst running backs over that span. (He has the 18th-most on a per-game basis, which includes players with less than three years experience and players not currently on rosters like DeMarco Murray and Adrian Peterson).

To be clear, Murray won't finish as a top-20 fantasy running back in 2018 barring another injury to Dalvin Cook. Based on his merit alone, however, Murray turns up at RB43 in my running back projections (140/567/4.6 rushing line) assuming a full season for Cook.

One area where my projections may be exceedingly low is touchdowns. The 230-pound back has 20 rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons. Tied with LeGarrette Blount for second-most over that span, only Ezekiel Elliott (22) has more.

Like most of the running backs on this list, there is huge upside if the incumbent misses time. But like most of the other running backs on this list, Murray is undervalued compared to his current ADP even if the incumbent plays a full 16-game slate.

RB - Chris Ivory, Buffalo Bills (ADP: 201, RB59)

Facing serious allegations, which he categorically denies, there is plenty of uncertainty about the status of LeSean McCoy for the 2018 season. If Shady is handed down a league suspension (or worse), Ivory clearly stands to benefit.

RB - Darren Sproles, Philadelphia Eagles (ADP: 243, RB68)

A 35-year-old change-of-pace back coming off an injury-shortened season isn't necessarily worth getting excited about. But maybe we should.

Obviously better in PPR formats, Sproles finished as fantasy's RB29 in 2016. Excluding last year's three-game season, Sproles finished as a top-36 back in five of the previous six seasons.

While Jay Ajayi stands to get a lot more opportunities as the early-down back with LeGarrette Blount in Detroit, it's not out of the question that Sproles gets more snaps than Corey Clement. And I like Clement's abilities a lot.

That said, Eliot Shorr-Parks wrote earlier this offseason that "it would not be surprising at all to see Sproles near the top -- if not at the top -- of snaps" (among the team's RBs).

That may not happen. But if it does, he's going to crush his current fantasy cost (essentially free), even in deeper leagues.

RB - Alfred Blue, Houston Texans (ADP: 352, RB96)

Currently on the active/PUP list, D'Onta Foreman (Achilles) could find himself on the reserve/PUP list. If so, that would require Foreman to sit for a minimum of six games.

Foreman tore his Achilles in November and Miller was less than impressive in 2017. For a second consecutive season, Miller set a career low in yards per carry (3.7 in 2017, 4.0 in 2016).

Over the final three games of the season, Blue had 46 carries (50 touches) to Miller's 27 carries (30 touches). If Foreman lands on reserve/PUP and Miller struggles again, Blue could potentially carve out a much larger role than anyone currently anticipates.

WR - Kenny Stills, Miami Dolphins (ADP: 139, WR51)

Over the past two seasons, only Larry Fitzgerald (216) and Antonio Brown (207) have more receptions than Jarvis Landry (206). Even with the volume thrown Landry's way, Stills has been highly productive.

During that two-year stint, Stills has racked up 100 catches for 1,573 yards and 15 touchdowns and has finished as a top-30 fantasy wide receiver both seasons.

With Landry now in Cleveland, there could be even more opportunities for Stills even though the Dolphins signed Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson. Either way, Stills should easily outperform his current WR51 ADP.

WR - Rishard Matthews, Tennessee Titans (ADP: 142, WR53)

Perenially underappreciated, Matthews once again provides fantasy owners with plenty of profit potential. In his first two seasons with the Titans, Matthews has finished as fantasy's WR13 and WR37 in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

While second-year wide receiver Corey Davis is poised for a breakout, I still project Matthews for more than 50 catches, 800 yards and five touchdowns in 2018. That puts him at WR44 (compared to his current ADP of WR53).

WR - Kenny Golladay, Detroit Lions (ADP: 141, WR52)

As a rookie, Golladay's best games were his first (4/69/2) and his last (2/80/1). Missing five games in the season, the rookie totalled only 22/328/0 in his nine games from Weeks 2 to 16.

Going into his sophomore campaign, Golladay has generated plenty of buzz.

As's Kyle Meinke wrote, Golladay (6-4, 218, 4.5 forty) "looks like a No. 1 receiver." Of course, the presence of Marvin Jones and Golden Tate means he's third in line for targets.

At the same time, Tate has really talked up his teammate.

"I saw freakish catches, man," Tate said. "Some real freakin' freakish catches. Kenny's still a young guy trying to figure it out, but he's moving at a great pace. If he can just keep the mentality he has coming in, he studies, and just tries to get better every day, I'm telling you, this guy can be dominant. He's a WR1 kind of guy."
WR - Tyrell Williams, Los Angeles Chargers (ADP: 220, WR71)

When Keenan Allen missed virtually all of 2016, Williams had a breakout season — 69 catches for 1,059 yards and seven touchdowns. With Allen playing a full 16-game slate last season and putting up monster numbers (102/1,393/6), Williams had a respectable, but more modest, 43/728/4 stat line.

Williams had an inconsistent season -- better in the first and last four games, not as good in the middle eight. Regardless, he still managed to finish as fantasy's WR41 (PPR's WR45).

Perhaps another Williams (Mike) emerges as the team's No. 2 receiver, but the loss of Hunter Henry (and Antonio Gates, for now) means we should see more three-WR sets from the Chargers. Assuming good health across the board, last year's numbers could be Williams' floor, which makes him a bargain. Without Henry and Gates, however, I expect at least modest year-over-year improvement.

WR - Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (ADP: 256, WR85)

With injuries leading to some expanded opportunities in the second half of his rookie season, Godwin capitalized with a 26/442/1 (17.0 Y/R) second-half line. In addition, Godwin had 68-plus yards in three of his final four games including a 7/111/1 line in Week 17.

Going into the season, Mike Evans (obviously) and DeSean Jackson are the two primary outside receivers and the team really likes Adam Humphries in the slot. In addition, they have a talented duo at tight end with Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard.

While the team's other talented pass-catchers may be his primary obstacle for snaps, Godwin has continued to do his part.

As Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times noted during mini-camp, Godwin "makes a lot of plays everyday." Earlier this offseason, OC Todd Monken said that Godwin has earned the right to start in context of three-WR sets.

Based on talent, Godwin could see his role expand through the season, especially if the team struggles. After all, the Bucs have a brutal schedule to begin the season with the Saints, Eagles and Steelers in the first three weeks of the season during the Jameis Winston suspension.

WR - Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks (ADP: 179, WR63)

Lockett played a full 16-game slate last season, but he was never quite 100 percent. Another year removed from a gruesome leg injury at the end of 2016, Lockett is now 100 percent.

Finishing as fantasy's WR53 (PPR's WR56) last season, Lockett ended the year with 45 catches for 555 yards and two touchdowns and added 58 rushing yards and a return score.

With Paul Richardson now in Washington (D.C.), Jimmy Graham now in Green Bay and the uncertainty of what the Seahawks will get from Brandon Marshall, Lockett has breakout potential in 2018.

TE - Blake Jarwin, Dallas Cowboys (ADP: 250, TE29)

With Jason Witten retired and moving into the Monday Night Football booth, Jarwin could be the biggest beneficiary among the team's tight ends. Jori Epstein of the Dallas Morning News wrote: "[I]t was Jarwin, not [Geoff] Swaim, making a splash in offseason activities. Dak Prescott regularly targeted Jarwin up the middle, particularly in red-zone situations."

Not only could Jarwin be the team's most-targeted, most-productive tight end, but the group of pass-catchers is clearly one of the weaker groups in the league. So, emerging as the team's most-productive tight end could lead Jarwin to an unexpected top-15 season.

TE - Jake Butt, Denver Broncos (ADP: 296, TE39)

If it weren't for a torn ACL sustained in Michigan's bowl game, Butt would have been selected earlier than the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Fully healthy now, the second-year tight end has the potential to move to the top of the depth chart of unproven tight ends.

“Very excited (with Butt’s progress),” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “He works so hard and he’s obviously a playmaker (when) you watch him catch the football. He’s going to be a great addition to our offense.”

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