Each spring The Huddle tasks me with identifying a lineup of fantasy sleepers. It’s a fun gig, and the track record suggests I’ve handled the gig well.
But the NFL landscape has changed over the past three months, and with fantasy drafts and auctions rapidly approaching a glance back at those early sleepers was warranted. I’ll note changes in ADP, whether my opinion on said player as a sleeper has changed—and if so, why—and toss out a couple other names to replace and/or augment the original.
Early Sleeper QB: Jay Cutler
ADP Then: QB19 (12th round)
ADP Now: QB17 (11th round)
I still like Cutler’s upside, even though he and the Bears have yet to demonstrate the effects of Marc Trestman’s tutelage this preseason. Neither has Chicago’s offensive line shown they are any more adept at protecting Cutler, which I had been expecting given the personnel, coaching, and scheme changes. However, in my book Cutler remains a QB2 with low-end QB1 upside.
At a position that runs deep with fantasy help this season, if Cutler isn’t your cup of tea there are plenty of QB2s with similar low-end QB1 potential in the same general vicinity:
Carson Palmer (QB20, 13th round): Love what he can do in Bruce Arians’ vertical offense with Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts, and no running game. However, needs to survive the inevitable 50 sacks.
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Josh Freeman (QB21, 13th round): Evidently 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns last year weren’t enough to get either the Bucs or fantasy owners to buy in. Two talented receivers, a pass-catching back, and a division where they’ll need to keep up with the Saints and Falcons; what’s not to like?
Alex Smith (QB24, 14th round): Andy Reid’s quarterbacks throw a ton; in each of the past nine years it’s been enough for them to average 20-plus fantasy points per game. At this price I’ll buy into Reid bringing that streak with him to Kansas City.
Early Sleeper RB: Chris Ivory
ADP Then: RB41 (9th round)
ADP Now: RB29 (6th round)
Early Sleeper RB: Shane Vereen
ADP Then: RB36 (8th round)
ADP Now: RB28 (6th round)
I’m a little more concerned about the Jets’ line than I was back in May, but there still seems to be the same opportunity for [insert back here] to be a fantasy contributor through sheer volume. And as long as Ivory can stay healthy he’s the back to insert. However, I’m not particularly keen on spending a sixth-round pick on a back with Ivory’s injury history—especially given his issues already this preseason. The better value might be Bilal Powell (RB57, 15th round), who is far more “just a guy” than Ivory but might wind up being the Jets’ primary ball-carrier simply because he’s healthy.
Makes sense that Vereen’s value is climbing: two strong showings in the preseason, plus a taste of how he might be used to offset the loss of more than three-fourths of Tom Brady’s completions from a year ago. To be honest, even the sixth-round ADP is an undersell; I’ve seen Vereen consistently going off the board in the first four rounds. Hope your draft was early and you snagged Shane at that R8 ADP.
Since both of my early sleepers have moved up enough to shed that status, let’s find some replacements:
DeAngelo Williams (RB36, 9th round): The sooner the Panthers (and Taz) accept that Jonathan Stewart will never be healthy, the sooner they can give Williams the workload he deserves. And with Stew likely ticketed for the PUP, that sooner should come very, very soon.
Danny Woodhead (RB43, 11th round): As New England’s pass-catching back he was a top-25 producer; in San Diego he’ll see similar opportunity in that role plus more than a few carries if (when) Ryan Mathews and Ronnie Brown disappoint. You could make a compelling argument that Woodhead leads the Bolts in fantasy scoring this year.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis (RB33, 8th round), Andre Brown (RB34, 9th round), Shonn Greene (RB52, 14th round): There’s no question Giovani Bernard (RB27), David Wilson (RB21), and Chris Johnson (RB12) are the vastly sexier picks—much like Jamaal Charles and CJ Spiller were when they were sharing touches with a slower, less sexy plodder. That same situation looks like it will play out in Cincinnati, where BJGE could be a Michael Turner lite in an exciting Bengals offense; where Brown plays Brandon Jacobs to Wilson’s Tiki Barber; and in Tennessee, where CJ?K is great in the open field but Greene the likely candidate to cap drives behind the Titans’ beefy o-line. There’s 8-10 TD upside in this group, something you don’t often find in the 8th round and after. Let the others look good; you take the TDs… and the Ws.
Early Sleeper WR: Josh Gordon
ADP Then: WR30 (7th round)
ADP Now: WR34 (8th round)
Early Sleeper WR: Cecil Shorts
ADP Then: WR34 (7th round)
ADP Now: WR32 (7th round)
Early Sleeper WR: Steve Smith
ADP Then: WR36 (8th round)
ADP Now: WR25 (6th round)
The early sleeper receivers haven’t moved much; Gordon sliding a bit isn’t a surprise given the two-game suspension he was slapped with after the original sleeper article hit. Shorts holds steady in the seventh round, and apparently a few folks realized they had forgotten about Steve Smith and corrected their draft boards as he has moved from the bottom of the WR3s to the top.
I still like each for essentially the same reasons spelled out back in May so I’ll be happy to hold my card with them; however, as an added bonus I’ll toss a few more deeper names into the mix as well.
Chris Givens (WR45, 10th round): Tavon Austin gets all the attention, but Givens looks to be the most complete of Sam Bradford’s targets. He still has the deep speed that created his amazing run of consecutive games with 50-plus yard catches last year, plus I think Bradford leans on him in the short and intermediate game as well. The home-run threat alone should allow him to outproduce his low-end WR4 ADP.
Golden Tate (WR47, 10th round): No question Tate’s stock is on the rise, as he’s the guy most likely to step into whatever plays the Seahawks had drawn up for Percy Harvin. If you like Russell Wilson, and his ADP suggests many do, there has to be a corresponding number of catches in the Seattle offense. Right now Tate looks like the best of that bunch, so he’s worth a 10th-round flier.
Robert Woods (WR61, 14th round): I’m bullish on the Bills this year. I’m buying into Doug Marrone picking up the tempo, into E.J. Manuel as a viable quarterback (though maybe not a legit fantasy helper until next year), and into Woods as at minimum the team’s second receiver. He’ll eventually replace (and then some) Stevie Johnson’s production, which was a top-10 fantasy WR in 2010 and top-20 fantasy WR each of the past two seasons; that might happen as soon as this year.
Early Sleeper TE: Brandon Myers
ADP Then: TE19 (13th round)
ADP Now: TE14 (11th round)
I’m still fine with Myers as my tight end, especially with New York’s receivers all kinds of nicked up (no pun intended). I admit to some concern that his numbers were somewhat inflated in copious amounts of garbage time in Oakland last year, but he’s still a talented-enough pass catcher to turn his gig into something fantasy relevant.
That said, since I’m advocating a Jimmy Graham or wait strategy I should give you additional viable options if you wait until everyone else in your league has a tight end:
Jordan Cameron (TE13, 11th round): His two-TD showing in the second exhibition game likely bumps him out of sleeper status, but in case your league isn’t paying attention consider this a reminder he’s still out there.
Fred Davis (TE17, 13th round): If the plan is for RG3 to run less, he’ll need to dump off more. He was already developing a rapport with Davis last season before Davis tore his ACL, and with both pitcher and catcher looking healthy in camp they’ve picked up where they left off.
Zach Sudfeld (TE20, 14th round): Tom Brady needs pass-catchers, and thus far Sudfeld has stood out as one of the more reliable options. He has an injury history, but so did Gronk and that worked out okay. Right now he’s playing the move TE spot—more of the Aaron Hernandez role—but he’s a mismatch in the red zone and could easily wind up being the team’s third option behind Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen.