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2017 Fantasy Football Sleepers

By Jared Smola 8:08am EDT 8/23/17


Kareem Hunt, RB, Chiefs

We all got a taste of what Hunt could do in HC Andy Reid’s offense last weekend. Getting 17 snaps with the 1st-team offense (and against the Bengals’ starting defense), Hunt ripped off 40 yards on 8 carries — plus another 23 yards on 3 receptions.

Reid said that Hunt got extended work in that game because he wanted to see what the rookie could do with the starters. Hunt certainly passed the test.

Remember that the Chiefs traded up into the 3rd round to select Hunt in this spring’s draft. That followed a prolific college career that included 1,475 rushing yards, 41 catches and 11 total TDs last year. Hunt’s 98 missed tackles forced in 2016 were the 2nd most in the nation, according to Pro Football Focus.

AND remember that Reid’s system has regularly produced top 16 PPR RBs — 14 times in 18 seasons, to be exact. The 2017 Chiefs backfield is trending toward a committee attack early on. But Hunt has the potential to leave Spencer Ware in the dust and emerge as a 3-down back.


Rex Burkhead, RB, Patriots

We know this Patriots backfield is gonna produce fantasy points. They’ve finished among the top 12 in rushing TDs in 13 straight seasons. They’ve ranked 13th or better in rushing yards in 9 of the last 13 years.

And this 2017 Pats offense has a chance to be 1 of the best in the Brady/Belichick era.

Fantasy owners seem to have decided that it’ll be Mike Gillislee leading the backfield. His ADP is sitting in the 6th round as the 26th RB off the board.

Don’t be so sure it’ll be Gillislee, though. He’s missed a chuck of spring practices, training camp and the first 2 preseason games with hamstring trouble. A bum hammy also landed him on IR back in 2014 and cost him a game last year. It’s a concern. So is the fact that he’s missing valuable practice reps in a new offense.

Burkhead, meanwhile, has impressed all offseason. He’s been getting 1st-team reps in camp — including at the goal line — and hauled in a 22-yard TD from Brady in the 2nd preseason game. He might just be the team's best runner/receiving combination.

In the always-unpredictable New England backfield, it makes much more sense to take a shot on Burkhead in the double-digit rounds than Gillislee in the 6th.


Jonathan Williams, RB, Bills

Williams gives you potential standalone fantasy value — plus enormous upside as a LeSean McCoy handcuff.

Buffalo’s #2 RB has been a fantasy factor the past couple of seasons. Karlos Williams finished 31st at his position in non-PPR points and 38th in PPR back in 2015. Then Mike Gillislee ranked 29th and 40th, respectively, last year.

The Bills have a new coaching staff in 2017 but figure to remain a run-heavy offense — especially after losing WRs Sammy Watkins and Anquan Boldin this month.

Williams appears to have already locked up the #2 spot on the depth chart, getting extensive run with the 1st-team offense in both of Buffalo’s first 2 preseason games. He’s averaged 6.2 yards per carry, caught 1 ball and held up well in pass protection.

So there’s spot-start potential here, especially in non-PPR leagues. But the big upside comes in the event of a McCoy injury. The 29-year-old has missed 5 games over the past 2 seasons with hamstring, knee and ankle injuries. Sports Injury Predictor pegs him as THE most likely skill-position player to get hurt this year.

If McCoy misses extended time, Williams has a shot to be a league-winner at his 14th-round price tag.


Ted Ginn, WR, Saints

Anytime you can get a cheap piece of the Saints passing game, you do it. This is a unit that’s ranked among the top 4 in passing yards and top 10 in passing TDs in all 11 seasons since HC Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees arrived.

Ginn seems set to play a significant role in the 2017 version. He’s been getting talked up since way back in June and running with the starters. In fact, Ginn out-snapped Willie Snead 11 to 6 with the 1st-team offense in the preseason opener.

We’re not betting on Ginn scoring more fantasy points than Snead this year. But he might just be the better pure value at his dirt-cheap 15th-round ADP (vs. Snead in the early 6th).

Ginn has been a late bloomer, posting 2 of his 3 best fantasy seasons over the last 2 seasons. And those came on run-heavy Panthers offenses with sometimes-shoddy QB play. Ginn is now in easily the best situation of his career.

He’s ideal for best-ball leagues but should even work as an upside spot-starter in lineup-setting formats.


Devin Funchess, WR, Panthers

Remember when 3rd-year breakout was a thing at WR? We’ve all gotten impatient with young guys after big rookie seasons from WRs like Odell Beckham and Mike Evans.

Don’t give up on Funchess just yet. He’s entering his 3rd year having just turned 23 in May. For perspective, that makes him 11 months younger than rookie Cooper Kupp.

And Funchess still boasts a 6’4, 225-pound frame. That’s helped him score 9 times on 54 grabs through 2 NFL seasons — an elite 16.7% TD rate. Funchess ranked 27th last year among WRs in red zone targets (13), despite finishing 84th in total targets (58). He saw just 1 fewer red-zone look than teammate Kelvin Benjamin.

Funchess’ total volume should grow in 2017 with Ted Ginn and his 95 targets from a year ago out the door. He appears locked in as Carolina’s opening-day #2 WR, especially with rookie Curtis Samuel missing most of camp with a hamstring injury.

There’s certainly work to do in the efficiency department after catch rates of 49.2% and 39.7% over the last 2 years. But he should still be ascending. And his QB should bounce back from 2016’s career-worst 52.9% completion rate.

Funchess, at his 18th-round ADP, is a nice WR5 or 6 stash.


Austin Hooper, TE, Falcons

Everyone’s on the Hunter Henry bandwagon as this year’s 2nd-year breakout TE. No one’s talking about Hooper.

Why?

While Henry was a bit more productive in college and selected around ahead of Hooper, the Stanford product is the better athlete. Hooper earned a 59th percentile SPARQ score at the Combine vs. Henry’s 34th percentile.

Hooper is also in a better spot heading into 2017. The Falcons have finished with more total points than the Chargers in 3 straight seasons and more passing yards in 2 of the last 3.

Hooper also faces much less target competition than Henry. Behind Julio Jones in Atlanta sits a mediocre WR corps of Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel and Justin Hardy. #2 TE Levine Toilolo has just 62 catches through 4 NFL seasons. Hooper could certainly finish 2nd on this team in targets.

Henry, meanwhile, first needs to contend with Antonio Gates, who isn’t going away. The vet has out-snapped Henry with the 1st-team offense 19 to 15 through 2 preseason games. Then there’s WRs Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams — and whatever the Chargers get from 1st-round rookie Mike Williams.

We currently project Hooper for 2 more targets than Henry — and for 2 more fantasy points. So when some other owner in your league spends an 8th-round pick on Henry, sit back and snag Hooper in the 12th or 13th round.


Charles Clay, TE, Bills

Clay has the wackiest ADP on this entire list of sleepers. He’s going in the 21st round as TE28 across all MyFantasyLeague.com drafts. In August MFL10s, he’s gone as TE25 in the 17th.

He doesn’t need to do anything beyond what he’s done the past 2 seasons to smash that price tag. Clay ranked 17th at his position in PPR points in 2015 and 16th this past year — despite missing a combined 4 games over that stretch.

He should be in for a volume boost this season. The Bills’ WR corps has been ravaged by the Sammy Watkins trade and Anquan Boldin’s retirement. They’re left with Jordan Matthews, Zay Jones and Andre Holmes atop the depth chart. Those guys have spent a combined grand total of 0 seasons with QB Tyrod Taylor.

Clay has by far the most chemistry with Taylor and should be a safety valve for a QB in a new offense with a bunch of new weapons. This is a potential TE1 that you can snag with 1 of your last few picks.


Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Jets

ASJ’s career was on the ropes at this time last year. He struggled throughout training camp and opened the season behind Cameron Brate on the Bucs depth chart. Then he was popped for DUI in late September and immediately released. The Jets claimed him, but he totaled just 10 catches the rest of the way.

Seferian-Jenkins seems to have turned both his life and football career around this offseason. He quit drinking and dropped 30 pounds this offseason.

And he’s been lighting up the practice field all summer. Insider Connor Hughes even believes Seferian-Jenkins could emerge as the #1 option in New York’s passing game. That’s more feasible when you consider the Jets’ WR depth chart: Robby Anderson, ArDarius Stewart, Chad Hansen, Marquess Wilson, Jalin Marshall.

Seferian-Jenkins was once a regular on “sleeper” lists. He’s a monstrous 6’5, 262-pounder who set records at Washington for career receptions (146), receiving yards (1,840) and TDs (21) by a TE. He tested as a 76th percentile athlete and was the 38th overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Turning just 25 in September, there’s still time for ASJ to cash in on his massive potential. He’ll open the season with a 2-game suspension for substance abuse but could emerge as a fantasy spot starter the rest of the way.


DEEP SLEEPERS (For consideration in leagues of 12+ teams and/or with 20+ roster spots)

De’Angelo Henderson, RB, Broncos

There’s quantity but not overwhelming quality ahead of Henderson on the Broncos RB depth chart.

C.J. Anderson has largely disappointed outside of an 8-game stretch at the end of the 2014 season. He mustered just 4.0 yards per carry before tearing his meniscus last year.

Devontae Booker averaged 3.5 YPC as a rookie, including just 3.0 in 9 games after Anderson’s injury. Booker is currently recovering from surgery for a fractured wrist.

Jamaal Charles? Who knows. He had surgery on both knees in November and hasn’t done much this summer. Charles is expected to make his preseason debut this week and might be playing for a roster spot.

Then there’s Henderson, who’s done nothing but impress since arriving in the 6th round of this spring’s draft. He ripped off a 41-yard TD in the preseason opener and then got some run with the starters in the 2nd exhibition. He finished that one with 6 carries for 30 yards and 2 catches for 20 more.

The 5’7, 208-pounder is short but not small. (Think Ray Rice.) He ran a nice 4.48-second 40 time at the Combine after a massively productive career at Coastal Carolina. Henderson totaled 4,635 yards and 58 scores on 721 carries (6.4 YPC) over the last 4 years. He also caught 97 balls and averaged 9.5 yards per catch.

Don’t be surprised if this guy works his way into a committee role this season.


Chris Carson, RB, Seahawks

If there’s 1 team that'll simply play the best guy — regardless of contract status or name value — it’s the Seahawks. And there’s at least a chance that Carson emerges as that guy.

Eddie Lacy has struggled with durability and conditioning over the past couple of years and has mustered just 3.0 yards per carry on 10 preseason totes. Thomas Rawls has flashed at times but struggled with consistency and injuries. C.J. Prosise has his own durability problems — and we’ve yet to hear the Seahawks suggest they view him as more than a passing-down back.

Carson has been the team’s most impressive back this preseason. He scored twice in the opener and then went for 44 total yards on 7 touches in the 2nd exhibition while getting 1st-team reps. (Rawls and Prosise didn’t play in that one.)

The 7th-round rookie had an underwhelming 2 seasons at Oklahoma State but tested as a plus athlete. Carson, at 6’0 and 218 pounds, ran a mediocre 4.58-second 40 time but strong marks in the broad and vertical jumps. He earned a 66th percentile SPARQ score.

Carson still isn’t worth a pick at this point unless your draft goes 20+ rounds. But put him on your waiver-wire watch list and continue to keep a close eye on this Seattle backfield.


Chris Conley, WR, Chiefs

Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce have gotten all the love since Jeremy Maclin’s release. And those 2 will enter the season as the only viable fantasy starters in Kansas City’s passing game.

But don’t sleep on Conley.

This is a 6’2, 213-pounder with 4.3 speed and a 45-inch vertical. Conley topped all draft-eligible WRs back in 2015 with a 99th percentile SPARQ score. That group included Amari Cooper, DeVante Parker, Kevin White and Breshad Perriman.

Conley hasn’t hit the fantasy radar through 2 NFL seasons, but he did boost his catches, yards, catch rate and yards per catch from 2015 to 2016. And he actually bested both Hill and Maclin in yards per target last year.

Conley’s volume should grow this season with Maclin out of the picture. He’s played nearly all of the 1st-team snaps this preseason and is the best bet to finish 3rd on this team in targets.

And word from Chiefs camp is that QB Alex Smith has made it a point to chuck it downfield more this season. That can only help a big, fast, athletic guy like Conley.


Paul Richardson, WR, Seahawks

It seems like forever ago that Seattle invested a 2nd-round pick in this guy. But it was only 2014. Richardson was coming off a breakout 83-1,343-10 line at Colorado and blazed a 4.40-second 40-yard dash at the Combine.

His career got off to a slow start, though. Richardson posted a 29-271-1 line as a lightly used rookie. A torn left ACL in January of that year limited him to just 1 appearance in 2015.

Richardson was quiet for the majority of last season but got hot down the stretch. He tallied 8 catches, 82 yards and a score over the final 2 regular-season games — then went for 131 yards and another score on 7 grabs in 2 playoff outings. That included this trio of ridiculous catches.

Richardson has run as Seattle’s #2 WR for most of the summer, including in the preseason opener. He’ll need to fend off Tyler Lockett, who’s rounding into form after last December’s broken leg. But if he does, the Seahawks’ efficient passing attack could turn him into a spot-start option.


Cooper Kupp, WR, Rams

It’s early — but it sure looks like Kupp is quickly emerging as QB Jared Goff’s safety blanket. The 3rd-round rookie hauled in 2 balls for 35 yards in the preseason opener. Then he posted a 6-70-1 line in Week 2. More importantly, Kupp was targeted on 7 of Goff’s 20 throws in that one. Sammy Watkins was next with 4 targets. No other Ram saw more than 2.

Kupp is no stranger to hefty volume. He averaged a ridiculous 107 catches across 4 college seasons and left Eastern Washington as the career FCS leader in catches (428), receiving yards (6,464) and TDs (73).

Of course, Kupp faced inferior competition. And he tested as a below-average athlete (39th percentile SPARQ). But he displayed some of the best hands in this year’s draft class on his college tape, as well as some strong run-after-catch ability. And he’s already proving capable of winning at the NFL level.

We’re not expecting Kupp to out-target Watkins when the games start to count. But he could certainly settle in as the #2 option in this passing attack. That’d make him worthy of a roster spot in deeper leagues.


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