DS Sleepers

6 Free-Agent Sleepers

By Kevin English 9:39am EST 3/6/15

The 6 names on this list certainly aren’t studs.

Despite 20 years of combined NFL experience, none of them have posted a top-20 fantasy season. Only 1 – the lone RB on the list – has cracked the top 30.

But that’s exactly what makes this group a true assortment of sleepers. Just because they’ve underwhelmed in the past doesn’t mean they’re a lock to disappoint going forward.

If the right situation arises, these guys could present sneaky value in 2015 fantasy football drafts.

Roy Helu

While Washington will attempt to re-sign Helu, he’s fully expected to test free-agency.

The 26-year-old RB is one of the sneakier names on the RB market. Stuck behind early-down stalwart Alfred Morris over the past 2 years, Helu’s tallied 73 catches for 728 yards (10 YPC) and 2 scores. He looked particularly strong in 2014, catching a sturdy 95.5% of his targets.

And it’s not like he’s an incapable rusher. The former Cornhusker owns a solid 4.4 yards-per-carry mark for his career. That includes a 5.4 YPC figure in 2014 (although he handled just 40 rushes).

Helu’s busiest rushing load came as a 2011 rookie. That year, he saw 151 attempts and turned them into an acceptable 640 yards. The takeaway 4 years later is that Helu – who’s well built at 5’11, 215 pounds – has accumulated just 255 career rushes.

Health is key for Helu. He missed 13 games with a turf toe injury in 2012. The same injury cropped up on the same foot last year. Fortunately, Helu ended 2014 strong – notching 83 total yards on 10 touches in the finale – and now enters free agency injury-free.

Regardless of landing spot, Helu will likely do most of his damage as a pass catcher. But as a dual-threat with plenty of shake, he could set a new career-high in carries in the right landing spot. A team like Indianapolis or Atlanta would provide an ideal environment for RB2 fantasy upside.

Denarius Moore

Moore’s fresh off a season with just 12 catches across 10 games. So it’s easy to discount him as an impact player in 2015 and beyond.

Admittedly, he’s unlikely to develop into a draft-day target this summer. But we’re not ready to totally write off such an explosive athlete.

At the 2011 Combine, Moore posted a cool 4.39-second 40 time at 6’0, 194 pounds. That followed a senior season with 47 grabs for 981 yards (20.9 YPC!) and 9 TDs. Although he wasn’t drafted until Round 5, the former track star looked like a future deep threat.

And he was … for a while. Moore posted a combined 130 catches, 2,054 yards (15.8 YPC) and 17 TDs through his first 3 years. Those numbers surfaced despite 7 missed games over that span. Moore also caught balls from Terrelle Pryor, Matt McGloin, Jason Campbell and a shaky Carson Palmer. After all, he was a Raider.

Now entering free agency, there’s been no indication that Oakland wants him back. That’s fine, as a change of venue could give him a shot at reigniting his fantasy value. Moore’s just 26 years old.

While no team will hand him a starting job – and rightfully so – Moore’s still the type of intriguing talent who could emerge as viable fantasy depth.

Mike Williams

The Bills traded for Williams last April, reuniting him with his former Syracuse HC Doug Marrone.

A strong training camp quickly gave way to poor in-game showings. He was passed by Robert Woods early in the season and made sporadic contributions to a Buffalo offense that lacked playmakers. Before the Bills waived him in early December, Williams accumulated only 8 grabs for 142 yards.

A lack of motivation has dogged Williams in the past, and it’s possible that factored into his struggles in Buffalo. NFL execs have surely taken notice, but according to NFL insider Ian Rapoport, Williams’ agent met with 6 teams at the Combine.

It’s a clear reminder of Williams’ upside. Over his first 3 years in Tampa Bay, he posted seasons with 9 and 11 TDs. He hit 60 receptions in all 3 campaigns.

Williams turns 28 in May, so this looks like his last legit shot to contribute to an NFL team. If he comes to that realization, perhaps he’ll reemerge as a worthy late-round flier.

Niles Paul

It’s not shocking that Paul – a former 5th-round pick – has carved out a pass-catching niche in the NFL. He’s a former WR at Nebraska, one who enjoyed a junior season with 40 catches for 796 yards (19.9 YPC) and 5 TDs.

Last year, Paul capitalized on another injury-marred season from Jordan Reed by posting a career-best 39-507-1 line. He recorded a long of 50 yards, while 20 of his grabs went for 1st downs. It looked like a solid year from here – especially when you factor in Washington’s turbulent QB play.

The Skins are expected to try and retain the 25-year-old. But with Reed under contract for 2 more years, Paul’s clearly not a high priority. He’s likely to find a new team this spring, perhaps in Atlanta alongside OC Kyle Shanahan. Not only are the Falcons in the market for a pass-catching TE, but Paul played under Shanny in Washington from 2011-2013.

UPDATE: Paul re-signed with Washington on March 6.

Virgil Green

Green excels at one of the few on-field duties that won’t earn you fantasy points: blocking.

For his 2014 efforts, Pro Football Focus ranked Green 4th among TEs in run blocking. That helped him play at least 55% of the snaps in 6 games. And it’s a huge reason why GM John Elway praised him ahead of free agency.

“We like Virgil a lot, he was a big part of, he was kind of our rock, he was asked to do a lot of different things,” Elway said. “He does it all, he's very versatile, we like Virgil a lot, we would love to have him back.”

As an ultra-athletic 6’5, 255-pounder, Green has the potential to develop his game beyond the trenches.

Just consider his juicy numbers from the 2011 Combine. The Nevada product ran a 4.54-second 40 and posted an insane 42.5" vertical. From an athleticism standpoint, he’s elite.

It remains to be seen whether he can translate raw ability into fantasy production. But the opportunity might be waiting for him back in Denver.

Julius Thomas is expected to chase the money in free agency. There’s still a chance he returns to Denver, but his price tag could quickly boot him from Denver. Green, meanwhile, should come relatively cheap. After all, this is a guy with 23 career catches in 56 games.

Adding HC Gary Kubiak doesn’t hurt Green’s chance of returning or producing. Kubiak’s past offenses have focused on strong running games and play-action passing. Green’s blocking ability would help keep his snap count high. And when you look at how Kubiak utilized TEs in Houston and Baltimore, the numbers prove encouraging.

His TEs averaged 79 targets per season from 2006-2008 and from 2010-2014. Owen Daniels was on pace for a career-high 116 targets before suffering a torn ACL midway through 2009.

Denver’s loaded WR corps would cap Green’s overall upside, but he'd boast sneaky scoring potential alongside Peyton Manning.

Rob Housler

Housler could really use a change of scenery.

The catch-first TE has dealt with myriad nagging injuries across his 4 pro seasons. 2012 showed the most promise, as he tallied 45 catches and 417 yards. But the arrival of HC Bruce Arians – a noted fan of blocking TEs – predictably crushed his upside. From 2013-2014, Housler garnered just 74 targets across 28 games (2.6 per matchup).

So why should we care about this guy? Well, he’s actually healthy entering this offseason. And he remains a freak athlete.

At the 2011 Combine, Housler blazed a 4.4-second 40-yard dash. He also posted a 37" vertical, adding top-5 finishes in the shuttle and 3-come drill. Oh … and he checks in at 6’5, 250 pounds.

Housler turns 27 later this month, so he’s squarely in his prime years. If the poor injury luck subsides – and he finds a team that maximizes his talent – don’t be surprised if Housler flashes some upside in 2015. Cleveland and Atlanta provide intriguing landing spots. 

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