You get a few puzzled looks from your leaguemates when you draft the guy in August.
By November, that same guy is dumping fantasy points on your opponents.
There are lots of ways to define a fantasy football sleeper. We’re going with any player typically available in the double-digit rounds of drafts.
But the key point is -- these guys are set to return big value for your fantasy team – and make your opponents look silly in the process.
We nailed Justin Fields, Trevor Lawrence, Isiah Pacheco, Evan Engram, and David Njoku as sleepers last year.
Here are six 2023 fantasy football sleepers to know as your head into your draft:
Sleepers are marked on your Draft War Room with a "Zz" icon for quick reference.
How good has Penny been since arriving to the NFL in 2018? Here are a few numbers to chew on:
Yes, Penny has had trouble staying healthy, missing 40 of 82 games.
But he's also been one of the best pure runners in the NFL over the last five years.
Fade the “injury-prone” label and stockpile talent – especially in the later rounds of fantasy drafts.
Now that elite rushing talent joins forces with an elite running game.
Last year’s Eagles ranked fifth in total rushing yards. QB Jalen Hurts played a big part in that. But Philly RBs combined for the 10th most rushing yards and third most rushing TDs.
The Eagles' offensive line ranked fifth in Pro Football Focus’ run-blocking grades and sixth in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards. Four of five starters return from that unit.
The late-April trade for RB D’Andre Swift caps Penny’s volume upside in Philadelphia. But let’s remember that Swift has missed 10 games through three NFL seasons and hit double-digit carries just three times all last season.
And Penny beat Swift in Elusive Rating each of the past two years.
Penny still projects as the Eagles’ best early-down runner. And that’s a valuable role.
Miles Sanders finished as a top-15 RB across fantasy scoring formats last year, despite catching just 20 passes.
Our baseline half-PPR projection for Penny lands him outside the top 30 in the 2023 fantasy football RB rankings. But he carries a HIGH ceiling projection -- exactly the type of RB you want to target in the double-digit rounds of your fantasy draft.
Tip: 3D Projections help you land the high-upside players you need to win your fantasy league.
Gibson was disappointing last year. He set career lows with:
Yet Gibson still finished 28th among RBs in PPR points. Because he racked up 46 catches for 353 yards and two TDs.
That’s the power of RB receiving production, and the crux of the argument for Gibson in 2023.
The Commanders return RB Brian Robinson and add sixth-round rookie RB Chris Rodriguez.
Robinson led Washington’s backfield in carries last year … but caught just nine of 12 targets.
Rodriguez TOTALED 20 catches across five seasons at Kentucky.
Gibson, meanwhile, played a bunch of WR in college and has tallied 124 receptions over the past three years, 10th most among RBs.
This past season, he ranked fourth in PFF's receiving grade and 11th in yards per route run among 43 RBs with 30+ targets.
So Gibson is clearly the best pass-catching back in Washington. And there’s an opportunity for him to be even busier in that facet this season.
Gone is RB J.D. McKissic, who out-targeted Gibson 40 to 35 over the first eight games of last year (before missing the final nine with a neck injury).
The Commanders also swapped out Scott Turner for Eric Bieniemy at OC. That could be good news for Gibson.
Bieniemy arrives from Kansas City, where his Chiefs ranked among the pass-heaviest attacks in the league over the past five years.
Those offenses were piloted by Patrick Mahomes, of course. We don’t expect Bieniemy to go quite so pass-happy in Washington. But we do expect the Commanders to pass more this year than last
In 2022, they ranked 23rd in pass rate, 27th in pass rate over expected, and 20th in pass attempts.
We also saw RBs post big pass-catching numbers in Bieniemy’s offense the past two seasons:
HC Ron Rivera said in mid-May that he’d like to get Gibson more touches this season and that he’s excited about how Gibson fits into “what Eric Bieniemy wants to do with the offense.”
A bit more action in the passing game – and perhaps better efficiency on the ground – could turn Gibson into a weekly fantasy starter in PPR leagues.
See where Gibson ranks in YOUR fantasy league
If fantasy football sleepers are found at the intersection of talent and opportunity, Toney sits in a prime spot.
Let’s start with the talent, which has been masked by injuries. Toney has missed 15 games through two NFL seasons and been limited to less than 40% of the offensive snaps in 11 others.
But in eight relatively healthy games (with a snap rate north of 40%), he’s averaged 4.8 catches and 55.4 yards. That’s a full-season pace of 81 catches and 941 yards.
Just as importantly, Toney has shown the ability to draw targets at a high clip. Those eight healthy games have included outings of 9, 9, 12, and 13 targets. Overall, Toney averaged 7.1 targets on a 20.0% target share in those eight games.
He’s also been efficient. Toney owns a career 71.4% catch rate and 2.12 yards per route run. To put that into perspective, only 12 WRs with 50+ targets last year topped 2.12 yards per route.
Remember that Toney was a first-round pick just a couple of years ago, despite splitting time between WR, RB, and Wildcat QB over his first three seasons at Florida.
He moved to WR full-time as a senior and broke out for 70 catches and 984 receiving yards.
As for opportunity, how does Patrick Mahomes sound?
The Chiefs swung a trade for Toney last season, sending third- and sixth-round picks to the Giants.
By all accounts, the team loves this kid. The Chiefs were hoping Toney would fall to them in the 2021 draft and then tried to trade for him in spring 2022, according to ESPN’s Adam Teicher.
“He’s predominantly been a guy that is a slot receiver, returner, runner -- a gadget guy, if you will -- but I don’t know if there is a limit on his game because he has a vertical game,” GM Brett Veach said earlier this offseason. “We have a lot of high hopes for him. He was a first-round pick for a reason. There’s a reason why we traded for him, and we felt like he was first-round talent.”
Mahomes is a fan, too.
“I think you saw what the upside this last year of how special of a talent he can be,” Mahomes said. “To have him in that offense another year, have him working with coach [Andy] Reid and how we practice and training camp, I think it’ll have his body in the best shape that you can possibly be in to go out there and be healthy all season long.”
Health is the crucial question with Toney. But that’s more than baked into his WR3- or WR4-level price tag in fantasy drafts.
If he can stay on the field, there’s a good chance he’ll carve out a prominent role among a WR corps of Skyy Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Rashee Rice, Richie James, Justin Watson, and Justyn Ross.
Those six have combined for exactly zero NFL seasons of 700+ receiving yards.
The Chiefs, of course, have finished top six in passing yards and TDs in all five seasons with Mahomes as the starter.
No Chiefs WR outside of Tyreek Hill has been awesome for fantasy teams over that span. But the Chiefs as a team have ranked 15th or better in total WR PPR points in all five of those seasons.
There are certainly fantasy points to be had here.
You can quibble with Jordan Addison’s landing spot from a dynasty perspective. (He’ll never be the lead WR as long as Justin Jefferson is around.) But it’s a nice spot for his 2023 fantasy value.
The Vikings quietly ranked third in both pass rate and pass attempts last year. That probably shouldn’t be a big surprise considering HC Kevin O’Connell is a former QB.
With O’Connell and QB Kirk Cousins back for this coming season, this should again be a pass-heavy attack.
Even with Jefferson commanding a big target share, there’s enough volume to go around for Addison to eat, too.
Just last year, a clearly declining Adam Thielen drew 107 targets – tied for 28th among WRs. And, despite subpar efficiency, Thielen finished 30th at his position in PPR points.
Those are certainly marks that Addison can reach in 2023. K.J. Osborn, a former fifth-round pick who’s totaled just 1,305 yards through three NFL seasons, is Addison’s only legitimate competition for that No. 2 WR job.
Addison looks like a relatively NFL-ready prospect. His 173-pound frame is the knock. But he’s an explosive mover with impressive route-running chops.
Addison won the Biletnikoff Award as the top receiver in college football with a 100-1,593-17 line as a true sophomore at Pittsburgh. Then he averaged 80 yards and 0.7 TDs per game after transferring to USC last year.
With first-round draft capital on his side, Addison is a good bet to make an instant impact for the Vikings and your fantasy football team.
It didn’t necessarily show up in the stat sheet, but Collins had an encouraging sophomore season.
He drew a 20.1% target share in his nine healthy games, up from 13.4% as a rookie.
He averaged 1.68 yards per route run, up from 1.24 as a rookie and 37th among 96 qualifying WRs.
And he ranked 40th among those 96 qualifiers in PFF receiving grade.
Collins is a candidate to take another step forward in his third NFL season. We're talking about a 6'4, 215-pounder with impressive athleticism who's still only 24.
And Collins finds himself in a better situation heading into 2023 ...
Rookie QB C.J. Stroud should be an immediate upgrade over last year’s QB play that left Houston among the bottom eight in passing yards, completion rate, and yards per attempt.
Stroud racked up 8,123 yards and 85 TDs on a 69% completion rate and 9.8 yards per attempt over the last two seasons at Ohio State. He’s accurate at throwing to all levels of the field, which should boost Collins’ efficiency in 2023.
Brandin Cooks and Chris Moore, who finished top two on the Texans in targets last year, both departed this offseason. They leave behind a combined 29% target share.
Houston added WR Robert Woods and TE Dalton Schultz in free agency and spent a third-round pick on WR Tank Dell. WR John Metchie is set to return after missing his rookie season with leukemia.
But this is an underwhelming pass-catching corps, giving Collins a shot to match or even exceed last year’s 20.1% target share.
That alone would give him a path to WR3-level production. He could ascend beyond that level if this Texans offense takes off with Stroud.
Woods didn’t do quite enough to hit the fantasy radar as a rookie last year. But the underlying metrics paint the picture of a potential 2023 breakout.
Woods averaged 1.51 yards per route run last season. That ranked 13th among all 43 TEs with 30+ targets. Impressive stuff from a rookie.
In fact, the 1.51 YPRR was the sixth-best mark among 22 rookie TEs with 30+ targets over the last five seasons. The five guys ahead of Woods:
Andrews went on to score as a top-5 fantasy TE in his second season, and Fant cracked the top 12 in PPR points. Herndon’s sophomore season was wrecked by a suspension and hamstring injury. He has since flamed out. Let’s not talk about Pitts’ second season – but he retains tons of fantasy upside.
Woods’ rookie year is even more impressive considering he was labeled a raw prospect coming into the league. He actually played QB in high school and was recruited to Oklahoma State as a QB. He made the transition to TE but worked primarily as a blocker for three years.
Woods transferred to Virginia for the 2021 campaign, though, and was unleashed as a pass catcher. He averaged a big 13.6 yards per catch and scored eight TDs on 44 receptions.
Then Woods blew up the NFL Scouting Combine with a 4.61-second 40 time at a monstrous 6’7 and 253 pounds.
This is a rare physical specimen with the potential to deliver serious fantasy points via big plays and TDs.
Woods’ 2023 outlook is clouded by a Colts offense in transition. HC Shane Steichen and OC Jim Bob Cooter lead a new coaching staff. And there’s turnover at QB, with Matt Ryan out and first-round rookie Anthony Richardson in.
Considering Steichen’s history with the Eagles and Richardson’s skill set, this figures to be a run-heavy offense. But Woods doesn’t need a ton of volume to be a fantasy asset with his ability to make big plays and score TDs.
It’s also worth noting that all four of Steichen’s offenses produced a top-12 TE in PPR points per game:
If Woods can crack the top 12 this season, he'd return huge value for fantasy squads.
See where Woods sits in the 2023 fantasy football TE rankings.
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