Last Call for 2015 Fantasy Football Sleepers
We highlighted 12 Fantasy Football Sleepers a couple of weeks ago. But 2 weeks in August is an eternity in NFL time. So we’ve got 7 more sleepers that you need to know about as you get ready for your fantasy football draft.
Tyrod Taylor, QB, Bills
We might be getting ahead of ourselves here. Taylor hasn’t even been named Buffalo’s starting QB. And it sounds like we won’t find out if he won the job until just prior to Week 1.
But he looks like the clear favorite. By most accounts, Taylor has been the best QB at Bills camp. And he showed well as the starter in the2nd preseason game.
Assuming he’s under center for the opener, Taylor could be a sneaky spot-start option. He’s an unproven passer (just 35 regular-season attempts) and won’t have volume on his side in a run-heavy offense. But he’ll be throwing to some dangerous playmakers in Sammy Watkins, Percy Harvin, Charles Clay and LeSean McCoy, who can turn short completions into long gains.
It’s Taylor’s rushing ability that makes him intriguing, though. He ran for 2,187 yards and 23 TDs in 4 college seasons and then blazed a 4.51-second 40 time at the Combine, 5th fastest by a QB in the last 10 years. Taylor carried 4 times for 41 yards in that preseason start last week, including a 21-yarder on a read-option.
We talked about how valuable rushing yards can be to QB production on last week’s podcast. The highlight was this: There have been 25 QB seasons of 300+ rushing yards over the past 5 years. Eighteen of those guys (72%) finished 18th or higher in fantasy points per game.
Taylor is a near-lock for 300+ rushing yards if he starts the majority of the games this season. And a top-18 fantasy finish would make him a huge value considering you can get him with 1 of your last few picks.
David Cobb, RB, Titans
This rookie’s pro career got off to a slow start. He reported to OTAs overweight, fractured a finger early in camp and got chewed out for pass-protection struggles.
But Cobb has been picking up steam recently. He was Tennessee’s best RB in the preseason opener, turning 11 carries into 53 yards. That earned him 1st-team reps in the 2nd exhibition. RB Bishop Sankey had better numbers in that game, but it’s clear that Cobb is now in the mix for the lead job. In fact, insider Paul Kuharksy recently predicted that Cobb will pace theTitans in carries this season.
This will ultimately be a backfield by committee that will include Cobb, Sankey and, to a lesser extent, Dexter McCluster. But if Cobb can earn 10-12 carries per game, including goal-line work, he could come into RB3 value. The threat of QB Marcus Mariota’s rushing ability should make the entire Titans running game more effective this year.
You might not consider this guy a “sleeper”since he was a 1st-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. But his ADP is sitting in the 12th round, so plenty of folks are sleeping on him.
Just a couple of years ago, Wright racked up 94 catches for 1,079 yards. Those marks ranked 7th and 18th, respectively, among WRs. Despite scoring just 2 TDs —a fluke that got corrected last year —Wright finished 20th in PPR points. He ranked a still-respectable 31st in non-PPR.
Wright certainly benefitted from 140 targets back in 2013 (14th among WRs). But he was efficient, hauling in 67.6% of them. That ranked 10th among 89 WRs who saw 50+ looks. Wright’s 2.0 yards per route run ranked 21st among 94 qualifying WRs, right in between Golden Tate and Victor Cruz. He finished 22nd out of 111 WRs in Pro Football Focus’2013 receiving grades.
So what happened last year to dump Wright outside the top 40 PPR WRs? He missed 2 games with a hand injury (and might have been impacted by it beyond that). His catch rate sunk from 67.6% to 61.3%. But most damaging was the drop in targets from 8.8 per game to 6.6 —a 25% decrease.
The good news is that Wright scored a career-high 6 TDs and averaged a personal-best 12.5 yards per catch. The better news is that he appears primed to re-emerge as a major part of Tennessee’s passing game.
Wright and new QB Marcus Mariota have reportedly developed a strong rapport this offseason. WRs coach Shawn Jefferson said early in training camp that Wright was “getting a vibe” with the rookie and that he’s “one of Marcus Mariota’s guys.” Insider Jim Wyatt wrote that Tennessee has “big plans” for Wright this year.
There’s serious bounce-back potential here for a 25-year-old former 1st-round pick who is just 2 years removed from a WR2 finish.
Jeff Janis, WR, Packers
Jordy Nelson was capable of winning at all 3 levels of the field. Green Bay can largely replace his short-range and mid-range production with Randall Cobb and Davante Adams.
But neither guy has proved to be the downfield threat that Nelson is. Cobb has seen 13.1% of his targets come 20+ yards downfield over the past 3 seasons. Compare that to Nelson, who has seen 16.9% of his looks 20+ yards downfield.
Adams, at 6’1, 212 pounds with 4.56 speed, is more of a possession receiver. He averaged 13.0 yards per catch at Fresno St. And as a rookie last year, he averaged 11.7 yards per catch and saw just 11.3% of his targets 20+ yards downfield. (To be fair, his college offense focused on shorter passing, so we'll see what Adams has in the deep game.)
Rookie Ty Montgomery? He’s a stocky 6’0, 216-pounder who plays more like a RB than a WR. He averaged just 12.4 yards per catch in 4 seasons at Stanford.
What does all of this have to do with Janis? He’s the guy who can replace Nelson’s deep game. Janis checked into the Combine at 6’3, 219 pounds and clocked a 4.42-second 40. That’s the same height, 2 pounds heavier and almost a full tenth of a second faster than Nelson’s 4.51 40. Janis’SPARQ (athleticism) score is in the 98th percentile among WRs. His best comparable? Alshon Jeffery.
Janis played his college ball at Division II Saginaw Valley State. That’s questionable competition, but he flashed deep-ball chops by averaging 17.0 yards per catch.
Janis played just 15 snaps and caught his only 2 targets last year. But Nelson’s injury leaves behind a huge opportunity. Green Bay runs a bunch of 3-WR sets, so the #3 WR job behind Cobb and Adams would mean lots of playing time for this elite size-speed prospect. Combine that with 1 of the best QBs in the game, and you get an idea of Janis’potential. He’s an ideal bench stash in the double-digit rounds of your draft.
Brandon Coleman, WR, Saints
When the Saints shipped Jimmy Graham to Seattle, they lost a 6’7, 265-pounder who scored 46 TDs over the past 4 seasons. That was 28.6% of the team’s total receiving scores. And 36 of Graham’s 46 TDs —a whopping 78.3% —came inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
Who will replace that red-zone production? Well …no one. But Coleman can help. The 2nd-year WR goes 6’6, 225 pounds. And he knows how to find the end zone. An elite 21.3% of his college catches went for TDs.
Coleman went undrafted last year and spent his rookie season on the practice squad. But he’s been buzzing all offseason, and HC Sean Payton tabbed him the most impressive player in trainingcamp.
Coleman has taken over the #3 WR spot on the Saints’depth chart. Ahead of him are the 5’10, 189-pound Brandin Cooks and the 32-year-old Marques Colston. The diminutive Cooks might have trouble reaching double-digit TDs. Colston had just 5 TDs in each of the past 2 seasons. TEs Ben Watson and Josh Hill could both pop in a handful of scores.
But if QB Drew Brees is going to come anywhere close to the 35.4 passing TDs he’s averaged as a Saint, Coleman is going to be a big factor.
So if you’re in the business of betting on Brees —and we still are —Coleman is a nice way to do it for cheap. He should be available in the last few rounds of your draft.
Leonard Hankerson, WR, Falcons
Hankerson quietly inked a 1-year deal with Atlanta back in March. He’s been anything but quiet since.
Hankerson is locked in as Atlanta’s #3 WR. That’s a spot that made Harry Douglas fantasy relevant at times recently, especially when Julio Jones or Roddy White was sidelined.
White looks like a guy just about at the cliff heading into 2015. He missed 2 games in each of the past 2 seasons and posted the 2 worst yards-per-catch marks of his career. He had his troublesome knee drained again thisoffseason and underwent elbow surgery in mid-August.
Jones is an elite WR in his prime. But he has missed 15 games over his first 4 seasons. Sports Injury Predictor has him as the 6th most likely WR to get hurt this season.
If either Jones or White misses time this season, Hankerson would likely start. He’s still only 26, goes 6’2, 211 pounds with 4.4 speed and is familiar with OC Kyle Shanahan’s offense from their time together in Washington.
Richard Rodgers, TE, Packers
Davante Adams is the bigger winner from Jordy Nelson’s season-ending knee injury. And you’ll hear plenty of talk about Jeff Janis and Ty Montgomery. But don’t sleep on Rodgers, who could play a significant role in replacing Nelson’s production.
Green Bay spent a 3rd-round pick on Rodgers in last year’s draft. Like most rookie TEs, he wasn’t a reliable fantasy asset, sharing targets with Andrew Quarless and totaling a 20-225-2 line. But Rodgers’role grew down the stretch. Over the Packers’ final 3 games (including postseason), he totaled 10 grabs on 11 targets for 88 yards and a score.
That role could grow again in 2015, especially with Nelson and his 151 targets from last year gone. Rodgers is listed atop Green Bay’s depth chart and has had a strong summer. In fact, ESPN’s Rob Demovsky nominated Rodgers as the team’s breakout fantasy player—even before Nelson’s injury.
“The second-year tight end has become a frequent target for Rodgers inside the 20,”Demovsky wrote.
At 6’4 and 257 pounds, Rodgers certainly has the look of a red-zone weapon. Nelson leaves behind 13 TDs and 28 red-zone targets from last season. A chunk of those could go to Rodgers in 2015.
Highlight this guy as a late-round TE target who could emerge as a high-upside spot-start option.