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Last Call for Sleepers

By Jared Smola 8:08am EDT 8/30/16


We hit you with 10 sleepers a couple of weeks ago. That’s an eternity in football years.

We’ve made significant changes to our rankings since that 1st article. And we’ve got 5 more sleepers for you to highlight on your cheat sheet.


Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys

Let’s start by putting Prescott’s preseason production in perspective: Much of it has come against backup defenses, and all of it has come against vanilla schemes that aren’t game-planned against him.

With that being said, the guy has looked $!%#*!@ awesome. He’s completed 78% of his passes, looking cool in the pocket and deadly accurate. They haven’t been dink-and-dunks, either. Prescott is averaging 9.1 yards per attempt and has 4 completions of 20+ yards. He’s also tossed a league-high 5 TDs with 0 INTs.

Prescott has and will continue to provide added value on the ground. He’s rushed for 53 yards and 2 scores on 7 attempts. At 6’2 and 238 pounds, Prescott is built to handle some open-field collisions. He tallied 2,403 rushing yards and 37 TDs in 3 seasons as Mississippi State’s starter. Prescott also tested in the 63rd percentile among QBs in athleticism.

He’ll be asked to play care-taker for a Cowboys offense that will rely on RB Ezekiel Elliott and the ground game. But with Dez Bryant to throw to — and that rushing ability — Prescott doesn’t need big volume to post useful fantasy numbers.

The early-season schedule looks favorable, too, with only Josh Norman and the Redskins looking like a tough draw. Dallas’ other opponents in the first 4 weeks are the Giants, Bears and 49ers.

Prescott is certainly worth a roster spot in 2-QB leagues — and maybe even in deep 1-QB setups. Otherwise, put him on your waiver-wire speed dial as a potential matchup play.


Christine Michael, RB, Seahawks

This certainly isn’t the 1st time Michael has appeared on a Sleepers list. But it will be the last. Either he finally figures it out in his 2nd go-around in Seattle, or his NFL career is dead.

That’s part of what makes Michael so intriguing. This is just about it for him. His last chance. He’s bounced around to 3 different teams over the past year.

By all accounts, it sounds like Michael has been playing with a chip on his shoulder this offseason. OC Darrell Bevell said that Michael has “had an awakening” and that he’s "kind of the leader in the group now." HC Pete Carroll said he’s been “on the money” throughout training camp.

More importantly, it’s all translated to the field in preseason action. Michael has looked explosive through 3 exhibitions, taking 24 carries for 157 yards — 6.5 per pop.

It’s earned him an early-season role in Seattle’s still-unsettled backfield. RB Thomas Rawls is back at practice but hasn’t gotten on the field for a preseason game. RB C.J. Prosise made his debut in Seattle’s 3rd exhibition, but the rookie figures to start the year in a change-of-pace, pass-catching role.

Early-down duties will be split between Michael and Rawls, whom Carroll called "a little one-two punch that we're excited about.” Exactly how that work will be divvied remains to be seen.

Rawls’ brief run last year was more productive than any regular-season stretch Michael has enjoyed. But Michael might hold the edge in raw talent. He’s at least more athletic, earning a SPARQ score in the 99th percentile vs. the 16th for Rawls.

Rawls remains the safer bet for fantasy production. But Michael might be the better investment at his 14th-round ADP.


James White, RB, Patriots

This entry doesn’t take much explanation. We’ve seen what White can do sans Dion Lewis.

With Lewis sidelined for last year’s final 8 games, White racked up 33 catches for 358 yards and 4 TDs. He added another 41 yards and 2 scores on 15 carries to rank 6th among RBs in PPR points over that span. (He was 11th in non-PPR.)

Now, a chunk of that production came in a 10-catch Week 13 outing. White finished with 2 or fewer grabs in 4 of those final 8 games. All told, though, was ranked among the top 24 PPR RBs in 5 of the final 8 weeks — including 3 top-7 finishes.

White seems set to step back into the same role at least early on this season. Lewis’ latest knee surgery is expected to sideline him 8-10 weeks. That makes him a strong candidate for the PUP list, which would cost him the first 6 games. His availability and effectiveness beyond that remain in question. It’s within the realm of possibility that White spends the entire year as New England’s pass-catching RB.


Tajae Sharpe, WR, Titans

Sharpe isn’t appearing here because of the 60-yard catch he made in last weekend’s preseason game. He’s appearing here because he’s been building momentum all offseason.

Sharpe impressed immediately in spring workouts, earning 1st-team reps. That’s no small feat for a 5th-round rookie — even in a weak Titans WR corps.

He opened training camp in the starting lineup and continued to shine.

“I would put him in the category of a natural football player who understands the game,” WRs coach Bob Bratkowski said in early August. “He operates at a level of a third-year professional. He’s got it figured out. He knows what it takes to be a pro, which is rare for a rookie.”

Sharpe’s strong play has rolled right into preseason action. He caught 2 balls for 35 yards in the opener, posted a 6-68 line in Week 2 and then had that long catch-and-run in the 3rd exhibition.

Sharpe leads all WRs in yards per route this preseason, according to PFF. And only 2 WRs have earned a better overall grade from PFF.

QB Marcus Mariota has been talking up his new toy all along the way: “[Tajae] makes it easy… creates separation in and out of [routes]… going to continue to expect these kinds of things out of him.”

Sharpe’s strong play was at least part of the reason Tennessee felt comfy dealing WR Dorial Green-Beckham to Philadelphia. That locks the rookie into the starting lineup — although he’d earned that role anyway.

Sharpe will need to contend with a run-heavy offense and a TE in Delanie Walker who will gobble up targets. But he looks like the type of talent who could blow by any reasonable statistical projection.


Kenny Stills, WR, Dolphins

We named Stills our Breakout Player just a couple of seasons ago, and even we were sleeping on this guy all offseason.

It was tough not to doze off after his quiet 2015 debut in Miami. Stills finished with just 27 catches for 440 yards and 3 scores. He was never a fantasy factor. And the late-season emergence of 1st-rounder DeVante Parker made Stills even tougher to love heading into 2016.

But he’s created a constant buzz all offseason. Adam Gase revealed shortly after becoming Miami’s HC that he tried to trade for Stills when he was in Chicago. The head man also mentioned multiple times that Stills would be more involved in the offense this year. Then he was 1 of the standouts of Fins training camp.

It’s all translated to the field in preseason action, where Stills has been heavily involved and productive. He’s hauled in 8 balls for 124 yards and 2 scores, looking in sync with QB Ryan Tannehill — something we didn’t see last season.

More importantly, Stills has been running as the #2 WR ahead of Parker. In Thursday night’s 3rd preseason game, Stills was on the field with Jarvis Landry for all 7 of Miami’s 2-WR snaps.

Between Gase’s arrival, an up-tempo system and what looks like a crappy defense, the Dolphins passing game could surprise this year. And Stills looks like a big part of it. The WR did leave Monday's practice with a back injury, but it's reportedly not believed to be serious.

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