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Under the Radar: 2015 Fantasy Football 'Sleeper' Candidates

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Under the Radar: 2015 Fantasy Football 'Sleeper' Candidates

Matt Milligan

 

Sleeper – the term is thrown around fantasy football more than the ball on the field in which the real life version of the sport is played. Click on any “here are my sleepers yay!!” links on Google and who knows what the hell you’re getting into. More than likely, you’ll be directed to a link that falls under these two categories:

  • a list of guys who are being drafted in every single league who are starting already for their respective team, probably owned in 70+ percent of fantasy leagues – you click the ‘back’ button faster than you clicked the link and shake your head in disappointment that you didn’t become a fantasy football writer;
  • prospects far too buried on a depth chart to serve anything remotely useful in a single season – you click the back button again, thank the idiot writer for wasting 30 seconds of your research and move on from him too.

So for purposes of this article, let’s define what a useful fantasy redraft league “sleeper” is: a guy without an established starting role who could potentially capitalize on an opportunity as the season progresses (with the exception of already starting QBs), and contribute enough to warrant a roster spot at some point in the year, owned in less than 20% of leagues (i.e. you can have him almost certainly).

Let’s begin, shall we:

QB DEREK CARR, OAKLAND (CURRENTLY OWNED IN 17% OF YAHOO! LEAGUES)

Can we really blame a guy for being brother to the #1 pick in the 2002 draft with more career INTs (71) than TDs (65)? Only partly, but aside from the DNA, the only thing on the field these two will ever have in common are the four letters on the back of their jersey.

Derek came out of the gate his 2014 rookie season showcasing some of his potential in the first week of the season, completing 20 passes for 151 and 2 TDs against the lowly Jets. After that, aside from the blip on the radar of the 4 TD game against the Chargers, Carr was sporadic at best all the way through November.

What remains to be seen is if how he closed the season is indicative of his potential or yet another blip: over his final 4 games, Carr threw for a total 7 TDs and 1 INT against some pretty stout defenses. Something unique to those four games: the return of a stable ground game in Latavius Murray, coming back from a concussion on a rainy Thursday night after bursting onto the scene for 116 yards and 2 TDs against the Chiefs. Well… Latavius is back, they’ve added a complimentary 3rd down back in Roy Helu, as well as the shiny new toy in consensus #1 rookie WR Amari Cooper. Let’s not act too surprised if the Raiders don’t start out 0-16 again this year – Carr could take a big step forward.

QB TYROD TAYLOR, BUFFALO (CURRENTLY OWNED IN 7% OF YAHOO! LEAGUES)

Here’s where I make my bed to sleep in 6 weeks from now: picking a Bills QB in my first fantasy football post. But in the words of a muttering, fidgety, “is he lucid?” Lee Corso: not so fast, my friend.

There’s not a ton of tape… Tyrod’s thrown a total of 35 NFL passes over 3 years, but has an eye catching average 10 yards a carry when running. He looked invincible at some points through the preseason… then again, so did all the other Bills QBs. So what gives?

I think, though they’ll have Bill’ish moments, that Buffalo will be vastly improved this year, overall and divisionally. They’re committed to a strong run attack, as demonstrated by drafting Karlos Williams and bringing in Shady McCoy via trade. They swapped out possession TE Scott Chandler and brought in Charles Clay, a guy just starting to hit his stride. And folks, no matter which way you slice it: Sammy Watkins is the real deal.

This Rex Ryan coached defense is going to keep them in ball games, and the offense has more talent than an Ole Miss tailgate. If Tyrod can run this offense whilst chipping in with his legs, he’ll be owned in a lot more than 7% of leagues by season’s end.

RB THOMAS RAWLS, SEATTLE (CURRENTLY OWNED IN 0% OF YAHOO! LEAGUES):

This is as close to a crush as I’ll have this season:  a guy I’ve followed all camp long sitting at #5 on the depth chart trying to hang on for dear life before the final cuts. Oh, and that was before the Seahawks capitalized on Buffalo’s hastiness in cutting journeyman and fan favorite RB Fred Jackson and signing him to a year contract effectively rendering Rawls useless.

Rawls showed a lot of what scouts raved about before the preseason: an aggressiveness much like the guy at the top of the pecking order, Marshawn Lynch. He’s got a great burst through gaps, some great vision, and lowers his shoulder for contact. What the scouts may not have liked and why he went undrafted this year: coming off of three felony charges.

Now… I for one am not a fan of felonies (hopefully you aren’t either). But there are felonies, and there are childish mistakes with an associated lesson learned. According to the report, Rawls and a couple buddies went into a casino, found a purse, and used the credit card to buy sub sandwiches. The guy wasn’t fighting dogs, firing unregistered guns in public, laundering money, evading taxes… the guy was hungry.

Well, he put on a show in Seahawks training camp and obviously put in the work in an effort to make the final roster, and the feeling was apparently mutual: Seattle waived #2 back Robert Turbin, traded #3 back and hype machine Christine Michael to the Cowboys for peanuts, and let other rookie competitor Rod Smith go to sign with the practice squad. I’ve never seen something like that before… think about it. If on your second day of work you came in, sat down, looked over at the other empty desks and your boss waltzed up and told you he fired your counterparts cuz he loves your potential… that’s just nuts.

Keep an eye out for this dude. Fact of the matter is Marshawn Lynch, beast-mode as he may be, has some miles on him, runs physical, and turns 30 next year. And make no mistake… Fred Jackson is listed #2, but he is the complimentary 3rd downer. If Lynch goes down for any extended period, look for Rawls to hit the ground running, hard.

RB JARRYD HAYNE, SAN FRANCISCO (CURRENTLY OWNED IN 3% OF YAHOO! LEAGUES):

Think Mike Alstott with some wiggle but packs the same punch. The guy can flat out run and crush.

If you haven’t followed the story, Hayne is a highly touted rugby played from Australia who decided to give it a crack at the professional level of American football. Now let it be stated: I have plenty of respect for rugby and its style of play. NFL hits and rugby hits are apples and oranges, pads or no pads. But both are violent, both potentially dangerous.

This isn’t some monumental thing: even pro-level football players convert to rugby. Regardless, Hayne’s transition has been more than a sidenote: he’s the real deal in every shape and form.

There are two things standing in the way of Hayne and NFL success: age, depth chart, and experience. Put one of those things on any NFL player’s list of things to overcome and you’re working behind the 8-ball, much less all three. That’s how talented this guy is by making the team.

The guy had limited reps in the preseason, but all signs are pointing in the right direction: this guy can handle a football. What remains left to be seen: Carlos Hyde and his newly minted starting role with the departure of the personification of durability at the running back position, Frank Gore.

Here’s all that needs to happen: Hyde hiccups (we’ll see), Reggie Bush gets hurt (as likely as the sun rising, though he shouldn’t have to get hurt for Hayne to play a significant role), and fellow ‘rookie’ Mike Davis remaining as unimpressive as he did this preseason. In other words: there is a pretty significant chance Hayne gets his shot to take the ball and run/bulldoze – he’s too talented to keep locked down in punt return duties (and quite frankly, too powerful – he might kill somebody).

WR LEONARD HANKERSON, ATLANTA (CURRENTLY OWNED IN 6% OF YAHOO! LEAGUES)

Let’s take a step back for a second and consider the situation: leading up to his late 2013 ACL tear, Hankerson was… well, on the Redskins.  Though his footwork wasn’t highly touted coming into the league, he was just starting to make a little noise.

Listen… this guy’s not going to light the world on fire. This is more about the opportunity than it is the athletic upside, and that comes in the form of Roddy White, Atlanta’s cornerstone at the WR position the last decade who’s beginning to fade into the sunset. The hype is around the battle between Hankerson and ECU record breaker rookie Justin Hardy for #3 WR, who for all intents and purposes could wind up having a very successful NFL career out of the slot. Hankerson’s not that guy. But when the 34 year old Roddy goes down (and he will), watch that 6% ownership rate skyrocket with a pass-first offense and a competent quarterback tossing him the rock – assuming Hankerson stays next year, he could be on the top 100 draft radar. We’ll see!

WR PHILLIP DORSETT, INDIANAPOLIS (CURRENTLY OWNED IN 12% OF YAHOO! LEAGUES)

There are two offenses in the league where borderline #3/#4 WRs have some sort of late round value: Green Bay and Indy. These two pass happy offenses of the league spread the ball at will, and it’s a next man up kind of mentality (rookie Ty Montgomery’s Yahoo! ownership jumped a whopping 14% after Jordy Nelson’s season ending injury a few weeks back, and Devante Adams saw a jump from 22% to 98% virtually overnight).

The Colts are in the middle of a sort of transition: Reggie Wayne, a Colts lifer of 14 seasons which spanned the entire Peyton and current Luck era, was let go (he signed with the Patriots for about a week this preseason, then asked for release because the Patriots were “not fun.” Surprise!).  Make no mistake and it cannot be understated: those shoes are HUGE to fill – Wayne is a future Hall of Famer in my book.

So, who fills those shoes? Well, we start with 5’9 TY Hilton, 4th year shifty WR looking for a major payday from the Colts. Next, we’ve got journeyman, 6 time pro bowler (like Wayne) Andre Johnson coming to town (sidenote: can you imagine him 6 years ago paired with Luck? Good lord).

With Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener absorbing significant looks at TE, there aren’t a ton more targets to go around for the #3/#4 WRs on the depth chart to split. To make matters more complicated for Dorsett: the current #3 Donte Moncrief actually had a great last year – he should have a pretty solid NFL career.

Well, for one, the Colt’s didn’t light their first round pick aflame for a waste of wide receiver. Dorsett will need to develop his routes and he won't add any inches to his 5'10 frame overnight. But he had a great catch rate in college (caught 70 of 73 balls last year), and has absolutely killer speed… faster than TY.

So what do we have going on here that a fringe #4 WR is on this list. Well… one WR looking for money, and one WR on his way out of the game. A lot has been made about TY’s contract this offseason, mostly because Andrew Luck will be looking for the Colts to pony up next year – how much can the Colts realistically afford to pay TY? In my unsolicited opinion… they can’t, that is, if they’re going to trot out anything resembling a defense in 2016.

Andre, on the other hand, is looking for something Reggie attained with the Colts and Manning: a Super Bowl. It may be too little too late for Andre, but he’s all in: after multiple trade/release requests, the 12 year Texan signed with the Colts this offseason with the hopes of chasing a ring. Andre brings his experience and a 6’3 frame to an already deadly passing attack. So where does Dorsett fit?

This pick, to me, applies to all formats: in redraft leagues, Dorsett will work in with 3 WR sets with 2 WRs already on the field that demand full attention. He’s a Hilton/Johnson injury away from absolutely legitimate weekly value across the aboard. And for those of you in Dynasty and/or keeper leagues… between a 34 year old Andre and a contract without ink on it yet for TY, Dorsett has the potential to crack top 40 across all positions next year if he builds a rapport with Luck this year. Now that’s a guy with upside.

TE VIRGIL GREEN, DENVER (CURRENTLY OWNED IN 1% OF YAHOO LEAGUES)

Man… the TE position is as thin as it comes this year. Gronk is an injury risk, Gates is suspended and in his twilight, and Graham is sliding into a new not-as-pass-happy offense. Draft some of the more trendy names by all means… Kelce, Eifert, and even Olsen is getting some significant attention with Kelvin Benjamin done for the year with a torn ACL. But let’s face it… if you’re picking outside the top 6 TE options in the league, all TE’s are sleepers.

Enter: Virgil Green, the Denver #2 TE. The guy's been in the league a few years, and with Owen Daniels in front of him on the depth chart, it may be hard to get consistent looks.

Well, if history is any indicator, Owen Daniels will have problems staying on the field. He’s got 3 seasons under his belt of less than 12 games played (including 5 in 2013), and has only completed a full season twice.

TEs in Denver’s offense caught a combined 15 TDs last year. Granted, Orange Julius, who opted for career suicide/the Jaguars this off season, was responsible for 12 of them. But Peyton is not shy about spreading the ball, and Green should at the very least be in the mix, especially after being invited to Peyton’s offseason camp at Duke.

Virgil doesn’t have the same flash as Julius, but look for him to capitalize on Denver’s 2 TE sets in the red zone, and, potentially an expanded role if given the chance.

PK ANDREW FRANKS, MIAMI (CURRENTLY OWNED IN 1% OF YAHOO! LEAGUES).

The age old adage: never draft a kicker until the last round. Well… in the leagues I’m in, I’ve seen some guys go wayyy earier than they should, notably Stephen Gostkowski.

There’s not much to say at the kicker position – they get called upon to finish off the job the offense couldn’t’ capitalize on. That being said: the Fins fit the bill perfectly – they ranked #20 in TDs in the red zone last season, yet somehow still sit in the top 10 in points scored.

Why Franks? I’ve got nothing… we’ll find out quickly if the guy’s the real deal. But he cleared out a patch of snow to go practice whilst at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and studied in biomedical engineering. Oh, and he beat out an NFL kicker in Caleb Sturgis who was in the top 10 in field goals made last season.

That’s all I’ve got, but I’m willing to go out on a limb for the guy: unlike Sturgis, he’ll finish top 10 in field goals made AND field goal percentage.