Who are the biggest fantasy football sleepers flying under the radar? These are the players who should exceed their normal production due to favorable matchups.
There are different classes of sleepers, some more obvious than others. This list is broken down into six different categories of sleepers.
Jameis Winston, QB/TB
Winston likely would be in a deeper category of sleeper if not for all the excess hype the Buccaneers offense is generating this offseason due to the arrival of new head coach Bruce Arians. Talent has never been a problem for Winston so much as turnovers have. Arians ought to give Winston’s career some fresh air.
Aaron Jones, RB/GB
Jones was part of a crowded backfield in Green Bay that included Jamaal Williams and also was suspended for two games last year for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, so his season got off to a rocky start. With Montgomery in different pastures and new head coach Matt LaFleur bringing in an offense that’ll open things up for the Pack, Jones has a potential breakout season awaiting him.
Courtland Sutton, WR/DEN
Midway through the 2018 season, the Broncos felt good about their young receiving corps that they dealt veteran Demaryius Thomas to the Houston Texans. The move was a welcome one for Sutton owners, but the rookie had his ups and downs as the featured wideout. With a full offseason as the top wideout, in addition to the acquisition of veteran quarterback Joe Flacco, Sutton has his sights set on a big campaign.
Jared Cook, TE/NO
The Saints have always found a role for the tight end position, whether it be Coby Fleener in 2016, Ben Watson in ‘15, or Jimmy Graham before that. The past two seasons, however, haven’t been as fruitful, which is why the addition of Cook is intriguing. Cook has had a bit of a nomadic career, but found a role with the Raiders the past two seasons. If used properly, he’s an able-bodied target.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB/PIT
Roethlisberger has been consistently undervalued the past several years and has seemingly outperformed his preseason rankings on a regular basis. Now with Le’Veon Bell in New York and Big Ben’s favorite target, Antonio Brown, out in Oakland, he once again will be scuttled for the younger, more attractive passers in the league. Given that fantasy football is rich in quarterback talent, I wouldn’t draft Roethlisberger with a high draft choice anyway. But the Steelers will find ways to deploy their passing game and Big Ben will make a great value pick in the late rounds.
Derrick Henry, RB/TEN
After the Titans jettisoned DeMarco Murray and made Henry the lead back, clamors of a breakout season were rampant. It never materialized into big fantasy numbers last season, but he did top 1,000 yards and average nearly five yards per carry. It wasn’t until the final four games when Henry really hit his stride, picking up 585 of those yards on 87 carries. Former offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur took the Packers’ head coaching job this offseason so the play calling will be different in the least. Head coach Mike Vrabel said he wants to begin the season by feeding the rock to Henry, which could result in bigger numbers this year.
Mike Williams, WR/LAC
It’s not always easy for young receivers to get acclimated to the NFL, and that seemed to be the case for Williams in L.A. Whether it be recovering from an injury or not factoring into the offense much as a rookie, Williams got off to a slow start in 2017. Last year was a little bit more productive for the big-framed wideout. He started five games and played in all 16 and he hauled in 43 receptions for 664 yards and 10 touchdowns. While I have a difficult time believing he’ll maintain that touchdown mark, he should continue to factor into the passing game and increase his other numbers, while also maintaining a presence in the red zone.
Vance McDonald, TE/PIT
Antonio Brown is in the Black Hole and tight end Jesse James has left for Detroit, leaving the Steelers’ offense down two players. James’ departure, however, has created an opening for McDonald to step up and take the reigns of the position by himself. Of the two of them, McDonald was the more productive tight end in 2018. If the Steelers’ receiving corps does not step up and replace Brown, Big Ben could be finding himself relying on McDonald more than anticipated.
Tom Brady, QB/NE
It’s hard to believe how low the ageless one has appeared in rankings this fantasy offseason. If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s not to bet against Brady. The Patriots have beefed up their run game, drafted N’Keal Harry and extended Julian Edelman to help in the pass game. Brady might have lost his security blanket in Rob Gronkowski to retirement, but I’m not worried. This Pats offense is going to be good once again.
Kerryon Johnson, RB/DET
Johnson is being slotted as a low RB2 by many publications but has the capability to be a RB1. The main hurdle he’ll have to clear — aside from health, which is true for everybody — is can he shoulder a full workload. Last year as a rookie, Johnson played second fiddle to LeGarrette Blount but he was much more productive with his touches than Blount was. Johnson averaged 5.4 yards per carry and also hauled in 32 receptions. As the lead back in ‘19, look for those numbers to balloon.
Michael Gallup, WR/DAL
The talk of last year’s training camp was that Gallup, the team’s third-round draft choice, was going to take over the lead receiver spot of a suddenly porous receiving corps. That never materialized as the rookie had to work his way into the lineup, and the team traded for Amari Cooper from the Raiders. Now with a year under his belt and with Cooper drawing attention away from him, Gallup is poised to produce at a more consistent level.
Chris Herndon, TE/NYJ
Herndon doesn’t have big name recognition but he does has a solid frame and good hands, catching 39 balls for 502 yards and 4 touchdowns as a rookie last year. As Sam Darnold gets more comfortable as an NFL quarterback, look for the two to develop their rapport even more. With the addition of Le’Veon Bell, it’s only going to open things up more for this offense under head coach Adam Gase.
Matthew Stafford, QB/DET
Perhaps no player has been disrespected more in fantasy football throughout his career than Matthew Stafford has. Perennially ranked as a low QB2, Stafford has posted QB1 or near-QB1 numbers nearly every season, with the exception of last year’s outlier. While it’s true that the Lions figure to run the ball more with Kerryon Johnson this coming season, Stafford still will find a way to post big numbers and be a reliable backup quarterback, some weeks posting QB1 stats.
David Montgomery, RB/CHI
Perhaps the only thing holding Montgomery back from being the top rookie back this season is the wealth of talent the Bears have assembled the past two years and the number of mouths they’ll have to feed. But this offense that Matt Nagy has installed in Chicago is the same one that helped Kareem Hunt explode in his rookie season in Kansas City, and Montgomery is a comparable back. The fact that the Bears traded up to acquire Montgomery proves their intent to utilize him.
N’Keal Harry, WR/NE
Very rarely do the Patriots expend valuable draft capital to acquire offensive weapons, so when the team made Harry its top choice in this year’s draft, you knew there was something special on the horizon. Harry’s combination of size and athleticism are of course pleasing to the eye, and the fact that he’ll have Brady throwing to him for at least the first year of his career is too juicy to pass up.
Kyle Rudolph, TE/MIN
When the Vikings drafted tight end Irv Smith with their second-round pick in April’s draft, many thought the writing was on the wall that Rudolph’s time in Minnesota was coming to a close. Then came the report that the Vikings offered Rudolph a five-year extension and now nobody knows what to think. At the time of this writing, things are still up in the air, but one thing is for certain: as other owners allow him to slide further down their draft boards, the prudent fantasy owner will scoop him up at just the right time and reap the later-round value.
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB/SF
Isn’t it ironic that one year ago, Garoppolo was pushing “bust” territory due to the excessive hype of him being paired up with Kyle Shanahan as a full-time starting quarterback. I never bought the hype personally, but now I’m buying the value proposition. After suffering a torn ACL last season, Jimmy G has plummeted down draft boards into low QB2 territory. I wouldn’t overdraft quarterbacks in fantasy football anyway. But if you have a good QB1 already and good depth at RB and WR, don’t be afraid to cash in on Garoppolo’s low-cost value.
Tevin Coleman, RB/SF
The 49ers have a bit of a logjam developing in the backfield. They will be trying to work Jerick McKinnon back from a torn ACL, but there’s no guarantee that a running back ever regains his form after one of those (not to mention, I had my own skepticism about the kind of player McKinnon really is, but I digress). The Niners brought in Coleman as both insurance and solidification as head coach Kyle Shanahan is familiar with him from their time together in Atlanta. Of the crowded backfield — which includes Matt Breida (if that does anything for you) — Coleman is the most dependable and the one to own.
Anthony Miller, WR/CHI
Miller brashly called himself the best rookie receiver in last year’s draft class ahead of the draft. He plays with a lot of confidence and landed in the right situation in Chicago, with a head coach who likes to run an offense that spreads the ball around. Miller led the team with 7 touchdown receptions last year and has carved out a niche that won’t necessarily be hindered by the presence of an abundance of weapons.
Noah Fant, TE/DEN
The Broncos were hurting at the tight end position last season and in desperate need of an upgrade. The team spent a first-round pick in April’s draft to land Fant, one of the best tight ends in college football last year. New Broncos head coach Vic Fangio downplayed expectations saying that Fant still needed to learn the NFL game, and it’s true that rookie tight ends struggle to post big fantasy numbers. But new quarterback Joe Flacco loves to use the tight end and Fant surely will have a niche early on.
Sam Darnold, QB/NYJ
Darnold is barely pushing backend QB2 territory largely because he plays for a Jets offense that has been woefully inadequate for longer than any New Yorker cares to remember. But Darnold looked impressive at times during his rookie season and that was when he had little with which to work. The Jets hired Adam Gase as the new head coach and splurged on running back Le’Veon Bell. They also brought in receiver Jamison Crowder and will see the return of tight end Chris Herndon and Quincy Enunwa. Darnold should be drafted as a QB2 and could provide good value.
Miles Sanders, RB/PHI
Any time a fantasy owner sees a crowded backfield, it’s instinctive to shy away from drafting that player. That’s exactly the mess that has developed in Philadelphia after the team acquired veteran Jordan Howard from the Bears and then drafted Miles Sanders in the second round of this year’s draft. That’s in addition to the cluster remaining from last season. But Sanders is probably the most complete back in the stable and will flesh out his role as the season goes along.
James Washington, WR/PIT
Antonio Brown’s departure created an opening in the receiving corps, one which second-year pro James Washington hopes to seize. JuJu Smith-Schuster will be the lead dog and the team also brought in veteran Donte Moncrief and drafted Diontae Johnson. This is a situation worth monitoring as the offseason progresses into training camp, but Washington showed good upside as a rookie and must continue to improve to earn the trust of the coaching staff.
Jason Witten, TE/DAL
Witten’s one-year dalliance into broadcasting came to a crashing halt when he declared his intention to return to the football field. Witten may be older than dirt, but he is drawing rave reviews from coaches and teammates. Some say he hasn’t lost a step while others say he somehow looks “better, stronger and faster.” But before we go trumpeting Witten as a bona fide fantasy football option, let’s not forget that he reportedly will be on a “snap count” and will split reps at the position. Witten is a deep sleeper for those who can afford to spare a late-round pick on him.