25 Fantasy Football Sleepers that Could Save Your 2018 Season
What players have the right combination of talent, opportunity, and upside in the late rounds of your draft?
Hey, you’re a fantasy football writer, right? Who’s your big sleeper this year? The question comes up every time. If it’s fantasy football season, it’s also #SleeperSZN. Sleepers are harder and harder to come by with articles flooding the internet and stats everywhere, but it takes the right combination of talent, opportunity, and upside to make the perfect sleeper.
Finding the right sleeper means finding a guy who’s worth it if you’re right, and sometimes it means finding a player you learn quickly you were wrong about, so you can cut bait quickly and move on to the next target. Last year’s sleepers article included guys like Deshaun Watson, Zach Ertz, Cam Newton, Jack Doyle, and Chris Hogan, so this stuff works. If you swing for the fences enough, you hit some home runs.
Let’s take a look at this year’s sleepers. These are 25 guys that can save your fantasy season, all of them available outside the top 75 picks in standard 12-team leagues according to Fantasy Football Calculator ADP…
RB34 Sony Michel NE, 7.04
Michel is going last among the five big rookies, and that makes sense on the surface. He’s missed the entire preseason with a bone-on-bone injury on the same knee that’s bothered him for years, and everyone knows not to trust Bill Belichick’s RB rotations. But that could work to Michel’s advantage. It’s not like the guys in front of him are proven runners, so why couldn’t Michel be the Week 4 starter? New England has a cakewalk schedule and whatever RB is on the field puts up points. Michel was a risk in the 4th round a month ago, but his injury has actually made him a bargain now.
QB9 Andrew Luck IND, 8.04
4th. 2nd. 4th. Those are the rankings for Luck among fantasy QBs his last three healthy seasons. Luck has looked rusty at times this preseason but, more importantly, healthy. The shoulder labrum tear appears to be behind him. You might recall Drew Brees had a similar injury many feared might ruin his career… 13 years ago. On top of that, new coach Frank Reich likes to go up-tempo, and Indy doesn’t have anything at RB, so Luck will be throwing a lot.
TE10 Jordan Reed WAS, 8.11
We know three things about Jordan Reed: he’s always hurt, he’s great when he’s actually on the field, and he’s on the field right now. Check out Reed’s 16-game pace when he’s actually played over the past three seasons: 90 catches, 925 yards, 10 TDs, and that’s including games he’s played hurt or left early. You’re probably going to have to replace Reed at some point… but you’re going to have to replace him with someone you’d draft after this anyway. So why not enjoy Reed while he lasts? He’s the best TE sleeper now that Trey Burton’s price is soaring.
WR40 Nelson Agholor PHI, 9.05
Agholor scored a touchdown in seven of 12 games with Carson Wentz last fall. For all Philadelphia’s aspirations, they’re lacking a bit in weaponry unless some of their younger players break out. Alshon Jeffery is talented but always banged up and could start the year on the PUP list, and Zach Ertz usually misses a few games. Agholor could end up seeing the most targets in Philly.
WR41 Mike Williams LAC, 9.07
Williams has seen his price leap from two weeks ago and is getting a bit pricey, but he’s still a good gamble. Think of him as arbitrage Corey Davis, available three rounds later. The Chargers are a better offense, and Williams has a clear path to redzone targets if he can act as the de facto L.A. tight end. If Keenan Allen misses any injury time, Williams could be a league winner.
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QB14 Ben Roethlisberger PIT, 10.06
How is Big Ben the 14th QB off draft boards? He finished better than QB14 four of the last five seasons. We know what Roethlisberger is. He’s not as good on the road, and he’ll probably miss a game or two. So? In 13 home games the last two seasons, Roethlisberger has 36 TDs, with at least two in every game except against Jacksonville last year. Even if you only play him those seven games, he’s worth this price and more.
RB46 Corey Clement PHI, 10.07
This is Agholor part II. A lot of folks don’t believe in Jay Ajayi. The Eagles have an awesome offensive line and love to involve their RBs in the passing game, and they’re going to score a lot of points. If Ajayi gets hurt or can’t get the job done, Clement could shine in a bigger role. He averaged almost one fantasy point per touch as a rookie, the equivalent of a 9.6-yard rush each touch.
WR46 Kenny Stills MIA, 10.10
Stills is arbitrage Sammy Watkins, and he has way less competition in Miami. Stills is a better play in standard and/or best-ball leagues, where you can take in the big weeks and take advantage of his big plays, and he has 15 TDs the last two seasons with the Dolphins. If you’re not a big believer in Kenyan Drake or DeVante Parker, maybe Stills gets some extra work.
QB15 Patrick Mahomes KC, 10.12
Drafting a quarterback is about upside. There are so many plug-and-plays out there that they’re often just not worth the draft pick unless you swing for the fences. Mahomes is a home run swing. He can throw as far as anyone in the NFL and has two of the game’s elite long-ball threats. He also had 22 rushing TDs his last two years at college. Alex Smith put up top-5 fantasy numbers in this offense last year, and Mahomes is more athletic and more talented.
RB47 Adrian Peterson WAS, 10.09
Peterson might not be a sleeper much longer. His price leapt from the 12th to the 10th over just two days this weekend, and I’ve seen him sneaking into the 6th and 7th rounds in drafts while reputable sites like The Athletic are earmarking him for 1450 yards and 10 TDs. That’s all a bit much, and I wouldn’t touch him in the single-digit rounds. But a Hall of Famer in a wide open background on a plus offense late? Sure, why not?
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WR51 Kenny Golladay DET, 11.08
Golladay is super talented and looked ready to hit the ground running before an injury derailed his rookie season. Now he’s ready to go, and reports out of Detroit are that Golladay will take Golden Tate’s place in 2-WR sets, plus you know he’ll be out there in their base 3-WR groupings. Golladay is a big target and could easily take Marvin Jones’s place in the pecking order.
QB17 Marcus Mariota TEN, 11.09
Mariota might finally have a coach and system set to cater to his talents. Goodbye smashmouth football, hello wide open attack under new OC Matt LaFleur, who spent the last few years learning from Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay. The Titans will have way more space horizontally and vertically. That means more big strikes down the field, and it means more open space for Mariota to run in and more chances for him to make decisions with the ball in his hands. It’s easy to forget that Mariota was one of the all-time great spread offense QBs in college. He has top-5 potential if this system fits his talents.
TE13 Jack Doyle IND, 12.03
Doyle led the Colts last year with 80 catches and plays for a team with one other skill player on the offense you’d heard of a month ago. Andrew Luck has always loved throwing to his tight ends, especially in the redzone. Doyle was a top-10 TE a year ago, and he was #13 the year before that. Do we really think Eric Ebron is going to slow that down? If you wait on TE, this is a free starter.
QB19 Alex Smith WAS, 12.05
Smith is the Jack Doyle of quarterbacks. He’s not going to excite you, but he’s stable and will get the job done, and he’ll add in sneaky rushing numbers to bolster his numbers. Smith was QB4 last year, and Kirk Cousins was a top-8 QB three seasons running in Washington. Smith may not have the most exciting ceiling, but he has a super high floor and makes for a very safe and stable backup if your top QB is an injury risk.
WR54 John Brown BAL, 12.07
I’m not a huge believer in Smokey, but the talent is there and so is the opportunity. Brown is blazing fast and that’s always worked well for Ravens receivers with Joe Flacco’s monster arm, and Baltimore has a ton of targets to go around after rehauling their entire receiving corps. I tend to think Brown will be more sizzle than steak, but the upside is there.
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WR56 Michael Gallup DAL, 12.10
We’re hunting opportunity late in the draft, and Gallup certainly has it. Dallas has the worst receiving corps in the league, so Gallup could easily be the team’s go-to guy sooner than not. How many other WR1s are available this late in the draft or even on waivers in some? Gallup is a trendy rising sleeper.
RB54 Jordan Wilkins IND, 13.02
Wilkins is another stab at opportunity. Just look at the mess of a backfield in Indianapolis. Marlon Mack is hurt, Robert Turbin is suspended, Christine Michael is Christine Michael, and Nyheim Hines just fumbled reading this sentence. Wilkins should get a shot.
RB55 Bilal Powell NYJ, 13.05
Powell has the most ludicrous ADP in fantasy football and is a must-draft in any format, even more so in PPR leagues. Powell has 390 touches the last two seasons, and that was with Matt Forte in town. He’s turned those touches into over 2000 yards and 10 TDs, and now he appears to be running ahead of Isaiah Crowell with the Jets first team. It feels like Powell could be a 6th round pick in a couple weeks. He’s essentially a free RB2.
WR61 Courtland Sutton DEN, 13.11
Sutton might be the most talented in a loaded class of rookie receivers. He’s a long-term investment with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders in front of him, but both are in the final year of their contract and either could be traded soon. Sutton is a big target with vertical speed, and he could pay dividends late in the season for patient owners. James Washington in Pittsburgh is another rookie WR stash to keep an eye on.
WR62 Dede Westbrook JAX, 14.03
WR63 Keelan Cole JAX, 14.04
We’ll see about Marqise Lee, but that injury looked pretty rough. Next up in Jacksonville are Westbrook, Cole, Donte Moncrief, and D.J. Chark. The Jags are the least predictable receiving corps in the league, but that’s one less mouth to feed and more targets for everyone else. Westbrook has always been super talented but has trouble staying on the field. He may be the PPR play. Cole broke out late, and he’s my pick. His second-half pace was 60/1200/6 and he’s been running with Lee the most on first team.
QB23 Tyrod Taylor CLE, 14.06
TyGod has always been a sneaky fantasy play, and he’s never had these kind of weapons around him. Landry, Gordon, Njoku, and Duke give Taylor a ton of options, and he should be throwing more often and more efficiently in the new Todd Haley offense. Add Taylor’s reliable rushing stats and there might be a top-10 QB here as long as he keeps the job.
TE19 Ricky Seals-Jones ARI, 14.09
If you waited way too long at tight end and missed out on, well, everyone, then RSJ is your guy. Seals-Jones was only relevant for five games last year but had 12/201/3 in those games and flashed big-play and red-zone potential and he did all that while barely playing any snaps. Now his snap count has risen, so maybe his receptions will catch up to his TDs.
RB60 Frank Gore MIA, 14.02
Yes, that old guy. Gore has 12 consecutive seasons with 1200+ combined yards, a remarkable achievement of longevity and talent. Now he returns home to Miami and seems to be splitting time with Kenyan Drake, who’s never carried the full load. We can keep waiting for Gore to fall off a cliff, but at this point it might be wiser to take him until he does, especially at this price.
WR72 Paul Richardson WAS, undrafted
Richardson has always produced admirably when given the chance, and he’s proven to be a big TD threat. Remember the playoff catch against the Lions a couple years ago? Richardson never got much of an opportunity in Seattle, but he’s as talented as any WR in Washington and could grab the WR1 spot soon enough if he gets some rapport with Alex Smith.