Secret Sleepers  

 

Nick Foles leads 10 Week 3 fantasy sleeper plays

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The Week 2 edition of this sleepers column brought you names like David Johnson, Torrey Smith, Eric Decker and Heath Miller. All of those players exceeded fantasy expectations in the second game of the season. Of course, there were duds like Nelson Agholor and Brandon Coleman, as well. In the future, we'll try to hit on all the names listed here, but the exercise of anointing sleepers, especially as the season goes on, naturally carries risk of missing. Especially since I'm actually trying to give you true under the radar players beyond the obvious emerging candidates. There's little utility in this sleeper list featuring someone like Donte Moncrief, for example.

Looking ahead to this weekend's action, there are 10 sleepers I like to outperform what the masses expect from them in Week 3.

Colonel Sanders' Super Secret Sleeper


Nick Foles, QB, St. Louis Rams

The stellar 18-point fantasy debut of Nick Foles in St. Louis seems like a distant memory after he turned in a 150-yard dud against Washington in Week 2. His 4.7 yards-per-attempt brought about the painful future his detractors foretold when he left Philadelphia. However, we still have the memory of a strong performance at home in Week 1 to guide us back to streaming Foles in Week 3.

While there are certainly safer quarterbacks, none of them have a better matchup. Through two weeks of the season, no defense has allowed more fantasy points to the quarterback position than the Pittsburgh Steelers. Of course, you can chalk up Week 1 to facing Tom Brady in the first act of his revenge tour, but that seems less excusable when you factor in Colin Kaepernick's big Week 2. Pittsburgh is currently allowing 27.1 fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks.

It's not hard to see when you watch the film that Pittsburgh currently fields one of the worst secondaries in the NFL. This deals an obvious advantage to the opposing quarterback, but so does the influence of a pass-heavy game script. With the Steelers up 29-3 at the half, the 49ers were forced to take to the air. Facing such a poor pass defense, Kaepernick was able to salvage his fantasy day.

If you're a Tony Romo, Jay Cutler or Drew Brees owner, and you're suddenly in danger of slipping in to quarterback hell, Nick Foles might be your unexpected life boat for this week. He'll be at home, facing a bad defense in a pass-heavy game script. We don't ask for much more in our quarterback streamers. Foles qualifies, as he's available in almost half of NFL.com leagues. If you're looking for a contrarian play in DFS, this is your quarterback.

Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Texans defense has a reputation as a fierce stop unit thanks to J.J. Watt. Yet, they've been surprisingly generous to opposing fantasy quarterbacks. Houston currently ranks as the second worst defense in allowing fantasy points to quarterbacks. Again, quite surprising for a D/ST unit that many fantasy owners drafted early. Interestingly enough, the answer the question may lie on the other side of the ball.

The Texans offense has run more third down plays than anyone in the league through two weeks, but they rank 31st in yards per third down play. Unsurprisingly, the Arian Foster-less, Brian Hoyer/Ryan Mallett two-headed monster hasn't been able to sustain long drives. With the offense's inability to stay on the field, that leaves more opportunities for opposing quarterbacks to throw on, and score against, the Texans defense.

While a bit of a stretch stat, the fantasy scoring by the opposing quarterbacks bear out the results. Additionally, it's not like the two passers to take advantage, Alex Smith and Cam Newton, lead particularly stacked or prolific offenses. However, each player scored three touchdowns (one rushing for Newton) against this defense.

Jameis Winston followed up a disastrous NFL debut with an economical 18.6 fantasy point game in Week 2. Mike Evans played 40 snaps last week, but barely made an impact. As Winston's top weapon becomes more infused in the game plan, the rookie passer's stats should improve. J.J. Watt could personally wreck this Winston optimism going against a porous offensive line, but he was held at bay by a talent-deficient Carolina unit last week. Again, if you're desperate for quarterback help this week, Winston is almost certainly available to lend a hand. In daily leagues, plenty of users will field the Texans D/ST unit. That could work, but I like making the contrarian pivot play and using Winston.

Lance Dunbar, RB, Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys passing down back was featured in last week's sleeper column as a PPR-only flier. He didn't go off, but scored a solid seven points in PPR leagues. We're going back to him this week, due to an even better matchup.

We noticed after Week 1 that the Eagles running backs had a good amount of success in the passing game against Atlanta. In Week 2, the trend continued. The Falcons rank 21st in standard points allowed to running backs, and have conceded 199 receiving yards to the position. Pass-catching specialists Shane Vereen and Darren Sproles put up 76 yards against them in back to back weeks.

Dunbar is clearly the pass-catching specialist out of the Cowboys backfield. While you'd think the loss of Tony Romo gives him a downgrade, that may not be the case. Per Rotoworld's Josh Norris, in the 23 games Brandon Weeden played in 2012 and 2013, his running backs averaged seven targets. For the second week in a row, Dunbar figures to be a good PPR flier.

Isaiah Crowell, RB, Cleveland Browns

After an outright dud in Week 1, Isaiah Crowell got back into our good graces with a 70-plus yard and one touchdown Week 2 line. He's set up for similar success this coming Sunday, as well. The Browns play host to the Raiders on Sunday, who despite their big win against the Ravens, are one of the worst NFL teams at slowing down running backs. They rank 31st in the NFL in fantasy points allowed to running backs, giving up 24.4 points per game.

Every game, all season

We also like Crowell this week because the Browns are at home, and should be favored to win this game. Recency bias will side with the Raiders, but the home/road splits are pretty troubling for the Derek Carr-led team. Cleveland should be able to at least keep this game close, and that means plenty of work for Crowell. Despite a big role in the passing game foretold for Duke Johnson, he's yet to be targeted through two games. We'll take our chances with the inside runner if we need a spot starter.

Allen Hurns, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars

This one comes in from one of my most trusted New England Patriots followers, Rummford Johnny. While I believe Allen Robinson is going to feast against the Patriots secondary that's allowed 15 catches 193 yards and two touchdowns to opponents No. 1 receivers through two weeks, Rummy suggests Hurns could see some trickle down production. He's rounding into form as a bona-fide No. 2 receiver. Rookie slot receiver Rashad Greene went on IR boomerang this week, and that should mean more targets funnel to the improving Hurns.

Blake Bortles and the passing game looked much better with the offense leaning on a heavy workload from T.J. Yeldon. But the team still took to the air in Week 2 with 33 pass attempts. A mix of that game script is likely, but the Jaguars are on the road against one of the best offenses in the league. They'll have to play from behind and have to lean on the passing game stuck in catch-up mode. That bodes well for Hurns, who has displayed big play ability in the past, to mortgage opportunities into being an upside daily fantasy play or deep league flex.

Leonard Hankerson, WR, Atlanta Falcons

We wondered how many targets this Atlanta passing offense, with Julio Jones absorbing 10-plus targets a game, would support. No many believed Leonard Hankerson would be one of the answers, although RotoViz writer 14TeamMocker did plead with me all summer to take Hankerson seriously. Here we are and the former Washington castoff is playing on a consistent number of the team's snaps (67 percent in Week 1, 68 percent in Week 2), and was targeted 11 times last week. He scored on the Giants last week, and has outpaced Roddy White in targets (15 to nine) and catch rate (53.3 to 44.4). It's fair to wonder what White has left, and that could mean a bigger role for Hankerson, who already owns a healthy share of the offense.

The Cowboys have been stingy in allowing fantasy points to wide receivers, currently ranking fourth in the NFL. However, there's some misinformation there. That ranking would be quite depressed had Preston Parker held on to a few passes in Week 1, or if the Giants just threw to Odell Beckham instead. The Week 2 Eagles couldn't get anything going, and never took shots down the field. With teams likely selling out to a greater extent to stop Julio Jones, Hankerson will get favorable matchups going forward. Week 2 bred good results, and a follow up could be in order.

Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle Seahawks

Perennially overlooked, just don't remind him of that, Doug Baldwin is still essentially the lead dog of this wide receiver group. He plays on 85 percent of the team's snaps, and leads the Seahawks in targets. He served to remind us he's still a potential fantasy flier by putting 92 yards and a touchdown on the Packers Sunday night.

Baldwin has a great chance to string two consecutive good games together. Slot receivers are absolutely roasting the Bears so far this season, with journeymen nickel corner Sherrick McManis' defensive efforts proving futile. Randall Cobb scored a touchdown in Week 1, Larry Fitzgerald put up three in Week 2. Doug Baldwin isn't near the quality level of those two players, but he is a skilled slot receiver, and can take advantage of this favorable matchup. If you're in a bind, and need a reliable five catch for 70 yards line with touchdown upside, Baldwin in a pretty safe bet.

Tyler Lockett, WR, Seattle Seahawks

Another Seahawk. We're clearly trying to take advantage of a poor Bears defense that currently gives up 8.0 yards per pass play. Add in the Seahawks playing at home for the first time this season, and an onslaught could be in store. If you need steady points, the previously highlighted Baldwin is your guy. If you're looking for longshot upside, particularly in DFS, Tyler Lockett makes for an intriguing play.

Lockett is actually getting full-time third wide receiver snaps, playing 63 percent of the team total. Currently, he splits time with Baldwin in the slot, and plays outside at flanker. The field time is there, he just hasn't been getting the ball yet. But Lockett has caught all six of the passes sent his way, and we know from his return skills that he can make things happen in space. There's a chance he busts out a big play on offense against this porous defense. DFS sites reward points for return touchdowns too, so he has the ability to help your lineups in multiple way. He's probably only a play in the daily fantasy sector, but Lockett could be one that wins you a week there.

Jared Cook, TE, St. Louis Rams

If there is a No. 1 receiver for the Rams right now, it's Jared Cook. Rather quietly, Cook is currently a steady TE13 in PPR leagues, catching 10 passes in two games. He's tied with passing down for back Benny Cunningham for a team leading 13-targets. If you're looking to make a leverage play off what should be a big day for Nick Foles playing catchup against this poor secondary, Cook is probably the safest choice.

The Steelers currently rank 31st in allowing fantasy points to tight ends. Of course, much of that can be attributed to Rob Gronkowski's three touchdown assault in Week 1, but the 49ers tight ends stil put up eight catches for 83 yards in Week 2. Tight end scoring regressed to the mean and normalized after a big Week 1 from the position. With the position back to its more unpredictable ways, Cook is as good a bet as anyone to finish in the top 10 this week.

Gary Barnidge, TE, Cleveland Browns

Who? Not many in the fantasy community know who Gary Barnidge is, but he's a nimble-legged 6-foot-5 move tight end who has survived multiple coaching staffs in Cleveland. He's also played on 86 percent of the team's snaps, which dwarfs the next highest pass catcher through two weeks -- Brian Hartline and Andrew Hawkins are tied at 70 percent.

This is the deepest of deep plays, but the matchup is certainly there. Two of the four highest scoring fantasy games by tight ends so far this year came against the Browns Week 3 opponent, the safety depleted Raiders. They facilitated Tyler Eifert's Week 1 breakout, and brought you Crockett Gillmore in Week 2. Barnidge has displayed some pass-catching ability in his quiet career, and he doesn't have much to compete with for in the way of wide receivers.

If Barnidge is the "who is that?" tight end play of the week, or ends up on our "That Helps No One" list on Monday, you won't be surprised. And maybe you can be one to raise your hand and say to Adam Rank, "No, sir, Barnidge helped me!" The aforementioned Gillmore was in my best FanDuel lineup from Week 2, and I promise you I'm throwing a small sprinkling of Barnidge lineups out there for the Sunday slate.


Matt Harmon is an associate fantasy writer/editor for NFL.com, and the creator of #ReceptionPerception, who you can follow on Twitter @MattHarmon_BYB.

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