Rank's 11 preseason fantasy sleepers: All in on Mariota

Print

A police officer pulled me out of line as I made my way into Angel Stadium recently. The kind of thing that will cause a mild panic and make your mind race to all of the terrible things you might have done over the last 10 to 15 years. Like, OMG, he knows my daughter scored an extra Shohei Ohtani bobblehead the last time we were here. Or, worse: He knows I snuck in a bottle of peppermint schnapps when I was a 21-year-old idiot! I'm done!

Instead, he leaned in, gave me a glare from over his aviators and said, "Mr. Rank, you have some sleepers for me?"

Of course I do. Outside of photos of my son, Wedge, sleepers are the most frequent request I get from friends, family and officers of the law. And look, I'm happy to oblige. In fact, I have more than one. Here are 11. Trust me, I've given this more thought than when I decided an after-dinner liqueur would be a fine accompaniment for a baseball game.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans

Mariota was one of my favorites last year, but he hit a career low with 13 touchdown passes. The upshot is, he also set a career high! With 15 picks. Now, I could make excuses because of his knee brace. Or then-coach Mike Mularkey's archaic offensive system, which seemed as outdated as a fax machine. I could do that, but why? Both the brace and Mularkey are gone, and new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur will take this attack into the 2000s.

Rex Burkhead, RB, New England Patriots

People tend to fear the Patriots' running backs. Like the big waves at Waimea Bay in Hawaii. But when I see those big sets roll in, I grab my board and -- I've never surfed Waimea Bay. However, I have drafted a lot of Patriots running backs. Burkhead's usage last year shows he's the preferred goal-line back, and he can catch the ball out of the backfield. Sign me up.

LeGarrette Blount, RB, Detroit Lions

Speaking of which, I had great success with Blount a few years back, when he scored -- I believe it was -- 90 touchdowns. You can double-check that number if you want, but I say you should just trust me. Now, Kerryon Johnson is leading the Lions in ADP. Blount is currently on top of the team's depth chart and has a history with new coach Matt Patricia from their time together in New England.

Matt Breida, RB, San Francisco 49ers

Nearly every fantasy enthusiast is clamoring for Jerick McKinnon like bacon-wrapped dates at a Nob Hill gastro pub. I'm going to pass on that second-round price for McKinnon and take a gamble on Breida much, much later in drafts. If you want to make the comp (because you know you do), Breida looks to take on the Tevin Coleman role in Kyle Shanahan's offense. That's worth a late-round pick right there.

Kalen Ballage, RB, Miami Dolphins

No rookie running back has as many fantasy analysts ready to throw hands like Ballage. As an ardent viewer of the Pac-12 After Dark, I loved Ballage at Arizona State. But he does have this frustrating habit of following jaw-dropping plays with periods where you wonder if he's even on the field. So, realize that when you draft him, he'll score all of his big runs while he's on your bench, and never come through when you start him. You know this.

Sammy Watkins, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

Obviously, I know Watkins is not a true sleeper in any sense of the word, so back off. But I wanted to add him because his teammate Tyreek Hill is currently going in the third round of drafts, according to his ADP, and I've even seen him sneak into the second in some mocks. Watkins, on the other hand, is currently going in the sixth round and will end up scoring more fantasy points this season.

(Yeah, I know he has an injury history, but don't worry about that hip issue that's popped up in camp, which NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported is "extremely minor.")

Jordy Nelson, WR, Oakland Raiders

I know, I'm doing it again. But this is important, so pay attention. Nelson was awful last year in Green Bay while Aaron Rodgers was out. It's fair to say Derek Carr is better than Packers backup Brett Hundley. The Raiders lost 15 red-zone targets with Michael Crabtree going to Baltimore. My conjecture is that, when given a choice between Nelson and Amari Cooper -- who I like to call Stoney McStonehands -- I'm nearly certain Nelson is getting all of the red-zone targets. Yep. Every. Damn. One.

Tyrell Williams, WR, Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers will deploy more three-receiver sets, now that tight end Hunter Henry is out for the year. A lot of folks will gravitate toward 2017 first-round pick Mike Williams, but give me Tyrell, who had 43 receptions for 728 yards and four touchdowns last year. With more to come this year.

Sterling Shepard, WR, New York Giants

New Giants coach Pat Shurmur helped develop Adam Thielen as a slot threat over the past couple of seasons in Minnesota. Oh, look, the Giants have Shepard, a pretty good slot receiver in his own right. I know, it's not always going to be a simple parallel like that. Especially with news of Odell Beckham Jr. also working out of the slot. But given the attractive ADP (Shepard is currently going in the 10th round), why wouldn't you take a gamble?

Cameron Meredith, WR, New Orleans Saints

Injury concerns will depress his ADP (he's currently going in the 11th round), and that's just fine. Meredith lost all of his final season with the Bears to a torn ACL, but he's avoided the PUP list thus far and looks like the "best bet" for the Saints' No. 2 receiver job, according to Jon Katzenstein of NOLA.com. He's another player being drafted around the same time as Shepard who also looks to have tremendous upside.

George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers

There's an obvious San Francisco real estate joke to make here. I'm not going to do it. Too easy, and I'll leave that for others. Kittle was a preferred target of Jimmy Garoppolo during the final five games of the season, when he caught 15 of 19 targets for 224 yards. The duo has been putting in extra work this offseason. So get in before you're priced out of the market. I couldn't help myself. Sue me.

Follow Adam Rank on Twitter @adamrank.

Print