Whether from injury or auto-draft, sometimes you need to fix your lineup before Week 1 even gets started. Or perhaps you're just looking for some high-upside players hanging around on the waiver wire you can tuck away safely on your bench. With that in mind, I scoured the NFL.com resources to find 15 sleepers who are available in the vast majority of NFL.com fantasy leagues. So take a look, and if you have an injured player, backup tight end/kicker/defense sitting on your bench, give them the old President James Marshall and tell them to "Get off my plane" ... or bench. You get the point. Anyway, onto the sleepers!
Colonel Sanders' Super Secret Sleeper
I'm required to highlight one super secret sleeper in this column, and there is no way it wasn't going to be Tyrod Taylor. On the latest episode of the NFL Fantasy LIVE podcast, Matt Harmon referred to running quarterbacks as a fantasy "cheat code," and he's absolutely right. Taylor offers a safe week-to-week floor thanks to his running ability, making him a very serviceable starting or backup quarterback. If you have concerns about your starter, especially one with recent injuries like Sam Bradford or Carson Palmer, then rush to the waiver wire to claim Tyrod before he flashes early in the season and is unattainable. Need more convincing? Read this.
The hate on Andy Dalton in fantasy football has gone too far. Dalton was a top-five fantasy quarterback in 2013, but all any one wants to remember is his disatrous 2014 campaign where he threw 19 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Yet, no one wants to acknowledge that Dalton was without A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Marvin Jones, and Giovani Bernard for all or parts of the season. Dalton is a quarterback who needs his weapons to produce in fantasy, and he now has ALL of them healthy for 2015. He's not a sexy or exciting pickup, but if you're looking for solid QB production on the waiver wire, don't shy away from the Red Rifle.
I know, a Jaguars player. Your initial reaction is to probably light me on fire in the comments section here or on Twitter, but hear me out first. Bortles has looked great this preseason, and now has an actual NFL-level of weapons surrounding him. He has completed 65 percent of his passes for 461 yards with one touchdown in limited action, and looks much more comfortable and in control than he did during his rookie season. As an added bonus, he added 42 rushing yards on five attempts, flashing his underrated athleticism. For those in two-QB leagues or people worried about their starting quarterback, Bortles offers some nice upside as a QB2 off of waivers in most leagues.
TWO JAGUARS?! HOW DID I GET MY JOB!? OK, now back to reality. Rookie T.J. Yeldon, the long-presumed bell-cow during the offseason, missed most of the preseason with a finger injury and looked rather average in his NFL debut. On the other hand, Robinson has looked strong in the preseason and is the established veteran who some believe might start in Week 1. Worst case scenario, Robinson becomes the third-down, change-of-pace back, giving him a better fantasy ceiling in PPR formats. Either way, why not take a flier on a talented player in a rejuvenated offense who might lead the team in touches early in the season?
I'm kind of surprised how high Johnson's ownership is in NFL.com, leagues, but he bears mentioning here since he's available in almost 75 percent of leagues. If you're playing in a PPR league, Johnson is definitely someone to grab and stash. He might not produce immediately, but he excelled in college as a pass-catcher and it appears the Cardinals might deploy him in that vein frequently in the NFL. Don't expect him to be a week-in, week-out starter though. Stat lines like he posted in Week 3 of the postseason -- four carries, -2 yards, four catches, 40 yards, one TD -- could be the norm for him during the regular season.
As Matt Franciscovich frequently breaks down in "Committee Meetings," figuring out the Patriots backfield is akin to solving four separate puzzles after the pieces have been mixed in a blender and dumped into one pile. That being said, Lews could have some value early in the season. LeGarrette Blount is going to miss the first game of the season, and Lewis seems to be the favorite to take over Shane Vereen's pass-catching back role. If you're in need of some RB help early on, especially in PPR formats, give Lewis a look. When the Patriots backfield returns to being a complete fantasy disaster, you can send Lewis back into the void.
After years of failing to live up to his potential in Seattle, Michael was shipped to Dallas to further cloud their backfield situation. He has a lot of talent, though, and could be a huge fantasy steal if he ends up seeing some serious action. He's 100 percent worth a speculative add if you have the space on your bench.
I admittedly wasn't a huge Matt Jones fan during the NFL Draft, but boy, has he won me over since then. Jones looks electric, showing great burst and balance for a bigger back. He has become one of my favorite late-round fliers to target when I'm still drafting, and if he's available in leagues, I've been racing to the waiver wire to pick him up. Look, I love Alfred Morris too, but it's been clear that his team does not (especially around the goal line). Jones has been so impressive in the preseason that the team envisions him and Morris as a "physical tandem" in the backfield. Jones probably won't have flex value out of the gate, but don't be surprised if he starts making some noise in the fantasy world as the season progresses.
I made the case for Steve Johnson in our deep sleepers column during "Fantasy Draft Week," but I'll thump the table for him once more. He is already boasting a great connection with Philip Rivers. That was evident when they connected four times for 63 yards against the Seahawks in Week 3 of the preseason. That means if anything, Keenan Allen and Johnson are a 1A-1B pairing. Getting the 1B wide receiver off of the waiver wire for a talented offense is a luxury that won't last long once he starts producing in the regular season. Get him now if you're looking to replace Jordy Nelson, Kelvin Benjamin, or need WR depth. He takes on the Lions defense at home in Week 1
Many might remember Terrance Williams for the eight touchdown passes he caught last year. Others might remember him for being wildly inconsistent and disappearing for weeks at a time. Either way, Williams has some upside in 2015 as he enters his third year as a pro -- the old standard for wide receiver breakouts. As the No. 2 option in the Dallas passing attack behind Dez Bryant, Williams could see more frequent looks from Tony Romo as the Cowboys aren't likely to run as much as they did a season ago with DeMarco Murray. Williams could still be as up-and-down as he was last year, but his talent and experience warrant a stash as a WR4/5.
As we discussed on the latest episode of the NFL Fantasy LIVE podcast, we still know nothing about Alshon Jeffery's mysterious calf injury. And while Eddie Royal is also knicked up with a hip injury, he should be owned in more leagues. Brandon Marshall has left the Windy City, leaving 106 targets behind. Royal's best pro season was the last time he played with Jay Cutler, and they're now reunited in Adam Gase's offense that has made slot-receiver stars out of Wes Welker (although he was a star beforehand) and Emmanuel Sanders. Royal's ceiling isn't that high, but he could easily turn in a WR3-level season and he's basically free at this point. If Jeffery misses more time, Royal could see even more targets, too.
Hurns made a splash in Week 1 last season when he had 110 yards and two touchdowns, but he fizzled a bit after that. However, in the games where he garnered nine or more targets, Hurns averaged 13.1 fantasy points per game, a very solid number. With Julius Thomas out of the lineup for a few weeks and Marqise Lee both struggling in general and in returning from injury, Hurns could see plenty of targets come his way early in the season. With Allen Robinson likely commanding more attention from the defenses, the stars could be aligning for another early-season splash from Hurns. If you're in need of another wide receiver or looking for an upside add, don't shy away from Hurns because he's a Jaguar.
Quick was on fire to start last season, averaging 12.55 fantasy points per game over the first four weeks of the season. However, he lost basically the rest of the season to a shoulder injury that almost cost him his career. He's back, though, healthy and ready to resume his role as the Rams' No. 1 WR. People have forgotten about Quick, but his upside is HUGE this year if he stays healthy. He'd be the wide receiver I'd target first after Johnson of the five listed in this article.
Gillmore was another player I pushed in our deep sleepers column, and I like his potential in Week 1 against the Broncos if you're waiting on Julius Thomas to get healthy or Antonio Gates to return from his suspension. At 6-foot-6, Gillmore will give Joe Flacco a big target in the red zone, and a safety-valve when he needs to move the chains. Dennis Pitta is on the PUP, and Maxx Williams is a rookie who needs to adjust to the pro game and bulk up for blocking duties. Gillmore is a very sneaky add who could turn in a solid fantasy season at the game's most frustrating and nebulous position.
When it comes to upside tight ends, Richard Rodgers has to be near the top of the list. He barely made an impact in 2014 as a rookie, but has been outstanding in team practices and a frequent target of Aaron Rodgers in the red zone. With Jordy Nelson lost for the season because of injury, his 151 targets will be dispersed between Davante Adams, Rodgers, and Ty Montgomery/Jeff Janis. Rodgers could see a bigger role in the offense this year now that he understands the playbook and has a rapport with Rodgers. Plus, it never hurts to have more guys on your team who catch passes from Aaron Rodgers. That's just good sense.