Last season, I launched a column called the "Deep Dive" that's sole purpose was to help fantasy owners find value from the bottom of the waiver-wire barrel each and every week. So naturally, it's only fitting for me to write our deep sleepers column heading into the 2015 season.
Below is my list of 10 deep sleepers to keep an eye on as fantasy drafts approach. These are guys who might have a little bit harder road to fantasy success, but have a chance to really make a splash in 2015. Also included are the lists from the rest of the fantasy gang here at NFL.com, but who ever listens to those jamokes anyway, amirite? I jest. Anyway, onto some deep sleepers!
Crockett Gillmore, TE, Baltimore Ravens: I've been a fan of Gillmore's since his days at Colorado State, and he's one of my favorite deep sleepers in 2015. The Ravens saw Owen Daniels follow Gary Kubiak to Denver this offseason, and Dennis Pitta's future is still unclear after two hip surgeries in as many years. Sure, the team drafted Maxx Williams in the second round this year, but tight ends notoriously need time to develop in the NFL (and Williams needs to build up an NFL frame). You know who doesn't need to build up his frame? Gillmore. The guy's a 6-foot-6, 256-pound monster who could start terrorizing opposing defenses this year over the middle of the field. Given the Ravens' dearth of wide receiving talent, it wouldn't be a surprise to see someone like Gillmore rise up into a more prominent role.
David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals: When the Cardinals tried to make Andre Ellington a feature back last year, the results were disastrous. Ellington's yards-per-carry and yards-per-reception numbers fell sharply, and he missed much of the season with injury. Enter Johnson, whose talents should mesh perfectly with the Arizona offense. Despite being a bigger back, Johnson isn't as powerful as one would expect, but he has great hands out of the backfield and good straight-line burst. He should be able to make a fantasy impact between the tackles and in the passing game.
2015 FANTASY FOOTBALL DEEP SLEEPERS
Marvin Jones, WR, Cincinnati Bengals: Jones was one of my favorite sleeper targets last season, but a combination of several foot and ankle ailments forced him to miss the entire 2014 campaign. Now, he'll be back in action and angling for a new contract with the Bengals or another team. When we last saw Jones on the field, he caught 51 passes for 712 yards and 10 touchdowns (in 2013). Seeing as Mohammed Sanu failed to emerge as a true No. 2 threat for Andy Dalton last season, I like Jones' odds of picking up where he left off in 2013 and emerging as a solid fantasy option.
Jay Ajayi, RB, Miami Dolphins: When studying Ajayi's college tape, I wondered if he could be the most complete back in the draft class. He'll have a chance to show fantasy owners if that's the case in Miami, which has an offensive unit that is starting to look mighty dangerous. Ajayi will start behind Lamar Miller, who came on strong last season. However, I'm with Adam Rank in the belief that the team still isn't sold on Miller, and he hasn't exactly been a paragon of perfect health. If Ajayi gets his chance, he could run away with this starting gig (and the hearts of fantasy owners everywhere).
Jaelen Strong, WR, Houston Texans: If Strong was joining a team with a more stable situation under center, I might have pushed him over to the sleepers column. But as it stands, he'll have every opportunity in the world to hit the ground running as a rookie and make a splash in fantasy. He has a great combination of size and strength that should bode well for his success at the next level. He's great to target for depth as a WR4 or WR5, even though he has the upside to be much more valuable than that.
Ameer Abdullah, RB, Detroit Lions: There are some players you love on the field, and some players who you love off the field. Abdullah is the best of both worlds. A tremendous athlete and gifted runner on the field, he has also earned near unanimous praise for his demeanor, leadership and temperament off the field. He's a smaller back (5-foot-9, 205 pounds) but he's as powerful as he is quick which will help him between the tackles. Many are pegging Abdullah for a Reggie Bush-type role in Detroit, but I think that's just his starting point on Day 1. I wouldn't be surprised if Abdullah out-touches Joique Bell on a per-game basis by the midway point of the season.
Christine Michael, RB, Seattle Seahawks: I know, I know, Michael was the guy all of the fantasy world hyped last year and he did absolutely nothing. And I know, Robert Turbin was the more effective back who more frequently spelled Marshawn Lynch. But sometimes, like Mulder in "The X-Files," you just have to believe. And I believe in Michael as a deep sleeper ... at least for one more year.
Steve Johnson, WR, San Diego Chargers: Recent memories can sometimes cloud fantasy judgment, and I feel that's the case with Johnson. People will look at his disastrous 2013 season in Buffalo, and his forgettable 2014 stint in San Francisco as signs of a demise, but I don't believe that's the case. Put on the game tape of Johnson and you'll still see more shades of the guy who caught 76-plus passes for 1,000-plus yards for three straight years, and not a washed up wideout. People are going to sleep on Johnson, which is why he's in the deep sleeper category for me. Keenan Allen and Antonio Gates could limit his targets early on, but don't be surprised if Johnson turns in a sneaky good season.
Cameron Artis-Payne, RB, Carolina Panthers: I have Jonathan Stewart pegged as one of my 2015 breakout candidates, but that doesn't mean I'm still not concerned about his injury history. That's why I like CAP as a deep sleeper/handcuff. Stewart should be the lead back, but Artis-Payne should still get some looks, and could have a lot of value if the Panthers feature a run-heavy attack.
Ryan Mallett, QB, Houston Texans: Mallett offseason hype is about as common as the cold these days, but I'm going to throw my hat into the ring for this guy one more time. He only played in two games in 2014, with mediocre results, but that's due in large part to him tearing his pectoral muscle in the second game. With another offseason under Bill O'Brien and two talented young pass-catchers in DeAndre Hopkins and Jaelen Strong, Mallett could have himself a nice little fantasy season. His value is probably at its peak as a matchup-based starter or daily fantasy stack with Hopkins and Strong, though.
Alex Gelhar is a fantasy writer/editor for NFL.com, movie buff and a notorious practitioner of hyperbole. Follow him on Twitter @AlexGelhar to discuss movies, get fantasy advice or have the greatest online conversation in the history of the universe!!!