I had a long think about this the other day, but who do you think is the biggest sleeper in the WWE? I would have said Cody Rhodes before he left the company. He was never used correctly and the dude is just 30 years old. With him gone, it has to be Enzo and Cass. And I only bring this up because the WWE recently announced it would split the roster in two with the RAW and SmackDown! brands getting exclusive rosters. Which is amazing. (Unless you're reading this in August and this is old news, but hopefully I've gone back and changed this lede if that's the case.)
Moments after the announcement, though, I immediately reached out to my friend Jake Ciely (he's pretty good at the fantasy thing, you should check him out) to do a WWE brand mock-draft. It was a lot of fun. You can check it out at Facebook.com/adamrank. You might need to dive for it, depending on when you're reading this. It was fun, but it also taught me a huge lesson. Really, I made a huge mistake with my fifth pick (figures) when I selected John Cena, when I should have gone with Enzo and Cass (tag teams count as one pick).
What's crazy is that this goes against one of my biggest rules for fantasy. Never wait too long to draft the sleepers that you want. I'd rather reach on a guy a round or two too early instead of the tired notion of waiting for "value." And I never reach for a familiar veteran when A) you don't believe in him/her or B) there is a better younger performer with higher upside. Even though that's my credo, I went against it.
So when you're sitting there in the seventh, eighth or ninth round and you really want to take a chance on Paul Perkins or something, don't worry about the comments your friends will make. Draft your guy. There is nothing worse than waiting for a guy to fall to you, only to have him snatched up. And then you get stuck with the NFL fantasy version of John Cena. I don't know who that would be. Maybe Steve Smith? Larry Fitzgerald? I don't know. I like both of those guys, unlike Cena.
(Oh yeah, if you don't want to go dig through my Facebook page -- can't blame you -- my first two picks were Kevin Owens and the New Day. But damn, I would have loved to have Enzo and Cass. Bada bing, bada boom, realest guys in the room! How you doin'? Not great because I took Cena. I'm so stupid.)
We will move on to the NFL sleepers now. I guess. I'd like to continue to talk wrestling, but I don't think that's what I'm getting paid for. Let's do it.
Derek Carr, QB, Las Vegas Raiders: Oops, that should read Oakland Raiders. My bad. But I'm rather bullish on this squad for the coming year. I do kind of wish the Raiders had followed the Cowboys' lead and gone all-in with a running back to complete their trio with Carr and Amari Cooper (who is going to beast this year). I'm just not impressed too much with Latavius Murray.
Carr is on the verge of a breakout season with Cooper alongside him. Or out wide of him. Or whatever. But this is going to be a pretty great combination. I know some folks were disappointed in Cooper at the end of last year. But you need to realize not everybody can put up OBJ-like numbers as a rookie and it's an unrealistic expectation. So when Cooper starts to come into his own, Carr will benefit. He really does have some nice weapons around him, though most of them are unheralded. A big plus is the Raiders did a nice job of improving the offensive line. They've added some nice pieces, some of their young pieces are starting to come into their own. Get on board with this Raiders team.
Clive Walford, TE, Oakland Raiders: Let's hope that he's recovered from his ATV accident. And here's the deal, NFL players. I understand that you all love these activities. But can you at least take a break from pyrotechnics, weed and ATVs for the next decade? Hit that big paycheck, retire young and do what you want. But while you're still in the NFL, can you please be a little safer? Though I suppose that maverick attitude is what helped propel them to the top of their profession, but still.
In any event, Walford had some nice games during his rookie season. He thrived in the Danger Zone but now he's ready to go legit. Coach Jack Del Rio called him a "complete" player and his role in the offense is ready to expand. I really like what the Raiders have going on. Not only the whole moving to Las Vegas thing, but what they are doing on the field, too.
Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears: I don't think I'm ever going to get over how much Mike Martz really ruined Cutler's career. That stupid offense that nearly got him destroyed. Trading away Greg Olsen wasn't great, either. Martz systematically ruined the Bears for a long ass time with those stupid moves. Figures. You can't trust anybody from St. Louis. But the joke is on them because where is their football team now? Where is it?
Cutler has yet another offensive coordinator with Dowell Loggains but it's not too bad. Most people felt Loggains was the true "G" as the quarterback's coach. Plus head coach John Fox is really the one who provides the stability.
The Bears also bolstered their offensive line, as shifting Kyle Long back to guard is a great move. The Bears did trade yet another tight end, Martellus Bennett. I get the feeling nobody in Chicago is too bummed about this. Zach Miller developed some chemistry with Cutler quickly, so it's not completely dire. If the team can just stay healthy this year, there should be some reason for optimism. Kevin White is also back with the team. So you have a quarterback who had one of his best seasons to date with terrible circumstances. Plus you have two players in Miller and White who are sleeper candidates as well. The Bears are going to do what the Vikings did last year.
Jay Ajayi, RB, Miami Dolphins: If one more person goes on about his degenerative knee issue, I'm going to take a piece of gum, shove it in my mouth and chew it loudly to annoy everybody in my vicinity. Mostly because I'd rather take the passive aggressive approach on this. Yes, there is a medical issue there. And if you're playing in a dynasty league, this probably bummed you out last year. But for those of you in redraft leagues; you have no excuse. How many one-man wolf packs at running back exist in the NFL? Not many. These are rare commodities. Like finding an authentic Star Wars lunch box from the 1980s, and not a replica that you bought at Hobby Lobby. Though, I own a replica. But the point still stands.
Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals: This is a weird one to say because he's had success on the NFL level, but he's being undervalued in most drafts. Don't fall for the Jeremy Hill thing. He's only effective when the Bengals are winning. Which the team won't be doing a lot of this season. I know a lot of Cincy fans were upset (putting is mildly, like the brown salsa at Baja Fresh) when I said this team would be 4-12 bad early in the offseason. I'm still sticking with this prediction. The team does have a lot of talent, that's true. So do all of teams in the league. Well, maybe not Cleveland. But every team is loaded. The margin for error is razor-thin in the NFL. So with a debilitating loss to the Steelers in the playoffs, combined with the loss of some offensive talent and the departure of Hue Jackson, this Bengals team is going to step back this year. I'm sorry to be the one to have to tell you.
The good news for fantasy enthusiasts is if (just kidding, WHEN) the Bengals do struggle, that means a lot more passing situations. Which means more snaps for Gio. Are you following me here?
Duke Johnson, RB, Cleveland Browns: Sometimes I feel like Hue Jackson is throwing a lot of bull (expletive) at the wall. First he tried to justify his Cody Kessler draft pick. Which was akin to one of your friends dating the wrong person and yet, no matter how much you and your friends try to protest, your friend just keeps defending that person. That's Jackson with Kessler. And you have to let him make his own mistakes. Although, I spent some time with Kessler at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere in Los Angeles and the dude is delightful. He's also a huge fan of "Impractical Jokers" which made me like him even more.
But we're talking about running backs here. Hue was very bullish on his guys. And I like Johnson a lot this year. Our dear friend, the Franchise, said don't expect Duke to be a three-down back. But that's cool. He doesn't need to be. We've received fantasy miles from guys like Danny Woodhead who isn't a three-down back, either. He's in a similar situation to Woody and Gio (which sounds like a vaudeville duo from the 1920s), where he plays for a bad team that will probably be forced to throw the ball a lot. Which means more snaps for the Duke. And here is where you want Kessler to play. He's a check-down master.
Matt Jones, RB, Washington: Well, I'm going to hope he has fixed his fumbling issues. But I'm not going to let that deter me. As I draft receivers very early, I often see Jones as one of my top running back options. I've seen a wide variance in his ADP. There are some lists where he's not a high draft pick, but if you look at us nerds on Fantasy Football Calculator, he's going in the fourth round. I'm down for that. He's a complete back who can be on the field for all three downs. He will improve on his 3.4 yards-per-carry average from last year. Plus he also offers a lot of value as a receiver out of the backfield. Let people be scared of him. Scared gets you second place. Although running backs that fumble get you out of the playoffs. The point is, I'm going to take a leap of faith, much like Washington did when they jettisoned Freddy Morris.
DeVante Parker, WR, Miami Dolphins: The Adam Gase effect will be felt in Miami. Jarvis Landry is already undervalued, but keep an eye out for Parker. He along with Kevin White of the Bears will head into this season with something to prove. Some folks will be hyper for Leonte Carroo, and he's good. But he's more of a threat to Kenny Stills, not DeVante. Parker is going to play the X-position Deymarius Thomas excelled in when Gase was the offensive coordinator in Denver. Parker is going to make a leap this year. You should make the same leap in the draft.
All right, I might need to show myself the door after that one. Really, really bad pun. Or metaphor. Or whatever it's called.
Justin Hardy, WR, Atlanta Falcons: I've mentioned this to people before and they are like, but this team signed Mo Sanu! And I'm like, "exactly." That's exactly why I would want Hardy. He did stand out at Falcons OTAs, and drew the praise of quarterback Matt Ryan. But those kind of things should be taken with a grain of salt. Much like the way Marvel fans rave about those movies. Yes, "Thor 2" was amazing! Because quarterbacks need to talk up their receivers. Coach Dan Quinn was a little more honest, and said Hardy needs help in separating himself in man coverage. But he's going to get his chances playing opposite one of the best receivers in the game.
Rishard Matthews, WR, Tennessee Titans: Yes, I know that I'll end up with DGB on the majority of my teams because I love to double-down on dudes with huge upside. But Matthews will be the most productive of the Titans receivers this season. I went back and watched his games from Week 2 and Week 3 last year and he was just money. I know he tailed off a bit (a lot), but there was some promise there. Most of the problems were because the Dolphins just didn't seem to have a cohesive plan. But I do like him being the most-targeted guy of a young quarterback. The biggest drawback here is the Titans desire to run the ball a lot.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: He's battled injuries during his first two seasons, so he's going to tumble in your fantasy drafts. But the talent is definitely there. Coach Dirk Koetter talked up Cameron Brate during the offseason, but that leads me to believe that he's just trying to start a fire under ASJ. It's like Koetter is that dude in the rom-com who is trying to get the attention of his best friend who he secretly likes but is too scared to ask her out. So now he's trying to make himself more desirable by causally mentioning Brate to reporters. It's almost sad. I hope ASJ uses this as motivation. I have a feeling this Bucs team could be very good this year, with a lot of the guys like ASJ, Mike Evans and Doug Martin having good years.
Jared Cook, TE, Green Bay Packers: This dude has been one of the biggest disappointments in fantasy history. Like every year, you'd be desperate for a tight end and there would be Cook. Just sitting there, taunting you on the waiver wire. Remember the scene from "Go" when Todd Gaines (a young Timmy Olyphant) complained about how the "Family Circus" ruined the funny pages for him? Because it was always sitting there taunting him? That's how many of us felt about Cook. He had so much promise. And there would be weeks where he would actually deliver. But most of it was straight dookie sticks. But I'm going to get sucked in again this year. Aaron Rodgers is an upgrade over any St. Louis QB, I will surely reason. This isn't going to end well, is it?
Jacksonville Jaguars D/ST: Dude, I'm going to draft the Duval defense for sure in my fantasy drafts. Typically, I'd be streaming. But this team seems a lot like the Chiefs a couple of years ago when they were one of the MVP defenses of the season. Just look at the guys Jacksonville has added this year. This defense is going to be crazy scary. And don't front and act like you've been along for the ride. You haven't. But it's not too late to get on board now.
All right, I've spent a lot of time and words on a number of different players. I'm going to race through some of my favorite rookies for the coming season. I promise to keep it short.