We're six weeks into this NFL season, and it feels like we've overturned every rock, and investigated every corner of every depth chart to find hidden gem plays. Of course, the reality is there are still some players that we overlook every week. Heading into the Week 7 action, I think there are a multitude of situations and matchups to exploit with under-the-radar players.
Looking ahead to this weekend's action, there are 10 sleepers I like to outperform what the masses expect from them in Week 7, including several I feel very strongly about, with a personal favorite to kick off the list.
Colonel Sanders' Super Secret Sleeper
The Chiefs offense is a wasteland for its ancillary players. Through the first five weeks of the NFL season, Jeremy Maclin, Travis Kelce and Jamaal Charles accounted for 75 percent of the team's passing targets. There's just no room for peripheral players to make any sort of impact with Alex Smith at quarterback when the offensive stable is full. Of course, that is not the case right now. We know that Charles is out for the season, but Maclin suffered a concussion in the second half of the Week 6 loss to Minnesota, and hasn't practiced as of this publication.
If Maclin sits out Sunday, Albert Wilson looks like the direct beneficiary. After Maclin went down, Wilson garnered six targets for 57 yards and a long catch and run for a score. I profiled Wilson in my sophomore wide receiver series this summer, and noticed some advanced nuances to his game. Despite meager stats this season, Wilson still holds all the attributes to be a viable NFL receiver, the opportunities just aren't there in this offense. However, that could change this week if Maclin is out (this sleeper pick depends entirely on that).
Going against a Steelers defense that looks improved, but still has holes, Wilson could be a plug-and-play addition from the waiver wire. He's currently only owned in 0.1 percent of NFL.com leagues. In daily fantasy, he's an excellent punt play at wide receiver, offering incredible flexibility in building the rest of your roster. It's not outside of the realm of possibilities that Wilson garners double-digit targets this weekend. In the four career games he's seen at least five targets, Wilson has 266 yards and a touchdown. He can produce when given proper opportunity. That chance could be on the horizon this week.
Personal note: I'll admit that I'm quietly pretty smitten with this player, and am desperately ready to see him get a chance. Perhaps my unbridled optimism is creeping into this evaluation, but there's plenty of rational reasons for it working out. I'll be going down with this ship in DFS.
Here's your desperation quarterback play of the week. It was impossible to miss the immediate change in the Steelers once potent offense when Landry Jones replaced an injured Mike Vick in the second half of last week's game. To that point, Vick was ineffective and not permitted to, or unable to, run the full playbook or threaten the defense deep with regularity. Jones is mostly known for his dreadful preseason performances, so it was stunning to see him lead the Steelers to a win over the Cardinals, but it happened.
If Ben Roethlisberger sits for another game, Jones will draw the call for Pittsburgh. He'll make his first starting appearance against one of the NFL's leakiest secondaries. The Chiefs have been taken to task all season by opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers. Kansas City allows a league-leading 34.37 standard fantasy points per game to opposing receivers, and rank third in touchdowns per target and sixth in fantasy points per target. They don't pressure quarterbacks like they used to, as their sack per pass attempt rate sits at a middling 18th in the NFL. The matchup is right for Jones (who pushed the ball downfield with 9.3 air yards per attempt in Week 6) to make good in his inaugural duty as a spot starter.
Helping Jones out will be one of the NFL's most potent set of offensive skill position players. Antonio Brown is still one of the league's top receivers, and has a great chance to rebound with the ineffective Vick dethroned. Le'Veon Bell is the best running back in the game today, and an elite threat as a receiver out of the backfield; the perfect running mate for a young quarterback. Martavis Bryant returned to the Steelers lineup, and promptly displayed why the team refers to him as "The Alien." In a not normal human move, Bryant caught a simple slant route from Landry Jones, and housed it for 88-yards despite a crowd of defenders swarming him the entire way. When picking a quarterback streamer, it's hard to turn down a player thrust into a league-best offense talent-wise staring down a matchup with an extra generous pass defense. Jones checks all the boxes, and is on the streaming and bargain DFS radar.
Over Brian Hoyer's last six and a half quarters of football, he's thrown for 605 yards, five touchdowns and only one interception with a 71.6 completion percentage. Throughout the season, the Texans offense functioned higher when Hoyer, not Ryan Mallett, was behind center. It's also no coincidence that DeAndre Hopkins' two best games of the year coincided with that same six and a half quarter stretch of strong play from Hoyer. Hopkins looks every bit the part of a transformational talent who can elevate those around him to glory.
If you're in need of a quarterback streamer, Hoyer makes more sense than many others will tout ahead of him. Even better, he's almost certainly available in the vast majority of leagues across the sphere, including 97.5 percent of those on NFL.com. In Week 7, Hoyer draws a matchup with the Dolphins, who can be had through the air. Until last week, Miami wasn't putting heat on opposing quarterbacks, sacking quarterbacks on only 4.3 percent of the pass attempts against them (ranked 25th in the NFL). The outside corners aren't holding up against wide receivers, allowing the 12th-highest fantasy points per target to receivers. Brice McCain and a declining Brent Grimes can't hold down DeAndre Hopkins, and the emerging wideout continues to prove he's good enough to carry Hoyer to usable fantasy lines.
It might finally be Christine Michael week. As a community, we're all just finally ready for the grand unveil to happen. There's been no middle ground on Fantasy Twitter when it comes to Michael. You're either a truther insistent he's an all-world talent ready to run away with his opportunity, or you're someone who takes great pleasure at laughing at said truthers with a dismissing wave. Wherever you stand on Michael, we're set to finally start to get some real regular season answers.
The affinity for Christine Michael started long ago. He was one of the most talented running backs in college football, but lost his job at times due to mental wanderings and inconsistency. However, he reminded us of that talent by blowing up his predraft workouts:
At 220 pounds, Michael ranks in the 97th percentile of running backs for explosion. The Seahawks took a gamble on that talent, and selected him in the second round of that 2013 draft. He lit up preseason games, but failed to earn regular season reps behind Marshawn Lynch. The Seahawks grew tired of waiting on Michael to put it together. When they became fascinated with Thomas Rawls this offseason, they shipped Michael off to Dallas. The Michael true believers salivated at the idea of him running behind an offensive line that blew away the league in 2014.
The Cowboys offense hasn't met expectations this season, with the line playing below legendary level and Tony Romo and Dez Bryant sidelined with injuries. But one of their plans to breathe life into the offense includes more work for Christine Michael. The running backs coach hinted at that idea, and Jason Garrett confirmed they needed "to take advantage of" Michael's raw power on this side of the bye week.
By all accounts, we'll finally get a glimpse of Christine Michael in extended action this week when the Cowboys face the Giants. We know better than to always trust what we hear, and the assumption of rational coaching can burn us, but monitor this story extensively. This running game won't fire on all cylinders this season until Romo and Dez return to open up the field, so he's not a must plug-and-play this week. However, whatever side of the Twitter war you fall on, Michael is one of the few backs that at least presents a chance at season-changing upside.
With the injury to Zach Zenner, and the struggle of Joique Bell and Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick is the last running back standing. We covered him extensively in this space last week, but he's right back on our radars once again. There's every bit the chance that Riddick leads the Lions in backfield touches this week as the only reliable player they have to lean on. He's an RB2 in PPR leagues, and a fine desperation flex in standard leagues with the hope he gets into the end zone.
Melvin Gordon's rookie season just hasn't gotten off to a hot start. A preseason full of stutter-stepping led to a regular season where he's averaging under four yards per carry. The team's lack of a full commitment to their first round pick was evident, as he didn't see a red zone touch until Week 4. Things came to a head in Week 6, when Gordon was pulled after fumbling twice in San Diego's loss to Green Bay.
Of course, Danny Woodhead stepped up as a usual in light of Gordon's benching. However, he had the same number of rushing attempts as Branden Oliver in that game. We forgot about Oliver with the addition of Gordon and the reemergence of Woodhead, but he had stretches of competent play last year. He filled in for two games as the feature back, and took 53 touches for 306 yards and three touchdowns. He also closed out the final two games of the season with two games with 70-plus yards, and posted an 80 percent catch rate over the 14 contests he appeared in.
We know Oliver can play at the NFL level. If the coaching staff is reluctant to trust Gordon completely this week, Oliver will get a chance to remind us of that against the Raiders in Week 7. At worst, he'll be a part of a committee approach playing in one of the league's top offenses. Don't go all in on Oliver for Week 7, especially without closely monitoring the practice reports, but remember to keep him on your waiver wire speed dial.
Here's a case where it helps to look beyond the surface level. The Chargers rank eighth in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing wide receivers. However, much of that is on the back of the dominance of emerging second-year corner, Jason Verett and the surprisingly strong play from free agent addition Patrick Robinson at slot corner. There's been a clear weakness in the San Diego secondary, and its veteran corner Brandon Flowers. Per Rotoworld's Graham Barfield, Flowers gave up .314 fantasy points per snap in the first six games, which is the second most among cornerbacks that played at least 119 snaps.
San Diego used top corner Jason Verrett to shadow Antonio Brown two weeks ago, split snaps with Flowers against Calvin Johnson in Week 1 and shadowed A.J. Green in Week 2. Those three, all among the NFL's top tier of receivers, totaled eight catches, for 129 yards and a single touchdown in their games against Verrett. If the Chargers give Raiders rookie Amari Cooper the Verrett treatment that frees up veteran Michael Crabtree to do work against Flowers.
Through the first five weeks, Crabtree actually led the team in passing targets over Cooper. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave indicated this week, "We just want to keep building his role in the offense." He's heavily involved in the red zone offense, but hasn't produced a score inside the 20s yet. The matchup dictates there's a good chance that changes this week.
We'll follow this train again for Week 7, because it paid off in spades last week. Michael Floyd scored his first touchdown of the season and played 75 percent of the team's snaps. Floyd almost had three touchdowns in this game, but had two called back. The Ravens present one of the easiest matchups for opposing receivers, allowing a 62.7 percent catch rate and the second-most fantasy points to the position. If you're in need of a spot start, Floyd has upside again this week.
With both Sammy Watkins and Percy Harvin not expected to play in London with the Bills, Robert Woods and Chris Hogan come into focus. Woods presents a safer floor, as he's a reliable receiver with a higher snap share in the team's offense this season. However, we've seen time and time again that Hogan can make plays in a pinch when he gets on the field. In just this season, Hogan has .41 fantasy points per snap, while Woods carries a meager .08 points per snap. Both face a favorable matchup with a Jaguars secondary that just made Brian Hoyer look like a Pro Bowl passer. Hogan presents a little more upside if you're in need of a desperation bye-week filler.
Everyone and their mother will be all over Antonio Gates this week, and for good reason. Gates is already the 14th ranked fantasy tight end after just two games, and saw 27 targets over that span. He hasn't lost a step, has the trust of Philip Rivers explicitly, and faces the Raiders this week. They "shut down" Owen Daniels prior to their bye week, but Daniels is all but finished as a starting tight end, and is a distant third on the Broncos in targets. Before that game, Oakland gave up career outings to multiple players, and allow a touchdown on a league-leading 12.5 percent of the tight end targets against them.
Of course, Gates is a great play in this matchup. However, don't forget about Ladarius Green. In the two games with the veteran tight end back in the fold, Green played 68 percent of the team's snaps compared to 67 percent for Gates. He also snagged eight catches for 85 yards and a touchdown. The team still wants to keep Green involved, and used him out of the slot on several routes against Green Bay last week.
In addition to Green's still steady role in the offense, he may get a boost this week by default. Gates reportedly tweaked his knee on the final drive of the Green Bay game, and did not practice on Wednesday. If he doesn't play, Green becomes a strong candidate for a top-five week at the tight end position. In daily fantasy, Gates' ownership percentage figures to be so high that he almost becomes a prohibitive play. Regardless of Gates' status, it's worth pivoting to Green in multiple lineups.
Wake up and watch with the world. The NFL is live on Yahoo. For the first time ever the NFL is streaming a live game on Yahoo. Bills vs. Jaguars live from London, Sunday October 25th 9:30 am ET.