Last season, I really enjoyed writing my weekly "Deep Dive" column, highlighting players to target on the waiver wire before they became a hot fantasy commodity. I had my share of misses, but plenty of my picks went on to great fantasy success. So as fantasy football season starts picking up steam, I wanted to help you all identify some of my favorite deep sleeper candidates to grab late in drafts, or off of the waiver wire early in the season. Many of these names have something inhibiting their potential success, but they all have the chance to make some serious waves in the stat sheets. So rather than blathering on here any more, let's turn it over to the real stars of this piece: my top 10 deep sleeper candidates for the 2015 season.
You can also see the rest of the NFL Fantasy experts' deep sleeper candidates at the bottom of this article.
Steve Johnson, WR, San Diego Chargers
People are suffering from recency bias when it comes to Steve Johnson, as his last two years have led many to believe he's a) old, b) washed up, or c) both a and b. However, if you take a look at Johnson's tape via GamePass, you'll see a player who more closely resembles the guy who averaged a stat line of 79/1,041/7.6 from 2010 to 2012, and not some sort of beaten-down receiver walking toward the light. Johnson is only 28-years-old and very much still in the prime of his career. I'd rather buy Johnson at his late-round ADP instead of buying into a "bounce-back" season from Keenan Allen roughly 10 rounds earlier. Since Vincent Jackson left San Diego, the difference in fantasy points between Philip Rivers' top two wide receivers has been on average 21.4 per season. That's just over 1.3 fantasy points per game. Johnson is a precise route-runner who has already built a rapport with Rivers, and should thrive in Mike McCoy's offense. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if at the end of the season it was Johnson who had more fantasy points than Allen. Seriously.
Crockett Gillmore, TE, Baltimore Ravens
It's been a lonely ride for me piloting this Crockett Gillmore hype-train all offseason, but perhaps some of you will finally hop on board. Marc Trestman is now the offensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens, a team in need of a tight end to step up to the plate with Dennis Pittalanding on the PUP with his hip injury. Enter Gillmore, the 6-foot-6 275 pound second-year tight end out of Colorado State who feels just as fast as he did when he weighed 251 as a a rookie. Prior to joining the Ravens, Trestman coaxed back-to-back career years out of Martellus Bennett, a similarly built athletic tight end, in Chicago. With rookie Maxx Williams still adjusting to the pro game (and needing to improve his blocking), Gillmore should start and likely see a healthy amount of targets in the Ravens' passing attack (Owen Daniels had 79 last season). Gillmore's ADP is basically free, so if you end up waiting on a tight end or want to stream the position, keep an eye out for him in the last few rounds or on the waiver wire.
Brandon Coleman, WR, New Orleans Saints
With Kenny Stills and Jimmy Graham out of New Orleans, the team needs another young wideout to emerge alongside Brandin Cooks and the aging Marques Colston. That will likely be Brandon Coleman, a 6-foot-6 second-year player and undrafted free-agent out of Rutgers. Sean Payton recently called Coleman the player he was most impressed with in training camp, and Coleman has worked his way into the starting lineup during the preseason. Coleman has not recorded a statistic in a regular season NFL game yet, and is the definition of a late-round flier. But when said flier has the chance to catch a ton of passes from a future Hall of Famer, he's worth investing a draft pick in.
Marvin Jones, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Marvin Jones missed all of 2014 with foot and ankle injuries, but according to offensive coordinator Hue Jackson he's staring to look like himself again. That's great news for Andy Dalton, and fantasy owners looking for late-round value at the wide receiver position. Jones was emerging as a legitimate fantasy option in 2013, posting 712 yards and 10 touchdowns. Given how loaded the Bengals offense now is, Jones has a chance to feast with teams focusing on stopping A.J. Green, Jeremy Hill and Tyler Eifert. While 10 touchdowns is definitely a stretch for Jones this season, he could provide nice situational value as a WR3 or flex in 2015.
Virgil Green, TE, Denver Broncos
Make no mistake -- Owen Daniels is the No. 1 tight end in the Broncos offense. However, Virgil Green could make some noise in fantasy this season. The athletic tight end re-signed with the team this offseason, and will provide nice insurance behind the aging and oft-injured Daniels. Green would likely need Daniels to miss time in order to reach TE1 status, but he will offer good value off of waivers or late in deeper drafts. He has flashed in the preseason and could make a case for more playing time and targets as the season wears on.
Lorenzo Taliaferro, RB, Baltimore Ravens
Justin Forsett was a revelation last year for the Ravens, but Gary Kubiak took his zone-blocking scheme with him to Denver, and even though Trestman plans to keep the same scheme in Baltimore, it won't be 100 percent the same. I still like Forsett a lot this year, but let's not forget he's a 29-year-old journeyman who had a career year in 2014. It's entirely possible, especially with Trestman wanting the offense to be run-first, that this could turn into a committee with Lorenzo Taliaferro subbing in as the more bruising back. It's only preseason, but Matt Franciscovich noted how Taliaferro received seven of the team's nine red-zone rushing attempts in the first exhibition game, and scored on a 1-yard plunge. Taliaferro represents a nice value late in drafts, and could be a huge contributor as the season wears on if he starts seeing more regular work. Just be aware that he could miss the first few weeks of the regular season after suffering an MCL sprain in the Raven's second preseason game.
Denard Robinson, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
I'm just not sold on T.J. Yeldon running away with all of the touches in this backfield. Denard Robinson was successful as the lead back for stretches of 2014, but will be at his best as a utility player for the Jaguars. I could see him sliding into a Darren Sproles-like role, where he gets a fair share of rushing attempts and frequently finds mismatches against linebackers out of the backfield in the passing game. For that, he's worth a flier, especially in PPR formats.
Richard Rodgers, TE, Green Bay Packers
I know Rank put him as a sleeper, but I feel better with Richard Rodgers in the deep category. With Jordy Nelson lost for the season, his 151 targets will likely be spread around between Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, Davante Adams and Jeff Janis/Ty Montgomery. Rodgers has apparently been a beast in the red zone during offseason work, and could emerge as a touchdown-machine in the Packers high-scoring offense.
Jeff Janis, WR, Green Bay Packers
Speaking of Janis, while rookie Ty Montgomerycurrently has the edge in getting snaps in three-wide receiver sets (which the Packers run A LOT), Janis should still be able to find a way onto the field. Janis was a size-speed freak with measurables that Twitter was all abuzz about heading into the 2014 NFL Draft. Janis' measurables even drew a comparison to Julio Jones. Janis is still a bit raw, but improving, and more time with Aaron Rodgers could beget a potentially fruitful fantasy season. Janis is largely going undrafted in standard leagues, but he's one of the best deep sleepers to target as the season approaches, along with Montgomery. Someone will emerge for the Packers, and my guess is Janis (for now).
Ronnie Hillman, RB, Denver Broncos
First off, I love C.J. Anderson as a player, and think he's phenomenal. However, Ronnie Hillman has been making a strong push for more reps, and I have a strong fear that Gary Kubiak will give them to him. Hillman is worth a late-round flier in case he starts eating heavily into Anderson's presumed workload. Also, if Anderson happens to go down, Hillman would be catapulted up to fringe RB1 status.