We've done it. We've waded through the long, hot, desolate, football-less summer. In just a few days, we'll have actual football -- not the football-like substance we've had the last few weeks. It's a good thing, too, because my fantasy Take Tank is running on fumes. There's only so much I can talk about why we're overdrafting Javonte Williams or beg the Packers not to keep hyping Romeo Doubs so I can still get him at a good ADP.
I'm even worn out on hyping a lot of my fellow USC Trojans. Everyone loves Michael Pittman. We've settled on a narrative for Amon-Ra St. Brown. We're all optimistic about JuJu Smith-Schuster and hoping Robert Woods can bounce back for one more good run. Hell, I just want Drake London to get healthy so we can see how he meshes with the offense. Sorry, Ronald Jones ... the Take-O-Meter is pretty much stuck on neutral for you.
Now we stand on the precipice of a new season, staring straight down into the abyss of Week 1. It's in that vein that I bring you sleepers. As I was putting together this week's list, I wondered whether there was a tougher week to compile sleepers than the first one. Everyone has hope. Everyone has been looking great coming out of camp. So much has changed, but we won't really know how it shakes out until we see these teams on the field, intact, and under the lights. We think everything about the fantasy season, yet know nothing.
Of course, we'll get to Week 15 and I'm trying to figure out how to sell you all on Zay Jones for the third time in the past month. Those weeks are pretty gross, too, but let's not think about that right now. Let's toast to all the good wishes we have going into a new campaign. May all your sleepers be all that you dreamed. Now let's get to the names.
You’re never quite sure which version of Jameis will show up in a game. It might be the good Jameis or the bad Jameis. Sometimes you’ll get both in the same game. Either way, it’s been a while since we got a long look at any version of Jameis. But there’s reason to think that we can get Good Jameis in his return from last year’s season-ending ACL injury. That reason? The Falcons defense.
Last year, the Falcons were a soft target against opposing passing games. The Dirty Birds allowed a 67.8 percent completion percentage -- fifth-highest in the league. This year’s defense doesn’t project to be much better. With Michael Thomas healthy and rookie Chris Olave in tow, the Saints should have an efficient aerial attack. Look for Jameis and company to get off to a hot start -- sending quarterback-insecure fantasy managers racing to the waiver wire for help.
Not all of Lawrence’s struggles last season can be blamed on him. Nonetheless, it was still a lost rookie year for the former Clemson star. As such, the Jaguars overhauled their entire coaching staff, bringing in Doug Pederson to turn the quarterback around. That didn’t translate to excitement for fantasy drafters as Lawrence went undrafted in most leagues.
But for anyone taking a wait-and-see attitude on the second-year starter, keep your eyes peeled this weekend. One year after looking like a defensive juggernaut in the making, Washington took a defensive nosedive last year. Maybe losing Chase Young meant that much. Bad news for the Commanders: They’ll be without him again in Week 1. That, combined with a revamped and revitalized Jaguars offense could stand as the Lawrence coming-out party we waited all year for.
Collins steadily gained steam during draft season as a solid late round option. It wasn’t Dameon Pierce levels of steam ... but pretty good nonetheless. That’s because Collins projects as the No. 2 pass catcher in an otherwise unremarkable Texans offense. This isn’t 100 percent a “they have to throw to someone other than Brandin Cooks” argument. But it kinda is.
Cooks will get his targets and will again finish in the neighborhood of 80 catches and 1,000 yards. But Pep Hamilton’s offenses aren’t afraid to throw the ball. In 11 starts last year, Davis Mills averaged nearly 33 pass attempts per game. With Houston projected to be trailing in most games, it’s a safe bet to think Mills will sling the rock plenty again this year. The game script should definitely call for plenty of fourth quarter passing in Week 1 against the Colts. If Indy’s secondary hasn’t improved much over last year, Collins could be in line for some garbage time scoring.
This offseason, a frustrated Miles Sanders told fantasy managers not to draft him. I obliged. Everything we’ve seen from the Eagles organization in Sanders’ career suggests that the team had no interest in using him as anything more than a platoon back. That’s even before you get to Jalen Hurts and his rushing ability. But it did make Gainwell a tempting option late in drafts.
Gainwell’s upside is his target share. He was Philly’s pass-catching back of choice last year, outpacing Sanders with 33 catches on 50 targets. Gainwell’s hidden value was his usage in the fourth quarter. In games where both played, Gainwell had a nearly even snap share in the final frame. That meant that in crucial situations, the Eagles trusted Gainwell just as much as Sanders. If things go according to plan this week and the Eagles have a lead, Gainwell could see a number of opportunities. That’s enough to give him flex consideration in deep leagues.
Moore might not be a traditional sleeper. He had a very good rookie season and plenty of fantasy drafters have high hopes for him this season. Even with rookie Garrett Wilson occupying space across the way, Moore has a chance to improve on last season’s totals. Of course, the Jets may still be looking up at the rest of the teams in their division. And they have a schedule that suggests they could be frequently playing from behind. That should work in Moore’s favor.
Expect Week 1 to give us a glimpse of what the fantasy season should look like for the Jets receivers. They start with a (mostly) healthy Ravens squad that can score points behind a couple of potent pass catchers and a solid running game. If Baltimore jumps out to a lead and tries to shorten the game, it’ll likely land on the shoulders of Joe Flacco and the Jets' passing game to rally in the second half. You likely didn’t draft Moore to be one of your two primary receivers, but he could be better than some of them this week.
I’ve been riding the Albert O train for much of the preseason. He is an incredible athlete who dazzled during the testing portion at the combine in 2020. But like many of the Broncos’ pass catchers, his potential has been partially stifled by poor quarterback play. Also like a lot of the other Broncos' pass catchers we like, we’re hoping Russell Wilson can unlock the third-year tight end. After all, there was a reason we tried to make Will Dissly a thing for so many years in Seattle.
Speaking of Seattle, that will be Denver’s first matchup this season. Apart from Wilson trying to remind his former squad what they gave up, the Seahawks were also a fount of fantasy tight end production in 2021. Seattle allowed nine touchdowns to the position last year -- tied for fourth-most. If Denver can run up and down the field against the ‘Hawks as expected, look for a lot of Wilson’s targets to eat in Week 1.
It didn’t seem like there was much room in the discourse for Freiermuth when we talked about the Steelers' fantasy fortunes. We were distracted by Najee Harris’ (overblown) weight narratives. We were dazzled by George Pickens putting out a constant string of highlights. And we were discombobulated trying to follow the quarterback battle between Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett.
Meanwhile we ignored the tight end who exceeded expectations with 60 catches and seven touchdowns last season. After struggling along with Ben Roethlisberger the past two seasons, the Steelers' passing game projects to be a little more efficient this year. That should help everyone running routes. What should also help is a matchup with a Bengals defense that was routinely victimized by tight ends last year. Two of Freiermuth’s seven scores last year came against Cincy. Why not see if he can make it three in a row?
There’s not much reason to get excited about Davis for the full season. But in the short term, he could be a shot in the arm for deep-league fantasy managers. The Ravens signed Davis in the offseason as an insurance policy while J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards rehabbed from season-ending injuries. Since then, Edwards has gone on the PUP list and Dobbins is a question mark for Week 1. That leaves a trio of reserve Ravens runners to handle the load.
Justice Hill should get looks while newly signed Kenyan Drake may grab a few targets. Davis, however, holds some sleeper appeal as a potential goal-line option for Baltimore. Despite Cordarrelle Patterson usurping Davis’ gig last year in Atlanta, the veteran still was the Falcons’ most efficient runner near the end zone, scoring twice on three carries inside the 3-yard line. Yes, that doesn’t sound like much, but it wasn’t far off of Patterson’s five goal-line totes last year. Chances are slim that redraft fantasy managers will be so hard-pressed to find RB help in Week 1. But Davis could be a nice DFS play for anyone trying to think outside the box.
When we’ve talked about Giants receivers this year, Shepard’s name has been conspicuously absent. That’s because he spent most of the offseason returning from an Achilles injury. While his return didn’t generate the same fanfare as Cam Akers or James Robinson, it could be just as important to his respective squad. In case you hadn’t noticed, Big Blue’s receiving corps is a mess. There’s hope that Kadarius Toney can take a step forward this year. Wan’Dale Robinson could have some potential, while most of the outside world has written off Kenny Golladay.
Enter Shepard. Or re-enter Shepard. He’s been one of the Giants most consistent pass catchers during his career. He needs fewer than 50 receptions to move into third on the franchise’s all-time receptions list -- a feat that is very much within reach if he stays healthy. Despite the injury last season, he still finished with just one fewer catch than Golladay -- in half the number of games. This is all a long way of saying that maybe we’ve overlooked Shepard too much. Perhaps a matchup against a Titans secondary that struggled at times last year could put his blip faintly back on our fantasy radar.
Most fantasy drafters haven’t considered Jordan. There is probably a large contingent of football fans who had to Ask Jeeves which team he plays for. (Hint: It rhymes with Texans.) While we were losing our minds over Dameon Pierce -- literally, it seems -- there were a couple of other Texans trying to carve out a path for themselves. One of them was Jordan. He spent the first chunk of the season inactive but started to make a splash in the back half of the year. From Week 9 until the end of the year, Jordan was third on the team in total targets and tied for second in receiving touchdowns.
Texans head coach Lovie Smith has expressed some concerns about Jordan as a blocker, which could have some impact on his overall snap share. But his skills as a pass catcher should mean he gets plenty of chances to make plays. That could especially be the case in the Week 1 matchup with an explosive Colts offense. If it turns into a scorefest, Jordan could find himself heavily involved.
Marcas Grant is a fantasy analyst for NFL.com and a man who has no plans to sleep until January. Send him your current life situation or fantasy football questions on Twitter @MarcasG or TikTok at marcasgrant.