It's that time of year again, where sleepers dominate nearly every conversation I have in the outside world. Just the other day, this Reverend asked me for a sleeper running back and I threw out the name Rex Burkhead (more on him in a moment), and it lead to a pretty heated exchange between the two of us. And at some point, I had to be all, "Listen, Father. I understand your mistrust of the Patriots backfield. But I'm here for my niece's baptism, so can you get on with the dunking?"
But here is what amuses me. There are people in my life who need the deepest of sleepers like Matt Breida. And there are others who can't remember who starts opposite of Jordy Nelson for the Packers. But that's cool. It's like the people who watch professional wrestling. I know dudes who fancy wrestling, but just watch RAW or SmackDown. Then I have my friends who I'm in a Twitter DM group with who freaked the freak out when reDRagon and Adam Cole appeared on NXT Takeover Brooklynn III on Saturday night. (And props to fantasy maven Eric Young who now holds one-half of the NXT tag-team championship.)
So I'm going to try to hit both audiences with some sleepers here. Some will be super obvious to you sharps. Some guys you might be hearing of for the first time. If you're in the former, congratulations to you. Alex Gelhar will be along later this week with some super deep sleepers.
Also, you'll see some names here who did pretty well this past weekend. I assure you, I had them on this list beforehand. I swear. It's not my fault they are coming to fruition. And it leads me to a side point; I know a lot of you love to do your drafts at the last possible moment. Mostly because you want the latest injury news. There is a high-profile running back who is facing a six-game suspension. The downside is it kind of hurts the folks who have followed along all offseason and were hip to a lot of these guys before they got cool. It's like if you saw Blink 182 open for Reel Big Fish back in the day, and not one of these millennials going to the shows now. I saw Scott Raynor, fools!
All right. You've read along enough. Actually, I'm going to reward you for not skimming. ICYMI, I'm looking for folks to fill out one of my leagues. Here are the deets. So follow all of those instructions. The first person to post a photo of Scott Raynor and tag me gets a spot. Because I'm a goofball that way. And I'm really curious if anybody reads this far before they skim. Oh, and you also have to use the hashtag per the instructions. I expect nobody to do this, but I thought I would give it a shot.
Are you ready for some sleepers?
Bradford set an NFL record in completion percentage last season, which was very Alex Smith-like of him. I however, believe that established him as a rather viable bye-week replacement guy, or somebody to target in super-flex leagues (where you can flex a quarterback). There is also room for improvement here, too. Stefon Diggs played through an injury. Adam Thielen was a pleasant surprise. And the Football Outsiders said the Vikings o-line will be improved (mostly because it couldn't be worse). And the running game will feature top rookie runner Dalvin Cook, so I see him finishing in the Top 18. Bradford, not Cook (though I like him). And this is a sleeper's segment, fools. Not a QB1-lock segment. So step off.
I do not fear for #Belitricks. You shouldn't either. Remember how great LeGarrette Blount was last season? Nobody was drafting that dude (outside of me). Burkhead has a chance to be a similar type of back. Not in the "he's going to inherit Blount's role" because the beauty of Belichick is that he doesn't believe in such roles. He finds a unique use for all of his players. He's like the NFL version of Top Chef where you give him a bunch of (what seems to us) random ingredients, and he makes the best team possible. He's going to find something for Burkhead who was going at the end of drafts just recently. But that's about to change. A lot of folks thought Mike Gillislee would inherit "Blount's role" (which isn't a thing because the previous Pats running back to go for double-digit touchdowns was Stevan Ridley back in 2012). Gillislee has struggled to get on the field, but still carries a higher ADP (average draft position) than Burkhead. Which is crazy. I mean, it's like being out on the promenade. Bud Light is being sold in one joint for $12. A place across the street is selling Coors Light for $1. They are both about the same. Why wouldn't you save your money to get the less expensive bargain?
People always lose their (expletive) when it looks like a rookie running back doesn't have a job locked up right out of the gate. Don't be that guy. Or girl. Spencer Ware is the incumbent. But there is a chance Hunt could grow into a larger roll. So again, I'm taking the cheaper priced item and hoping for the best. But expecting the worst because it's me playing fantasy. However, I do remember Ware being rather average down the stretch last year. Not horrific. But he wasn't really winning leagues for you last season. And Hunt looked pretty damn good in Week 2. This is another player who will see his value rise. Man, this is why I love doing drafts early. Because one more great performance and the secret is going to be out.
I'm all for taking a risk on a running back in a good offense. I feel like he could be a compliment to Ty Montgomery. I don't see Monty evolving much past his role of last season. Plus, he's having trouble getting on to the field due to an injury as well. And let's remember, there was a point in life where Dave Shaw, who loves to run the football as evidenced by what he did with Christian McCaffrey, thought Montgomery would be better as a receiver. Don't ever forget that. Montgomery is going to be fine in smallish doses like last year. Williams could come in to be the hammer in the offense and be the guy they wanted to Eddie Lacy to be. Again, I wouldn't expect this Week 1. But he's worth keeping on your bench to see if he could be a factor for the Packers, especially when the weather turns cold. Well, it starts getting cold in September, or at least it seems.
I get admonished for taking too many risks late in drafts. But to me, instead of wasting a pick on a dude like Bobby Turbin, I'll purchase the Powerball ticket on a guy like Carson who has impressed so far for the Seahawks. This is obviously a complicated backfield. But he's competing against Thomas Rawls who I love, but dude is fighting injuries. Again. And then there's Eddie Lacy. I'm not even sure Lacy makes this team. That's right, I said it. Everybody raves about dude losing weight, like he looks like Brad Pitt from "Snatch" or something. But I just don't see it. If Carson continues to play well, he's going to get a role. I'd look for him late.
Ah man, I'm old enough to remember when the Broncos actually had running backs you could count on in fantasy like Terrell Davis and Clinton Portis. And then Mike Shanahan started the RBBC and life ended for the fantasy enthusiasts. The Broncos look to be headed in this direction again with a middling C.J. Anderson, second-year guy Devontae Booker and veteran Jamaal Charles as the big name players currently at the top of the depth chart. And I don't know if it was the "A Football Life: Terrell Davis" that inspired me, but I'm most excited about Henderson. John Elway (you know he's running the show) isn't afraid to make a move. And this sixth-round pick - wait, TERRELL DAVIS WAS A SIXTH ROUND PICK! This is so perfect! In the year Davis goes to the Hall of Fame another sixth-rounder makes his move towards the HOF! All right, let's not get excited. But I'm not touching any of the previously mentioned names and I'll take the lottery ticket on Henderson.
Thielen was a pleasant surprise for the Vikings last year. And I don't think there was anybody more surprised than Thielen himself. Well, that's probably not true. NFL players have a level of confidence I can only pretend to comprehend. Seriously, I saw Mike Rob in the NFL Network locker room the other day and thought to myself, we live on two different plains of existence. Is that the right plain? But he has a lot of confidence about everything in life. I, conversely, feel bad when I need to ask the server to keep the mayo off my burger. So yeah, we live in two different worlds. But Thielen had 967 receiving yards and five touchdowns last year. A big chuck of that occurred in one game against the Packers. But here's the good news. The Vikings play the Packers twice, so shut up. And if Stefon Diggs is healthy and ready to rock this year, I like Thielen even more because the aforementioned receiver will only help Adam. It feels weird to write somebody else's name as Adam.
Britt had 111 targets that he turned it 68 receptions for 1,002 yards and five touchdowns in 2016. And doing that with the combination of Case Keenum and Jared Goff should be considered a minor miracle. Honestly, Keenum and Goff were like the very worst season of "The Bachelorette" ever. And it's not like he really improved his quarterback situation going to the Browns, which I guess the worst season of "Bachelor in Paradise" of all-time. The thing is the departed Terrelle Pryor put up similar numbers in Cleveland last year. Britt should for sure inherit those targets (Pryor had 140) and should be in-line for another 1K yards.
Matthews led the Titans with 108 targets last season, but the team really didn't start using him until Week 5, so those numbers might be a little bit deflated. Now, some might figure those targets to decrease with first-round pick Corey Davis and veteran Eric Decker in the mix. And there is a risk for that. But the evolution of Marcus Mariota as a passer and more three-receiver sets for the Titans mean we could see more attempts this year in Tennessee. I would surmise the targets remain about the same for Matthews, which the new additions will likely siphon away from Delanie Walker and Taj Sharpe.
The rookie was impressive during his first season. Well, he would have been had Odell Beckham Junior not existed. That dude has ruined it for everyone. I mean unless you have like 2,000 receiving yards, 55 touchdowns and make a number of one-handed catches on Sunday Night Football you're going to be viewed as a bust. But Shepard was good. He had eight touchdowns. My conjecture is he gets to that number again. I know, Brandon Marshall is there. But that will actually draw coverage away from him. And with the Giants not being able to run the ball and running so many three-receiver sets, Shepard actually has room to grow this year.
I almost want to avoid Colts this year. Center Ryan Kelly is injured and, dang, I think there was one other guy who is injured. Who was it? Oh yeah, ANDREW LUCK! So we could live in a world where Scott Tolzien (or even Stephen Morris) is the team's quarterback. That's not ideal. But if one of these guys is starting, then that could mean a lot of dump off passes. Which helps Doyle who established himself last year. So there you go. And since I know you're going to ask me about it on Twitter, I would not draft Doyle over Hunter Henry. Hunter is the man. But I feel he's way too obvious.
Thank you for playing along. Oh, and the tie-breaker for the contest above will be to use the phrase "Dude Ranch" in the photo you're going to post.