Nowadays, it seems to be difficult to peg someone as a “sleeper.”
Fantasy owners are doing countless research and mock drafts to the point that almost everybody knows everybody. But, to me, the definition of a sleeper isn’t just a guy that no one has heard of, but rather someone who I believe will drastically outperform their ADP over the course of the season. The season is rapidly approaching.
Let’s not waste anymore time.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Houston Texans– Laugh all you want, but the Amish Rifle actually draws some intrigue in two-quarterback formats this year. Let’s not forget that, despite throwing an interception on 3.4 percent of his passes since 2008, Fitzpatrick was very quietly a top-12 fantasy quarterback back in 2011, while finishing the 2013 campaign very strong, too. In fact, from Week 10 0n, only four other passers accumulated more fantasy points per game than Fitzpatrick. Now, in Houston, he has way better weapons, including a perennial Pro Bowl receiver, an upstart sophomore talent and an elite running back in Arian Foster. And, according to Keith Lipscomb, Fitz-Magic’s 11 games with three or more touchdowns since 2008 are more than the likes of Cam Newton, Jay Cutler and Joe Flacco.
Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals– After a slow start, Palmer completed 66 percent of his passes, averaged 281 passing yards, while tossing 16 touchdowns to eight interceptions during the final nine games of the season. The Cardinals offensive line was poor, and as a result, Palmer was sacked 41 times, while being under pressure on 40 percent of his dropbacks, the 6th-most in the league (via PFF). The constant pressure led to a career-high 22 picks, but when Palmer had a clean pocket, he was very good. According to Pat Thorman of PFF, Palmer completed just over 70 percent of his passes for 21 touchdowns and just seven picks when given a good pocket. That means 15 of his interceptions (68%) came when he was under pressure. Meanwhile, Arizona improved the line, bringing in Jared Veldheer, and Palmer has a pass-happy coach in Bruce Arians, as well as two very capable wide receivers to get the football to. Oh yeah, Palmer and the Cardinals face the entire NFC East, too.
Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills– Oh, look. I’m writing about F-Jax again. The Bills recently extended their captain, and while people seem to be forgetting about last year’s number 11 fantasy back, I never will. Buffalo may have more exciting runners in C.J. Spiller and Bryce Brown, but Jackson is still their best pass protector and goal line back. That’s where he will make his biggest impact. Last year, Jackson ranked fourth among running backs in red zone carries (40), while also ranking third in attempts from inside the 10-yard line (30). Meanwhile, Spiler only has two career carries from three yards shy of the end zone, and Bryce Brown gets pushed to the sidelines too easily to be a goal line back. Also, Buffalo ranked first in the NFL in rushing attempts per game last year, so you know they want to run. At age 32, Jackson still has plenty left in the tank.
Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers– Things are already going Hyde’s way. Kendall Hunter is out for the season, LaMichael James suffered an injury, too, and Hyde appears to be climbing up the depth chart. Rumblings out of San Francisco already hinted towards Hyde seeing goal line work, and the fact that Frank Gore could see at least 50 less carries from last year is good, too. Hyde is a pounding back who fits this run-heavy offense well, scoring 35 touchdowns during his two seasons at Ohio State. If anything were to happen to Gore, Hyde could step in and serve as a RB1 the rest of the way.
Justin Hunter, Tennessee Titans– Hunter is drawing a ton of buzz lately, and for good reason. A 6’4″ freak of nature with 4.44 speed, Hunter has been raving during Titans camp, and could be in line for a massive sophomore season. According to ESPN, fantasy wideouts see the biggest jump in production during their second season, seeing 65 percent more fantasy points than their rookie year. He saw inconsistent playing time during his rookie year due to drop issues, as he posted an ugly drop rate of 12.1 percent. Still, this kid has massive big play potential, averaging 4.64 fantasy points per game on vertical passes, good for 25th among wideouts.
Jarrett Boykin, Green Bay Packers– There isn’t a lot of upside in being the third wide receiver in an offense– unless that offense is the Packers. Boykin showed flashes last year, hauling in 49 balls for 681 yards and three touchdowns in a limited role (47.1 snaps per game). But, according to Rich Hribar, Boykin was the only wideout to post a top-24 week with three different quarterbacks, and if he can produce with two backups, I can’t wait to see what he can do with a full season with Aaron Rodgers. Remember, in 2012, James Jones was a top-20 fantasy wideout, despite being the third option in the passing game. There’s upside in this role.
Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers– After tearing his ACL, MCL and PCL in Week 16 of 2012, Miller may have rushed back last year, and didn’t look 100 percent. However, heading into 2014, I like him quite a bit to bounce back. The Steelers will be using a no-huddle offense and Ben Roethlisberger has so much trust in his tight end, especially in the red zone. Don’t forget, just two years ago (the last time he was healthy) Miller was the most targeted tight end in the red zone, en route to eight touchdowns and a top-seven fantasy finish among tight ends.
Dwayne Allen, Indianapolis Colts– Most people don’t realize how important Allen is to this Colts offense, but he is a big piece of the puzzle. He’s way better than Coby Fleener— better blocker, better athlete, better hands. In fact, Allen has just two career dropped passes, and even though the Colts still have Fleener, they will likely use a handful of two-tight end sets. Allen is simply the better player, and could serve as a nice red zone target, especially if the running game can’t get it going again. Don’t forget about his name during the season.