Fantasy Football Deep Sleepers: #39-11
In the first two installments of the series, many of the players mentioned needed more than one domino to fall for them to even see the field. In this edition, many of these players could be in fantasy-relevant positions straight from the get-go in 2015. As opportunity is the main driver of fantasy production, it would not be surprising to see more than a few of these players graduate to fantasy relevance next season. Let’s get to the good stuff! Here are sleepers 39 through 11.
39) Leonard Hankerson WR FA : Not expected to be retained by Washington, injuries and team dysfunction have held back the intriguing former Miami Hurricane and second-round draft choice. Hankerson will be two years removed from serious ACL/LCL injuries, and had intriguing college production/athleticism coming into the league. He’s been buried by more heralded options, but if he can land in a favorable situation, he very easily could match or even exceed the line put up by Brandon LaFell this year.
38) Vance McDonald/Derek Carrier TEs SF : Considering Vernon Davis’ ticket out of town is nearly as good as punched, if the 49ers decide to replace the TE/actor internally, they have two interesting options in McDonald and Carrier. Touted as the team’s TE of the future after being slected in the second round out of Rice in 2013, McDonald has been a disappointment, posting only 10 catches in his two years. While he only appeared in eight games in 2014, his back injury this year has been described as “not a long-term issue,” and he was both productive in college from an early age and athletic at the combine, showing that he could possibly benefit from a longer look in 2015.
Carrier, on the other hand, has much less draft capital invested in him, but has the looks of someone who could shine if given the opportunity. He ultimately turned down a shot to walk-on at Wisconsin for tiny Beloit College, where he set the school record for receiving yards, and then got on the radar of NFL scouts after posting a break-the-internet worthy pro-day workout. While the fact that he’s been cut by both the Raiders and the Eagles speaks to the fact that he’s still a bit raw as a TE, he did contribute nine catches for 105 yards in 2014, and looks to battle McDonald for No. 1 TE duties if the other shoe does in fact drop on Vernon Davis.
37) Tyler Gaffney RB NE : Perhaps best known as a the player the Patriots broke an “unwritten rule” to acquire (Seriously sports, just write these things down. Specifically looking at you, baseball), Gaffney is going to have a shot to fill some potential vacancies in a Pats rushing attack that earned the 15th most RB fantasy points in 2014. Before injuring his knee in training camp, Gaffney had posted extremely impressive speed/agility numbers, especially considering he’s 6’0, 200 lbs, and can also contribute in the passing game. While space in the Patriots backfield is going to be limited, if you start hearing positive reports out of Patriots camp about the former sixth-round pick, go get him in deeper leagues.
36) Phil Bates WR CLE: With a yearlong suspension to Josh Gordon pending and Miles Austin‘s contract expiring, the Cleveland Browns are down two of their three leading receivers form an already thin WR position. While pickings may be slim for the organization, its presents an interesting opportunity for lesser known players to step up, and one of those in the choicest position is Phil Bates. A former college QB for Ohio, Bates has earned high marks for his play in training camp for Seattle, and is athletic enough to pique my curiosity. While he hasn’t recorded a regular-season catch yet, the 25-year-old looks to join the list of names such as Patrick Crayton, Brad Smith, Josh Cribbs, Drew Bennett, Ronald Curry, Matt Jones, Antwaan Randle-El, Julian Edelman and Hines Ward to make the successful transition from QB to WR.
35) Jarius Wright WR MIN: While many mock drafts have Minnesota selecting a WR in the first round, I highly doubt they will use an early pick at the position, as the Vikings have one of the more intriguing groups of receivers in the league, of which Wright is included. The former Arkansas Razorback fits the mold of a dominant slot man, and his career trajectory arrow is pointing towards the sky, as he has both the trust of emerging QB Teddy Bridgewater and is coming off a career best 42-588-2 line. While his totals may look easy to dismiss, he recorded two 100+ yard receiving games, which placed him one ahead of the much higher regarded Mike Wallace. Possessing talent, QB chemistry, and a possible expanded role in an ascending option, target this emerging elf-size from the north in the late rounds of your PPR drafts.
34) Jonathan Grimes RB HOU: While I thought that it would be Grimes, not Alfred Blue, who would be backing up Arian Foster in 2014, I’ll happily double down on a player with extremely interesting college/workout metrics playing behind an aging back who has battled injury. Grimes has impressed in the preseason and also had eye popping numbers at the small-school level, and could be a three-down player if Foster were to go down. He’s one to keep on your training camp watch-lists.
33) Ryan Mallett QB FA: With Ryan Fitzpatrick not the answer and facing a draft class with a dearth of talent at the QB position, the Texans may turn to either one of their big-armed prospects in Ryan Mallett and Tom Savage to be their starting signal-caller in 2015. While Mallett is a free-agent at this time, there are strong indicators that he will return to Houston to work with Bill O’Brien and compete for the starting job. We don’t know much about Mallett, as he’s been uneven during the preseason, and only was able to have one healthy start against Cleveland (he played through a torn pectoral muscle in his second start, and was placed on IR the next week). Mallett has the arm to get the ball down-field to the talented Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins, and would be a candidate to post QB2 numbers if inserted as the starter.
32) Vick Ballard RB IND: A back with horrid injury luck, Ballard had his 2013 and 2014 seasons wiped out with torn ACL’s. This normally would rule anyone out of fantasy consideration, but due to the fact that Ballard is going to be the best pass-protector in Indianapolis’s explosive offense, there is a glimmer of hope that he can deliver fantasy value. We’ve seen boring backs in high-powered offenses (Knowshon Moreno in 2013 comes to mind) deliver huge value, and the potential exists for Ballard to be a feel-good story on the field and a value on your squad.
31) Gavin Escobar/James Hanna TEs DAL: With Jason Witten’s career winding down look for the Cowboys to begin the transition process to one of these younger options in 2015. While Hanna is undeniably interesting due to his physical ability, Escobar is going to be the one to watch. A former basketball player out of San Diego State, the Cowboys thought enough of him to daft him in the second round in 2013. While he’s less physically interesting than Hanna, he has shown brief flashes of productivity when given looks. The Cowboys figure to have a productive offense again in 2015, and if either of these two can get an opportunity (Escobar most likely, but don’t completely write off Hanna), they would be boarder-line must-adds.
30) Brandon Williams TE CAR: A former highly-recruited college WR turned TE, If Greg Olson ends up as a cap casualty, he immediately morphs from curious watch-lister to so much more. The Panthers offense prominently features the TE, and as more of a wide-out masquerading as a tight end, Williams has the receiving skills to turn possible volume into a bunch of sneaky fantasy points.
29) Levine Toilolo TE ATL: The theory is that TEs in explosive offenses should be able to post at least replacement-level fantasy points simply by being in the right place in the right time, there also exists a growing body of knowledge that larger players are more efficient in the red-zone. And then there’s Toilolo, who spits in the face of logic by being exceptionally unproductive (31-238-2) despite being a king-sized TE in a top-10 offense. While it’s a blatant appeal to authority, despite Toilolo’s atrocious play, if the Falcons seem to be sticking with him again in 2015, they must see SOMETHING we as the general public are missing in the former fourth-rounder out of Stanford. With their offensive line hopefully healthy enough to keep Toilolo at TE, instead of forcing him to play right tackle, he is in a position to post improved, touchdown-dependent numbers in 2015 if the Falcons do not address the position externally.
28) Jordan Todman RB JAX: I’ve never really figured out why Todman hasn’t been given a longer look at RB, as he’s impressed in brief trials. With only the relatively unproven and somewhat undersized Denard Robinson in front of him, Todman could come into a role in an emerging Jacksonville offense. When you think Todman, think a Kraft-dinner eating man’s Ronnie Hillman.
27) Fitzgerald Toussaint RB BAL: With Justin Forsett a free agent, Lorenzo Taliaferro recovering from injury and Bernard Pierce falling out of favor, the only back that is healthy, on the roster, and interesting would be the former UDFA out of Michigan. Impressive in a brief trial in 2014, Toussaint, and the Raven RB situation in general, is one to watch in the offseason. With noted RB reception enthusiast Mark Trestman as his offensive coordinator, and possessing Neo-grade levels of agility, Toussaint is going to need to fight for a roster spot, but could easily be a PPR waiver-darling in 2015.
26) Jared Abbrederis WR GB: The fifth rounder out of Wisconsin was well on his way to becoming a Packer fan-favorite before tearing his ACL during their 2014 training camp, casting doubt on his future. With Randall Cobb’s potential departure through free agency hanging over the Packers, Abbrederis is one of a young trio of wideouts who could come into extended opportunities in 2015. While Abbrederis wasn’t particularly athletic before his injury, he was extremely productive at Wisconsin, and has a shot to out play Jeff Janis, Jarrett Boykin and Kevin Dorsey for the hypothetical N0. 3 WR slot on the Packers depth chart. As James Jones has proven in the past, a talented player in that spot has a weekly chance at WR1 production, and WR3 level stats through a full season.
25) Chris Polk RB PHI: A talented prospect who fell out of the 2011 draft due to injury concerns, Polk has taken his limited carries and impressed ever since. While Polk doesn’t have a direct route to lead-back status, the fact that his role has gradually expanded, and the fact he’s the only non-passing back behind LeSean McCoy gives him potential stand-alone value, and an injury to McCoy could make him a potential RB1 candidate. While there will be handcuffs that are more hyped, Polk has just as much upside, and potentially more.
24) Junior Hemingway WR KC: The first of two Chiefs’ receivers in a row, Hemmingway has extremely interesting pre-draft measurables and the potential to rise to as high as No. 1 on the team’s depth chart at WR. His uncommon agility for a man of his size makes him a match up nightmare against smaller nickel corners, and his role in the offense gradually expanded as the year went on. While they were historically bad last year from a fantasy perspective, there is nowhere to go but up for this group.
23) Da’Rick Rogers WR KC: Signed to a futures contract, the mysterious Rogers may not even make it out of mini-camp, but he’s one of, if not the most interesting under-the-radar player in the whole league, who also has a chance to come into a huge role in an Andy Reid offense. Dominant at every level he’s played, including flashes in the NFL, even if veteran Dwaye Bowe is retained, Rogers may be the most impressive WR in Kansas City. If he makes it through camp, his production could be uneven at best, but keep the faith in dynasty formats, and look to buy-low on this talented but volatile prospect.
22) Luke Willson TE SEA: The extremely athletic Willson impressed in an extended trial caused by Zach Miller’s season-ending ankle injury. While Miller was more of a conventional TE, Willson has the ability to turn minimal usage into fantasy relevant days due to both Seattle’s ability to effectively use play-action and his aforementioned athletic ability. The only thing holding him back is the aforementioned lack of volume, and the possibility of a job share. Even if Miller is retained, he will see a strong challenge from the third-year TE out of Rice, who is the obvious TE of the future in Seattle.
21) DeVier Posey WR HOU: Posey’s high ranking stems from a possible increase in playing time due to release or trade of Andre Johnson. The fourth-year pro out of Ohio State hasn’t done much to justify his third-round draft selection, and was largely inactive for 2014, but he has had flashes of interesting. Due to the fact that the Texans filter almost all of their targets to the top two WRs, Posey could be in for a huge target increase.
20) Justin Blackmon WR JAX: The only reason Blackmon is this low, is the fact that there exists a real possibility that he simply won’t be allowed back into the NFL, despite the fact that sources have said that he is doing well. Blackmon is undeniably talented, and the opportunity to acquire him is now in dynasty formats, as the Jaguars should know whether or not he’ll be back by the draft. While shaking off two years of rust isn’t going to be easy, and he has very real roadblocks to playing time in Allen Robison and Marquis Lee, Blackmon has the underlying talent to at least challenge Robison for the No. 1 WR spot. With nowhere to go but up for Blake Bortles and the young Jaguar offensive line, the passing game should improve, providing Blackmon with a very interesting re-entry situation.
19) Virgil Green TE FA: If you’re scoring at home, this is going to be three former non-tight ends who adapted to the position, as Green was a high school WR who adjusted to the position in college. He’s a bit of an enigma, as he was touted pre-draft as a player who struggled with blocking, but was dynamic as a receiver, but he’s evolved into something of dominant inline blocker, who’s not involved in the passing game. If you’re a glass half full kind of person, this suggests that if given a bigger role, Green could be a steal as a three-down TE. He has the physical ability to get down field, and if Julius Thomas leaves Denver, Green could re-sign with the Broncos and burst onto the fantasy scene. He’s one to watch in free agency, and is worth a speculative dynasty add. There is a very real chance that Green is the deep sleeper of the year for 2015, he just needs a few things to break his way.
18) Brice Butler WR OAK: File this name away, and tell no-one of his existence, because Butler has a very real chance to break out of the log-jam that the Raiders have assembled at WR and into fantasy relevance. A raw player who’s earned some positive reviews in limited action, Butler only has James Jones, Rod Streater, and Andre Holmes to beat out for the No. 1 WR position in Oakland. With Derek Carr looking like a keeper, Butler has some work to do to get an opportunity, but if he does, he could bring back some of that old Raider magic.
17) James White RB NE: Now we begin to enter a zone where some of these players have been on deeper redraft rosters in 2014, as White was actually drafted, on average, one pick before Odell Beckham Jr in 2014, but don’t fear, you’re probably just a year or two early on the former Badger. While there were rumors that the rookie fourth-round pick was to come into a huge role right off the bat, the majority of White’s 2014 was spent as a healthy inactive. With Shane Vereen possibly moving on, White would be the logical successor as the passing-back for the Patriots, a role which produces RB2-type numbers. If White again is available in the late rounds of your draft, you’d be wise to take a chance on the able pass catcher/blocker.
16) Josh Huff WR PHI: Even if pending free agent Jeremey Maclin is retained, the second-year WR out of Oregon could come into some fantasy relevance in 2015. Probably already the third-most talented WR on the team behind Maclin and Jordan Matthews, Huff should easily beat out Riley Cooper (and do a lot more than 55-577-3 with his 95 targets) for slot duties, and if Maclin leaves, a very interesting opening as the No. 2 WR on the Eagles depth chart opens up for the play-making sophomore wide out.
15) Cody Latimer WR DEN: The forgotten man in the historically productive 2014 rookie WR draft class, Latimer looks to make up for lost time in 2015. With the probable departures of Wes Welker and Julius Thomas (and the doubtful but still possible departure of Demariyus Thomas), Latimer figures to step into the target void. A fast and physical option, if Peyton Manning (or Brock Osweiler) can get him the ball downfield, he should be able to string together some fantasy relevant weeks in 2014, with the potential for more in the future.
14) Crockett Gillmore TE BAL: An interesting talent who could come into some opportunity in 2015, Gillmore possibly has a large role in a TE-friendly offense ahead of him in 2015. If Owen Daniels departs in free agency, and Dennis Pitta cannot return from injury, Gillmore is the starter by default, and possible the TE1 for fantasy purposes in Baltimore.
13) Jeff Janis WR GB: I am still as high on Janis as I was during my mid-season review of rookie WRs, and he looks to make the jump from raw prospect to interesting player on a high-powered offense in 2015. If Randall Cobb departs, he is, in my mind, the leading candidate to fill the No. 3 WR role in Green Bay potentially massively boosting his fantasy stock. His uncommon athleticism will likely lead to an ADP inflating puff-piece parade later in the offseason, but if you can get him now in dynasty or deep formats, your next click should be to acquire the former Saginaw Valley State Cardinal. The PlayerProfiler.com comparison of Miles Austin feels incredibly apt for Janis, as it may take him a few years to develop, but once he does, he’s got the goods to be an undervalued asset.
12) Rodney Smith WR CLE: So as of now, with Miles Austin most likely departing via free agency and Brian Hoyer going to the bench, will the 2015 Cleveland Browns be the first team to start a quarterback (Johnny Manziel) and wide receivers (Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel, and Travis Benjamin) who are all under six feet tall? If I somehow was put in charge of the Browns, I would give Smith and #36 deep sleeper Phil Bates a long look in what is nearly certain to be an uncompetitive 2015. A prospect that flashed in the preseason with Minnesota, Smith was taken off of the Vikings practice squad in 2014, and has the potential to avenge the Browns previous blunders in evaluating receiving talent. While Smith wasn’t a huge contributor at Florida State, he managed to catch a pass in 39 straight games while in college, and he possesses some of the best measurables in the league. Described by ourlads.com as “smart and can read coverages,” and “a developing size/speed prospect,” Smith has a good shot of passing up the aforementioned lollipop guild of suited for slot-duty Cleveland receivers sometime during the year, and could pleasantly surprise.
11) Adrien Robinson TE NYG: I can hear Regina George telling me right now to stop trying to make Adrien Robinson happen, because he’s not going to happen, but wait just one more second and hear me out. First off, Robinson is a player that you give third, fourth, and fifth chances to. The “Jason Pierre-Paul of tight ends” is a true 80-grade athlete who just needs to develop his techniques to “passes-remedial TE class” level to unseat awful at worst, blasé at best, Larry Donnell.
I can hear you now thinking, “making horrible pop culture references AND disrespecting Larry Legend, I’ve read this informative article but I’m stopping here!” But you’ve stopped once before, why not stop again? Despite coming out of nowhere, Larry Donnell was simply a compiler, as he was inefficient with a huge target share in the passing game, and was graded horribly as a run-blocker by ProFootballFocus. You need to do one of these two things as a tight end, and it seems Donnell did none of them. While the Giants seem to be high on the Donnell, small improvements in his game could vault Robinson past the astonishingly slow incumbent.
With the Giants offense trending upwards, there are fantasy TE points to be had in the big apple. Despite being seemingly buried, Robinson is blocked only by a paper-tiger in Larry Donnell, and could finally deliver on the potential that got him drafted in the fourth round.
Brian Tesch is a former AmeriCorps VISTA and current happy-go-lucky Economics student by day, FantasyPros NFC West Division Leader by later in the day.