Fantasy Football Deep Sleepers: #69-40
In the first installment 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 69 through 40.
69) Orleans Darkawa RB NYG: While Darkawa doesn’t have a clear path to playing time in 2015, the fact that Rashad Jennings is getting up there in RB years and Andre Williams has hands made of slate play nicely into the second-year back’s favor. The 2014 UDFA should at least be able to carve out a niche as a receiving back and looked impressive during the preseason. Darkawa has some athletic talent and his ability to contribute out of the backfield gives him definite PPR upside. He’s just somewhat blocked at the moment.
68) Ryan Grant WR WAS: A professional receiver who drew rave reviews for his route-running skills, Grant looks to settle in as Washington’s slot receiver of the future. While the passing game pie doesn’t look to be big enough to support more than just DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed, a return to form from Robert Griffin III and his own continued development could put Grant on the map.
67) E.J. Manuel QB BUF: His first two seasons haven’t exactly been encouraging, but with the retirement of Kyle Orton, it looks like it’s ‘sink-or-swim’ time for the former first-round pick from Florida State. With an endorsement from his new head coach to run more, it looks like Manuel could put together a quietly useful season in 2QB formats if he can hold off Jeff Tuel and potential outside competition.
66) Seantavius Jones WR NO: While Brandon Coleman had a higher draft profile, Jones was the first rookie WR to be promoted from the practice squad to the active roster in 2014, showing that the Saints hold the small-school size/speed prospect in high regard. The Saints have shown no reservations about putting small-school skill position players (Marques Colston, Chris Ivory, Joe Morgan and Khiry Robinson) in positions of fantasy relevance, and Jones looks to be the next under-the-radar gem to take over the mantle. The 6’3, 208 pound WR has long arms that can run somewhere in the 4.5-40 range has a long track record of collegiate production and could burst onto the scene in 2015 if the Saints move on from Marques Colston.
65) Isaiah Pead RB STL: While the prognosis for running backs coming off ACL tears is never great, Pead is still intruiging due to the fact he was highly regarded enough in 2012 to be a second-round pick. He just simply hasn’t worked out for the Rams, but could be re-energized with a change of scenery. His willingness and ability to play special teams will keep him on rosters as the third or fourth RB, but he could impress if given an opportunity to see more than 10 carries in a season (his previous high-water mark). For now, Pead looks to challenge Benny Cunningham for the passing-back role in the Ram offense, but could be a target for a RB-needy team looking for a thrifty option.
64) George Winn RB DET: While a large part of Winn’s high ranking is an appeal to authority, there is no arguing that the Lions know how to mine talented undrafted free agent running backs (Joique Bell and Theo Riddick). The latest in that line might just as well be Winn. He looked mighty impressive with an 11-carry 48-yard outing against Buffalo in Week 5 and could produce if Bell were to go down. While he will have competition to make the final roster, Winn is an interesting flier at RB and should be on your watch list.
63) Brandon Bolden RB NE: Better known as the guy who scores touchdowns when you have Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley. LeGarrette Blount or Jonas Gray in your lineup, Bolden may take a step forward in 2015. With Ridley and Vereen entering free agency, it’s extremely telling that the Patriots value Bolden highly, as he was the first back the Patriots made an effort to re-sign. With Bolden under contract for next year, he may move into the big-back role and has the potential to offer a few weeks of RB2 production.
62) Rod Streater WR OAK: After posting a 60-888-4 breakout line in 2013, Streater lost most of 2014 to a foot injury and will enter the offseason with an uncertain role. Julio Jones was able to fully recover from a similar injury, giving Streater hope to retain his previous level of play in 2015. Oakland WR targets are going to be highly contested in 2015 as James Jones, Andre Holmes, a possible high draft-pick and sleeper Brice Butler will vie for the attention of developing QB Derek Carr. Despite the crowd, Streater is talented in his own right, and if he can emerge from the pack there is potential for him to put up WR3-type numbers.
61) Marlon Brown WR BAL: Despite seeing his production massively tail off from his impressive rookie campaign of 2013, Brown is still one to monitor going into the offseason. At 6’4 and 213 pounds, Brown has the size to dominate in the red zone, and the only thing holding him back are a long history of injuries and his relative lack of polish. With Steve Smith seemingly going on 50 and Torrey Smith a free agent, Brown could be in line for a bigger role in 2015. He is definitely worth monitoring.
60) Bruce Ellington WR SF: The diminutive Ellington somehow scored three times on 12 total offensive touches in his rookie season, and could see an expanded role in 2015 with the expected departure of Michael Crabtree. While his scoring upside isn’t high due to size limitations, Ellington will benefit from his first healthy offseason dedicated to football (he played both basketball and football at South Carolina), and could contribute a few productive weeks in 2015.
59) Brian Tyms WR NE: Pro Football Focus’s highest graded receiver of the preseason, Tyms stuck on the New England roster despite a four-game suspension, showing he has value to the team. Despite posting an uninspiring 5-82-1 line in 11 active games, the future looks somewhat bright for the second -year WR out of Florida A&M. With the team souring on Aaron Dobson, Tyms seems to be the Patriots project WR de-jour, and if he ever learns how to run routes and properly use his tremendous catch radius – look out! If you hear rumors of Tyms earning a bigger role in the Patriots offense, don’t be afraid to tab him in the later rounds of your 2015 drafts.
58) Chris Gragg TE BUF: With the release of starting TE Scott Chandler and the departure of Lee Smith to free agency a possibility, the very interesting Gragg could get a long look in 2015. The passing game pie in Buffalo won’t be big enough for him to crack the top 10, but his profile as an athletic, seam-stretching TE could make him a very interesting streaming candidate in 2015.
57) Kapri Bibbs RB DEN: Any RB that is currently on the Broncos roster has a chance to produce at least high-end RB2 numbers, and the undrafted Bibbs has a unique opportunity to establish some value this offseason. The fact that the Broncos promoted him to the active roster without a role, and later singed him to a futures contract, shows that they value the former Colorado State Ram. While Bibbs is one of the ‘least athletic‘ backs in the NFL going on pure combine/pro-day numbers, his extraordinary production at Colorado State shows that his natural instincts and athleticism are not ‘priority #1‘ in Gary Kubiak’s zone blocking offense. While Bibbs probably won’t unseat C.J. Anderson as the starter, there is a chance that he comes into some very nifty value if he can impress the new coaching staff.
56) Josh Harris RB PIT: The undrafted rookie out of Wake Forrest didn’t exactly set the world on fire, rushing for 1.9 YPC on nine attempts in 2014. That being said, he’s the only back behind Le’Veon Bell, who recorded 373 touches last year. Harris has a nice blend of size, speed and agility and is one injury away from opportunities in a high-octane Pittsburgh offense.
55) De’Anthony Thomas RB/WR KC: You can argue that DAT is a bit too slight to make a fantasy impact, and you wouldn’t be wrong, but you can’t argue that his 14-133 rushing line, 23-156 receiving line are extremely intriguing. Thomas showed that he plays faster in pads than he runs in shorts, and has to be accounted for every time he steps on the field. With a changing of the guard at WR possibly on the horizon and coached by underrated offensive mind Andy Reid, Thomas may have earned a bigger role in 2015, much to the delight of savvy PPR managers.
54) Marcus Lucas WR CAR: Another size/speed prospect in Carolina who has a chance to play a big role in 2015, Lucas gets the edge over Stephen Hill due to the fact that he’s been on the team longer and there simply is less bad tape on him. At 6’4 and 220 pounds, receivers who can run a 4.6-40 and post above average burst scores tend to get their fare share of chances. Look for Lucas to get a lot of run this preseason and possibly into the regular season.
53) Kevin Norwood WR SEA: Norwood could very well have ended up as Seattle’s No. 2 WR if he didn’t aggravate a foot injury in training camp, as he was one of, if not the most impressive Seahawk WR early on. Norwood lost most of his rookie season to injury and his inability to contribute on special teams limited his availability in year one. With a healthy offseason, Norwood could unseat the somewhat unimpressive Jermaine Kearse as the second WR on the Seattle depth chart. There’s a possibility this could come into fantasy relevance in the near future, as Seattle shifts to more of an aerial attack.
52) Troy Niklas TE AZ: An absolutely giant human, the second-round TE from Notre Dame stands 6’7 and weighs in at 270 pounds, making him an intimidating red-zone presence. While Niklas battled injury in his rookie year, he has the talent to be “the best blocking tight end in the NFL” according to Mike Mayock, which for fantasy purposes means he should be on the field every down, mitigating some of his weakness as a receiver. Niklas has a clear path to playing time and has only been playing the position for two years. He’s a solid bet to improve by leaps and bounds in 2015.
51) Jeremy Ross WR DET: Ross had something of a mini-breakout in 2014, posting a career high in catches and yards with a 24-314-1 line, while also finishing the season as the Lions’ third-leading receiver in terms of catches. The former return specialist is a nifty underneath WR with the ability to go deep, and could come into more points if Matthew Stafford can have a bounce-back season.
50) Zach Bauman RB AZ: Dominant small college runner with the ability to contribute on all three downs, and with the health of Andre Ellington up in the air, Bauman could surprise in 2015. A product of Northern Arizona University, from everything I’ve read about him, he seems to be the kind of back that maximizes his talent.
49) Dion Lewis RB NE: With Shane Vereen possibly testing free agency, Lewis could possibly slide into the passing-back role in the Patriots offense. After missing 2013 with an injury and failing to latch on anywhere in 2014, Lewis could be a more economical alternative if the Pats balk at Vereen’s price point. The former Pitt Panther standout has a 4.8 YPC career average, and might be able to make some noise if he’s finally healthy. If Vereen isn’t brought back, keep an eye on Lewis during the preseason.
48) Josh Boyce WR NE: While Boyce may be a little bit too high, I’m still intrigued by his measurables, and given the fact that Julian Edelman wasn’t anything close to fantasy relevant for the first four years of his career, it’s premature to write off the intriguing former ‘Horned Frog.’ Despite not catching a pass this year, Boyce made an impact on the scout team. With the planned release of Danny Amendola, he could get another chance to get on the field for an offense that is one of the best at posting fantasy points.
47) Silas Redd RB WAS: Something of a big-school sleeper, Redd, a USC Trojan by way of Penn State, latched on in Washington despite being an undrafted free agent in 2014, and contributed when called upon. Redd rushed for 75 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries (4.7 YPC). He also showed the ability to contribute in the passing game, catching eight balls for 107 yards. While Redd didn’t test particularly well athletically coming out of college, it could be in part attributed to major knee issues that required surgery, which he will be two years removed from in 2015. Expect Redd to gain some explosiveness, and he could be a sleeper handcuff to Alfred Morris if Roy Helu departs via free agency.
46) Nick Toon WR NO: Much like the aforementioned Baker, Toon is in line for a possible increase in targets due to the fact the Saints could be forced to go cheap at skill positions in the offseason. Even if the Saints retain the main roadblock to Toon getting an expanded role in Marques Colston, the team seems to be moving on from their elder statesman at wide-out, as Toon was cutting into his snaps at the end of the 2014 season. Toon isn’t bereft of talent, as pre-draft reports pegged the now third-year WR as a crisp route runner who plays up to his 6’4 size. If Colston is cut, or Toon straight up beats him out, 60-plus catches isn’t out of the question. Monitor his situation closely in the offseason.
45) Edwin Baker RB NO: With the Saints RB situation in a state of flux, the former Michigan State Spartan and Cleveland Brown could make some unexpected fantasy noise in 2015. Baker isn’t a complete unknown, as he received a brief and somewhat successful audition as a lead back late in the 2013 season. A decisive power-runner, if he can stand out in mini-camps and preseason he could become a contributor in one of the highest powered fantasy offenses in the NFL.
44) Kevin Dorsey WR GB: Any WR who has a shot to contribute in the high-flying Packers offense has a spot on this list, as Dorsey figures to be in a three-way competition for Green Bay’s third WR position. While he’s no Jeff Janis, Dorsey tested extremely well, and could come into fantasy value with an impressive preseason.
43) Quinton Patton WR SF: Probably best known as being a bit too much of an eager beaver during his rookie season, Patton hasn’t ever been in a position to contribute to the base offense during his first two years. When he has gotten a chance, results have been mixed, but with the likely departure of Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin advancing in age, this year may be his shot to seize a sizable role in the 49er passing attack.
42) C.J. Fiedorowicz TE HOU: With Garrett Graham failing to produce in 2014, the future may be now for the third-round pick out of Iowa. The former Hawkeye has very interesting measurables and a clear path to playing time in the short-run, and is the Texans TE of the distant future as well. While the Texans passing offense won’t be one to write home about in 2015, Fiedorowicz has a shot to be a TE2 in 2015 with the possibility for more going forward.
41) Dri Archer RB/WR PIT: The 87th pick in the 2014 NFL draft had a relatively disappointing rookie season in which he only recorded 17 offensive touches with mixed results. While he doesn’t have the size to be an every-down contributor, smaller backs sometimes take a bit of time to find their niche, and the fact that he may be the fastest player in the NFL in an explosive offense should make him an interesting low-dollar play in daily GPP formats, as he’s a touchdown waiting to happen every time he gets his hands on the ball.
40) Devin Street WR DAL: While Street didn’t join in the rookie WR fantasy points parade, he wasn’t ever really a candidate for early playing time, and was drafted to contribute in 2015 and beyond. Sitting behind Cole Beasley (who’s contract is up this year), Street was only able to record two catches for 18 yards in 2014. Street slipped to the fifth round due to very real concerns about his speed, but the Pitt all-time receptions leader has uncommon agility and burst for a player of his size, which should make him a match up nightmare for smaller slot corners in 2015. A potential supporting role in what looks to be an explosive Dallas offense in 2015 should lead Street to have more than a few fantasy relevant weeks in 2015.
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.