Geoff Lambert looks at fantasy football rookie sleepers.
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Merriam-Webster defines the term sleeper as someone or something unpromising or unnoticed that suddenly attains prominence or value. By that definition, sleepers in fantasy football are no more. With the amount of coverage that our beloved game garners these days, by the time we get to August, every player with even the slightest chance of fantasy stardom will be written up or spoken about by some “expert” and labeled a sleeper. No player will go “unnoticed” and every player will be portrayed as having promise.
As a writer, I know that come October or November, when the “sleeper” I wrote up in June is buried on the depth chart and has no fantasy value, no one will remember me screaming his name from the rooftops all summer. However, if that player has a breakout season, I will be sure to remind every one of my genius. We as writers have nothing to lose and everything to gain, but it is because of this that fantasy sleepers as we knew them eight-to-ten years ago are dead…
Welcome to the wonderful world of dynasty football. If you are visiting dynasty for the first time, welcome. And, if you have been with us for awhile, congratulations. It is in dynasty that these unicorns known as sleepers still exist. It’s a place where information isn’t handed to you on a silver platter, a place where you still have to dig deep to find that player no one saw coming and a place where you can remind your competitors year after year of your brilliance. Yes, dynasty rookie drafts are the safe haven for these needles in the haystack, and I am here to be your magnet…
Jordan Akins (TE – HOU)
With the early retirement of TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, Ryan Griffin stands atop the depth chart (via ourlads.com). Last season, Griffin played in only seven games catching a mere 13 passes for 158 yards and a TD. His best days are behind him, leaving the door open for Akins.
The Texans drafted two tight ends in the 2018 NFL Draft, which should tell you exactly how they feel about going into the season with Griffin as their starter. Akins started his college career as a wide receiver and kick returner, so he is an above average athlete at the tight end position.
The two biggest detractors for Akins is his well below average blocking ability and his advanced age as a 26-year-old rookie. However, with his receiving ability, athletism and the lack of talent in front of him, Akins is worthy of a late-round pick in your rookie draft, especially if you currently own one of the older tight ends that may not play at a high level much longer – i.e. Greg Olsen.
I wouldn’t look for him to start right away, so you will need an extra bench slot to carry a tight end, but I’m projecting Akins to have a meaningful role in this offense by Week 8 or 9. But it could be sooner.
Keke Coutee (WR – HOU)
We will stay in Houston for my second rookie sleeper, WR Keke Coutee. With DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller locked in as the No. 1 and No.2 wide receiver, the slot position is currently held down by a 49ers’ cast-off, the oft-injured Bruce Ellington and backed up by the disappointing Braxton Miller. The lack of talent in the slot leaves the door open for Coutee to run through. With a 4.43 at the combine, he will get through in a hurry.
Coutee’s biggest detractor is his size, a petite 5-foot-10-inch, 181 pounds at the Combine, he will have to spend a long time in the weight room this offseason to add some bulk. Obviously, his upside will be limited by the target monster Hopkins and the speedy Fuller, but he will offer some deep league appeal as a potential big-play threat if he were to win the No. 3 job.
Personally, I want to see him succeed just to hear Jim Nantz say his name. If fantasy points were awarded for the best names in football, Keke Coutee would be a first-round draft pick.
Ian Thomas (TE – CAR)
Greg Olsen is going into his 11th season, he turned 33 in March and is coming off a Jones-fracture that nearly ended his season in 2017. While I fully expect Olsen to be healthy and play well in 2018, he is the only thing standing in the way of Ian Thomas claiming the starting job.
Thomas’ 91st-percentile SPARQ rating at the combine projects him to be an NFL-caliber athlete, as he recorded a 4.65 forty and 36-inch vertical in Indianapolis. Take that and combine it with his above average blocking, and Thomas is, at worst, a year away from meaningful snaps in a tight-end friendly offense with a quarterback that loves tight ends.
If you are a Greg Olsen owner, this is the guy you are going to want to add in the late rounds of your rookie draft as the most likely replacement for Olsen when he finally decides to hang them up.
Mark Walton (RB – CIN)
Walton will enter the season behind second-year RB Joe Mixon and veteran Giovani Bernard, but there are a few things that could break Walton’s way, giving him a shot at fantasy relevancy.
First, I don’t view Walton as a Mixon backup or handcuff. He is more “Giovani Bernard-ish” then he is Mixon. Bernard is signed through the 2019 season, however, he stands to make $3.4 million and count $4.5 million against the cap (via cincyjungle.com) in 2019. If he is cut after the 2018 season, the Bengals would get $3.8 million back towards the cap with only $750k in dead money. In layman’s terms, unless he restructures his contract, the Bengals aren’t going to pay him that much, especially if Walton shows he can play that role for much less.
Secondly, the Bengals are in desperate need of some offensive explosiveness. This offense last season ranked 20th in “chunk plays” — plays of 20 or more yards. Chunk plays are something that Walton specializes in. He was averaging a ridiculous 7.6 yards per carry in four games last season with the Miami Hurricanes before going down with a season-ending ankle injury. It is a small sample size, but it gives you an idea of what he is capable of.
Barring injury, Walton may not get his shot until the 2019 season, but as a forward-thinking dynasty owner, if you have the space to hold on to him until then, he will be worth the wait.
DaeSean Hamilton (WR – DEN)
The Broncos drafted a wide receiver in the second round (Courtland Sutton) and then took Hamilton in the fourth round. Obviously, they are looking to the future with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders both going into their age-31 season and due to make a ton of money if they are still with the team in 2019.
Sanders is due over $10 million in 2019 while Thomas is due over $14 million (per spotrac.com). That is a lot of money tied up in two players that will both be 32 in 2019. One — or both — will likely be gone after the 2018 season, opening the door for both Sutton and Hamilton to step into their roles.
Hamilton tested as a 78-percentile SPARQ at the combine, and while he isn’t a burner at a 4.52 forty time, he is a big -bodied receiver that excels at catching contested throws. He is also a pro-ready route runner with excellent size as a projected slot receiver. Much like a lot of guys on this list, you may have to hold him for a year to see his potential, but if you have the space to stash him, he will pay off in 2019.