Early 2019 Sleepers (Fantasy Football)
With all due respect to baseball, there’s nothing quite like fantasy football. For many of us diehards (I’m including you as a diehard if you’re reading a 2019 sleepers article in January) it’s a year-round game that we just can’t get enough of.
A lot can change in the offseason. There will be trades, injuries, surprise free agent signings and cuts, and, of course, the NFL Draft, but that can’t stop us from having some fun while we wait for everything to settle. Without any ADP data it’s hard to know who will be a true sleeper, but let’s take a look at some guys who will likely be values come August.
Robby Anderson (WR – NYJ)
Anderson had an up and down season with a couple of injuries sprinkled in, but he’s an undeniably dynamic deep threat. His 15.7-yard average depth of target (aDOT) is better than the likes of Tyreek Hill (14.4) and Tyler Lockett (13.6) and he has the 4.4-40 speed to make it sustainable. This was on display in 2017 and the latter half of 2018, where he put up a 77/1083/8 full season pace over his last six games when he came back from injury. The last four games, when Sam Darnold was also back, that pace jumped to 92/1344/12. It’s certainly a small sample and we wouldn’t project that line for almost anyone, but the talent and opportunity are real.
Sam Darnold (QB – NYJ)
As I mentioned, Anderson’s numbers spiked with Darnold back in the fold late in the year. That shouldn’t be a surprise because Darnold’s did as well. In his final four games, he put up 931 yards with six touchdowns and just one interception. Is it Deshaun Watson rookie season level? No, but few are able to accomplish that.
What sticks out to me about Darnold is his production at an absurdly low age. He was the youngest opening week starter in NFL history at just 21 years old and won’t turn 22 until June. Assuming the Jets hire an appropriate coach, he’s the best candidate to have that huge second-year jump that we have seen out of young quarterbacks lately.
Christian Kirk (WR – ARI)
Like Darnold, Kirk played almost his entire rookie season at just 21 years old and showed flashes in one of the worst offenses we’ve seen in recent years. In fact, only the 2016 Rams scored fewer points (224) than the Cardinals’ 225 this season. I’d expect that to change with new head coach Kliff Kingsbury coming in and Josh Rosen getting a year of NFL experience under his belt.
There’s been a lot of debate about the Kingsbury hire, but what there isn’t a debate on is how efficiently he can lead an offense. Texas Tech’s air raid offense consistently ranked near the top of the NCAA and we all saw what Patrick Mahomes did last season. Kirk’s measurables, breakout age, and productivity led Player Profiler to compare him closest to Stefon Diggs.
Kirk’s 57/800/4 full season pace before breaking his foot in Week 12 doesn’t light the world on fire, but as a 21-year-old rookie on a bad offense, that’s plenty respectable and well worth a look in the later rounds.
Second-Year Running Backs
As post-hype sleeper picks, a handful of second year running backs are very worthy of late round adds. First, the bad news: Rashaad Penny showed up to camp out of shape, broke his finger, and subsequently fell out of favor with the coaching staff. Chris Carson filled in the role fantastically, putting up 1,300 yards from scrimmage in 14 games. The good news is he has a first-round draft pedigree and is on a good team that seems committed to the run game. Carson finished the 2017 season on the IR, was banged up often in 2018, and had an abysmal playoff performance against the Cowboys. Penny’s 4.9 yards per carry was likely inflated due to his role, but the infrastructure is in place for him to be a valuable fantasy asset if he were to win the job in training camp.
The type of rookie season Ronald Jones had doesn’t seem promising for the rest of his career, and there’s certainly a chance the Buccaneers find a running back in the offseason, but he’s the back I’m drafting if I had to today. The Bucs had an explosive offense last season despite Peyton Barber’s inefficiency and there doesn’t seem to be any reason for a change with most of the skill position players coming back and Bruce Arians taking over the head coaching job. Things need to break right for Jones, but a potential lead back in a high scoring offense in the late rounds is what I’m after.
UDFA Phillip Lindsay’s emergence put Royce Freeman on the back burner in the Broncos offense, but the third round pick out of Oregon crept into the 50s by ADP for a reason. He has more draft pedigree and more of a typical runner’s body than the diminutive Lindsay, and with a new coaching staff in place he’s bound to get a real look in training camp. Along with Freeman being a sleeper, I have Lindsay clearly on my “avoid” list.
In all, there’s always a lot of uncertainty in both projecting things this far out and on these later round picks. Many will amount to nothing, but finding late round gems goes a long way to winning a league. I’ll be keeping an especially close eye on the Jets coaching search in the coming weeks, but also the situations of all the above players.