Wide Receiver Sleepers (2022 Fantasy Football)
Although a concrete definition of the term is never probable to be agreed upon, “sleepers” are generally either players that have only shown an inkling of their promise in the past or individuals that have simply been forgotten about due to factors such as prior injury or the circumstances of their team’s depth chart. In this article, we will identify players who fall into the sleeper bucket at the wide receiver position. Each can be found outside of the top 36 per FantasyPros Half-PPR average draft position (ADP), and all possess tangible reasons to believe they can shatter their draft cost.
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Rashod Bateman (WR – BAL): WR35 ADP
We begin by fudging the numbers a touch, as this player’s ADP was outside the top 36 at the time of the initial writing. A bird’s-eye view of Bateman’s rookie season does not inspire much awe. After missing much of training camp and the early regular season due to groin surgery, he ranked 81st in team air yards (16.9%), 69th in target share (15.8%), and 53rd targets per game after debuting in Week 6 per 4for4. But after the departure of teammate Marquise Brown this offseason, the WR1 role in Baltimore is squarely Bateman’s for the taking, and it’s one worth paying attention to.
Brown received 100+ targets over each of his last two seasons as a Raven; the next closest totals by another receiver were 67 (Bateman in 2021) and 48 (Willie Snead in 2020) per FantasyData. Put plainly, the top receiver in Baltimore eats. While unlikely to absorb the exact amount of vacated opportunity, Bateman stands to inherit something in the range of the 26.7% share left behind by Brown (near identical to Mark Andrews’ 26.6% share) per 4for4. The relative simplicity of the Ravens’ passing offense, as it’s likely to funnel squarely through on Andrews and Bateman, leaves little room for getting this one wrong.
Additionally, this is not simply a “next man up” assessment: Bateman’s pedigree as a first-round pick in the NFL Draft is rather impressive. Bateman’s last full season in college in 2019 saw him produce to a level high enough to earn the ninth-highest receiving grade in the nation per Pro Football Focus (PFF), ahead of some familiar names like Tee Higgins and CeeDee Lamb at the time. Ultimately, it is unfortunate that Bateman’s rookie season did not go according to plan, but everything that needed to go right for him this offseason has. Currently being selected in the fringes of WR3 range, Bateman is positioned for a chance to return solid WR2 numbers for fantasy managers in 2022.
Allen Lazard (WR – GB): WR43 ADP
It’s no secret that the void left behind by Davante Adams in Green Bay is massive. Who will quarterback Aaron Rodgers trust in the passing attack this season? If recent reporting is any indication, it is unlikely to be any of the rookie wideouts that Rodgers gave a stern talking to about missed assignments and drops. Running back Aaron Jones (ADP RB10) is certainly a player to consider when looking for players in Green Bay likely to absorb some receiving responsibility. After all, Jones has seen at least 60 targets over the last three seasons, and perhaps he could see more. But what about the wide receivers?
Allen Lazard is a familiar name from waiver wire columns over the last couple of seasons. The 6-foot-5 wideout tallied contributions suitable for a WR7 overall standing in half-PPR scoring from Week 14 through the end of the season last year. Heck, he was off to a monster start in 2020 as well; Lazard was WR7 overall from Week 1 to Week 3 that season too. At the very least, this is a player that fantasy managers can look at and say, “Hey, I remember that guy,”
While not a plethora of underlying data from Lazard’s career performances can be pointed to for any analytical reasoning for this argument, he is catching the ball from Aaron Rodgers. If readers have forgotten, we’re talking about PFF’s fourth, first, and ninth-highest graded passer in the NFL over the last three seasons, respectively. Not to mention, Rodgers himself has already named Lazard as the Packers WR1:
Asked Aaron Rodgers if #Packers have a WR pecking order emerging in his mind. He named WR1 Allen Lazard, “premier slot receiver in the league” Randall Cobb and Sammy Watkins, who 12 says had his best practice today.
“And then there’s a lot of opportunity after that.”
– Ryan Wood (@ByRyanWood) August 16, 2022
It is fair to question exactly what the Packers WR1 can accomplish for fantasy managers this year. On a relative scale, the two best skill position players in the Green Bay offense both play running back (Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon). It is conceivable that the Packers’ offense skews much heavier toward the run game in 2022. But at a WR43 price tag, it’s worthwhile to glance at Lazard in drafts this year. At a minimum, a modest return on investment can be had, and fantasy managers end up with a weekly flex option. At best, Lazard could flirt with robust WR2 production and be a difference-maker as a ninth-round pick. The choice is yours.
Tyler Boyd (WR – CIN): WR52 ADP
It almost feels moot to list a name like Boyd in an article like this, considering that the veteran pass-catcher has never finished lower than WR33 overall in half-PPR since 2018, but perhaps it isn’t? His teammates Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins are being drafted as ADP WR3 and WR12, respectively and are once again going to be the focal points of the Cincinnati passing attack in 2022 as they were one season ago; that’s not even including running back Joe Mixon‘s involvement in this area of the functionality of the offense as well. With that all understood, and given the investment cost of Boyd, maybe a good old-fashioned reminder is in order here.
The Bengals’ offense has been heavily predicated on 11 personnel grouping since 2019. In simple terms, the Bengals often line up three wide receivers on the field on offense. Last year was the first time in that span they did not rank first in that category per Sharp Football Analysis, and even then, Cincinnati was a mere number two behind the Los Angeles Rams.
That said, why fantasy managers would shy away from the third wide receiver for a team whose hallmark is operating in three wide receiver sets does make sense. It is understandable from a consistency standpoint that it does not behoove anyone to regularly bet on the third man in a three-man positional equation. Still, a WR52 price tag for a player who finished as WR15 and WR22 overall per our database before the arrivals of Chase, Higgins, and even quarterback Joe Burrow feels like a pretty safe investment. It is indicative of the practical reality that Boyd is a highly talented individual victimized by circumstance.
Should anyone ahead of him in the pecking order get hurt (not that any reasonable human should root for that to happen, obviously), Boyd immediately jumps from a safe-albeit-boring bet to an “Oh my lord, look at what I’ve stumbled into”-type of asset that can win a fantasy manager their league. As a bonus, Joshua Palmer of the Los Angeles Chargers is a more unproven example of this type of player that also warrants consideration, but for the intents and purposes of this exercise, Boyd is the poster boy for what happens if bad turns into good when a manager is prepared.
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