Identifying fantasy football sleepers and under-the-radar players is one of the most fun parts of our fake game, but the process has changed over the last few years with so much information now at our disposal.
With a fresh new crop of rookies comes the opportunity to find draft-day bargains. We have to dig deep for rookie sleepers in dynasty drafts and redraft/early best-ball leagues. That’s why I’ve embarked on a search for what I like to call “true sleepers” – small school and late third-round or Day 3 draft picks who could surprise early in the NFL.
- Sleeper NFL Draft Rookie Running Backs
- Thor’s Latest NFL Mock Draft
- Historical Draft Picks of All 32 Teams
- NFL Draft Prop Bet Cards: Freedman | Weyrauch | Erickson
- 2023 NFL Draft Scouting Reports & Prospect Profiles
After researching and writing up my 2023 rookie dynasty rankings, I’ve identified a handful of wide receivers who could generate fantasy value like Amon-Ra St. Brown, Darnell Mooney, Gabriel Davis, Romeo Doubs, Khalil Shakir, or Rashid Shaheed did as rookies.
Remember that those Day 3 wide receivers seldom do what ARSB did his rookie season, as I addressed in my approach to the value of rookies in fantasy football pre-draft. So I will try to include some wide receivers with projected late 2nd round or 3rd round draft capital for additional names. This class is not extremely talented at the top, meaning we could see guys that would usually go earlier fall farther in draft rounds.
2023 NFL Draft Prospects: Dynasty Rookie WR Sleepers (Fantasy Football)
Finding the Next Sleeper
Like my approach with running backs, I wanted to dive back into the prospect profiles of the Day 3 rookie wide receivers who popped in recent years. What, if anything, stood out?
Darnell Mooney not only posted a 33% career dominator rating at Tulane, but he broke out during his freshman year at age 19. Gabriel Davis’ 24% career dominator rating was less impressive, but he also posted an early breakout at the same age.
Mooney and Davis also showed that we want to chase big-play upside with late-round picks. We can find that upside in players who create chunk gains. For example, Mooney averaged over 20 yards per reception in a collegiate season. Davis finished fifth in deep-ball receptions in his final year at UCF.
And although St. Brown doesn’t fit the big-play threat archetype, he still has a top-tier breakout age at 19 to go along with overall middling production and athletics.
However, guys that flashed and accrued dynasty value as their rookie seasons progressed, like Joshua Palmer and Ihmir Smith-Marsette, both entered the NFL with vertical-threat prowess on their resumes.
Breakout Ages for the 2023 Draft Class
|Player||Breakout Age||Dominator Rating During Breakout Season|
|Nathaniel “Tank” Dell||21||20%|
Khalil Shakir and Romeo Doubs both broke out at age 19. Shakir was highlighted as one of my favorite Day 3 rookie WR sleepers last season after he posted an extremely high dominator rating (46%) in his final year at Boise State. Doubs wasn’t quite as productive at Nevada, but he still posted a top-10 dominator rating in the 2022 WR class. He also thrived as a downfield threat, with 55 targets of 20-plus air yards in his last two college seasons.
Rashid Shaheed was an undrafted free agent signed by the New Orleans Saints and didn’t make the active roster until October. But the team knew they had something in him based on his electric kick-returning profile from college. He broke out at 20 years old and averaged nearly 18 yards per catch in his final year at Weber State. Shaheed was also targeted on throws of 20-plus air yards on 33% of his targets.
Unearthing incoming rookies with high-end college production, a solid breakout age, kick/punt return ability and/or a vertical element to their game is a great way to scoop up sleeper value late in rookie dynasty drafts.
Jayden Reed turned heads in Mobile, Alabama, as one of the most impressive senior WRs in the 2023 Draft Class. And it should come as no surprise that Reed has dominated the competition based on his decorated college pedigree. He broke out at an early age, at 18 years old while playing alongside NFL talent at Western Michigan. He caught 56 passes for 797 yards and eight touchdowns (33% dominator rating, highest rating during a breakout year in his draft class) while competing with an older future second-round pick and Seattle Seahawk D’Wayne Eskridge. Reed transferred to Michigan State following his impressive freshman season, but was forced to sit out due to NCAA regulations. But the time off did little to stop Reed, who did all he could during a truncated 2020 season, posting a 26% dominator rating while competing with future Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jalen Nailor. In 2021, Reed blew up as a junior, with 1,026 yards and ten receiving touchdowns en route to a career-high 34% dominator rating.
And although the 5-foot-11 and 187-pound wide receiver didn’t depart Michigan State on the highest note (22% dominator rating), his previous dominant seasons showcase a prospect with major sleeper appeal in rookie drafts. His 23-year-old age isn’t ideal, but his experience might just help him hit the ground running sooner rather than later, especially considering that Reed flashed ability as a downfield threat with a top-5 deep target rate (29%) in his draft class in 2022. He also caught eight receiving TDs on 20-plus air-yard throws in 2021, which trailed only A.T. Perry and Jordan Addison in the nation.
Reed returned kicks at both Western Michigan and Michigan State, further bolstering his sleeper status. In 2018 as a true freshman, Reed was PFF’s 4th-highest graded punt returner in the nation. In 2021, he led the FBS in yards per punt return (19.8) and all 2023 draft-eligible returners in PFF punt return grade. He checks off all the boxes of a Day 3 sleeper WR.
Here is every single Jayden Reed punt return touchdown as a Michigan State Spartan (regardless of flags)
— dunc 🌎 (@SpartyWRLD) December 30, 2022
Marvin Mims was an elite producer at the collegiate level, with a 23 percent dominator rating in three years as an Oklahoma Sooner. He burst onto the scene as an 18-year-old freshman with a 24 percent dominator rating, triggering an early-age breakout.
Mims led the team with 37 catches for 610 receiving yards and nine receiving touchdowns. He also finished fifth in the nation in yards per route run (4.07) and seventh in PFF receiving grade (89.1). The 5-foot-11 and 183-pound wide receiver capped off his college career strong, with over 1,000 receiving yards as a junior, averaging 20 yards per reception for the second straight season. Mims was a fiend with the ball in his hands, finishing seventh in his class in yards after the catch per reception (8.1) despite a high average depth of target (17.0). It’s rare to find a wide receiver like Mims who can make plays after the catch and win downfield. Mims finished third in the FBS in receiving yards and fifth in targets on throws of 20-plus air-yards in 2022. He also offers ability as a punt returner and is PFF’s highest-graded punt returner expected to be drafted in this class.
The one concern about his production profile is that the majority of it came against zone coverage looks. He only caught nine passes in man coverage. But in today’s NFL, the WRs that can find the soft spots in zone coverage tend to become PPR monsters. Based on his profile alone, Mims was emerging as one of “my guys” in this overall lackluster wide receiver class. But his 2023 NFL Scouting Combine performance cemented his status inside my upper echelon of rookie WRs. The Oklahoma Sooner ran a 4.38 40-yard dash (90th percentile), jumped a 39.5-inch vertical (89th percentile), leaped 129 inches in the broad jump (89th percentile), and posted a 6.9 3-cone drill (72nd percentile). His impressive testing, early-age production, deep-threat prowess, kick return chops, and ability to win after the catch are all reasons to be “in” on Mims for rookie drafts. The dude still isn’t even 21 years old yet. The sky is the limit for Marvin Mims, with guys like John Ross, Santonio Holmes, and Devin Hester as close comparables based on his testing.
Single Season Dominator Rating
|Player||Best Season Dominator Rating||Best Season||Final Season Dominator Rating|
|Nathaniel “Tank” Dell||38%||2022||38%|
Cedric Tillman operated as Tennessee’s No. 1 WR as a junior in 2021, posting a 34 percent dominator rating. The 21-year-old took over the WR1 chair formerly owned by future Chargers wide receiver Joshua Palmer and narrowly outproduced another future NFL player, Velus Jones Jr. Tillman totaled 1,081 receiving yards, caught 12 TDs and generated the nation’s highest passer rating when targeted (155.8), but elected to forego the NFL and return to school in 2022. He was limited to six games after suffering an ankle injury and was out-shined by his teammate and 2023 draft prospect Jalin Hyatt, who took home the Fred Biletnikoff Award. However, in the five games that Tillman played healthy, he outproduced Hyatt, with more targets (56, 30% target share vs. 40, 21% target share), catches (35 vs. 30), and yards (401 vs. 367). Tillman’s lack of early-career production, underwhelming yards after the catch, simple route tree and age entering the league (23) definitely raise eyebrows about what kind of ceiling he can offer. But at 6-foot-3 and 213 pounds, his size helps him literally stand out as a prototypical “X” receiver in a class that is severely lacking big-bodied receivers.
Jonathan Mingo spent his college career at Ole Miss, breaking out this past season with 51 catches for 861 receiving yards and five receiving TDs. But had it not been for an injury in 2021, Mingo could have already officially broken out. The 6-foot-2 and 220-pound wideout averaged over 100 receiving yards per game for the first three games in the 2021 season until he was forced to miss time. Mingo’s size and speed profile is also extremely enticing, with a 4.46 40-yard dash speed and explosive jumps ranking in the 89th percentile. That’s scary at his plus weight.
Mingo was also heavily deployed as a downfield threat. In 2022, 31% of his targets came on throws 20-plus yards downfield, second to only Marvin Mims in the class (38%). The former Rebels wideout generated a 99.9 PFF grade when targeted downfield, equivalent to his draft classmates Jalin Hyatt and Jordan Addison. Additionally, Mingo created a ton of yardage with the ball in his hands. Among WRs with at least 80 targets, he finished 10th in the FBS in yards after the catch per reception (7.5).
And to light even more fuel to the Mingo fire, he was recently mocked in the first round to the New Orleans Saints by NFL.com’s Peter Schrager. The media personality mock drafts are not based on what he would do, but rather based on what he is hearing from sources around the league. Ergo, there are some teams that have Mingo with a first-round grade. Wild.
2 WR stocks I'd buy right now-
Jonathan Mingo (Ole Miss)
Cedric Tillman (TEN)
There aren't a lot of big WR's in this class. Draft is littered with 170-180LB guys. These 2 stand out as bigger/physical players.
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) April 16, 2023
Tyler Scott broke out in 2022 as the top Bearcat in Cincinnati’s offense, with Alec Pierce playing in the NFL. The vertical speedster posted a 35 percent dominator rating his junior year, a top-10 mark among his 2023 draft class. He has the ability the take the top off defenses with his top-tier speed, which NFL teams will undoubtedly gravitate toward. His explosiveness showed up in the testing drills at Indianapolis, with his 89th-percentile vertical jump and 96th-percentile broad jump. However, he is undersized, at just 5-foot-10, weighing 177 pounds. NFL teams don’t seem overly concerned with his size though, as he projects to be the 10th wide receiver drafted in the consensus mock draft database. Scott has also shown the ability to be used on the perimeter, scoring the second-most total points when aligned wide in the class per Sports Info Solutions. At UC’s pro day, Scott ran an unofficial 4.32 40-yard dash.
Scott looks like a screaming value at his current cost with projected mid-third-round capital (74th overall). His Cincinnati teammate Alec Pierce was selected in the second round in the 2022 NFL Draft, and made an appearance in this sleeper article last season.
I go on to break down the rest of the WR prospects with top-100 estimated draft positions, and highlight one potential latter round steal.
My projections are high on Tyler Scott, who projects as a third-round or Day 3 pick with a great shot to make an impact in the NFL pic.twitter.com/6aQjkbK31k
— Kevin Cole (@KevinCole___) April 18, 2023
Trey Palmer started his college career at LSU from 2019-2021, but hardly ever sniffed the field on a roster absolutely littered with NFL talent. Palmer had nearly as many receptions as total special teams kick returns (10th in PFF return grade in 2021). He transferred to Nebraska this past year and went to the MOON, with a 46% dominator rating – the second-highest single-season mark in my sample – as the team’s No. 1 wide receiver. He also commanded a whopping 34% target share, which ranks second-best in the draft class. One could also argue that Palmer left even more production on the table, with the 43rd-ranked catchable target rate (80%) among 48 qualifying draft-eligible WRs per SIS.
The 6-foot and 192-pound wideout flashed his blazing speed as a Cornhusker, finishing 2022 seventh overall in yards per route run (3.26) and 10th in receiving yards on deep targets (5th in the class in targets of 20-plus air yards). He cemented his status as one of the fastest WRs in the draft after registering the highest speed (21.15 mph) at the Senior Bowl. He also ran the fastest time among WRs at the NFL combine with a 4.33.
Puka Nacua started his college football career at Washington, but dealt with injuries early on as a freshman. In 2020, he played in just three games because of COVID-19 and entered the transfer portal shortly after the season concluded. It was in Nacua’s first season at BYU that he got the chance to show out. He posted a 21 percent dominator rating – identical to his sophomore number – with 44 catches for 805 yards and six receiving touchdowns. The 6-foot-2 and 201-pound wideout ended 2021 sixth in yards per route run behind future NFL WRs like Treylon Burks, Wan’Dale Robinson, and Drake London. And like London, Nacua operated primarily on the outside, with a 78 percent perimeter alignment. Nacua finished his BYU tenure strong as PFF’s second-highest-graded WR in the nation (90.1) due to his impressive efficiency on per route run basis. He was targeted on 38 percent of his routes in 2022 and posted the second-highest targets above expectation in his class per Sports Info Solutions. Nacua was also used heavily as a downfield target, running a deep route on 41% of his routes per SIS. The year prior, he was targeted on 20-plus air yard throws on 40% of his total targets. He did not test at the combine but ran a 4.55 40-yard time at BYU’s Pro Day on March 24th.
Michael Wilson turned heads at the Senior Bowl, capping off an impressive week of practice with a standout performance in the all-star game. The 6-foot-2, 213-pound wide receiver caught four out of six targets for 76 receiving yards and 1 receiving touchdown. It was the exact way that Wilson wanted to finish his college career after missing games due to a season-ending injury. The redshirt senior came back for a fifth year due to the COVID-19 pandemic to boost his draft stock after more missed games from lower body/foot injuries. He posted a 20% dominator rating in just six games with only a 10% target share. If you pro-rate his dominator rating removing his games missed, his dominator rating jumps to 34%. He made the most of every target, finishing top-8 in broken missed tackles and yards created after the catch among his classmates per Sports Info Solutions.
His 2022 season was easily his most productive since his sophomore year when he first broke out. In 2019 at 19 years old, he caught 56 balls for 672 receiving yards and 5 receiving touchdowns. His current age (23) and injury concerns will definitely push him down draft boards, but his strong finish might get him into the Day 2 conversation.
Career College Dominator Rating
|Player||Class||School||Career Dominator Rating|
|Zay Flowers||Senior||Boston College||33%|
|Nathaniel “Tank” Dell||Redshirt-Senior||Houston||29%|
|Jayden Reed||Redshirt-Senior||Michigan State||29%|
|Xavier Hutchinson||Senior||Iowa State||28%|
|Jalen Moreno-Cropper||Senior||Fresno State||24%|
|Parker Washington||Redshirt – Junior||Penn State||22%|
Honorable Mentions / Deep Cuts
Wicks didn’t start producing at Virginia until his junior year, after missing his entire sophomore season in 2020 with an injury. He erupted for 1,201 receiving yards and nine receiving touchdowns (27% dominator rating). The 6-foot-1 and 206-pound WR was a big-play machine, averaging 21.1 yards per reception (6th in the FBS). He ended the year ninth in yards per route run (3.25) with the 3rd-most downfield catches (18). However, Wicks did not finish his college career on a high note, taking a major step backward as a senior with a 24% dominator rating with questionable quarterback play.
No WR in the class saw a lower catchable target rate (68%) than Wicks per Sports Info Solutions. Luckily, he was able to right the ship at the Senior Bowl, showcasing his 2021 form as the American team’s Wide Receiver Practice Player-of-Week. However, his 4.57 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine – despite 86th or higher percentile jumps – leaves something to be desired.
Charlie Jones has been in the college ranks for a while, starting his collegiate career at Buffalo in 2018. He then transferred to Iowa as a walk-on for the 2020 season, where he made an immediate impact as a punt returner. He was named second-team All-Big Ten Conference for his return abilities. The 5-foot-11 and 175-pound WR earned accolades as the Big Ten’s Return Specialist of the Year in 2021 at Iowa before deciding to change schools again for the upcoming 2022 season.
It was this past year that finally put the 24-year-old journeyman on the map for NFL teams, as Jones posted an absurd 41% dominator rating while leading the FBS in receptions (110 catches for 1,361 yards and 12 touchdowns). His age is a major red flag for anyone hoping Jones has a legitimate ceiling in the NFL, but his consistent improvement and special teams ability will help him stick to an NFL roster.
I just want Purdue WR Charlie Jones on my fictional NFL team. He's a dude I'd bang the table for in a draft room. Battled adversity, got his shot and caught 110 passes with 3 drops…then runs a 4.43. Tracks the ball like Willie Mays and has great focus.
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 17, 2023
Dontay Demus looked like a potential star in the making at Maryland. At just 19 years old, he led the Maryland Terrapins in receiving and earned a 34% dominator rating while competing for targets with future NFL tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo. He followed up his impressive sophomore campaign with a strong 36% dominator rating in a truncated 2020 season. In 2021, Demus lead the Big Ten in receiving yards, averaging over 100 yards and 7.2 targets per game – 9th in yards per route run – until a knee injury derailed the remainder of his season. His knee issue lingered into 2022, resulting in a career-low 6% dominator rating. If there’s any way Demus can recapture his pre-injury form, he can offer massive upside at nearly 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds.
Looking back at last year’s article, I found that the biggest misses were WRs from small school football programs. Jalen Tolbert and Dai’Jean Dixon were my sleepers from those aforementioned programs and failed to fire, which is something to keep in mind when it comes to some of these Day 3 prospects. The two WRs with the highest projected draft capital from smaller programs are Charlotte’s Grant Dubose and Princeton’s Andrei Iosivas.
Andrei Iosivas has dominated his team’s receiving production over the last two seasons, with dominator ratings of 30% and 39% after his 2020 season was outright canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Iosivas caught 64 balls for 924 yards and seven receiving touchdowns as a senior, finishing the year as PFF’s 18th-highest graded receiver among the WRs from FBS and FCS schools. Iosivas is an athletic specimen – a heptathlete in track and field – and he turned more heads at the NFL Scouting Combine. Testing off the charts at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds put Iosivas high on the NFL radar, with jumps in the 86th percentile, 76th percentile 3-cone, and 76th percentile 40-yard dash (4.43).
His linear speed will translate to help take the top off defenses, and 12 of his 16 career TDs at Princeton came on passes thrown for 20-plus air yards per PFF.
Grant Dubose (WR – Charlotte)
Grant Dubose finished the 2022 season running deep on a whopping 49% of his routes run per Sports Info Solutions. But he caught just three of his 21 20-plus air yard targets. Woof. The former Charlotte 49er broke out the year before, leading his team with 892 receiving yards and 62 catches (26% dominator rating). It was his first time playing big-time college ball after transferring from Division II Miles College.
This past year, the 6-foot-2 and 201-pound WR was his most productive despite questionable quarterback play. He posted a 27% dominator rating with a 28% target share, which was the 10th-highest mark in the class. He also had a solid 3-cone time (63rd percentile) and 10-yard split (76th percentile). His 3-cone time trailed only WRs Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Iosivas at the 2023 NFL combine.