Informed fantasy football participants will discover a bevvy of depth at the skill positions when preparing for drafts.
As the league continues to purchase more aerial real estate, the surplus of strong quarterbacks has deflated the position’s demand. While there’s no such movement to wait out wide receivers, the pool is also deeper than ever.
A wider distribution of labor dwindles the supply of workhorse running backs, thus weakening the position’s top tiers. Yet more rushers will receive opportunities to contribute, so there’s less pressure to secure multiple backs in the opening rounds.
Even tight end has more interesting targets than usual. With a healthy mix of steady contributors and breakout candidates, drafters who pass on Rob Gronkowski won’t have to settle for scraps.
Let’s run through rankings for running backs, wide receivers and tight ends tailored for standard scoring. Those players can’t qualify as true sleepers, but the highlighted players may fall through the seams on draft day.
1. David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
2. Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
3. LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills
4. Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons
5. Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers
6. Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins
7. Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears
8. DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans
9. Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams
10. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
11. Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars
12. Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns
13. Lamar Miller, Houston Texans
14. Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers
15. Ty Montgomery, Green Bay Packers
16. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
17. Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders
18. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
19. Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts
20. Bilal Powell, New York Jets
21. Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
22. C.J. Anderson, Denver Broncos
23. Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs
24. Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
25. Terrance West, Baltimore Ravens
26. Danny Woodhead, Baltimore Ravens
27. Paul Perkins, New York Giants
28. Ameer Abdullah, Detroit Lions
29. LeGarrette Blount, Philadelphia Eagles
30. Adrian Peterson, New Orleans Saints
Sleeper: Samaje Perine, Washington
Sleepers usually gain steam during the preseason. Yet the Samaje Perine hype train has stuttered with Rob Kelley grasping a firmer hold of Washington’s starting job. As his price tumbles, the rookie makes more sense as an affordable upside gamble.
According to Fantasy Football Calculator, the Oklahoma alum held an average draft position inside the seventh round of 12-team drafts before an underwhelming preseason debut. Despite a better second showing, his stock tumbled into the ninth round and outside the top 100.
Kelley conversely has risen from the eighth to seventh, commanding a No. 74 ADP as of Friday. That’s a fair price for the expected starter. According to ESPN.com’s Matthew Berry, he was a top-15 fantasy back in standard and point-per-reception formats after usurping Matt Jones for the starting spot in Week 8.
He’s also a volume-dependent rusher who accrued 363 total yards in his final five games after a 137-yard, three-touchdown outburst against the Green Bay Packers. He may be the starter now, but that would change after an underwhelming start. Just ask Matt Jones.
Perine, who posted three 1,000-yard rushing seasons for the Sooners, is faster, stronger and more agile than Kelley. Opportunity ultimately matters more than ability, so Kelley warrants a higher draft slot barring a sharp preseason turnaround. But sometimes it’s wise to bet on talent winning.
While Washington’s quick and balanced offense could loft Kelley into a No. 2 fantasy back, Perine would leverage a bigger role into league-changing production. Instead of overpaying for a trendy player, take the newcomer at a discount.
1. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
2. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
3. Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
4. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
5. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
6. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
7. Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
8. Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks
9. Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
10. Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders
11. T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
12. Brandin Cooks, New England Patriots
13. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
14. Terrelle Pryor, Washington
15. Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos
16. Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
17. Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
18. Alshon Jeffery, Philadelphia Eagles
19. Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers
20. Michael Crabtree, Oakland Raiders
21. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
22. Golden Tate, Detroit Lions
23. Sammy Watkins, Los Angeles Rams
24. Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers
25. Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings
26. Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs
27. Jamison Crowder, Washington
28. Willie Snead, New Orleans Saints
29. Pierre Garcon, San Francisco 49ers
30. Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers
Sleeper: Robby Anderson, New York Jets
Somebody has to play quarterback for the New York Jets. That person will have to throw the football to someone.
The top wide receiver won’t be Brandon Marshall or Eric Decker, who respectively now play for the New York Giants and Tennessee Titans. It also won’t be Quincy Enunwa, who suffered a season-ending neck injury.
The leading candidate is currently Robby Anderson, who on volume alone should easily obliterate his No. 172 default ranking in Yahoo Sports leagues.
Even the NFL‘s worst passing offense should foster at least one decent fantasy wideout. The Los Angeles Rams were unwatchable last year, but Kenny Britt still produced 1,002 receiving yards in 15 games. Enunwa emerged as a bright spot for Gang Green amid quarterback turmoil in 2016, and Anderson can do the same this season. Replicating Enunwa‘s 857 yards and four touchdowns would make Anderson a solid matchup play.
Prior to Week 3’s preseason bout with the Giants, ESPN.com’s Rich Cimini said Anderson is “separating from the rest of the receiving corps” in practice. Jets receivers coach Karl Dorrell noted the 24-year-old’s progress to NJ.com’s Connor Hughes.
“Robby’s definitely improving,” Dorrell said. “He’s understanding the mindset it takes to be a professional going into his second year in terms of how hard you work at practice, and prepare off the field
Anyone who throws a dart at Anderson should root for Bryce Petty to win the quarterback battle. In their four games together, the wideout caught 17 of 35 targets for 309 yards and two touchdowns. He snagged a reception of 40 yards or more in each contest.
Anderson doesn’t need to morph into an elite option to give drafters a strong return on investment. For the minuscule asking price, he will delight them by offering occasional No. 3 receiver or flex appeal.
1. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
2. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
3. Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
4. Jordan Reed, Washington
5. Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks
6. Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings
7. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
8. Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers
9. Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
10. Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans
11. Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions
12. Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts
13. Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
14. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
15. Martellus Bennett, Green Bay Packers
16. C.J. Fiedorowicz, Houston Texans
17. Coby Fleener, New Orleans Saints
18. Antonio Gates, Los Angeles Chargers
19. Charles Clay, Buffalo Bills
20. Austin Hooper, Atlanta Falcons
Sleeper: Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Most leagues consist of 10 or 12 teams and one starting tight end. Investing draft capital on a reserve isn’t necessary—especially for those who dipped into the top tier—so there’s no need to dive deeper than the top-20 rankings for a standard-league sleeper.
Hunter Henry and Jack Doyle are the popular picks who have lost sleeper eligibility beyond the casual groupings. Perennial sleepers who found subdued success last season, Zach Ertz and Eric Ebron are solid value picks who have graduated from such consideration.
Austin Hooper? He’s the trendy choice because of his Super Bowl touchdown, but don’t go overboard for someone with 25 catches in 17 games including the postseason. Evan Engram, David Njoku and O.J. Howard have the tools to become future fantasy fixtures, but rookie tight ends rarely factor heavily into passing offenses. Leave them for dynasty formats.
By these strict guidelines, Cameron Brate also shouldn’t qualify as a sleeper. One would think everyone is wide awake to someone who tied Henry for a position-high eight touchdowns last season. According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, Kyle Rudolph (10) and Jordan Reed (eight) are the only tight ends who received more targets inside the 10 than Brate‘s seven, five of which he turned into scores.
Yet he’s readily available for a bench slot. Fantasy Football Calculator lists his ADP as the 20th tight end off the board.
Although he developed a strong red-zone rapport with Jameis Winston, the Buccaneers spent a first-round pick on Howard. The newcomer’s emergence appears to be scaring drafters away from Brate, but Yahoo Sports’ Scott Pianowski isn’t worried about Howard stealing the 6’5″ incumbent’s thunder:
With Howard learning the ropes and putting his run-blocking skills to use, look for Brate to remain a low-level starting tight end for drafters not interested in taking one early.
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