Week 1: Deep Sleepers and DFS Bargains

My love of under the radar players has been well documented. For the last six weeks I’ve written about late-round flyers and sneaky bench stashes. Now that the regular season is underway I wanted to continue digging for gold and dole out five deep sleepers each week.

For the most part, these guys are owned in less than fifty percent of Yahoo leagues (one of them is only owned in one percent of leagues). They’re not the obvious picks and they’re not without their risks, but that’s why they’re so cheap! I’d never advocate taking all of these guys, but rather utilizing them if a manager were in a pinch at a position or aiming to build a “stars and scrubs” sort of DFS lineup.

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Tyrod Taylor, QB, Buffalo Bills ($20)
Heading into the fifth year of his career, this perennial backup beat out Matt Cassel and E.J. Manuel for the starting gig. A relative unknown before 2015, this former sixth round pick surprised in the preseason, completing twenty-four of thirty-one passes.

In addition to impressing through the air, Taylor flashed a well-oiled set of wheels. Over the first three weeks of the exhibition season, Joe Flacco’s former backup gained a total of 108 yards and a score on the ground, earning him top run ratings from Pro Football Focus.

His mobility is likely what earned him the starting gig. A defensively minded coach, Rex Ryan favors players who could trip up starters on the other side of the ball. Because there is so little tape on this kid, I think it might just work in Week 1.

He’s also facing a Colts defense that has historically been torched on the ground. Remember Week 11 vs. the Patriots last year? While Indy has added Sio Moore and Trent Cole to their front seven, I’m not convinced the new pieces will have had enough time to gel. A steal of a deal at $20 and owned in under 10 percent of Yahoo leagues, Taylor is my favorite under the radar pick of the week.

Bishop Sankey, RB, Tennessee Titans ($11)
With rookie David Cobb out for ten weeks and Terrance West still acclimating to his new digs, Sankey figures to be the Titans’ RB1.

This backfield will end up a full-blown committee before too long, but for right now it belongs to one of the least creative backs in the league. I know that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, but sometimes winning in fantasy is less about talent and more about opportunity.

While I doubt Sankey’s tape will ever be electric, the addition of mobile QB Marcus Mariota should open up some running lanes for the former second round selection. His YPC won’t ever jump off the page, but in Week 1 there will likely be enough volume to make his $11 DFS price tag worthwhile.

Plus, the matchup at Tampa Bay isn’t particularly frightening. After all, the Bucs did give up 15 TDs on the ground in 2014. Far from a flashy pick, Sankey is an option for the most frugal of fanatics.

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Darren McFadden, RB, Dallas Cowboys ($11)
I know everyone is afraid of this backfield and I totally understand why. We’ve been tortured all summer with Magic Eight Ball like predictions as to whether Joseph Randle or Darren McFadden would be installed as the team’s lead back. Through it all, however, I have maintained that McFadden was being heavily discounted. Maybe this pick is about me being stubborn, but until either Christine Michael makes an impact or the former Raider gets hurt, I’m going to keep honking. So, good news, I’ll probably have to shut up about this by next Sunday.

Randle has proven that he doesn’t have the physical skill or mental fortitude to handle the bounty of a bell cow. Whether he missed time due to an injury or because he had to appear in court, the time away only opened the door for another RB to mix in. McFadden has obvious durability concerns, but operating behind one of the league’s best offensive lines helps to fray some of that anxiety. Furthermore, DMC has proven to be the superior talent, looking refreshingly quick and averaging 5.9 YPC over the preseason.

Dallas will look to establish the run early on Sunday when they open the season against the division rival Giants. While Steve Spagnuolo has returned to New York in the hopes of revamping a unit that finished twenty-ninth in the league last year, I’m not entirely confident that it’ll work straight out of the gate. Given the soft matchup, I think DMC is likely to find a rhythm and obtain the hot hand well before halftime. Rather than fall in line with the groupthink, I’d rather challenge the notion that he’s washed up and instead buy at a heavy discount.

Kamar Aiken, WR, Baltimore Ravens ($12)
A journeyman three years into his career, Aiken flashed in Week 14 of the 2014 season. Spelling a hobbled Torrey Smith, Aiken put up a 6-65-1 stat line in that game and made a case for his future presence on the team.

After selecting Breshad Perriman in the first round of the 2015 draft, it seemed the Ravens planned to upgrade at the position. However, the rookie hurt his knee the first day of training camp and is expected to be out for the first two weeks of the regular season. Perriman’s absence has gifted Aiken with a golden opportunity, as he appears to have (at least temporarily) won the No. 2 receiver job in Baltimore.

Traveling to Denver for the season opener, Aiken will have his work cut out for him. Boasting a dominant pass rush and two of the best CBs in the game, the Broncos’ defense is poised to kick the crow out of their Week 1 opponent. But with Marc Trestman heading up Baltimore’s offense the chances to produce will be plentiful. Plus, with elder statesman Steve Smith likely to garner more defensive attention, Aiken has a shot to surprise.

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Marcedes Lewis, TE, Jacksonville Jaguars ($11)
No it’s not 2010. Currently listed as the Jaguars back-up tight end behind the digitally challenged Julius Thomas, Lewis really does have under the radar fantasy appeal in Week 1.

Hauling in all four of his targets for a total of 58 yards over the first three weeks of the preseason, the 31-year-old TE showed he still had something left in the tank. With Blake Bortles displaying improved mechanics and more touch to his game, it’s possible that Lewis could serve as a temporary security blanket over the middle for the young QB.

This Sunday the Jags will play host to the Panthers. While Thomas Davis remains one of the best coverage linebackers in the league, much of this secondary is heading into the final act of their respective careers. Some may say that Lewis is old and lumbering, but the defense he’s facing is far from young and spry.

Obviously, Clay Harbor’s existence in Jacksonville’s offense is a threat to Lewis’ targets. But he’s not as efficient as Lewis. And, frankly, I don’t think he’s as trusted by Bortles. After all, the elder of the two TEs was just voted team captain by his fellow players. The key, of course, is making sure that popularity and respect translates to the field.