There is no word more divisive, misunderstood and misused in the entire fantasy vernacular.
The majority defines it as a generic-named player with considerable upside going anywhere in the mid-to-late rounds of drafts. These 'under-the-radar' commodities are, supposedly, relative unknowns which, if selected, will lead owners to a land of $100 bills, champagne showers, Steven Segal-themed trophies (Yes, they do exist) and, most importantly, bragging rights.
If that’s really what it means, beer is an unheralded adult beverage.
To be fair, a sleeper is a dark-horse player with massive profit potential. However, its proper classification should stem from exactly where that player is picked in average drafts. From my perspective, anyone taken as a non-starter – outside the QB top-12, RB top-24, WR top-36, TE top-12 – and after pick No. 100 overall in 12-team leagues is one. Then again, with information accessible to everyone, everywhere, unearthing diamonds in the rough is an almost impossible process.
Despite what some people/sites may tell you, Colin Kaepernick, Rashad Jennings, Toby Gerhart, Cordarrelle Patterson, Terrance Williams and Jordan Reed are not certifiable Rip Van Winkles. They are simply well-known, yet undervalued early mid-round picks with measurable profitability.
Now that we’re all on the same page, uncovering the next Joique Bell, Alshon Jeffery or Julius Thomas is a simpler task than you think. By analyzing and projecting a player’s snap count is the key to striking it rich. Just look at Eric Decker’s ascension in 2012 or Josh Gordon’s last year. Both receivers saw a substantial increase in workload compared to the year before. Fantasy is a game of opportunity after all.
Flip on that helmet light, grab a shovel and start digging, here are 10 legit sleepers you should pinpoint deep in drafts.
Marvin Jones, Cin, WR (Yahoo ADP: 118.0, WR44)
Snaps Seen in '13: 618/1182 (52.3%)
It's a bit mind-blowing a rather untapped wideout, coming off a 10-TD season, has generated minimal buzz in the fantasy community. He caught 85.7 percent of his red-zone targets last year (nine for TDs) and, according to Hue Jackson, is virtually locked in as Andy Dalton's WR2 opposite A.J. Green. Jackson promises a more balanced offense, potentially slicing Dalton's 2013 attempts (586) by 150-170. Still, only attracting 77 targets a season ago, he should sail past 100 looks with relative ease this fall. His 8-130-0 line against the Chargers in the playoffs, a game in which he played on 77 percent of Cincy's snaps, was a preview. Roughly 60-70 catches, 900 yards and 8-10 TDs are in his immediate future.
Andrew Hawkins, Cle, WR (140+, WR70+)
Snaps Seen in '13: 175/692 (25.3%)
On a possible Josh Gordon-less and probable Johnny Manziel-led Browns team, Hawkins figures to carve out a significant role. The 5-foot-7, 180-pound target is a cross between Darren Sproles, Wes Welker and a jackrabbit. He's lightning quick, versatile and can cut on a dime. The veteran will undoubtedly log most action in the slot functioning as an underneath 'binky' for Brian Hoyer or Manziel. However, Browns WRs coach Mike McDaniel said recently the hard-working Hawk will also ocassionally line up outside. A standout in OTAs, he's a good bet to lead Cleveand's morose group of WRs in targets and receptions, potentially elevating him into the WR3 class in PPR formats.
Pierre Thomas, NO, RB (116.4, RB33)
Snaps Seen in '13: 578/1154 (50.1%)
There might be no more ardent supporter of the PT Bruiser than yours truly. For years I have petitioned the Saints coaching staff to give the rusher more time. Finally it appears he will receive exactly that. With Sproles now in Philly, PT will be the featured RB in the old scat-back's packages. The increase in action is refreshing, but it won't necessarily lead to additional touches. Last year, the ex-Illini grabbed 77 passes (on 82 targets), the most among rushers. Though Khiry Robinson and Mark Ingram will remain in the mix, he should see a slight uptick in carries, likely netting 10-12 per game while chipping in a handful of TDs. A spike in receptions, however, probably isn't in the cards. Rookie Brandin Cooks should see the majority of the targets that went to Sproles last year. PT will again be a highly coveted FLEX back in PPR, but don't bank on a return to 2008-2009
Zach Ertz, Phi, TE (105.2, TE13)
Snaps Seen in '13: 482/1018 (47.3%)
This spring/summer Ertz's profit potential has climbed with the mercury. When DeSean Jackson vacated the premises, many immediately deemed Jeremy Maclin or Riley Cooper as the primary beneficiaries. But because Maclin's lower extremities are held together by weak adhesives and since Cooper is more of a deep threat, the tight end and splashy rookie Jordan Matthews may actual be the real winners. Chip Kelly is a champion of breakneck tempo and mismatches. Because of Ertz's intimidating size (6-foot-5, 250-pounds), sure hands and field-stretching skills – he ranked fourth in deep passing among eligible TEs last year per Pro Football Focus – he will be an integral part of the offense likely netting between 90-100 targets. Throw in Brent Celek's erosion and a top-10 season is on tap for the second-year ogre.
Aaron Dobson, NE, WR (136.9, WR70)
Snaps Seen in '13: 578/948 (60.9%)
The lasting impression most have of the target's rookie season was his embarrassing display of banana hands in rain-soaked conditions Week 2 against the Jets, a chuckle-worthy performance despite a useful fantasy line (3-56-1) that earned him the nickname 'Dropson.' Still, accompanying the downs, he had many ups. Against Miami and Pittsburgh in Weeks 8 and 9 he exhibited the tacky hands and big play ability that made him a star at Marshall, totaling nine receptions, 190 yards and three TDs. Coming off foot surgery, he isn't expected to participate in team activities until training camp. Missing OTAs and minicamp will turn off some, but his blend of size (6-foot-3) and speed (4.40 40-yard) has many New England insiders predicting a breakout season for Tom Brady's 'X.' Think Brandon Lloyd 2012 (131-74-911-4) with a couple more TDs.
Bernard Pierce, Bal, RB (133.6, RB52)
Snaps Seen in '13: 414/1055 (39.2%)
Rumors continue to swirl Ray Rice will be severely reprimanded for a domestic incident that occurred during the offseason. Most anticipate he'll miss a minimum of four and up to six games, paving the way for Pierce to steal the show. Rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro and veteran Justin Forsett will push the bruiser in training camp, but the third-year rusher should stake his claim as the Week 1 starter. One look at his hideous numbers from a season ago would turn any fantasy owner to stone, however, expect a rebirth in Gary Kubiak's zone-blocking scheme. Pierce is a solid one-cut runner who can gain appreciable yards after contact. Yes, the offensive line is a concern, especially with a new system being implemented, and the Ravens' early schedule is rather unappetizing (Cin, Pit, at Cle, Car), but he'll have every opportunity to win the job and run with it.
Markus Wheaton, Pit, WR (133.5, WR69)
Snaps Seen in '13: 161/739 (21.8%)
Limited by a hand injury, Wheaton saw only sporadic action last year behind Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. However, with Sanders catching passes from Peyton Manning, opportunity knocks in Year 2. A third-round pick in the 2013 draft, the Oregon St. product is a big-play burner with excellent ball-tracking skills. Many scouts have compared him to Brown, providing a glimpse of what he could develop into long-term. It's doubtful he'll make the leap his cohort did last fall, but Sanders did log 112 targets and finished No. 35 among WRs in overall fantasy production. If Wheaton can keep rookie Martavis Bryant at arm's length, he should be an occasionally serviceable WR3 in 12-team leagues.
LaDarius Green, SD, TE (128.1, TE21)
Snaps Seen in '13: 450/1251 (35.9%)
After his late-season emergence Weeks 11-13 (16-9-206-2), many within the fantasy community are over the moon about Green's 2014 potential. No mistake, his size/speed combination is salivating. He can routinely gain an extra step on a linebacker, a verifiable matchup nightmare. His 22.1 yards per catch mark from last year says it all. Some are all but guaranteeing a top-10 season from Green. Local propaganda has certainly sparked that feeling. Though he will see an increase in playing time, the 24-year-old still has to contend with a partially fossilized Antonio Gates, who notched a commendable 77-872-4 line in '13. Anticipate some growth, but a top-10 or even top-12 output is probably sill a year away.
Justin Hunter, Ten, WR (131.5, WR67)
Snaps Seen in '13: 340/871 (39.0%)
Not quite the Fred Dryer bad mamma jamma his last name implies, Hunter did show flashes as a rookie in a largely vanilla offense. Against AFC rivals Oakland and Denver he accounted for 10 receptions 225 yards and a pair of scores. Unfortunately, however, he managed just eight receptions, 128 yards and two TDs in his other 11 games. Kendall Wright is entrenched as the Titans' No. 1, but Hunter certainly possesses the talent needed to dethrone Nate Washington for No. 2 duties. Jake Locker's accuracy issues don't inspire great confidence, but, as Tennessee wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson recently boasted , the youngster has the frame and baseline skills to be a difference maker. Scratch off the late-round lottery ticket in deeper formats.
Levine Toilolo, Atl, TE (140+, TE30+)
Snaps Seen in '13: 198/1100 (18.0%)
With Tony Gonzalez now opining on CBS, the 22-year-old Stanford product has enormous shoes to fill. Sharpied in as the starter, he will unquestionably tally the biggest jump in snaps of anyone on this list. Still, it's silly to think he'll be Gonzo revisited. Unlike the future HOFer, Toilolo is more of an in-line tight end, not the slot machine his predecessor was. Matt Ryan has rarely targeted interior TEs during his tenure in Atlanta (2.7 percent in '13), but that likely had more to do with where Gonzalez lined up. Think of Toilolo as a better version of Detroit's Joseph Fauria, a massive red-zone weapon (6-foot-8, 255-pounds) who will finish with favorable TD numbers (5-7) but only modest yards (450-550). Label him as a mid-to-high range TE2.
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