Watch List: Super Early Deep Sleepers for 2016

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I know we’re less than a week into the New Year, but it’s never too early to start thinking about your future fantasy squad. Plenty of pieces will shift as coaching changes are made, free agency surprises crop up, and the NFL draft plays out, but keeping an eye on a few under the radar players between now and August could pay off for prudent owners.

Understanding that everyone has different ideas about what constitutes a sleeper, I’ve listed numerous players at each position. For example, I don’t believe DeVante Parker qualifies as a sleeper. After all, he’s found the end zone three times in his last six games and closed out Week 17 as Sunday’s sixth best fantasy wideout. But, because he went widely undrafted in the fall and wasn’t fantasy relevant until Week 12, some fake football managers believe he’s a potential value play.

My aim with this article is to draw your attention to guys who have yet to make a big splash. I’m not advising you start trading away picks to stash them in dynasty formats, but they are players who could emerge if things break the right in 2016.

Sam Bradford, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
If a bad dress rehearsal makes for a phenomenal opening night, Bradford surely proved the opposite must also be true. After completing all ten of his passes for 121 yards and 3 TDs in the third week of the preseason, the former Ram began the regular season a flustered and flummoxed fantasy disaster. Yet after the Eagles’ Week 8 bye, things started to slow down for the turnover prone signal caller. Throwing just four picks between Weeks 9 and 17, Bradford closed out 2015 completing nearly 70 percent of his passes. Over the final three weeks of the season, the former first round pick finished among the top ten fantasy players at the position, racking up over 300 yards per outing, as well as a total of 5 TDs.

There is an obvious amount of flux in Philly right now. However, if Bradford were to stay with the team, he’d have a solid arsenal of weapons at his disposal. Both WR Jordan Matthews and TE Zach Ertz emerged in the back half of the season, existing as the two best overall fantasy options at their respective positions for the final three weeks of the regular season. Additionally, RB DeMarco Murray proved in Week 17 what he could do if he was unleashed. His dominance in the backfield could certainly alleviate some of the defensive pressure that Bradford saw early on in the year. Gut punching so many owners in 2015, Bradford’s price is bound to bottom out in 2016, which could make him a sneaky QB2 come September.

Other potential sleeper QBs:
Kirk Cousins, Matt Stafford

[All-overachievers fantasy lineup: Biggest surprises of this season]

Jerick McKinnon, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Adrian Peterson is absolutely the centerpiece of the Vikings offense… for now. He’s also set to turn 31 years old in March and averaged his fewest yards per carry since 2009 throughout the regular season. Leaving Week 15 with a sore ankle and Week 17 with a bad back, the grind of the game is starting to show on this workhorse. In his stead McKinnon has shone brightly, scoring three times in his last three contests.

A highly athletic back with a compact frame, the 23-year-old RB can be used as a grinder and as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. His versatility makes him exceedingly valuable both in fantasy and real-life football. Furthermore, he’s had a chance to learn behind one of the greatest players of this generation. At worst he’ll be a handcuff in the fall, and at best he’ll be a top-ten producer. Either way, he’s someone you’ll want to roster.

Other potential sleeper RBs:
Jay Ajayi, Jeremy Langford, Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson, Tevin Coleman, David Cobb

Jaelen Strong, WR, Houston Texans
Strong’s start in the NFL was auspicious to say the least. In a primetime game against a division rival, the rookie converted his first two professional targets for a pair of touchdowns. But he wouldn’t see much action again until scoring on the Colts in Week 15. Over the last three weeks of the regular season, Strong saw his highest number of snaps (over 70 percent) and even earned his first professional start in Week 17.

With 32-year-old Nate Washington set to become an unrestricted free agent and Cecil Shorts missing upwards of five weeks due to a myriad of injuries, Strong has an opportunity to step into a big role opposite DeAndre Hopkins next season. As evidenced by his aforementioned performance in Week 5, the Arizona State alum has got hops and physicality to boot. He’s not a burner, but with Nuke garnering attention from top-shelf CBs, Strong could benefit from softer coverage. He won’t be an elite talent, but he could easily produce WR3 numbers come September.

Other potential sleeper WRs:
Dorial Green-Beckham, Nelson Agholor, Phillip Dorsett, Justin Hardy, Breshad Perriman, Kevin White, Kenny Britt

[2016 fantasy position previews: Quarterback | Running Back | Receiver/Tight End]         

Jace Amaro, TE, New York Jets
The Texas Tech product underwhelmed in his rookie season and missed the whole of his sophomore campaign with a torn labrum. Heading into his third year as a pro, Amaro has a chance to break out. Offensive Coordinator Chan Gailey is an incredibly creative mind who has experience as a tight ends coach and elevated Scott Chandler to a 571 yards and 6 TD season as recently as 2012. Given the way the Jets offense soared in 2016, it’s very likely that Amaro could carve out a role behind Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker.

Furthermore, Marshall is entering his 11th season and is set to turn 32-years-old this spring. Coming off of the best year of his career, it’s likely he’ll take at least a small step backward. Were that to be the case, Amaro could be in line for a fantasy-relevant number of targets. At 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds, the Texas native is a hyper-athletic specimen whose health and incorporation into New York’s offense should be closely monitored throughout the offseason.

Other potential sleeper TEs:
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Eric Ebron, Will Tye, Maxx Williams

Follow Liz on Twitter @LizLoza_FF

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