Some sleeper candidates we know, some we don't. It can be hard to identify who a true sleeper is. But don't worry — fantasy football analyst Dalton Del Don is here to do the hard work for you. He sifted through every NFL roster heading into the 2022 season to key on late-round players with big upside and explains why you should consider drafting them with your final picks.
Arizona Cardinals: Eno Benjamin
Benjamin has received praise throughout the summer and has emerged as the favorite to back up James Conner, who has a long injury history. Benjamin is a capable receiver with a 300-carry season on his college resume who’s flashed before. He’d quickly become a must fantasy start if he were to take over an RB role in Arizona that provided the second-most goal-line carries in the league last season.
Atlanta Falcons: Marcus Mariota
Mariota is a former No. 2 pick with a solid career 7.5 YPA mark who can still run and now gets to play indoors with Kyle Pitts and Drake London (and a coach likely to improve in Year 2). There’s a strong chance Desmond Ridder is starting for Atlanta during the fantasy playoffs, but Mariota can absolutely be a top-12 fantasy QB until the team turns to the rookie.
Baltimore Ravens: Isaiah Likely
Likely is suddenly on the fantasy radar after recording 8 catches for 100 yards and a score on just 15 snaps Sunday, adding to an impressive preseason resume. While the Ravens won’t pass a ton, Lamar Jackson easily leads all quarterbacks in target share to tight ends (34.0 percent!) over the last five years. Likely could immediately emerge as the team’s third option in the passing game, and there’s real fantasy upside should Mark Andrews go down with injury.
Buffalo Bills: Isaiah McKenzie
McKenzie easily beat Jamison Crowder to win Buffalo’s starting slot role, taking over for Cole Beasley, who averaged 82 catches while missing multiple games over the last two seasons. McKenzie was top-10 in EPA/route run last season and has averaged a mere 27.0 fantasy points during games where he’s seen more than six targets since 2019.
Playing in such a pass-happy Buffalo offense that saw Josh Allen (who has the highest target share to slot receivers among all QBs over the last five seasons) attempt a whopping 65 throws in the end zone last year (no other QB attempted more than 50), McKenzie could legitimately finish as a top-25 PPR WR.
Carolina Panthers: Baker Mayfield
Purely for Superflex formats, Mayfield is a deep sleeper as a former No. 1 overall pick whose ugly 2021 can be excused thanks to playing through a torn shoulder (his left one). He’s also had to play a third of his career (20 of 60 games) under “windy” conditions. Admittedly Mayfield now has a much worse offensive line and a shaky coaching staff but expect him to be a big upgrade over Sam Darnold, while Christian McCaffrey and DJ Moore provide the best receiving duo of his career.
Chicago Bears: Khalil Herbert
Herbert flashed as a rookie and is almost certainly a much better rusher than David Montgomery, who’s seen time on special teams this summer under Chicago’s new coaching staff. Despite going many rounds later in fantasy drafts, don’t be surprised if the impressive Herbert out-carries Montgomery this season.
Cincinnati Bengals: Samaje Perine
While Chris Evans is also an interesting PPR flier, Perine remains Joe Mixon’s direct backup. Perine gets a hard time for his moment in the Super Bowl, but he’s an underrated prospect who holds the record for most rushing yards in a single college game (427) and averaged more rush yards over expectation than Mixon last season. Mixon has missed multiple games during three of his five seasons in the NFL, and the Bengals just won the AFC with a quarterback who posted an 8.9 YPA while recovering from knee surgery, and the Bengals got much better at offensive line during the offseason.
In other words, even while losing passing down work to Captain America and not necessarily a special back, Perine would quickly become a top-15-type fantasy RB given his situation should Mixon go down.
Cleveland Browns: David Njoku
Njoku has intriguing target rates, was just paid a huge contract that treats him like a top-five tight end in the league during the offseason and no longer competes with Austin Hooper. While Jacoby Brissett throwing to him may not seem ideal, the veteran QB ranks top-three in target share to tight ends since 2017. New teammate Amari Cooper has never commanded a target share better than 22% during his career, the rest of Cleveland’s WR group is thin and Njoku is an elite athlete who got the sixth-most fantasy points per target last season. He should smash his career-high in looks in 2022.
Dallas Cowboys: Jalen Tolbert
Tolbert was an air-yards hog in college and is the favorite to open the season as the Cowboys’ WR2 on a Dallas offense that led the NFL in scoring last season but is now missing Amari Cooper, Cedric Wilson, Blake Jarwin, Michael Gallup and James Washington due to a combination of departures and injuries.
Denver Broncos: Albert Okwuegbunam
A 24-year-old with truly elite workout and underlying statistical metrics who earned the fourth-highest target per route rate among TEs over the last two seasons and will now be catching passes from Russell Wilson on a Denver team missing Noah Fant and Tim Patrick. However, it’s worth noting that Okwuegbunam’s ADP has been dropping thanks to his discouraging preseason usage.
Detroit Lions: Jamaal Williams
Playing for a Detroit team with one of the best offensive lines and a much-improved WR group, Williams is capable of playing three downs and is one D’Andre Swift injury away from having a ton of fantasy value. Swift has averaged 3.5 missed games over his first two years in the league.
Green Bay Packers: Romeo Doubs
Doubs has struggled with drops and may open the season as Green Bay’s WR4, but he’s also made multiple “wow” plays throughout the summer while unsurprisingly separating himself from fellow rookie Christian Watson. On a Green Bay team extremely thin at receiver, Doubs could easily emerge as Aaron Rodgers’ new favorite target over the second half of the season with Davante Adams gone.
Houston Texans: Dameon Pierce & Davis Mills
Pierce isn’t a special athlete but was elite in Yards Created and dominant in success rate and avoiding tackles in college. Marlon Mack was one of the worst rushers in the league last season returning from a torn Achilles, while Rex Burkhead is 32 years old. Meanwhile, Pierce popped during his NFL debut and was held out of Houston’s second game in a sign the impressive rookie back may have already won the team’s starting running back job on an underrated Texans offense.
Mills is a deeper Texans sleeper for those in Superflex leagues, as he was a top-10 fantasy QB over the final five games last season despite poor coaching (Pep Hamilton now takes over as OC). Mills also got 7.9 YPA with a 12:1 INT ratio over seven home games and was the rare rookie to post a positive CPOE.
Indianapolis Colts: Parris Campbell
Campbell is one of the league’s biggest injury risks but also possesses rare and elite workout metrics and has received positive buzz this summer. The Colts go from one of the NFL’s least accurate quarterbacks in Carson Wentz to one of the most accurate in Matt Ryan, and Campbell is slated to see plenty of work out of the slot.
Mo Alie-Cox is another Colts sleeper with Jack Doyle gone and Ryan such a glaring upgrade at QB.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Christian Kirk
Kirk was used curiously by an Arizona team that refuses to move its receivers around, but he toasted man coverage and will likely now be force-fed targets in Jacksonville after signing a massive contract that broke the WR market during the offseason.
His new quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, is now freed from "Bourbon Meyer" after quietly ranking top-five in “money” throws and having sneaky success on early downs, so Kirk has legit top-20 WR fantasy upside.
Kansas City Chiefs: Isiah Pacheco
Pacheco has received a ton of training camp hype, but he’s no Darwin Thompson and should be taken seriously on a Chiefs offense that could lead the NFL in scoring yet has an opening for an alpha back. Ronald Jones looks destined to be cut, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire has proven to be decidedly average (earning the moniker "MEH"). Meanwhile, Andy Reid has heaped praise on Pacheco, who tied for the fastest 40-time at the combine and played under historically bad circumstances in college. Pacheco has been arguably the biggest fantasy riser this summer — for a good reason.
Las Vegas Raiders: Zamir White
The new Raiders coaching staff drafted White after failing to pick up Josh Jacobs’ fifth-year option, so this is the rookie’s backfield sooner or later. Jacobs will open the year as the starter, but he’s a trade candidate and has an injury history. Playing on an offense that added Davante Adams during the offseason, the athletic White could be a fantasy difference maker over the second half of the season.
Los Angeles Chargers: Joshua Palmer
Palmer is slated to act as LA’s WR3 this season and should improve in Year 2 after leading all receivers in contested catch rate as a rookie (in a limited sample admittedly). He has a superstar throwing him the ball, and one WR teammate who’s seemingly always battling an injury in Mike Williams and another in Keenan Allen who’s now on the wrong side of 30 and has seen his yards per route run drop in every season since 2017. Palmer is an obvious breakout candidate.
Joshua Kelley is also a sleeper on the Chargers, as he appears to have won the team’s RB2 role despite rookie Isaiah Spiller being drafted in fantasy leagues as if he were Austin Ekeler’s backup throughout the summer.
Los Angeles Rams: Darrell Henderson
Henderson was a much better rusher than the version of Cam Akers who returned last season after tearing his Achilles, and the Rams coaching staff has openly spoken about an even backfield split in 2022. Playing for a team that just won the Super Bowl but has a thin RB group, Henderson looks like a fantasy steal going many rounds after Akers.
Miami Dolphins: Chase Edmonds
The Dolphins boosted their offensive line and added WR Tyreek Hill and coach Mike McDaniel during the offseason. While Miami’s backfield has mistakenly been labeled crowded, Raheem Mostert might be the biggest injury risk in the league, and Sony Michel and Myles Gaskin are bad at football. Meanwhile, Edmonds ranked top-10 in target share and yards per route run among running backs last season and could easily finish as a top-15 PPR back in 2022.
Minnesota Vikings: Kirk Cousins
Cousins has thrown 68 touchdowns over the last two seasons despite being hindered by a coaching staff that had the Vikings ranked 20th in pass rate over expectation and ignored play action. Meanwhile, new coach Kevin O’Connell orchestrated a Rams offense that scored 80 percent of their touchdowns via the pass last season. Playing indoors with Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn and Irv Smith, Cousins is a dark horse MVP candidate.
New England Patriots: Rhamondre Stevenson
Stevenson may be more than a “sleeper” after being hyped so much during the summer, but he’s an extremely intriguing fantasy pick taking over New England’s passing down role with 60+ vacated RB targets after James White retired and Brandon Bolden left. While questions remain regarding the Patriots’ play calling this season, and teammate Damien Harris rushed for 15 touchdowns last season, Stevenson looks like a special player capable of emerging as one of the league’s very best running backs as soon as this year.
New Orleans Saints: Chris Olave
Olave is a strong prospect who should get an immediate opportunity on a New Orleans offense that plays indoors and has a WR1 in Michael Thomas who’s played just seven games since 2019 (he's currently sidelined with a hamstring injury). Olave has impressed throughout the summer and is rightfully one of the favorites to win Offensive Rookie of the Year this season.
New York Giants: Daniel Jones & Wan’Dale Robinson
Jones has sneaky rushing ability, gets a huge coaching upgrade with Brian Daboll taking over and should get a much easier schedule in 2022. The Giants also drafted tackle Evan Neal in the top-10 to pair with a hopefully healthy Andrew Thomas, while Kadarius Toney, Kenny Golladay, Saquon Barkley and impressive rookie Wan’Dale Robinson form a quietly strong supporting cast. Jones has averaged more rushing yards per game than Patrick Mahomes and Dak Prescott throughout his career and is one of the league’s best deep passers, so he has the potential to be a top-12 fantasy QB this season given all the upgrades in New York.
Robinson was in the 99th percentile in college target share, the 95th percentile in breakout age and has been the talk of Giants’ camp while making a bunch of plays. He’s going to start immediately in the slot with Sterling Shepard out, and Toney appears to be one of the biggest injury risks in the league, so opportunities should be there for the rookie.
New York Jets: Braxton Berrios
Berrios should be a sneaky target source as the Jets’ starting slot receiver no matter who plays quarterback this season, giving him extra value in PPR leagues. Berrios saw double-digit targets in three games last year despite starting just once, and Jamison Crowder left during the offseason.
Philadelphia Eagles: Kenneth Gainwell
Gainwell saw more high-value opportunities (targets and carries inside the 10) than Miles Sanders last year as a rookie and would have nice fantasy upside running behind arguably the league’s best offensive line should an injury strike Sanders, who’s missed at least four games in back-to-back seasons.
Pittsburgh Steelers: George Pickens
Pickens was a five-star recruit who slipped in the draft thanks to an injury and off-field issues, but his talent has people already comparing him to Randy Moss. In fact, Pickens’ performance in August has suddenly made him BetMGM’s favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year at +850 despite sharing targets with Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool from Mitch Trubisky.
San Francisco 49ers: Danny Gray
A 49ers backup running back will almost certainly be a must-start at some point this season, but your guess is as good as mine which one emerges behind clear starter Elijah Mitchell. While it may take injuries to strike for Gray to become fantasy worthy given the run-heavy San Francisco offense, the rookie has impressed throughout summer while emerging as the team’s new WR3 of the future. Gray is an underrated prospect with big hands who can fly (98th percentile 40-time) and matches up well with the arm of new QB Trey Lance. The rookie wideout is a deep fantasy sleeper.
Seattle Seahawks: Rashaad Penny
After returning from injury in Week 13 last season, Penny was fantasy's top-scoring back over the final six games and ended the year leading all backs in rush yards over expectation. While the downgrade at QB from Russell Wilson and a shaky Seattle offensive line doesn’t help, Penny looks like a true star capable of rising above his situation.
The Seahawks drafted Kenneth Walker, but coach Pete Carroll historically prefers veterans to draft capital, and Chris Carson retired. Penny racked up 39 touchdowns over his last two years in college, and while he’s clearly an injury risk, that’s created a rare opportunity in which one of the league’s very best running backs isn’t even being drafted as a top-25 fantasy RB. Penny’s ADP has admittedly climbed recently with no timetable for Walker’s return from surgery.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Rachaad White
White isn’t guaranteed to open the year as Tampa Bay’s RB2, but he’s impressed throughout the summer and could eventually be in a terrific situation. Leonard Fournette was targeted relentlessly last year but wasn’t efficient with them and has a long injury history. Meanwhile, White led college backs in yards per route run and could be a potential “fantasy league winner” over the second half of the season.
Tennessee Titans: Austin Hooper
Hooper is two seasons removed from recording 75 catches for 787 yards and six touchdowns over just 13 games with the Falcons. His last two down years can easily be excused while playing in Cleveland, and now he joins a Tennessee offense that has the most vacated targets and air yards in the entire NFL. Meanwhile, since Ryan Tannehill began starting in 2019, 24% of his targets have gone to tight ends, including 25 of his 76 TD passes.
With Derrick Henry entering the decline phase of his career and the Titans projected to be around .500 yet also have one of the most favorable fantasy schedules for the position, it all sets up for a real nice season from Hooper.
Washington Commanders: Jahan Dotson
With banged-up tight ends and a thin WR group in Washington, Dotson should see immediate opportunities. The rookie has been the talk of the team’s camp, where he’s reportedly displayed more chemistry with new QB Carson Wentz than any other receiver. Dotson is a sleeper capable of helping fantasy managers right away.