Top 15 NFL ‘Value’ Sleepers for 2017By Mark Dankenbring | Published: August 22, 2017 at 11:04 am
Given the volume and accessibility of NFL sleepers articles on the Internet these days, it’s become much harder to actually obtain one of them. Well, I’m here to write another article. But instead of identifying players you haven’t heard much about (because those barely exist anymore), I’m interested in highlighting the guys who are currently undervalued and could provide a great return on investment toward the end of your drafts.
It’s likely that you’ve heard of all of these players, give or take a couple, but they still offer some great value potential based on their average draft position. A late round RB handcuff or WR in a new offense could go overlooked, but become weekly starters and league winners. (Note: “ADP” appearing below reflects figures from FantasyPro’s ADP tool).
1) Breshad Perriman (WR, ADP 197) — Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore’s first-round pick in ‘15 enters 2017 as my favorite wide receiver sleeper pick. After missing his entire rookie season due to injury, Perriman played in all 16 games in ‘16 and saw 66 targets from Joe Flacco. Dennis Pitta (122 targets), Steve Smith Sr. (106 targets), and Kamar Aiken (54 targets) are all gone and leave their targets behind, which accounted for 42% of Joe Flacco’s throws a season ago. Perriman in line to receive a large share of that 42%.
Newcomers Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace will offer some competition, but the physically gifted Perriman has spent two years in this offense and ought to be given plenty of opportunities. Perriman is only being drafted in 18% of leagues at the moment, and he’ll likely be carrying a questionable tag into Week 1 with a hamstring issue, so he’ll be overlooked even more. In a pass-happy offense with a ton of targets up for grabs, Perriman has some great upside this season that you can snag in the last few rounds or even on the waiver wire.
2) Zay Jones (WR, ADP 164) — Buffalo Bills
The Bills’ fantasy outlook changed dramatically when the team traded Sammy Watkins to the Rams. Watkins was the clear number one option in the passing offense, and his absence opens up a big opportunity for rookie Zay Jones in the vertical passing game. Buffalo acquired Jordan Matthews from Philadelphia immediately after the Watkins trade, but now Anquan Boldin has retired (after two weeks up north), leaving Corey Brown the likely slot man and the outside WR position wide open.
So Jones becomes the primary receiver on the outside, and in an offense that (like Baltimore) saw 42% of their targets leave from a season ago, Tyrod Taylor, who digs the longball, will likely target Zay Jones early and often. Jones is currently the 62nd WR being drafted in ESPN leagues, but in an offense that has no other real downfield receiving threat and a quarterback that excels in pushing the ball down field, Jones is in as good of a position as any to really exceed his value this season.
3) Austin Seferian-Jenkins (TE, ADP 236) – New York Jets
Someone has to catch passes in New York besides Bilal Powell and Matt Forte, right? Right?!? Seferian-Jenkins has had an underwhelming first four years in the NFL, but has flashed some great ability while also struggling with off-field issues, most recently a second DUI in September 2016. ASJ has been sober since January and seems to have turned his life around, showing up to camp down 33 pounds from last season and with renewed excitement for the game of football.
The 6-foot-5, 245-pound (roughly) TE is currently going undrafted in ESPN leagues. Because he’s suspended for the first two weeks of the season, you don’t even have to roster him until Week 3. We all know the Jets are likely to be one of the NFL’s worst teams this season, which means they’ll spend a lot of time trailing and passing to catch up. Seferian-Jenkins has to be up there in terms of physical talent and ability in their receiving corps, and is a great target for whoever ends up under center for the Jets. I’ll definitely have some stock in ASJ this season, and think he could be one of the most valuable early season waiver wire additions.
4) Andy Dalton (QB, ADP 149) – Cincinnati Bengals
Dalton might be the most undervalued quarterback heading into this season. He’s been a top-12 fantasy quarterback in four of the past five seasons (ended 2013 after 13 games but was #5 fantasy QB at the time). His peak came in 2013 when he threw 33 TD passes and finished behind just Peyton Manning and Drew Brees on the fantasy leaderboard. Dalton enters the 2017 season with as many weapons he’s had at his disposal, as the Bengals added University of Washington WR standout John Ross with the #9 overall pick this season as well as RB Joe Mixon, who will likely play a decent sized role in the offense. A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard return after each missing the last six games in ‘16, and tight end Tyler Eifert will hope for a healthy return after playing in just six full games last season. With a full assortment of weapons, a fairly soft schedule, and the ceiling of a top 5 fantasy quarterback, Dalton is going criminally late in drafts so far (QB19) and ought to be a consistent fantasy starter this year.
5) Jacquizz Rodgers (RB, ADP 141) – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Rodgers has to be one of the most valuable running back handcuffs entering the 2017 season because you already know he’s going to see the majority of the workload in Doug Martin’s 3-game absence to begin the season. He’s already proven he can handle the gig; these are his numbers as the RB1 with Martin out last season: 30 carries, 101 yards – 26 carries, 154 yards – 19 carries, 69 yards, TD – 15 carries, 63 yards, TD – 17 carries, 75 yards. Not to mention, the Bucs have made it pretty clear that the starting job is up for grabs once Martin returns, so there’s a chance Rodgers will continue to see decent usage beyond Week 3. A late-round RB handcuff that is guaranteed three starts and has a better chance for usage than most other handcuffs? I will take that All. Day. Long.
6) Cooper Kupp (WR, ADP 205) – Los Angeles Rams
The Rams’ 2017 third-rounder is in line to start in the slot for the Rams come Week 1 and will likely see a lot of targets from sophomore QB Jared Goff. Kupp caught 6 of 7 targets from Goff in their second preseason game, racking up 70 yards and a TD. Fellow wideouts Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Tavon Austin all have bigger names and are being drafted ahead of Kupp, but Watkins has spent much of his career hobbled by injuries, Austin has become something of a gadget play artist (at least under former head coach Jeff Fisher). More importantly, rookie head coach Sean McVay will want to help out Goff as much as possible with short, easy completions that move the chains and build Goff’s confidence. Kupp is the receiver to most likely benefit from those short passes, and I think he has a great shot at becoming an impactful fantasy WR this year, especially in PPR leagues. He’s only been drafted in 6.3% of ESPN leagues thus far, so feel free to wait till your last pick or even wait to target him on the waiver wire; just don’t be late to the party.
7) Kareem Hunt (RB, ADP 101)– Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City traded up to select Kareem Hunt in the third round of this year’s draft, and Andy Reid is excited to see what the Toledo product can do. Incumbent rusher Spencer Ware is still the starter, but Ware wasn’t all that productive last season. From Weeks 7 through 14 he averaged only 3.6 yards per carry on 119 totes. Reid has always been willing to throw different people into the mix, and in an offense that doesn’t have a ton of weapons, Hunt could quickly become part of the fold in KC. Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill are the obvious names there, but someone else will need to step up and produce. Hunt likely will creep up draft boards as the preseason progresses and may become the feature back in an Andy Reid offense sometime within the first five or six weeks. Hunt is one of the more obvious “sleepers,” so if you like him, don’t want until after the 100th pick.
8) Cameron Meredith (WR, ADP 110) – Chicago Bears
Meredith enters the 2017 season as the WR1 in Chicago after leading the Bears in targets one season ago. Some combination of Mike Glennon and Mitch Trubisky will be airing it out to him as opposed to Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley, but it’s not like Hoyer and Barkley are starter-caliber NFLers. Chicago will likely struggle once again this season and look to air it out quite a bit, putting Meredith in a great position to have fantasy relevance once again. Meredith closed out 2017 as the 7th ranked fantasy WR over the last five weeks, catching 31 balls for 439 yards in that stretch, and I see no reason why he shouldn’t hit the ground running this year. He’s currently being drafted as the WR40 in ESPN leagues, labeling him as a low WR3 option, but Meredith has solid WR2 potential.
9) Julius Thomas (TE, ADP 176) – Miami Dolphins
Julius Thomas reunites with Adam Gase after the TE spent two years in Jacksonville. Thomas now enters the season as the number one tight end in Miami. If you played fantasy football in 2013 and 2014, you remember how much of an impact Thomas had at the tight end position with 12 touchdowns in each of those seasons. Gase was Denver’s offensive coordinator in those two seasons and saw first-hand what Thomas can do, which is likely why the Dolphins went out and picked up a player who played only nine games and caught 30 passes last season. Thomas is currently being drafted in only 10.4% of ESPN leagues, and therefore presents some great value potential for a player you can get in the last couple rounds of your draft. Thomas will be catching passes from Jay Cutler, not end-of-his-prime Peyton Manning, but a big-bodied tight end who can snag 10 touchdowns at the end of a draft is very appealing.
10) Jack Doyle (TE, ADP 130) – Indianapolis Colts
Over 24% of Andrew Luck’s targets and yardage have gone to tight ends over the past four seasons, including 30% of his touchdown passes. Doyle performed well last year alongside Dwayne Allen, and the Colts decided to re-sign Doyle over Allen, indicating they like his talent (or at least his price) and think he’s a good fit in the offense. He’s crept up draft boards recently, but is still in the range around guys like Evan Engram, O.J. Howard and Jared Cook, who don’t nearly have the upside as Doyle in my opinion. Again, not that Doyle is necessarily a traditional sleeper, but I think he offers some great TE1 value at a price of a 12th/13th round pick. He’ll drop on my list if Luck isn’t able to play the first few weeks, but I’m all-in on Doyle when Luck is under center.
11) Kenny Golladay (WR, ADP 189) – Detroit Lions
The Lions’ third-round pick in ‘17 (96th overall) has gotten more and more mentions since his two-touchdown preseason performance a week ago, but a tweet from Evan Silva tipped me off on him a little earlier this summer. Silva tweeted this combine comparison between Golladay and WR A.J. Green.
Golladay is on the right and Green is on the left. As you can see, their numbers are eerily similar. Golladay has jumped up nearly 30 spots in the last week in ESPN drafts, but is still only taken in 10% of leagues thus far. He’s the clear number three WR in Detroit at the moment, but Marvin Jones only caught more than four passes once in his last 11 games last season, so there could be opportunity for the rookie to surpass Jones. There are other end-of-draft WR stashes I prefer due to more guaranteed involvement, but the raw athleticism and physical talent is there with Golladay, so he should definitely be on your radar.
12) Austin Hooper (TE, ADP 176) — Atlanta Falcons
The tight end position seems to be as deep this season as I’ve ever seen, and Hooper is in as good of a position as any to outperform his projections. Atlanta returns almost all of their skill position players from last year’s league-leading offense, and Hooper will be the only new skill-position Falcons starter. Last year, Falcons TEs caught 788 yards worth of passes and 10 TDs, and Hooper is now in line to see the majority of those opportunities. He was able to establish some rapport with Matt Ryan last season, and even caught a TD pass in the Super Bowl, so we know Ryan trusts him. Defenses will have their hands more than full with Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, and Taylor Gabriel, probably leaving the 6-foot-4 Hooper with space to work against a linebacker.
13) Thomas Rawls (RB, ADP 119) – Seattle Seahawks
After finishing as the 6th best fantasy RB in 2014, off-season acquisition Eddie Lacy finished 24th in 2015 and played just five games last year, reaching 85+ rushing yards just once. Thomas Rawls is currently the projected starter in Seattle, and even though Pete Carroll hasn’t announced a starter, Rawls will likely garner the early season workload since he is more familiar with the system and can hit the ground running in Week 1. Despite that, Rawls is still being drafted nearly 50 spots later than Lacy in ESPN drafts, and incredibly he’s going undrafted in almost half of leagues! In a year that favors WR depth, Rawls is a great late-round play who could turn into a starter if Lacy is ineffective or gets injured (behind Seattle’s offensive line, it’s not unlikely). Rawls has had success when given the chance: in eight career games with 15 or more carries, he’s averaged 5.26 yards per carry.
14) J.J. Nelson (WR, ADP 180) – Arizona Cardinals
Larry Fitzgerald is now 33 years old and entering his 14th NFL season, while John Brown is at risk of not making the Week 1 roster as he battles his sickle-cell issues. Nelson looks like the clear-cut #3 option in the passing game behind Fitzgerald and RB David Johnson, and saw the third most targets on a team that passed the ball third most in the NFL last season. Head coach Bruce Arians has stated he’s committed to the downfield passing game, and the speedy Nelson is a big part of that. He caught four touchdowns in the last five weeks last season, and 12 of his 35 catches came in those three weeks. He’s only been drafted in 4% of ESPN leagues so far, meaning you can easily score the likely WR2 for an offense that should be much better than a season ago.
15) Darren Sproles (RB, ADP 153) — Philadelphia Eagles
It’s pretty comical Darren Sproles rounds out my sleeper list as this is his 13th NFL season and he’s been featured on fantasy rosters for over a decade. But value is the name of the game. Philly signed LeGarrette Blount to serve as the lead back, but he’s been disappointing in camp and is reportedly struggling with his weight. I didn’t love the transition for Blount to begin with, and this news makes me want the other Philly RBs even more. Wendell Smallwood is another name to keep an eye on, but Sproles is the guy I want in PPR leagues. Sproles finished 2016 with the 5th most targets for the Eagles, catching 53 of 72 for 427 yards and two touchdowns. The real kicker with Sproles is his red zone usage: he was targeted third most by Wentz last season in the red zone and came in a close second in red zone carries to Ryan Mathews, who is no longer on the team. If Blount’s struggles continue and Philly needs a starter, Sproles will be the first guy in there with his proficiency in the running and passing game, and he has solid TD upside after seeing 31 red zone looks a season ago.
Mark Dankenbring (affectionately known as Dank) graduated from Miami University (OH) with degrees in Sports Management and Business Analytics. He’s been playing fantasy sports for nearly 10 years and has started to invest much of his time playing DFS since his graduation in May of 2017. He’s a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan and currently lives in Cincinnati, OH. Follow him on Twitter @MarkDank.