By Dan Jay
There are multiple types of sleepers but in all instances, the player in question is undervalued due to the fact that their ADP does not reflect their probable or potential output. Obviously, more potential is better but potential does not always equate to probable. Players who possess adequate potential but who are less probable to do so qualify as “deep sleepers”. These players may need an injury or poor play ahead of them on the depth chart to get the opportunity to produce, but the potential is there. Deep sleepers often go undrafted. A sleeper could be a rookie, a breakout candidate, a bounce back candidate or a player aided by a change in teams or coaches. A value player to me is still a sleeper, as long as the value is great enough. As long as the majority of owners are “sleeping” on a player, I will refer to that player as a sleeper.
In addition to my list of sleepers for the 2014 NFL season will be an additional list of players who are worth keeping an eye on but are most likely not worth drafting. If your rosters are deep, some are worth a stash. This list will not be completed until after preseason is complete.
This post will be updated until the season starts. All scoring references are based on ESPN standard scoring. Some videos do not include the final few games from the 2013 season.
1. Andre Ellington, RB, Cardinals. Ellington is one of the most electric backs in the NFL. Elite type talent with polished receiving skills. Ellington added 10+ lbs with off season workouts and isn’t as small as most believe, currently standing at about 5’ 10”, 210 lbs. He is in line to be the focal point of offense and possesses the versatility to run wide receiver routes. I expect 20+ touches per game or 25-30 if you believe Bruce Arians. One of the top breakout candidates for 2014. Ellington will be used creatively to minimize wear and tear. Has been compared to Jamaal Charles in addition to Spiller. If Ellington can avoid injury, we’re talking some serious potential and a PPR monster. Ellington has his share of believers and he may shoot up drafts boards but the reward is well worth the risk in my opinion. He legitimately has the potential to be a top three running back, meaning even if taken in the 3rd round, the value differential would give you a serious edge. Led the league in rushing average last season. Will split out wide regularly. Ability to break ankles and leave defenders in the dust. Dangerous in open space, usually makes the first man miss. Potential to produce as a high end RB1. Top 5 RB finish quite possible if healthy. Given his ADP, there is no reason not to draft him.
Andre Ellington 2013 Highlights Video
2. Rashad Jennings, RB, Giants. Jennings is exactly what Tom Coughlin wants in a running back as he possesses true three down talent and literally does everything well. He can block, catch, run defenders over, make guys miss and most importantly, he had 199 touches last season and did not fumble once. Coughlin hates fumbles, period. Jennings is a fitness guru, is built to handle a heavy workload as the clear #1 back for the Giants. He isn’t a burner but he has good speed for his size, making him deceptively fast. His initial burst is more impressive than his long speed. Jennings is one of the hardest running tailbacks in the NFL and his power and strength should get him some goal line carries too. He has performed well during his career minus one season where he was coming off an injury and where the situation around him was dismal. David Wilson has not yet been cleared for contact, so his season is still up in the air. There is little competition from the other backs on the roster aside from rookie Andre Wilson but Coughlin’s track record with rookies has not been good. I expect Wilson to be eased into the offense, as he was running with 3rd team offense, behind Peyton Hillis. Jennings is PPR friendly. Potential to produce as a high end RB1, Top 10 RB finish possible.
Rashad Jennings 2013 Highlights Video
3. Nick Foles, QB, Eagles. Many people aren’t buying into Foles this season as a legit reliable QB1. Most serious fantasy owners are aware of his value, but the casual fan in your home league might not be. Foles isn’t the ideal sleeper because of all the press he got last season but I am confident he will be a top fantasy QB. I was early on the Foles bandwagon back in September of 2012 and at the time, everybody thought I was crazy. I openly stated that Foles was a better option than Vick and that he would be the Eagles starter by 2013, finishing in the top 15 QBs with a realistic shot to crack the top 10 by seasons end. Foles finished 2013 as the #11 QB in standard ESPN leagues (did crack the top10 in my main league). Foles was just 1 point away from #10 overall and 5 points out of #8. Let’s consider the following numbers. Foles put up 251 fantasy points with just 317 pass attempts. Tom Brady had 10 less points (241) but had nearly double the pass attempts (617 pass attempts. Matt Ryan had 12 less points (239) and did have more than double the pass attempts (651). Foles also rushed for 225 yards and 3 TDs on top of his 27:2 TD to INT ratio. Yeah, we all know Foles isn’t very fast, but he has great footwork from his basketball background and that combined with pocket awareness is crucial to success in the NFL. Foles generally picks the ideal time to tuck it and run and is also called on for the QB sneak to punch it into the endzone. As I said, what makes Foles great is his footwork in the pocket, side stepping and escaping pressure and climbing the ladder while keeping his eyes down field. He delivers a clean ball, on time and he has above average arm strength. His height helps him to see the entire field and he is ahead of the game mentally too. Even with Desean Jackson’s departure, Foles has enough weapons around him and is in an environment that will promote success. Foles finished 1st overall in yards per pass attempt, TD to INT ratio and QB rating. He was 8th overall in completion percentage. Durability is a plus. Above average intangibles. Foles has high end QB1 potential and has a very high ceiling in my opinion. Should challenge P. Manning, Brees and Rodgers.Top 5 QB finish is quite possible.
Nick Foles 2013 Highlights Video
4. RILEY COOPER, WR, Eagles. Cooper is not getting the recognition he should for what he accomplished last season. I believe this is partially his doing and partially due to the fact that he doesn’t physically look like a “playmaking” wide receiver, but that is precisely what he is. Cooper has so many things going for him, I CANNOT believe he is being drafted as late as he is. Physically, he is over 6’ 3” and weighs in at a healthy 222 lbs. Combine that with solid athletic ability (drafted by Phillies out of high school), good hands, good deceptive speed, good route running and great ball tracking skills, and you’ve got a potential WR1 in a Chip Kelly offense with Foles letting it rip. Not convinced yet?
Cooper averaged 18.8 yards on 51 catches as a senior at Florida, second-best in the SEC behind Joe Adams of Arkansas, and he led the Eagles with 19.7 yards per catch in 2011.
Among all Eagles with 75 or more catches, Cooper’s seventh all-time with 16.8 yards per catch, and he’s also eighth-highest among active NFL players. (as of 12/11/13)
“I see the ball in the air, I just think it’s mine, it’s mine, and I’m going to do everything I can to go get it. I think my baseball background helps me make adjustments on the ball more than a guy maybe with straight go-get-it type speed, but for whatever reason, luckily, I can adjust to balls in the air. -Riley Cooper
I believe Cooper is locked in as the Eagles deep threat on the Eagles. Maclin is a talented receiver but possesses different skills and does not have size or physicality that Cooper does. Maclin has a career receiving average of 13.4 over four seasons (259 receptions) and has never eclipsed the 13.8 mark in a given season. Cooper has a career average of 16.3 (93 receptions) including 16.6 in 2010, 19.7 in 2011 and 17.8 last season. Rookie WR Jordan Matthews is running with first team, but as the slot receiver, competing with Brad Smith. I am very high on Matthews as he was one of the few rookie wide receivers that really stood out to me on film but I believe his big season is a year away still. When the Eagles let Jackson go, that was the confirmation of how much faith the Eagles have in Cooper and the rest of the receivers and tight ends.
Legit WR1 talent. Top 15 WR finish possible. “
For the record, this is what I stated regarding Alshon Jeffery before last season and I would apply the same statement to Cooper this season. I should clarify that I do not believe Cooper is on Alshon’s level but I do believe that he will be “this year’s Alshon” as far as WR1 production coming from a mid/late pick.
"Two words… BIG THINGS - you will be kicking yourself for NOT drafting this guy - looks like a stud in the making to me."
Riley Cooper 2013 Highlights
5. CJ Spiller, RB Bills. Just about everyone in the fantasy football community will say that CJ Spiller was a “bust last season”. Many will say that he “wasn’t worth the first round pick” and tell you they told you so. The main reason why CJ Spiller was a bust was because he played nearly the entire season with a high ankle sprain. The high ankle sprain is a nagging injury that severely limits a running backs burst and agility, specifically when making a cut. This was evident all season long as Spiller was regularly hobbled and limped his way to the sideline. His output may have been a bust for first round fantasy pick but his actual numbers are considered good by normal standards. With a high ankle sprain, Spiller carried the ball 202 times for 933 yards, good for a 4.6 average and added in 33 receptions for 185 yards. In his 314 carries in 2011 & 2012, Spiller averaged 5.75 yards per and amassed over 1,800 yards rushing. There is no question that Spiller possesses the skill, but some question is durability and touches in a crowded backfield. I do not believe Spiller has shown that he is injury prone, no more than the next guy. Although banged up, he has played in 52 out of his last 53 games. As far a touches go, I fully expect him to be the “showcase back”. Fred Jackson will still play a major role and Bryce Brown will contribute, but Spiller should see 275+ touches, considering he had 235 last season with a bum ankle. The Bills will have one of the fasted paced offenses in the league and there is enough ball to go around. Spiller and Jackson both eclipsed 200+ carries last season. If healthy, I fully expect Spiller to eclipse 1,250 yards rushing with a healthy dose of receptions as well.
6. Khiry Robinson, RB Saints. Robinson has the potential to be an elite running back. He first caught my eye last preseason an an unknown tryout guy but his skill and potential was clear from day one. I don’t watch a lot of college football but I do watch film on draft prospects and anybody who catches my eye. With the departure of Sproles and an unexciting Thomas/Ingram, the door is open for Robinson to step up and make a name for himself. I would describe his game as well rounded, solid vision with very good power, some speed and some shake and bake as well. His 40 time on record does not match his film. Robinson is still developing and admitted that he was confused at times last season, but all things are looking up. Robinson is worth a late pick in every format as his ADP makes his risk/reward obscene. He really stands out on film and he gets downhill in a hurry.
7. Lamar Miller, RB Dolphins. Miller was a semi-sleeper last season as many had high hopes for Miami product but the Dolphins running game was just plain awful and Miller did not get the amount of touches we all wanted to see. He performed “okay” when he was given touches, up and down at times. Overall though, I still saw glimpses of greatness. Miller’s burst, vision and agility are all impressive. He is NOT a sexy pick this season, which is shocking to me given the fact that Knowshon Moreno and Daniel Thomas are his competition. The Dolphins offensive line was a mess last year and everything is in line for Miller to breakout. When I went back and watched all his touches from 2013, the one thing that stood out to me was that he needs to improve his lower leg drive and overall strength. There were several plays where he was an arm tackle away from breaking a big one. I’ll have to see how Miller actually looks in the preseason but if he put in the time this off season, he could offer immense value based on his ADP. Knowshon came in out of shape and now he’s battling a knee injury that i suspected to be “bad”. I’m not a fan of a healthy Moreno and I can’t see Thomas being a threat at all. If you need depth at RB or missed out and are scrambling, Miller has as much upside as you could hope for given his ADP. Two words, “Bill Lazor”.
Lamar Miller 2013 Highlights
8. DeAndre Hopkins
9. Rueben Randle
10. Michael Floyd
11. Terrance Williams
12. Cecil Shorts
13. Sammy Watkins
14. Jordan Matthews
15. Kelvin Benjamin
16. Tim Wright
17. Lance Dunbar
18. Justin Hunter
19. Sam Bradford
20. Tre Mason
21. Kenny Stills
22. Zach Ertz
23. Ladarius Green
24. Tavon Austin
25. Chris Owusu
26. Brandin Cooks
27. CJ Anderson
28. Tiquan Underwood
29. Ace Sanders
30. Richard Rodgers
31. Mike Glennon
32. Mike James
33. EJ Manuel
34. Mike Williams
35. Latavius Murray
Follow Dan on Twitter @DanJay84 and check out his site, Fantasy Football Playbook for cutting edge fantasy insight and excellent video work.