Sleepy Time… Top Fantasy Football Sleepers for 2018

Leagues are won and lost on the backs of breakout stars in fantasy football. Past league winners who flew under the radar prior to their emergence: Jordan Howard, David Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, Kareem Hunt, Alvin Kamara and the list goes on and on and on and on.

Predicting the next breakout candidate accurately isn’t easy. If it were they wouldn’t be a sleeper now, would they? My methodology for highlighting guys is pretty simple, and like all projections/predictions is just as likely to be wrong as it is right. That’s the moral of fantasy advice, none of it is hard, cold, rock solid, take it to the bank fool proof. In fact, mostly everything guys like me gives you goes out the window after the first week of the season. Injuries, game flow, coaching moves, and demotions play huge roles in changing the outlook of players all around the league.

Still, figuring out who is the most likely candidate to take that next step to stardom is an important part of fantasy that you probably don’t have the time to do on your own, and that’s what I’m here for. I have three categories of sleepers from those who are maybe a little better known, to those who are completely off the grid, so here we go!

LIGHT SLEEPERS

Corey Davis, WR, TEN (8th round ADP) – Davis made a name for himself in 2017 during the Titans playoff game against NE when he looked every bit of the role of a WR1 by hauling in 2 TD’s. There are concerns about Marcus Mariota throwing him the ball, but Daivs appears primed to carry the load for this passing game and may turn in Top 15 WR production out of the 8th round.

Rex Burkhead, RB, NE (10th round ADP) – When New England scooped up Sony Michel early in this years draft the talking heads exploded with suggestions that Michel would be an elite NFL back. Oh, how people quickly forget who coaches the Patriots. Bill Belichick is nothing if not a fan of role players and that means sharing the workload at running back. No one plays multiple roles better than Burkhead who is a weapon in the passing game, a threat to break a big run and proved a viable goal-line back in 2017. Out of all the backs on the Pats roster, Burkhead’s versatility makes him the most likely to earn the bulk of the work providing RB2/FLEX upside in the 10th round.

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David Njoku, TE, CLE (12th round ADP) – I’ve long been a proponent of waiting on tight ends and this year there’s a parade of breakout candidate just waiting to reward the patient owners. That parade’s leader is the uber-athletic Njoku. The big man struggled to adjust to the NFL speed in his rookie campaign but still managed to post 32 catches for 386 yards and 4 TD with below average QB play. His speed and size make him a matchup nightmare for defenses and he profiles the way Julius Thomas did prior to his 2013 breakout. Njoku has Jimmy Graham’s skills with a year of experience now and is one of my favorite steals in the draft.

Cooper Kupp, WR, LAR (10th round ADP) – This one is shocking to me as Kupp was a sleeper in 2017 and went on to 62 catches, 870 yards and 5 TD in his rookie campaign. Kupp is a pure possession guy in the Jordy Nelson vein who started to figure out how to find the end zone toward the end of last year, grabbing 2 TD in the final three weeks and a score in his lone playoff game. Kupp is one of Goff’s trusted targets and he is a WR2 upside play with a dirt cheap price tag.

Chris Thompson, RB, WAS (11th round ADP) – Thompson averaged 10 touches for 80 yards and .5 TD’s a week before getting hurt in 2017. Comparatively, Jordan Howard average 83 yards and .6 TD. Admittedly, Thompson is more of a PPR play than a standard option but there isn’t a lot of competition for touches in DC with the injury to Derrius Guice. The Redskins offense looks like it could struggle in 2018 with a lack of true playmakers and Thompson is the best they have. Struggling teams are losing teams and losing teams are always playing catch up and teams playing catch up feed garbage time passes to their running backs and that is Thompson’s bread and butter.

Allen Hurns/Michael Gallup, WR, DAL (13th round ADP) – One of these two guys are about to explode on the NFL and possibly both. Ezekiel Elliott is going to be the focus of this offense but Dak Prescott has to throw to someone and he’s going to top 3500 yards. With no Dez Bryant in town, there are a lot of targets to go around and both Hurns and Gallup have the upside to turn into real breakout guys. Hurns showed his ability in 2015 when he went off for 1000+ yards and 10 TD with Bortles as his QB and is a worthwhile flyer but Gallup has the chops to emerge as a threat in his own right as a rookie breakout star.

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Honorable Mentions: OJ Howard, Antonio Callaway, Chris Carson, Royce Freeman

 

DEEP SLEEPERS

Dede Westbrook, WR, JAX (Undrafted most leagues) – Playing in only 7 games in 2017, Westbrook found a rhythm with Bortles in the four weeks prior to his injury averaging 4 catches for 64 yards as a rookie in that span. There’s no incumbent star in the Jacksonville receiving game which leaves a lot of production up for grabs and Westbrook has the talent to take off with it. He could be a super value play in deeper leagues and may wind up being a starter in all formats.

Jordan Wilkins, RB, IND (Undrafted most leagues) – Another stunner here, especially after the injury to Marlon Mack. Wilkins enters a Colts offense devoid of a true workhorse back and he profiles as the best option on the team. At 6’1, 215 lbs the running back averaged 6.5 yards-per-carry on the way to 1000 yards and 9 TD with 26 catches his final season at Ole Miss. He has the ability to play all three downs and no one is in front of him. Taking Wilkins at the end of your draft might just give you a starting running back at the beginning of your season.

Cam Meredith, WR, NO (14th round ADP) – Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas are going to eat their fill in the Saints offense but Drew Brees is a master distributor who likes spreading the ball around. Meredith is slated to start in the slot and the sky may be the limit for the youngster if he can stay healthy. He hauled in 66 catches for 888 yards and 4 TD with terrible QB play on the Bears in 2016 before missing all of 2017 with an injury. If Meredith is on the field, Brees will find him and he could be a borderline elite PPR weapon and major breakout candidate.

Matt Breida, RB, SF (Undrafted in most leagues) – Jerrick McKinnon is getting the most ink as a potential horse in San Francisco, but Breida is actually the incumbent here. The 2nd year back average 4.4 yards for 465 total yards, 2 TD and 21 catches behind Carlos Hyde in San Francisco in 2017. During the final two games of the year, he averaged 12 touches for 92 yards and .5 TD with Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm. Certainly, McKinnon will get his, but Breida actually profiles as a stronger early-down back who can factor into the passing game and is a sneaky stash in deeper leagues.

George Kittle, TE, SF (14th round ADP) – During the Jimmy Garoppolo “run of greatness” that led to five consecutive wins for the 49ers last year, Kittle averaged 50 yards a game, over the final three that total was up to 65. Those paces would tab out 700-1000 yards for the 2nd year TE over a full season. At 6’4, 250 lbs, Kittle is a hard nosed type grinder who’s blocking abilities keep him on the field, while also possessing sneaky athleticism. If the chemistry he flashed at the end of 2018 with Jimmy G grows, we could be looking at the next Jason Witten.

Honorable Mentions: James Washington, Chris Godwin, John Ross, Kerryon Johnson, Jamaal Williams

 

HE’S IN A COMA:

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Kalen Ballage, RB, MIA (Undrafted) – Kenyan Drake broke out in 2017 for Miami early in the season which resulted in Jay Ajayi getting shipped to the Eagles, but it was tough sledding for Drake down the home stretch. The returning starter will get the first crack at the workhorse role but Ballage is a unique athlete at 6’2 220 lbs who can factor as both a runner and pass catcher. Ballage has already seen a heavy dose of work from the Dolphins early in camp and may force his way up the depth chart as the season progresses. He is definitely in the David Johnson mold.

D’Onta Foreman, RB, HOU (Undrafted) – Coming off an achilles injury in November of 2017, Foreman has been limited and mostly forgotten in fantasy drafts. What shouldn’t be forgotten is that Lamar Miller has failed to return to the elite levels of production he saw in 2014 and has shown a consistent decline in each of the past three seasons. Miller may be best suited for a complementary role and Foreman is definitely built like an early-down back. If he can get on the field, Foreman may wind up stealing the job outright.

Christian Kirk, WR, ARI (Undrafted) – Larry Fitzgerald is getting older and David Johnson can’t handle 50 touches a game, despite what he says. Josh Rosen is going to wind up running this team and he’s going to need targets which Kirk can provide either in the slot or split out wide. Kirk was a TD machine who averaged almost 80 catches a season at Texas A&M and he’s already pushing for first-team reps in camp. He has breakout written all over him.

Hayden Hurst, TE, BAL (Undrafted) – Baltimore is where early round tight ends go to die, at least, it was. Maxx Williams, Crocket Gilmore and Ed Dickson were all drafted in the 3rd round or higher since 2010 and none of them ever matched the value on the field. Hurst can change all that and given he was the Ravens #1 pick at #25 overall in the 2018 draft, he better. Immediate targets should be available to the youngster and he could rise up ownership rankings in a hurry on a team that shelled out over 110 targets to it’s TE’s in 2017.

Honorable Mentions: Aaron Jones, Gio Bernard, DJ Chark, DJ Moore, Danny Amendola

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Ben Stecker

Ben Stecker

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Writer, sports connoisseur, Pacific Northwesterner. Rarely met a sport I couldn't be great friends with. Follow me on twitter @Softball_Guy
Ben Stecker