Everybody has a slightly different definition of what a sleeper is or isn't, but ultimately, when looking for sleepers you are looking for players who have the potential value that far exceeds where they are being selected in fantasy drafts.
On this list, those types of players are the ones I'll generally be interested in.
While there is one deep sleeper on this list, the other three players are mid- to late-round selections who should provide a huge bang for the buck. Below, you'll find one player from each offensive position who you should absolutely be targeting.
Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys
ESPN Ranking: 13
Average Draft Position: 96.0 (13th quarterback selected on average)
Analysis: I just don't understand this one at all. Romo has been a top-10 fantasy quarterback for three years running, he scored 15 or more fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues 10 times last season and he has a number of excellent weapons at his disposal, including the electrifying Dez Bryant.
So why is he being selected in the 10th round, on average, in 10-team leagues?
Perhaps it is an anti-Romo bias. Perhaps it is because people think Tom Brady, Matt Ryan and Colin Kaepernick will have bounce-back years (quite feasible). The emergence of Nick Foles last season may have bumped Romo down the rankings a bit too.
But the truth is, Romo is one of fantasy's most consistent quarterbacks every year, and to get a player who could easily be a top-eight performer at the position in the 10th round is an enormous steal. Keep a close eye on Romo come your draft.
Rashad Jennings, RB, New York Giants
ESPN Ranking: 26
Average Draft Position: 65.9 (24th running back selected on average)
Analysis: Despite not opening the season as the Oakland Raiders starting running back, Rashad Jennings benefited from Darren McFadden's injuries and made fantasy owners who scooped him up quite happy, scoring nine or more fantasy points in seven weeks. He exploded between Weeks 9-13, notching a total of 79 fantasy points.
Now with the New York Giants, Jennings' role is somewhat up in the air, but it appears the starting gig could be his alone after the tragic news that David Wilson's career might be over, per Jordan Raanan and Conor Orr of NJ.com:
According to multiple sources, the running back, who suffered a "burner" during Tuesday's practice, months after undergoing spinal fusion surgery, is a long shot to return to the field. One person with knowledge of the running back's medical condition told NJ.com that Wilson "needs a miracle."
The source spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
That differs significantly from the always-sunny viewpoint of Wilson, who tweeted that 'everything was fine' Wednesday night. The Giants, however, don't feel the same way, another source—who requested anonymity to speak freely—told NJ.com.
In the meantime, both sides will wait until Monday's examination for an official determination, although it sounds as if the Giants have come to grips with the seriousness of the condition and the possibility that Wilson's career is over.
Obviously, everyone hopes Wilson will be able to safely continue his career. But from a purely fantasy perspective, if Wilson isn't available to the Giants, Jennings could be in line for a lot of touches next season.
Given how he responded for the Raiders when thrust into the starting role, Jennings may end up being a very nice RB2 option you can draft in the seventh round, a price you would normally be paying for a flex option.
And just consider a few of the players being drafted ahead of him. C.J. Spiller and Andre Ellington? Both will likely be stuck in a platoon again this year. Trent Richardson? Probably in line for a bounce-back year but a major risk after a shoddy 2013 season. Ray Rice? Suspended for the first two games of the season and coming off a poor 2013 campaign.
Jennings isn't the safest pick, but looking at the above options, you certainly aren't going to see many safe options at this point in the draft. If you are able to nab him in the seventh round, you might just land one of the best values in this draft.
Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
ESPN Ranking: 27
Average Draft Position: 75.8 (27th wide receiver selected on average)
Analysis: For an eighth-round pick, you could be getting a top-15 wide receiver. That is the upside Jeremy Maclin brings to the table this year.
In this offense a year ago, DeSean Jackson was targeted 126 times, catching 82 passes for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns. Those looks have to go somewhere. While Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews (a great deep sleeper this year), Darren Sproles, Brent Celek and Zach Ertz will all get their chances, Maclin is the most talented target Nick Foles has at his disposal.
Remember, Maclin came from a spread system at Missouri and is a dangerous playmaker over the top. While he doesn't have Jackson's game-breaking speed, he's a better route-runner and is quite dangerous after the catch himself. And Chip Kelly's offense specializes in getting talented players in space, which should suit Maclin perfectly.
For an eighth-round pick, you're getting a player who could be in line for a breakthrough season. Let your league-mates gamble on T.Y. Hilton, Julian Edelman, Cordarrelle Patterson or Michael Floyd while you wait on Maclin.
Trust me, you'll be getting the better value.
Ladarius Green, TE, San Diego Chargers
ESPN Ranking: 16
Average Draft Position: 143.3 (18th tight end selected on average)
Analysis: While the rest of these players are value sleepers, there's no doubt that Ladarius Green is a deep sleeper. Of course, going into last season, Julius Thomas was a pretty deep sleeper too.
Green may not have Peyton Manning throwing him the ball, but Philip Rivers is hardly chopped liver. More importantly, Antonio Gates is now 34 years old. Despite a strong start to last season, Gates just had two weeks of seven or more fantasy points after Week 5.
But Green, well, Green is something to see. Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com offers the following scouting report:
Green's rare skill set combines flash and fundamentals. On one hand, he's a capable blocker. His lanky 6-foot-6, 237-pound frame is closer to Calvin Johnson's than Gates', yet Green holds his own in the running game. Green only left the line of scrimmage on 38 percent of his snaps according to Pro Football Focus, a far lower number than you'd expect because Green isn't on this list for his blocking.
When the Chargers let Green run loose, he goes deep. He made nine plays over 20 yards, and most of those were bombs, not runs after the catch. Rivers treated Green like a wide receiver because he plays like a wide receiver.
So many of Green's catches came in tight spots, leaping for the ball over defenders. He taps his feet on the sideline and adjusts for passes thrown behind him. He's too fast for linebackers and too physical for most cornerbacks, beating players like Brent Grimes and Chris Harris in one-on-one situations.
Adds Pro Football Focus:
Is Green going to be this year's Thomas at tight end? He certainly has the skill set to make that leap, and Gates likely won't be standing in his way. It's a roll of the dice, so don't make him the only tight end you select, but come the 12th or 13th round you should absolutely pounce on Green.
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