Weeks still separate eager football fans from the start of the NFL season. Rather than pacing anxiously in anticipation for kickoff, use the time to prepare for your upcoming fantasy football draft.
Let's hope your draft isn't too nearby, as it's best to schedule draft day as close to Week 1 as possible to account for preseason injuries and job battles. If not, you have some cramming to do.
Experts will hammer on the importance of nailing down early picks, and they're right to do so. Sure, some savvy owners still salvaged a winning squad despite drafting Doug Martin in the opening round, but overcoming an early bust becomes extremely irksome.
Of course, stuff happens. Guys get hurt. Some guys simply underwhelm. Welcome to the unpredictable, maddening life of a fantasy football manager. You're going to make an erroneous pick along the way, so have a deep assortment of targets ready to recover that lost value in later rounds.
By loading up on running backs and wide receivers in the middle and late rounds, you're purchasing as many lottery tickets as possible in hopes of attaining this year's Knowshon Moreno and Alshon Jeffery. Combining those value picks with some trusty stars serving as a foundation will take you one step closer to collecting the championship.
The headline promises sleepers, flex rankings and creative team names, so here are some sleepers, flex rankings and creative team names for the upcoming fantasy football season.
"Sleeper" is a term used to death, and thus its true meaning becomes befuddled. Some people view sleepers as late-round fliers you'd take to fill a bench spot. Others argue that a fifth-round selection who will deliver third-round value qualifies.
With that considered, I'll provide you with both. Let's start with the "Breakout Sleepers," guys in line to considerably outearn their draft position whom you'll have to pay a fair price to obtain.
|QB Matt Ryan||Atlanta Falcons||8||70|
|QB Jay Cutler||Chicago Bears||13||101|
|RB Andre Ellington||Arizona Cardinals||15||31|
|RB Rashad Jennings||New York Giants||20||51|
|WR Cordarrelle Patterson||Minnesota Vikings||20||50|
|WR Kendall Wright||Tennessee Titans||27||84|
|TE Jordan Reed||Washington Redskins||8||83|
Ranks, ADP via FantasyPros
If you've read any other fantasy football columns, you undoubtedly know that the quarterback position is deep. Unless you corral Peyton Manning, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers in Round 2 or 3, wait, and wait some more, before landing your starting signal-caller.
Consider Matt Ryan and Jay Cutler two of your top quarterback targets. Having averaged 13 interceptions per year games over his six-year career, expect Ryan's 17 picks from 2013 to dissipate. Throw in the return of Julio Jones and his touchdown total should also rise with his big end-zone target back in the fold.
As for Cutler, he'll run an offensive juggernaut that made Josh McCown a fantasy star late last year. There's no better assortment of backs and receivers than Chicago's Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. If he stays healthy, Cutler should finish as a top-12 fantasy QB.
Rashad Jennings, RB, New York Giants
The G-Men gave Andre Brown 139 carries in eight games last year, and Rashad Jennings is now signed up as their No. 1 back. He's not the flashiest choice, and Andre Williams could vulture a touchdown or two, but Jennings averaged an impressive 4.5 yards per carry in a bleak Oakland Raiders offense upon earning Oakland's starting role. There aren't many safer No. 2 rushers around.
Kendall Wright, WR, Tennessee Titans
Minnesota's Cordarrelle Patterson has morphed into this year's trendy breakout pick, so let's instead highlight Kendall Wright. His case is a simple one: He caught 94 passes for 1,079 receiving yards last season. So what if he only reached the end zone twice? Touchdowns fluctuate by year. Guys who top 90 receptions and 1,000 receiving yards typically aren't available as a No. 3 or flex option.
Now for some more traditional sleepers. These are late-round targets.
|QB Ryan Tannehill||Miami Dolphins||18||167|
|RB Devonta Freeman||Atlanta Falcons||44||146|
|RB Lance Dunbar||Dallas Cowboys||56||219|
|RB James White||New England Patriots||58||185|
|WR DeAndre Hopkins||Houston Texans||43||129|
|WR Markus Wheaton||Pittsburgh Steelers||52||174|
|WR Kenny Stills||New Orleans Saints||55||157|
|TE Ladarius Green||San Diego Chargers||14||160|
|TE Travis Kelce||Kansas City Chiefs||24||N/A|
Rankings, ADP via FantasyPros
James White, RB, New England Patriots
Somebody needs to run the ball in Foxborough, and whoever gets those chances will receive plenty of goal-line work. Shane Vereen is the Patriots' top fantasy back, but that stems from his potential to catch 75 or more balls from Tom Brady.
Stevan Ridley is one fumble away from returning to the doghouse, and if that happens, James White, who has opened some eyes in training camp, has a golden opportunity to pounce on.
Lance Dunbar, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Scott Linehan, the former Detroit Lions offensive coordinator who is now running Dallas' offense, loves making ample use of his running backs as pass-catchers. Just ask Joique Bell, who snagged 105 receptions over the last two years in his system. Per ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon, he's excited to use Lance Dunbar in the same role:
I’ll tell you what: The guy has a great knack for playing the running game position, but it’s also very natural for him to line up in multiple locations. You like to have one of those guys at running back that can maybe line up where a receiver is going to be, do those things, because you’re not advertising sending in all receivers.
Defenses figure it out pretty quick that you’re pretty limited in the run game when you do some of your schemes and don’t have a running back out there. We want to still do some of those things and I think he gives us a versatility of having him in there and run it, run the same plays we do with DeMarco in the game but also having that ability to put him in different places and be an asset for us in the passing game.
The 24-year-old could emerge as an intriguing flex play in points-per reception (PPR) formats.
Markus Wheaton, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Somebody needs to replace Emmanuel Sanders as Pittsburgh's No. 2 wideout alongside Antonio Brown. As of now, Markus Wheaton looks poised to inherit the starting role. Former safety Ryan Clark sure liked what he saw out of the young receiver, comparing the 23-year-old to an old Pittsburgh Steelers starter.
“Markus Wheaton is better than Michael Wallace at everything but one thing — speed,” Clark told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac. “That’s it. He does everything else better. As far as route-running, he’s more polished. I think he has better hands … I think he’s ready to step in and play.”
Even if he's just Sanders, that makes him worth using as a No. 3 WR or flex play in most matchups.
These rankings focus on all running backs and wide receivers placed outside FantasyPros.com's consensus Top 25 at their respective position. Tight ends are eligible for the flex spot in some leagues, but who wants to start two tight ends?
|1||RB Lamar Miller||Miami Dolphins|
|2||RB Stevan Ridley||New England Patriots|
|3||WR Kendall Wright||Tennessee Titans|
|4||WR Jeremy Maclin||Philadelphia Eagles|
|5||RB Chris Johnson||New York Jets|
|6||RB Pierre Thomas||New Orleans Saints|
|7||RB Steven Jackson||Atlanta Falcons|
|8||WR Julian Edelman||New England Patriots|
|9||RB Trent Richardson||Indianapolis Colts|
|10||WR Marques Colston||New Orleans Saints|
|11||WR T.Y. Hilton||Indianapolis Colts|
|12||RB Maurice Jones-Drew||Oakland Raiders|
|13||RB Ray Rice||Baltimore Ravens|
|14||WR Eric Decker||New York Jets|
|15||WR Terrance Williams||Dallas Cowboys|
Author's personal rankings
Everyone expected the world from Lamar Miller last year, but he failed to deliver. Don't be so quick to write off the 23-year-old, who looks like a terrific post-hype gamble in Bill Lazor's uptempo offense.
Pierre Thomas is another name that should catch your eye outside the stud running backs. Although his rushing prowess waned with a meek 3.7 yards per carry, he netted a career-high 77 receptions for the pass-happy New Orleans Saints. With Darren Sproles out of town, don't write off that gaudy catch total as an anomaly. He's a much better PPR play.
If Jeremy Maclin stays healthy, look out. He'll assume DeSean Jackson's spot in Chip Kelly's dynamic offense, where he'll immediately become Nick Foles' top target. Maclin averaged 893 receiving yards and seven touchdowns per year in his previous three healthy seasons, but he can easily top those numbers in the Philadelphia Eagles' fast-paced attack.
Ladarius Green is in danger of becoming the sleeper everyone loves too much, forcing drafters to overpay in fear of losing out. He could prove well worth the investment as this year's Julius Thomas, but he could also toil behind Antonio Gates in a limited role. Take him as a backup, not as your No. 1 tight end.
|Demaryius Targaryen||Don't toss your struggling kicker into fire to see if he survives.|
|Better Call Pierre-Paul*||Also works for Montee Ball or Leon/DeAngelo Hall.|
|Dez-ed and Confused||Disclaimer: Your team may just be all right, all right, all right.|
|I am Gronk||Like I am Groot. Get it? Too much of a stretch?|
|Hyde and Go Seastrunk||Two names!|
|Ertz Doughnut||As with any tight end, Zach Ertz could give you a doughnut in the box score any given week.|
|Salute Cecil Shorts||Obscure references to a '90s Nickelodeon show meshes perfectly with fantasy football.|
|Clowney Question, Bro||Insane Clowney Posse is also gaining ground.|
|Johnny Karate||Only because Chris Pratt is 7 billion times cooler than Johnny Manziel.|
Author's personal picks
There's a certain weirdness about presenting the most clever fantasy team names shared from all the bright minds around the Internet. Sure, there are some clever ones out there, but most of them are puns derived from a player's name.
Well, what if you don't draft that player? Do you really want to be called "Scooby Drew Brees Doo" if Cam Newton is your starting quarterback?
That's why you're encouraged to name from the heart, or at least your specific circumstances. For example, I named my squad "The Blair Walsh Project" last year. Not because it was relatively original (it's not), and not because I owned the Minnesota Vikings kicker.
I did, however, roster him the previous season when his five field goals (three 50-plus yarders) and three extra points led me to an improbable playoff victory over the No. 1 seed.
These are names that appealed to my sensibilities, but feel free to use one if it strikes your fancy as well.
Note: All rankings and Average Draft Position data are courtesy of FantasyPros. Rankings are aggregate marks calculated by averaging rankings filed by several participating experts.
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