Week 1 of the NFL preseason is in the books, which means it's time to reassess the rankings for the league's top potential fantasy football sleepers.
In some cases, the preseason appears to have all the predictive power of a magic eight ball, but this is usually the case when it comes to assessing overall team performances—picking a defense/special teams based on preseason performance is a fool's errand.
However, one can certainly get a read on specific player's value. The preseason can be an excellent tool for judging a player's health, their grasp of the playbook and whether or not they are likely to surge up the depth chart or win a key positional battle. Thus, it is a goldmine for sussing out potential sleepers.
For the purposes of this article, sleepers are defined as players who will most likely outperform their average draft position. They are often players who won't be drafted as starters in 10- or 12-team fantasy football leagues, but could easily put up comparable numbers. In this article, we will focus on the three major skill positions.
|Quarterback Sleeper Rankings|
|Nate Loop's Rankings||Player||Team||ADP|
|1||Jay Cutler||Chicago Bears||108.8|
|2||Philip Rivers||San Diego Chargers||104.4|
|3||Josh McCown||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||133.9|
|4||Andy Dalton||Cincinnati Bengals||119.6|
|5||Johnny Manziel||Cleveland Browns||113.0|
It's very difficult to get a read on quarterbacks in the preseason after Week 1, considering most starters only play a series or two and any offensive coordinator opens their bag of tricks at their own peril. However, there was one potential sleeper who moved the needle, and his name is Johnny Manziel.
Locked in a battle with Brian Hoyer for a starting role, Manziel is a dangerous choice in most fantasy football leagues. If he plays, the same legs that carried him to a 16-yard run against the Detroit Lions in Week 1 make him a solid bet to conjure up enough points on the ground to become a viable fantasy football quarterback.
His passing is still likely to suffer as a rookie, even though he completed 7 of 11 passes for 63 yards against the Lions.
Head coach Mike Pettine didn't do much to clear up the murkiness surrounding the starting role.
"If there was a clear-cut favorite at this point, it would probably mean that one of them wasn't playing very well," Pettine said, via the Akron Beacon-Journal's Nate Ulrich. "It's a good problem to have, having two guys that we think are both capable of being NFL starters."
If Johnny Football gets the starting job and continues to scamper around and make big plays in the preseason, he's definitely a high-ceiling backup choice.
|Running Back Sleeper Rankings|
|Nate Loop's Rankings||Player||Team||Avg. Pick|
|1||Lamar Miller||Miami Dolphins||114.5|
|2||Darren Sproles||Philadelphia Eagles||98.4|
|3||Darren McFadden||Oakland Raiders||123.5|
|4||Mark Ingram||New Orleans Saints||123.5|
|5||Bishop Sankey||Tennessee Titans||80.4|
It's difficult to make any definitive claims about the New Orleans Saints backfield, considering head coach Sean Payton has loved mixing in the likes of Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas over the years.
However, this is the year the backfield committee might have an obvious chairman in Ingram.
Sproles is now in Philadelphia and Thomas is listed third on the depth chart. This leaves Ingram to battle out Khiry Robinson for the lead role, and the former took charge in Week 1 against the St. Louis Rams.
Ingram busted out for 83 yards on eight carries, one of which went for 22 yards and a touchdown.
He made plays in the preseason and hasn't slowed down in practice, per the team's official Twitter account:
Robinson looked solid as well, notching 23 yards and a TD of his own, so Ingram isn't out of the woods yet.
Ingram flashed featured-back talent at the University of Alabama. He will have to improve his hands—just 24 catches for 143 yards in three NFL seasons—to truly catch on in the Saints offense, but if he can accomplish that, look out.
|Wide Receiver Sleeper Rankings|
|Nate Loop's Rankings||Player||Team||ADP|
|1||Marques Colston||New Orleans Saints||80.9|
|2||Tavon Austin||St. Louis Rams||132.7|
|3||Justin Hunter||Tennessee Titans||137.7|
|4||Brandin Cooks||New Orleans Saints||123.8|
|5||Mike Evans||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||128.1|
Okay, the Saints have boasted a notoriously high-powered offense over the past few years, so it might be difficult to justify anyone on the squad as a potential sleeper. That being said, rookie wideout Brandin Cooks has as good a chance as any wideout in the league of having a breakthrough performance in 2014.
He's consistently made plays throughout training camp and showed in Week 1 that he's not just a hero on half-pads days.
Cooks caught five passes for 55 yards against the Rams, including a 25-yard touchdown reception that showed off his blazing speed. It was a highly impressive numbers debut for a rookie wideout.
ESPN SportsCenter anchor Stan Verrett believes Cooks could help the Saints offense reach new levels of success:
Quarterback Drew Brees is a big fan of his adaptable speed.
"This guy has it all. He's got short-area quickness, great transition ability and phenomenal straight-line speed," he said, via Larry Holder of The Times-Picayune.
Few expect a rookie wide receiver to make a big impact in the league. Then again, those low expectations are precisely what make Cooks such an intriguing sleeper.
Average Draft Positions (ADPs) courtesy of ESPN.com and updated as of Monday, Aug. 11.