Fantasy Football 2014: Updated Rankings for Top Sleepers After Preseason Week 1

Nate Loop@Nate_LoopFeatured ColumnistAugust 12, 2014

New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) runs 22 yards for a touchdown against the St. Louis Rams in the second quarter of a preseason NFL football game Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Scott Kane)
Scott Kane/Associated Press

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 RankingsPlayerTeamADP
1Jay CutlerChicago Bears108.8
2Philip RiversSan Diego Chargers104.4
3Josh McCownTampa Bay Buccaneers133.9
4Andy DaltonCincinnati Bengals119.6
5Johnny ManzielCleveland Browns113.0

Johnny Manziel

Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

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 Backs

Running Back Sleeper Rankings
Nate Loop's RankingsPlayerTeamAvg. Pick
1Lamar MillerMiami Dolphins114.5
2Darren SprolesPhiladelphia Eagles98.4
3Darren McFaddenOakland Raiders123.5
4Mark IngramNew Orleans Saints123.5
5Bishop SankeyTennessee Titans80.4

Mark Ingram

Scott Kane/Associated Press

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 Receivers

Wide Receiver Sleeper Rankings
Nate Loop's RankingsPlayerTeamADP
1Marques ColstonNew Orleans Saints80.9
2Tavon AustinSt. Louis Rams132.7
3Justin HunterTennessee Titans137.7
4Brandin CooksNew Orleans Saints123.8
5Mike EvansTampa Bay Buccaneers128.1

Brandin Cooks

L.G. Patterson/Associated Press

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 and updated as of Monday, Aug. 11.


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