Fantasy football sleepers only continue to get more difficult to unearth.
This line of thinking certainly applies to a year-by-year outlook, but it is even more important to understand that it is a critical factor as what has to be millions of drafts each preseason roll toward the beginning of the regular season.
The closer a draft is to the season's beginning, the more likely all of the owners in a given league have a better base knowledge. They have awoken from a lazy summer, brushed up on all the latest info and have even digested preseason games.
That critical stretch begins now. To better stay ahead of the significant curve, below is a look at a ranking of the top flex sleepers with a post-Round 9 average draft position and a breakdown of three in particular.
Top Flex Rankings
|11||Odell Beckham Jr.||WR||Giants||14.06|
Cecil Shorts III, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
There always seems to be a certain knee-jerk reaction by fantasy owners when any member of the Jacksonville Jaguars is a recommendation, but that is exactly why savvy owners will look to scoop up Cecil Shorts III.
As the numbers show, Shorts has been a bit of an injury risk and not entirely consistent over the course of his three years in the league:
But these are flex players we are talking about. Shorts is a scary-good weapon when utilized, and there is a quarterback under center who can actually get him the football deep down the field with some semblance of accuracy.
Shorts will get just that in a quarterback like Chad Henne. The two have found success over the years, and the outlook is certainly much better with Blaine Gabbert finally out of the picture. Even if rookie Blake Bortles steals the starting gig, he has a booming arm and looked sharp in his preseason debut with a 7-of-11 mark for 117 yards.
While true that Jacksonville spent two picks on wideouts this year in Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson, Shorts' role in the offense as a deep threat does not change, and he might just be helped by their presence. All that remains is his ability to stay healthy, something he is working on, as captured by the Jaguars on Twitter:
As a flex option, Shorts is downright elite if owners can pair his explosiveness against a defense that surrenders plenty of points through the air. He is a rather cheap option on draft day, too.
Andre Williams, RB, New York Giants
Sorry, folks—the Andre Williams hype train is not going away anytime soon.
Williams, who was originally thought of as a fantasy back who would only hawk touchdowns in the red zone from others, is now a major facet of a one-two punch with free-agent acquisition Rashad Jennings.
NFL Media's Chris Wesseling is one of many who concur that Williams, a fourth-round pick, will lead his class in rushing when it is all said and done:
I would set Andre Williams as the favorite to lead rookie RBs in rushing even if he makes Michael Turner look like Woodhead as a receiver.— Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling) August 5, 2014
"I just pattern myself after Adrian Peterson," Williams said, per Jordan Raanan of NJ.com. "I like how violent he is as a runner. He gets to top speed when the ball is snapped and how he uses his hands and shoulders as weapons on the field. I really try to incorporate that in my game."
Williams has been a bruiser in that vein through two preseason games and tallied 14 rushes for 83 yards and a score on a 5.93 yards-per-carry average.
It is critical to remember three points. For one, Williams is still the starter on the goal line. Two, Jennings has never played in a full 16-game season or been the lone starter. Three, the Giants will want to rush to keep pressure off Eli Manning.
While owners take Carlos Hyde and Devonta Freeman before him, cash in on Williams.
Steve Smith, WR, Baltimore Ravens
New locale, same old production for 35-year-old Steve Smith.
Free from the shackles of a run-first offense in Carolina, Smith is the perfect candidate as a flex option thanks to his explosive play and pairing with the big-armed Joe Flacco. His numbers the last few seasons suggest consistency as a flex target will not be an issue:
By all accounts, including that of NFL Network's Albert Breer, Smith looks to be his usual old self this preseason:
3) Steve Smith is ageless. Still has uncanny ability to go get the ball at bad angles, showed burst and his trademark intensity yesterday.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) August 1, 2014
The Ravens figure to run the ball a good amount thanks to Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, but Torrey Smith is the only other wideout on the roster who stands in the way of another 1,000-yard season for Smith.
In all likelihood, the Utah product will help to open things up for the younger receiver but still make significant gains deep or take a short pass for major yardage. Until Smith finally proves otherwise, he is a name to own in all leagues, even if his role has regressed over the years to that of a flex option.