Fantasy Football 2014: Identifying One Sleeper Per Round in Rankings

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistAugust 15, 2014

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 07: Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton #13 of the Indianapolis Colts runs with the ball against the New York Jets during a preseason game at MetLife Stadium on August 7, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

If you are a fantasy football nut, you're surely in love with anything that can help you unearth sleepers. You've read articles about sleepers, sure, but this here is no article. No, this is more like a sleeper extravaganza, a celebration of sleepers, a sleeper tour de force. 

OK, maybe I'm tooting my own horn a bit too much here. The point is, this article takes your desire to identify this year's top sleepers very, very seriously.

So seriously, in fact, that I've identified the best sleeper to target in every round of your fantasy draft. That's right, folks; I've slotted the sleepers by round. I'm excited too. Let's get to it, shall we?


Yes, this picture is foreshadowing.
Yes, this picture is foreshadowing.Leon Halip/Getty Images

So, how did I decide on one sleeper per round?

For starters, I didn't consider any players who were being selected in the first three rounds of 10-team drafts, both for philosophical reasons—I believe fantasy owners should always make safe picks in the early rounds—and because, quite frankly, no players worthy of "sleeper" status were being selected that high, except perhaps Giovani Bernard.

But clearly, he's not much of a sleeper if you need to use a third-round pick to select him.

To determine where a player was most likely to be drafted, I used FantasyPros' aggregate ranking of average draft position from ESPN, CBS, and Yahoo leagues. That number will be listed as "ADP Rank" when I break down individual players.

Finally, in order to get people started before they chase players, I included my own rankings of the top 30 players and also broke down the three different tiers of sleepers I used to compile this list.

OK, enough of the boring stuff. Let's get to it.

My Top 30

Fantasy Rankings
Draft SlotPlayerTeamPosition
1LeSean McCoyPhiladelphia EaglesRB
2Adrian PetersonMinnesota VikingsRB
3Jamaal CharlesKansas City ChiefsRB
4Matt ForteChicago BearsRB
5Peyton ManningDenver BroncosQB
6Marshawn LynchSeattle SeahawksRB
7Jimmy GrahamNew Orleans SaintsTE
8Calvin JohnsonDetroit LionsWR
9Eddie LacyGreen Bay PackersRB
10Drew BreesNew Orleans SaintsQB
11Aaron RodgersGreen Bay PackersQB
12Arian FosterHouston TexansRB
13A.J. GreenCincinnati BengalsWR
14Demaryius ThomasDenver BroncosWR
15Doug MartinTampa Bay BuccaneersRB
16Zac StacySt. Louis RamsRB
17Dez BryantDallas CowboysWR
18Brandon MarshallChicago BearsWR
19DeMarco MurrayDallas CowboysRB
20Alfred MorrisWashingtonRB
21Julio JonesAtlanta FalconsWR
22Matt StaffordDetroit LionsQB
23Cam NewtonCarolina PanthersQB
24Le'Veon BellPittsburgh SteelersRB
25Jordy NelsonGreen Bay PackersWR
26Montee BallDenver BroncosRB
27Randall CobbGreen Bay PackersWR
28Antonio BrownPittsburgh SteelersWR
29Julius ThomasDenver BroncosTE
30Alshon JefferyChicago BearsWR

Sleeper Tiers

I break up my sleepers into three categories (more on my overall sleeper philosophy can be found here):

  1. Value Sleepers: These are players everyone is familiar with, but, for whatever reason, they are being drafted too low. Maybe they are coming off a down year or an injury, or maybe other players at the position are being hyped. This is the type of sleeper you start looking for around the fourth or fifth round.
  2. Breakout Sleepers: These are the players who have the chance to finally post career years but, because they haven't done so yet in the NFL, are available further down in the draft. Think of a guy like Alshon Jeffery last year.
  3. Deep Sleepers: These are the players a lot of the guys in your league haven't even heard of. Guys with potential who maybe haven't had the opportunity to shine just yet. Sometimes, you might not even be drafting them. You might just be monitoring them in case they get a shot and run with it. Unearthing this player can be the difference between winning your league and ending another year in disappointment.

All right. Let's get to it.

Round 4: Matt Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 13:  Quarterback Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions warms up before their game against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 13, 2013 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

ADP Rank: 38

Sleeper Status: Value

Analysis: The fact that you can get a quarterback in the fourth round who could easily finish in the top three at the position is pretty unreal. This is a player who has thrown for at least 4,600 yards in the past three seasons.

Some people might be worried that new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell will make the offense more balanced, but the counterargument is that Stafford has more weapons than he's ever had, with Golden Tate and Eric Ebron joining the team. The chance to stockpile your team with running backs and wide receivers early and still nab Stafford in the fourth round is thrilling.

Also Consider: Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals (Breakout at 31)

Round 5: Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 08:  Wide receiver  Victor Cruz #80 of the New York Giants gestures against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on December 8, 2013 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

ADP Rank: 43

Sleeper Status: Value

Analysis: Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong for the Giants last year, and Cruz still posted 998 receiving yards and four scores in just 14 games. We've seen his fantasy floor, and it's pretty darn high. With a new offense in place and Eli Manning having an offseason to regroup, there's no reason to think Cruz won't be a low-end WR1 or a high-end WR2 once again.

In the fifth round, that makes him an outstanding value.

Also Consider: Rashad Jennings, RB, New York Giants (Breakout at 50)

Round 6: Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 12: Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers reacts after a play against the San Francisco 49ers during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Bank of America Stadium on January 12, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Ronald Ma
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

ADP Rank: 54.0

Sleeper Status: Value

Analysis: Cam Newton has been a top-five quarterback in standard-scoring leagues over his first three seasons. So why the heck is he going in the sixth round in the average 10-team draft?

Probably because folks are worried about his dearth of weapons in the passing game. Keep in mind that a huge chunk of Newton's fantasy value has always come in the running game. His rushing numbers should actually increase from the 585 rushing yards and six rushing scores he notched a year ago, due to a weaker crop of wide receivers this year.

Newton is pretty darn safe. In the sixth round, he's the steal of the draft.

Also Consider: Bishop Sankey, RB, Tennessee Titans (Breakout at 58)

Round 7: T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 04:  T.Y. Hilton #13 of the Indianapolis Colts catches the game winning touchdown pass during the NFL Wild Card Playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 4, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Phot
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

ADP Rank: 68

Sleeper Status: Breakout

Analysis: I'll let T.Y. Hilton's head coach, Chuck Pagano, explain why you should be giddy at the thought of nabbing him in the seventh round. Pagano said the following about Hilton in a press conference Monday:

He never ceases to amaze us. The guy is just a spectacular athlete. The game has obviously slowed down tremendously for T.Y. He knows this thing inside and out now. There’s not one play call that we have (that he doesn’t know), and we have a pretty big play list. So, there’s not one play call that we have where he’s out there thinking.

He added, "He’s just going to keep building. That’s a scary thought for opposing defenses."

It's also a scary thought for fantasy owners who don't scoop him. Expect big things—and potentially WR2 numbers—from Hilton this year.

Also Consider: Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens (Value at 69)

Round 8: Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 30:  Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin #18 of the Philadelphia Eagles in action against the New York Giants at Lincoln Financial Field on September 30, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images)
Alex Trautwig/Getty Images

ADP Rank: 76

Sleeper Status: Value

Analysis: Somebody has to replace DeSean Jackson's production, right? The most likely candidate to do that is Jeremy Maclin.

Yes, the Eagles have a lot of weapons. Yes, Maclin is coming off an injury. But he's a perfect fit for Chip Kelly's system and, while he isn't as explosive as Jackson, is a better route-runner and a dangerous weapon in space. 

Some folks out there might not trust Maclin. Their loss will be your gain.

Also Consider: Trent Richardson, RB, Indianapolis Colts (Value at 72)

Round 9: Kendall Wright, WR, Tennessee Titans

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 15:  Kendall Wright #13 of the Tennessee Titans runs the ball after catching a pass against the Arizona Cardinals at LP Field on December 15, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

ADP Rank: 86

Sleeper Status: Breakout

Analysis: I'm a big believer in Kendall Wright, and it has everything to do with the progression he's shown in his career thus far.

Kendall Wright's Stats

In standard-scoring leagues, Wright would have been a WR2 had he scored four more touchdowns. There's no reason to believe Wright won't hit paydirt a few more times this year, and his yardage total might see a bump too. He could be in line for a very nice season. 

Also Consider: Jordan Reed, TE, Washington (Breakout at 88)

Round 10: Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas Cowboys

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 27:  Terrance Williams #83 of the Dallas Cowboys scores on a sixty yard pass from Tony Romo #9 in the fourth quarter of the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on October 27, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. The Lions defeated the
Leon Halip/Getty Images

ADP Rank: 94

Sleeper Status: Breakout

Analysis: Yes, there are a lot of great values at wide receiver, mostly because the position is so deep. And one player who could see his production increase in a big way is second-year man Terrance Williams.

But you don't have to take my word for it. I'll let Bleacher Report's Matt Miller convince you instead:

Or how about Brad Evans from Yahoo Sports?

You'll take that type of production from your 10th-round pick, right? Of course you will. 

Here's another way of looking at it. His quarterback is Tony Romo. The guy getting the majority of the attention in opponents' game plans will be Dez Bryant. Jason Witten will suck up a lot of attention too. And it's no secret that the Cowboys like to throw the ball around a little bit. 

Plus, Williams finished his rookie season with 765 receiving yards and five touchdownsvery nice marks for a rookie. There is a ton of upside here, folks—don't miss out.

Also Consider: Reggie Wayne, WR, Indianapolis Colts (Value at 95)

Round 11: Fred Jackson, RB, Buffalo Bills

TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 01:  Fred Jackson #22 of the Buffalo Bills celebrates scoring a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons at Rogers Centre on December 1, 2013 in Toronto, Ontario.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

ADP Rank: 102

Sleeper Status: Value

Analysis: I know he's 33 years old. I know the Bills also have C.J. Spiller and Bryce Brown at his position. 

But I also know he was a top-10 running back in fantasy last year in standard-scoring leagues. I know he rushed for 890 yards and nine touchdowns while catching 47 passes for another 387 yards and a score. 

You can do far worse at RB4 than Jackson. Don't be surprised when you're slotting him into your flex at some point in the season.

Also Consider: Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers (Value at 104)

Round 12: Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 04:  Zach Ertz #86 of the Philadelphia Eagles celebrates after scoring a 3 yard touchdown pass from Nick Foles #9 in the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Saints to take the lead 24-23 during their NFC Wild Card Playoff gam
Elsa/Getty Images

ADP Rank: 120

Sleeper Status: Breakout

Analysis: By this point, you have your TE1 selected. Why not take a chance on a breakout player with your backup at the position?

In his second year, Ertz seems likely to be far more involved in the passing game. Down the stretch last year, the Eagles started finding ways to get him the ball. And he's certainly looked good so far in camp thus far, as Geoff Mosher of CSN Philly tweeted:

Ertz probably won't join the weekly starter conversation until next year, but few TE2s have more upside. He's well worth the minimal gamble.

Also Consider: Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints (Breakout at 114)

Round 13: Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 29:  Darren McFadden #20 of the Oakland Raiders looks on from the sidelines against the Denver Broncos during the fourth quarter at Coliseum on December 29, 2013 in Oakland, California. The Broncos won the game 34-14.  (Photo b
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

ADP Rank: 126

Sleeper Status: Value

Analysis: It's simple—if Darren McFadden can stay healthy, he's an RB1 candidate. That's how dynamic he is. Not even Maurice Jones-Drew will keep him off the field for long stretches of time if he can stay out of the trainer's room.

But the odds of him staying healthy are, of course, pretty low. With your 13th-round pick, you can completely justify taking that gamble. At worst, he rides the pine. At best, he posts huge numbers at a tough position to find value. Why not take that ride?

Also Consider: Hakeem Nicks, WR, Indianapolis Colts (Value at 129)

Round 14: Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland Browns

DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 09:  Johnny Manziel #2 of the Cleveland Browns warms up prior to the start of the preseason game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on August 9, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. The Lions defeated the Browns 13-12 in a preseason game.
Leon Halip/Getty Images

ADP Rank: 134

Sleeper Status: Breakout

Analysis: If he's the starter, he has the potential to be a fantasy stud. Maybe he can't post the numbers Robert Griffin III notched in his rookie season, but that's the template for Manziel, as I wrote earlier in the week. 

Look, a player who can make plays with his feet at the quarterback position is always potentially valuable. And with a 14th-round pick, you're risking absolutely nothing (though once he is announced as the starter—and he will be—his ADP will change dramatically). 

Johnny Football is going to have a whole lot of fantasy relevance this year. Bet on it.

Also Consider: Rueben Randle, WR, New York Giants (Breakout at 131)

Round 15: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers

CHARLOTTE, NC - AUGUST 08:  Kelvin Benjamin #13 of the Carolina Panthers makes a touchdown catch as Stephon Gilmore #24 of the Buffalo Bills defends during their game at Bank of America Stadium on August 8, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Gr
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

ADP Rank: 148

Sleeper Status: Deep

Analysis: David Newton of called him the star of Panthers training camp, and with a dearth of weapons in the passing game, there's no reason Benjamin won't emerge as the team's No. 1 receiver.

Given his size, he could also become one heck of a red-zone threat. He's already proved that, per the NFL on Twitter:

An 800-yard, eight-touchdown season isn't out of the question, which would be a great value for a 15th-round pick. Make sure you are targeting Benjamin later in your draft.

Also Consider: Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis Rams (Breakout at 141)

Round 16 (And Beyond): Markus Wheaton, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 3:  Markus Wheaton #11 of the Pittsburgh Steelers participates in drills during Rookie Camp on May 3, 2013 at UPMC Sports Complex in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

ADP Rank: 189

Sleeper Status: Deep

Analysis: Everything is in place for Wheaton to take over the No. 2 spot at wide receiver vacated by Emmanuel Sanders, and that could lead to some very big numbers for the talented young receivers. You won't be paying much to land him, but he could end up being a very nice surprise for you this season.

Also Consider: Ladarius Green, TE, San Diego Chargers (Deep at 169)

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