Fantasy Football Week 7 Sleepers at Every Position
All fantasy owners pray it won't happen to them—the devastating injury that completely changes the face of the team.
It's already happened with Arizona Cardinals tailback David Johnson. Then with New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. And in last Sunday's loss to the Minnesota Vikings, it happened to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
There's no way to sugarcoat the impact of an injury to a first- or second-round fantasy pick. Leagues aren't won by those picks—players taken that early are expected to shine. But they can certainly be lost if those early picks don't pan out.
But a big injury doesn't have to be the end of the world. With the right waiver pickup or sleeper play, a fantasy owner can at least keep the season from going off the rails.
One week at a time, if need be. Here are the sleepers to look out for right now.
Before we get into the Week 7 recommendations, let's re-examine the Week 6 calls to see who starred and who stank.
If a player I recommended finished inside weekly starter territory (the top 12 quarterbacks, tight ends and defenses, top 24 running backs and top 36 wide receivers), I'm calling that a win.
Jacoby Brissett, QB, Indianapolis Colts (212 passing yards, 1 touchdown, 15 rushing yards, QB18): In the first half of Monday night's game, it looked like this pick would be spot-on. Unfortunately, NFL games have two halves. LOSS
Brian Hoyer, QB, San Francisco 49ers (34 passing yards, QB30): After a rocky start in the nation's capital, Hoyer was benched in favor of rookie C.J. Beathard. That just about summed up my Week 6 recommendations. LOSS
Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona Cardinals (283 passing yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception, -4 rushing yards, QB8): Palmer and the Arizona offense put up arguably their best effort of the season against Tampa, although that Peterson fella may have had something to do with it. WIN
Elijah McGuire, RB, New York Jets (10 carries, 22 yards, RB55): The Jets gave the Patriots all they could handle, and quarterback Josh McCown had a big game, but McGuire's invitation to the party must have gotten lost. LOSS
Samaje Perine, RB, Washington Redskins (9 carries, 23 yards, 3 catches, 24 yards, 1 touchdown, RB18): 12 total touches for 47 yards isn't exactly what fantasy owners hoped for from Perine, but he found the end zone—and with it the top 24. WIN
Shane Vereen, RB, New York Giants (1 carry, 4 yards, RB69): The theory was that Vereen could see an uptick in touches as an underneath receiver in the passing game. The reality is that the veteran scatback was a complete non-factor. LOSS
Jaron Brown, WR, Arizona Cardinals (1 catch, 30 yards, WR75): The Cardinals offense was firing on all cylinders Sunday against the Buccaneers, but Brown managed just a single catch. With John Brown seemingly healthy again, the show appears to be over for Jaron. LOSS
Ricardo Louis, WR, Cleveland Browns (3 receptions, 25 yards, WR66): There feels like there's a moral to this story. That moral is to stay as far away as humanly possible from any and all players for the Cleveland Browns. LOSS
Mike Wallace, WR, Baltimore Ravens (3 receptions, 30 yards, WR58): The Baltimore offense looked like hot garbage in a loss to the Chicago Bears, and Wallace played his part in the stinker just like everyone else. LOSS
George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers (4 receptions, 46 yards, TE20): Kittle didn't have an awful game and the in-game quarterback switch certainly didn't help matters, but outside the top 12 is outside the top 12. LOSS
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, New York Jets (8 catches, 46 yards, 1 touchdown, TE4): That seals it. Seferian-Jenkins' sleeper status has been revoked. In PPR fantasy football leagues especially, Seferian-Jenkins is now officially a viable starter. WIN
Atlanta Falcons Defense/Special Teams (289 yards allowed, 20 points allowed, 1 interception, D/ST20): This was easily the weirdest miss of the week, as a Falcons team coming off a bye allowed 20 second-half points to a Miami Dolphins team that may have the NFL's worst offense. LOSS
WEEK 6 TOTAL: 3/12 (.250)
I'm pretty sure that I'm the victim of a far-reaching conspiracy to make me look bad. It's the only rational explanation for Hoyer's benching, Vereen's one touch and the Falcons' taking a second-half nap.
In fairness, I suppose it's within the realm of possibility that I was just really, completely, totally wrong for a second straight week.
Nope. It must be that first one. Cue the X-Files music.
SEASON TOTAL: 31/72 (.431)
Sleeper of the Week
Orleans Darkwa, RB, New York Giants (vs. SEA)
There wasn't a more surprising rushing performance in Week 6 than Orleans Darkwa rolling over the Denver Broncos on Sunday night.
A Giants team that entered Week 6 with one of the NFL's most anemic rushing attacks gashed a Denver defense that had allowed fewer than 51 yards per game on the ground for a whopping 148 yards. Most of that damage was done by Darkwa, who peeled off a career-high 117 yards on 21 carries.
Darkwa told Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post that Sunday's big game was the opportunity he'd been waiting for.
"This is what you dream of as a back," he said. "It's a blessing for me to have the opportunity to have the coaches trust me with the ball in my hands. It's been a long time coming for me. This is my fourth year and to have this opportunity on this stage is something you dream of as a kid."
Neither Darkwa nor the Giants had offered any inkling that they were capable of this sort of rushing effort. But with a re-shuffled line and a receiving corps decimated by injuries, the G-Men have little choice but to commit to running the ball early and often.
That should mean another 20-touch game for Darkwa in Week 7 against the Seahawks, who have been quite a bit kinder (127.2 rushing yards per game allowed) to opposing tailbacks this year than the Broncos.
Jared Goff, QB, Los Angeles Rams (vs. AZ)
Over the first four weeks of the 2017 season, Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff threw seven touchdown passes with just a single interception. Goff ranked 15th among fantasy quarterbacks—ahead of the likes of Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions, Philip Rivers of the Los Angeles Chargers and even reigning NFL MVP Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons.
However, over the last two games it's been a different story. The second-year pro has just a single touchdown over that stretch, and in last week's win in Jacksonville, Goff threw for just 124 yards.
Given that paltry production the past two weeks, there won't be many fantasy owners trotting Goff out there this week when the Rams host the Arizona Cardinals in London.
Those who do will be pleasantly surprised.
It's a highly favorable fantasy matchup. The Cardinals have surrendered the fifth-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks this year. Their average stat line against (per ESPN's Ken Daube) is over 250 yards and two scores per game—and that's after facing a Murderer's Row that includes Jacoby Brissett (Indianapolis Colts), Brian Hoyer (San Francisco 49ers) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (Tampa Bay Buccaneers).
Also, while Goff's numbers haven't been impressive of late, it hasn't been for lack of trying. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft is fourth in the NFL in yards per attempt, trailing just Alex Smith, Kirk Cousins and Tom Brady.
That list is a little better.
Jared goes Goff across the pond Sunday.
Brett Hundley, QB, Green Bay Packers (vs. NOS)
That long, soulful wail you've heard in the distance since Sunday afternoon is the entire state of Wisconsin sobbing.
Because when Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was carted to the locker room with what turned out to be a broken right collarbone, he took any real chance of the Pack making a run at Super Bowl LII with him.
Since Rodgers got hurt, every free-agent quarterback with a pulse has been mentioned as a potential replacement, from Tony Romo to Colin Kaepernick. But when the Packers host the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, it will be third-year pro Brett Hundley who will be tasked with keeping Green Bay's season from falling apart.
Let's just get this out of the way: Hundley's isn't Rodgers. He isn't close. He's not in the same zip code. Or area code. He may not be in the same solar system.
He's a fifth-round pick who hadn't seen any meaningful game action before last week.
But there was a time when Hundley was considered arguably the top prospect at his position in the 2014 NFL draft before he decided to return to UCLA—a decision that cost him millions. He has one of the deepest and most talented receiving corps in the NFL at his disposal. And this week, he faces a Saints team that ranks 28th in pass defense and seventh-worst in fantasy points per game allowed to quarterbacks in 2017.
Buried under all the uncertainty and despair in Titletown right now is something that could be of use to fantasy owners with Matthew Stafford and Deshaun Watson on a bye.
A faint glimmer of upside.
Tyrod Taylor, QB, Buffalo Bills (vs. TBB)
There may be some who would argue that Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor doesn't really qualify as a sleeper.
But with Taylor's bye coming last week after a rocky outing against the Cincinnati Bengals the week before, Taylor was shown the door in more than a few fantasy leagues.
Those fantasy owners who cut bait may live to regret it, because the stage is set for Taylor to have his best outing of the season at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday.
Taylor's been a much better quarterback at home this year. His completion percentage, passing yards per attempt and touchdown-to-interception ratio are all much better in the friendly confines of New Era Field.
There's also the matter of Buffalo's opponent.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had exactly zero success defending the pass this year. Only the New England Patriots have given up more passing yards per game than the Buccaneers in 2017. The lowest passing output by an opposing passer against Tampa this season is Carson Palmer's 283 yards last week.
And Palmer threw three first-half touchdown passes in a game where the Arizona Cardinals barely took to the air after intermission.
With tight end Charles Clay on the shelf for sure and top wideout Jordan Matthews likely to join him, the weapons at Taylor's disposal Sunday are a genuine concern.
They just aren't enough of a concern to overcome the temptation of this excellent matchup—especially considering Taylor's ability to rack up fantasy points with his legs.
Chris Ivory, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars (at IND)
Every fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars held their breath last week when rookie tailback Leonard Fournette hobbled off the field with an ankle injury.
All seven of them.
As ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco reported, it appears that the Jaguars have avoided a major injury to their offensive centerpiece. But head coach Doug Marrone made it clear the team isn't about to press its luck with the first-year bruiser, who ranks second in the NFL with 596 rushing yards.
"I usually listen to what the doctors and trainers say," Marrone said. "If the doctors and trainers say, 'Hey, listen, he's limited,' then he's going to go in there and be limited rep-wise. If the doctors and trainers say, 'Hey, he's ready to go,' then he's ready to go. So, most of the time, I just go by what they say and then we put that into the practice schedule what they can and cannot do."
Even if Fournette plays Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, it's a real possibility that the Jaguars will make an effort to scale back his workload.
That's where eighth-year veteran Chris Ivory comes in.
Ivory is already carving out a role for himself, even with Fournette dominating the work on the ground. Ivory led all Jaguars receivers in last week's loss to the Los Angeles Rams, hauling in nine passes for 74 yards.
That's a decent PPR stat line.
With Fournette nicked up, Ivory should see double-digit touches again this week against a Colts team giving up the fifth-most PPR fantasy points to running backs this year. Both Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray of the Tennessee Titans landed inside the top 12 in Week 6 against Indy.
If the Jaguars can get a lead and rest Fournette late, Ivory could be in for a similarly big day.
Thomas Rawls, RB, Seattle Seahawks (at NYG)
Given his stat line in his last game (10 touches, 35 yards), there's not exactly a stampede to get Seattle Seahawks tailback Thomas Rawls into fantasy lineups in advance of their Week 7 tilt in New York.
In fact, given the amount of success I've had (approximately zero) with the Seattle backfield in this column this season, a pretty good argument can be made that I need my head checked for even going back to this well again.
And yet, here we are. Must be a glutton for punishment.
The Seahawks went into their Week 6 bye trying to find an identity on the ground, and head coach Pete Carroll indicated to Gregg Bell of the Tacoma News Tribune (via the Kitsap Sun) that the team needs to involve Rawls more moving forward.
"I thought Thomas did have a better feel as the (Rams) game went on. He just doesn't have much experience in the last year," Carroll said. "We will just keep bringing him along and see how it goes. He doesn't (have enough reps). You can add them up, there is none. It is next to nothing. But he is working real hard. He is in good shape and his attitude is great. I don't see there is any reason other than just kind of bringing him along."
Chris Carson is hurt, and Eddie Lacy has been a massive disappointment. That leaves Rawls to handle early-down work in a middle-of-the-pack fantasy matchup with the G-Men.
Call it a calculated risk that Seattle used its week off to get the run game on track.
If at first you don't succeed…
Bennie Fowler, WR, Denver Broncos (at LAC)
A couple of weeks ago, Denver head coach Vance Joseph talked up the value of Bennie Fowler to the Broncos while speaking with Nick Kosmider of the Denver Post.
"Bennie's gotten two game balls in the first month of the season," Joseph said. "One, obviously, for his game against the Chargers for scoring two touchdowns. But one last week with gunner play on special teams. Bennie is a valuable member of our football team, obviously, being our third receiver and a core four (special teams) player for Brock (Olivo). His value is huge for us."
Fowler's about to get a golden opportunity to earn some more spheroid accolades.
Because the Broncos need him now more than ever.
After being carted to the locker room with an injured ankle last week, Emmanuel Sanders has already been ruled out for Week 7's matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers. That moves Fowler, who saw a season-high eight targets last week against the New York Giants, to No. 2 receiver status opposite Demaryius Thomas.
Granted, Fowler converted those eight targets into just three receptions for 21 yards. But we know that Fowler is capable of a big stat line. He had a pair of touchdowns against the Los Angeles Chargers back in Week 1.
That's the same Los Angeles Chargers the Broncos are playing Sunday.
The same Los Angeles Chargers team that has given up the ninth-most fantasy points per game to wideouts this season.
And the same Los Angeles Chargers who will be bracketing Thomas with Sanders out—leaving Fowler in single coverage.
Taylor Gabriel, WR, Atlanta Falcons (at NEP)
When the New England Patriots added cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a secondary that already included Malcolm Butler and Devin McCourty, the belief was that the Pats would field one of the NFL's best pass defenses.
Um, not so much.
Through six weeks, the Patriots have the worst pass defense in the NFL. They are allowing almost 325 yards per game through the air, and all six quarterbacks New England has faced have topped the 300-yard mark.
It should come as no surprise, given those numbers, that the Patriots have also been kind to opponents from a fantasy perspective. The Pats have given up the most fantasy points both overall and to quarterbacks, and they have surrendered the fourth-most fantasy points to wide receivers.
That porous defense bodes well for Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan breaking out of his funk in Week 7.
It also bodes well for some Sunday night sleeper action from Atlanta speedster Taylor Gabriel.
Gabriel emerged as a vertical threat for the Falcons over the second half of last season, hauling in six scores from Week 8 on. But outside of a 5/79/1 stat line against the Detroit Lions in Week 3, the 26-year-old has been quiet this season.
That could change this week.
Mohamed Sanu is practicing again after missing most of the last two games with a hamstring pull, but even if he does play, he isn't going to be at 100 percent. Neither is superstar Julio Jones, although you can be sure the Patriots will defend him like he is.
That should mean single coverage for Gabriel from a defensive backfield that couldn't cover a bed with a sheet.
And the potential for a long touchdown. At least.
Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams (vs. ARZ)
Over the last three games, Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp has been building momentum.
Unfortunately, that momentum has been building in the wrong direction.
After hauling in five catches for 60 yards and a score against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 4, Kupp managed just three grabs for 44 yards in the Rams' Week 5 loss to Seattle—a game in which the potential game-winning touchdown slipped through his hands late.
Last week in Jacksonville, Kupp's numbers dipped again to two grabs for 35 yards.
Those down games came against some of the bigger names in the NFL at cornerback, and with the Rams welcoming Patrick Peterson and the Arizona Cardinals to a "home" game in London Sunday, many fantasy owners are likely leery of rolling out Kupp in Week 7.
Or leerly likey—whatever.
However, there are a couple of reasons why the matchup might not be as bad as you think.
For one, Peterson isn't close to 100 percent. He'll probably play Sunday—he's never missed a game—but he spent much of the second half of last week's win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the sidelines after aggravating his injured quad.
The Bucs took full advantage of his absence too, staging a furious second-half comeback.
But Kupp should still have a decent game. One half of last week's game spent without Peterson doesn't fully explain away the fact the Cardinals are giving up the fifth-most fantasy points to wide receivers this year.
Jared Goff is going to have his best outing in several weeks Sunday, and it stands to reason that his most trusted target at wide receiver would benefit. Kupp is second on the team in targets overall, but he leads the team both in third-down targets and catches that get the first this year.
That's how you build trust with a quarterback.
Austin Hooper, TE, Atlanta Falcons (at NEP)
As D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan sees bigger and better things ahead for second-year tight end Austin Hooper.
"I think Hoop had done a good job," Ryan said. "The ball is going to find different guys at different times of the year, depending on where our matchups are. He's done a nice job for us. He's done a good job in the run game. A good job in the pass game. He's going to be productive for us. His time is definitely going to come."
Hooper exploded in Week 1, reeling in two catches for a staggering 128 yards and a touchdown. But since then, he's been rather quiet, with 15 catches for 114 yards over four games.
If there is a perfect matchup for Hooper's "time" to come, it's Sunday night's big Super Bowl rematch at Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots' difficulties in pass defense have been well-documented, including in this column. And those difficulties extend to the tight end position. Only two teams have allowed more fantasy points to the position in 2017.
While Hooper hasn't had a huge game since Week 1, his last two outings have been quietly decent in PPR scoring systems. The 22-year-old made five catches for 50 yards back in Week 4 against Buffalo, and followed that up with seven grabs for 48 yards last week against the Miami Dolphins.
If you're streaming tight ends (either by design or circumstance) you could do worse than hanging with Mr. Hooper in Week 7.
Nick O'Leary, TE, Buffalo Bills
This week's useless trivia fact: Buffalo Bills tight end Nick O'Leary is the grandson of legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus.
However, O'Leary's relatives aren't of as much interest to fantasy owners as his ability to get open, and per Kyle Silagyi of BillsWire, Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott indicated O'Leary has plenty of that.
"Well, you know, I think the thing that you notice very quickly about Nick is that he gets open," McDermott said. "I mean, he finds a way to find open space in the passing game. He made some big catches the other week against Cincinnati. Tyrod [Taylor], I believe, trusts Nick in the passing game as well. Highly competitive player, has done some good things this year, and I think it remains to be seen how high he'll go. But we have a lot of confidence in Nick."
That confidence was borne at least in part from necessity. When Charles Clay went down with a knee injury, Taylor lost his favorite target in the passing game and security blanket. Fantasy owners lost a player who ranked fourth in PPR fantasy points at his position.
Expecting O'Leary to post that kind of production is a tall ask. But the 25-year-old did manage five catches for 54 yards two weeks ago against Cincinnati and draws a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team in Week 7 that ranks 31st in pass defense in 2017.
Tennessee Titans Defense/Special Teams (at CLE)
Sleepers at the team defense position are all about the matchups. Find a team playing a struggling and/or mistake-prone offense, and voila—tasty fantasy points.
More often than not, that's all it takes. Occasionally though, the plan goes awry, such as when the Atlanta Falcons allowed 20 second-half points in a brutal collapse against a Miami offense that had been pathetic so far in 2017.
There's an exception for every rule and all that jazz.
However, it's back to the same theory in Week 7. And this week, that takes us to Cleveland, where the Tennessee Titans will face the raging dumpster fire that is the Browns.
Through six weeks, the Browns are allowing the most fantasy points to team defenses. The Browns are 25th in total offense, and only the Dolphins are averaging fewer points per game than Cleveland's 15.7.
And that's just the start.
The Browns have been a goldmine for the sorts of big plays that power most fantasy scoring systems on defense.
Sacks? The Browns have allowed 18—tied for fifth-most in the NFL.
Giveaways? Cleveland has turned the ball over 16 times—most in the league.
Nine of those turnovers have been DeShone Kizer interceptions. Kizer's been so bad as a rookie that the Browns benched him last week for Kevin Hogan.
For a week, anyway. Because as it turns out, as bad as Kizer is, Hogan's worse.
Kizer. Hogan. Cody Kessler. It doesn't really matter. They all stink.
And in Week 7, that's good news for the Titans.