Fantasy Football Dark-Horse Sleepers Who Could Break out in 2015
The term "sleeper" is almost irrelevant these days in fantasy football. There are so many opinions on so many players out there—not to mention insane amounts of data—that almost all relevant NFL players are on the fantasy radar in some way.
We'll try to find some anyway.
Let's try to dig deep to find guys who could come out of nowhere and have breakout seasons. At least for the most part, these guys are dark horses in the fantasy realm—too young or forgotten to even be on the sleeper radar.
Benjamin Watson, TE, New Orleans Saints
Jimmy Graham is gone, leaving a black hole in the New Orleans Saints offense. Who is going to get sucked in and grab all those targets?
There is probably no one man that will answer that question, but there will be a couple of tight ends jockeying for position in Graham's wake.
Josh Hill has certainly been the more popular of the options, and rightfully so—the 6'5", 250-pound monster almost fills the physical void that 6'7", 265-pound Graham left. More importantly, he was a bit of a touchdown machine in limited duty last season.
Hill scored five touchdowns on 20 targets. Just imagine if he'd gotten 120, right?
Well, you probably know that touchdown rate is insane and unsustainable. Furthermore, he has to contend with Benjamin Watson, who has flown completely off the radar in the fantasy realm this offseason.
The 34-year-old might be a long shot to make any sort of fantasy impact ever again, but ESPN.com beat writer Mike Triplett warns us all not to sleep on Watson as a serious passing option for quarterback Drew Brees next season.
I tend to agree.
Danny Woodhead, RB, San Diego Chargers
Admittedly, Danny Woodhead barely qualifies to be on this list. He is an established veteran with a history. In fact, he finished 19th in fantasy scoring just two years ago.
I felt compelled to add him here simply because he has become a completely forgotten man.
Woodhead is the pass-catching threat in the San Diego backfield, and he should retain that role in his return from a season-ending leg injury early last season. With rookie Melvin Gordon in town as the No. 15 overall pick, Woodhead has been totally eclipsed.
The diminutive back was targeted a whopping 88 times in 2013 to go along with 106 carries, and that sort of workload is certainly attainable for him in 2015 if he can stay healthy.
Andrew Hawkins, WR, Cleveland Browns
With Josh Gordon gone, the Cleveland Browns did some work to revamp the wide receiver corps this offseason. They brought in Brian Hartline and Dwayne Bowe in free agency and drafted Vince Mayle in the fourth round.
But what if their best option was right under their noses?
Surely Andrew Hawkins is going to have a shot at serious playing time. The man with perhaps the fleetest feet east of the Mississippi might be the one to own at wide receiver in Cleveland, at least in points-per-reception (PPR) leagues.
Hawkins was actually targeted a healthy 112 times in 15 games last season. His main problem was a lack of touchdowns—he scored just twice for a 1.7 percent touchdown rate, something that should actually regress toward the mean in 2015.
The diminutive wideout should be the slot receiver for the Browns, so we should expect a similar target count. If he gains a few more yards and scores a few more touchdowns, he could break into the top 30 in fantasy scoring.
Jace Amaro, TE, New York Jets
After a rocky start to his NFL career, tight end Jace Amaro settled in as a bona fide threat for the New York Jets last season.
Of course, rookie tight ends rarely produce big numbers—just 34 catches for 385 yards and two touchdowns—so his line for 2014 barely registered on the fantasy football radar. Could he be in for a massive boost in Year Two?
Not only should he see some development in his second season, but the offense around him is certainly improved. The biggest comes in the form of Brandon Marshall, who gives the Jets a formidable one-two punch if he and Eric Decker can stay healthy.
Amaro could see some serious targets as a seam threat, and he is a big red-zone target. His touchdown upside alone could make him a sneaky good option in the fantasy realm.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans
Marcus Mariota is a polarizing player—some think he is going to take the NFL by storm, while others believe he will be a huge bust.
My opinion falls in the former camp.
The Heisman Trophy winner wades into a deep pool at his position—as far as fantasy football is concerned, at any rate—but he has a potentially huge advantage over many of his peers—he can run the ball.
Of course, you knew that. And there are plenty of quarterbacks who can run the ball these days. But that is the reason Mariota is a dark horse to have a breakout season as a rookie—so many other options get in the way. At the very least, there are a dozen far safer options.
But what if Mariota comes in and sets the NFL on fire a la fellow running quarterbacks Cam Newton in 2011 or Robert Griffin III in 2012? Few thought the Carolina or Washington offenses would take off the way they did those years.
Charles Sims, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There was a bit of preseason hype behind Charles Sims as a rookie last year. Then he broke his leg.
The Buccaneers running back would return midseason, but he would only average an abysmal 2.8 yards per carry in limited duty. His injury presumably affected his production.
Sims heads into the 2015 preseason under the radar, however, his teammate Doug Martin getting all the attention. Most of that has been negative, however—does he even fit with the team anymore? Buccaneer blog Pewter Report posited they might trade their former rookie phenom.
Chris Wesseling recently reported the Buccaneers will feature Sims, which means he probably won't be a sleeper for much longer. If he does win the starting job and becomes the workhorse, Sims could be in for a top-15 fantasy season.
Rob Housler, TE, Cleveland Browns
Rob Housler has been a mirage ever since coming into the league.
The Cardinals weren't able to help Housler realize the potential he showed when he dominated the combine back in 2011. He was always going to be a pass-catching tight end as opposed to blocking or all-around, but he didn't even do much of that in Arizona.
Can he turn his career around in Cleveland, or does that seem like an insane hope? This is the Browns we're talking about, after all.
Cleveland does have Gary Barnridge to replace the departed Jordan Cameron, but Housler's athleticism might be too much to ignore if he can start to put things together this preseason. The Browns seem to think he is a bit of a chess piece—he was reportedly lining up on the outside in OTAs, per Kevin Jones of ClevelandBrowns.com.
If Housler does finally cash in on his potential, he could become a huge fantasy asset.
Marlon Brown, WR, Baltimore Ravens
Much ado has been made of Breshad Perriman, Baltimore's first-round pick in this year's draft. The rookie receiver is the heir to Torrey Smith's throne, it would seem, making him an intriguing fantasy option.
But what if someone else wins the starting job?
Marlon Brown is a forgotten man in Baltimore. The big wideout had some injury issues in 2015, and Perriman's arrival has pushed him out of the fantasy picture. But it seems that he might be a bigger factor than many think, at least if head coach John Harbaugh was being serious when recently discussing Brown:
He’s a guy we wanted to have more involved last year.
Marlon, I see him out there, he’s really made improvements from last year. … He’s a big, broad-boned, talented guy. I think he continues to improve as a receiver as far as the technical aspects of it, refining his skills a little bit.
That quote, courtesy of Ryan Mink over at BaltimoreRavens.com, seems to indicate Brown has a big role in the offense if he can stay healthy. Indeed, he is the biggest of all the Ravens receivers, and he has one distinct advantage over Perriman—experience.
If Brown wins that No. 1 job, he is going to be one of the biggest values in fantasy football this season.