The best fantasy football sleeper of all time may have been St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner, who was the team's second-string quarterback in the 1999 preseason before starter Trent Green suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Warner stepped in and immediately defied any expectations for him and the team as he threw for 41 touchdowns, completed 65.1 percent of passes and was named AP NFL MVP en route to a Super Bowl win. As you might imagine, he finished first among all quarterbacks in fantasy and third overall, per Pro Football Reference.
Any sleeper this year has a tall order ahead of them to enter the Warner sphere, but here's a ranking of 10 sleeper candidates in addition to breakdowns of the top three.
There were two qualifications for sleeper status: First, they had to be outside the top 70 of FantasyPros' rankings (points-per-reception).
Second (and this one is a bit subjective), they could not be the subject of mainstream hype. For example, it's hard to consider San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo a sleeper when he went 5-0 in his five games last year. He's not sneaking up on many, including some casual fans.
Ranking Top 10 Sleeper Candidates
10. Indianapolis Colts RB Marlon Mack
9. Tennessee Titans QB Marcus Mariota
8. Carolina Panthers WR DJ Moore
7. Chicago Bears TE Trey Burton
6. Oakland Raiders WR Jordy Nelson
5. Houston Texans WR Will Fuller IV
4. Indianapolis Colts TE Jack Doyle
3. New England Patriots RB Rex Burkhead
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin
1. San Francisco 49ers WR Marquise Goodwin
New England Patriots RB Rex Burkhead
The New England Patriots have a crowded backfield once again this year, with five players (Rex Burkhead, James White, 2018 first-round draft pick Sony Michel, Mike Gillislee and Jeremy Hill) on the roster.
However, Chris Price of the Boston Sports Journal (h/t Mike Clay of ESPN) believes Burkhead looks like the main man out of that quintet, at least to start:
In late June, Mike Reiss of ESPN also predicted that Burkhead should have his number called for goal-line duties as well.
Michel suffered a knee injury that will force him to miss some practice time, but he should be good to go for Week 1 on September 9, per Reiss. Still, that may leave Burkhead with some extra opportunities off the bat.
That could mean some excellent production for the former Nebraska star. While also pointing out that Burkhead's stock is steadily rising, Graham Barfield of Fantasy Guru noted some eye-popping statistics from last year:
Therefore, Burkhead's sleeper status is slowly waning, although if you're in a league where Buffalo Bills backup quarterback Jeff Tuel was once drafted in the first round like I was, you can probably still get him late.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin
Per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, it's go time for Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin, who has now earned a starting role in his second season.
After seeing just 12 targets through the team's first eight games, the former Penn State star saw more action in the second half, amassing 26 catches for 442 yards and a score. He was particularly effective in his final two games (10 catches, 209 yards, one touchdown), which included a 70-yard catch against the Carolina Panthers and a game-winning 39-yard score with 15 seconds left to beat the New Orleans Saints.
The late-season success may have carried over into the preseason. Buccaneers senior writer/editor Scott Smith praised Godwin's work in training camp this year:
And Reception Perception creator Matt Harmon offered preseason praise for Godwin on August 6:
Diving into the linked article, Harmon noted how well Godwin does in tight coverage:
"Godwin's insane 85.7 percent contested catch conversion rate is the highest among prospects charted the last two years. He narrowly edged out well-known high-pointer Josh Doctson from 2016, who owned an 85 percent conversion rate.
"Not only does Godwin play at an elite level in traffic, he also shows an advanced understanding of timing and hand use when leaving his feet. He's not as tall as a player like Williams or Doctson, but his ability in the air gives him just as much of a catch radius. His overall play strength makes him a force in close quarters with a defender."
The 6'1", 205-pounder is a tough cover, and at just 22 years old, he has plenty of time to develop. He's an excellent late-round pick for fantasy leagues, especially in keeper or dynasty contests.
San Francisco 49ers WR Marquise Goodwin
The hype surrounding San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Marquise Goodwin grew at the end of last season as he and Garoppolo showed an instant rapport on the field. That has carried over into the preseason, if early reports are any indication.
Per Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle in an August 2 article, Goodwin "remains the 49ers' top wide receiver" even with the return of Pierre Garcon, who missed the final two months of the season due to a neck injury.
49ers team reporter Joe Fann echoed similar sentiments as he praised the former University of Texas at Austin football and track star:
Per Pro Football Reference, Goodwin's stats from his final five 2017 games (29 catches, 384 yards, one touchdown) are in the ballpark of his production from the first 11 (27 catches, 578 yards, one touchdown). If Goodwin continued that final five-game rate throughout an entire season, he would manage 93 catches and 1,229 yards.
If Goodwin comes anywhere close to those figures this year, then he could be one of the biggest (if not the biggest) fantasy steals.