2018 Fantasy Football: Biggest Sleepers at Every Position
What is a sleeper in 2018?
The NFL is covered extensively both in and out of season to the point that you almost always hear about even the faintest hint of a positive report on any player. With so much information out there, rarely are we taken by surprise when a player breaks out or ascends from the bench to become a fantasy producer.
Interpreting what a sleeper is could be a personal pursuit. If you are nothing more than a causal observer who likes to play fantasy football as a social activity, someone like Alvin Kamara may have shocked you by what seemingly was a gigantic fantasy season out of nowhere. Those who are more invested in the daily happenings of the offseason, training camp and preseason games knew Kamara had potential.
One good way to define a sleeper is a player who is getting overlooked in draft value. Jamaal Williams was a top-10 fantasy RB in the second half of last season, yet current ADP puts him outside the top 35 RBs for this season. Last year, I considered Williams a sleeper because he had a chance to rise to the top of the Packers depth chart, and he did. This year, he has sleeper potential because his perceived value is lower than what it has the potential to be in 2018.
You may also consider a sleeper someone you draft to be a bench player with starting potential. David Njoku and Patrick Mahomes II are perfect examples of players who can be drafted as fantasy backups knowing they have the upside and talent to turn into mainstays in a starting lineup.
Here we've picked out the top sleepers at every position. You won't find any kickers or defenses because I don't rank them. They aren't important, and there are no sleepers in those categories. They are streaming positions that are addressed on a week-to-week basis during the season.
Note: All ADP data and fantasy stats used to calculate finishes from FantasyPros. All advanced stats calculated using data from Pro Football Reference. All stats are based on points per reception (PPR) format.
Patrick Mahomes II, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
Mahomes falls into the sleeper category of talented player you can draft as a backup with the confidence he'll turn into a fantasy starter. Mahomes takes over the top spot on the Chiefs depth chart from Alex Smith following Smith's outstanding fantasy performance in 2017.
Smith was fourth in total points (295.1) and second in fantasy points per game (19.7) among QBs with at least 10 appearances. Should expectations be that high for Mahomes? No, but it shows this offense can produce a strong fantasy QB. Smith's ability to produce with his legs resulted in 355 rushing yards and a TD. The Chiefs could get even more out of Mahomes as a runner. He ran for 741 yards and 22 TDs in his last 25 games at Texas Tech.
Mahomes inherits an offense that includes last year's No. 4 fantasy RB in Kareem Hunt, the No. 9 fantasy WR in Tyreek Hill and the No. 1 fantasy TE in Travis Kelce. The Chiefs added another big weapon in Sammy Watkins, so Mahomes has even more to work with than Smith did in 2017.
While growing pains could affect Mahomes early in the season, the level of talent around him in addition to his legs should be more than enough to prevent any significant rough patches in his first year as a starter. Considering Mahomes current ADP puts him in the top backup tier, you're assuming little risk with the potential of a big reward.
Jamaal Williams, RB, Green Bay Packers
Can you be a sleeper two years in a row? In the case of Williams, the answer should be yes.
In my final preseason Big Board of 2017, I included Williams in the RB sleepers section as a low-risk draft pick with an ADP of 113.2/RB45. He finished the season as the No. 32 RB, which meant he outplayed his draft value. However, a closer look shows he was the No. 7 RB over the final eight weeks of the season once he took over as the lead back for the Packers in the wake of the Ty Montgomery and Aaron Jones injuries.
You'd think that such a reliable fantasy producer would earn more respect than Williams is currently getting, but his standing among RBs puts him firmly on fantasy benches. That's a bit of a head-scratcher when you consider what's happening with Williams' primary competition for carries, Aaron Jones.
Jones was hit with a two-game suspension back in July and has missed time in training camp with a hamstring injury. Admittedly, Jones may have a higher ceiling than Williams, but he's doing himself no favors. You can't assume Jones will significantly cut into Williams' role once the suspension ends. Could Jones eventually play himself into a bigger role and potentially the starting job? Yes, but he's already behind.
Last season, Williams had to carry the offense in the absence of Aaron Rodgers, since the team's passing game was so poor under Brett Hundley. The return of Rodgers is an obvious boost to all Packers skill players, but it also takes pressure off Williams to shoulder as much responsibility as he did last season. If Williams can keep the offense on schedule and perform well in pass protection, it's doubtful the Packers will be in a rush to replace him.
Williams doesn't have to replicate his second-half performance from last season to be useful for fantasy, especially with such a cheap price. Since 2013, the lead RB in Green Bay averages more than 10 fantasy points per game, which is typically good enough to be a low-end RB2/high-end RB3. With Rodgers back, this offense is RB-friendly, so make a point to get Williams.
Cameron Meredith, WR, New Orleans Saints
Two seasons ago, Meredith emerged from the mess known as the Chicago Bears offense to post 66 receptions for 888 yards and four TDs, which was good for 12.8 fantasy points per game. When the Bears moved on from Alshon Jeffery, Meredith entered the 2017 preseason atop the team's WR depth chart. Unfortunately, Meredith suffered a torn ACL and MCL in the third preseason game and missed all of last season.
The New Orleans Saints signed Meredith to an offer sheet as a restricted free agent, which the Bears declined to match. Meredith's comeback resumes in a much better situation, as he will rely on a future Hall of Famer in Drew Brees and one of the best offensive minds of the last 20 years in head coach Sean Payton. Meredith will also share the field with one of the best young WRs in the league, Michael Thomas.
With Thomas on the field, defenses should pay much more attention to him instead of Meredith. Both Brees and Payton have always been good about getting the most out of their receivers, especially when it comes to exploiting winnable matchups. This is a positive situation all around for Meredith. and with recent history showing he can perform at a high level for fantasy, it's not a reach to think he can find fantasy consistency in his new home.
David Njoku, TE, Cleveland Browns
Njoku might be the most obvious name to land in this article, especially after the boost he's gotten from the massive exposure of Hard Knocks. Njoku's draft stock has been on the rise since his first preseason game resulted in TD catches from both Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield. While you shouldn't overrate the performance of one game, it put Njoku's skill set on full display.
While Njoku deserves to be mentioned in the group of potential breakout candidates at TE, another reason for his rise up draft boards may be related to the injury suffered by George Kittle. With Kittle now dealing with a shoulder issue that could keep him out until at least Week 1, Njoku is now coming off the board as a low-end starter.
Paying for a breakout season can be dangerous, because it means Njoku has to live up to higher expectations at his current ADP, as opposed to the low-risk, high-reward players in this article who can be drafted as backups with potential. Luckily, it's pretty easy to believe in Njoku. He was first-round pick in last year's NFL draft and certainly looks the part at 6'4'', 246 pounds.
Between the continued absence of Josh Gordon and the departure of Corey Coleman, Njoku's chances of carving out a big role look both likely for him and necessary for the Browns. If he can build on his strong start to the preseason, his value will continue to rise.
Mitchell Trubisky, QB, Chicago Bears
Trubisky has the cheapest ADP of this sleeper group, so that makes him the lowest risk. That also means he'll be that much easier to cut if you need his roster spot for someone more important in the early part of the season. But let's look at why he's worth a look late in your draft.
No one was surprised to see Trubisky off the radar as a rookie. He was part of an offense that lacked creativity and talent in the receiving corps. Kendall Wright was Trubisky's best WR with 59 receptions for 614 yards and one TD on 91 targets. None of the Bears WRs had more than a single TD. The only Bears to score multiple receiving TDs were TE Adam Shaheen (three), TE Zach Miller (two) and RB Benny Cunningham (two).
New head coach Matt Nagy should inject new life and creativity into the offense, which now boasts a revamped receiving corps. The two biggest additions were WR Allen Robinson and TE Trey Burton, along with WR Taylor Gabriel and rookie WR Anthony Miller. While Robinson missed all of last season with a torn ACL, he was the No. 24 fantasy WR in what was considered a down year in 2016 and the No. 6 fantasy WR in 2015.
The easy comparison for Trubisky is what Jared Goff did with better coaching and weapons in his second season last year. Trubisky doesn't have to make quite as big of a leap to be considered useful for fantasy, but the potential is there with improvements across the board. Even if you don't draft Trubisky, he should be on your radar entering the season.
Corey Clement, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
At this time last season, Clement wasn't eliciting any buzz looking up at names like LeGarrette Blount, Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood ahead of him on the Eagles RB depth chart. In fact, he didn't record his first touch until the team's third regular season game. He had just three games with double-digit carries and one game with more than one reception. He played just 24 percent of the snaps for the season.
The playoffs told a different story. While he was mostly quiet as a runner with six carries for 33 yards, Clement posted 10 receptions for 139 yards including four receptions for 100 yards and a TD in the Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots. While Sproles is back and Jay Ajayi is leading the way, Clement enters the 2018 season second on the depth chart and should be in line for a bigger role.
Blount led the team with a 36.6 carry share while Clement was second at 15.6. Despite joining the team for their final seven games, Ajayi still finished with 14.8 percent of the team's carry share. Even though that number will likely rise higher than Blount's team-leading share, Clement also has room to increase his share, as he should cut into Smallwood's 9.9 percent.
When in doubt, draft players on good teams—especially a high-ceiling player like Clement. He should have a consistent role behind Ajayi while also serving as the primary backup. He can be drafted to stash on the bench, knowing he could turn into at least a solid RB3 in PPR formats.
Kenny Stills, WR, Miami Dolphins
Finishing the season as the No. 27 fantasy WR is far from spectacular, but it carries a little more weight when your QBs are Jay Cutler and Matt Moore, so Stills should be recognized for overcoming a less-than-ideal situation. While that also marked the second straight season Stills outscored DeVante Parker, it is Parker who once again has a higher ADP at 96.6/WR42.
To be fair, the difference in draft value between Stills and Parker is much closer than the last two preseasons, so fantasy players are recognizing Parker's struggles. However, what’s not being seen is how Parker's struggles lead to the Dolphins leaning more on Stills. According to Joe Schad of the Palm Beach Post, Parker suffered a broken finger and the team is "hopeful" he'll be ready for Week 1.
In addition to Parker's unreliability, the Dolphins also need Stills to help out following the trade of Jarvis Landry to the Cleveland Browns. Landry accounted for 27.5 percent of the Dolphins' target share, which was the seventh-highest total in the league. The additions of Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola were made to cut into a lot of that, but it's fair to think Stills could see his 17.9 target share rise, especially with Parker hurt.
Avoiding Dolphins is probably a wise move, so if you want to stay away from Stills in your draft, it's completely understandable. However, as the player with the highest remaining target share from last season, Stills' volume alone makes him a candidate to outperform his current draft value.
George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers
Kittle is a pretty popular sleeper/breakout candidate, although that enthusiasm was somewhat curbed by the shoulder injury he suffered in the first preseason game. According to Matt Barrows of The Athletic, head coach Kyle Shanahan said Kittle would be out for the rest of the preseason, but he should be available for Week 1 of the regular season.
The news depressed his draft value outside the top 12 TEs, which means you no longer have to pick him with starter expectations. Excitement for Kittle should remain, as he developed a good connection with QB Jimmy Garoppolo that carried into training camp.
As a rookie, Kittle had a solid campaign with 43 receptions for 515 yards and a pair of TDs on 63 targets. He ended the season with either 50 yards or a TD in his final three games. While the 49ers still have Marquise Goodwin and Pierre Garcon, they didn't land one of the top free-agent WRs, so Kittle's target share of 10.5 percent has a better chance to increase.
The shoulder situation is one to monitor, but once Kittle is healthy, he can be a difference-maker to your team as part of the fantasy-friendly 49ers offense.