Fantasy Football Week 4 Sleepers at Every Position
It's been a rocky start to the season for many fantasy owners.
The No. 1 fantasy quarterback entering the season is banged up and clearly not himself. Three of the "Big 4" running backs are either off to slow starts or jet-skiing around South Florida. The running back and tight end positions have already been ravaged by injuries.
And now there's another problem. The bye weeks are here. For the foreseeable future, there will be teams on vacation every week—this week it's the Carolina Panthers and Washington Redskins.
With each passing week, more and more fantasy teams are staring at holes in their starting lineups. What caused the hole isn't important—only that it exists.
The question is how to fill it.
That's the question we're here to answer, with a breakdown of some of the best under-the-radar fantasy plays in Week 4.
Calvin Ridley made this list last week. You can't expect to find the top option at a position regularly, but it just goes to show…
You never know when a guy might blow up.
Before we move on to the Week 4 sleepers, here's a look back at how my Week 3 recommendations went.
I'd say don't judge me, but who am I kidding—this is all about judging me.
For the record, sleepers count as a "win" if they finish inside weekly starter territory in a 12-team point-per-reception fantasy league that starts one quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers, one tight end, one defense and the always-popular "flex" play—a fairly standard setup.
Latavius Murray, RB, Minnesota Vikings (2 carries, 1 yard, 5 receptions, 30 yards): I flatly refuse to feel bad about this dog of a pick. Everything pointed at the stage being set for a big game from Murray. Instead, we got a Bills blowout and this turkey. LOSS
Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars (155 passing yards, 27 rushing yards): Blake Bortles is the Lucy of fantasy quarterbacks. She teases you with the ball until you finally bite, and then WHAMMO!—flat on your back. LOSS
Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals (352 passing yards, 2 TD, 4 INT): In leagues that penalize heavily for interceptions, Dalton's four picks were a killer. But in this scoring, the Red Rifle snuck his way into the tail end of the top 12. WIN
Corey Clement, RB, Philadelphia Eagles (16 carries, 56 yards, 3 catches, 19 yards): Clement was nicked up entering the game and wound up splitting touches with Wendell Smallwood. But in PPR scoring formats, he was a serviceable, albeit uninspiring, "flex" back. WIN
Sony Michel, RB, New England Patriots (14 carries, 50 yards, 1 reception, minus-1 yards): Michel didn't pan out here, but with Rex Burkhead headed to injured reserve, the rookie's share of touches is going to go up. He'll be back in lineups (and maybe this article) soon enough. LOSS
Geronimo Allison, WR, Green Bay Packers (2 catches, 76 yards, 1 TD): Allison had just two receptions in the loss to the Redskins, but he averaged almost 40 yards a grab and found the end zone. That was more than enough to get it done. WIN
John Brown, WR, Baltimore Ravens (5 catches, 86 yards): The risk of injury hangs over Brown like a dark cloud, but after another solid stat line Sunday against the Denver Broncos, he's a weekly starter as a WR3 or "flex" option. WIN
Calvin Ridley, WR, Atlanta Falcons (7 catches, 146 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 catch, 9 yards): If you could see me right now you'd know that I'm both a terrible and enthusiastic dancer. Ridley was fantasy football's top receiver in Week 3. His "sleeper" status is now gones-ville. WIN
Jesse James, TE, Pittsburgh Steelers (1 catch, 7 yards): With Vance McDonald back and looking quite spry on a 75-yard touchdown, James' fantasy value is now kaput. Gone. Wave bye-bye. I'm having delightful success with tight ends so far. LOSS
Dallas Cowboys Defense/Special Teams (295 yards allowed, 24 points allowed, 2 sacks): Sometimes the matchups just don't pan out. After allowing 12 sacks over their first two games, Seattle gave up only two against the Cowboys. LOSS
WEEK 1: 5-5 (.500)
SEASON: 12-18 (.400)
My best week of the season, as I finally hit the target of 50 percent and got up to 40 for the season—no small feat if you pick less-than-obvious players.
Hey, a week ago Ridley wasn't so obvious.
The key now is maintaining that momentum.
Sleeper of the Week
Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants (vs. NOS)
Last week in Houston, something happened for the first time this season.
Eli Manning looked like a capable NFL quarterback.
Actually, he looked a fair bit more than "capable." The 37-year-old missed on just four of his 29 attempts for 297 yards and two scores—easily his best game of the year.
If the Giants are going to win two in a row and upset the Saints at home Monday, it's going to take an even better one. As Manning told WFAN Radio (via Paul Schwartz of the New York Post), to beat New Orleans, the G-Men will have to control the game offensively.
"When you go against the Saints you know their offense is talented. They’ve been scoring a bunch of points this year so you know you got to have the mindset you’re gonna have to control the ball, you want to try to run clock and you’re gonna have to score points. You can’t force things, you can’t try to score every time you get the ball, you just got to play the circumstances of the game."
It's well and good that the Giants want to control the clock, but the reality is that the number of teams that try to do that with the Saints is a lot higher than the number who pull it off. New Orleans is averaging almost 35 points a game.
The Saints are also, however, 30th in pass defense. No team has allowed more fantasy points per game to quarterbacks this year than the Saints.
In other words, Manning is coming off his best game in a good long while heading into another that screams "shootout."
Baker Mayfield, QB, Cleveland Browns (at OAK)
You may not have heard, but Baker Mayfield is kind of a thing now.
After leading the Browns to their first win in 635 days, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft has been named the starter for Cleveland's Week 4 matchup against the Oakland Raiders.
Wide receiver Jarvis Landry told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport that's going to mean a change in his practice regimen moving forward.
"I was talking to coach [Todd] Haley this week. I got to turn up the JUGS machine to like eight or nine now, since Baker throws that ball so hard. He threw one to me in the game and I dropped it because I didn't even know how to put my hands, and before I could make the decision, the ball was on me. So, I just realized it's a little bit of a different ball, a lot more velocity, so I definitely got to get on the JUGS for that, and catch as many balls from Baker as possible."
It also means, if Mayfield's debut was any indication, that the Cleveland offense is going to move the ball more effectively than the stuck-in-mud mess that was the Tyrod Taylor "era." Mayfield didn't have a touchdown throw against the Jets, but he passed for 201 yards in just over a half and was accurate and decisive.
The Raiders haven't been a particularly great fantasy matchup for quarterbacks to date this season—the team has allowed the 14th-most fantasy points to quarterbacks.
But with the number of fantasy teams in need of a quality starter under center growing that much more after Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL last week, using Mayfield is tempting.
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Miami Dolphins (at NE)
Raise your hand if you predicted the Miami Dolphins would be 3-0 heading into their Week 4 matchup with the New England Patriots.
Oh, stop it. That was a rhetorical request. Plus, lying is wrong.
A large part of the reason the Dolphins are off to that hot start is the play of quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Against the Oakland Raiders last week, the seventh-year veteran was nearly perfect—289 passing yards, three scores, an eye-popping 12.6 yards per attempt and a passer rating of 155.3.
Tannehill was also eighth among quarterbacks in fantasy points.
For the season, Tannehill is completing 73 percent of his passes. He has seven touchdown throws against just two interceptions. And his passer rating this year is over 30 points higher than his career average.
Things haven't gone as well for the Patriots. Last week's shocker in Detroit dropped the Patriots to 1-2. New England's defense, just as it was for parts of last year, is a hot mess. The Patriots are 28th in total defense and 23rd in pass defense. They are also allowing the 10th-most fantasy points to quarterbacks in 2018.
This is a defense that made Blake Bortles look like Joe Montana a couple of weeks ago.
All this isn't to say the Dolphins will win this game. But fantasy owners don't need to concern themselves with that outcome. All they need, win or lose, is for Tannehill to post another stat line similar to last week's.
The odds of that happening are pretty good.
Royce Freeman, RB, Denver Broncos (vs. KC)
Royce Freeman's first month in the NFL hasn't gone according to plan.
In the preseason, Freeman was tabbed by many fantasy pundits as the back to own in the Mile High City. The former Oregon standout crept as high as the third round of some fantasy drafts.
However, fellow rookie Phillip Lindsay threw a monkey wrench into Freeman's ascension. Lindsay has been the more effective runner on a per-touch basis, and the two youngsters have spilt carries almost right down the middle over Denver's first three games.
Last week, after Lindsay got himself ejected for throwing a punch, Freeman saw a boost in usage. His totals of 13 carries for 51 yards aren't overly impressive, but Freeman found the end zone for the second successive game.
Status as Denver's preferred red-zone back is one of the reasons that Freeman made the list this week.
Denver's matchup is another.
This week, the Broncos get the unenviable task of attempting to slow down the offensive juggernaut that is the Kansas City Chiefs. Given how Denver has played defensively to this point in the year, the team's best bet in that regard may be to play "keep away" and control the tempo of the game.
The Broncos should be able to run the ball. As good as the Chiefs have been offensively, the defense has been another story. Kansas City ranks dead last in total defense, 19th in run defense and leads the AFC in fantasy points surrendered to running backs so far this season.
The matchup is there. Whether this call pans out will rest on whether the touches are too.
Aaron Jones, RB, Green Bay Packers (vs. BUF)
In his 2018 debut last week against the Washington Redskins, Green Bay Packers tailback Aaron Jones carried the ball six times for 42 yards, adding a five-yard reception.
These are not the sort of numbers that attract a ton of attention from fantasy owners. However, there's reason to believe that's just the beginning—the tip of the iceberg.
Per ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky, Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy said Monday he was pleased with how Jones performed in his first game action of the season.
"I thought Aaron had a real nice start. As far as his play-time numbers, we kind of hit the target that I was looking for. As we talked about last week, you've got to be smart with all your players, particularly when it's the first time out there. He hadn't played since Kansas City but, boy, I thought he did some really good things with the ball and did some good things in the passing game."
Now, Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery aren't going to vanish from the Packers offense. Williams is excellent at blitz pickup, and Montgomery is a plus receiver out of the backfield. With the Packers playing catch-up most of last week, the latter back played a bigger role.
But the Packers shouldn't be playing from behind Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, and Jones offers an explosiveness on the ground that Williams and Montgomery can't match. According to Demovsky, Jones' 5.6-yard-per-carry average over his short career leads all NFL backs with at least 85 rushes since the start of the 2017 season.
Is there risk involved in trusting a back in a carry-share? Yes.
But these players are "sleepers" for a reason. And this matchup sets up well for Jones to be the lead dog.
Antonio Callaway, WR, Cleveland Browns (at OAK)
In last week's thrilling comeback win over the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns rookie wide receiver Antonio Callaway caught four passes for 20 yards. But the catch Callaway didn't make got the headlines—a gorgeous over-the-shoulder fade from Baker Mayfield that went right through the receiver's hands.
It was a disappointing drop after Callaway's three catches for 81 yards and a score against the New Orleans Saints the week before. But it's also a case in which fantasy owners need to have a short memory.
To say the Cleveland offense looked different with Mayfield under center is one whopper of an understatement. The passing game was…well, there was a passing game. And Callaway was a big part of that, even if it didn't show up on the stat sheet. For the contest, Callaway was targeted 11 times, per ESPN, which was second-most on the team.
Three weeks into the 2018 season, the Oakland Raiders have been getting beaten with regularity on the outside. Only four teams have surrendered more PPR fantasy points to wide receivers than Oakland.
If Callaway sees double-digit targets again in Week 4, he'll do better than four grabs and 20 yards.
If he can reel in the long one that's all but surely going to be one of the targets, he could do a lot better.
Christian Kirk, WR, Arizona Cardinals (vs. SEA)
Not a lot has gone right for the Arizona Cardinals. The Redbirds are 0-3 and arguably the NFL's worst team.
Arizona's trying to get better. After two games and change of miserable play from quarterback Sam Bradford, the Cardinals turned to rookie Josh Rosen. And a strange thing happened when Rosen came on last week against the Chicago Bears.
Fellow rookie Christian Kirk started catching passes.
Over the first two games of the season, Kirk managed just five catches for 31 yards. But Rosen looked Kirk's way with regularity, resulting in seven grabs for 90 yards.
Per Kyle Odegard of the team's website, Kirk said the game is coming easier: "It's definitely slowing down a bunch. I've just been able to make the right decisions, whether it's reading coverages or whatnot. It just feels comfortable."
This wouldn't be the first time a new quarterback took over and started targeting a lower-echelon receiver. This isn't to say Kirk lacks talent—he was a second-round pick for a reason. But he and Rosen have built a rapport on the practice field.
Against the Bears, that rapport led to eight targets—twice as many as any other pass-catcher on the team. If that target load stays similar, then Kirk and Rosen might have their coming-out parties simultaneously.
It saves on cake and balloons.
Albert Wilson, WR, Miami Dolphins (at NE)
The Miami Dolphins are the most surprising 3-0 team. Per Antwan Staley of Dolphins Wire, wide receiver Albert Wilson said that's because everyone on the team is in sync.
"We all buy into the same exact goal," Wilson said. "We're just trying to get better each week. We're trying to push each other to do things we haven't done before. A bunch of guys that are not the top guys in the league; we go out there with each other and just try to play the best football we can."
Wilson deserves a significant share of the credit for the fast start. A fifth-year pro out of Georgia State, he's on a pace that would shatter his career bests. He's averaging 17.8 yards per catch, and two of Wilson's eight receptions have gone for touchdowns. His career high is three.
Renaissance man that he is, Wilson even threw a 52-yard touchdown pass in last week's win over the Oakland Raiders.
It may be that part of Miami's success lies in the fact the team doesn't have a true No. 1 receiver. There's no ego to feed. Just a bunch of hungry young receivers all looking to do their part.
For Wilson, that's getting open over the top and hurting teams vertically.
Against a leaky Pats secondary that's 23rd in pass defense and has given up the sixth-most fantasy points per game to wide receivers, Wilson will do his part again in Week 4.
Though asking for another touchdown pass feels…greedy.
Ben Watson, TE, New Orleans Saints (at NYG)
The tight end position is a hot mess.
Odds are, either you have Rob Gronkowski or Travis Kelce, or you're in a world of hurt. Carolina's Greg Olsen is toast after a foot injury. Ditto for Tennessee's Delanie Walker after his ankle setback. Now Evan Engram of the New York Giants has joined the walking wounded after hurting his knee last week.
I'd love to be able to tell you this column has been helpful to fantasy owners who are hard up for a tight end, but in the crapshoot that is streaming the position in 2018, I am a putrid 0-of-3.
However, that dry spell will end this week.
Ben Watson hasn't lit up the box score in his 15th NFL season (12 catches for 134 yards), but he's coming off his best 2018 effort: five catches for 71 yards against the Atlanta Falcons.
In two of three games this season, Watson's been on the field for over 80 percent of New Orleans' offensive snaps, per Footballguys. He's averaging an even five targets per game—not an eye-popping number, but there's a puncher's chance for a solid stat line.
This week's opponent hasn't been kind to tight ends. The New York Giants are seventh-best in fantasy points allowed to the position. But last week, the Giants defense allowed five catches for 115 yards to the Texans tight ends—and that is not an imposing group.
This is a speculative call. But at tight end in 2018, those are the only calls.
Green Bay Packers Defense/Special Teams (vs. BUF)
The Buffalo Bills are on quite a roll.
There's no question their 27-6 Week 3 win over the host Minnesota Vikings was impressive. It was also the most surprising outcome of an NFL game in a long time.
These were the same Bills the Baltimore Ravens destroyed 47-3 in Week 1 and the Los Angeles Chargers handled in Buffalo in Week 2. The same Bills many pegged entering last week as the league's worst team.
Maybe the Bills aren't that bad. But let's be real: They aren't especially good. Buffalo ranks last in the AFC in total offense at 246.0 yards per game. The Bills are 29th in scoring, at just 16.7 points per contest.
They've also turned the ball over four times and are allowing the second-most fantasy points per game to team defenses in 2018.
Last week's result in Minneapolis was an aberration—a perfect storm of Vikings miscues that the Bills capitalized on. That won't happen two weeks in a row. Not at Lambeau Field, where Aaron Rodgers rarely turns the ball over.
The Packers aren't an especially good defensive team (23rd in the NFL in total defense), but they'll look like one Sunday at home against rookie QB Josh Allen.
Who knows? Clay Matthews might even make it through the game without drawing a ridiculous roughing-the-passer penalty.