Fantasy Football Week 7 Sleepers at Every Position
We're halfway home.
Week 7 marks the halfway point of the regular season in fantasy football—either as the season's midpoint (in 13-week schedules) or the final game of the first half (if the season's 14 weeks).
Either way, by this point, some teams are in desperation mode.
Maybe the players you drafted just haven't panned out. You were hoping that Arizona Cardinals wideout Larry Fitzgerald would play better. Or that Pittsburgh Steelers tailback Le'Veon Bell would actually play.
Maybe injuries have hit your team hard. As a fantasy owner who spent his first two picks in a couple of leagues on running backs Dalvin Cook of the Minnesota Vikings and Devonta Freeman of the Atlanta Falcons, I can sympathize.
This is also the first of the four-team bye weeks, so quite a few teams have holes to plug at quarterback (Russell Wilson), running back (James Conner) and wide receiver (Davante Adams).
Whatever the reason, plenty of teams that can't afford another loss need some under-the-radar fantasy plays for Week 7 that could be set to post solid stat lines.
So let's get to it, with Week 7 fantasy sleepers at every position.
First order of business is to take a look back at how the Week 6 calls did.
Here's a sneak preview: It could have been better, could have been worse.
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.
Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (395 passing yards, 29 rushing yards, 4 TD, 2 INT): Winston's first start of the 2018 season would wind up being the high-water mark for fantasy quarterbacks in Week 6. That's a good start. WIN
Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals (229 passing yards, 2 TD): The Bengals once again came up short against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and while Dalton was OK, he still finished outside the top-15 fantasy quarterbacks for the week. LOSS
Baker Mayfield, QB, Cleveland Browns (238 passing yards, 8 rushing yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 1 2PTC): Mayfield, much like the Browns as a whole, came out flat in a blowout loss to the Chargers. This one wasn't close. LOSS
Nyheim Hines, RB, Indianapolis Colts (3 rushes, 14 yards, 2 receptions, 21 yards): One week after leading the Colts backfield in touches, Hines took a back seat to Marlon Mack against the New York Jets. This has the makings of a hard-to-peg carry-share. LOSS
Alfred Morris, RB, San Francisco 49ers (GOOSE EGG): Raheem Mostert! Who the heck is Raheem Mostert? Are you freaking kidding me? Nothing! Not even one lousy carry! There's no justice in this world! None…at…all. LOSS
Keke Coutee, WR, Houston Texans (3 catches, 33 yards): Coutee wasn't much of a factor in Sunday's win over the Bills. Going to be that much harder to trust the youngster Sunday against Jacksonville's stout secondary. LOSS
Chester Rogers, WR, Indianapolis Colts (4 catches, 55 yards, 1 TD): Rogers found the end zone for the second straight game, but with T.Y. Hilton expected back in Week 7, this gravy train may be nearing the end of the line. WIN
Mohamed Sanu, WR, Atlanta Falcons (2 catches, 46 yards, 1 TD): Sanu has now either scored or gone over 100 receiving yards in four straight games. In other words, I think the veteran's "sleeper" status has been permanently revoked. He's woke. WIN
C.J. Uzomah, TE, Cincinnati Bengals (6 catches, 54 yards): It speaks to how blah the tight end position is this season that this is actually a pretty good line. In fact, Uzomah out-pointed Travis Kelce of the Chiefs in Week 6. WIN
Green Bay Packers Defense/Special Teams (401 yards allowed, 30 points allowed, 3 sacks, 2 FR, 1 INT): To say I expected more from the Packers in this matchup is an understatement. But the sacks and turnovers were enough to squeak inside the top 12 in some scoring systems. WIN
WEEK 6: 5-5 (.500)
SEASON: 24-36 (.400)
Sleeper of the Week
Duke Johnson, RB, Cleveland Browns (at TB)
This was written well before news that Carlos Hyde had been traded to the Jaguars. Honest.
There's somewhat of a theme with this week's sleeper picks...at least early on.
That theme involves players from the Cleveland Browns—which may or may not be an ominous portent regarding my chances of upping my success percentage here.
Heading into last week's matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers, the Browns coaching staff had pledged to get the ball to tailback Duke Johnson more. The fourth-year back hadn't touched the ball more than six times in a game and expressed frustration with his role in the offense.
That didn't change against the Bolts. Once again, Johnson had half a dozen touches. But he made the most of the work he did get, turning those touches into 109 total yards.
Per Doug Lesmerises of Cleveland.com, head coach Hue Jackson sees the game as a step in the right direction where Johnson's concerned.
"I thought it was better," Jackson said. "Duke is a good football player. I have said it all along that he is. He will continue to make plays. That part was good. Have to continue to build on it."
Now, counting on the Cleveland staff to do the right thing is a risky proposition. But the Browns have to do something to get their stagnant offense into gear, and getting the ball to one of the team's best playmakers would seem an obvious enough fix.
Sunday, the Browns travel to face a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that has given up fantasy points by the bucketful to each and every position on the field—including the seventh-most FPG to running backs.
And with Hyde gone and Nick Chubb now the lead back, increasing Johnson's role Sunday makes that much more sense.
Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants (at ATL)
Eli Manning needs a hug.
Six games into the 2018 season, the two-time Super Bowl MVP looks like a player who is ready for retirement. The Giants are 1-5. Manning has just six touchdown passes in as many games. There have been no shortage of pundits either asking if Manning should be benched or outright calling for it. Per Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, Manning's teammates "have grown exceedingly frustrated with the limitations of their offense" with Manning at the helm.
As ESPN.com's Jordan Ranaan reported, Giants head coach Pat Shurmur insisted, publicly at least, that the team has no plans to pull Manning.
"Listen, we're not talking about a quarterback change yet," he said.
If Shurmur's willing to give Manning one more shot, fantasy owners should, too. It's not because Manning's suddenly going to significantly improve—he's been awful by just about any objective measure this season, at least relative to the player he was.
But the Atlanta Falcons have made it a habit of making every quarterback they face look like Joe Montana. The Falcons are 29th in the NFL in pass defense and have surrendered a league-high 16 touchdown passes—including three in each of the last five games.
Only one team in the league has been more generous to opposing fantasy quarterbacks than the injury-ravaged Falcons.
If Manning has any chance at a turnaround this year—even for one week—this matchup appears to be it.
Baker Mayfield, QB, Cleveland Browns (at TB)
Told you there was a theme with these.
Baker Mayfield is coming off a performance he'd probably just as soon forget. The first overall pick in the 2018 draft completed just 22 of 46 passes last week against the Chargers.
Well, 24 if you count the two interceptions.
Mayfield freely admitted to ESPN.com's Pat McManamon that he's got to do better than last week's showing.
"We did not execute, we did not do our job, we were not detailed," Mayfield said. "We did not do the things that we talked about all week. That is the most disappointing thing. Any time you do not do your job ... I am at fault for the majority of that. I am going to be very hard on myself."
Week 7 should afford Mayfield a prime opportunity for improvement. In fact, it's not difficult at all to imagine him having the best game of his career to date in Tampa.
To say that the Buccaneers are a dumpster fire defensively is unfair to dumpster fires. The Buccaneers are dead last in the NFL in pass defense, allowing a staggering 355.6 yards per game. Tampa has given up 16 touchdown passes in just five games—most in the league. And in news that should surprise no one with even a passing familiarity with math, the Buccaneers have given up the most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. The team ranks fourth in total points allowed to the position, despite having already had its bye.
Mayfield's made two appearances in this column this year—including last week. Both times he's failed to post QB1 numbers.
That changes this week.
Frank Gore, RB, Miami Dolphins (vs. DET)
The 2018 season marks Frank Gore's 14th in the NFL. At 35 years old, Gore is long past the age when running backs generally begin to decline.
Like 10 percent off at Denny's, "Get off my lawn!" past it.
Apparently, no one bothered to tell Gore that. For the season, he's averaging almost five yards a carry, and he appears to have supplanted Kenyan Drake as the primary running back for the Miami Dolphins.
Per Justin Rogers of the Detroit News, Lions head coach Matt Patricia expects that his club will have its hands full with Gore on Sunday in South Florida:
"Frank has done an unbelievable job of taking care of his body and just executing at a high level for a long time. I know him really well. He's a competitive guy. He's a tough guy. He really loves the game of football. And he has an edge about him that has just been able to kind of carry him all the way through his career.
“He's always proving everybody wrong, and just doing a great job year-in and year-out of being work horse. He's definitely a guy down there that they can kind of rally behind in the run game. They know he's going to get the tough yardage. … He's extremely, tough, smart, physical, aggressive football player and he's definitely an issue in the run game."
The Lions haven't had a ton of success stopping running backs this season—the team ranks fifth in fantasy points given up to the position. And after Drake put the ball on the ground last week against the Bears, old-man Frank may see an even bigger share of the touches in Week 7.
Marlon Mack, RB, Indianapolis Colts (vs. BUF)
The running back position in Indianapolis has been something of a carousel this season. But if last week's loss to the New York Jets was any indication, that merry-go-round may be slowing.
Second-year pro Marlon Mack has been in and out of the lineup this year because of injuries. But Mack was on the field against New York and had arguably the best game on the ground the Colts have gotten in 2018, picking up 89 yards on 12 carries and adding a four-yard catch.
Per Kevin Bowen of 1070 Radio in Indianapolis, Colts head coach Frank Reich liked what he saw from Mack in the game.
"We came out and [Mack] creased a couple of runs," Reich said. "I just thought that was important to keep that going, and I thought he provided a spark there. Something positive to build on."
This week the Colts face a Buffalo Bills team that's played pretty good defense this season—the team's third in the NFL in yards allowed per game. The Bills are also eighth in the league against the run, giving up just 92.5 yards per game.
But from a fantasy perspective, the Bills have been a bit more generous. Through six games, Buffalo has allowed the 12th-most PPR fantasy points to running backs, making this a slightly above-average matchup.
Given Indy's leaky defense, it makes sense for the Colts to try to use their newly found ground game to control tempo—and that means plenty of work Sunday for Mack.
Antonio Callaway, WR, Cleveland Browns (at TB)
We're back to the Cleveland well!
Release the hounds! Or dawgs, as the case may be.
To date, it's been a season to forget for Antonio Callaway of the Browns. The rookie is tied for third in the NFL in drops, and frankly, the number attributed to him (three) is low.
Callaway, who dropped a would-be touchdown in last week's loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, admitted to Josh Edwards of 247Sports that putting passes on the ground is weighing on him:
"I can't tell you it is not a mental thing. I can't tell you that it is, neither. I think you work through that. There is a JUGGS machine. There is putting guys under pressure in practice situations. It is all of those things I think he worked through. You go back out and give guys a chance to show that again. Let's rebuild the confidence and put him back in situations where he can make plays and move forward. Obviously, the drop rate is not what we want. We do not want to drop as many balls as we have. We can do that better, and we will do it better."
Much like the receiver himself, fantasy owners with a hole at WR need to put those drops out of their minds. Shake it off and get back after it. Have confidence that Callaway can get it done against a Tampa defense allowing over 350 passing yards a game and the second-most PPR fantasy points to wide receivers.
I'm calling my shot—Callaway breaks a long touchdown against the Buccaneers.
Taylor Gabriel, WR, Chicago Bears (at NE)
As Patrick Finley reported for the Chicago Sun-Times, Bears speedster Taylor Gabriel believes he can win any matchup in single-coverage—and he isn't afraid to let quarterback Mitchell Trubisky know it.
"I feel like it's on him," Gabriel said. "If he wants to take that matchup, he can. But at the same time when we're in the huddle, I'll kind of like tap him on the side: 'Mitch, if I'm one-on-one, throw it.'"
Of late, Trubisky's been doing just that. Over his last two games, Gabriel's on quite the rip. Against the Dolphins last week, the 27-year-old big-play threat reeled in five catches for 110 yards. The game before that was even better—seven grabs for 104 yards and two touchdowns in a blowout win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Since Week 4 (the Tampa game), Gabriel's fourth among all fantasy receivers from a points-per-game perspective. And yet, Gabriel remains unowned in more than 40 percent of the fantasy leagues hosted at Yahoo.
That's just kooky.
The Bears are going to need their vertical threat this week—and all of the other ones. Squaring off against a Patriots team firing on all cylinders offensively, Chicago's going to have to move the ball consistently to have a chance in this one.
That means plenty of targets for Gabriel on Sunday against a Patriots defense that enters Week 7 12th in the league in PPR fantasy points surrendered to wideouts.
Willie Snead IV, WR, Baltimore Ravens (vs. NO)
They say that revenge is a dish best served cold.
Whether 50 degrees qualifies is another matter.
That's going to be the approximate temperature Sunday at kickoff in Baltimore when the Ravens play host to the New Orleans Saints—and when wide receiver Willie Snead IV faces his old team for the first team since joining the Ravens in free agency.
Snead, who spent the first four years of his career with the Saints, told reporters (via Rod Walker of the New Orleans Advocate) that he's not interested in payback against his old team.
"It's going to be fun," Snead said. "I've been looking forward to this for a while. I'm not going to trying to make it too much about me against the Saints. I'm just trying to be more about us trying to win a game against a great team that has a great offense and a defense that's playing well."
However, it's also fair to wonder if Snead's pulling our legs. After all, the 26-year-old's final season with the Saints was a suspension and injury-marred mess. Back in 2016, Snead piled up 72 catches for 895 yards with New Orleans. Those numbers free-fell to just eight catches for 92 yards all of last year, and then the Saints declined to match Baltimore's offer for the restricted free agent.
Snead's third in the wideout pecking order in Baltimore, behind Michael Crabtree and John Brown. But that's not to say he isn't a significant part of the offense—his 30 receptions in 2018 are tied for the team lead.
Facing a Saints defense that leads the league in fantasy points given up to receivers, there will be enough targets to go around for Snead to have a fantasy impact.
C.J. Uzomah, TE, Cincinnati Bengals (at KC)
Generally speaking, as I've mentioned before, I try not to make too many repeat picks in this column. Going back to the same well week after week isn't especially helpful to you, oh faithful reader.
I'm all about helping. It's just my nature.
However, it stands to reason that we'd see the occasional repeat at tight end. After all, there are only about five of them healthy in the whole NFL.
That's an exaggeration—sort of. But there's no denying that injuries have torn through the position, both in Cincinnati and in fantasy football.
Tyler Eifert of the Bengals is done for the season (again) after suffering a gruesome broken ankle. Tyler Kroft has a broken bone in his foot and will more likely than not miss the rest of the season.
That leaves fourth-year pro C.J. Uzomah as the last man standing at tight end in the Queen City. Last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Uzomah parlayed that survivor status into six receptions for 54 yards.
Not a jaw-dropper of a stat line, but still pretty good.
This Sunday night, Uzomah should do that much better. If there's a team in the league that can compete with Tampa for the title of most offensive defense, it's the Chiefs. Kansas City has allowed over 340 passing yards per game and 10 touchdowns through the air.
The team has also been susceptible to tight ends, allowing the fourth-most PPR fantasy points to the position.
If you picked up Uzomah last week as a spot-starter, it's time to extend that engagement for another week.
Indianapolis Colts Defense/Special Teams (vs. BUF)
To be fair, the Indianapolis Colts are not an especially good defensive football team.
The Colts rank 23rd in total defense and 26th in pass defense. However, when it comes to big plays, the Colts are a fair bit better. Indy's 19 sacks for the season rank third in the NFL. Indy's 10 takeaways rank inside the top 10.
Add that all together, and you get a team that ranks outside the top 15 fantasy defenses.
But this recommendation has less to do with the Colts themselves than who the team is playing Sunday.
If the Colts are just a so-so defensive team, the Buffalo Bills possess an offense that dreams of one day aspiring to be so-so.
The Bills are last in the AFC in total offense, averaging just 222.5 yards per game. They are dead last in the NFL in both passing offense (123 yards per game) and scoring offense (12.7 points per game). Buffalo is sixth in the league in giveaways with 11 and third in sacks allowed with 24.
No team in the league has given up more fantasy points per game to defenses in 2018.
Things have gotten bad enough for the Bills that rather than turn to Nathan "The Pick Master" Peterman with rookie Josh Allen on the shelf with a bad elbow, Buffalo is going to start veteran journeyman Derek Anderson at quarterback Sunday against the Colts.
The same Derek Anderson who just signed with the team last week.
What could possibly go wrong?