Depending on your level of involvement in
fantasy football, the term “sleeper” could mean a lot
of different things. For a casual fantasy manager a sleeper may
simply be a solid player who is not drafted in the first five or
six rounds. To a seasoned fantasy veteran a sleeper may be a player
typically not drafted at all.
Everyone has their unique definition of the word, but sleepers are
exciting to talk about as every fantasy owner craves the diamond
in the rough. The following is a list of five players that I think
could breakout in a big way if given the chance for a bigger role.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend drafting them, other than
in large leagues with a deep bench. While it certainly is possible
that we may not hear anything from a few of these guys, all it could
take is one break to change your team’s fortune.
For a guy that is entering his fifth year in the league, Sims has
flown under the radar to fantasy owners as primarily a blocking
tight end for the Dolphins. This off-season, Sims signed a three-year
$18 million ($10 million guaranteed) contract with the Bears and
is looking for his first breakout season. The amount of money the
Bears paid Sims tells me something that I have believed for some
time now, Sims is destined to be much more than just a blocking
tight end, he has real potential as an offensive weapon. He has
the size (6’4’’, 270lbs) and athleticism (35 inch
vertical) to make a difference in the passing game if given a chance.
With less than 40 targets last year Sims still managed to snag 4
touchdowns and finished the year with 18 catches and all four TDs
in weeks 11-16.
His primary competition at the position is Zach Miller, who is one
of the more injury prone players in the league and is about to turn
33. There were rumors the Bears considered cutting the veteran this
off-season. More competition comes from Adam Shaheen, who is not
only a rookie but very raw, coming from a Division II school, Ashland.
While both Miller and Shaheen may be better natural pass-catchers,
both are poor blockers and are at stages in their career not normally
positive for fantasy production. Sims, on the other hand, is just
coming into his prime, and is now on a team that may finally utilize
all his natural talent.
The Bears have one of the least intimidating receiving corps in
the league, especially with the loss of Cameron Meredith (knee).
To this end, I see a lot of opportunities for the tight ends in
Chicago’s offense, especially in the red-zone where the Bears
desperately need some size to make up for the lack of wide receiver
size (Sims caught a 1-yard touchdown in the 2nd preseason game).
With Mike Glennon and Mitchell Trubisky, two under-experienced starting
quarterbacks leading the way, chances are they will lean on their
safety blankets at tight end more than a polished veteran might.
As a durable, big-target with plus athleticism, Sims checks all
the boxes with skill, health, playing time and team-need all in
his favor. While I would not necessarily advocate drafting Sims
right now, watch his targets and usage the first week or two of
the season because if the Bears are indeed using him as a receiving
threat, he may flirt with 8-10 touchdowns.
The release of Bibbs and Hightower gives
Matt Breida a better opportunity to fulfill his sleeper status.
As of this writing, Breida is still going undrafted in almost all
leagues despite being the most productive back the 49ers have run
out there this preseason and despite the team losing faith in 4th
round pick, Joe Williams. While Brieda was not drafted in this year’s
draft due to a performance drop between his 2nd and 3rd years in
college, he has the natural talent and the productivity to eventually
be a fantasy stud in the right situation. At his Georgia Southern
pro-day (he wasn’t invited to the combine), Breida ran a blistering
4.37 40-yard dash, while jumping a 42’’ vertical and
an 11’2’’ broad jump. For reference, these would
have ranked him first among RBs at the combine.
Before his head coach left and a new system was installed in 2016,
Breida dominated the nation in 2015, averaging 7.9 yards per carry
while rushing for 1,609 yards and 17 touchdowns. At 5’9’’
195, Breida does not have the traditional size of a workhorse NFL
back but he plays much bigger and tougher than his size and has
incredible burst and vision, accelerating through holes very quickly.
Throw in solid pass-catching ability and the propensity to change
direction without losing speed and you have a complete skill set
in a small package.
Of course, many NFL players have a lot of skill, so there has to
be something about the situation that can turn a deep sleeper into
a star. The backfield in San Francisco is very unsettled, with veteran
Carlos Hyde the probable starter but cines with injury history and
a questionable fit in Kyle Shanahan’s offensive scheme. While
it appears Hyde will be given the early chance to lead the team
in rushes, he was not handpicked by the current coaching regime.
Williams has received a good dose of hype since he was drafted in
the 4th round, but has started off slowly this pre-season, getting
outplayed by Breida. While Williams certainly has some solid characteristics,
speed being the most obvious, he also has some red-flags like a
fumbling issue, a lack of pass-catching ability, and a questionable
To my eyes, Williams does not look any better than Breida and with
his versatility I believe Breida may even be the better all-around
back. As a member of a RBBC or even as the primary third-down back,
Breida won’t have a lot of standalone value in all but the
deepest of leagues. If Hyde gets hurt or struggles with the new
system however, Breida could find himself in a major role within
the first few weeks of the season on a team that will most likely
run the ball quite a bit. If I’m in a 12 team or larger league
I’m drafting Breida with one of my last two picks as a high
upside player in a situation that could lend itself to a big workload
if things break the right way. If you are a Hyde owner, I’d
even take Breida as a handcuff over Williams at this point.
QB Kyle Sloter, DEN
Get ready to go REAL deep here ladies and gentlemen, as Sloter is
not a name you will see on many lists. First off, you have good
quarterbacks and bad quarterbacks, but if you are a starting NFL
QB you cannot be considered a sleeper. I wanted to include a sleeper
at the position because QB’s, in almost every league, score
the most fantasy points so it is obviously an important position.
I also included Sloter because he is a true boom or bust sleeper
pick. By the time this article gets released Sloter could not even
have a team, or he could be starting for the Denver Broncos. With
that super wide range of outcomes, Sloter is obviously not someone
you are drafting at this point but I wanted to bring him to everyone’s
attention so you can keep an eye on him and at least know who he
is when/if his opportunity comes around. Remember, a little over
a year ago almost nobody was drafting Dak Prescott but he ended
up having an excellent season, so stranger things have happened
than a little known rookie coming out of nowhere to make a big impact.
Sloter projects as near-prototypical NFL QB, with great size (6’4’’
220), a strong arm (2nd fastest throw among 2017 rookies), and above
average athleticism (a converted wide receiver who ran a 4.65-40).
Sloter, played at Northern Colorado, with a very limited supporting
cast, but put up big numbers, even against Division I schools. He
actually looked the best of the Denver’s three quarterbacks
in the pre-season, going 16-20 for 193 yards with 2 touchdowns and
0 interceptions. Trevor Siemian is a pedestrian game manager at
best and Paxton Lynch is underperforming and suffering from a shoulder
injury that could last several weeks.
Sloter perhaps represents the Broncos best hope of winning right
now, which is what they are built to do. If given the chance to
take the starting job he will have above average weapons with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders and a play-caller who likes to call
the game based on his players strengths. Add that to Sloter’s
athleticism and running ability and you have the makings of a solid
fantasy quarterback. Look, anyone can sit here and name Brian Hoyer
a fantasy sleeper, but how much fun is that? Don’t go drafting
Sloter before the season starts but keep close tabs in him and the
Broncos situation at QB because if given the chance I believe Sloter
is someone that could win you some weeks down the stretch of the
It blows my mind that Conley is going undrafted in most leagues
while the likes of Nelson Agholor and Devin Funchess are, but at
least it gives me the chance to label him a deep sleeper and sing
his praises as a high upside fantasy player.
I loved Conley coming out of school as a prototypical athlete (4.35-40,
18 rep bench, 45’’ vertical and 139’’ broad
jump) with plus size (6’3’’, 212) and smooth route-running
ability. As many rookies do, Conley struggled with just 17 catches
his first year, but followed that up with 44 receptions last season,
averaging 12 yards per catch in conservative passing game.
With the departure of Jeremy Maclin this off-season Conley is in
the driver’s seat to earn a starting role and while Tyreek
Hill has gained the most buzz within the fantasy community, Conley
is in a great position to contribute in his own right. Hill and
tight end Travis Kelce are sure to attract most of the defenses
attention this year, Conley should draw weaker coverage and be able
to use his athleticism to dominate less talented densive backs.
The Chiefs passing attack isn’t exactly explosive, but there
is reason for hope as Alex Smith has been looking for the big play
more frequently this off-season and highly touted (and strong-armed)
rookie Patrick Mahomes is waiting in the wings. With an uptick in
playing time and targets surely on its way, Conley could press for
70-plus receptions and could certainly have some huge weeks from
time to time. If you have the roster space, I would draft Conley
with one of your last few picks, as he could explode as early as
Week 1 against a Patriots team who may force the Chiefs to air it
out more than normal. If you wait for Conley to break out, it may
be too late, as fantasy managers will start to realize the sweet
situation Conley is in. While Conley is not getting much attention
thanks to his more popular teammates, he has a ton of upside and
we may look back on this year and realize he was the best value
of any Chiefs player available.
Unlike the other rookie running back on this list, McGuire is not
a phenomenal athlete with elite speed and burst, but instead a versatile
player who is an excellent pass-catcher and a try-hard runner with
good ball security and solid fundamentals. Although he played in
a lesser conference, McGuire put up dominating numbers in college
as a dual threat who averaged a healthy 8.3 yards per carry as a
freshman and showed he could carry a heavy workload, catch passes,
and even return punts. Possessing solid size and vision, McGuire
seems to have just enough of an overall game to be a three-down
back if the right situation came along.
On the Jets, McGuire is an interesting fit because he will start
the season no better than third on the depth chart behind veterans
Matt Forte and Bilal Powell, who have both been productive at various
points in their careers but neither, at this point, is a sure thing.
Forte is now entering his age 32 season and has dealt with injuries
(and the loss of skills) the past two seasons. Powell has been a
solid complimentary back for the better part of his career but is
unproven as a starter and is no spring chicken himself, turning
29 in October.
With the Jets reportedly shopping Forte and in obvious tank mode,
the team will have little reason to play older vets for the entire
season and I expect them to see what they have in younger players
like McGuire sooner or later. While the Jets offense should be fairly
awful, McGuire’s advantage is that he can both run and catch
passes, meaning whatever the game script, McGuire can play a role
as a garbage time check-down receiver or an early game grinder.
While I do not expect McGuire to have much of an early season role,
an injury to Forte or Powell, or simply a shift to younger players
is bound to happen at some point during the season. McGuire is not
a draftable player at this point but someone to keep on your watch
list while the situation plays itself out. Even on a team that seems
to look historically bad on paper, someone is going to have to accumulate
stats (and fantasy points) and McGuire seems to be in a decent position
to do just that. Keep a close eye on him this season.