2018 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Jamey Eisenberg's Sleepers 2.0
Reliable options like Matt Ryan, Rishard Matthews and Kenny Stills are among the players Jamey Eisenberg highlights in his latest version of sleepers for 2018.
What sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And what big-name running back could ruin your season? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy Football cheat sheets from the model that called Alvin Kamara's huge breakout last season and find out.
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Our NFL Draft, but I still believe in several of those players.for 2018 was done in February, and a lot has changed since then. It was prior to free agency and the
Sleepers 1.0 featured the following guys:
- Marcus Mariota
- Patrick Mahomes
- Devontae Booker
- Marlon Mack
- Jerick McKinnon
- Matt Breida
- Cameron Meredith
- Jamison Crowder
- Kenny Golladay
- Sterling Shepard
- George Kittle
- David Njoku
Of those guys, I moved Mahomes and McKinnon from sleepers to breakouts. Mahomes will be drafted in a spot where I don't think it's fair to label him a sleeper, and signing with the 49ers changed McKinnon's outlook dramatically for the better.
All the other players still have plenty of sleeper appeal, especially since they should be drafted with mid- to late-round picks in the majority of leagues. Mack and Crowder are potential Fantasy starters in Week 1, and Booker could end up holding off rookie Royce Freeman for the starting job in Denver, which would be a tremendous boost to his value.
For Sleepers 2.0, we have much more knowledge of these players heading into training camp, and the only thing we're waiting on is their Average Draft Position. That information won't be fully ready until August, which is when we'll roll out version 3.0.
The later you can get players with immense upside, the better off your Fantasy team will be. And those are the players to target as sleepers on Draft Day.
An easy thing to do when looking for good players with late-round picks is try to find guys who have had previous success but are coming off bad years. It helps if they also are in good situations, and Ryan fits the bill. He was among the biggest busts in 2017, which came after his MVP campaign from the year before. You could say he overachieved in 2016 or just never meshed with new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Ryan was the No. 15 Fantasy quarterback last year after he was No. 2 in 2016, and a fair expectation this season is for him to finish somewhere close to No. 10 if things go right. He has a good track record in his second year with a new offensive coordinator -- he improved by six touchdowns in his second season with Mike Mularkey in 2009 and had his MVP season in his second year with Kyle Shanahan in 2016 -- and hopefully the same thing happens with Sarkisian. And the Falcons gave Ryan a new weapon with first-round pick Calvin Ridley, who joins Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and quality pass catchers out of the backfield to form a formidable receiving corps. You can easily wait for Ryan on Draft Day in the majority of leagues, and he should rebound in a big way in 2018.
Last year in this space, we predicted a second-year leap for Carson Wentz, who far exceeded expectations as a Fantasy quarterback. We hope the same thing happens for Trubisky this season. The Bears have given Trubisky all the tools he needs to succeed with an offensive-minded coach in Matt Nagy and plenty of weapons with Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton. An experienced quarterback with this arsenal would look like a Fantasy star, but Trubisky is just someone to target with a late-round flier. He looked lost as a rookie in 2017 when coach John Fox appeared allergic to the forward pass, and Trubisky had no games with multiple touchdown passes. Granted, his receiving corps was among the worst in the NFL with options such as Kendall Wright, Josh Bellamy and Dontrelle Inman, but that's changed now. Robinson was a standout receiver before suffering a torn ACL in training camp last year, and Miller could be the best rookie receiver in 2018. Burton is also a breakout candidate at tight end, and Tarik Cohen could be a special weapon out of the backfield. Trubisky also has a strong ground game to support him with Jordan Howard and Cohen, but this should be his offense. He's a great stash candidate at quarterback with a late-round pick in every league.
It's funny to see people knocking Johnson and his potential as a rookie with the Lions. We even had a column by my colleague Dave Richard after Johnson was drafted that was titled "Kerryon Johnson nothing to get excited for with Lions." Maybe I'm missing something, but is LeGarrette Blount at 31 going to be a featured back? Ameer Abdullah has been a flop, and Theo Riddick is better suited for passing downs. The Lions traded up to get Johnson in the second round of the NFL Draft for a reason -- they wanted him. More likely, they needed him, and he just finished 2017 as the SEC Offensive Player of the Year at Auburn. Detroit's offensive line struggled in 2017 due to injuries, but the addition of rookie guard Frank Ragnow could make this one of the best units in the NFL, including Taylor Decker, T.J. Lang and Rick Wagner. I'm excited about Johnson's potential because the Lions want to be more aggressive running the ball, and his expected ADP will likely be after Round 6 in most leagues. He also should be in line for about 200 total touches in 2018 (Abdullah had 190 last year), and I'm not overly concerned about Blount, Riddick or Abdullah taking Johnson off the field for huge stretches at a time. Maybe I'm wrong on Johnson's potential, but I'll gladly draft him as a No. 3 running back with the chance that he becomes a weekly Fantasy starter in all leagues.
Howard remains the lead running back for the Bears, but there should be an opportunity for Cohen to get more work this season. And Nagy set high expectations for the second-year running back when he compared Cohen to one of his former players when he was offensive coordinator with the Chiefs in Tyreek Hill. "Well, No. 1, size-wise you see that and you say, 'OK, they're pretty similar, right?'" Nagy said at the NFL scouting combine of Cohen (5-foot-6, 181 pounds) and Hill (5-foot-10, 185 pounds). "And then you have the speed, the shiftiness, the moves, everything that they do. They're similar in the fact that you can move them around and do different things." As a rookie in 2017, Cohen finished second on the Bears in receptions (53) and rushing yards (370). He averaged just 8.8 offensive touches as a rookie, but that number should improve this season. He's a candidate for 1,000 total yards and five touchdowns, and he's a potential low-end starting option or flex in PPR on Draft Day. Cohen is worth drafting with a mid-round pick in every league. If Chicago ends up chasing points most weeks, Trubisky will lean on Cohen quite a bit in the passing game. And the more touches he gets, the more he can show his explosive ability.
The Patriots spent a first-round pick in the NFL Draft on Sony Michel, and he's the logical choice to replace the departed Dion Lewis, who left as a free agent for Tennessee. Or is he? While Michel should get the majority of the 212 touches Lewis had in the regular season from last year, don't discount Burkhead having a big role. He missed six games in 2017 due to injury, but he still had five games with at least 10 touches. In those games, Burkhead averaged 13.2 Fantasy points in non-PPR leagues, with four games of at least 10 points, and 17.2 points in PPR. New England is likely going to use four running backs in a variety of ways this season with Michel, Burkhead, James White and either Mike Gillislee or Jeremy Hill, depending on who makes the final roster. But Burkhead might be the Patriots most versatile running back with his ability to be a lead rusher (he averaged 4.1 yards per carry in 2017), catch passes (he had six games with at least three receptions) and work at the goal line (he scored four rushing touchdowns on seven carries inside the 5-yard line). Burkhead's well worth drafting with a mid- to late-round pick in all leagues.
Foreman might not make much of an impact early in the season, but he could be someone who helps Fantasy owners in a big way to close the year. He's coming off a torn Achilles from last November, and the Houston Chronicle reported in April that he could be a candidate for the reserve/PUP list to open the season. That would make him unavailable for the first six games, but hopefully he's fine for Week 1. So far, the reports on his recovery have been promising, and we hope he's ready to push Lamar Miller for the starting job. Coach Bill O'Brien said in an interview with CBS Sports in March that he'd be comfortable with Foreman as his starter, but he still must prove himself. He was starting to come on as a rookie in 2017 before the injury, and his best game was his last with 10 carries for 65 yards and two touchdowns to go with three catches for 18 yards against Arizona in Week 11. We hope that upside remains post-injury, but he's the kind of running back to invest in because he'll only cost a late-round pick. If Foreman ends up pushing Miller to the bench, he's well worth the investment.
The Titans invested a lot into their receiving corps last season by drafting Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor and signing Eric Decker as a free agent, but it was more of the same in Tennessee. Delanie Walker and Matthews, for the second year in a row, were the top producers in the passing game. While I expect Davis to have a standout sophomore campaign, and I like Taylor as a sleeper in the No. 3 role, look for Matthews and Walker to remain heavily involved. The difference is Fantasy owners view Walker as a starting option at tight end, and rightfully so. But Matthews will be looked at as late-round fodder, which is a mistake. He can be a serviceable No. 3 Fantasy receiver with the chance to be a weekly starter, especially if Davis again has trouble staying healthy. In his past 30 games with the Titans (he missed two games with a hamstring injury in Weeks 12 and 13 last year), Matthews has scored at least eight Fantasy points in a non-PPR league 15 times. He had six games in 2017 with at least seven targets, and he scored at least seven Fantasy points in a non-PPR league four times. Matthews isn't someone you want to target as a potential starter on Draft Day, but he is a key reserve with upside. He's definitely worth drafting with a late-round pick in the majority of leagues.
Garcon was on pace for 80 catches and 1,000 yards last season before suffering a non-displaced fracture in his neck in Week 8. He's already made a full recovery, and he's developing a solid rapport with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. "Some days are better than others, but they're getting to know each other," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said to the team's official website in June. "I think it'll be good going into training camp, and it'll definitely be nice to have Pierre back this year." Garcon never got the chance to play with Garoppolo last year, but the upgraded quarterback situation in San Francisco should help Garcon play at a high level once again. In the four years prior to 2017, he had three seasons with at least 72 catches, two seasons with at least 1,000 yards and two seasons with at least five touchdowns. The receiving corps for the 49ers is lacking in star power, and Garcon's main competition for targets will come from Marquise Goodwin. If Garcon stays healthy then he should lead San Francisco in targets, and 75 catches for 1,000 yards and five touchdowns is a realistic stat line. Garcon is a No. 3 Fantasy receiver in non-PPR leagues, but he's a potential No. 2 option in PPR. He's an excellent receiver to target with a mid-round pick.
The Panthers needed someone who could be their No. 1 receiver, and Moore has the chance to fill that role. He was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft at No. 24 overall from Maryland, and he should be the best rookie receiver from this draft class based on his opportunity. Former Panthers receiver Steve Smith said on NFL Network that Moore has the chance to be special. "He's a playmaker," Smith said. "I think he can run every route on the route tree. If you really want to know the truth of how I feel, they have never been able to replace me. Until today." It's lofty praise for Moore, who can play outside and in the slot. His main competition for targets will come from Devin Funchess, Greg Olsen, Christian McCaffrey and Torrey Smith, but Moore should develop into a main target for Cam Newton. And new Carolina offensive coordinator Norv Turner should find creative ways to get the ball in Moore's hands. He's worth drafting as a No. 4 Fantasy receiver, but he could easily emerge as a weekly starter early in the season. It will likely come down to Newton and how much he relies on Moore, and hopefully Smith will tell his former quarterback to get the ball to his rookie early and often each week.
The Dolphins should have a diverse receiving corps this season with Jarvis Landry gone, and I expect Stills and DeVante Parker to have sleeper appeal since they both will be drafted after Round 9 in the majority of leagues. But don't discount Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson with late-round picks as well. As for Stills, he should emerge as the No. 1 receiver for the Dolphins this season now that Landry was traded to Cleveland. Stills has scored 15 touchdowns in two seasons with Miami, and the Dolphins have to replace Landry's production from 2017 of 160 targets for 112 catches, 987 yards and nine touchdowns. Wilson and Amendola will take most of that production, along with Parker playing a role, but Stills could easily continue to improve on his stats from the past two seasons. He's had two years in his career with at least 840 receiving yards, and this could be his first 1,000-yard campaign. Stills is worth a flier as a high-end No. 4 Fantasy receiver with a late-round pick, and this could end up as the best season of his five-year career. Having a healthy Ryan Tannehill (knee) for 16 games will also help Stills and the rest of this receiving corps improve for 2018.
It's hard to find a team in more dire straits at receiver than the Cowboys, who dumped Dez Bryant in a cost-cutting move and lost tight end Jason Witten to retirement this offseason. Dallas brought in guys like Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson to join Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams, but none of those receivers are exciting. Gallup, who was selected in the third round of the NFL Draft from Colorado State, could emerge as the No. 1 receiver in Dallas. He had 100 catches for 1,418 yards and seven touchdowns in 2017 at Colorado State, and he had 176 catches for 2,690 yards and 21 touchdowns over the past two seasons. With Bryant and Witten gone, the Cowboys have to replace 132 catches for 1,398 yards and 11 touchdowns on 240 targets. Dak Prescott will obviously spread the ball around to all his receivers, including fellow rookie Cedrick Wilson, who was selected in the sixth round of the NFL Draft from Boise State. The Cowboys also will lean on whoever starts at tight end, and Ezekiel Elliott will clearly be involved in the passing game. But Gallup has the most star appeal, and if there's one thing we know about the Cowboys is they like stars. Gallup is a great late-round target in all re-draft leagues.
Despite Jermaine Gresham coming off a torn Achilles in Week 17 last year, the Cardinals did little to address their tight end position. That's because of the confidence they likely have in second-year tight end Seals-Jones. Seals-Jones had two huge games in 2017 with a combined 30 Fantasy points in non-PPR leagues in Weeks 11 and 12 against Houston and Jacksonville, but he only had 28 targets for the season and finished with 12 catches for 201 yards and three touchdowns. His role will expand this season, and expected starting quarterback Sam Bradford has a great track record with tight ends (see Zach Ertz in Philadelphia and Kyle Rudolph in Minnesota). Coach Steve Wilks, who was the defensive coordinator with the Panthers last year, likes that Seals-Jones can move around the formation and create plenty of mismatches. "Any time you get a tight end like Ricky, like Greg Olsen, those guys who can split out in the slot, create a matchup on a linebacker or even a safety, I think it's a plus for us," Wilks said, according to azcentral.com. "I think he (Seals-Jones) brings that element." If you miss on one of the top tight ends, take a flier on Seals-Jones this year. It also helps that his Week 1 opponent is Washington, which struggled against tight ends last season, making Seals-Jones a promising streaming option to open the season.
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