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Potential. We say that word a lot in Fantasy Football. Whether or not a player actually meets his potential is based on a bunch of factors, but we believe in it when a player with talent finds himself in an opportunity to play well in an offense tailored to his strengths. When those things intersect, good Fantasy stats typically follow.
Every year, my goal is to find the one player who will be the hot name off waivers after Week 1 and tell you about him before Week 1. Kenny Golladay and Carson Wentz were my two highest-ranked sleepers, and both got off to amazing starts. Golladay bummed when he got hurt, but Wentz was enroute to an MVP award before he tore his ACL.--
That was then. This is now.
After watching every preseason game and talking to as many people around the league as I could, I've settled on 10 players I'd consider with a late-round pick, including the No. 1 player I will take in every single one of my leagues. He's first on this list.
Everyone below has an Average Draft Position of 140th or later, and some of them are people your friends have never heard of. Those are the best ones. Let's break some hearts and dominate our leagues!
The departures of Dez Bryant and Jason Witten's leave behind roughly 200 targets in Dallas. The Cowboys still have some decent receivers Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams) and added Tavon Austin along with a plethora of young tight ends, but it's Gallup who is in the best position to replace much of that jettisoned production.
A bonafide outside receiver, Gallup is nearly 6-foot-1, 205 pounds and is coming off of back-to-back 1,200-plus-yard, seven-plus-score seasons at Colorado State. He was already a good route-runner when he got drafted by the Cowboys in Round 3, but he's seemingly gotten on the same page with Dak Prescott given how they've connected in the preseason.
"There's no question [they have chemistry]," Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan told CBSSports.com recently. "Dak's been doing that with all the receivers, but he's had probably more time to work with Michael because he's been the one that's stayed the most healthy through camp. He hasn't been dinged up much so he's been in there pretty much every day. I think that's a pretty good benefit for a young rookie like that, to have that extra work. I think that's been a bonus for us."
Linehan was part of the Cowboys brain trust that drafted Gallup and has seen him grow in a short period of time. The area he's seen Gallup develop the most through training camp? Contested catches.
"Just really in the last week he's been challenged, he goes against the No. 1 corners pretty much all the time, and those battles have been really good battles. I think he's won his fair share as camp's gone on," Linehan said. "The thing about him is he's not the tallest receiver but he's got really good length, so he plays like a big receiver. He has a really good knack for using his play-strength as a wide receiver and being able to extend and make catches."
Evidence of that came on Gallup's third catch of the preseason against Cincinnati, an 8-yard dart on a key third-down play in the red zone. Prescott fired about a foot in front of a slanting Gallup and the receiver used his long arms to snare the pass for the first down.
That's just the beginning of Gallup's impressive preseason. His first catch was a 30-yard touchdown from Prescott on a go-route where he sped past 49ers cornerback Jimmie Ward. He also proved to have great timing on a post route from Prescott to convert another third down. Gallup also beat defenders on deep routes multiple times and has had multiple end-zone targets but the passes were errant throws from backup Cooper Rush.
Linehan noted that this will be a very different Cowboys passing game, referring to his receivers as a "collective group of guys with speed, route-running skill-sets and just a good balance of guys that can play inside, outside, multiple places." But there's really only one who offers the combination of size, technique and youth.
It only helps that 34 of Prescott's 48 passing touchdowns have gone to his receivers.
Gallup is not only predicted to be the most productive rookie receiver and the most productive Cowboys receiver, but he should also flirt with No. 2 value with 1,000 yards and as many as seven touchdowns. Such numbers would make Gallup the first wideout with Prescott to reach 1,000 yards and the second to accumulate seven scores.
This big-time potential puts Gallup in the Round 9 conversation ahead of any receiver who doesn't have 1,000-yard potential. That includes everyone in his rookie class and countless others. This draft value doesn't exactly scream "late-round sleeper no one's ever heard of," but I've seen a number of drafts already this August where he's gone in Round 12 and beyond ... even some where he's undrafted. That's insane. The more plugged-in your league is, the more likely Gallup will need to get picked before the double-digit rounds.
Gallup is the sleeper of the summer. Just get him, stash him and wait for good things to happen.
We know the Colts run offense will be a multi-person operation this season. Marlon Mack figures to be the most explosive option they have, but he's currently nursing a hamstring injury after having offseason shoulder surgery. For a coach who has preached a physical run game, it's Wilkins who fits that profile best. He's stunk this preseason, but it's not uncommon to see a running back figure things out in August and then perform come September. Here's the curveball: If Wilkins struggles over the first four weeks, Fantasy owners can dump him and turn to Turbin, who looked good early in the preseason. He's also a bowl-over-you running back who will have fresh legs when the Colts play at New England in Week 5.
Draft Wilkins: Round 10-plus
Add him off waivers if: You want some running back depth; Turbin is only worth adding in the absolute deepest of leagues.
The Bears added a bunch of pass catchers this offseason but only Miller can run routes beautifully and with plenty of speed. He's already shown off his vertical on a ridiculous 19-yard grab in double coverage against the Broncos and earned starter's reps in training camp. Miller didn't even play in the Bears' first or fourth preseason games along with the rest of the first-team offense (he probably won't play in the fifth either). Mitchell Trubisky has a ways to go to become a dynamite passer, but connecting on short- and mid-range stuff is well within his grasp. Miller benefits because he's the Bears' most catch-and-go ready receiver.
Ekeler came on the Fantasy radar from time to time last season, but this preseason he's impressed with 72 yards on 11 carries and 55 yards on five receptions. He won't push Melvin Gordon for playing time, but will get on the field as a mismatch skill-position player. He's probably a speedier running back than Gordon and has great hands. His presence gives Philip Rivers another target to utilize, particularly since the word is already out on Mike Williams, and the Chargers still need help in the middle of the field following Hunter Henry's ACL injury.
Draft him: Round 11-plus
Add him off waivers if: You want some running back depth and/or if you've drafted Gordon.
This might be my hardest sell yet. In four seasons with the Lions, Ebron had 11 touchdowns in 56 games with no 100-yard games and five with 80-plus yards. So why in the world is Ebron worth drafting now?! Three reasons -- the Colts pass game, the Colts run game and the Colts defense all favor Ebron.
Andrew Luck is back and looks as accurate as ever. He'll need targets to hit other than T.Y. Hilton, and Ebron should be a regular. The Colts run game has mostly unimpressed this preseason, forcing more work onto Luck's shoulders. And Indianapolis' defense isn't expected to be a great unit, further forcing Luck to throw as he plays from behind. It's a perfect storm for a tight end who identifies more as a receiver.
A career-best season would mean over 715 yards and at least six scores, both easily attainable given the Colts current makeup. He's usable as a starter, but he isn't a bad stash candidate either.
Draft him: Round 12-plus
Add him off waivers if: You want to carry two tight ends, which actually isn't a terrible idea this year given the lack of reliable ones.
Deep deep sleepers
What do Dalton and Josh Gordon have in common? They haven't been awesome for Fantasy since 2013. But there's major optimism around Dalton, and it really started before the draft, not the preseason. The Bengals retained offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, who should bring an aggressive, up-tempo approach. They also added two pieces to their offensive line to better protect Dalton -- a necessary change after he was sacked 39 times last season and 80 times in the last two seasons.
The return of Tyler Eifert and John Ross also provide some much-needed firepower to Dalton's weaponry. Ross is a big-play threat who can catch the deep ball and also force the safeties from crowding A.J. Green (we've seen that a lot already this preseason). Eifert is a giant who can win jump balls in the red zone. And of course there's silky-smooth A.J. Green and a pair of running backs who can make plays as receivers.
It's a deep year at quarterback, but Dalton will produce better numbers than anyone thinks.
Draft him: With your last pick in one-QB leagues; as the 17th quarterback off the board in two-QB formats.
Add him off waivers if: You drafted an injury-risk quarterback and want an insurance policy.
Once upon a time, Morris led this very column as the deep sleeper you had to put on your team. He then ran off three straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons. It's been three years since then, but Morris finds himself as the healthiest running back in San Francisco. Reunited with Kyle Shanahan, Morris looked like he was the Niners' starter in their preseason game at Indianapolis, perfectly meshing with the run scheme to the tune of 84 yards on 17 carries. He even had his first carry, a 17-yard scamper, called back by an illegal formation penalty. There was never much speed to Morris' game but his big body and nimble feet give him a chance to be effective.
His arrival means there's no rush for Matt Breida to return. Jerick McKinnon is still the obvious lead back when healthy, but he's also not 100 percent at this point and has never been a lead back before. If McKinnon struggles with rushing downs, Morris could fit in and handle those downs while McKinnon takes the two-minute drill. And if neither one is ready for Week 1, Morris will start. Point is, there are a number of ways Morris can be helpful for your Fantasy team this year.
Draft him: Round 13-plus
Add him off waivers if: You want some running back depth and/or if you've drafted McKinnon
Patterson has grossly underperformed his entire career, so why expect that to change now? Time after time we've seen the Patriots find new players and give them opportunities to make plays. Some succeed (Randy Moss, Chris Hogan), some don't (Phillip Dorsett, Kenny Britt).
Patterson's speed and size are proven -- it's his inconsistent usage that has really been the problem. He's never had more than 77 targets in a season including under 112 total in 2016-17 (in spite of a 74.1 percent catch rate). Here's the reality: New England is short on receivers and especially short on tall receivers. Patterson is 6-foot-2 and can run. He's also been featured on a number of different routes this preseason, being asked to make plays after the catch. He's turned 18 targets into 11 grabs, 126 yards and a touchdown.
The Pats just don't quite have anyone like him, creating some mismatch opportunities. Give him a trial run for the first four weeks of the season while Julian Edelman is suspended.
Add him off waivers if: You want some receiver depth, or if you're in a league where special-teams yardage counts.
Washington's next in a long line of downfield threats. Washington seemed to be an incomplete prospect during the pre-draft process, but the Steelers were so amped for him that they took him in the second round. Watching him this preseason, it's clear he's learned the nuances of the position to potentially become another quick-twitch receiver like Brown, not just a one-trick pony like Bryant. There's little doubt he'll be the third receiver for the Steelers so long as he masters his assignments.
The key to the Steelers offense under Roethlisberger has always been having a downfield threat, and Washington can be that.
Add him off waivers if: You're in a dynasty/keeper league.
Marshawn Lynch is 32 but runs like he's 29. Doug Martin is 29 but runs like he's 32. DeAndre Washington is hurt. Jalen Richard isn't a three-down player. The Raiders' best-looking running back this preseason? It's Warren, who has 250 yards on 46 carries with two touchdowns and 14 receiving yards on two catches. The undrafted rookie is a 6-foot-2, 250-pound beast who runs with plenty of power (and 4.5 speed), just the way Jon Gruden likes it.
It's a different role from the H-back duty he had at Texas (less than 75 carries in each of three seasons), but if this preseason is any indication, it's not crazy to think he can be something someday.
Add him off waivers if: You're in a dynasty/keeper league.
So what Fantasy Football sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which wide receiver can you wait on until late? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy Football cheat sheets from the model that called Alvin Kamara's huge breakout last season and find out.