Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Using consensus rankings to find this year's early sleepers
It's too early for reliable ADP but Heath Cummings uses expert consensus rankings to find his first list 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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It's way too early in the offseason to get a good gauge for redraft ADP, but we've got a pretty good source for guessing who will be over- and undervalued -- the consensus rankings from Fantasy Pros.
They've compiled a consensus ranking from 57 Fantasy Football experts for anyone who wants to do early research. ADP in August won't match these rankings by any means, but this at least gives us an idea what direction people will be led. It's also a great place to go searching for early sleepers.
I've compiled a list of 10 sleepers for 2018 who are outside the standard starting lineup (top 12 for quarterback and tight end, top 30 for running back and wide receiver) in terms of rankings. Yes, everyone has heard of these guys before (beat you to it, Mr. Commenter) and some of them have even been productive in the past. But if the consensus rankings from early June are any indication, they're being slept on in the Fantasy Football community.
As someone who was, we need to admire just how good he was in 2017. Winston set career highs in Y/A, completion percentage and passer rating. He didn't completely eliminate the foolish turnovers, but he also set a career best with a 2.5 percent interception rate. The fact that he only played 11 complete games really dragged down his end of season rating, but his pace in those 11 games was phenomenal. I'm talking 4,910 yards and 27 touchdowns phenomenal. Winston broke out last year, but injuries hid that fact.
Winston is currently the No. 15 quarterback by consensus rankings behind Jimmy Garoppolo, Andrew Luck and Carson Wentz, among others. If Luck was 100 percent healthy I would also rank Luck ahead of Winston, but it's closer than you think. In fact, the difference between No. 3 and No. 15 in the quarterback rankings isn't that big. That's why I'm a huge proponent of waiting until the double-digit rounds to draft your quarterback, and Winston is an excellent choice if he's still there.
At first glance it's easy to see why Isaiah Crowell wouldn't crack the top 36 running backs in consensus rankings. He's playing for a bad team and has to split carries with Bilal Powell. Then you remember these things have always been true for Crowell. For the past three years he's played on the worst team in football while sharing time with one of the best pass-catching backs in the game, Duke Johnson. His worst finish in those three years is 31st, and that was because he only scored two touchdowns.
In those three years, Crowell has averaged 1,065 total yards and four touchdowns. This year I've set my expectations at 1,068 total yards and five scores. That's good enough for 29th in my running back rankings, and we shouldn't act like that's his ceiling. There's certainly a chance he gets more than the career-high 206 carries he got last year, and it wouldn't be all that surprising if he matches the seven touchdowns he scored in 2016. If that happens he's a near cinch to be a top-20 running back.
You might view Bernard as a PPR-only running back. While it's true that he's better in that format, he actually had three straight years (2013-2015) where he finished as a top-25 running back in non-PPR scoring. And his pace in 2016 was right in that same neighborhood. Yes, Bernard took a step back in 2017 with both Joe Mixon and Jeremy Hill in the backfield, but he still finished 14 spots higher than his consensus ranking.
Heading into 2018, Hill is in New England and Bernard should be the clear 1B in the running game. I expect around 900 total yards and four touchdowns if Mixon takes the step forward that we're all expecting. That makes him a No. 4 running back with upside if Mixon either gets hurt or struggles as he did early in his rookie year. In PPR, Bernard should be start-able as a flex and may even have appeal as a low-end No. 2 running back.
The Jerick McKinnon hype train is running full steam ahead, but in the shadows lurks another 49ers running back who could both limit McKinnon's breakout and carve out a nice role for himself. Matt Breida is currently ranked at No. 59 in the consensus rankings despite finishing 14 spots higher as a rookie while backing up Carlos Hyde. Breida signed with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent last year, and you could make the argument he was more productive than Hyde.
Breida outperformed Hyde in YPC (4.4 to 3.9) and YPR (8.6 to 5.9). While YPC isn't a very good stat, it's still interesting to see that kind of gap for two players who were on the same team running behind the same line. That's all to say I don't think he gets less than 105 carries he got last year, and he may see a few more. Where his opportunity could really grow is in the red zone as McKinnon has never been used as a short-yardage back.
My expectation is Breida sees 160 touches, tops 800 total yards and scores five or six touchdowns. That'll be good enough to make him a borderline No. 3 running back, and like Bernard, he has upside from there based on the health and productivity of McKinnon.
If you're a Kenneth Dixon truther, you can just skip this section. I agree that Dixon has upside, but it's been unrealized thus far, and Allen should be the clear favorite to be the passing downs back on this roster. The Ravens have always targeted their running backs heavily in the passing game and I don't believe they improved their receiving corps enough to significantly change that in 2018.
The other bonus for Allen could come in the red zone. It was maddening for Alex Collins owners, but this team did hand the ball off to Allen a lot inside the 5. While Allen wasn't particularly successful in those situations, it did allow him to score six touchdowns and finish 2017 as a top-30 running back.
I expect Allen to be more valuable in PPR leagues but far exceed his No. 68 consensus ranking in non-PPR. I currently have him projected for just over 900 total yards and five scores, which puts him just outside the top 36. Only a strong camp from Dixon could change that.
Kelvin Benjamin is coming off a terribly disappointing year and his worst as a pro. In 14 games last year he posted 48-692-3 and struggled mightily after a mid-season trade to the Bills. But I'm willing to give him a pass on the time in Buffalo. There's a reason you don't see receivers traded midseason very often; it's a really big ask to make that transition in the middle of the season.
While Benjamin's situation in Buffalo is one of the worst in the league, it's hard to imagine he won't have a ton of opportunity. The other notable receivers on the Bills are Zay Jones, Jeremy Kerley and Andre Holmes. It seems almost impossible that he gets less than 100 targets if he plays a full season, and that's enough to make just about anyone a No. 3 receiver, even in a bad offense.
I expect around 60 catches for 900 yards and six touchdowns for Benjamin in 2018, which should make him a solid No. 3 receiver. There's touchdown upside there if A.J. McCarron or Josh Allen can be better than expected. He's currently ranked No. 44 at receiver in the consensus rankings.
Rishard Matthews is coming off a down year like Benjamin, but he still outperformed his ADP, which is something Matthews does pretty regularly. Injuries and the Titans' run-heavy attack held Matthews to 53-795-4, but he was still a solid No. 3 receiver on a per-game basis.
The Titans have a new coaching staff heading into 2018, and the hope is they'll open up the offense for Marcus Mariota. That would bode well for Matthews, who has been very efficient on a per-target basis. I suspect Corey Davis is the reason for Matthews' consensus ranking of 47, and I get it. Davis is a phenomenal prospect as a receiver, I just don't believe that upside should erase the proven connection that exists between Mariota and Matthews.
My current expectations have Matthews as a No. 2 receiver in Fantasy with around 70 catches for 1,000 yards and six touchdowns. Encouraging reports on Davis this summer could lower that a little bit, but it's hard to imagine I'll rank him outside the top 36 barring an injury.
As the guy who has DeVante Parker in my breakouts column, I did not expect to be higher than the industry on Kenny Stills. But at his current rank of No. 49, I'm not sure how anyone could be the low guy on him. Stills has been a top-30 receiver each of the past two years, and that was with Jarvis Landry hogging nearly 30 percent of the team's targets. Landry has been replaced by Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola, but I don't know that the two will combine to meet Landry's target total.
With my current expectations, Stills is just a minor bargain, but I'm expecting the ever-elusive Parker breakout. If that doesn't happen? Stills is pushing into top-24 territory as the team's No. 1 receiver.
If Stills' ADP follows the consensus rankings, he's going to end up on most of my rosters.
With Keenan Allen staying healthy last year, Tyrell Williams saw huge dip in his targets, but he was still really good when they threw him the ball. Among players with fewer than 70 targets in 2017, Williams 728 receiving yards were second most. That wouldn't matter if we didn't expect Williams to see any more attention in 2018, but a season-ending injury to Hunter Henry means he probably will.
The Chargers rely heavily on tight ends in their offense, but right now they are devoid of talent at the position. That leads me to believe receivers other than Allen will be more heavily involved this year. This same case could be made for Mike Williams as well, but I'd like for him to look like the college Mike Williams before I jump back on that train. Tyrell Williams is currently ranked 70th at receiver, which would make him available in the last round of most drafts.
He could provide huge value at almost no cost.
Charles Clay has at least 49 catches in five straight seasons. He's topped 500 yards each of those years, and has only played 16 games once in that stretch. Clay isn't going to give you top-five production in his situation, but with the lack of receivers in Buffalo and their likely game scripts, I would expect he'll consistently be a startable tight end whenever he's healthy.
There are plenty of tight ends ranked above Clay with more upside, but none are as consistent. Look for Clay to outperform his ADP for the fifth consecutive season.
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