Fantasy Football Sleepers 2.0: Rookies Kyler Murray, Darrell Henderson lead the way
Jamey Eisenberg updates his list of late-round options in Sleepers 2.0, naming 12 guys who should be on your radar for 2019.
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The top of any Fantasy draft is usually the most fun part. We all love getting stars in the early rounds, and these are the players who are the foundation of your team.
But the later rounds are where the excitement is — where you can find the sleepers. This is the best part of the draft.
Go back to 2018 when guys like Patrick Mahomes, James Conner, Nick Chubb, Chris Carson, Aaron Jones, James White, Kenny Golladay, Tyler Lockett, Calvin Ridley and Jared Cook were standout Fantasy options. All were selected after pick No. 110 overall based on the Average Draft Position for PPR leagues.
So here we are in 2019, trying to find those types of players again with late-round picks. Hopefully, we have you covered.
You'll find many of these players on most of my Fantasy teams this season, from the guys we highlight to the ones listed as others to consider. Like I said, the best part of the draft is the chances you take in the later rounds on the players you hope have an opportunity to succeed.
And when they do, you have the chance for a great Fantasy season.
I've gone back and forth on Murray either being a quality Fantasy quarterback or a potential bust. The downside with him is his size (5-foot-10), he's a rookie playing for a rookie coach in Kliff Kingsbury and his production at Oklahoma, where he won the Heisman Trophy in 2018, might be somewhat inflated by a superior supporting cast.
But the upside with Murray is he's a star. Kingsbury's Air Raid offense could be explosive, and Murray's stats in college (4,361 passing yards, 42 touchdowns and seven interceptions, as well as 1,001 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns) translate very well for Fantasy. And while the Cardinals offense was a disaster last season, the personnel this year has been upgraded, especially at receiver with Hakeem Butler and Andy Isabella joining Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk. For Fantasy quarterbacks this season, you should always draft for upside because the position is loaded with talent. If Murray fails, you should find a capable option on waivers. But if Murray succeeds, you should get a star quarterback with a late-round pick.
Garoppolo was a breakout candidate last season, and he was off to a good start before suffering a torn ACL in Week 3. If you project his stats over those three games -- and he scored at least 20 Fantasy points in two of those outings -- he would have finished with 3,829 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, along with 176 rushing yards. While that might not sound exciting, keep in mind that C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens combined for seven games with at least 20 Fantasy points in the 13 games without Garoppolo.
I'm looking forward to seeing Garoppolo play in Kyle Shanahan's offense for 16 games, and he's on track to return for training camp. He also got an upgraded receiving corps with rookies Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd joining George Kittle, Dante Pettis and Marquise Goodwin. Garoppolo was touted as a No. 1 Fantasy quarterback in 2018, and he could finish in that range this season. Look for him with a late-round pick on Draft Day.
What Damien Williams did last season in taking over for Kareem Hunt (suspension) was impressive. Over the final six games of the year, including the playoffs, Williams had 77 carries for 376 yards and six touchdowns, as well as 28 catches for 226 yards and four touchdowns. I'm concerned about Williams getting the chance to do that again over 16 games. His 105 touches last season were a career high, so we'll see if he can hold up over a full season. And the Chiefs made sure to bolster their running back room this offseason for a reason.
Hyde was a quality running back with the 49ers in 2016 and 2017, and he was serviceable with the Browns last season before being traded to the Jaguars. In his first four games with Cleveland, Hyde averaged 15.3 PPR points a game. He's also underrated as a receiver, having caught 59 passes with San Francisco in 2017. Hyde could be the best running back in Kansas City this year, and that's someone you want on your Fantasy team. Thompson, who was a sixth-round pick in the NFL Draft out of Utah State, could be the surprise of the roster. He had 153 carries for 1,044 yards (6.8 yards per carry) and 14 touchdowns, as well as 23 catches for 351 yards and two touchdowns last season. I'm trusting Andy Reid and his history of running backs, but I'm also looking for value. So, pass on Williams at the top of the draft, and look for Hyde in the middle rounds or Thompson at the end. You'll be happy if you do.
I was really hoping Henderson ended up with a team where he could be a featured option. I liked him a lot at Memphis, where he had 344 carries for 3,063 yards (8.9 yards per carry) and 31 touchdowns, as well as 43 catches for 521 yards and five touchdowns in his final two seasons in college. But the Rams drafted Henderson in the third round, and he will be the backup to Todd Gurley.
It used to be that playing behind Gurley earned you a nice seat on the bench for most of the game. But I don't expect that to happen for Henderson. For starters, Rams coach Sean McVay has already said the Rams will use more two-back sets this season, likely to ease the workload for Gurley. And then there's the issue with Gurley's knee, which hampered him at the end of last season and into the playoffs, and has already led to reports that he will no longer be an every-down back. Should Gurley get hurt and miss any time, Henderson could be a star — keep in mind what C.J. Anderson did last year when Gurley was out, scoring a combined 47 PPR points in the final two games of the regular season. Henderson's upside could be immense, and I'm drafting him wherever possible in all leagues with a mid-round pick.
With Tevin Coleman gone to San Francisco, Smith is expected to be No. 2 on the depth chart in Atlanta behind Devonta Freeman. And that could lead to plenty of work. Freeman missed 14 games in 2018 due to a groin injury, and Smith could have several games with a hefty workload. But even if Smith just replaces Coleman with Freeman staying healthy, we've seen Coleman have at least 900 total yards and eight touchdowns in three seasons in a row for the Falcons.
Coach Dan Quinn is excited about Smith's skill set, and he could emerge as a solid Fantasy asset in all leagues. And Atlanta did a lot to upgrade its offensive line this offseason, signing James Carpenter and Jamon Brown as free agents and drafting Christopher Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary with two picks in the first round. The Falcons offense should be explosive again, and Smith is someone to target with a mid-round pick in all leagues. Should something happen to Freeman this year due to injury, Smith could have the chance to be a standout Fantasy option.
Murray will replace the departed Mark Ingram (Baltimore) in New Orleans, and he's expected to share touches with Alvin Kamara. We hope Kamara takes on an even bigger workload for the Saints, but don't view Murray as an afterthought. With the Vikings last season, he had eight games with double digits in carries, and he scored at least 11 PPR points in five of them. Ingram had double digits in carries in nine of the 12 games he was active after serving a four-game suspension to open the year.
We doubt the Saints will view Murray in the same light as Ingram, but coach Sean Payton also doesn't want to overwork Kamara, which should give Murray enough quality touches in this explosive offense. And should Kamara get hurt, Murray could be a standout Fantasy running back. In 2017, after Dalvin Cook suffered a torn ACL in Week 4 with the Vikings, Murray had seven games with at least 12 PPR points in his final 10 outings. He's worth drafting with a mid-round pick in all leagues.
Hamilton got the chance to showcase his skills as a rookie in 2018 when Emmanuel Sanders (Achilles) was hurt prior to Week 14. In those final four games, Hamilton averaged 13.3 PPR points, including two games with at least 16 PPR points. He saw at least eight targets per game over that span, operating primarily in the slot. We don't know when Sanders will return, and the Broncos have a new quarterback in Joe Flacco or eventually Drew Lock. But it's hard to imagine Hamilton not being part of Denver's top trio of receivers with Sanders and Courtland Sutton.
Sutton is worth drafting in all leagues as well, but I like Hamilton better in PPR. I'm targeting him in all formats with a late-round pick.
Given the Cardinals poor offense in 2018, it was a pleasant surprise to see Kirk perform adequately as a rookie and help Fantasy players before suffering a foot injury in Week 13. He missed the final four games of the season, but he's fine now. And before getting hurt, Kirk had double digits in PPR points in six of his final 10 games. With Murray and Kingsbury, there's a lot to like about this Arizona offense. And even with the additions of Butler and Isabella to go with Fitzgerald, we should still see Kirk get a healthy number of targets. While other sophomore receivers like Calvin Ridley, D.J. Moore and Dante Pettis will get plenty of hype, Kirk could be just as good at a cheaper price. Look for him with a mid-round pick in all leagues.
The Steelers actually have three guys who can be considered sleepers with Washington, Donte Moncrief and Diontae Johnson. All three will fight for the starting spot opposite JuJu Smith-Schuster and for the production vacated by Antonio Brown, who had 104 catches for 1,297 yards and 15 touchdowns last season on 168 targets. It might take some time to see who the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger like best of this trio, but I would draft Washington first, followed by Moncrief and then Johnson. Keep in mind that Pittsburgh led the NFL in pass attempts last season, so you want a piece of this high-volume offense if you can get it. And in this case, a late-round pick for Washington should be a small price to pay.
Washington didn't do much as a rookie in 2018, but finding quality targets behind Brown and Smith-Shuster wasn't going to be easy. There's a clear path to production this year with Brown gone, and hopefully Washington proves to be better than Moncrief and Johnson.
Samuel is one of my favorite players to draft this season with a late-round pick, and he should have the chance to emerge as a weekly starter in deeper leagues. He is expected to start opposite D.J. Moore, and hopefully Samuel will build on his strong end to the 2018 season. He closed last year with at least 11 PPR points in six of his final seven games, including three outings with at least eight targets. If Cam Newton (shoulder) is fine for training camp as expected then Samuel can clearly outperform his draft value.
Remember, Devin Funchess is gone as a free agent to Indianapolis, and Greg Olsen has struggled to stay healthy. Chris Hogan was the only notable receiver added this offseason, and Newton will rely on Moore, Samuel and Christian McCaffrey quite a bit. I'll be buying a lot of stock in Samuel in 2019.
Others to consider: John Brown, Deebo Samuel, Mecole Hardman, Parris Campbell, Keke Coutee
Reed had a rough year in 2018 as he fought through toe and foot problems, and he eventually landed on injured reserve for the final three games of the season. Injuries have plagued Reed his entire career, and he's never played 16 games in a season. Coach Jay Gruden said at the NFL's annual league meetings about Reed's health that he "is going to be just fine. I promise you."
Maybe I'm falling for that line. Or maybe I'm still chasing Reed's big season from 2015 when he had 87 catches for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns on 114 targets. He has that kind of upside, and Washington is desperate for playmakers in the passing game with a receiving corps led by Josh Doctson, Paul Richardson, Trey Quinn, Kelvin Harmon and Terry McLaurin. The quarterback battle between Case Keenum, Colt McCoy and rookie Dwayne Haskins could determine what happens with Reed, and I'm hopeful that Haskins wins the job. I'm also hopeful Reed can stay healthy. For now, that appears to be the case, and he's an excellent tight end to target with a late-round pick.
The Steelers have to replace a lot of production from last year with Brown and Jesse James gone. That's a combined 207 targets for 134 catches, 1,720 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Steelers signed Moncrief this offseason, and Washington should take a leap in his sophomore campaign. And obviously there's Smith-Schuster and James Conner, as well as rookie Diontae Johnson, the second-round pick from Toledo. But McDonald should have a bigger role as well, and he could end up as a top-10 Fantasy tight end this year. I'm taking a flier on McDonald in all leagues with a late-round pick.
Others to consider: T.J. Hockenson, Noah Fant, Austen Hooper
Want some other sleepers to target in your draft? Which RB2 can you wait on until late? Visit SportsLine now to get 2019 Fantasy Football cheat sheets from the model that called Andrew Luck's huge season, and find out.
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