When it comes to fantasy football, sleepers come in many different forms. When it came to last season, you could have drafted players prime for a rebound season such as Todd Gurley in the third round of your draft and ended up with last seasons biggest producer. There are also players who come out of nowhere to blow away expectations such as Alvin Kamara, who not only started the year buried in the Saints death chart, but also someone mostly unheard of. With the football season inching closer, this means your fantasy draft is approaching, and it’s time to find those players that you can draft and out of nowhere end up with major production.
Despite finishing with as many interceptions as touchdowns thrown in his first year in the league, there is reason to expect heavy improvement from the Bears quarterback of the future. After an overhaul in the coaching staff, the offense looks to increase production after an underwhelming year last season with the 29th ranked scoring offense. They also added several weapons that should really help this offense headlined by Allen Robinson, who despite being injured last season, should be heavily incentivized to perform as he is on a one year contract.
Often overlooked in the elite quarterback conversation, Stafford hasn’t had a season below 4,250 yards and 20 touchdowns since all the way back in 2010. He isn’t in the easiest division as the NFC North has seemingly bounced back, but it can still be expected for consistent production with several huge games from Stafford. It is tempting to reach for one of the bigger names at the QB position, but stocking up in other areas and then pairing Stafford with a solid QB2 may be the way to go. He also is going to have the best running back support in his entire Lions career with the duo of power-back LeGarrette Blount and receiving out of the backfield threat Theo Riddick seemingly balancing each other quite well. The Calvin Johnson days are long gone in Detroit, but Stafford is a proven producer who may be the man to take your team to the top.
Last season was a very weird one for the Oregon product Marcus Mariota. He was able to take his team to the playoffs and stage a late comeback to take down the Chiefs, getting the Titans their first playoff victory in over a decade. It was a catch-22 of sorts though, as he regressed in many ways throwing the ball last year, not making the jump many expected the 24 year old to take. With his steady tight end Delanie Walker and two very solid running backs in Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry, he seemingly always will have check down options when in trouble while also being one of the more mobile quarterbacks in the league. He also has had time to develop chemistry with some of his young receivers like Corey Davis, and the improvement of these players will likely be the key to whether Mariota recaptures his statistical magic of 2016, or potentially even one which exceeds that.
Booker played second fiddle to C.J. Anderson last year, but with him gone and little competition at the position for the Broncos, his 70 carry workload last year will likely shoot up. He also is a threat out of the backfield, and with Trevor Siemian finally not starting anymore, Case Keenum should get him some chances in the open field. Defenses playing the Broncos will be more focused on the wide receiver threats, which should open up running lanes for Booker as he looks ready to improve on last years 3.6 yards per carry as long as he holds off rookie Royce Freeman for the starting job. He is going very low in drafts though and the quantity of touches he lined up to receive should not be overlooked.
Ronald Jones II
The path to fantasy success for Jones seems unlikely with several other decent backs on the Buccaneers roster and starting QB Jameis Winston suspended for the first three games. However, he was an elite runner in his time at USC and rookie running backs are coming out of nowhere each season to produce big numbers. He is much less of a threat in PPR leagues as he is a pretty one-dimensional back unlikely to get many catches out of the backfield. His build and game has been described as similar to that of Frank Gore, and with comparisons like that, Ronald Jones is certainly worth taking a chance on in the middle of your draft.
The Patriots are weaker at wideout than almost any other time in the Brady era, and with the departure of Dion Lewis, the man with the Super Bowl record for most catches in a game is worth taking a look at. This is especially true for those in PPR leagues, because even though last year was looked at as a down year for White, he was still able to garner enough receptions to remain in the top 10 running backs for this stat. With Eric Decker as the Patriots No. 1 wide receiver to start the season, there is a clear opening to get some touches. Don’t get me wrong, the Gronk-Brady combo is lethal, but the big man can only get so many of the teams targets, which could give the Wisconsin product a chance to come out of nowhere and have a breakout season.
961 yards. That’s how many Colts wideout T.Y. Hilton was able to get last season WITHOUT Andrew Luck, who after missing the ENTIRE season last year is finally back. Hilton is still being drafted quite high, and still isn’t the biggest redzone threat. You simply cannot overlook his potential this year, as new coach Frank Reich’s new system and a much improved offensive line look to be setting up the Luck-Hilton combo to have some big games. The Colts have one of the easier schedules in the league, and now is the time to pounce on a potential WR1 before the Andrew Luck hype gains a lot of traction after a couple preseason games.
It’s quite simple, the Seahawks lost players who combined for 20 receiving touchdowns last season, and signed very little talent to assist in these areas. On the weakest Seahawks team in years, Lockett and his quarterback Russell Wilson will likely be playing from behind much more often this upcoming season. Lockett is one of the fastest players in the league, and with a return to full health the Seahawks should be looking to put him in positions to truly maximize his talents. They have kind of held back in years past, but the lid is off and it is his time to be put in the spotlight of this offense alongside longtime producer Doug Baldwin.
This man is likely going to be a starter on a team with Aaron Rodgers under center. Enough said? Even if only the third receiver behind Davante Adams and Randall Cobb, you can get this guy very late in your draft and may just strike gold. He is a relative unknown in this league, and Aaron Rodgers is just the kind of guy that can make Allison play above his potential.
He limped through last season and posted career lows all around, but with newly hired Norv Turner, Olsen may be making you look silly for doubting him. The Panthers have much solid receivers this year, and this should open up some opportunities for Olsen to connect with his longtime quarterback Cam Newton and be the Panthers primary redzone option.
Vernon Davis is certainly not an option to draft unless in the deep rounds of your draft or as a Jordan Reed handcuff. If (and more likely when with Reed’s past injury troubles) given the chance, look for Davis to step up with his former quarterback Alex Smith and once again become a top-10 tight end.