Every season, there is a handful of players which fantasy analysts label as "Sleepers". Typically, these are guys who haven't broken out yet but have the opportunity to outperform their ADP in the upcoming year. Popular guys have been Jerick Mckinnon, Trey Burton, and Marquise Goodwin, but there's a problem here. Once people begin hyping these players up, their ADP rises significantly, turning them from a sleeper to a potential bust candidate due to their inflated draft position. With fantasy drafts right around the corner, I'm here to bring to light players who may have already broken out that are no longer being talked up, making them steals and must-targets at their current ADP. Let's start with a couple of valuable positions, QB and TE.
This year, the quarterback position is loaded with talent. Even outside of the elite guys, there are a ton of serviceable options, many who go undrafted. These 2 are a couple of my favorite values right now who have streaming ability throughout 2018.
DEREK CARR (QB21) - OAKLAND RAIDERS
For this article, I wanted to focus specifically on players who finished the 2017 season strongly, putting up numbers under the radar. Carr, however, stands out from the crowd because of this. Unlike the others who will be mentioned later, he didn't impress over the second half of the season, to no fault of his own.
Throughout the year, Carr was fighting off injuries, including back spasms that forced him out of his week 4 matchup against the Broncos. Oh wait, what was that? It wasn't just back spasms? Carr actually fractured his back? Yep. Carr was set to miss anywhere from 2-6 weeks because of this, but guess what. Carr bucked up and returned on the shorter side of that time frame, 2 weeks later in his week 6 matchup against the Chargers, one of the best pass defenses in 2017. Sure, Carr didn't do great in that game, throwing for 173 yards, 1 TD and 2 picks, but what do you expect? Carr was coming off a fracture in his spine, not to mention he broke his fibula to end the previous season. Carr was all fucked up to say the least, but no more than one week later, Derek took the Chiefs to poundtown, where he reeled back and dropped some knowledge on Kansas City with 417 yards and 3 Tugs (1 less than he got after the game, if you know what I mean). What I'm getting at is that last year was an anomaly for Carr. Derek has come out and said Amari was playing on one foot last year, and Crabtree was playing without a chain, so even his weapons were cursed. Heading into 2018, Carr has some of the better weapons you could ask for: a healthy Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant, and Jared Cook. Sure, Nelson may not be the same man he was in Green Bay, but reports are coming out that he looks like a young buck, and if we're being honest, how much of a downgrade is it from Crabtree? It's unfair to compare their numbers because I'd venture to say a healthy Brett Hundley is about 38x as bad as an injured Derek Carr, but looking at one metric, target separation, which is the distance between a receiver and the defender once the target arrives, you can see Jordy Nelson isn't a decrepit, senile grandfather. In 2017, a 32 year old Jordy ranked 19th in the NFL with 1.85 yards of separation/target while Crabtree was 99th with 1.03. Even if he's not the burner he once was, he's proven he can still get open. Not to mention, he's just one year removed from a 97/1257/14 statline. Along with Jordy, Martavis Bryant arrives. Though he hasn't cemented himself as a first-teamer, he's not a downgrade from what they had last year in Cordarelle Patterson. All in all, Carr didn't lose much value in the passing game, and I'd argue with a healthy Cooper, he has an upgrade.
Another argument against Carr is new HC Jon Gruden's approach to the game. He has been saying he wants to play oldschool, which may make you think he just wants to pound the rock until the cows come home. If you look at the Buccaneers from 2002-2008 and Raiders from 2000-2001 the years when Gruden was the HC, you'll see this isn't 100% true. These are the pass attempts by year going from 2008 and on: 562, 490, 535, 487, 512, 592, 567, 475, and 553, for an average of 530 pass attempts, which would have ranked as the 10th most attempts for a QB last szn, overtaking Matt Ryan (529). Also, the average fantasy finish of Gruden's QB1 over this span was QB17, while having two top 3 finishes at the position both years in Oakland. In fact, the only QBs that finished lower than 15 at the position with Gruden as the head coach were a 37 year old Jeff Garcia, Brian Griese (career high 3200 passing yards and 23 TDs *neither under Gruden*), oft-injured Chris Simms, and career-backup Bruce Gradkowski. Outside out Jeff Garcia, Derek Carr has already surpassed every other previously mentioned quarterbacks' prime numbers, so it's likely he'll finish above the average (QB17) that Gruden has had in his coaching career. Standing behind PFF's 7th best offensive line, his weapons on the outside, and a weak defense that's ranked in the bottom half of the league as far as points allowed per game, Carr should have plenty of opportunity to outperform his ADP.
Lastly, the main reason I chose Carr is because of his past, which many fantasy players have forgotten. In 2016, Derek Carr was an MVP candidate. Coming off a season where he had just thrown for 3,987 yards and 32 touchdowns, he set the league on fire the following year, leading the Raiders to a 12-3 record when he started. His 16 game pace that year before he broke his fibula was 4199 yards, 30 TDs and 6 picks. Now, after a down year, people have forgotten how great Carr has been in his young career. With a clean bill of health and approval from Jon Gruden, get ready for Carr to return to form in 2018 and outperform his current draft price as the QB20.
BLAKE BORTLES (QB23) - JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
Yeah, yeah, yeah, Blake Bortles. He may be a joke amongst NFL fans for his accuracy and hairline, but he's the real deal in fantasy football whether you like it or not. Over the last 3 years, Bortles finished outside the top 12 at the position ONCE, which was last year, where he ended as QB13. What I find amazing about this is that he threw the ball 100 less times last year than he did in 2016, and threw only 2 less tuddies. He improved his TD rate from 3.68% in 2016 to 4.02% in 2017 while bringing his completion percentage up to 60.2% from 58.9%. He also proved he can get it done with his legs, adding 322 yards on the ground and 2 TDs last year. This may not seem impressive, but Bortles had the 7th most rushing yards among all QBs in 2017, and it's a legitimate asset of his game, as he has surpassed 300 yards on the ground each szn of his career. The only other QB to do so for the past 4 seasons? Cam Newton.
Now, if you've stayed up to date on offseason moves (and read my last article), you'd know the Jags signed the best pass-blocking guard in the NFL this year, Andrew Norwell. Jacksonville already let up the 3rd least amount of sacks in 2017, so this addition should just make them elite in terms of pass-protection.
Other than the o-line, their receiving corps has been boosted heading into 2018. Last year, Allen Robinson tore his ACL week 1, so losing him to the Bears in the offszn makes little difference from what they had last year. Their only real loss from 2017 was Allen Hurns, who started in only 8 games. Although these 2 guys are out of town, they brought in Donte Moncrief and Austin Seferian-Jenkins while drafting D.J. Chark in the 2nd round. They also have Dede Westbrook, who missed 9 games in 2017, Marqise Lee, and Keelan Cole, who wasn't utilized until later in the year. With these healthy weapons, Blake should have more than enough targets to move the ball up the field through the air.
Another thing to note: In 2017, the Jaguars ranked DEAD LAST in the NFL in terms of pass ratio, at only 51%, 7% below league average. Now, I'm not saying I'm a better offensive mind than their current OC, but logically, it would make sense if they passed more often in 2018. Last year, the Jags' defense had the 2nd most sacks, 2nd most takeaways, and the 2nd least points allowed. Although it's possible they can repeat their impressive performance, it's highly unlikely. Just looking at their division, they have to face 3 SOLID QBs 6 times (Marcus Mariota, Deshaun Watson, Andrew Luck *ALL DEALT WITH INJURIES IN 2017*), along with Tom Brady, Carson Wentz, Big Ben, and Alex Smith. These guys are on elite offenses who have potential to put up big points in 2018, even against a stout Jags defense. If their defense does regress, along with facing high-powered offenses, they'll be forced to play keep-up a little more often this year. Along with this, according to FantasyPros, the Jags have the easiest strength of schedule for quarterbacks in 2018, and face the likes of Indianapolis, Tennessee, Washington, and Miami from weeks 13-16, a sexy slate for your fantasy playoffs. Blake will be forced to air it out more (unless they enjoy the art of losing), and should have a favorable time doing so, as they have a cake walk in terms of SoS.
Not only may their defense regress, but they may have to scale back the running with injury concerns for Leonard Fournette. Fournette has had chronic ankle issues, dating back even before his college days at LSU. Last year, he sprained his ankle twice, though he only missed one game for it, but also sprained his quad, keeping him out of another. He only played in 13 games (missed another because he didn't want to smile for the camera), and for the 4th overall pick, that isn't good enough. He was on pace for 330 carries in 2017, and if they want to keep him on the field, this number has to decrease due to his injury history. Sure, they can run T.J. Yeldon or Corey Grant out there to overtake some of Fournette's carries, but Yeldon hasn't proven to be efficient with a large load and Corey Grant has never carried the ball more than 66 times, including in his college career. Overall, I just don't see a situation in which the Jaguars run on 49% of their plays again if they want to keep the centerpiece of their offense on the field.
The thing is, even if you think my logic is idiotic and none of these things happen, it's not like the Jags will throw any LESS than they did last szn. They ranked DEAD LAST in pass pct and Blake STILL finished as a fringe QB1, so even if one of these hypotheticals hits, he'll have more opportunities to throw the ball.
Now, for the fun part, what fantasy football players may have forgotten. From Week 10 - Week 17, Blake Bortles ranked as the QB6, only behind Russell Wilson, Big Ben, Rivers, Newton, and Keenum. If you think that's too small of a sample, let me hit you with this: Blake Bortles ranked as the QB7 from Week 6 - Week 17 behind Wilson, Cousins, Newton, Big Ben, Stafford, and Rivers. I'm not saying Blake will ever reach his ceiling again, which he hit in 2015 (4,400 yards and 35 TDs), but he's been a surprisingly consistent option over the last 3 seasons. Bortles has an unusually high rushing floor, and with his new (and healthy) weapons, paired with an elite offensive line, Blake should once again be a value in fantasy drafts.
Unlike the QB position, the tight ends this year are very top heavy with talent, and then taper off fairly quickly. I've already touched on Ricky Seals-Jones and Luke Willson in a a past article, so if you want to hear my analysis on them, click here. For now, these are 2 of my favorite late round values who have potential to be valuable in 2018.
BEN WATSON (TE24) - NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Sure, Ben Watson is 37 years old and can be seen on a bag of rice in supermarkets across the country, but as many 75 year old billionaires say, "age is just a number". Ben is surprisingly coming off 2 top-12 tight end finishes in his last two full seasons (11th and 7th). What else is shocking is that last season, coming off a torn Achilles, he paced his team in receptions (61) and touchdowns (4), and only trailed speedster Mike Wallace in targets (92 vs 79) and yards (748 vs 522). Even outside the scope of his own team, Watson ranked #1 among all players in catch percentage (77.22%), 12th among all tight ends in targets, 8th in receptions, 16th in yards, and 13th in TDs, all on a piss-poor Ravens offense led by Joe Flacco. Heading into 2018, Watson is strapping on his Mardi Gras beads on his way back to New Orleans, where he finished as an elite tight end in 2015. That season, before tearing his achilles in 2016, he ranked 7th in targets (110) and receptions (74) (67.3% catch pct), and 8th in yards (825) and touchdowns (6). Now that we've freshened up on his past, let me remind you of what Ben's done in recent history that makes him a viable tight end option.
You may think that since he's 37 he has not burst left, but you'd be incorrect. Among all tight ends in 2017, Ben Watson ranked 13th in target separation (1.53 yards), which is impressive considering his age and coming off a major lower-body injury, one that claims many athletes' careers. Watson also had the 8th most yards after catch (266) at the position, ahead of guys like Jimmy Graham, Delanie Walker, Zach Ertz, and Hunter Henry (rip). What I like about this is it shows me that he hasn't slowed down, and is much of the same player he was the last time he was a Saint, as he ranked 8th in YAC in 2015 as well, before his major injury. With an elite QB in Drew Brees heading into 2018, I expect these numbers to remain the same. As far as metrics go, Ben ranked 12th at the position in QB rating when being targeted (100.3), and top 12 in both target premium (5th) and production premium (11th) as a Raven. I'd venture to say Brees is a competent quarterback and understands efficiency, so he won't shy away from feeding Watson the ball in 2018.
But, but, there's so many mouths to feed in New Orleans!!!! He can't be a viable option!!!!
In 2015, the Saints supported Brandin Cooks (129 targets), Willie Snead (101 targets), Marques Colston (67 targets), and Mark Ingram (60 targets), all while throwing it Watson's way 110 times. In 2016, when Watson went to Baltimore, 3 receivers topped 100 targets (Thomas 121, Cooks 117, Snead 104), Ingram had 58, and Travaris Cadet and Tim Hightower combined for 80. Even with all these weapons, the tight end position combined for 110 targets (for 70 receptions, 821 yards and 4 TDs). Last year was sort of an anomaly, as the Saints passed on only 56% of their plays after doing so 63% in 2016. Even after transitioning to a more run-heavy approach, the tight end position still accounted for 62 targets, 472 yards and 4 TDs. This wasn't because they decided to phase out the Tight End from their offense, though, it was because Coby Fleener missed 5 games, leaving them with only Josh Hill and Michael Hoomanawanui, neither of which have ever topped 16 receptions in a szn. Even with Fleener injured and a couple of guys who aren't known for their hands, the tight end position accounted for 12 red-zone targets (one less than Watson commanded in 2017) and 3 end zone targets (2 less than Watson). Now, with Fleener out of town, Watson is the surefire TE1 in this offense with major upside. Mark Ingram, a player who commanded 71 targets last szn, is suspended for 4 games, Ted Ginn has topped out at a 17.2% target share over the past 2 years, and Cameron Meredith is in a brand new offense coming off a major knee injury. Because of his established rapport with Brees and his efficiency, Watson should act as Brees' third option (behind Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara) early in the year.
Now, what else may have been forgotten about Watson? He was the TE8 over the last 7 weeks of the season, including a week where he put up a donut (1 target, 0 receptions). His pace was 60/604/4 on 80 targets, which isn't an unreasonable statline for 2018 as 80 targets would've only been a 14.92% (shoutout Christopher Columbus) target share in the Saints offense. Altogether, if the Saints defense isn't as elite as it was in 2017, on top of Igram's suspension, they'll have to revert to their old ways of being a more pass-happy team. Because of this, Watson is bound to see volume. Even if this hypothetical doesn't come to fruition, Ben will still garner enough targets to be a fringe tight end 1, as he is 2 years removed from a devestating injury on one of the leagues signature elite offenses in 2018. At TE24, Watson is a ridiculous value and is a great pick late in drafts if you decide to pass up on the top-tier tight ends.
JACK DOYLE (TE12) - INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
For the past 2 seasons, Jack Doyle has proven to be one of the better tight ends in the NFL, finishing as the TE7 in 2017 and TE13 in 2016. Heading into 2018, I see much of the same.
Last szn, Doyle was 2nd in the NFL in receptions (80) at his position, while adding the 6th most yards (690), but disappointed with only 4 Tugs. What's impressive is that he did this with Jacoby Brissett at the helm, who was thrown into a new offense week 1 behind one of the league's worst offensive lines. Heading into 2018, Indy get their franchise QB Andrew Luck back, as well as a revamped line, so their offense should greatly outperform the shitshow that was the 2017 Colts.
Now, ol' Jack Doyle won't blow you away with athleticism, but he's one of the most efficient at his position. Over the past 2 years, he's dropped 8 total passes on 183 targets, and boasts a 75.96% catch percentage over that span. In fact, throughout his 5 year career, he has NEVER posted lower than a 71.4% catch percentage for a full szn, and had the 2nd best contested catch rate at his position in 2017 (66.7%). Along with his sure hands, Doyle is a real threat once he gets the ball in his hands. According to airyards.com, Doyle had the 3rd most yards after catch in 2017 (337), finishing only behind Gronk (344) and Travis Kelce (406). Along with this, his efficiency metrics are among the leagues best. Doyle had the 12th best production premium, 6th best target premium, 17th highest QB rating when being targeted, and 12th fantasy points per route run. With Luck returning, he's likely to be the 2nd option in the passing game behind only TY Hilton in an offense ready to rebound.
Now, the Colts did add Eric Ebron in the offseason, but I'd say not to worry too much about it, and here's why.
1. Ebron just isn't that good. Sure, he's still young, and it usually takes a couple years for tight ends to adjust, but he's in a new situation, has to learn a new offense, and hasn't solidified himself as a player good enough to threaten the value of Jack Doyle. Just imagine you're Andrew Luck; are you going to want to throw to the guy who you have little chemistry with and has ranked top 3 the past 2 szns in dropped passes amongst tight ends, or would you prefer throwing to a guy who's gained your trust, has sure hands, and a dope beard? I'm not saying he'll never target Ebron, that's just foolish. What I am saying is Doyle is the surefire TE1 in this offense, and will be targeted as such.
2. Being the TE1 has many perks, especially with the arrival of new head coach, Frank Reich, former OC of the Eagles (2016-2017) and Chargers (2014-2015). During his time as an offensive coordinator, his tight end 1 has never finished lower than fantasy's TE12. It's not like they've been TE10-12 consistently throughout that span either. Their finishes have been 3rd, 12th (in only 11 games), 6th, and 3rd, and his TE1 has averaged 117 targets (when paced out to 16 games) over that span. Sure, he had Zach Ertz and Antonio Gates, but Gates was 34 and 35 years old in those 2 szns. I can't make much of an argument as far as skillset goes between Ertz and JD, because I believe Ertz is in the prime of his career and is more talented than Doyle, but what I can do is tell you that Doyle will have less competition than Ertz has had the past 2 szns under Reich. Last year, Ertz dealt with Agholor, Jeffery, Torrey Smith and Trey Burton, and Jordan Matthews, Dorial Green-Beckham (pour one out for him), Darren Sproles, Burton, and Agholor in 2016. Outside of Hilton, Doyle only has to deal with a motley crew of unproven guys in Ebron, Chester Rogers, and Ryan Grant. Another major point: It's not like Ertz or Gates are/were athletic specimen, similar to Doyle, and each had a backup with superior athletic talent. Gates had Ladarius Green (96th percentile 40-time) behind him, while Ertz had Trey Burton (86th percentile 40-time) backing him up. When you dig deeper, Doyle's situation isn't any worse than Gates or Ertz's, and could possibly be better. Doyle benefits from volume, and he's gonna get just that under Frank Reich and a revamped offense headed by Andrew Luck standing behind one of the league's most improved lines.
Now, what you may have forgotten? Doyle was sidelined for a week in 2017 where he suffered a concussion and was dealing with a neck injury. Despite these setbacks, Doyle was on pace for an 85/736/4 line on 115 targets, and was the TE3 from weeks 6-17 (all coming after his injury). It's not like he was a boom-bust player over this span either; he displayed his consistency by finishing as a top 12 tight end in 7 of 12 weeks, with only 2/12 games finishing outside the top 20 at the position (the same amount of times as Kelce over that span). Heading into 2018, he can continue his string of elite fantasy finishes, and is being drafted near his floor. He's shown his upside of being a top 5 tight end, all while posting relatively low touchdown totals. Doyle saw 13 RZ targets in 2016, followed by only 10 last szn. Now, with 14 red zone targets opened up from the departure of Frank Gore, Kamar Aiken, and Donte Moncrief, Doyle not only has the potential volume to increase his RZ production, he's also now Luck's biggest target, standing at 6'6, towering over all other receivers outside of 6'4 Ebron. Also, I'd expect the Colts' red zone trips to increase due to Andrew Luck's return, as Indy had 28 less attempts inside the 20 in 2017 (45) as they did in 2016 (73).
All in all, Doyle is an absolute stud. He may be one of the safest at the position and is being drafted at his floor. Under new HC Frank Reich and the offense's inevitable regression to the mean with the return of Andrew Luck and sured-up oline, Doyle is a player to remember for your upcoming drafts.
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