While preparing the previous Fantasy Football Preview article, I realized I had far too many players to analyze in 1 list; therefore, the deep sleeper list was formed. This list consists of players who may not even be drafted in your league, but are worth keeping an eye as potential pickups as the year progresses. And for those of you in dynasty leagues, this list might be the most valuable to you. Keep in mind, as with most deep sleepers, they may not breakout right away (or even at all), but patience is the key in reaping their benefits down the road.
QB – Terrelle Pryor – OAK – During the Raiders’ 2nd preseason game, I found myself thinking that Matt Flynn may actually lose his starting job for the 2nd straight season. Unlike last year, however, I didn’t think there was any chance he’d lose it by the end of the preseason! Well, here we are at the beginning of the final week of the preseason, and Pryor has been handed all of the 1st-team snaps in practice. In my opinion, it’s a no-brainer to play Pryor over Flynn. The Raiders’ offense is awful, their offensive line is even worse, and they may as well see what they spent a 3rd round supplemental pick on. Pryor has the obvious athleticism that Flynn doesn’t, and if the offensive line doesn’t improve, why not start the guy they don’t have to protect like Tom Brady. Plus, while Pryor may not be as accurate as Flynn, he sure does have a stronger arm – and that’s not even close. At least with Pryor, they can hope to move the ball through broken plays, and the occasional deep shot here or there.
Anyway, enough lobbying for Pryor to take the job and more analysis of what he could offer as a fantasy QB. If Pryor is the starter from day 1 (and keeps the job), I think it’s safe to assume he’ll rush for 800 yards (that’s just 50 yards/game), and 10 touchdowns – that’d give him 140 fantasy points on rushing alone. In the lone game he’s started in his NFL career, he threw for 150 yards 2-touchdowns and 1-interception. To be conservative, lets say he keeps pace with his passing yardage and maintains just 1 touchdown per week – that’d give him an additional 160 fantasy points, for a total of 310 fantasy points on the season. For what it’s worth, that would’ve slotted him 6th, just behind Robert Griffin III, in overall QB scoring last season. Granted, there will likely be a heap of turnovers involved too, but not enough to push him outside of the top-10. Wouldn’t you say that would make Pryor a worthy flier in a deep league (or any league, for that matter)?
QB – EJ Manuel – BUF – Much like Pryor, Manuel is another mobile QB that is worth a look because of his fantasy versatility. Look folks, the NFL is changing. The days of workhorse running backs, and power football are gone. The college game has strongly influenced the shape of the NFL today – spread offenses and the read-option are going to continue to evolve until defenses learn to stop them. And for fantasy purposes, immobile QBs will be obsolete in a matter of years. Guys like Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, & Andrew Luck are ushering in a new era of QB, and it’s here to stay. Along with Pryor, Manuel (and to a lesser extent Geno Smith), could be the next young mobile QB to make their impact on the league. The Bills spent a high draft pick on him, and would have already given him the keys to the team, had he not injured his knee in the 2nd preseason game. If he takes the reigns from week 1, I think the Pryor prediction from above is very much in play – especially with teams so focused on stopping CJ Spiller.
WR – Kenny Stills – NO – Has already sewn up the 3rd WR spot in New Orleans, and could quickly develop into one of Drew Brees’ favorite targets. He ran a 4.32 40 at the combine, making him a far better down-the-field option than both Marques Colston and Lance Moore. This preseason he’s caught 7 balls for 140 yards and 2 touchdowns. Keep in mind, Colston and Moore don’t necessarily embody “good health”. Wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Stills end the season with 50 catches for 800 yards and 4 touchdowns.
WR – Robert Woods – BUF – A polished route-runner with exceptional hands, who already has the 2nd WR spot locked up. He’s got 8 catches for 75 yards thus far in the preseason, and had developed quite the rapport with EJ Manuel before he went down. If Manuel wins the job, look for Woods to catch a lot of passes for decent yardage and a few touchdowns – something like 60-600-4.
WR – Jon Baldwin – SF – Admittedly, I’ve always been a fan of Baldwin, so this could just be me hoping to see him succeed. If he could just put it all together in San Francisco though (following the trade from Kansas City), he could be an absolute stud. Going back to 2011, there’s a clear reason why the Chiefs selected him in the 1st round. He ran a 4.5 40, with a 42 inch vertical at the combine, and made spectacular play after spectacular play in college at Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, Baldwin is one of those guys in the Dez Bryant or Justin Blackmon mold, personality wise. However, Jim Harbaugh is just the kind of coach that could keep Baldwin in check. As long as he keeps his head on straight, Baldwin has a clear path to the starting lineup and finally has a QB that can play to his strengths. Kaepernick has one of the strongest arms in the league and Baldwin is known for making plays down the field – need I say more? If he starts from week 1, and Kaepernick fulfills my expectations, a 1,000 yard season with double-digit touchdowns could be in Baldwin’s future.
WR – Markus Wheaton – PIT – First of all, this dude can absolutely fly! If you watched him at all in college at Oregon St, you know he looks a lot like the 1st WR taken in the draft this season, Tavon Austin. Not to take anything away from Austin in comparing him and Wheaton, but that is just to say that Wheaton is a flat out play-maker. The “new” Steelers offense is built around quick passes, relying on their receivers play-making ability. Doesn’t that sound a lot like an offense that would fit Wheaton? Yea, I think so too. He’s looked really good this preseason, as well. He’s got 7 catches for 114 yards and 2 touchdowns, so far – look for him to make a similar impact in the regular season.
WR – Brice Butler – OAK – I have to admit, there is no statistical evidence that makes me believe Butler will translate to the NFL. He didn’t have a great college career or anything, but his measurables are undeniable. At 6’3″, he runs a 4.37-forty yard dash with a 39-inch vertical – seems like a guy Al Davis would’ve liked. Reports out of Raider camp are that Denarius Moore has been disappointing, and Rod Streater has been unimpressive, so that leaves Jacoby Ford as the only WR challenging for the number 1 job. While Ford is talented, he does has a lengthy injury history, so Butler could be just a few impressive plays away from being a starter.
RB – Kenjon Barner – CAR – Let’s see, there’s a chance Jonathan Stewart starts the year on the PUP list, and DeAngelo Williams just turned 30 – so who’s left to take charge for Carolina? The clear option is Mike Tolbert, but I think he’s found his niche as a short yardage player. Therefore, I could actually see Barner getting some touches here and there. I don’t see him carrying a full load, but he could be a guy much like Danny Woodhead or JacQuizz Rodgers – both of which have had their moments in previous years.
RB – Christine Michael – SEA – For fantasy-sake, I was very disappointed to see Michael go to the Seahawks. They already have Marshawn Lynch, who still has a few more solid years ahead of him (at least I think), and they drafted Robert Turbin last year. Still, I believe Michael is the running back of the future for the Seahawks, and would be the bell-cow, if Lynch were to go down. In fact, I’d put him behind only Ben Tate and Bernard Pierce for draft-worthy handcuffs this season. He was an absolute beast at Texas A&M, and has the size (5’10” 220 lbs) and the speed (4.43) to be a top-1o fantasy running back in the future.
RB – Knile Davis – KC – Another running back that I was disappointed to see go to a team with a clear-cut starter in place. Davis is built much like Christine Michael, yet much faster (4.37). I truly believe he could be stud if given the opportunity – assuming he corrects his fumbling problem. Unfortunately, that won’t happen unless Jamaal Charles gets injured, but either way, the talent is there.
TE – Julius Thomas – DEN – Another former collegiate basketball player turned NFL TE, with solid athleticism. He’s not on the level of Jimmy Graham or Jordan Cameron, but he’s not far behind. At 6’5″ with a 4.64 speed, and soft hands, he’s an interesting target for Peyton Manning. I think he’s a lock to open the season as the Broncos’ starting TE, however, he kind of operates the same space as Wes Welker, so he may be a bit touchdown dependent. Either way, he’s caught 12 passes for 123 yards thus far in the preseason, so he could still have value as the 4th option in a very high-scoring offense.
TE – Tyler Eifert – CIN – Eifert has drawn comparisons to Rob Gronkowski, and rightfully so. He’s every bit as athletic, strong, and polished as Gronk. Plus, he’s playing in an offense desperate for a 2nd option in their passing game. Eifert probably won’t start over Jermaine Gresham, but he’ll still see plenty of time as the “move” TE. With defenses keying in on stopping A.J. Green, Eifert should be able to work the seems all day long – especially in the red zone.