Finding sleepers seems to get harder with each passing year, as the fantasy industry gets bigger and news and statistics become more readily available to even casual players. But harder doesn’t mean impossible, and especially in a year where we’ve had the strangest offseason to date, there are plenty of players who are currently being drafted well below where they should be. These five players are guys that I have found myself drafting a lot this offseason, and I believe all of them are still excellent values at their ADP even as we move closer to the start of the season.
T.J. Hockenson (Detroit Lions, ADP: TE14)
T.J. Hockenson came into his rookie season with a ton of hype after the Lions drafted him 8th overall, and that hype only grew after a dominant Week 1 performance in which Hockenson had six receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown. That would be the only high point for Hockenson, as he battled injuries and poor quarterback play for the remainder of the season. That seems to have led everyone to forget about Hockenson heading into the fantasy season, and that is a mistake.
Tight end is a notoriously difficult position for rookies, so I’m willing to overlook the poor production and instead focus on the potential. Hockenson is still 6’5, a great athlete, and a tight end capable of being a contributor as both a blocker and a receiver. He saw the field on at least 55% of the offensive snaps in all but two of his twelve games, and his snap count should go up in year two as he gets more acclimated to the offense. He’ll also hopefully get to play with Matt Stafford more this season after injuries limited the Detroit quarterback to just eight games last season. Stafford was averaging over 36 pass attempts per game, which over a 16-game season would be over 560 attempts on the season. That would have ranked Stafford 9th in pass attempts, and he looked good doing it prior to the injury as he was on pace for around 5,000 passing yards. There’s enough volume in this offense to support another weapon after Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones get their share, and Hockenson is the best-positioned player to fill that role.
Finishing as a top-12 tight end in fantasy isn’t exactly a high bar to clear, but Hockenson’s athletic profile and potential volume give him upside that most tight ends in this range of the draft can’t offer.
Boston Scott (Philadelphia Eagles, ADP: RB53)
Miles Sanders has been getting all of the fantasy attention in the Philadelphia backfield, but Boston Scott represents much better value and is currently being drafted at his absolute floor. Scott doesn’t have the build or draft pedigree that Sanders has, but he does offer 4.41 speed paired with good burst and agility. He’s a good receiver out of the backfield and earned the trust of the coaching staff last season after being forced into action due to all the injuries the Eagles dealt with. Scott is a good enough player to carve out a decent role for himself, especially in an offense that has favored a committee approach to the running back position.
The upside for Scott presents itself in two different ways. He could edge Sanders out for the goal line work, the passing down work, or both. Sanders is the better athlete and the better runner, but that didn’t stop the Eagles from giving Scott some red-zone work even when Sanders was healthy. I think it’s unlikely that Scott completely takes over those roles as Sanders is probably too talented to keep off the field, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Sanders will get all of those high-value touches either. The other way Scott breaks out for fantasy owners is if Sanders misses time to injury or struggles to produce. Sanders is currently injured, and although it’s likely he’s ready for the start of the season it’s never good to be listed as week-to-week this close to the season.
Scott saw at least six targets in four straight weeks to end the season, including three weeks where Sanders was fully healthy, adding four rushing touchdowns over that stretch. Three of those touchdowns came in the final game of the season in which Sanders left with an injury, but that kind of production helps the coaching staff trust Scott going forward. He got another nine touches in their playoff game, and with virtually no competition for the backup role, Scott should be a part of the offense with a chance to have a bigger role than his average draft position would indicate.
Teddy Bridgewater (Carolina Panthers, ADP: QB24)
In one quarterback leagues, I prefer to wait as long as possible to draft a quarterback. When I finally pull the trigger on drafting one I want someone with upside and this year that has led me to draft Teddy Bridgewater a lot. Bridgewater has been labeled a game manager, and he certainly looked like one with New Orleans last season when he filled in for Drew Brees, but with the weapons he’ll have in Carolina, being a game manager is probably going to be enough to return fantasy value. Bridgewater will be throwing to D.J. Moore and Christian McCaffery, both of whom went for over 1,000 yards last season despite poor quarterback play, as well as Curtis Samuel (more on him later), deep threat Robby Anderson, and an athletic tight end in Ian Thomas. All of those players can thrive on short, easy to complete routes by doing damage after the catch. That should mesh well with Bridgewater’s skill set as an accurate, if somewhat conservative, quarterback capable of running an offense. He doesn’t have to take shots down the field to get his playmakers involved, and once he gets it into their hands the yards count all the same for fantasy.
Bridgewater can also add a little value with his legs, as he averaged over five carries a game in his five starts for the Saints last year, and should only improve as he puts more time between himself and the devastating leg injury that almost ended his career. Accuracy, responsible decision making, and a little bit of rushing can take you a long way in fantasy football if you are surrounded by the right talent. It also helps that Carolina should have one of the worst defenses in the NFL and plays in a division with three high-powered offenses, which should lead the Panthers to be throwing a ton as they find themselves trailing or in shootouts for most of the season. In a year where most of the quarterbacks with real rushing upside have that built into their draft position, I like taking a shot on Bridgewater being able to utilize his supporting cast en route to a strong fantasy finish.
Curtis Samuel (Carolina Panthers, ADP: WR62)
Curtis Samuel is exactly the type of player I want late in drafts. He has 4.31 speed, was a second-round pick, and has improved on his stats each of his first three seasons in the league. He’s also in an offense that I expect to be very good, at least for fantasy purposes, and he seems to be a perfect fit for what his team wants to do. Samuel excels with the ball in his hands, meaning the short passes favored by new offensive coordinator Joe Brady and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater should play to Samuel’s strength.
Last year, the first year where Samuel played in all 16 games, he was targeted an impressive 105 times. Thanks in part to accuracy problems from Carolina’s quarterbacks, Samuel was only able to manage 54 receptions for 627 yards. If the offense adds volume, from a combination of better play by the offense and worse play by the defense, and more of Samuel’s targets are catchable, it isn’t that far of a leap to project him for a 70-reception, 1000-yard season. Add in his big-play ability, and the versatility that should lead to him getting more rushing attempts than the 19 he was handed last season, and Samuel has a clear path to the type of season that would make him excellent value for his current ADP.
Dare Ogunbawale (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, ADP: RB88)
Dare Ogunbawale is a player whose value we should know very early into the season. If he emerges as the passing-down back for Tampa Bay and Tom Brady, he’ll be very valuable. If not, then he’s an easy player to cut for the hot waiver pick-up. Over the last five seasons, Brady’s Patriots have finished no lower than fifth in targeting their running backs. Part of that is probably a product of the weak receiver group the Patriots had over that span, and part of it is also James White being good at football, but some of it is definitely a scheme preference for Brady. Coach Bruce Arians relied heavily on David Johnson as a pass-catcher out of the backfield when he was in Arizona, and has been pretty open about whatever running back plays for him needing to be able to pass protect and catch. We haven’t been given any reason to expect that player to be Ronald Jones, and while he’s the best pure runner on the team I’m not sure how much that will matter if he can’t improve the other aspects of his game.
That leaves four contenders for the passing work out of the backfield, and while it could really be any of the options my bet would be on Ogunbawale. LeSean McCoy looked like he was at the end of his career last season, and I have doubts that he could stay healthy and productive for an extended stretch. Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Raymond Calais both appear to be talented, and if you prefer them you can feel free to insert them in this spot instead since this is all about opportunity, but both are rookies in what will be the most difficult offseason to transition to the NFL that we’ve ever seen. It seems unlikely that Brady wants to rely on a rookie for pass protection at this stage of his career, and if they can’t pass protect they likely won’t get on the field. Ogunbawale isn’t a special athlete by NFL standards but he is someone who caught 76% of his 46 targets last year. If he can earn Brady’s trust and stay on the field he can fall into fantasy production. This isn’t so much a case of having faith in Ogunbawale to be a special player as much as it is that I’m pretty low on all the other running backs from this offense this year. But at least one of them is bound to have fantasy value in a high-powered offense, and Ogunbawale could be the one.
(Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire)