Discovering the next big fantasy star is one of the most enjoyable feelings in fantasy sports. For the rest of their NFL careers, you get to enjoy watching them play knowing that you were on the ground floor when they started their ascent to fantasy stardom. Each year in fantasy drafts there is value to be had deep in drafts, a player ready to break out. Last year we saw players like Lamar Jackson, Austin Ekeler, and Mark Andrews become fantasy football stars. Who are some sleepers who could do the same this year? Let’s take a look, with five players that I’m targeting at their current ADP.
Kareem Hunt (Cleveland Browns, RB)
Kareem Hunt isn’t the lead back in Cleveland, so why is he on this list? I’ve touched on it before in the team preview for the Cleveland Browns, but the answer is a few things. One, the Cleveland Browns have rebuilt their offensive line this offseason adding two very good starters in Jedrick Wills and Jack Conklin. Two, the Browns hired former Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski to be their new head coach, who historically has been one of the run-heaviest play-callers. Three, Kareem Hunt has showcased the talent before as one of the best fantasy running backs in the league. He ran for 1327 rushing yards, caught 53 passes for 455 receiving yards, and scored 11 touchdowns his rookie year and hasn’t had a full season since to try and challenge those numbers.
Hunt will have a role in the offense even if Nick Chubb is healthy, and if Nick Chubb misses some time this year Hunt will be a top 5 fantasy back. That should make it an easy decision to invest in Hunt.
Ronald Jones (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, RB)
All offseason, fantasy experts have been arguing about whether Ronald Jones is gold or fool’s gold in fantasy drafts. After much research, I’ve become a Ronald Jones believer and there’s a good chance that after the season is over with we wonder how he wasn’t going in the first three rounds of fantasy drafts. Jones has got a lot working for him situationally. For starters, with the quarterback change from Jameis Winston to Tom Brady, the offense should make fewer mistakes and have more opportunities to run the ball. In addition, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a pretty good offensive line now, especially after drafting tackle Tristan Wirfs in the first round of the NFL draft. Finally, regarding his situation, Bruce Arians has commented that Ronald Jones will carry the load at running back this season for the team.
Add in the fact that Ronald Jones is the only starting running back that has an ADP outside the first 32 picks and still meets all of the criteria to my Mixon Formula and it is a no-brainer to target Ronald Jones this year.
Diontae Johnson (Pittsburgh Steelers, WR)
Diontae Johnson is a player I have more recently warmed up to after doing some research on NFL play-callers and found that Randy Fichtner features his wide-receivers in the passing game quite a bit more than your average play-caller. I also was shocked at how good a rookie year Johnson had with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges as his quarterbacks, catching 59 passes for 680 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns. Considering Diontae Johnson was the best player in the NFL last year at creating target separation according to PlayerProfiler and he’ll get to catch passes from a better quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, he’s got a great opportunity to make a jump in his sophomore season.
Jack Doyle (Indianapolis Colts, TE)
Jack Doyle is easily the least sexy sleeper choice on this list. He’s not a young TE, entering this season as a thirty-year-old man. So why would he break out?
The answer is Frank Reich and Philip Rivers. Reich is one of the best in the NFL at providing opportunities for his tight-end room, with his TE room averaging 9.81 targets per game. In addition, new quarterback Philip Rivers also loves to throw to his tight-ends, targeting his tight ends an NFL-high 36.3% of the time from 2014-19. This means that the Colts TE room is one that should be monitored closely in training camp, since it has a great opportunity for a top 5 fantasy tight end. Jack Doyle has primarily been getting first-team reps, but if Trey Burton starts to get more first-team reps he may be the player to own as the pass-catching TE in Frank Reich’s offense. If you miss out on an elite TE early, it might not be a bad idea to draft both Doyle and Burton late to ensure you have the Colts pass-catching TE on your roster.
Joshua Kelley (Los Angeles Chargers, RB)
I had to include at least one rookie running back on this list, since many of them are great values this year whether it’s D’Andre Swift, Jonathan Taylor, or Zack Moss. But one guy that has consistently slipped under the radar is Chargers running back Joshua Kelley. While Austin Ekeler will likely be the RB to own due to his pass-catching abilities, Anthony Lynn’s willingness to feed his running backs over the years means there could be value for the backup running back in the offense as well. I anticipate that Joshua Kelley will take the number 2 running back role from Justin Jackson this season considering how good he’s looked in training camp. Kelley will be an occasional FLEX play, and if Austin Ekeler underperforms or ends up missing any time, Kelley could end up being a high-end RB2 in Anthony Lynn’s offense.
(Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)