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Fantasy: Sleepers to steal in your draft


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A true fantasy sleeper can be difficult to find. Nevertheless, we'll aim to identify players who could emerge as assets and will likely be available much later in drafts.

Geno Smith, Seahawks

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The fantasy community is overreacting to a disappointing 2023 season in which Smith finished as the QB25 with 15.7 fantasy points per game (fppg).

But it came one year after a breakout 2022 campaign that made him the QB10 in fantasy, averaging 18.5 fppg.

Injuries to Seattle's offensive line - including both starting tackles getting hurt in Week 1 - were a big part of its passing game's decline. The team's stagnant scheme also failed to get the most out of stars like first-round rookie Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

Fortunately for the Seahawks, the line should be at full strength when the season starts. And even if right tackle Abraham Lucas struggles to return to form, the team signed veteran George Fant for depth.

However, the biggest reason for optimism is the arrival of new offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb. He led one of the nation's most prolific pass offenses as a part of the Washington Huskies organization.

Grubb has players like JSN and DK Metcalf excited about the potential to push the ball downfield and be a more explosive attack. With Tyler Lockett and Noah Fant returning, it's easy to project a bounce-back year for this group.

Seattle will also enjoy the eighth-easiest QB schedule this season, according to our fantasy strength of schedule matrix.

At the moment, Smith's going off the board as the QB23, well outside the top 150 picks. But a return to the low-end fantasy QB1 range is within his potential outcomes for 2024.

Other sleeper QB candidates:

  • Bryce Young, Panthers - Young had one of the worst rookie seasons we've seen from a first overall pick, but Carolina's front office has gone to great lengths to improve his chances for success as a sophomore, making a flurry of additions including receivers Diontae Johnson and Xavier Legette, running back Jonathon Brooks, tight end Ja'Tavion Sanders, and guards Damien Lewis and Robert Hunt. And new head coach Dave Canales helped Geno Smith and Baker Mayfield have career years the last two seasons. Expect a much better version of Young this year as he pushes for top-20 fantasy QB numbers.
  • Will Levis, Titans - Levis is the third quarterback on my list who's about to benefit from a new offensive play-caller. Brian Callahan turned Bengals' backup Jake Browning into the fantasy QB7 when Joe Burrow went down for the last seven weeks of the 2023 campaign, so the new bench boss should turn the formerly run-heavy Titans into a more balanced offense. Tennessee has revamped the receiving corps, signing Calvin Ridley and Tyler Boyd to join DeAndre Hopkins. It also has a dynamic playmaking duo in the backfield with Tony Pollard and Tyjae Spears, and the blocking around Levis should improve after the Titans used another first-round pick on the line. It's still a long shot, but Levis has as good a chance as any QB to outproduce his ADP.

Ty Chandler, Vikings

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Chandler finished last season strong, taking over the Vikings' lead back job and posting double-digit fantasy points in four of the five games where he touched the ball at least 14 times.

While he might not be a star, he proved he can produce in the starting spot.

Head coach Kevin O'Connell spoke highly of him in the offseason, and it appeared the team was content keeping him in the top role. But things changed when Aaron Jones was surprisingly let go by the Packers.

However, Jones is entering his age-30 campaign, and a variety of injuries caused him to miss six games last year. Keeping Chandler involved makes the most sense for Minnesota.

Defensive tackle Harrison Phillips spoke to The Athletic recently about the Vikings backfield's one-two punch. He also suggested the team has two No. 1 RBs and said he'd buy stock in Chandler.

Minnesota didn't add any other ball carriers this offseason, putting Chandler in a perfect position. He'll offer RB3/flex value most weeks and present a massive fantasy ceiling if Jones misses time again.

Other sleeper RB candidates:

  • Kendre Miller, Saints - Miller missed a significant portion of his rookie season because of injuries, but the Saints want last year's third-round pick to be Alvin Kamara's long-term heir. Despite the veteran's RB5 finish in fppg, some of Kamara's efficiency metrics started to drop in the last couple of years, which could open the door for the 22-year-old to get more involved. In only the two games where he played more than 35% of the snaps, Miller delivered 90 yards on 16 touches in Week 5 and 79 yards and a touchdown on 14 touches in Week 18. He's an obvious upside target at his 12th-round ADP.
  • Rico Dowdle, Cowboys - The Cowboys have chosen a running back by committee approach in 2024, and Dowdle and Ezekiel Elliott are the main components. Elliott, who turns 29 this summer, is no longer the same player and could cede more touches to Dowdle than people realize. It's possible another back could be added via trade or a victim of cutdown-day, but with a 12-round ADP Dowdle is the Dallas runner I'm drafting most right now.
  • Kimani Vidal, Chargers - Day 3 rookie backs are always long shots to hit, but the extremely athletic Vidal has landed in an ideal situation. The Chargers hired a new coaching staff that's favored the run in the past, but it lacks a clear lead back to handle an increased workload. J.K. Dobbins is coming off a torn Achilles, and Gus Edwards is sidelined with an undisclosed injury that they hope will heal before training camp. After that, underwhelming options like Isaiah Spiller, Jaret Patterson, and Elijah Dotson fill out the depth chart. If you're looking for an ambiguous backfield with immense opportunity, Vidal is the RB to put your chip on.

Rashid Shaheed, Saints

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Shaheed was the definition of boom-or-bust in 2023: He had six top-20 WR fantasy finishes but was outside the top 50 at his position otherwise.

While he finished as WR48 in fppg, the half-dozen high-end weekly performances are more impressive when you consider it was just his second year in the league.

With Michael Thomas officially gone from the Saints' roster, Shaheed should finally see more targets as the unquestioned No. 2 receiver in new offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak's offense.

When Thomas was off the field the last two years, Shaheed's targets per route run increased from 14% to 20%, and his yards per route run jumped from 1.63 to 2.16.

Giving a player more snaps doesn't always equate to better fantasy production but, given what we've seen from Shaheed so far, I'm willing to roll the dice on his tantalizing ceiling for an ADP outside the top 100 picks.

Other sleeper WR candidates:

  • Brandin Cooks, Cowboys - Cooks has been a strong fantasy starter in the past, but he's being disrespected this year with an ADP in the 11th round as the WR60. From Week 6 onward last season, Cooks was the WR25 in fppg averaging 11.2 per contest. His connection with Dak Prescott also looks more established in their second season together, according to The Athletic's Jon Machota. With the uncertainty in the Cowboys backfield, expect Dallas to be inside the top 10 for pass attempts in 2024 and Cooks to be a fantasy WR3.
  • Adonai Mitchell, Colts - Mitchell falling to the second round may end up being one of the more regretful choices made by NFL decision-makers in this year's draft. The 21-year-old was a big-play threat in college and has the size and athleticism to emerge as an overqualified No. 2 WR in Indy. Beat writers consistently highlighted him throughout OTAs as he made acrobatic contested catches downfield. With Anthony Richardson healthy in Shane Steichen's uptempo offense, Mitchell will be a revelation across from Michael Pittman Jr.
  • Demarcus Robinson, Rams - Despite playing alongside Puka Nacua and Cooper Kupp, Robinson finished last season on a tear. He didn't emerge as the No. 3 receiver until later in the year, but he was the WR31 in fppg from Week 13 on. If he can keep that up, it would represent incredible value for someone going outside the top 150 picks.

Tyler Conklin, Jets

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Conklin was featured in this section last offseason, but Aaron Rodgers' season-ending injury in Week 1 stifled the Jets' passing attack.

Now, Rodgers' return puts pass-catchers like Conklin back on the fantasy map.

Even with subpar quarterback play last season, Conklin finished 11th in receptions among tight ends (61) and 13th in yards (621). Sadly, it didn't move the needle for fantasy because he failed to score a touchdown. With Rodgers under center, though, that shouldn't be a problem.

Conklin's accomplishments go back further than last year. In his first season with the Jets, he overcame the lack of a stable QB to finish as the TE16 overall, with 58 grabs, 552 yards, and three scores, placing him in the top-12 tight ends in fantasy in receptions and yards.

In 2021, his final year with the Vikings, he quietly finished as the TE17 overall in half PPR fantasy scoring by posting 61 catches, 593 yards, and three touchdowns. That was the 10th-most receptions and the 14th-most yards among players at his position.

With Rodgers hopefully healthy for the entire campaign, Conklin's poised for a career year. Keep him in mind as a late-round tight end or, at worst, an early-season waiver wire target.

Other sleeper TE candidates:

  • Cade Otton, Buccaneers - Otton has a difficult challenge trying to battle Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and even Rachaad White for targets in Tampa. Don't overlook his playoff performance last year though: He erupted for 155 yards and a touchdown in two games. It's a very small sample size, but it indicates he's capable of more during the regular season. Entering his third year as a pro, we'll be watching to see if Otton can pick up where he left off.
  • Colby Parkinson, Rams - With 31-year-old Tyler Higbee recovering from a torn ACL and MCL suffered in January, Parkinson is poised to start for the Rams in Week 1. That might help explain his new sizeable contract, which included $15.5 million guaranteed. Sean McVay mentioned the 6-foot-7 tight end as someone who impressed in offseason practices. If Higbee can't make it back this season, Parkinson could become a surprise fantasy option catching passes in a role that the Rams have squeezed production from in the past.

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