Fantasy: Sleepers to steal in your draft
Find positional rankings, additional analysis, and subscribe to push notifications in the NFL Fantasy News section.
More in this series
Considering the amount of in-depth NFL coverage available, a true fantasy sleeper can be difficult to find. Nevertheless, we’ll aim to identify players who could emerge as fantasy assets despite likely being available much later in drafts.
Sam Howell, Commanders
Scott Taetsch / Getty Images Sport / Getty
It’s rare for a true sleeper quarterback to come out of nowhere and emerge as a starter in single-QB fantasy leagues, but we saw guys like Daniel Jones and Geno Smith sneak into low-end QB1 ranks last season.
While Howell is flying well under the radar in regular formats, he’s a very enticing two-QB and superflex option thanks to his rushing potential and supporting cast.
Expectations for Howell were dramatically lowered when he fell to the fifth round of last year’s draft and didn’t see the field until Week 18. However, there were many positives to glean from the 22-year-old’s performance – most notably that he was poised in the pocket and added value with his legs (five carries, 35 yards, one touchdown).
The Commanders’ brass saw enough in practice and the one game to proclaim Howell as the starter entering the offseason. The signing of Jacoby Brissett should be viewed more as an insurance policy than true competition for Howell, who would need to face-plant for the veteran to get a shot.
There won’t be any excuses if Howell struggles since Washington’s skill position talent is more than capable of propping up their young passer. Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, and Curtis Samuel make up a dynamic receiving corps, Brian Robinson and Antonio Gibson offer a solid power-speed combo, and tight ends Logan Thomas and Cole Turner will be busy in new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy’s scheme.
Mix that group with Howell’s projected rushing stats and you have the makings of a top-20 fantasy QB who could push himself into the low-end QB1 conversation if the offense finds its rhythm under Bieniemy.
Other sleeper QB candidates:
Kenny Pickett, Steelers – Pickett was brought along slowly as a rookie, and when he did get to start, the results were underwhelming. He failed to post more than one passing touchdown in any of his outings and was at least partially responsible for holding back a potent offense. On the positive side, he seemed to grow more comfortable as the year went on and excelled in clutch moments. With a full offseason to prepare and improvements made on the Steelers’ offensive line, Pickett is an intriguing fantasy QB2 entering 2023.
Jordan Love, Packers – Love has spent the vast majority of the last three years being heavily scrutinized in the preseason and riding the bench when the real games begin. However, we did see some signs of improvement during his brief appearances in 2022. Now, he takes over an offense loaded with young promising pass-catchers like Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, Jayden Reed, and Luke Musgrave in addition to a strong backfield duo of Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon. We might need to keep expectations in check since this is essentially a delayed rookie year for Love, but the pieces are there for him to succeed right away.
Mac Jones, Patriots – Jones has been a sporadic fantasy producer over his first two NFL seasons, with far more lows than highs. His appearance on this list is less about belief in his talent and more a bet on the Patriots’ decision to upgrade their offensive coordinator position from Matt Patricia/Joe Judge to someone who’s actually done the job in the past in Bill O’Brien. That alone provides a glimmer of hope that the former first-rounder can get his career back on track. It would also be a huge boost to Jones’ fantasy stock if the Pats sign free-agent wideout DeAndre Hopkins to give them a legitimate No. 1 receiver.
Antonio Gibson, Commanders
Scott Taetsch / Getty Images Sport / Getty
Gibson took a step back in 2022 as the team leaned on rookie Brian Robinson, who outtouched the veteran 190-129 in the 12 games they played together.
Even so, Robinson (9.0 fantasy points per game) just barely outscored Gibson (8.8 fppg) in half PPR leagues in those contests.
With the arrival of Eric Bieniemy as OC, there’s been a steady drumbeat that suggests we could see things shift back in Gibson’s favor thanks to a new emphasis on the screen game.
Head coach Ron Rivera spoke extensively about Gibson’s abilities as a pass-catcher in late May, reminding everyone about his time as a receiver in college. With J.D. McKissic no longer on the roster, Gibson should see all the targets he can handle.
“Eric wants to make sure (Antonio) gets as many opportunities right now to show us what he’s capable of because I think that’ll be a big part of the game planning,” Rivera told The Athletic’s Ben Standig this week.
Rivera also referred to Gibson as a “matchup nightmare for the opponent.”
During Bieniemy’s time with the Chiefs, we saw several backs excel as receiving threats out of the backfield – most recently Jerick McKinnon. While Washington is a long way from fielding a Kansas City-level attack, Gibson’s role in the passing game could allow him to deliver RB3 fantasy numbers with an even higher ceiling if Robinson misses time at any point. That makes him a very enticing selection at his current ADP in the 10th round.
Other sleeper RB candidates:
Samaje Perine, Broncos – With Javonte Williams working his way back from ACL and LCL tears suffered in October, it’s possible the 23-year-old could be sidelined or limited early in the season. We’ve seen in the past that Perine is a quality short-term starter, evidenced by his weekly finishes as RB2, RB9, and RB6 in the three games where he played more than 50% of the Bengals’ snaps last year. Even when Williams is healthy, beat writers are predicting a notable role for Perine in Denver.
Damien Harris, Bills – Everything the Bills have done this offseason leads us to believe they want to reduce Josh Allen’s rushing attempts, especially around the goal line. Harris is just one year removed from a 15-touchdown campaign with the Patriots. And while that’s a lofty total to reproduce, double-digit scores are well within his range of outcomes in this offense. The veteran is also the perfect complement to the more explosive James Cook, but don’t be surprised if Harris’ TD total makes him the more valuable fantasy option in 2023.
Jerome Ford, Browns – With Kareem Hunt out of the picture, Ford is the favorite to assume the No. 2 job behind Nick Chubb. Last year’s fifth-round pick has reportedly impressed people around the organization, and the team believes he’s ready for a much bigger role as a sophomore. Hunt was able to produce as an RB3 option while sharing the backfield with Chubb, so Ford has a chance to provide at least flex numbers in that role while also being one of the more interesting one-injury-away backs.
Nico Collins, Texans
Bob Levey / Getty Images Sport / Getty
Collins made several appearances in my waiver wire column last year before a foot injury sent him to injured reserve in early December. With him missing the end of the season, many fantasy managers might be overlooking his improvement from Year 2.
The former third-round pick eclipsed all of his rookie totals while playing four fewer contests. It’s especially notable that he was able to put up at least 40 yards in seven of 10 outings while playing in one of the league’s worst passing attacks in 2022.
Receiver guru Matt Harmon profiled Collins for Reception Perception and found the 24-year-old had many signs you look for in a breakout candidate.
On top of that, Houston’s passing game is on the rise with the arrival of QB C.J. Stroud, who’s already making an impact in offseason practices. Several beat writers have highlighted Collins as the rookie passer’s top target in OTAs.
His main competition to earn the No. 1 target share in Houston will come in the form of 31-year-old wideout Robert Woods, volume-dependent tight end Dalton Schultz, undersized rookie Tank Dell, and sophomore John Metchie, who missed last season due to a leukemia diagnosis and is now dealing with a hamstring issue.
While they’re all intriguing value picks at their very reduced ADPs, Collins offers the most upside and has a chance to emerge as a true star with better quarterback play in his third season. There aren’t many receivers with 12th-round ADPs who come with that kind of ceiling.
Other sleeper WR candidates:
Rondale Moore, Cardinals – Injuries limited Moore to just eight games last year, but the former second-round pick showed he can make a significant impact when playing a full-time role in the Cardinals’ offense. He posted double-digit fantasy points in five of the seven contests he suited up for prior to getting hurt and was a top-30 fantasy receiver during that stretch. With DeAndre Hopkins no longer on the team, Moore will be an important piece of Arizona’s attack in 2023.
Skyy Moore, Chiefs – Moore was one of the bigger fantasy letdowns last season, failing to carve out a notable role in Kansas City’s offense. He managed just 22 receptions for 250 scoreless yards and fumbled the ball three times on limited touches. Fortunately, he’s become a post-hype sleeper earning heavy volume in OTA practices and drawing repetitive praise from coaches and beat writers. Patrick Mahomes has even remarked on Moore’s improvement, implying he could step into the spot vacated by JuJu Smith-Schuster, who caught 78 passes for 933 yards and three touchdowns in 2022. Don’t give up on Moore’s fantasy outlook yet.
Parris Campbell, Giants – Speaking of not giving up on a player, Campbell is coming off his best season as a pro, finally managing to stay healthy for a full year. The results were a meagre 63 catches, 623 yards, and three touchdowns, but proving his durability was the key. It led to the Giants signing him in free agency, and now he’s competing for targets in a wide-open receiver room. Early indications have Campbell hauling in a lot of passes in practice and even taking reps out of the backfield. With Wan’Dale Robinson recovering from a torn ACL suffered in November, Campbell should begin the season as a starter in three-WR sets. Talent has never been an issue, and a fresh start in New York could be exactly what he needs.
Tyler Conklin, Jets
Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty
Aaron Rodgers’ presence on the Jets raises the fantasy projections for all the team’s pass-catchers.
When others are focused on the receiving corps, savvy managers will look to tight end Conklin who has been overachieving the last couple years.
During his final year with the Vikings in 2021, Conklin quietly finished as the TE17 overall in half PPR fantasy scoring by posting a 61-catch, 593-yard, three-touchdown campaign. That was the 10th-most receptions and the 14th-most yards among all players at his position.
In his first season with the Jets, Conklin overcame rocky quarterback play to finish as the TE16 overall in fantasy with 58 grabs, 552 yards, and three scores, once again placing him in the top-12 tight ends in receptions and yards.
With Rodgers solving New York’s QB dilemma, Conklin is poised for a career year. Keep him in mind as a late-round tight end or, at worst, an early-season waiver wire target if he goes undrafted in your league.
Other sleeper TE candidates:
Logan Thomas, Commanders – An ACL tear in 2021 and a calf injury in 2022 limited Thomas’ production over the last two seasons. Many might forget he finished as the TE9 in fantasy points per game in 2020. Washington’s new offense will reportedly feature plenty of tight end targets, and Thomas stands to be the main beneficiary if he can hold off Cole Turner for the starting job. Assuming Thomas is back to full health, he could be an incredible value pick as the TE36 in ADP.
Jelani Woods, Colts – Woods’ size and athleticism made him an intriguing prospect but one who was raw and would likely need time to develop. His rookie season played out as expected with some brief flashes, including an eight-catch, 98-yard performance in Week 12. However, he was mostly used as part of a committee at tight end alongside Mo Alie-Cox and Kylen Granson. It wasn’t until Granson missed time that Woods’ snaps consistently rose, and even then he was on the field for just 60% of the plays in the final month. If the Colts make an effort to feature Woods, he could flirt with fantasy relevance given his touchdown potential.
Jake Ferguson, Cowboys – With all due respect to the Cowboys’ former starter, Dalton Schultz, his back-to-back finishes as a top-12 fantasy tight end have more to do with the situation than talent. Even as a fourth-round rookie, Ferguson flashed multiple times last season, and he’s the leading candidate to replace Schultz in 2023 while rookie Luke Schoonmaker acclimates to the pros. Ferguson should be viewed as a last-round pickup in redraft but makes more sense as a dynasty stash to see if he can carve out a big enough slice of Schultz’s vacated targets.
More in this series
Copyright © 2023 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.