Don’t look now, but fantasy football season is right around the corner. Over one week, we’ll be previewing the four major positions in fantasy football. Top it off with a list of sleepers at every position on Friday and you’ll be ready to go for your draft. We use standard non-PPR scoring for all our rankings.
We may be one business day late in delivering the fantasy football sleepers for 2016, but as with the draft, sometimes you need to wait for a good thing to come around. Now that we’re here, it’s time to get a leg up on the competition with a list of guys you need to be looking out for in your fantasy drafts. Anyone can nail a pick in the first round rounds of the draft, but the picks that carry you to the championship are the ones you nail later on. As we look for this year’s Devonta Freeman and Allen Robinson, here’s a list of guys not to sleep on in this year’s fantasy football draft.
- Jameis Winston – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Only three quarterbacks in NFL history have thrown for 4,000 yards in their rookie seasons: Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, and Jameis Winston. If the first two names are any indication of Jameis’ potential then we could be in for a great season from the Florida State alum. Winston looks lights out in preseason and while preseason isn’t everything, it’s an indicator that things are slowing down for Winston in his second season. He’s got really good weapons at receiver and one of the best pass-catching running backs in Charles Sims. He also has the mobility to increase his fantasy point total as we saw last year with his six rushing touchdowns. The Buccaneers still have a bottom half defense, so Winston and his offense will need to score to keep up with the opponents. Winston will definitely increase his ceiling in 2016, but knowing Winston’s worst game last year was 12 points is a great starting point.
- Ryan Tannehill – Miami Dolphins
The running game in Miami is off to an in auspicious start in the preseason, which makes sense when you look at its quality. Arian Foster is a soft tissue injury waiting to happen and no one is confusing Jay Ajayi with Todd Gurley. The offensive line also lacks the quality to create good holes for the running game. That’s going to leave Miami with few choices to move the ball other than turning to the air. Tannehill isn’t the most skilled player, but new coach Adam Gase is seen as a quarterback whisperer. We know at least he’s more capable than Joe Philbin even though that’s probably not saying much. Jarvis Landry, Devante Parker, and Kenny Stills are all very capable of moving the chains and Tannehill’s mobility is a nice cherry on your sleeper sundae.
- Robert Griffin III – Cleveland Browns
I never expected to be pushing the RG3 agenda coming into the season, but here we are. It obviously helps that Josh Gordon is back in the mix even if we have to wait four games for that to happen. The Browns made a concerted effort to provide their quarterback with weapons as they drafted the dynamic Corey Coleman in the first round and signed former quarterback Terrell Pryor, another tremendous athlete, to play wide receiver. You add in Gary Barnidge, aka Gary Barnkowski, who lit up the fantasy world last year and the Browns really have some weapons. As with the previous two quarterbacks, Griffin has one of the worst defenses in the league on the other side of the ball. We all know that garbage time is worth just as much as regular time in fantasy football, so get ready for some fourth quarter excitement if you own Griffin.
- Latavius Murray – Oakland Raiders
It may be hard to see Murray as a sleeper given that he’s a known commodity going into your 2016 draft, but I think people are underestimating that he has potential to be a top five running back before the season is over. Ezekiel Elliott is getting a lot of publicity because of how good his offensive line is and Murray’s group isn’t too far off. In fact Pro Football Focus has Raiders as the #2 offensive line heading into the season. Murray doesn’t have Elliott’s skill, but he doesn’t have to in order to be productive. He just needs to be good enough to run through gaping holes. An improved Raiders’ defense also means there’s a chance Oakland will be leading in more games, which will mean more carries for a guy who doesn’t appear to have any competition.
- Jeremy Langford – Chicago Bears
As with Murray, Langford isn’t the most skilled runner out there. Like Murray, however, Langford doesn’t have much competition for the job. Langford saw an average of just over 21 touches in the three games that Matt Forte missed last year. With Forte now gone for good, Langford will see 20+ touches a game and that should lead to success. The Bears’ offense is decent enough where scoring opportunities will be presented to Langford as was evident in the touchdown Langford scored in each game he started last year. The Bears will likely be pretty bad again this year, so there will be plenty of garbage time as the Bears attempt to come back in games. Langford stays on the field on all downs, so he’ll see plenty of dump-offs as the clock winds down.
- Derrick Henry – Tennessee Titans
When the Titans selected Henry in the second round of this year’s draft, it signaled that the Titans were committing to running the football. It also signaled that the Titans weren’t putting all their eggs in DeMarco Murray’s basket. Henry is a rare talent being 247 pounds while able to run the 40 in 4.54 seconds. He’s so unique with his skill set that our favorite player-to-player comparison site, PlayerProfiler.com, compares Henry to Zangief, the 7-footer from Street Fighter II. Henry will still split carries with Murray to start the season, but Murray has an injury history as long as Derek Jeter’s list of conquests. The opportunity will eventually come for Henry and he will become an unstoppable force.
- Donte Moncrief – Indianapolis Colts
Last season was pretty miserable for the Colts. Andrew Luck’s injury, Andre Johnson’s age, and the Colts’ offensive line woes all led to the misery. All issues have been fixed in the offseason. That means strong offensive production with Moncrief being the beneficiary. Moncrief saw 8.6 targets and grabbed five touchdowns in the five games of 2015 when Luck was healthy. The #2 receiving option in one of the best passing games in the league can be much better than the #1 option on an average team. Just ask Randall Cobb, Emmanuel Sanders, and Eric Decker how they’ve fared in their career as #2s when the circumstances were right.
- Travis Benjamin – San Diego Chargers
As we go deeper into the sleeper list, it becomes harder to find a sleeper as opportunities are less defined than a running back taking over for injury or one being worthwhile as a third down back. Benjamin has quietly been going about his business since signing with the Chargers in the offseason. We all know the Chargers love to throw the ball and running will continue to be difficult for them given their lack of offensive line improvement. Keenan Allen will see the best corner from opponents, which leaves Benjamin against weaker competition than what he faced last year. That sounds like a recipe for success. He likely won’t be a consistent week to week play because he’s a big play guy, but those weeks he hits will be good ones.
- Kevin White – Chicago Bears
People forget how dominant Kevin White was during his season at the University of West Virginia in 2014 because of the injuries he sustained last year. White has some great physical metrics, including his 4.35 speed and a height of 6’3”. As mentioned with Langford above, Chicago will have plenty of garbage time for White to produce this year. He just needs some time to get back up to speed after missing a whole year of football. Soon enough we’ll see the same player who caught 109 balls for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns in Morgantown.
- Dwayne Allen – Indianapolis Colts
It was always a little weird that the Colts drafted Coby Fleener and Allen in the same draft. Neither of them developed into the best player they could be because of splitting reps with the other on the first team. Allen is the better blocker and the worse receiver of the two, so he was marginalized in passing downs. Now that Fleener is gone, Allen will see a full set of snaps at the position. He has flashed potential before with 8 touchdowns in 2015 and 521 yards in his rookie season. He’ll get plenty of single coverage in the seam as the focus will be outside on the more talented receivers.
- Eric Ebron – Detroit Lions
The retirement of Calvin Johnson opens up the door for Golden Tate and Marvin Jones, but it also allows Ebron to reach his potential. Ebron was the 10thpick in the first round back in 2014 and we’re still waiting for him to play like one. The metrics are definitely there with a 4.6 40-yard dash (really food for a tight end) and a 6’4” frame. Ebron finished as TE13 last year, but can reach the top 6 if he puts it all together and stays healthy. Sometimes all you need is the opportunity.
- Virgil Green – Denver Broncos
If there are three things you can say for sure about a Gary Kubiak offense, it’s that there will be a zone-running game, there will be roll-outs, and there will be tight-end usage. Just ask Owen Daniels what Gary Kubiak can do for your career. This year’s Broncos’ offense will look more like a Kubiak offense with Peyton Manning no longer freelancing from under center. Green is a project, but he has good speed, size, and agility. Green played with Denver starting QB Trevor Siemian on the second team last year, so the two have developed good chemistry. Siemian will likely be checking down a lot due to his lack of NFL experience and Green will be a major beneficiary of that. You don’t want to draft him to start a tight end, but take a flyer on him if you grab a starting tight end later than expected.