This story was originally published on July 3 and has been updated with slight changes on August 7.
There used to be a time (before the internet...) when you could show up at your fantasy football draft and legitimately be the only person in your league who knew about a certain player. Good players in good leagues could figuratively sleep on a player with major upside.
Nowadays, when we say “sleeper” what we really mean is “undervalued.” No matter how much information is available, there will always be undervalued players. Given that player valuation is an imperfect exercise, the fantasy community at large is going to miss on a handful of players every single season. Here, we try to help you identify those undervalued players early in your draft prep. Below are our top fantasy football sleeper candidates for the 2018 season.
Eli Manning, QB, Giants
Here’s a stat from Rich Hribar of Rotoworld.
Everyone in the fantasy football universe likes Saquon Barkley, Odell Beckham Jr. and Evan Engram. If you like all three, how can you not also like their quarterback? Either they’re overvalued or Manning is undervalued, and I believe it will be the latter. Barkley looks set to carry on the recent trend of dominant rookie backs, taking the torch from Ezekiel Elliott and Kareem Hunt. Engram is a prototypical tight end in the modern game who made a seamless transition to the game as a rookie. Beckham has never been a bust in anything in his life. Remember, too, that Manning spent most of last year without Beckham, and a good chunk of it without Sterling Shepard, as well. Don’t overthink this one. If you like Barkley, Beckham and Engram—and who doesn’t?—you should be targeting Manning in every draft and auction.
Chris Carson, RB, Seahawks
Yes, I have Rashaad Penny as a breakout pick. The only way to succeed in a fantasy draft or auction, however, is to go in knowing that you’re not going to be right about everything. The greatest threat to Penny’s breakout case is the fact that Carson has already shown himself to be a capable NFL running back. He played in four games last year before fracturing a bone in his leg, ending the season with 208 rushing yards on 49 carries, seven receptions for 59 receiving yards, and one touchdown. It’s an incredibly small sample, but 4.77 yards per touch should grab your attention. Any back who emerges alongside Russell Wilson is going to be a fantasy weapon, and while Penny has a realistic shot to turn into the team’s workhorse, Carson lurks just behind him. The likeliest outcome is some sort of timeshare, and Carson could still pay off handsomely in such an arrangement, given his inexpensive draft-day price tag.
Doug Martin, RB, Raiders
With an ADP at the end of the 10th round, Martin presents one of the best low-risk, high-reward combinations this season. If he ends up flopping again, it won’t have cost you very much, while if he hits, the payoff could be enormous. Marshawn Lynch stayed healthy and played well last year, but the fact remains that he’s a 32-year-old back with plenty of mileage on his body. Martin is three years younger, and while he hasn’t played a full season since 2015, he’s still a better bet to remain upright than Lynch. Additionally, you aren’t going to find many players at this stage of the draft with one 1,400-yard season to their name, let alone two. We’ve also seen Martin rebound from down years before—in 2015 he was coming off two straight years with fewer than 500 rushing yards, just as he is this year, when he totaled 1,673 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns. Martin brings to the table tons of upside and essentially zero risk.
Nyheim Hines, RB, Colts
Hines, a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft, enters training camp second on the Colts’ depth chart at running back. Marlon Mack, the only player ahead of him, is promising but has yet to prove anything in his young career. Either one is liable to lead what will likely be a timeshare, and if Andrew Luck can indeed return to full health, the Colts’ offense won’t be the wasteland that it was last year. Hines broke out last year as a junior at N.C. State, running for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns on 181 carries. He also caught 89 balls in three seasons, a skill that should help him transition to the modern NFL, which almost requires backs to be capable pass-catchers. His low price and clear potential make him a worthy dart throw in all formats.
Matt Breida, RB, 49ers
If you’re a potentially dynamic running back who isn’t likely to lead his team in touches but is still angling for a way to be a regular fantasy starter, you know who you want as your coach? Kyle Shanahan, that’s who. Two years ago, he helped make Devonta Freeman an RB1 and Tevin Coleman an RB2, even though they shared a backfield, and he did it with an elite wide receiver who commanded nearly 10 targets per game. Jerick McKinnon and Breida can be those backs for Shanahan this season, and they won’t have to deal with a Julio Jones-like presence in their offense. Breida was quietly great in limited duty last year, carrying the ball 105 times for 465 yards, catching 21 of 36 targets for 180 yards, and scoring three touchdowns. If the 49ers take the step forward under Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo so many expect them to, and Breida can get himself 150 touches, he could turn in a 2016 Coleman-esque season.
Cameron Meredith, WR, Saints
Meredith was a chic breakout pick last season, but a torn ACL suffered in the Bears’ third preseason game brought that to an abrupt end. His hometown team declined to match an offer sheet during the offseason, landing Meredith with Drew Brees and the Saints. It’s a receiver’s dream to play with a quarterback like Brees, and Meredith flashed when given an opportunity with the Bears in 2016. He played at least 50% of the team’s snaps in eight games that season, catching 53 of 79 targets for 701 yards and three touchdowns in those games. The problems, of course, are opportunity and health. There are a lot of mouths to feed in New Orleans, with Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas both gobbling up plenty of the touches. Meredith will be just more than a year removed from his ACL tear in Week 1, and while he is progressing on schedule, there’s always risk associated with a recent ACL tear, until there isn’t. Still, look back at those numbers he put up with the hapless Bears in 2016. Now double them, because that was his 16-game pace. The obvious upside makes him well worth a gamble on draft day.
Kenny Golladay, WR, Lions
Golladay shares one of Meredith’s big problems. With Golden Tate and Marvin Jones locked in as the top two receivers in Detroit, likely to account for about 230 targets, just how much opportunity will the second-year receiver out of Northern Illinois have? The good news is that reality is baked into his mid-12th-round ADP. You don’t need Golladay to be guaranteed for eight-plus targets per game to be intrigued by his upside at his draft-day price. The Lions don’t have a tight end who’s going to command a ton of looks in the passing game, freeing up the 86 targets Eric Ebron got last year. If Golladay can make himself an 80-target receiver, his skillset will shine through. He also represents a cheap way to get invested in the generally fantasy-friendly Detroit offense.
Anthony Miller, WR, Bears
Few units underwent as dramatic a facelift as did the Bears offense, and Miller was the final addition to the team’s receiver corps. The pass-catching group is more crowded than it has been in Chicago since the days of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett, but Miller’s target share should be safe. Teams will tell you what they think of a player by how they acquire him. In Miller’s case, the Bears gave up a fourth-round pick this year and their second-round pick next year to jump up 54 spots to grab Miller with the 51st overall pick in the draft. He was a revelation at Memphis, posting consecutive 90-catch, 1,400-yard seasons, with 32 total touchdowns the last two years. He’s expected to be the Bears’ primary slot receiver, and with new coach Matt Nagy in town, he could lead all rookie receivers in snap rate.
Paul Richardson, WR, Redskins
Richardson enjoyed a mini-breakout last year, his final season in Seattle, catching 44 passes for 703 yards and six touchdowns. He was never more than a complementary piece in the Seahawks’ offense, first taking a backseat to a run-heavy scheme, and then falling in line behind Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham for targets. Before last year, his career high in targets was 43. He took full advantage of his increased presence in Seattle’s offense last year, and he should have an even larger role in his first season in Washington. Jamison Crowder has developed into a dangerous weapon over the last two years, and his skill set seems a good fit with new quarterback Alex Smith, but he’s not going to command a massive target share. Jordan Reed can be an elite tight end, but health is always an issue. The same can be said for Josh Doctson, who’s already dealing with a shoulder injury. It isn’t expected to be serious, but it’s a reminder that he has dealt with injuries in both of his first two seasons, during which he has all of 37 receptions. There’s plenty of room for Richardson to step in and become a go-to receiver for Smith right away.
David Njoku, TE, Browns
It isn’t hard to find something to like in Cleveland this season. The team underwent a dramatic rebuild on offense, bringing in Tyrod Taylor, Baker Mayfield, Carlos Hyde, Nick Chubb and Jarvis Landry, and it could get a full season out of Josh Gordon for the first time since his breakout 2013 campaign. Njoku is one of the holdovers, and few tight ends outside the position’s obvious starter class have as high an upside. The second-year player out of Miami got 60 targets last season, catching 32 of them for 386 yards and four touchdowns, all in less-than-ideal conditions. No matter if it’s Taylor or Mayfield under center, Njoku will enjoy a significant quarterback upgrade from DeShone Kizer, who was the NFL’s worst regular starting QB last year. Njoku’s a top-flight athlete, capable of a season along the lines of what we saw from Evan Engram last year. He was selected just six picks after Engram in last year’s draft, and was seen as nearly as strong a pro prospect. Gordon, Landry and Duke Johnson will curb his target share, but Njoku is an inexpensive tight end with easy top-10 upside at the position.