June has arrived. As NFL teams practice across the country in pursuit of a strong 2019, it’s time to ramp up our fantasy football draft prep as well. To start, we’ll spend the next two weeks setting the scene with sleepers, busts, breakouts and bouncebacks.
I’ve written before that there’s no longer such a thing as a sleeper. In the present day, when we say sleepers, what we really mean is undervalued. As such, most of the players in this column will be people you’ve probably heard of—these days serious fantasy players have heard of everyone—but each of our early sleepers has an average draft position outside the top 100 in a typical draft.
ADP data is courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator.
Ronald Jones, RB, Buccaneers (ADP: 123.1)
OK, things didn’t go so well for Jones in his rookie year. After being a second-round pick in the 2018 draft, he got all of 23 carries last year and totaled 77 yards from scrimmage. Despite that, the Buccaneers made no meaningful changes at the running back position this offseason, meaning Jones and Peyton Barber are the top-two options on the team. While Barber will enter training camp as the de facto starter, this is an open competition, the winner of which could thrive in fantasy leagues. The Buccaneers weren’t a good team last year, but they were a great fantasy offense, and with Bruce Arians now running the show, the offense could take another step forward this year. Jones may have had a dreadful rookie year, but he was a legitimate star at USC and turns just 22 years old in August. In other words, the book on him is far from closed.
Matt Breida, RB, 49ers (ADP: 131.1)
It isn’t often that a player who racked up 1,075 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns in one season is a fantasy sleeper the next, but Breida is in a unique position. The 49ers brought in Tevin Coleman in the offseason, and he’s widely expected to be the team’s lead back. Factor in the return of Jerick McKinnon, who missed all of last year after tearing his ACL late in the summer, and suddenly Breida looks like one of the most underappreciated players in the league. His role this season certainly will change, especially considering the success Coleman had under Kyle Shanahan when the two were together in Atlanta. Still, Breida didn’t luck his way into last year’s impressive stat line. He has a ton to offer as both a runner and receiver, and is well worth a shot with an ADP that lands him late in the 11th round of a 12-team draft.
Jalen Richard, RB, Raiders (ADP: N/A)
How off the radar is Richard? Fantasy Football Calculator’s ADP data runs 209 players deep, and he doesn’t even show up on the list. For the record, a standard 12-team draft sees 192 players selected. All Richard did on a bad Oakland team last season was catch 68 of 81 targets for 607 yards, while adding 259 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Yes, the team took Josh Jacobs with the 24th overall pick in this year’s draft, but Richard has never been the primary ball-carrier in Oakland, so a new back expected to lead the team in carries doesn’t change his reality much, if at all. He could lose some target share with Antonio Brown on the roster, but his value in leagues that give any points for receptions is still obvious. What’s more, Richard may have had all those catches and receiving yards last year, but he didn’t score any touchdowns through the air. That’s a fluke that cannot possibly be repeated if his target share is anywhere near where it was last season.
Ryquell Armstead, RB, Jaguars (ADP: 157.2)
Armstead, a fifth-round pick in this year’s draft, had a solid four-year career at Temple, capping it off with a 1,098-yard, 13-touchdown senior season. While he’ll start training camp buried on Jacksonville’s depth chart, it’s worth considering that the two people ahead of him are the oft-injured Leonard Fournette, and the wholly uninspiring Alfred Blue. A strong summer could propel Armstead ahead of Blue on the depth chart, and in that scenario he’d be a Fournette injury away from the starting job. Remember, Fournette has missed time in each of the last three seasons, going back to his final year at LSU, because of leg injuries. Armstead should be on your watch list going into training camp.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals (ADP: 99.4)
I’m cheating a bit with Fitzgerald, who comes in just barely on the wrong side of my Top 100 cutoff, but only because I think he’s the most undervalued player in fantasy football at the moment. From 2015 through 2017, Fitzgerald’s age-32 through age-34 seasons, he put up three straight years with at least 100 catches, 1,000 yards and six touchdowns. Last year, when Arizona’s offense fell off the face of the earth, he had just 69 catches for 734 yards, though he did still score six touchdowns. With Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury now at the helm of the offense, there’s good reason to believe in the Cardinals being one of this year’s biggest turnaround teams, especially on that side of the ball. If that is indeed the case, Fitzgerald should get back to his 100-catch, 1,000-yard ways, even at 36 years old.
Anthony Miller, WR, Bears (ADP: 134)
Last year, Miller was a rookie wide receiver playing with a second-year quarterback and first-year head coach. He suffered a dislocated shoulder in Week 3, and while it only cost him one game, he was at less than 100% for the rest of the season. Despite all that, he caught 33 passes for 423 yards and seven touchdowns, ending the year as the No. 56 receiver in half-PPR leagues. The Bears offense is a good bet to improve again this season, and that rising tide should lift all ships, or at least those with significant roles. Miller, without question, has a significant role to play for the defending NFC North champions.
DaeSean Hamilton, WR, Broncos (ADP: 151.9)
Courtland Sutton is going to be the most popular Denver receiver this summer, and with good reason. You’ll be reading plenty about him on SI.com over the next few months. However, his ADP is already too high for him to qualify as a sleeper, so we turn our attention here to Hamilton. There is so much opportunity up for grabs in Denver’s passing game, particularly if Emmanuel Sanders’ recovery from last year’s torn Achilles, suffered in December, drags through the summer. Hamilton didn’t get much opportunity until the final quarter of the year, but he made the most of that by catching 25 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns in the team’s last four games. If he starts alongside Sutton, he will provide massive value at his expected draft-day price tag.
Robert Foster, WR, Bills (ADP: 161.4)
Yes, the Bills added John Brown and Cole Beasley in the offseason. That doesn’t mean we willfully ignore the fact that, over the final seven games of last year, Foster was one of the most productive receivers in the league. He caught 25 passes for 511 yards and three touchdowns in that span, which translates to a 16-game pace of 57 receptions, 1,168 yards and seven touchdowns. Pace stats can always be a bit misleading and shouldn’t be taken as gospel, but, in this case, they do illustrate the upside Foster brings into this year. Josh Allen started six of the seven games in which Foster had a starring role, which suggests that he’s not going to be a forgotten man simply because of the additions of Brown and Beasley. Furthermore, those two receivers have niche skill sets. Brown is a deep threat and Beasley lives in the slot. If anyone is going to be a go-to, do-it-all receiver on this team, it will be Foster.
Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys (ADP: 144.1)
See that ADP next to Prescott’s name? That makes him the 21st quarterback off the board in a typical draft. Prescott has been in the NFL three seasons, ranking seventh, eighth and 11th, respectively, in fantasy leagues. He has ranged between 3,324 and 3,885 passing yards, and 282 and 357 rushing yards. He has thrown for 23, 22 and 22 touchdowns, and rushed for six scores in all three of his years. In nine games with Amari Cooper last year, Prescott had a completion percentage of 71.3%, 2,468 yards, 7.71 yards per attempt, 14 touchdowns against four interceptions, and four more scores with his legs. He has never missed a start. Why is the fantasy community suddenly expecting him to fall all the way outside the top 20, a full 10 spots worse than he has ever been, this year? Prescott’s ADP just doesn’t pass any level of scrutiny.
Chris Herndon, TE, Jets (ADP: 157.5)
Herndon quietly put together a strong rookie season, pulling down 39 catches for 502 yards and four touchdowns. Considering that the Jets ranked 29th in total offense, 25th in passing offense, 28th in net yards per attempt and 23rd in scoring, that’s about as good a season as he could have realistically had. Sam Darnold may not have had as strong a rookie season as Baker Mayfield, but he showed plenty of signs of being a legitimate franchise quarterback last year. Darnold’s development is going to drive the Jets’ offense, and if he makes a leap this year, his primary pass-catchers will all be relevant in every fantasy format. Herndon will have to fight for targets in a suddenly crowded usage tree (Robby Anderson, Le’Veon Bell, Jamison Crowder, Quincy Enunwa), but he showed more than enough last year to expect him to remain a key part of the Jets’ offense.