Baseball apologists hate me.
Here I am, writing about sleepers for the 2015 Fantasy FOOTBALL season, when it’s April 3rd and Opening Day is less than a week away. And don’t get me wrong. I love fantasy baseball, too. I mean, I’d like to call myself a degenerate in almost every sense of the word, especially when it comes to fantasy sports. However, if we learned anything, especially this year, it’s that when it comes to the offseason, there’s one rule.
There really is no offseason.
Players are moving left and right, new coaches and new schemes are finding new homes and, most importantly, Marcus Mariota is on the Eagles. Wait, what’s that? No, not yet? Got it. Needless to say, there is no shortage of craziness around the NFL lately (thanks, Chip Kelly), and it’s exciting for fantasy football purposes. Player values are fluctuating and fantasy owners want to know who the sleepers for 2015 are… in April.
Eli Manning, New York Giants
A popular one, but Manning is going to be my prime candidate for a late-round quarterback to target for my fantasy teams. In Ben McAdoo’s offense, many figured Eli would see a large uptick in his completion percentage, and he sure did, posting a career-best 63.1 rate in his 11th season, nonetheless. His 14 interceptions were also the second-lowest since his rookie year, where he only started nine games. According to Pro Football Focus, his 9.2 average depth of target (aDOT) was the lowest he’s seen in over five years, and the system really just made things easier on Eli. Of course, he now has a stud wideout in Odell Beckham Jr., who had the second-best rookie receiving record ever, so that helps. Meanwhile, Victor Cruz, assuming healthy, isn’t a shabby WR2, and the Giants brought in Shane Vereen, who will be a perfect compliment to this offensive scheme. And the ODB factor is very much legitimate, as, according to RotoViz, Manning averaged almost 30 more yards, four more fantasy points and four more completions per game with Beckham in the lineup. Eli has never missed a game due to injury in his career and plays in a division of bad secondaries. I’m also not a firm believer in the Giants defense, which could force Manning to throw the ball around a good amount, coming off a year where he ranked 6th in the league in attempts.
Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings
Pro days don’t matter, pro days don’t matter, pro days don’t matter. Okay, now that I got that out of my system, why the hell did Bridgewater fall to the end of the first round. He quickly made teams regret that, as he had a productive rookie season, providing Viking fans a glimpse of that franchise quarterback they’ve been missing. From Weeks 12-17, he was a top-12 fantasy signal caller, averaging just over 17 fantasy points per contest. During that span, he averaged 1.6 passing touchdowns per game, and he became the first rookie quarterback in league history to complete at least 70 percent of his passes in four consecutive games. He showed that he can be both a fantasy stud, as well as a real-football stud. Now he has more weapons, as the team brought in Mike Wallace, which should be a good match with Teddy, who completed 47 percent of his deep passes during his rookie year, and in college, he completed just over 50 percent of such passes. And, of course, if Minnesota maintains Adrian Peterson, that will only help the offense and scoring opportunities.
C.J. Spiller, New Orleans Saints
At first, this was my initial fantasy reaction to Spiller landing in New Orleans… “Ehh, okay.” But then I thought, I thought and I thought some more. Despite how much I love him and everything I hoped he’d be after his magical 2012 season, I’m fully aware of the fact that he’s not ever going to be a 300-carry guy. He’s just not. So, joining the Saints may be the perfect move for him, and New Orleans is excited to have him, stating how they can’t wait to see all the different ways they can use him, especially in the passing game. Drew Brees and the Saints use the running back so much in the aerial game already, and now, with pieces missing, they’ll need Spiller. Jimmy Graham and his near 300 targets over the last two years are gone, as well as Pierre Thomas, who averaged 70 targets during that same span. Brees will give Spiller plenty of looks in this offense, making him an ideal post, post-hype sleeper in PPR leagues for 2015.
Theo Riddick, Detroit Lions
With Reggie Bush in San Francisco now, the sleeper appeal has dimmed a bit, but Riddick is still one that warrants discussion. Last year, Riddick was clearly the better back than Bush, so he already was generating some buzz. For his career without Bush active, Riddick is averaging eight fantasy points per game, which isn’t out of this world, but his role might expand quite a bit this year. And, according to PFF, he averaged 0.37 PPR points per snap, which was actually better than teammate Joique Bell. There were four different occasions last year where Riddick hauled in at least five passes, and now Bush is gone. Having said that, there’s no reason to believe that he can’t catch 50-60 balls in this offense. Detroit may add a running back in the draft, but it may be just for depth, and they do really like Riddick’s ability. Don’t forget about him come draft day.
Dallas Cowboys RB
Seriously. It’s vague, but whoever is the starting running back for the Cowboys next year is instantly a guy to at least target in fantasy drafts. Now, are Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar or a rookie going to rush for 2,000 yards? Of course not. However, even with DeMarco Murray gone, the Cowboys should still stick with their run-heavy approach, as it was one of the biggest reasons they were a catch away from the NFC title game, allowing their defense to play very little compared to others. The volume will be there, as Dallas ranked fourth in rushing attempts per game, and third in rushing play percentage (49.6). And, of course, the offensive line is elite, ranking top-three in the league in terms of run-blocking. This is going to be a very attractive landing spot for fantasy running backs, so let’s hope it’s the best back available, TJ Yeldon. Okay, Adrian Peterson, too, I guess.
Cody Latimer, Denver Broncos
Orange Julius? Gone. Wes Welker? Probably gone… and possibly dead. Latimer could (and should) enter the 2015 campaign as the number-three receiver on a Peyton Manning-led offense. Do I need to keep writing? Okay. How about this? Latimer was a basketball standout back in the day. But in all seriousness, Denver actually needs him during his sophomore season, and he has the ability to make plays in this offense, especially with 124 targets now gone. And the Broncos may be running the ball more, but they still threw for a touchdown 69 percent of the time last year, good for the 6th-highest rate in the NFL.
Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
Another talented sophomore, Adams showed a lot more flashes than Latimer, but, of course, he actually played. He hauled in 38 balls for 446 yards and three scores. Learning the ropes from two top-10 wideouts in Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb is fantastic… almost as fantastic as catching passes from the greatest passer in the game, Aaron Rodgers. And just because Cobb returned, doesn’t mean Adams can’t be fantasy relevant. We saw James Jones finish as WR16 back in 2012, and while much of that was due to his ridiculous 14 touchdown catches, Adams is just as talented as Jones, and Green Bay will look to utilize him more in year number-two.
Marquess Wilson, Chicago Bears
Brandon Marshall is gone, and with that, so are his 462 targets during his three seasons with the Bears. That could very well open the door for Wilson, who could be the logical choice to step into that role. Wilson is a 6’4″ wideout with decent speed, but at 184 pounds, he’ll definitely need to bulk up a bit. Chicago could very well grab a guy like Amari Cooper with the 7th overall pick in this month’s draft, but if they don’t, Wilson is going to see a massive uptick in targets in a still capable offense.
Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles need Ertz to continue to emerge as a top-notch pass-catching tight end, now without LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin out of the picture. At times last year, Ertz looked like he could be a TE1 in fantasy, but he also disappeared at times, too, as he posted five games with two catches or fewer. The main problem is that Brent Celek is on the field so much because of his elite blocking skills, which limited Ertz’s snaps. However, they will need to feature him in the passing game this season or else they’ll have to actually throw the football to Riley Cooper. If he sees an uptick in targets (which he should), it’ll be like double the uptick, seeing how the Eagles led the NFL in offensive plays per game last season (70.7). And in 2013, Sam Bradford had the fourth-lowest aDOT in football with 7.1, according to Pro Football Focus.
Richard Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
See Rodgers, Aaron. But seriously. For what it’s worth, Brandon Bostick is gone, and Mike McCarthy and the Packers think Rodgers can be that impact tight end that they have been missing for a while now. A 6’4″, 260 pound tight end in arguably the best offense in football, I’d expect Rodgers to improve on his 30 targets from his rookie season. And hey, he caught 66 percent of his targets last season.