Nothing like a little fantasy football to get the summer kicked off right! We’re talking early fantasy football sleepers. Every year, the fantasy football community forgets about a majority of the NFL players that end up producing well after draft day. These players may have actually produced at one point in their careers, but injuries, new teams, or just flat-out amnesia can deter even astute fantasy owners away from potential sleepers.
Never fear. Let’s dive into some early fantasy football sleepers that are going to slip in August drafts and return plenty of value.
Early 2018 Fantasy Football Sleepers
Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers – Cobb is only 27 years old, although it feels like he’s been around forever. He is going into his eighth NFL season, all of which have been with the Packers and Aaron Rodgers. In 2014, Cobb was the No. 6 WR in fantasy football, as he was the clear No. 2 receiver behind Jordy Nelson. Since his 91 catches, 1,200+ yards, and 12 touchdowns in 2014, Cobb has been relatively quiet. He has not even finished as a WR2 in any of the last three years. The good news is that he will finally be back in his No. 2 role with Green Bay now that Nelson is in Oakland. Davante Adams is the Packers’ clear No. 1 wide receiver, but the remaining wideouts on this roster are inexperienced, which will make Cobb one of Rodgers’ more reliable targets. Cobb had 92 targets last season with Nelson still on the roster. That number should increase in 2018, giving Cobb WR2 upside as a late-round pick.
James Washington, Pittsburgh Steelers – Washington was arguably the most NFL-ready wide receiver in the 2018 draft class. He could not have ended up in a better situation. As the deep threat at Oklahoma State, Washington averaged 19.8 yards per reception in his collegiate career and scored 39 touchdowns in four seasons. As a rookie last season in the third-WR role, JuJu Smith-Schuster had 58 catches for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. In 2014, Martavis Bryant had eight touchdowns in his first year with the Steelers. Bryant is now gone, and JuJu will slide into the slot on three-receiver packages. Washington will step in as Pittsburgh’s No. 3 receiver, which is a valuable role, as the Steelers used three-receiver sets 71 percent of the time in 2017. Washington is a player that could go undrafted in redraft leagues, but he is worth a flier because of the opportunity he’ll have as Ben Roethlisberger’s deep threat. He should also be considered in the late first round of rookie dynasty leagues.
Quincy Enunwa, New York Jets – The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Enunwa had 58 catches for 857 yards in 2016 after coming on late in the season. He also out-produced Brandon Marshall despite receiving 23 fewer targets. Enunwa was injured for all of 2017, so naturally, the fantasy football community has forgotten all about him. Terrelle Pryor and Robby Anderson are both dealing with off-field issues, and their availability for Week 1 is in question. Jermaine Kearse is coming off a career year of 65 catches and 810 yards, but he will be behind all of the above on the depth chart when everyone is active. What makes Enunwa so valuable is his ability to thrive in the slot as a guy who is great after the catch. The big-bodied receiver is hard to bring down and ran a 4.45 40-yard dash at the Combine, so he also has great speed. The Jets will be playing from behind often in 2018, and Enunwa could end up being the most consistent fantasy option of the bunch.
Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Head Coach Dirk Koetter announced that Godwin will start in the Bucs’ three-wide receiver sets in 2018. This presents value for the former Penn State Nittany Lion, as the Bucs ran out of this formation 62 percent of the time in 2017. Godwin will be on the outside, opposite of Mike Evans, with DeSean Jackson working out of the slot. Godwin has the ability to be a No. 1 receiver in this league, but he will not get that type of volume with the number of weapons in Tampa Bay. Godwin flashed his talent last year in his rookie season. When he started for the suspended Evans in Week 9, he caught five balls on 10 targets for 68 yards. He finished the season with a bang in Week 17, totaling seven receptions for 111 yards and a touchdown. Godwin is an ideal Best Ball selection or a DFS play, but he can return value in redraft leagues, as well. If he plays well enough, he should emerge as a viable fantasy option regardless of format.
Isaiah Crowell, New York Jets – Crowell’s 2017 season is viewed as a disappointment. He was picked in the third or fourth round in most leagues and did not live up to the expectations that he could be an RB1 after finishing as the RB14 overall in 2016. Even though Crowell finished as the RB30, he managed to eclipse the 200-carry mark and had 234 total touches for the Browns last season. He now steps into a crowded Jets backfield. However, he is projected to be the starter and has the potential to see lots of volume. As a late-round pick in redraft leagues, Crowell is an interesting bounce-back candidate.
Latavius Murray, Minnesota Vikings – Murray had an impressive 2017 campaign, racking up 842 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 216 carries with the Vikings. The goal-line back role was paved for Murray after Dalvin Cook went down with a torn ACL early in the season. Murray split touches with Jerick McKinnon, who is now with the 49ers. Cook will be the starter and has the ability to be a three-down back. However, the Vikings are paying Murray $5 million year and will not ask Cook to take on all of the backfield touches as he returns from a devastating injury. The 230-pound Murray provides the Vikings with a bruising goal-line back, which makes him a nice late-round pick up with high-touchdown upside.
Frank Gore, Miami Dolphins – Gore has had at least 250 carries every year since 2011. He now returns to Miami, where he attended college as a Hurricane. Despite being 35 and being cast away by the fantasy football community as a non-sexy pick, Gore remains fully capable of putting together a quality season for the Dolphins. In 2017, Gore had 961 yards on 261 carries and added 29 receptions for 245 yards on a Colts team that was decimated by injury and poor offensive line play. The Dolphins’ offensive line is better than what Gore ran behind last season, and he will have more opportunity this year, as defenses will have to respect Ryan Tannehill’s deep ball. Kenyan Drake is going to go way too high in drafts, while Gore has finished as an RB2 every year since 2009. Around 250 carries is possible yet again for Gore, who needs only 75 yards to pass Curtis Martin for fourth on the NFL all-time rushing list.
Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears – Cohen was the most highly sought-after waiver wire pick-up after Week 1 last year. The rookie out of North Carolina A&T ran for 66 yards and caught eight passes for 47 yards and a touchdown in his first NFL game. Unfortunately, Head Coach John Fox went away from Cohen and force-fed Jordan Howard for most of the season. Cohen still managed 53 receptions on 71 targets in 2017, and both of those numbers should increase now that Matt Nagy has replaced Fox. Labeled as the “Human Joystick,” Cohen may be the closest thing we have seen to Barry Sanders when he has the ball in his hands. Nagy has been vocal about his excitement to use the second-year pro, so Cohen should be a big part of the Bears offense in 2018.
Eli Manning, New York Giants – Manning finished 2017 as the QB23 in fantasy football despite a decimated receiving unit. He’ll be in a much better situation in 2018 with a healthy Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard. In 2010, Manning finished as the QB10, and he has that kind of upside in an offense that has always had a lot of volume in the passing game. Manning has thrown at least 550 passes every season since 2013. Of course, the Giants have not had a legit workhorse running back during that time, and they drafted Saquon Barkley with the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft. Barkley will be the key to Manning’s success, as teams will have to respect the Giants’ run more than ever. Barkley also provides Manning with a pass-catching playmaker out of the backfield that he’s never had. With all of the weapons around him, Manning is the perfect late-round QB to target on draft day.
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Winston had a strange 2017 campaign that involved a hurricane in Week 1 and a fight he instigated against the Saints in Week 9. Winston also missed three games with a shoulder injury. All told, 2017 was a bust for Winston, as he finished as the QB22. However, the Buccaneers have put together a plethora of weapons for Winston in 2018, including Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and DeSean Jackson. They will also line up two of the NFL’s best tight ends in Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard along with big-play rookie Ronald Jones Jr., who will be the starting running back. Winston has a big arm, and with the weapons around him, the former Pro-Bowler should have his best season yet.
Ben Watson, New Orleans Saints – Watson led the Ravens with 61 receptions last year. In 2015 with the Saints, Watson finished as the TE8, with 74 catches and six touchdowns on 110 targets. Back in New Orleans as Drew Brees’ No. 1 tight end, Watson is in line for a large target share on a team that loves to feature the tight end. Even at 37 years old, Watson has TE1 upside as a late-round selection.
Vance McDonald, Pittsburgh Steelers – Since Heath Miller retired, the Steelers have tried to replace him with an athletic, sure-handed tight end. McDonald missed the early part of 2017 with an injury and was eased into the offense for the remainder of the season. To say that the 6-foot-4, 260-pound McDonald finished the season on a strong note would be an understatement. After a couple of four-reception, 52-yard games in Weeks 13 and 15, the Steelers made McDonald a focal point of their offense against the Jaguars in the AFC Divisional matchup. McDonald was targeted 16 times and caught 10 balls for 112 yards. While those stats cannot be expected on a weekly basis, McDonald is likely to replace Jesse James as the Steelers’ primary tight end in 2018.
TE Vance McDonald will be featured in the Steelers offense this year, particularly in the team’s quick passing game to utilize his short-area speed. pic.twitter.com/9ZMypl6P6i
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) May 24, 2018
According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, the Steelers are going to feature McDonald in the short passing game this season, which is primarily how they used the agile tight end in the Jaguars game. Being able to grab a piece of the high-powered Steelers offense late in drafts is a steal.