Last year after stumbling out of the gate, my friend Bob beat me to the punch in waiver wire priority and acquired Alvin Kamara, the Saints sensational rookie running back.  He rode that pick up all the way to the championship game.  Every year there is one sleeper who can lift your team from the basement to the penthouse.

Last year our champion, my friend Brian, had the foresight to draft Kareem Hunt in the 8th round I believe.  Two great rookie running back pickups, resulting in deep playoff runs.

My rookie, Dalvin Cook, ended his great start and my three-peat dreams, with a trip to injured reserve.  When Carson Wentz went down, I lost by 11 points to Brian in the opening weekend of the playoffs.

Here is a little primer on some names in the middle rounds who may emerge as fantasy superstars.

First round picks are expected to produce and be drafted, I will tell you where.  The following sleepers are worth a late round flier or watch list alert to keep an eye on.  This list is pre-training camp and the inevitable injuries.  My league is non-ppr.

Running backs:

First Round.

Saquon Barkley, 2nd overall by N.Y. Giants.  I place his value just outside the top 10 overall.  His ability to receive rates him higher in ppr leagues, maybe as high as 8th.

Rashaad Penny, 27th by Seattle.  Love this pick by Seattle.  The first sleeper because he enters a running back by committee situation.  I think he will emerge as a star, but it may take until mid-season before that happens.  Not a starter yet, backup fantasy player to begin season.  Look for him starting in round’s 5-6 of your draft.  Future keeper!

Sony Michel, 31st by New England.  Great pick by the Patriots, is a younger version of Dion Lewis, who was let go in free agency and signed with Tennessee.  Another sleeper going into committee situation.  Could be gold for an end of the season push.  Round’s 6-8

Second round.

I’m not crazy about the running backs in chosen in the 2nd round this year.  Nick Chubb, Ronald Jones II, Kerryon Johnson, and Derrius Guice all have injury or character concerns.  The only one with a clear path to starting is Jones, who I would start targeting in round 5.  Otherwise look for these guys to be backups and bye week fill-ins.

Sleeper:

Royce Freeman, 71st in 3rd round by Denver.  The Broncos released C.J. Anderson, hoping that Freeman takes the job and runs away with it.  Freeman is bigger than Anderson and will finish a lot of drives for the Broncos.  His comparison is LeGarrette Blount of the Detroit Lions, and should replicate Blount’s ability to find the endzone.  Target Freeman as early as the 3rd or 4th rounds if he is getting starters reps in the 3rd pre-season game.

Super Sleepers:

Kalen Ballage, 131st in 4th round by Miami.  Ballage could be a monster for Miami.  At 6 foot 3 inches tall, and an explosive burst that gets him through holes quickly, I think it’s just a matter of time before Ballage is starting for the Dolphins.  His pass catching ability makes him an every down back, once he learns to pick up pass protecting schemes in Adam Gase’s offense. At Arizona State he sometimes lined up at quarterback in their “wildcat” offense.  Dolphins traded Jay Ajayi last season, and let backup Damian Williams sign with Kansas City.  Replaced Williams with 35 year-old Frank Gore for insurance and will start lightly used Kenyon Drake, who had two decent games a year ago.  Ballage is just one Drake injury or fumble away from being the starter.  Target in rounds 8-10.

Nyheim Hines, 104th in 4th round by Indianapolis.  Most observers don’t believe Hines has the size to be an every down back in the NFL.  At 5 foot 8 inches tall, they may be right.  But at 200 pounds and possessing 4.38 speed, they might be wrong.  In the open field on the turf in Indy, the track star will be a load to bring down for any cornerback or safety.  With former Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich, now Colts head coach,  calling plays, and only Marlon Mack ahead of him on the depth chart.  Hines will get plenty of touches as Mack’s backup, and targets, as a safety valve receiving option for Andrew Luck on 3rd downs and in 2-minute drills.  Hines will be worth a flier in ppr leagues and should be targeted late in drafts, starting in round 10.

Jaylen Samuels, 165th in 5th round by Pittsburgh.  Samuels has been called a player without a position after being 2nd in the nation a year ago in receptions, while lined up at tight end.  At 5 foot 11 inches he is too short to be a tight end.  At nearly 230 pounds he is considered too big to be a running back, more of a full back’s body.  Well full back’s carry the ball too, as Samuels did with pretty good success in college.  He averaged over 6 yards per carry last year in limited work out of the backfield.  But it’s his pass catching ability that has the Steelers excited to have him.  With only last years 3rd round pick James Connor and free agent Stevan Ridley,  ahead of him in the battle to be LeVeon Bell’s backup, Samuels may see substantial playing time this year.  If it weren’t for Bell’s ongoing contract battles and the threat to sit out, Samuels wouldn’t garner a mention.  But his size, speed (4.5) and receiving skill set are very reminiscent of Bell and LeGarrette Blount.  If there is no LeVeon Bell in Pittsburgh, who is going to tote the rock?  He’s a long shot, but remember his name when scouring the waiver wire late this year.

Receivers:

Are the bane of any fantasy players existence.   Health alone makes them want to pull your hair out.  Anyone who had Julio Jones a few years ago when he was “questionable” every week knows what I’m talking about.

Nothing like drafting Odell Beckham Jr. and having your season go up in smoke the first week.  Or having Jordy (injury) Nelson, with or without Rodgers, UGH!  Or maybe buying into the promise of Cameron Meredith becoming the Bears go to receiver, only to see him go to injured reserve.  Wait, I had all 3 of them.  How did I make the playoff’s?  Oh that’s  right, I flipped Jordy for Keenen Allen, who hadn’t done shit all season when I acquired him.  But I saw his schedule getting easier, threw in a running back and wha la… playoffs!  Thanks Glenn!

That being said, rookie receivers are even worse.  The slash lines of last years first round picks for the entire 2017 season:

Corey Davis, 5th overall, 34 catches for 375 yards and 2 td’s

Mike Williams, 7th overall, 11 catches for 95 yards

John Ross, 9th overall, 0 catches, 0 yards, 1 rushing attempt for 12 yards.

That’s it!  Three top 10 picks, probably $12-15 million spent for that little production.  Amazingly, I think all 3 general managers survived and were not fired!  Burn those names into your frontal cortex and say, “do not draft them,” over and over again!

This year saw 2 first round picks that were receivers, D.J. Moore, 24th by Carolina and Calvin Ridley, 26th by Atlanta.

I would only consider drafting Moore, who should become an instant starter next to Devin Funchess for the Panthers.  At 6 feet tall and possessing 4.4 speed, Moore should be no worse than a slot receiver, catching in the neighborhood of 70-80 catches for the year.  That is an average of 5 catches per game from Cam Newton.  If Moore is able to get that many targets and receptions, there is no reason he can’t take 10 of those to the house.  I would consider drafting Moore at around the 5th round, possibly sooner depending how quickly your favorite receivers come off the board.  If you’re like me, there are certain receivers you don’t touch, they have name recognition only.  Let someone else draft them.

Ridley is insurance for when or if Julio Jones gets injured or sits out in a contract dispute.  Otherwise he’s a #3 receiver, who may get 40-50 catches.  Someone will draft him, just make sure it isn’t you.  Just watch him on the waiver wire when you need a bye week pickup.

Sleepers:

All six of the wide receivers taken in the 2nd round, went to teams with a definite need at the position, and most of them to teams with better quarterback situations than their teams had a year ago.  They are all going to have production on par with the average veteran #2 and #3 receivers in the league.  Team owners can expect production slash lines of 45-55 receptions, 600-800 yards and 3-5 touchdowns for Courtland Sutton, 40th by Denver, Dante Pettis 44th by San Francisco, Christian Kirk, 47th by Arizona, and James Washington, 60th by Pittsburgh  I would target them as #3 or 4 receivers on your fantasy teams, starting in rounds 8 or 9.  They will be able to start during a bye week or in case of injury.

The remaining two receivers from the 2nd round, Anthony Miller, 51st by Chicago and D.J. Chark, 61st by Jacksonville, have the potential to reach even greater heights in their rookie seasons.  First, they are probably two of the most talented receivers, not just in this draft, but in the last 4 drafts.  Secondly, each one of them went to a team with a serious need for a game changing receiver.  Third, they have the talent, toughness and drive to emerge during the season as the real pass catching stars of their respective teams.

Miller, probably has the easiest path.  The minute he steps on the field for Chicago he will command the most attention from 2nd year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.  I know the Bears made a big free-agent splash by signing Allen Robinson, who is coming off a knee injury he suffered in the first game a year ago for Jacksonville. But #1 receiver Robinson will start slow because of the injury, and may not be full speed from game one.  The interception averse Trubisky will instead target Miller.  He has a fearlessness about going over the middle and runs like a running back with the ball in his hands.  If Kendall Wright got 59 catches for 614 and 1 touchdown a year ago, Miller should be good for 70-80 catches, 800-1000 yards and at least 6 touchdowns.

Chark has the highest upside of all the receivers this year, but is saddled with the quarterback with the most pressure and suspect talent.  If Blake Bortles proves that last year was another year of growth for him, Chark may be the key to Jacksonville advancing to the Super Bowl.  Chark has only a knee recuperating Marqise Lee, and Donte Moncreif, who had an abysmal contract year for the Colts last season, ahead of him on the depth chart.  Right now the Jaguars are bringing him along slowly, but it’s going to be near impossible for them to keep Chark’s speed off the field.  Keep close watch on Jacksonville’s pre-season to monitor Chark’s progress.  He could be their number 1 receiver before the season is over.  I would target Chark as early as the 5th round, and take him for certain, even without pre-season playing time, by rounds 8, 9 or 10.

Super Sleepers:

DaeSean Hamilton, 113th by Denver.  Quite possibly the most underrated receiver in the draft.  A route technician with great hands, Hamilton is the future in Denver.  Last season Denver lost both Demaryus Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders at times during the season.  Now the Broncos have drafted Courtland Sutton, previously mentioned, and Hamilton to be the future.  If the Broncos have injuries like last year, the future is now.  Hamilton will otherwise be buried on the depth chart.  Waiver wire pickup only, is someone to keep an eye on.  35-40 catches, 500 yards and 2 td’s.  Production will go much higher if injuries beset the Broncos!

Equanimeous St. Brown, 207th by Green Bay.  The steal of the draft?  Yes.  At 6 foot 5 inches tall and a blazing 4.48, the Packers have unearthed the next Martavis Bryant, but without the crazy.  Notre Dame’s passing game has been dreadful the last two seasons, can’t fault St. Brown for that.  Has an enormous catch radius that Aaron Rodgers is going to love.  St. Brown needs to get stronger and needs to run better routes.  He’ll be coached well by the same staff that has turned an awful Davante Adams into a Pro Bowler.  It will be late in the season, but St. Brown will make an impact for the Packers this year.  40-45 catches for 600 yards and 6-8 td’s.

 

 

 

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