Finding Fantasy Football Sleepers
This is the third in a series of articles that will look at how personnel changes can increase or decrease the value of players.
I recently came across an article online that stated that you can quit searching for the next fantasy sleeper at your draft because since everyone does it, there are basically no sleepers available anymore.
I beg to differ with this opinion, not in the fact that the true fantasy sleeper no longer exists, but that the research necessary to locate sleepers has changed. I am almost begrudgingly writing this article since I know that some of my fellow fantasy competitors read my work and this will provide insight into where I look to find value in the upcoming fantasy football draft, but this is the type of information that separates the good teams from the playoff teams come December.
It is usually pretty apparent on draft day which players are being selected to come in and hopefully make a meaningful offensive contribution to their team. Just this year five of the top ten selections were offensive playmakers and four are expected to start on their teams first regular season game.
- Jameis Winston QB – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Marcus Mariota QB – Tennessee Titans
- Amari Cooper WR – Oakland Raiders
- Kevin White WR – Chicago Bears
- Todd Gurley RB – St. Louis Rams
Do not get me wrong, I don’t expect any of these players to come in and make a major fantasy impact in their first season. The question you should be asking is how these players improve the players around them? You can also use this type of rationalization when it comes to free agent additions as well as defections that can have positive effects on player statistics.
In Part I we examined how the arrival of Jameis Winston will affect the players around him on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and it Part II examined how Marcus Mariota will impact the value of his fellow Tennessee Titans.
In part three we will examine the impact that wide receivers Amari Cooper and Kevin White as well as running back Todd Gurley will have on their new teams, and see what players may see their value affected by the new arrivals.
Amari Cooper left Alabama following his junior season and appears like he is ready for the NFL. That is a positive for the Raiders because they failed to have any receiver gain more than 700 yards last season. Cooper’s arrival is a huge positive for second year quarterback Derek Carr. Carr who managed to throw 21 TD passes as a rookie last season with a less than stellar supporting cast around him. The addition of Cooper as well as free agent signee Michael Crabtree provides Carr with legitimate downfield threats and he should definitely see a bump in his numbers with both new additions. We expect Carr to put up decent fantasy numbers this season with both Cooper and Crabtree contributing to his success. He should be available late in your draft and can be a valuable back-up or trade bait if he starts the season strong. Both Cooper and Crabtree should put up WR2 type numbers this season if everyone remains healthy.
Kevin White has some big shoes to fill in Chicago as the Bears are asking him to replace Brandon Marshall who was traded to the New York Jets. The loss of Marshall should not have major impact on Cutler’s numbers, but could have an effect on Alshon Jeffery who stepped up and took over the WR1 spot for the Bears last season. Jeffery had 85 receptions for 1,133 yards and 10 TD’s last season as defenses had to defend both him and Marshall. With the departure of Marshall, defenses will focus on Jeffery and he will most likely see double coverage until White proves he is NFL ready. Expect a decline in numbers from Jeffery this season and White will most likely need a year of experience under his belt before he can become a consistent contributor at this level. Jeffery should still be considered a WR2 in most leagues as he was targeted by Cutler 145 times last season. White will most likely ride your bench early in the season and he may be a WR3 in deeper leagues.
The prime beneficiary from Marshall’s departure could be RB Matt Forte, who is the Bears most dangerous offensive weapon. While Forte gained 1,038 yards last season on the ground, he also accounted for 102 receptions, 808 yards and 4 more TD’s through the air. In a Point per Reception (PPR) league he has to be one of the top 5 selections as he puts up points every single week. The departure of the dependable Marshall will make Forte an even more valuable option as a check down receiver coming out of the backfield. If he can stay healthy, expect similar numbers to last season.
The final player on our list coming out of the draft is an enigma as Todd Gurley is coming back from a torn ACL, but he may have the brightest future of this draft class as when he is healthy he could quickly become the Rams starting RB. The Rams have demonstrated their desire to run the football the past two seasons with the less than stellar Zac Stacy (5th round 2013) and Tre Mason (3rd round 2014). A talent like Gurley does not come around often. He averaged 3.9 yards per carry AFTER contact last season, but he most likely will not be fully healthy until the mid-point of the upcoming NFL season. Mock drafts currently have him going in the 5th or 6th round and if you are in a dynasty league you may want to consider him even earlier as he is on a team with a run first mentality and a skill set to not only survive, but flourish in the NFL.
As for his effect on the players around him, Gurley’s arrival will have a dramatic effect on both Mason and Stacy who will have their carries reduced as he works his way into the starting spot. It is hard to predict how it will affect new quarterback Nick Foles who was acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles in the offseason. Foles regressed during the 2014 campaign and eventually lost the starting job to Mark Sanchez (yes, that Mark Sanchez). Will a change of scenery and a departure from Chip Kelly’s offense in Philadelphia allow Foles to his 2013 form when he threw for 27 TD’s? I would not expect that from a Jeff Fisher offense that will run first and pass when necessary. Avoid Foles on draft day, and that means avoid St. Louis wide outs as well.
We will continue to examine how personnel changes will affect the value of fantasy players for the upcoming season in our next article which will address new faces in new places via trades and free agency.
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