Sunday, July 3, 2016


By Eric C. Wright
While we all do our best to try and avoid the dreaded draft “bust” that does more damage to your fantasy football roster than anything else, stocking up on upside sleeper plays is also a tremendous way of setting your team up for success.  Whether you use the word “sleeper” or “value picks,” the fact of the matter is that investing in players whose draft price may be under the actual production of numbers during the upcoming season is the goal of anyone who sits down to formulate a team.  Just think about what a massive difference-maker Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson or Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed were last season.  Or Denver Broncos running back C.J. Anderson in 2014.  These are the kind of players you want to hit on as fantasy football winnings tend to flow from them.  With all that said, here are some decent sleeper/upside plays for the 2016 season by position. 
Brock Osweiler:  The Houston Texans apparently are big believers in Brock Osweiler as they literally opened up the cash vault for the towering, strong-armed QB despite only starting a handful of games in his career.  While Osweiler did some good things in his first go-round under center in 2015, the bottom line is that the Denver Broncos showed no hesitation in casting him aside again for Peyton Manning at the end of the regular season all the way to the Super Bowl championship.  Osweiler now lands in Houston under a good offensive coach in Bill O’Brien and he has a very impressive collection of receiving talent in star wideout DeAndre Hopkins, talented rookie Will Fuller, and adept pass-catching back Lamar Miller.  Throw in the dome setting for half his starts and Osweiler could pay off big as a late round pick. 
Philip Rivers:  We included the veteran Rivers here due to the fact that year after year he falls through the cracks in terms of not being drafted where his numbers suggest he should be.  This is a locked-in 4,200-yard/25-30 TD passer who remains in his prime and who has some big receiving toys at his disposal in Travis Benjamin, Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates, and Danny Woodhead.  Our top QB value play if you choose to wait in drafting your single-league passer.
Tony Romo:  Yeah we know all about the injuries.  We have touted Romo in this space for years and almost every time he has paid off with big numbers for an affordable draft price.  Obviously 2015 was not one of those years as Romo missed virtually the entire season with a twice-broken collarbone.  While that is still a valid concern, a healthy Romo is a very productive Romo who operates behind the best offensive line in the game and has big receiving weapons in Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Cole Beasley, and now rookie Ezekiel Elliott. 
Matt Jones:  With veteran Alfred Morris moving on to Dallas, the starting running back job is there on a silver platter for speedy Matt Jones.  A home run threat whenever he touches the football, Jones is also a weapon out of the backfield.  As long as he lessens the dancing he did too often in 2015, Jones could be a guy that vaults himself right into the upper rounds of 2017 drafts.
Jay Ajayi:  With Lamar Miller taking the money and heading to Houston, second-year back Jay Ajayi is now in position to be the Miami Dolphins’ starting running back.  Now Ajayi is a format running back in that he doesn’t offer much in the passing game (hurting him in PPR) but in standard leagues we could be looking at decent production here given the expected workload.  Of course the Dolphins have not supplied many useful fantasy football backs over the last few seasons but this one is worth checking out due to the opportunity presented. 
Duke Johnson:  Another format-centric back, the Cleveland Browns’ Duke Johnson is a potential PPR asset for new QB Robert Griffin III.  Power back Isaiah Crowell is expected to reprise his role as the main ball carrier and goal-line force but Johnson already has shown himself to be quite capable in the pass receiving game. 
Jeremy Langford:  While he does face some training camp challenges to fill the void in the Chicago Bears backfield after the departure of Matt Forte, the talent is there for the second-year Jeremy Langford to be the main runner on the team.  While Langford was a bit hot and cold starting in place of an injured Forte for three games last season, he does offer all-around production to help in all formats. 
Marvin Jones:  Exiting a run-heavy offense where he took a firm backseat to star WR A.J. Green, Marvin Jones now has a prime opportunity in Detroit with the Lions who are much more wide open in the passing game.  Now that Calvin Johnson is off into retirement, there is a major need for a downfield threat for QB Matthew Stafford.  While Golden Tate likely will lead the Lions in raw receptions, Jones could be a big TD producer and also put up 1,000-plus yards. 
Travis Benjamin:  Held back in Cleveland due the team’s annual brutal QB play, big-play wideout Travis Benjamin is now in a prime spot in San Diego with QB Philip Rivers.  Sort of like Marvin Jones in Detroit, Benjamin won’t lead the Chargers in receptions but double-digit scores are very possible. 
Markus Wheaton:  The suspension of Martavis Bryant has opened up the productive number 2 receiver spot for Markus Wheaton for most or all of the 2016 season; a development that is very promising given the recent explosion in the Pittsburgh Steelers passing attack.  While Wheaton is not a game-breaker in the class of Bryant, he can get down the field and has a nice set of hands.  With the Steelers throwing it more than ever, Wheaton could easily accrue WR 3 numbers for a late round pick. 
DeVante Parker:  After a washed out rookie campaign in 2015, the Miami Dolphins coaching staff have continually talked up the ability of second-year wideout DeVante Parker for 2016.  With the Dolphins in desperate need of a playmaker to go with slot dynamo Jarvis Landry, Parker can easily fit the bill if he stays healthy. The post-hype sleeper tag applies here. 
Kevin White:  Sort of along the same lines as DeVante Parker, injuries ruined the rookie season of 2015 Chicago Bears first round pick Kevin White.  In fact White didn’t even play a down which already has made him sort of a forgotten man.  White is in a great offensive setup in Chicago with strong-armed QB Jay Cutler looking for a running mate for star receiver Alshon Jeffery.  Remember that both Jeffery and Brandon Marshall were WR 1’s in 2014 for the Bears so there is room for White to make a name for himself this season. 
Martellus Bennett:  Yes Rob Gronkowski and his first round ability remains in New England but keep in mind that before he went all serial killer, Aaron Hernandez performed like a TE 1 beside his All-Pro teammate.  Bennett is more than capable of impact receiving numbers as we saw during his quietly very good run with the Chicago Bears and we all know Tom Brady loves throwing to his tight ends. 
Ladarius Green:  Now out of the shadows of Antonio Gates in San Diego, the athletic freak that is Ladarius Green enters into a gold mine receiving situation with the Pittsburgh Steelers this season.  Replacing longtime Ben Roethlisberger favorite Heath Miller, Green looks primed for a big breakout campaign in 2016 if he can avoid the injuries that have bugged him throughout his young career.  There is a very good chance Green could be this season’s version of Jordan Reed a year ago.    
Now we are not saying to reach for the stars for all of the players on this list but instead we simply are making it a point to suggest moving maybe a round or two earlier on them given the vast upside this group presents.  We feel very confident that a lot of these names will outperform their draft slots but that can only happen as long as you don’t get too aggressive picking them.

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