Fantasy football managers are a fickle bunch — and often for good reason. After all, the NFL is a fast-paced league where young players often make notable impacts and veterans sometimes disappear faster than we expect. But there are exceptions to every rule, and there are occasions when players start their careers slowly before catching fire after most fantasy managers have given up on them. Here is a collection of post-hype sleepers who have the potential to turn their careers around this year and are available in the middle or late rounds of 2022 Yahoo! drafts.
What went wrong: Jones showed some flashes as a rookie in 2019 (24-12 TD-INT ratio) before regressing as a sophomore and failing to bounce back last year. The Giants declined the 25-year-old’s fifth-year option, making this the make-or-break season for his career.
Why he could turn things around: Jones will work with a great offensive mind for the first time, thanks to New York’s hiring of former Josh Allen mentor, Brian Daboll. And Jones has the fleet feet (1,000 career rushing yards) to be a dual-threat QB if he can become a more consistent passer. Among those being drafted outside the top-20 QBs, Jones has the highest upside.
What went wrong: The run-heavy Seahawks drafted Penny 27th overall in 2018, expecting him to be a game-changing playmaker. Four years later, he still has fewer than 2,000 total yards in 37 career games. Not only was Penny unable to supplant Chris Carson as the feature back, but he also failed to hold up his end of the bargain in creating a dynamic one-two punch in the backfield.
Why he could turn things around: Carson has retired, leaving Penny as the veteran in Seattle’ running back room. Penny has averaged an impressive 5.6 yards per carry in his career, including a 6.3 mark last season. The 26-year-old will need to battle rookie Kenneth Walker III for opportunities, but this is the best chance he has had to carve out a feature role.
What went wrong: When an Andy Reid-led team drafted Edwards-Helaire in the first round of the 2020 draft, the comparisons to former fantasy superstar Brian Westbrook were obvious. And although the LSU product has not completely fallen flat on his face, his contributions to the offense have been much more minimal than anyone expected. Perhaps feeling regretful over drafting Edwards-Helaire, the Chiefs added RB depth through free agency and the draft.
Why he could turn things around: Edwards-Helaire underwent gallbladder surgery in March 2021, which caused him to drop down to roughly 160 pounds and left him unprepared for training camp. He is back to full strength this year, and there is a chance that he will push Ronald Jones and Isiah Pacheco aside, becoming the three-down back that the Chiefs expected him to be. Being a feature back in Kansas City’s productive offense would give Edwards-Helaire a sky-high ceiling.
Mecole Hardman, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
What went wrong: After being drafted in the second round in 2019, Hardman showed exciting rookie-season potential by averaging 20.7 yards per catch on 26 grabs. However, he failed to demonstrate similar big-play ability when given more targets in each of the subsequent two years.
Why he could turn things around: With Tyreek Hill in Miami, the Chiefs are looking for an alpha WR for the first time since Hardman joined the club. Travis Kelce will get his share of targets and offseason acquisition JuJu Smith-Schuster should be a prominent part of the offense, but neither of those players are burners and Hardman could become Patrick Mahomes’ favorite downfield option.
Irv Smith Jr., TE, Minnesota Vikings
What went wrong: Nothing went completely wrong for Smith, but nothing really went right either. A second-round pick in 2019, Smith shared the TE position with Kyle Rudolph for two seasons, posting meager statistics in an offense that typically threw to two WRs and featured a prominent rushing attack. Smith appeared poised for a 2021 breakout campaign but wound up missing the entire season due to a meniscus injury.
Why he could turn things around: Although many fantasy managers have forgotten about his potential, Smith still has the skill set that made him a breakout candidate last year. And he might be returning from injury at the right time, as the Vikings are expected to open up their passing attack.
Evan Engram, TE, Jacksonville Jaguars
What went wrong: Drafted in the first round by the Giants in 2017, Engram tallied 722 yards as a rookie before failing to match that total in any of the subsequent four campaigns. And he struggled to find the end zone during his five years in the Big Apple, finishing with just 16 scores in 65 games played. By the time he left the Giants, Engram was more famous for dropping balls than catching them.
Why he could turn things around: There is no doubting that Engram is one of the more athletic tight ends in the NFL. He has struggled with consistency but is just 27 years old and still has the potential for a big season if he develops a better rapport with a QB than the one he had with Daniel Jones. The Jags have completely remodeled their passing attack in terms of strategy and personnel, which puts Engram on a level playing field with his new teammates.