“Sleeper” is a seducing fantasy term with multiple definitions. For the purposes of this column and clarity’s sake, we’re featuring undervalued players largely available outside the overall top-60. To ensure full accountability, we also included our biggest hits/misses from 2016. Tuesday’s topic: Wide Receivers.
Pierre Garcon, SF (68.6 ADP, WR33)
Having worked together for two seasons in Washington, Garcon is already familiar with Kyle Shanahan’s notoriously complex playbook. In fact in 2013, under Shanahan’s direction, Garcon produced a 113-1,346-5 stat line, placing him just outside of the top-twelve fantasy producers at the position. Beyond that, he’s managed WR3 numbers in back-to-back efforts, averaging between 11 and 12 fantasy points per contest for two years running. Additionally noting Garcon’s projected volume due to the team’s lack of receiving depth as well as Brian Hoyer’s good-enough-ness, a 75 catch season is well within the vet’s reach. (Liz Loza)
Liz’s big sleeper WR hit in ’16: Rishard Matthews; Big whiff: Torrey Smith
Jeremy Maclin, Bal (79.1 ADP, WR38)
Look, no one ever feels a rush of excitement when they draft Maclin. I get it. He’s not the buzziest name in the pool. But Maclin is fully healthy at the moment and preparing to play the slot for a team that’s led the NFL in pass attempts in each of the past two seasons. Baltimore put the ball in the air a ridiculous 679 times last year. Maclin has a relatively easy path to 80-plus catches and 900-something yards, and he’s available at a dirt-cheap price. (Andy Behrens)
John Brown, Ari (89.6 ADP, WR42)
Brown is coming off a nightmare season in which he posted career-low numbers across the board while dealing with multiple injuries, including a cyst on his spine. As a result, his current ADP sits as the WR42. Brown had the cyst removed during the offseason and reportedly feels much better, and remember, this is a receiver who topped 1,000 yards with seven scores (in 15 games) as a sophomore two years ago, when he also got 9.9 yards-per-target, which was the second highest in football (minimum 100 targets). Michael Floyd is gone, and Larry Fitzgerald is 34 years old, so there isn’t a WR going so late with near the amount of upside as Brown. (Dalton Del Don)
Dalton’s big sleeper WR hit in ’16: Davante Adams; Big whiff: Tajae Sharpe
Cameron Meredith, Chi (85.5 ADP, WR40)
Forget cute and cuddly, Meredith is a ravenous bear hungry to make his mark. Think Kung-Fu Panda, not a stiff Teddy Ruxpin. He satisfies what every fantasy player desires: 1) Opportunity, 2) Projected volume, 3) Relatively untapped potential (He’s a converted college QB). Focusing on the last point, Meredith emerged from the shadows late in 2016 posting the sixth-best WR tally Weeks 13-17. On the year, he also notched an excellent 68.0 catch percentage, tallied 9.2 yards per target (WR12) and ranked WR24 in fantasy points per target (1.87).
It’s silly to believe rusted-out Volvo Victor Cruz, Kendall Wright or perpetual disappointment Kevin White leapfrog Meredith. He will be Mike Glennon’s, or Mitch Trubisky’s, main man. Similar to another former QB, Terrelle Pryor, he is just now coming into his own as a WR. Keep in mind, Alshon Jeffery’s 22.5 percent targets share (7.8 per game in ’16) is up for grabs. Odds are strong he attracts 22-25 of the team’s looks. Throw in the fact the Bears will chase many deficits and the math says it’s conceivable he finishes with 70-plus receptions, 1,000-1,200 yards and 5-7 TDs. Bear … UP. (Brad Evans)
Brad’s big sleeper WR hit in ’16: Michael Thomas; Big whiff: Donte Moncrief
Adam Thielen, Min (115 ADP, WR50)
Thielen is ostensibly seen the No. 2 receiver in Minnesota, and I’m still trying to figure out why.
Thielen had more yards and more touchdowns than Stefon Diggs last year (despite 20 less targets), and while both players secured 75 percent of the balls their way, Thielen made an additional 3.2 yards per catch. And yet at this year’s draft table, Diggs disappears several rounds before Thielen.
Forget about Thielen’s undrafted pedigree; the Vikings gave him a three-year, $17 million contract ($11 million guaranteed) in the spring. I don’t expect anyone to compose a sonnet for Vikings QB Sam Bradford, but he did set a league record for completion percentage last year — despite a late arrival in Minnesota and a midseason coordinator change. With additional stability in Minnesota this time around, I’m excited to draft Thielen; we can buy in below his floor (heck, he was the WR31 in standard scoring last year), and take a shot at some juicy upside. (Scott Pianowski)
Scott’s big sleeper WR hit in ’16: Kenny Britt; Big whiff: Kamar Aiken