Fantasy

Fantasy Football: 10 Deep Sleepers to Watch

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With the opening of training camps just over a month away, it is officially time to start thinking about fantasy football.

One of the best parts of playing fantasy football is identifying potential sleepers, players who can exceed expectations and allow you to outsmart your friends in the most gratifying way possible. We’re taking that quest on step further, looking for “deep sleepers” who can come out of nowhere and win some games for you.

Most of these guys should not go in the first dozen rounds of any draft, but their situations are worth monitoring. If things break their way and they are given an opportunity to get some real run, these players are capable of putting up points in a hurry.

QB Matt Barkley – Eagles

This is a trust issue. I don’t trust Sam Bradford to stay healthy; I don’t think Mark Sanchez can protect the football; and I don’t believe Tim Tebow is anything more than a 2-point conversion specialist. I also don’t trust Chip Kelly to pick one horse and ride him, which leaves me to believe Barkley will get his turn under center at some point. If that happens, Philadelphia’s fast-paced attack and impressive depth at the skill positions will ensure Barkley puts up a lot of points.

QB David Fales – Bears

Trust is an issue here, as well, although fit is an even bigger factor. John Fox is an old-school coach who believes in establishing the running game, protecting the football and playing good defense. Jay Cutler and Jimmy Clausen turn the ball over too much to win over a coach like that, which makes me think Fales will get a chance at some point to throw the ball to Alshon Jeffery, Kevin White and Martellus Bennett. Fales has a quick release and good accuracy in the short to intermediate passing game.

RB Cameron Artis-Payne – Panthers

Jonathan Stewart has appeared in all 16 games just once in the last five years and has never started more than eight games in a season. His longtime backfield mate, DeAngelo Williams, is now running with the Steelers. That means new opportunities for some young legs, including sixth-round pick Artis-Payne. The rookie from Auburn was extremely productive as a senior (over 1,750 yards from scrimmage) and shows pro-level patience and vision. His north-and-south running style and impressive ball security will endear him to head coach Ron Rivera.

RB Edwin Baker – Saints

Head coach Sean Payton believes in the running back-by-committee system, which leaves plenty of carries to be had behind starter Mark Ingram. Baker will pick up some of those scraps; his strong inside running style should exploit defenses worn down by the powerful Ingram. Baker is also a capable receiver, which will help him fill some of the void create by Pierre Thomas’ release.

WR Leonard Hankerson – Falcons

Flash back to the 2012 and 2013 seasons in Washington, when Hankerson racked up 68 catches for 918 yards and six scores in just 26 games. Unfortunately, a knee injury halted Hankerson’s ascent. He is now nearly two years removed from ACL surgery and has been reunited with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who oversaw his progress in the Nation’s Capitol. He’s also working with a quarterback (Matt Ryan) who is light years ahead of anything he was exposed to with the Redskins.

WR Denarius Moore – Bengals

This is another reunion story. In Cincinnati, Moore is back under the guidance of offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, who was Moore’s head coach with the Raiders back in 2011. Moore caught 33 balls for 618 yards and five touchdowns that season, but that once-promising career went off the rails last season as Moore set career-lows across the board. Moore joins a Bengals offense that ranked in the top half of the league in yards and points last season and should make that unit even more explosive.

WR Dontrelle Inman – Chargers

There is nothing special about Inman’s rookie numbers (12 catches for 158 yards) until you realize all of that came during the final six quarters of the season. He instantly blossomed when given the opportunity and has shown a new swagger throughout San Diego’s offseason program. He runs crisp routes, shows reliable hands and enjoys strong chemistry with Philip Rivers. It is possible Inman could climb ahead of 33-year-old Malcom Floyd in the receiving rotation, which would result in some impressive numbers.

WR Jaron Brown – Cardinals 

Fantasy owners never know what to think when they see “Touchdown, J. Brown!” flash across their screen. While Arizona’s John Brown is a sleeper candidate in his own right, Jaron Brown better fits the “deep sleeper” category. Jaron made strides in his second season, doubling his number of receptions (from 11 to 22) and scoring a pair of touchdowns, including the go-ahead points in a come-from-behind win over the Chiefs. Look for Jaron to keep trending upward, especially if Larry Fitzgerald cannot get unglued.

TE MyCole Pruitt – Vikings

Norv Turner loves to get his tight ends involved in the passing game. And with Minnesota’s No. 2 tight end (Rhett Ellison) basically a glorified offensive lineman, Pruitt has a chance to make an impact catching the football. He comes off a highly productive season at Southern Illinois (81 catches for 861 yards and 13 touchdowns) and looks to use those playmaking skills to earn looks from emerging quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Also, when Adrian Peterson draws linebackers and safeties closer to the line of scrimmage, Pruitt is capable of taking advantage.

TE Rob Housler – Browns

Housler comes over from Arizona, where Bruce Arians loathes to throw the ball to the tight end. He won’t have that problem in Cleveland, especially with the Browns hurting for viable receiving options. With no Josh Gordon (again) and Jordan Cameron now in Miami, Housler will be expected to be a primary target for Josh McCown and/or Johnny Manziel. Housler has been running with Cleveland’s starters all offseason and will be given every opportunity to shatter his previous career-highs of 45 catches and 454 yards. Some may not even consider him a “deep sleeper,” but with just one touchdown catch in four seasons, it says here he qualifies.


About Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo has spent more than 10 years as a team expert at Scout.com, primarily covering the Chargers, Cardinals and Panthers. He has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and other venues.