2017 Fantasy Football Draft Kit

2017 Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Sleepers: Steeplechase


It’s a long season. The guys you drafted for your fantasy football team are rarely the same players you see on your roster at the end. We grab, we dump, we stream, we stash, we trade and shape our regular roster by the demands of happenstance. It’s like a steeplechase. Sometimes the favorites fall at the very first fence.

One other thing we do during the season is plug ‘n play several positions. In the bye week era, it’s almost impossible not to spot start a sleeper at some point. There will come a time where an unsung player comes along that fits a certain matchup, yet he’s down the list as a reliable fantasy point gainer. You pick him up as a viable dart throw anyway. These weekly sleepers are as common to fantasy football as an egg on toast.

What about a season long sleeper? In 2016, we had a few of those and they are hard to predict. Who would have thought Kenny Britt would emerge into fantasy relevance in the middle of the season? I certainly didn’t. I did expect Terrelle Pryor to break on the scene, but I still had some lingering apprehension. Such is the nature of sleepers.

2017 Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Sleepers

And that’s the thing. Wide receiver sleepers are the least confident draft picks and far more speculative than any other position.  You can deduce sleeper running backs with more concrete measure and some better assurance. Chris Wright does just that in his running back sleeper piece.

Receivers have several varying factors involved. The decision of the quarterback, coach, gameplans, etc. You may have to wait deep into the season for any moves up the fantasy ladder. Some of us just can’t hang on to dead weight that long and they end up dumped back into waivers for another player of the moment.

With all that in mind, I’ll examine these sleepers based on their situational strengths and weaknesses, so you can weigh your options. Overall, I think these players have potential for boom and higher return for where you draft them.

Zay Jones, Buffalo Bills

Zay Jones is an easy possibility to work out from sheer logic. Everyone involved in fantasy football knows this one. Even you, the knowledgeable reader, expected it I’m sure. Sammy Watkins is an injury time bomb and Jones by default would see extra targets. Straight forward, is it not? Even if Watkins were to play a full 16, Zay Jones remains a good bet for adequate production as a flex or bye week plug.

Jones had a great combine and it translated into higher esteem in the NFL draft. Taken at number 37, he shows all the appeal everyone expects from the best wide receivers. Hands, speed, size, and strength. Of the four, his speed is suspect. Yes, he can do a 4.4 range at the combine, but it does not translate the same in game situations. The reason for this is his weakness for breaking away from coverage.

I would not worry about this too much. It’s something coaches can adjust. His competition is mild too. Philly Brown and Andre Holmes are just a bit too distant to overtake Jones in regular targets. I will say however that I consider Holmes a possible sleeper in his own right for deep leagues.
Update Aug 12: The acquistion of Anquan Boldin and Jordan Matthews may affect the target potential for Zay Jones. The news is still fresh, but the skill-set of Jones doesn’t change. However, the addition of a seasoned veteran who once caught balls from Kurt Warner and an Eagles player eager to prove himself makes it a harder road for Jones. The opportunity chances may come later rather than sooner in the Bills’ offense for him.

JJ Nelson, Arizona Cardinals

It has almost become a fantasy rule that taking a flier on a Cardinals receiver is always sound. No other team has better depth at the position than they do. Even with all the mouths to feed, including David Johnson, the Cardinals seem to get around to everyone eventually.

There are other reasons and some that are obvious. For instance, Larry Fitzgerald showing signs of late-season decline in effectiveness; a trait that affects even the great ones. Kevin Huo my co-host on The Fantasy Edge and myself made this very point. Kevin also discusses JJ Nelson in his Late Round Targets piece.

Although I am on record as giving John Brown a strong case for a bounce-back season, you can’t count on anything in the NFL. JJ Nelson earned his place as a playmaker on the Cardinals. Whether John Brown resumes his potential as a 1000 yard receiver or not, JJ Nelson could equally compete with Brown as the man next to Fitzgerald.

Whatever happens, as I said from the start, you rarely go wrong on drafting a Cardinals receiver.

Taylor Gabriel, Atlanta Falcons

Although Gabriel appears locked-in as the third wide receiver in Atlanta, I think we could be overlooking a possible fantasy winner here. Gabriel scored more touchdowns in 2016 than Julio Jones and with much less than half the targets!

I am going to stick my neck out here and predict those targets to Taylor Gabriel go up in 2017 from 50 to 80 or better.  The young speedster became a strong weekly sleeper last season and had the look of a guy who was ballin’. I would rather draft Gabriel than Mohammed Sanu; despite the presumed pecking order.

Gabriel is actually one of the reasons I’m somewhat passive in my fantasy convictions for Julio Jones. I don’t think Gabriel imposes much on Julio’s production, but there’s an undeniable fantasy chill going on here that I can’t seem to shake. Call it spider-sense I guess. It would be rational therefore to have Gabriel around to protect your first round investment in Julio.

Ted Ginn, New Orleans Saints

A 32-year-old sleeper? Seriously? Ted Ginn is no ‘has been’ just yet. I don’t think there could be any better spot in the league for Ginn to land than in New Orleans. He didn’t just get a one-year “show me” contract; it was a three-year deal. That just shows the confidence. Ginn has actually been a fantasy sleeper plug over the past couple of seasons. He’s one of those late-career bloomers you see from time to time.

Ginn’s production remains tempered by the fact there’s plenty of mouths to feed in New Orleans, but consider this: Michael Thomas, Willie Snead, and Brandin Cooks all topped 100 targets in 2016. Ginn replaces Cooks in the lineup. Okay, I don’t think he just steps in and resumes Cook’s reception opportunities. I actually suspect Coby Fleener gains the best target increase from Drew Brees in 2017, but if Ginn can reach the 80s range, it’s still good.

Now for the damp part. Ginn is still a sleeper and there are no guarantees of anything. We saw what Marques Colston got at age 32 from Drew Brees in 2015. 67 targets, 45 receptions, 500+ yards and four touchdowns. Yes, those are dull numbers. So, although there is upside for Ginn here, expectations have to remain restrained as with any sleeper. At Ginn’s level however, the risk is low for a much higher return on investment.

Marqise Lee, Jacksonville Jaguars

Marqise Lee was the most reliable receiver on the Jaguars by far in 2016. Of the 41 players in the league targeted by their quarterbacks 100+ times, Marqise Lee held a better catch percentage (60.0%) than some other pretty big names in the NFL, including his esteemed teammate Allen Robinson (48.3%).

Allen Hurns fell out of favor in 2016 on the Jaguars. Marqise Lee steadily gained in stature and is now the clear number two on the team.

Marqise Lee and his rise are similar to that of Adam Thielen of the Minnesota Vikings. Both came into their third season with hardly a blip on the fantasy radar and skyrocketed in usage on their respective teams. They rhyme in context for their roles as well. Both are possession type receivers.

The Jaguars are building around Leonard Fournette with Blake Bortles transitioning into a more “game manager” type quarterback – or so the thinking goes these days. A sure-hand possession receiver in such an offense is bound to have a steady role. That guy just happens to be Marqise Lee.

Will Fuller, Houston Texans

We sometimes expect too much out of rookies. Will Fuller ranked third in receiving among his 2016 rookie wide receiving class. I think you also have to consider that as a major achievement because of the futility of Brock Osweiler. How much higher would his numbers (47-635-2) be if a steadier quarterback was at the helm?

It’s a fair question because DeAndre Hopkins too suffered a severe decline under the leadership of Osweiler. Let’s do a thought experiment. Let’s say DeAndre Hopkins hit a robust ceiling area of 1200+ yards instead of the 950+ he actually made. A 30% increase. Give a 30% increase to Will Fuller as well. It would put Fuller in the region of 820+ yards. Perhaps with a few extra touchdowns.

For a rookie, that’s not a bad career starter and neither really is the actual 635 yard total. As with every sleeper, however, there is a hindrance; otherwise, everyone would jump on this. The quarterbacking of the Texans might still hamper the production of both Hopkins and Fuller once again.

Tom Savage and the rookie Deshaun Watson are going to switch between starter and backup roles somewhere along the line. This may not help the chemistry until Watson can settle in. Problem is, we don’t know when and what the effect really will be. If you want to look at the situation as the glass half-full, then Fuller has decent upside to improve on his 2016 output. Many predict Watson to be the most successful rookie quarterback of the 2017 class.
UPDATED AUG 8: Will Fuller will miss at least 2-3 months because of a broken collarbone. You can scratch him.

2017 Fantasy Football Position Previews
QuarterbacksRunning BacksWide ReceiversTight Ends

For more F6P preseason coverage please visit our 2017 Draft Kit section.

About Richard Savill

Richard is an NFL Fantasy Football Writer and Editor of Fantasy Six Pack. Host of The Fantasy Edge Podcast. FantasyPros Contributor. Member of the FSWA. Richard is known for his "outside the box" insight into NFL fantasy football. Winner of the 16-Team 2015 FSWA challenge.

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