NFL Fantasy Draft: Each AFC team’s best sleeper pick
Every team has NFL Fantasy value. Even the 0-16 version of the Cleveland Browns gave me a high-floor streaming running back last season. Finding the value that others overlook makes the difference between NFL fantasy playoff teams and the team everyone wants to face in crunch time.
You can get a worthy quarterback in the later rounds... if you're willing to wait.
Two years ago, I drafted Matt Ryan in the last round, He finished as the QB-1 that season. Last year, I drafted Kareem Hunt in the 14th round. Those choices gave me two consecutive NFL Fantasy titles.
These are NFL fantasy sleepers I’m thinking about from the AFC. I’ll probably use a couple of my late round picks on them.
Because I love to share- at least with people who are not in my money league- here you go:
New England Patriots: WR Cordarelle Patterson
Tom Brady makes a lot of players better. Perhaps that is why you see more Patriots represented in the average NFL fantasy league than any other team. But once you get past Brady, Burkhead, Edelman, Gronkowski, White, Hogan, and their defense, who else is there?
There is Cordarelle Patterson. Although he was brought in as a return specialist, Patterson has made a bunch of tough and important catches in his career. This season, especially in the four games without Edelman, defenses will focus on taking out Chris Hogan in the red zone. Meanwhile, Patterson will win one-on-one match-ups on the opposite side.
Patterson will move ahead of Philip Dorsett in the pecking order before Edelman returns and provide some big scores for Brady and the Pats.
Buffalo Bills: QB Nathan Peterman
Stop laughing. Yes, I remember the five interceptions against the Chargers. Yes, I’ve named the second-year passer “Picked-off” Peterman in earlier articles. But I also watched the Bills’ preseason play, and there is no one more surprising than Peterman.
Quick decision making gave Peterman an 80% completion rate in preseason and the fourth-highest yardage total. His only interception bounced off the hands of Chris Ivory. LeSean McCoy should continue to keep defenses honest enough for Peterman to improve in 2018.
With the depth at quarterback this season, there is no reason to get cute in regular leagues. But if you have to flip a coin for a second passer in a 2-quarterback league, this could be the surprise of the season.
Miami Dolphins: WR Danny Amendola
Miami picked up Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson in free agency this season. They paid Wilson more money and gave him more years, which had me leaning toward him as a potential sleeper from the Dolphins.
After watching a few preseason games and listening to some local Dolphins beat writers, it looks like Amendola could be quite a bargain for Miami and for NFL fantasy owners at his current ADP of WR68.
Miami’s offensive line is holding up well. Ryan Tannehill looks healthy and as sharp as he did in 2016. Amendola runs dependable routes, mostly from the slot. Tannehill loves throwing to the slot receiver. That might not mean 160 targets, but it will mean enough to make Amendola a valuable asset.
New York Jets: WR Quincy Enunwa
Quincy Enunwa was a fashionable sleeper pick early last preseason before a knee injury knocked him out of the league. The emergency of Robbie Anderson in 2017 and the Jets current quarterback situation have kept Enunwa out of most conversations so far.
However, he has shown no signs of lingering effects from last season’s injury, catching most everything thrown his way, including contested passes.
Whether he starts the season as the Jets WR-2 or WR-3 behind Jermaine Kearse and Anderson, Enunwa will emerge as a favorite target of whoever wins the Jets quarterback competition.
Kansas City Chiefs: WR Demarcus Robinson
With so many weapons in the most explosive offense in the AFC, it is hard to see anyone breaking into the Chief’s game flow and becoming NFL fantasy relevant. But how about a wide receiver who has a special connection with Kansas City’s new hotshot quarterback?
Demarcus Robinson was targeted ten times in Patrick Mahomes NFL debut last year. He followed that up by catching all four targets from Alex Smith and scoring his first career touchdown in the playoff loss to Tennessee.
More importantly, he spent considerable time in the off-season practicing with Mahomes and developing a good relationship and confidence. I believe in Robinson more than free agent Sammy Watkins this season.
Los Angeles Chargers: TE Virgil Green
Mike Williams, arguably the WR-4 on his own team, is getting a lot of play in NFL fantasy discussions as the 6’4”, 220-pound answer to tight end Hunter Sharp’s injury. No one seems to be discussing Virgil Green.
But even though he wasn’t asked to do a lot of receiving in Denver, Green has shown that he can catch the ball when he needs to. The Chargers know this all too well. They were victimized by a 57-yard catch and run by the lanky tight end last season.
Green isn’t likely to rack up a lot of receptions and yardage, but his size and under-rated hands make him a viable red zone target to a quarterback in the habit of looking for tight ends in the end zone. I’m picking him up as my second tight end in standard leagues.
Oakland Raiders: QB Derek Carr
Statistically speaking, half of this year’s top-ten drafted quarterbacks should be expected to finish below the QB-12 ranking. Conversely, half the quarterbacks coming off NFL fantasy draft boards as second-string passers will finish in the top ten.
Derek Carr could be a top-five NFL fantasy quarterback despite his current ADP of QB-20. Working under an offensive-minded head coach for the first time, teammates report Carr is as involved and excited as they have ever seen.
Carr will be a different quarterback than what we have seen. The offense is now his and he has the weapons and experience to make it thrive. It helps that he is not in pain as he was all last season when he played with a broken bone in his back.
Denver Broncos: WR Courtland Sutton
Preparing this article, I was torn between Sutton and running back Royce Freeman. But Freeman was already climbing the ADP chart, at least until head coach Vance Joseph inexplicably announced that the Broncos’ third-best running back, Devontae Booker, is his starter. That gives the nod to the rookie wide receiver.
Sutton is locked in as the third wide receiver on a team that might struggle to run with Booker. Plus, they have a quarterback under pressure to prove his breakout 2017 was not a fluke and to save his general manager’s job.
Sutton himself has earned the moniker, “Little Megatron” for his size and ability to use his body to gain position and leverage against defenders. None other than Emmanuel Sanders predicts Sutton will be the rookie of the year and Denver’s top red zone target.
Pittsburgh Steelers: TE Vance McDonald
When Vance McDonald got traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers last season, many predicted he would thrive with Ben Roethlisberger. Injuries derailed his start, but he ended the season with four consecutive 50-yard games and had a monster playoff performance.
50-yards is a credible floor for non-elite tight ends. Every week with a touchdown is a top-ten point total. Roethlisberger remembers McDonalds performance and will make the tight end position in Pittsburgh one to be reckoned with again in 2018.
Baltimore Ravens: QB Joe Flacco
Derek Carr will be a comeback player candidate thanks to health and a new coach. Joe Flacco is a comeback candidate due to health and a new supporting cast.
Last season, Flacco looked stiff and dejected at times. Part of the reason was a second straight season of assorted injuries, most notably his back. Another part was that he didn’t seem to really like his wide receiver group. They rarely seemed to be on the same page in practice or in games.
Enter new lead receiver Michael Crabtree, new slot receiver Willie Snead, and new deep threat John Brown. Add a tight end group impressive enough to have the Ravens thinking about carrying four and last season’s breakout rusher with the sprightly return of Kenneth Dixon, and you have a loose and energetic quarterback.
Don’t underestimate the emotional parts of the game, either. The desire to send retiring general manager Ozzie Newsome out a winner is a factor, too. Flacco turns back the clock in 2018.
Cincinnati Bengals: WR Tyler Boyd
While John Ross’ long touchdown made the Twitter rounds after the third preseason game, Tyler Boyd again proved to be the more valuable receiver behind AJ Green. Ross’ drops and flawed catching technique will make him a nice deep threat, but a boom-or-bust NFL fantasy receiver.
Boyd on the other hand offers a more reliable and consistent option from the slot. He made a pair of 20-plus yard plays, too. Each kept alive a scoring drive.
Even though he can catch a pass anywhere and turn it into a chunk play, Boyd’s short game makes him a better PPR sleeper than an NFL standard option. Cincinnati’s suspect offensive line plays into Boyd’s short routes, too.
Cleveland Browns: Defense/Special Teams
There is a lot being written about the offseason upgrades on the Cleveland Browns. They appear to have two quarterbacks, which is two more than the previous few seasons. They have proven running backs and a new wide receiver.
But the unit that passes the eye test in preseason is the defense. GM John Dorsey made some nice defensive additions to go along with some core players entering a second year in Gregg Williams’ system.
Myles Garrett, Jabrill Peppers, Emmanuel Ogbah, Denzel Ward and many more give Cleveland fans something to cheer about. If undrafted, Cleveland offers a solid streaming option against running teams or teams with questions on their offensive lines.
Jacksonville Jaguars: TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Consistent tight ends are difficult to find, but Seferian-Jenkins might have as good a floor as any. Picked up as a free agent, Seferian-Jenkins reportedly emerged as a favorite target of quarterback Blake Bortles in the offseason.
That was before Marquise Lee went down for the season. Jacksonville has some promising young wideouts who will provide flash and deep threats. Seferian-Jenkins offers hands on a big target.
Any week he scores, the Jaguars tight end will be a top-ten tight end. With a dearth of red zone targets on the team, that may be more than expected.
Tennessee Titans: WR Rishard Matthews
Tennessee is relying on three young receivers and a steady veteran who leads the league with 16 yards-per-catch over the last two seasons. Why then is a second-year project drafting at WR-28 and the veteran comes off the board at an ADP of WR59/166?
Okay… it’s because the youngster is listed as the first wide receiver and the veteran just got activated off the PUP list. But the veteran Rishard Matthews has been the favorite target of Marcus Mariota these past two years. That familiarity means something.
Rishard has also been one of the most consistent NFL fantasy scoring wide receivers game-to-game over those two years. With a wealth of candidates for your WR-2,3, and 4 showing eerily similar season statistics, Matthews’ high floor is NFL fantasy gold. He shouldn’t be a sleeper.
Indianapolis Colts: TE Eric Ebron
Eric Ebron comes off a disappointing tenure in Detroit, where he wore the “potential” tag for a number of years. He signs with Indianapolis, who already has one of the most consistent NFL fantasy tight ends in Jack Doyle.
But that is okay because with a dearth of playmakers, as well as a questionable offensive line, Indianapolis coach Frank Reich will use Ebron in the slot, out wide, and occasionally, at tight end, providing Ebron with a chance at NFL fantasy relevance in 2018.
You might wonder about the Colts’ running backs, especially rookie Jordan Wilkins. He might prove valuable until Robert Turbin and Marlon Mack come back from suspension and injury to round out what could be a four or five-man committee. Remember, Reich comes from the Eagles, who killed many a running back streamer pick in 2017.
Houston Texans: WR Braxton Miller
Braxton Miller will rebound from his injury-riddled first two seasons to settle in as the third wide receiver behind DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. Sometimes a third wide receiver isn’t very relevant to NFL Fantasy rosters. But Braxton showed the ability to get chunk plays and fight off defenders in the Texans’ last preseason game.
With Deshaun Watson slinging the ball all day, there is enough work to make Braxton and Fuller worth a late-round flier. If Fuller does not make it back from his latest injury before opening day, Miller’s value jumps quite a bit.
No running backs?
There are no running backs listed among my top AFC sleepers. Royce Freeman got derailed by a bad coaching call and Jordan Wilkins’ value dropped into a committee. The secret is out on Lamar Miller, whose ADP continues to rise into RB-2 territory.
James Conner of the Steelers almost got the nod over the tight end, but it seems more likely the Steelers will run Le’Veon Bell into the ground than not, although there is a very good article here about why they might not.
The fact is, we know what to expect with most running backs. Injuries might change the landscape, but that makes for waiver wire fodder down the road.
The lack of running back sleepers also proves you better draft your rushers sooner rather than later. My advice remains to consider putting your third running back on the roster before your second wide receiver.
What do you think? If you have another AFC sleeper in mind, tell us in the comments section below