Sleepers are pretty dependent on matchups and potential changes in usage. Matchup data from last season isn’t all that reliable; we’ll need a few weeks before we can fit that piece into the puzzle. And we’ve all spent several months now trying to project usage, so we’ll have to wait for things to change to identify sleepers by that method. So instead, here are a few players who could greatly exceed their draft-day price.
From a passing perspective, Smith was bad last year. Worst-passer-in-the-league bad. Among quarterbacks who took at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps, he was dead last in QB rating and completion percentage. He was next to last in completion percentage when under pressure and when throwing on play action. Despite all that, he still managed to finish as the 20th-best fantasy quarterback. The safety net is his rushing production. Smith’s 72.6 fantasy points accumulated via rushing production were the third-most among quarterbacks, behind only Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick.
Let’s play with some numbers. Let’s start by assuming Smith throws the same number of passes that he threw last year (443). And let’s say his completion percentage (55.8) improves a few percentage points, up to 58.8. That would make him about the fifth-worst quarterback in terms of completion percentage. If he simply maintains his 12.33 yards-per-completion rate, that would add about 100 yards to his season total. If he throws, say, 470 times with the improved completion percentage, he’ll add about 250 yards to his passing total from last year. It’s marginal, but that’s four to ten extra points.
Then there is the issue of Smith’s touchdown rate, which was only 2.7 percent last year, a number that is sure to move toward the mean of 4.69 percent. The expected TD rate for quarterbacks with a yards-per-attempt mark of less than 7.0 is 3.6 percent (Smith’s YPA was 6.9). With the same amount of attempts as last year, he’d throw 15-16 touchdowns with a TD rate of 3.6 percent. That’s another 12-16 fantasy points. But if he takes a step forward in terms of completion percentage as discussed above, his YPA would jump to 7.25. The average TD rate for quarterbacks with a YPA between 7.0 and 7.4 is 4.3 percent. With that TD rate, Smith should throw 18-19 touchdowns.
The long story short here is that Smith was a borderline top-20 fantasy quarterback last season when he could not have been any worse throwing the ball. According to our ADP chart, Smith isn’t one of the top 23 quarterbacks being drafted. On other sites, his ADP at his position is as low as 29. But there’s no reason he can’t at least repeat as the 20th-best quarterback as long as he keeps running. If he improves at all as a passer, Smith could flirt with being a top-15 quarterback.
It feels like Bradshaw is old and washed up. He’s been around for seven seasons, and he has been injured often, which is something we associate with older players. But Bradshaw is only 28 years old, and he has less than 1,000 career carries. Those numbers far from prohibitively say Bradshaw is on the downside of his career. You may think he’s not worth your time because he’s always hurt, but you can’t just write him off because he’s “old.”
Indianapolis Colts RB Ahmad Bradshaw
All that is standing in front of Bradshaw is Trent Richardson. You’ve surely heard negative things about Richardson, but let’s rehash that. Among the 32 backs who got 50 percent or more of their team’s carries last year, Richardson finished last in yards per carry. He was 29th in yards after contact per attempt. He had only two carries of at least 15 yards, with 38 yards being his biggest gain; both marks were the worst in the league. Given the price the Colts paid to get Richardson, it’s possible they’ll give him more work than he deserves. But if they simply allocate carries based on which back gives them the best chance to win, Bradshaw should receive the bulk of the work.
Bradshaw’s ADP, 51st among running backs, has him coming off of the board in the 14th round in 12-team leagues. It should go without saying, but you can’t find any other backs as good as Bradshaw with a path as clear as his to a starting job that late in the draft. Assuming you’re playing in a standard league with 16 rounds, and you’re taking a defense and kicker with your last two picks, Bradshaw can be had as your last or next-to-last position player. If he gets hurt again or the Colts stubbornly give Richardson all of the work, it’s no big deal to cut one of your last picks.
When we’re talking sleeper receivers, we might as well be talking about who is the next Alshon Jeffery. To find that out, let’s look at what Jeffery did well in his 2012 rookie year prior to breaking out.
Tennesse Titans WR Justin Hunter
Really, the one thing that Jeffery did well in his rookie season was go long. Jeffery was targeted 20 yards downfield or more on 39.6 percent of his targets as a rookie. That helped him average 15.3 yards per reception, good for 20th in the league among receivers who were in for at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps. Last year, Hunter was targeted 20 yards downfield or more on 39 percent of his targets, almost identical to Jeffery. Hunter did a little more with his deep targets, averaging 19.7 yards per catch.
Hunter has all the measurables you want to see. Maybe the most important factor for being a dominant receiver is height, and Hunter has it at 6-foot-4. He also ran a 4.36 40-yard dash, and his vertical is 39.5 inches.
One argument against Hunter is that he’s not in a situation as good as what Jeffery has in Chicago. Jay Cutler is better than Jake Locker, and Marc Trestman’s offense is as fantasy-friendly as they come. But Locker showed signs of improvement prior to injury last year, and the offensive-minded Ken Whisenhunt should help the Titans’ offense as a whole. So yes, Hunter’s situation isn’t as good as it could possibly be, but it’s not as bad as it may seem.