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2016 Fantasy Football Sleeper Preview

by Michael Nazarek

UPDATED 8/29/2016


Editor's Note: Below you will find a portion of our Fantasy Football Sleepers for 2016.  If you'd like to read about all 46 sleepers, please click HERE to order our 2016 Pre-Season Draft Guide.

Everyone knows about Cam Newton, Adrian Peterson, and Antonio Brown. The top 50 players taken in most fantasy drafts will likely be the same group of players. What separates the men from the boys is knowing who will produce when they are not expected to produce. To this end, I will supply you with sleeper lists of players at each of the key fantasy positions. Consider each and weigh them against your league competition. I will list sleepers in three distinct categories… obvious, darkhorses, and long-shots. I have also offered my “deep sleeper” at each position. Note: The official projected statistics for these players were not posted, as they may change with each guide update.

The following DARKHORSE SLEEPER was posted on these pages LAST JUNE. It just goes to show you that sometimes these players pan out in a HUGE way…

Devonta Freeman (Atlanta) - Freeman made a minor impact as a rookie in 2014 playing behind veteran RB Steven Jackson, but with Jackson gone, Freeman ran with the first unit this spring and should start for the Falcons come September. That said, the Falcons remain primarily a passing team, and rookie RB Tevin Coleman will share touches with Freeman. In other words, Freeman will have to impress if he has any chance to win the starting full-time job outright and put Coleman on the bench. That makes him an interesting darkhorse fantasy sleeper this summer because he might have the talent to do just that.

Yeah, I’d say he has talent. And I drafted him myself in THREE leagues last year including the FFPC! He was a big reason why I won $10,000! On to this year’s lists…



The Obvious

Derek Carr (Oakland) - Carr was on my darkhorse sleeper list this time last year, and his development has him placed firmly on the obvious sleeper category this summer. As I said last year, Carr has all the tools to be a success starter in this league, and the Raiders actually have several playmakers in the passing game to help Carr take it to the next level, which is solid fantasy starter. Second-year WR Amari Cooper will only get better, and WR Michael Crabtree and TE Clive Walford return provide even more threats for the offense. The emergence of RB Latavius Murray has taken pressure off Carr to "do it all," making him more effective. This year, you can safely draft Carr as your fantasy backup and perhaps get a solid every-week starter on your roster instead! Update 8/15: Carr has had a solid camp to date, continuing to develop good chemistry with a now healthy Cooper, Crabtree, and Walford. Everything is on track for him to produce borderline fantasy starter numbers in 2016. Update 8/29: Carr was sharp in the game last weekend, and is on track to produce what should be his finest season in the league to date.

Jameis Winston (Tampa Bay) - Winston surprised his rookie season, becoming a fantasy player that could be used for spot starts here and there. He's worked hard to take his play to the next level this off-season, losing weight to get in better shape. He's also worked hard to develop better chemistry with WR Mike Evans. WR Vincent Jackson and a healthy TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins return for another season in Tampa to help his development too. It also helps that RB Doug Martin re-signed, and RB Charles Sims returns. All of this makes him a very interesting obvious fantasy sleeper in 2016! Update 8/15: Winston was sharp in his preseason debut. With Evans lighter and in better playing shape, Jackson relatively healthy, and ASJ stating to flash in camp, Winston remains on track for a possible breakout season. Update 8/29: Winston was also sharp this past week, and seems ready to take his game to another level.

Marcus Mariota (Tennessee) - Mariota impressed in his debut as a starter his rookie season, but injuries derailed much of his season. Well, he's healthy now, and the team is encouraging him to use all of his weapons, including his feet. He barely ran his rookie season, whereas it was a big part of his college game. The Titans acquired RB DeMarco Murray and drafted RB Derrick Henry to help boost the running game, and also signed WR Rishard Matthews to help the passing game. Bottom Line: Mariota is in position to develop quickly, and could produce nearly every-week fantasy starter numbers soon, making him an obvious fantasy sleeper. Update 8/15: Mariota was solid in his preseason debut. With the running game shining, it will take the pressure off Mariota to make all the plays. That should allow him to relax and make plays more easily, including some running himself. Everything is on track for Mariota to have a nice season, provided he stays healthy. Update 8/29: Mariota is looking good, and should improve on his stats if he stays healthy. One caveat... He may not throw too many TDs considering the muscle the team has at the RB position.

The Darkhorse

Tyrod Taylor (Buffalo) - Taylor emerged as the team's starter late in pre-season last year. He had his ups and downs during the 2015 season, but did show enough potential for the team to keep him as their starter. WR Sammy Watkins helped his development, that is, when he was playing and not injured. Taylor can run, so he's more along the lines of a Russell Wilson than an Eli Manning, but not nearly as accurate with his arm. While he has a year of starting experience under his belt, the team has held off extending him because they aren't sure if he'll continue to develop or regress in 2016. In addition, the Bills didn't exactly add to the offensive weapons around Taylor, keeping him a darkhorse fantasy sleeper at best this year. Update 8/15: Taylor played just one quick series in his initial preseason game this past week, but with a new deal under his belt, he is motivated to earn the money that is not guaranteed beyond 2016. With Watkins (foot) getting healthy, things are looking up for Taylor in the Bills passing game. Update 8/29: Taylor has looked fairly good and with Watkins healthy again, his numbers should improve in 2016.

Kirk Cousins (Washington) - Cousins threw a whopping 11 TD passes in his final three games in 2015, so there is hope that he's overcome his penchant for the interception to become a solid starter. That said, the Redskins chose to franchise him and they haven't been able to sign him to a new long-term contract. Anyway, Cousins has great talent around him including TE Jordan Reed, WR DeSean Jackson, WR Pierre Garcon, and rookie WR Josh Doctson. If Cousins can stay on track, he could be extended and remain the Redskins starter for years to come. Then again, he could regress to become just another turnover prone QB. That's why he's a darkhorse sleeper in 2016. Update 8/15: Cousins played one series in his preseason debut, but completed all five throws. Doctson is still out with an Achilles injury, but D-Jax and Garcon are healthy, and Reed is only dinged, so there's plenty of time for this offensive unit to jel, keeping Cousins a nice darkhorse fantasy sleeper. Update 8/29: Cousins is likely to be forced to throw due to the injury situation at RB, so the mad bomber could be back early in 2016!

Jay Cutler (Chicago) - Cutler used to be known as a careless gunslinger. That worked fairly well in Denver, but not exactly well in Chicago. He played more in control last year, throwing for 21 scores and just 11 picks. That said, he only threw for 21 TDs despite missing only one game. Simply put, that's not enough TDs to warrant for starting fantasy consideration. Cutler gets franchised WR Alshon Jeffery back in 2016, and WR Kevin White and WR Eddie Royal are healthy. If he can increase his TDs by at least five, then he'll bring a nice return as a darkhorse fantasy sleeper in most drafts this summer. Update 8/15: Cutler saw only limited action in his first preseason game, but he's healthy and working hard to develop chemistry with White. Jeffery has been in and out of practice with a ding and Royal has a concussion, but there is still plenty of time for everyone to get on the same page, keeping Cutler an interesting fantasy sleeper. Update 8/29: Cutler has struggled a bit this preseason, but the pieces are in place for a solid season if he and Jeffery stay healthy.

The Long-Shot

Brock Osweiler (Houston) - Osweiler left the Broncos for the Texans in free agency. He's set to start in a new system with new weapons. While he does have WR DeAndre Hopkins, he also only has WR Cecil Shorts (injury prone) returning as a veteran presence in the passing game. Anytime a quarterback switches teams, there is a big learning curve, and it's one that might take an inexperienced Osweiler a bit of time to learn. That means he's certainly no lock to produce solid numbers as the team's new starter. They did give him a big contract, so they are committed to him. I'm just saying that fantasy owners should use caution when considering drafting Osweiler. Take him as your backup or #3 QB and take a wait-and-see approach. That is what it means to be a long-shot fantasy sleeper. Update 8/15: QB Brock Osweiler struggled in his debut with the Texans Sunday night against the Dolphins, but the team is not panicking. Some growing pains are expected, and the money owed Osweiler will keep him the starting job entering the season. This is why he's a longshot fantasy sleeper in the fist place. Update 8/29: Osweiler was very sharp in the past two games, and seems more than ready to lead the Texans with a solid passing performance in 2016.

Jared Goff ® (Los Angeles) - Goff was the first pick taken in the draft this off-season, and is expected to start from the get go. As he learns, Goff will also be dealing with a rather thin wideout crops in terms of success and talent. WR Tavon Austin has the most talent, but he's more of a gadget player. Veteran WR Kenny Britt's best days are behind him due to numerous knee injuries. WR Brian Quick is the only other wideout with experience on he roster and he couldn't crack a starting job in 2015. In addition, TE Jared Cook is now a Packer, so look for the learning curve to be a long one for Goff this season. That said, he is talented, which makes him an interesting long-shot fantasy sleeper considering the lack of talent around him. Update 8/15: Goff injured his shoulder during his first game as a Ram, but it's not considered to be serious. That said, he was up and down in the game, and has a lot to learn. So much so that rumors are circulating that QB Case Keenum is the favorite to start come week #1. Goff will have to turn things around to stick on this list. Update 8/29: Goff bruised his tailbone and won't start come week #1, but at some point, he will take over in 2016 without as doubt, so he stays on this list, but isn't one to draft right now in re-drafter leagues.

The Deep-Sleeper

Robert Griffin III (Cleveland) (DEBUTS 8/29) - I wouldn't have believed it if I didn't see it myself, but RGIII isn't playing half badly as the new starter for the Browns this summer. He's hit several long passes to WR Terrelle Pryor and WR Josh Gordon during the preseason, and is making better decisions and throwing with more accuracy. I'm not saying he will be top 10 fantasy QB, but there is potential here of some solid play, making him my new deep sleeper. Let's just call him a nice #3 fantasy QB.



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