Anyone can identify the back-up when an elite running back goes down with an injury, but by then, all that matters is who has a higher waiver priority or more FAAB to spend. In today’s landscape, identifying deep sleepers are becoming harder and harder to come by.
This list is not designed to identify handcuffs. This list is meant to be proactive; to help you recognize players who could usurp the incumbent whether an injury occurs or not; to find talent based on pedigree or opportunity based on the situation.
As it stands, you’re unlikely to recognize a lot of the names on my Deep Sleepers list for 2019. For most shallow leagues, these players shouldn’t be drafted. They are names to file away for a later date.
For those of you in deeper leagues, you may want to throw a couple of darts at these players at the end of your draft and take a wait-and-see approach.
Either way, I hope it helps in your never-ending prep for the upcoming season.
Fantasy Football Deep Sleepers
RB Dexter Williams, Green Bay Packers
According to Rivals.com, Williams ranked 12th at running back coming out of high school in 2015, one spot behind another fellow four-star you may have heard of named Saquon Barkley.
Unlike Barkley, however, Williams struggled throughout most of his college career — marred by off-the-field incidents and run-ins with Head Coach Brian Kelly at Notre Dame. He finally found his way onto the field in 2019, rushing for 995 yards and 16 touchdowns in just 9 games, while helping lead the Fighting Irish to an undefeated regular season and College Football Playoff berth.
Despite all the issues and overall lack of production, the Packers still decided he was worth a sixth-round investment, even with several running backs in tow. With a new regime taking charge in Green Bay, the old guard at running back should have their heads on a swivel. On talent alone, Aaron Jones should be the heavy favorite for backfield touches. No one is questioning that. Jones averaged a robust 5.5 yards per carry last season but missed time due to injury and suspension. It’s too early in Jones’s career to paint him as injury-prone or a knucklehead off the field, but one more slip up could lead to a lengthy suspension, thus paving the way for more opportunity. That opportunity would likely come down to Jamaal Williams, a plodder in his own right, or Dexter Williams. If given the choice among the two, I’d hope for the Packers to take a chance on the upside that Dexter could bring to the table.
RB Devine Ozigbo, New Orleans Saints
I’m not here to argue that Ozigbo is an immense talent primed for a breakout in his rookie year. After all, he’s a former three-star prospect who ran a 4.70 40-yard dash — a speedster he is not. That said, he did check in with an above average SPARQ athletic score in the 60th percentile, and following the departure of Mark Ingram, there’s an opportunity in the Saints offense to be the thunder to Alvin Kamara’s lightning.
Now I know the Saints just signed Latavius Murray to a fairly sizable contract this offseason, but he’s also entering the latter stages of his career (he will turn 30 in January). There’s certainly a chance that the bumps and bruises from year’s past will catch up with Murray or that he will be overmatched in the New Orleans offense, much like Peterson in 2017, thus creating a sizable market share for a bruiser to fill the void — one such as the 6-foot, 225 lb Ozigbo.
WR Deon Cain, Indianapolis Colts
Coming out of high school in 2015, Cain ranked fourth at wide receiver in his class according to Rivals, behind the likes of Calvin Ridley and Christian Kirk to name a few. A five-star in his own right and a top-20 player nationally, his college stats never aligned with his lofty pedigree, yet he still managed to average 15.7 yards per catch over his three-year college career at Clemson.
So after watching 20 wide receivers taken ahead of him in the 2018 NFL Draft, including Ridley (first round) and Kirk (second round), Cain (sixth round) went into rookie minicamp with a chip on his shoulder. All he did was receive glowing reports from the Colts’ coaching staff and members of the media. His arrow was pointing up. That is until he tore his ACL in the preseason opener.
The good news for Cain is that the injury happened early enough in the 2018 season, allowing for a full recovery in time for 2019. This offseason, the Colts signed Devin Funchess (whatever) and drafted Parris Campbell (slot profile), but there could be an opportunity on the outside for the 6-foot, 2-inch Cain to make an impact with his 4.43 speed. In an Andrew Luck-led offense, that’d be a pretty good spot to be and could quickly rise from deep sleepers to fantasy asset by seasons end.
WR Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers
Johnson is 5-foot, 10-inches and weighs 183 lbs. He ran a 4.53 40-yard dash. Antonio Brown is 5-foot, 10-inches and weighs 186 lbs. He ran a 4.56 40-yard dash coming out of college. Both are from Florida. Both went to MAC schools. Both were drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Do you see what I’m getting at…?
Okay, that’s about where the comparisons stop because very few players have ever been as productive as Antonio Brown.
But Johnson makes the list for one reason: opportunity. Following Brown’s departure, 168 vacated targets opened up in the vaunted Steelers’ passing game. Sure, some of those will likely go to JuJu, but there’s a real opportunity for someone to come in and take a lion’s share of them.
As it currently stands, Donte Moncrief and James Washington are his biggest competition for playing time. If you’ve ever rostered Moncrief, you know the ups-and-downs that come with him as a fantasy player. That same inconsistency shows up on film, too. His lapse in concentration from play-to-play could quickly find him in the doghouse with the hotheaded Big Ben.
As for Washington, well, if you’ve watched him play, you know that he’s pretty much a one-trick pony. He runs a go route, and that’s about it. He was drafted to be a poor man’s Martavis Bryant, and so far, that’s exactly what he’s been.
Since we already know what Moncrief and Washington are (or aren’t, for that matter), why not throw a dart at Johnson?
TE Dawson Knox, Buffalo Bills
Knox was drafted in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, due largely to his blistering 4.59 40-yard dash and 84th percentile SPARQ score. Other than that, his college production leaves much to be desired, as he hauled in only 15 passes for 284 yards and nary a touchdown in his junior year at Ole Miss. But you know who else had mediocre stats in college? George Kittle, who only caught 22 balls for 314 yards in his senior season at Iowa. Simply put, oftentimes college systems don’t run their offense through the tight end — which is why we can largely ignore these stats. However, if you dig a little deeper you can see that Knox did average 18.9 yards per reception in his junior year while checking in at 6-foot, 5-inches, and 254 lbs. This explosiveness certainly matches up with his SPARQ score.
All that being said, rookie tight ends experience a learning curve when entering the NFL — one that could be especially steep for Knox, a converted high school quarterback who’s still learning the position. But if you look at the current Buffalo Bills’ depth chart, his skillset is the only one that matches up with a big arm quarterback like Josh Allen — something the front office had in mind when using valuable draft capital on him in April. If these two can get on the same page in training camp, he could rise up the depth chart quickly and make an impact in the second half of the season making him one of the more intriguing deep sleepers.
Other Deep Sleepers to file away: RB Mike Weber – Dallas Cowboys, RB Jordan Scarlett – Carolina Panthers, WR Jalen Hurd – San Francisco 49ers, WR Trey Quinn – Washington Redskins, TE Maxx Williams – Arizona Cardinals