The definition of a fantasy football “sleeper” goes: the player no one saw coming or who exceeded everyone’s expectations to be one of the best fantasy producers in any given year. Examples from previous seasons include Steelers veteran running back DeAngelo Williams in 2015, Tampa Bay receiver Mike Evans and Detroit receiver Golden Tate in 2014, then Pittsburgh rookie back Le’Veon Bell in 2013, and so on and so forth.
More often than not, sleepers traditionally come from the running back, wide receiver, and tight end positions, but rarely from quarterbacks. That’s largely a supply issue, with only 32 starting quarterback jobs open in the NFL every week compared to as many as four or five backs or receivers on each team.
But, that doesn’t mean fantasy owners must spend a high-round pick on a top passer like Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, Carolina’s Cam Newton, or Seattle’s Russell Wilson. Owning any of those three would certainly improve the chances of a fantasy title, but they will cost as much as a first, second, or third round pick in most standard leagues and those picks could be better served building out your running back, receiver, and flex spots.
Furthermore, according to FantasyData.com, the 17 highest-scoring players in all of fantasy were quarterbacks which means in standard 12-team leagues five top scorers won’t start in any given week.
And like every other year, there appears to be several quarterbacks who are being selected way to low and could present amazing sleeper value to owners in 2016.
Here’s the five quarterbacks who could be excellent sleeper picks in the upcoming NFL season. All five are well-known names but their average draft positions (ADP), via FantasyPros.com, suggests owners are undervaluing each’s potential.
Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
Carr improved his completion rate to 61.1 percent, tossed 32 touchdowns (an 11 TD improvement from his rookie year), came up 13 yards shy of a 4,000-yard year, and staged four fourth-quarter comebacks. Part of the success was because receiver Michael Crabtree was a sleeper in his own right, and rookie wide out Amari Cooper lived up this considerable hype. The Raiders are fast improving team and with Carr just the 13th quarterback off the draft board, owners should quickly get on the bandwagon this year.
Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars
Another third-year quarterback stud, Bortles was the fourth-highest scoring QB in fantasy last season thanks to his 35 touchdowns. His 18 interceptions did lead the league, as did his 51 sacks. Those are fair reasons to doubt Bortles, except with receivers Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson, running back T.J. Yeldon ready to pop, and veteran back Chris Ivory padding the backfield, the Jaguars should have an explosive offense again this year behind a dominant Bortles. He’s only the eight QB off the board so sitting back and waiting until the fourth or fifth round to draft Bortles may be the best strategy.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals made things much simpler for Dalton last year. He only three 255 times, compared to more than 300 every year in his first four years in the league. The result was 25 touchdowns to only seven interceptions on top of 3,250 yards, which was only 148 yards less than 2014’s total. Dalton’s completion percentage also jumped by nearly two percent while his interception rate was almost cut in half to 1.8. Dalton has the targets in A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert, as well as backs Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard. Those are the kind of weapons that make Dalton vastly undervalued as the 14th QB off the board.
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last year’s No. 1 overall pick showed he has a steep learning curve by quickly adapting to the NFL. Winston passed for 4,042 yards and 22 touchdowns, and while he chucked 15 interceptions, also consider he was asked to drop back 535 times, the 14th highest total in the league. Throw in Winston’s powerful build and his six rushing touchdowns, and he could rival Newton and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger. Not bad for such a low ADP.
Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
If Stafford’s 41-touchdown, 5,000-yard season seems like ages ago, that’s because it’s been five years since that magical run. Nevertheless, Stafford’s thrown for at least 4,200 yards and 20 touchdowns every season since. It’s understandable for Stafford to be one of the last taken fantasy starters with receiver Calvin Johnson now gone, but if Stafford’s available in the fifth, sixth, or even seventh round he’s worth a shot.