Fantasy football addicts and enthusiasts search high and low for their breakout underdogs each and every year. Here are my top 4 sleeper picks for the wide receivers, some underrated youth and a wily veteran.
The 2014 draft will go down in history as one of the best of all time in terms of wide receiver talent. One player taken in the second round of that draft and still considered a sleeper pick is Marqise Lee.
Odell Beckham Jr., Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans, all picked in the first round, have excelled. And Allen Robinson, picked later than Lee in the second round by the Jacksonville Jaguars pick, has also. Lee didn’t see the field enough, enduring an injury plagued 2015. So he fell to third on the depth chart due to unbelievable breakout years by Robinson and Allen Hurns.
But if history has taught me anything, it’s that it repeats itself. Using his college career as an indication, he should be projected at a much higher fantasy value. All sorts of records were shattered, including most yards in a game for the Pac-12 with 345. Being a third wide receiver he should still be ranked higher due to his ability to accurately run deep routes.
Choosing to forgo his senior year was ultimately his downfall and reason for his eventual second round placement. Had he stayed a final season in USC, it’s fair to say his draft stock would have propelled miles higher. A deep sleeper, Lee is one wide receiver you want to drop into a WR3/Flex role.
Sticking with the 2014 draft, another sleeper wide receiver rarely talked about is Jeff Janis. Many are hesitant about the Green Bay wide receiver due to the return of Jordy Nelson. This should not be the case as Aaron Rodgers loves to spread the ball around. A resurgent Eddie Lacy will also add to the creative side of the Packers offense.
What makes Janis such a sleeper pick, is his ability to make big time plays. As a college athlete, he averaged over 17 yards a reception in four years at SVSU. Turning in monster games and posting numbers like he did speaks volumes to his potential. His breakout performance came in the divisional playoffs where he caught 7 catches for 145 yards and 2 touchdowns. This all coming against one of the best secondaries in the NFL, the Arizona Cardinals.
With such an easy schedule, look for Mike McCarthy to rest his top two wide receivers in Nelson and Cobb. It will likely result in them relying heavily on the younger talent. In a similar situation to Lee, Janis will look to benefit from the downplay of his role. And he should, particularly since the guys in front of him on the depth are injury prone.
Steve Smith SR
You wouldn’t think a 37 year old coming off an Achilles injury could be taken seriously as a sleeper pick. Steve Smith Sr will make you eat those thoughts as he is one wide receiver severely slept on.
His starting QB is also returning from an injury, as Joe Flacco is also back for redemption. Baltimore Ravens fan or not, one can’t deny how much of an impact Smith Sr. makes when he plays. He ranked in the top four in receivers last season before he went down. Just under 100 yards a game is no average stat, and this wide receiver is no average human.
Never one to be underrated, entering what many believe to be his final season, Smith is in unfamiliar territory. A passionate player to say the least, he will bring fire and intensity in his final attempt at a ring. Like a fine wine, he continues to get better, don’t be shocked if he once again finds the top five.
After signing a rather lucrative contact this past off season, Tavon Austin looks to make waves in 2016. Austin has a new home this year, trading in his St. Louis skyline for a bungalow in Burbank. The Rams made the move to Los Angeles, solidifying the leagues much anticipated return to the California coast.
There is a lot hype surrounding second-year running back Todd Gurley and rookie quarterback Jared Goff. But Austin is in position to steal the spotlight. So while defensive game plans focus on shutting down the run game, the Rams could throw the ball.
A threat to score when on offense, this wide receiver doubles as a return specialist as well. In 2015, he showed this by accomplishing a feat untouched since Gayle Sayers in 1965. Five receiving touchdowns, four rushing touchdowns and one punt return. That’s an unbelievable stat line for a sophomore wide receiver.
Though not a deep sleeper, most have not caught on to the skill and upside from LA’s top wide receiver yet. Ranked in the 20’s in 2015, he should easily make the top ten in 2016, anchoring heavily on that rabid fan base.
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