7 Deep Fantasy Football Sleepers for Week 1
The postponement of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Miami Dolphins game has left plenty of fantasy football owners scrambling for replacements despite it only being Week 1. Preseason injuries to starting-caliber fantasy players like Spencer Ware, Cameron Meredith, or Julian Edelman may have also left teams in deep leagues feeling crushed.
If either of those are the case for your squad, or you have holes on your roster for any other reason -- especially in those 14- or 16-team leagues -- we've got you covered with seven deep sleepers for this weekend's action.
Sam Bradford, Minnesota Vikings (Owned in 10.4% of ESPN leagues)
The potential for a solid season is there for Sam Bradford in 2017. With an improved running game (Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray) and an abundance of pass-catching weapons at his disposal (Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, and Kyle Rudolph) he has a great opportunity to be successful, and it all starts with a juicy matchup in Week 1.
The Minnesota Vikings play host to the New Orleans Saints on Monday night. With the game poised to be a shootout -- they have the third-highest over/under (48) of the week -- the Vikes will need to air it out to keep pace with Drew Brees and his friends.
With a heavy passing volume against a weak secondary in the cards, the widely unowned Bradford -- 2016's most accurate passer with a 71.6% completion percentage -- is the perfect streaming weapon for those Jameis Winston owners left in the lurk.
Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals (24.9%)
With running backs, it's all about opportunity, and that's what Jeremy Hill has. Pegged as the Cincinnati Bengals' starting running back for now, Hill should see a significant workload in Week 1. While he will likely cede some touches to rookie Joe Mixon and passing-down back Giovani Bernard versus the Baltimore Ravens Sunday, he's in a good position to make an impact in an game the Bengals are favored to win.
Cincinnati is favored by three points over the Ravens -- our algorithms see them as 67.9% favorites -- meaning we should see plenty of run calls dialed up by the Bengals, giving Hill plenty of work. The chance for double-digit carries plus first crack at the goal line is well worth the shot for those Jay Ajayi owners or anyone else in need of a replacement.
Jalen Richard, Oakland Raiders (1.4%)
The Oakland Raiders have named Jalen Richard as their number-two running back to start the season, a role that could see considerable work in Week 1 since starting running back Marshawn Lynch will be playing his first NFL regular season game since 2015.
While DeAndre Washington will get some work, along with Richard and Lynch, the second-year back from Southern Mississippi was the more productive back on passing downs in 2016. He caught 29 passes (on 39 targets) as a rookie while playing only 21.1% of the snaps compared to 17 receptions (23 targets) in 21.5% for Washington.
His efficiency can also be seen if when looking at Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) per target -- Richard posted a 0.24 mark off those 29 receptions, while Washington came in at 0.13 off the strength of 17 catches.
With the Raiders coming in as 2.5-point underdogs against the Tennessee Titans, Richard could see extra snaps in the backfield if Oakland falls behind. There could also be more early-down work, especially if Lynch's snaps are truly limited. You can't ask for anything more when scouring the under-2.0% owned bargain bin.
Kendall Wright, Chicago Bears (13.5%)
Cameron Meredith going down with an ACL tear this preseason left not only fantasy owners reeling, but also the Chicago Bears. With a thin and inexperienced wide receiver crew, the Bears will have to turn to veteran Kendall Wright to pick up some of the slack.
A former 1,000-yard receiver with the Titans, Wright will start alongside Kevin White as the Atlanta Falcons come to town in Week 1. With Chicago as big underdogs -- Falcons are seven-point favorites -- expect head coach John Fox's crew to lean on the passing game as they will likely be behind most of the day. The Bears don't possess the most potent offense in the NFL, but they could find some success through the air on Sunday, as Atlanta ranked 25th against the pass in 2016, per our metrics.
Paul Richardson, Seattle Seahawks (2.3%)
With Paul Richardson being anointed the Seattle Seahawks' number-two receiver over Tyler Lockett, the fourth-year wideout is in line to start the year off with a bang due to a favorable matchup and game script in Week 1.
In what is expected to be a shootout with the Green Bay Packers -- the game has the highest over/under of Week 1 (51.0 points) -- the 'Hawks are three-point underdogs, meaning we should see plenty of drop backs by Russell Wilson and a few passes going Richardson's way.
Last year's number-two receiver (Jermaine Kearse) saw over 5.5 targets per game with 14 looks coming inside the red zone. If Richardson gets a similar opportunity against the Packers' 23rd-ranked pass defense from 2016, per our metrics, he will be waiver-wire gold in Week 1.
Charles Clay, Buffalo Bills (3.7%)
The Buffalo Bills receiving corp went through quite a bit of change this offseason. Gone are wideouts Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, and Marquise Goodwin in favor of Jordan Matthews and rookie Zay Jones. Despite the turnover on this area of the depth chart, quarterback Tyrod Taylor's favorite weapon in 2016, Charles Clay, is still hanging around. The tight end led the Bills with 87 targets last year and is in line to continue his strong rapport with Taylor against a weak New York Jets defense.
In 2016, the Jets' allowed the ninth-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends (8.7), and Clay totaled 8 catches on 14 targets in two meetings with New York last season. With Gang Green starting two rookie safeties against Buffalo on Sunday, he should have his way to be a nice streaming option for those in deep leagues.
Marquese Goodwin, San Francisco 49ers (1.5%)
The San Francisco 49ers' miserable pass attack from 2016 has been completely overhauled. With a new quarterback, new pass-catchers, and new play-caller, there is nowhere to go but up. While Pierre Garcon got all the attention in fantasy drafts, the team's other starting wideout, Marquise Goodwin, has gone virtually unowned. With a favorable game script this weekend, the former Bill should pay off handsomely for the handful of fantasy owners who have him on their squad.
The 49ers are 5.5-point underdogs to the Carolina Panthers, and as we all know, losing teams tend to rack up the passing attempts. With rookies Trent Taylor and George Kittle as his main competition for targets (beyond Garcon), Goodwin should see a heavy workload on Sunday. Getting substantial volume versus 2016's 26th-ranked pass defense in Carolina, per our numbers, is what you want in fantasy. That could make this possibly the last time Goodwin's ownership rate in the single digits.