10 Fantasy Football Sleepers for Week 1
Everybody loves a good sleeper pick.
Throughout the season, of course, sometimes sleepers aren't just luxuries to gawk at but necessary fill-ins for our fantasy football lineups.
Week 1 doesn't always force us to dig deep into the player pool, but every fantasy team is different, and I'm sure we're all playing daily fantasy football on FanDuel anyway. That's where sleepers really can pay off.
Because there is no consensus definition of what a sleeper is, I'll keep it consistent throughout the season. Using Yahoo's fantasy football platform, I'll choose quarterbacks and tight ends outside the top 15 in roster percentage and running backs and wide receivers outside the top 40.
I'll also list some honorable mentions because there's nothing worse than realizing that every player mentioned in an article is already rostered in your league. We're seeking non-obvious plays who can put up starting-caliber performances. I'd rather list too many options than too few.
Jared Goff (68% Rostered) - Goff and the Los Angeles Rams open the season as 3-point home underdogs to the Dallas Cowboys, so that's a neutral game script with a high total (the over/under is 51.5 points). For that reason, Goff should have to throw to be competitive while also not playing from behind from the start. Passing efficiency matters -- not volume.
Last season, in two games with a total of at least 51.5, Goff produced 25.0 and 19.1 fantasy points. And overall, he led the Rams to the ninth-best adjusted passing offense in football based on numberFire's metrics. There's a lot to like for Goff, who has plenty of viable targets -- Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Tyler Higbee -- to go at the Cowboys' defense, a secondary that Pro Football Focus rates 22nd entering 2020 after the departure of Byron Jones.
Jimmy Garoppolo (51%) - Garoppolo torched the Arizona Cardinals last year in two matchups: 741 passing yards and 8 touchdowns with a Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back mark of 0.49 (the NFL average was 0.11). That means he was nearly five times as efficient in this matchup than the average passer was in 2019.
Of course, we can't just apply last year's data to this year's game, but the Cardinals' secondary isn't an imposing one. While Garoppolo's primary pass-catchers give us some concern behind George Kittle, Garoppolo managed to rank 8th among 42 qualified passers in per-play Passing NEP in 2019 without an uber-talented group. We should feel fine rolling with Garoppolo in Week 1.
Chris Thompson (41%) [and James Robinson (25%)] - The Jacksonville Jaguars aren't going to win many games this year if the sportsbook odds and projections systems are remotely accurate, yet that still should leave plenty of value for Thompson as a pass-catching back. This Jaguars backfield is wide open after the release of Leonard Fournette and the positive COVID-19 test for Ryquell Armstead.
Jacksonville enters the week as a 7.5-point home underdog to their division rivals, the Indianapolis Colts. That's a game script that should lead to passing and check downs to Thompson, who has at least 48 targets in five straight seasons. Robinson is listed as the team's starting running back, as well. The undrafted free agent had a 97th-percentile dominator rating at Illinois State.
Darrel Williams (26%) - A lot of really good running back options are just above our self-imposed top-40 cutoff (Zack Moss (84%), Antonio Gibson (83%), even Marlon Mack (80%)), so prioritize them if possible.
It's hard to hate Williams if you're in a Week 1 bind at running back, though. In 2019, Damien Williams played no more than 73.2% of the snaps in a game all season for the Kansas City Chiefs. He hit 60.0% just four times. Why does that matter? Because that could be a bit of a proxy for what we see from Clyde Edwards-Helaire as the team's starting running back to open the season. That would leave high-value touches for Darrel Williams, who surpassed 50.0% of the snaps twice last year and put up 13.4 and 17.1 half-PPR points in those games. The Chiefs' 31.75-point implied team total is nearly four points higher than any other team's in Week 1, as well.
Malcolm Brown (8%) - Brown is considered by Rams beat writer Eric D. Williams to be the Week 1 starter because of Darrell Henderson's (51%) hamstring injury. That's absolutely noteworthy. Yeah, Cam Akers would be pressing Brown for touches, but the point is that Brown could be seeing a 50/50 split of touches in a game with a 51.5-point total.
For context, Brown had a higher Rushing Success Rate (40.6%) than Henderson (38.5%) and a better per-carry Rushing NEP (-0.01 to -0.15). He also was responsible for 5 rushing touchdowns and 10 carries from inside the 10. Todd Gurley had 29 such carries; Henderson had only 2. A red-zone role could be there for Brown in Week 1, and a rushing touchdown from him would go a long way if you're seeking a running back sleeper pick already in Week 1.
DeSean Jackson (51%) - Jackson erupted in Week 1 last season against the Washington Football Team, catching 8 of 9 targets for 154 yards and 2 touchdowns. A repeat performance would be very welcomed, no doubt. It's really not that unthinkable based on his situation against the same opponent.
Rookie receiver Jalen Reagor is probably going to miss the opener, with the same applying to Alshon Jeffery. numberFire projects Jackson for 6.9 targets, quite a healthy dose for someone whose average target depth is 15.0 yards since 2012, via FantasyADHD. Even if we scale down his expected average target depth on heavier volume, Jackson should be primed for 100-plus air yards against last season's 27th-ranked adjusted pass defense.
Anthony Miller (59%) - Miller will be once again tied to Mitchell Trubisky, who has been named the Chicago Bears' Week 1 starter. Last season, Miller maintained the same per-target Reception NEP efficiency as teammate Allen Robinson on passes coming from Trubisky. That number (0.68) was right around the NFL average for receivers (0.70). That'll work against the Detroit Lions' secondary, which ranked 26th against the pass last season. Miller also saw at least 9 targets in five games last season (and 11-plus in three games), including an average of 9.0 targets from Weeks 11 through 16 with an elevated role.
Henry Ruggs (71%) - While it's a little strange calling the first receiver drafted in 2020 a sleeper for Week 1, Ruggs does find himself outside the top 40 in roster rate and is the WR44 in FantasyPros' half-PPR consensus ranks for the opener. Though Ruggs isn't projected for significant volume (6.0 targets), he can easily cash in on a half-dozen looks.
The Panthers' secondary ranks 31st in Pro Football Focus' preseason rankings, and with Tyrell Williams on injured reserve, Ruggs should have claim to plenty of downfield work from Derek Carr. I know how that may sound, but Carr ranked right between Kyler Murray and Deshaun Watson in per-attempt Passing NEP on passes at least 16 yards downfield in 2019. That'll work for a player in the 100th percentile in height-adjusted speed score such as Ruggs.
Preston Williams (42%) - Williams averaged 7.5 targets per game in a bad, usually-trailing Miami Dolphins offense through Week 9 before a season-ending ACL injury in 2019. Those targets were attached to a juicy 13.6-yard average target depth. Williams didn't play, of course, in Miami's Week 17 upset of the New England Patriots in 2019, yet the rematch should push volume Williams' way.
While healthy, Williams drew more targets (60) than did new top receiver DeVante Parker (52), so even if Williams plays second fiddle, there's room to contend with Parker. Mike Gesicki, for some reason, is listed as the second-string tight end on Miami's first depth chart, as well, and Miami's depth chart falls off immediately at the pass-catching positions. Point being: Miami's status as a 6.5-point road underdog should lead to targets for Williams.
Jack Doyle (28%) - Tight ends historically get a boost when they're favored (winning tight ends have outscored their baseline projection by around eight percent since 2016). Doyle should be freed up for targets with Eric Ebron no longer with the Colts and Trey Burton unlikely to play because of a calf injury. Though we project Doyle for only 4.2 targets, there just isn't much in the way of competition for him out of the gate. Inject that into a matchup with the Jaguars' bottom-tier pass defense, and we've got a sleeper tight end ready to score a touchdown, and really, what else are you asking for from a sleeper tight end?