7 Deep Fantasy Football Sleepers for Week 1
Maybe you trusted that Todd Gurley would be healthy by Week 1. Maybe you just play in a large league with a lot of sharp minds and talent is hard to find.
Or maybe you're looking for an off-the-wall tournament dart to throw in a large-field daily fantasy tournament on FanDuel.
Whatever the case, if you need a sleeper -- and not just any regular old sleeper -- then I got you covered.
Week 1 All-Deep-Sleeper Team
Quarterback: Joe Flacco (Started in 6.6% of ESPN Leagues | Owned in 46.1% of ESPN Leagues)
Okay, so I'm not digging too deep in terms of name value here, but not many low-owned and unstarted quarterbacks have great Week 1 matchups. Plus, Flacco is available in more than half of ESPN leagues (for what that's worth), and what I'm more intrigued by is his current started percentage: just 6.6%. That suggests that owners who do have Flacco aren't trusting him in Week 1 against the Broncos, and that could be telling for projected ownership percentages in Week 1 on FanDuel.
Last year, the Broncos ranked 24th in fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks but 7th in our schedule-adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which quantifies a team's performance in comparison to expectation level. They were an efficient pass defense, but they will be without Derek Wolfe in Week 1. Wolfe played 777 snaps for the Broncos last year, the most among any defensive lineman on the team. They have plenty of defensive firepower still, however.
On the other hand, Flacco was an efficient passer last year, per our metrics. Among 37 passers with at least 200 drop backs last year, Flacco's Passing NEP per drop back (0.16) ranked 11th. His Passing Success Rate, the percentage of drop backs that led to positive NEP gains, of 49.30% ranked 12th, so he wasn't exactly dependent on big plays or big games. His receiving corps is depleted, and that's why nobody will be looking his way, but the matchup may not be bad as it might seem on paper, and he's our 16th-ranked quarterback this week.
Running Back: Benny Cunningham (Started in 1.0% of ESPN Leagues | Owned in 4.2% of ESPN Leagues)
These percentages are more like it, eh? In most other scenarios when the team's top running back (Gurley) is out for three weeks and the backup (Tre Mason) is sidelined with a hamstring injury, the third-stringer would be getting talked up plenty. However, that third-stringer is playing the vaunted Seattle Seahawks defense, a squad that ranked third in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play last year and second in fantasy points allowed to running backs. Oof.
To make matters look worse, Cunningham racked up a Rushing NEP of -5.97 on 66 carries last year, good for -0.09 per carry. Among 73 backs with at least 50 carries, his cumulative score ranked 40th, and his per-carry score ranked him 56th. But if we look at Cunningham as a receiver, then things are less cringe-worthy. He ranked 11th among those backs in Reception NEP (19.49), and he was ninth among 22 backs with at least 50 targets in Reception NEP per target (0.37). He also finished the season ranked in the top 10 in running back receptions.
Cunningham strung together three double-digit fantasy point weeks last year in half-PPR formats despite never seeing more than 7 carries or 47 rushing yards.
Running Back: Josh Robinson (Started in 0.1% of ESPN Leagues | Owned in 3.0% of ESPN Leagues)
Here are some things we know. Frank Gore is on a "pitch count" early in the season to stay fresh. The Buffalo Bills are a good run defense (they ranked ninth in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play last year and fifth in fantasy points allowed to running backs). The Colts are a good offense (ninth in Adjusted NEP per play). The Colts are favored by 2.5 points (it's not a lot, but they are laying the usual three points given to just about every home team).
It might not be pretty, and it might not be a lot, but there should be some work for Josh Robinson in this game. Robinson did just clear the concussion protocol on Monday, but it's not unthinkable that he sees some work and -- given his offense -- a goal line touch or two. Ramming Gore into the stout run defense probably isn't the way Indy will grind the clock, and when you're looking this deep at running back, you can't be asking for too much more than Robinson's potential workload.
Wide Receiver: Allen Hurns (Started in 0.4% of ESPN Leagues | Owned in 4.8% of ESPN Leagues)
Hurns was a Week 1 hero last year against the Eagles, and while this game script isn't really expected to pan out the same way (it's one of the lowest totals on the week at 41 points), the potential is there. Carolina ranked ninth in our per-play pass defense metrics last year but allowed the 20th most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers.
Julius Thomas is out, and aside from Allen Robinson, the Jags don't have many weapons. Oh, and Hurns is actually listed as the starter opposite Robinson, so we aren't banking on just a third- or fourth-wide receiver to see a target or two. The overall potential in the game is low, given the projected total, but you could do a lot worse than a starting receiver in a positive (fantasy) matchup.
Wide Receiver: Rueben Randle (Started in 10.8% of ESPN Leagues | Owned in 38.7% of ESPN Leagues)
Randle as never lived up to his fullest expectations, and he may not do that this year, either. But in Week 1, he gets to face the Dallas Cowboys in a game that has an over/under of 51.5, the second-highest on the opening weekend. Victor Cruz did not practice on Wednesday, a bad sign for his Week 1 status.
Dallas did rank sixth in fantasy points allowed to receivers, so that's not exactly enticing, but they were 23rd in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play, suggesting that they could have surrendered plenty more fantasy points than they did. Dallas saw the fourth-fewest plays against them on defense last year (1,053), but if their group of unproven backs can't grind the clock, their per-play inefficiencies could be exposed in Week 1, leaving Randle, Odell Beckham, and Larry Donnell in good positions to capitalize.
Tight End: Kyle Rudolph (Started in 10.8% of ESPN Leagues | Owned in 40.6% of ESPN Leagues)
Rudolph was a hot commodity last year. This year? His stock has fallen off the earth. In Week 1, he gets to face the now-depleted 49ers defense, a unit that already ranked just 22nd against fantasy tight ends last year. They were 14th in per-play pass defense, per our metrics, though. Still, Rudolph has all the makings of a red zone threat, and San Francisco allowed nine touchdowns to the position last year.
The over/under (41.5) isn't exciting by any means, but if you're throwing a dart at a tight end and hoping for a touchdown, Rudolph isn't a bad look given the other circumstances at hand.
Flex: Dorial Green-Beckham (Started in 1.1% of ESPN Leagues | Owned in 31.6% of ESPN Leagues)
Green-Beckham was flagged as one of the most promising receiver talents in this year's draft class, but myriad reasons led him to be drafted 40th overall. Now, he's one of just four (four) wide receivers on the depth chart, and he's listed behind Kendall Wright and Harry Douglas. Of course, Delanie Walker is still there at tight end, but if Tennessee can get into the red zone, Green-Beckham, a 6'5", 237-pound target, could be in play, especially considering that the team wants to use him in the red zone.
DGB should be getting a shot at some point this year, and given the depth (and lack of size) at receiver, it could come sooner rather than later.