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Start, Sit & Sleepers

by Seth Woolcock

A sleeper is often construed as a player in fantasy football who is overlooked and undervalued in drafts. But, what if I told you that sleepers aren’t just part of the fictional game we play to escape the real world?

 You see, sleepers can be people, just like you and me — and to no fault of our own, most times.

Maybe it’s the town we grew up in, or the side of tracks we’re from.

Perhaps it’s who our parents were or, more importantly, who they weren’t.

Always feeling like I was slept on from the outside world, I grew up with a chip on my shoulder – so much so that sometimes that chip becomes self-doubt. 

Early heartache and tragedy that I experienced in life definitely play a part in that, but it’s also my own doing. Since I was a kid, I refused to be ordinary. I could not accept living an average life in my small town.

Whether it was participating in varsity athletics, being the new kid trying out for the school musical or advancing through the ranks at my college newspaper, I always seemed to exceed the relatively low expectations others had for me. 

I think it’s the countless times I’ve been slept on that push me now to pursue what some would consider a “dead-end career” – a fantasy sports analyst and media professional.

This summer, I was furloughed from my first full-time job in the media industry, due to COVID-19 and the crippling effect it has had the entire economy – and our industry in particular.

And without even fully realizing it, that occasional feeling of self-doubt and being slept on returned once again.

Most weeks, I found myself lost in stacks of cover letters and resumés, planning around producing content for the site and interviewing for new full-time positions.

I grew up believing that everything happens for a reason. But sometimes, especially when it seems like a wrench has been thrown in our plans, it’s easy to lose sight of that belief.

However, just when I needed it most – on a Friday afternoon making spaghetti – I received a call letting me know that I was being offered the position of communications strategist for the Center of Excellence in Industrial Biotechnology at The Pennsylvania State University.

And given that today is my first official day of work at Penn State, I don’t think everything really has sunk in yet. 

However, I do know that I have a passion for higher education and communications. For, without my education, I wouldn’t have the knowledge I have today that allows me to professionally communicate with others, whether it be through these advice columns, the podcast or Twitter.

Now, as I begin this new chapter of my life, working what feels like a dream job at one of the most august institutes of learning in my home state of Pennsylvania, I want to encourage others to continue hustling and chasing dreams of their own.

Like most things of value, aspirations can be achieved, no matter who you are, as long as you’re willing to put the work in. And yes, that goes for us sleepers as well.

I’m beginning to realize that being seen as a sleeper is really an advantage if responded to correctly. Look at some of the current great NFL players that, because of fantasy football, we’ve had the honor of watching on their come up.

Adam Thielen, The Vikings now seventh-year receiver and one of my favorite players, went from playing on a $500 D2 scholarship to becoming one of the league’s best receivers for his home state team that he grew up dreaming of playing for one day.

Or how about Denver Broncos’ running back Phillip Lindsay? The Colorado-native also shed his sleeper status after posting back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and was the first undrafted offensive rookie to ever make a Pro Bowl.

You see, being a sleeper isn’t about all the people who doubted you and trying to prove them wrong. It’s about what you decide to do with that chip on your shoulder and properly thanking the ones who did believe in you.

Now, let’s get to it.

In the spirit of the conclusion of draft season and hoping that all my fellow sleepers out there get the opportunities they’re waiting for soon, here are the sleepers I have on my draft board and that I would advise to start the season with:

The following start/sit selections are based on not only stats, trends and film research, but also to the current Average Draft Position (ADP) each player has in a Points Per Reception (PPR) Redraft League.

Running Back Sleepers I’d Start this Season With:

Damien Harris (New England):  If you’ve listened to our podcast at all this summer, you’re probably well aware that I’ve had my ticket to the Damian Harris hype train since the very beginning.

He was a third round pick in 2019, played against big-time defenses collegiately at Alabama and profiles as a back who could complement Cam Newton nicely.

And with last season’s starter, Sony Michel, on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) List, Harris made waves during camp.

However, news just dropped that Harris will begin the season on the Injured Reserved (IR), missing at least three games. This should push his ADP back to the final rounds of redrafts, if he’s drafted at all. 

Before his injury, Harris, who was called the Patriots’ camp “clear breakout star” by Boston Sports Journal’s founder, Greg A. Bedard, hads seemingly done enough to secure himself a role, even if it was just a change-of-pace or pass-catching one to begin the season.

If you have an IR spot in your league, I suggest stashing Harris there and waiting for Michel to once again have a slow start to the season.

Darrell Henderson (Los Angeles Rams):  Along with Harris, second-year Rams running back Darrell Henderson has also been a late-round target of mine in redrafts this year.

Henderson, who’s now going in the vicinity of rounds 10 or 11 in drafts, was drafted earlier last season with all the skepticism around Todd Gurley’s knee. However, he was cut in a majority of leagues following Malcolm Brown’s two-touchdown performance in Week 1.

Despite Henderson’s lack of involvement last season, only rushing for 147 yards on 39 attempts and adding 37 yards on four receptions, when he was on the field he passed the eye test. He has agility, makes strong cuts and is shifty enough to make multiple defenders miss.

The biggest blow to Henderson’s fantasy stock was when the Rams used their first pick in April’s draft to select Florida State’s Cam Akers. But Henderson came into camp as the starter and reportedly impressed head coach Sean McVay before suffering a low-grade hamstring strain during a recent scrimmage.

And although he might have lost his starting role to Akers, Henderson is on track to suit up for Week 1. McVay has also mentioned being more like Kyle Shanahan and using a platoon of running backs.

The biggest question for me is:  Can the Rams run the ball effectively after not improving their line much in the off-season? Only time will tell.

That being said, I am still more than comfortable with spending a later-round pick on Henderson, as I believe the talent is there.

Bryce Love (Washington):  Bryce Love, also from the 2019 running back class, was another sleeper I quickly called my shot on after the Derrius Guice news.

As mentioned on Twitter, Love was the heir to Christian McCaffrey at Stanford and now gets McCaffrey’s former head coach Ron Rivera at the helm in Washington.

His junior season at Stanford, Love ran for over 2,100 yards and 19 touchdowns.

However, he has since to see the field in a real game since tearing his ACL his senior year of college.

The once over-crowded Washington backfield is now open for the taking after they cut Adrian Peterson last week. 

Antonio Gibson, who has been praised by many analysts and even Peterson himself as a three-down player is probably the main guy to have in Washington. But, Love, who will have some sort-of role in Week 1, comes at a formidable price in the final rounds of redrafts, making him an ideal sleeper candidate.

Wide Receiver Sleepers I’d Start this Season With:

Auden Tate (Cincinnati):  As noted in an earlier off-season column, I think No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow is in for a big season.

Auden Tate was second on the Bengals in targets in 2019.

And, while initially I was skeptical on if any Bengals receiver outside of Tyler Boyd and A.J. Green could be fantasy relevant, I believe Auden Tate is the sleeper to have in Cincinnati.

In what was a disaster of a season for the Bengals, starting a mix of an over-the-hill Andy Dalton and an inexperienced Ryan Finley at quarterback, Tate was second to Boyd on the team in targets, securing 40 receptions for 575 yards and a touchdown.

With Green and rookie receiver Tee Higgins both missing significant camp time, dealing with hamstrings issues and John Ross just coming back from the COVID list, Tate has been put on a clinic at camp. ESPN Bengals reporter Ben Baby said Tate was the “early frontrunner for offensive MVP” of training camp.

Tate seems to have established a connection with Burrow, enough to earn him the No. 3 role, likely lining up opposite of Green in 11-man (three-receiver) personnel.

With all that considered, in addition to Green’s extensive injury history, Tate could be the sleeper that even some of the best in this industry missed on.

Christian Kirk (Arizona):  Because of the arrival of DeAndre Hopkins in Arizona, Christian Kirk, who’s shown he can be a consistent NFL wide receiver when healthy, has made his way into the sleeper conversation. 

Despite being on a 16-game pace to finish as the WR25 last season, one spot ahead of the coveted Odell Beckham Jr., Kirk is currently being drafted as the WR38 in ESPN leagues.

Without getting injured, Kirk would’ve led Arizona in snaps, targets, receptions and yards.

His usage will likely go down with Hopkins now slotting into the WR1 role. But, with another season to get comfortable with Kliff Kingsbury offense and Kyle Murray at quarterback, while playing opposite of one of the league’s best receivers, Kirk’s efficiency and touchdown percentage, the one area he struggled last season outside of his three-touchdown performance in Week 10, should improve.

Kirk probably isn’t going to be a league winner this season. But, he is going to be a safe WR3 with real WR2 upside that you can get in the double-digit rounds.

Allen Lazard (Green Bay):  After a puzzling offseason where Green Bay failed to draft a receiver in one of the most receiver-heavy drafts in recent memory and only signed veteran Devin Funchess, who would later opt out due to COVID-19 concerns, it leaves Allen Lazard, a.k.a. “The Lazard King,” as the Packers clear WR2.

After a formidable camp, Packers Wide Receivers Coach Jason Vrable said “Lazard has been overlooked his entire football career, expects big things from him as WR2 this year,” according to Matt Schneidman, Packers beat reporter for The Athletic. 

Despite not seeing a target until Week 6 and only starting three games last season, Lazard posted a formidable 35-477-3 stat line.

With a full season in the starting lineup and being one Davante Adams injury away from the No. 1 role, Lazard could be the next Green Bay wide receiver to become fantasy relevant. And for the price of only a late-round dart throw, why not take a shot on Lazard this season?

Tight End Sleepers I’d Start this Season With:

Blake Jarwin (Dallas):  If you’re anything like me and have been listening to “The Fantasy Footballers” podcast at all this off-season, you’re well aware of the Blake Jarwin hype that Mike Wright (@FFHitman) has been bringing to the table.

There are over 160 vacated targets in Dallas after losing both Jason Witten and Randall Cobb this season, increasing Blake Jarwin’s potential for a breakout.

However, the hype is necessary. As there are over 160 vacated targets available for the second pass-happiest team in football last season. And after a few key departures in Dallas’s secondary, the passing volume should continue.

Even if Jarwin sees half of Jason Witten’s 83 targets last season, combined with his own numbers from last season, it’s TE1 volume we’re talking about.

If I miss on one of the big-five tight ends early, I’m comfortable waiting until double-digit rounds to take Jarwin as my weekly starter.

Dallas Goedert (Philadelphia):  The series of unfortunate events for the Philadelphia Eagles are beginning to stack up. And while many in the community are moving players like Greg Ward and DeSean Jackson up their draft boards, I’m zeroing in on Dallas Goedert, the underrated, third-year tight end out of South Dakota State.

Recently, news broke that Andre Dillard, Philadelphia’s left tackle will undergo season-ending bicep surgery. This comes after they already lost Pro Bowl guard Brandon Brooks for the season. 

And with Alshon Jeffery still on the PUP list, Marquise Goodwin opting out and rookie Jalen Reagor now banged up, it leads me to believe that Philadelphia will return to using a majority of 12-man personnel (two tight end sets) after leading the league in the personnel’s usage at 46.1% of the time.

Yes, my “All-In” selection was Zach Ertz. But, I think the Eagles can turn back the clock and have two tight ends be hyper-effective, similar to the Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez days in New England.

And hey, let’s not forget that Goedert was actually the PPR TE10 last season and is still going surprisingly late in drafts.

Irv Smith Jr. (Minnesota):  Irv Smith Jr. came into the league as a rookie boasting both steady hands and a freakishly-athletic profile. But questions surrounding his size and blocking ability limited him to 36 receptions for 3,111 yards and two touchdowns his rookie season.

After proving he was ahead of the curve protecting and Minnesota trading away Stefon Diggs, the arrow is pointing up for the Alabama product in year two.

His versatility is what could be the difference-maker this season. As a rookie, he played 425 snaps as an in-line tight end, 188 in the slot and 68 outside.

It was recently reported that the Vikings are “experimenting lining up Smith Jr. outside a little more often,” by Arif Hasan of The Athletic.

And with Gary Kubiak, who has a history of helping tight ends like Shannon Sharpe, Owen Daniels and Julius Thomas blossom, now calling the Vikings’ plays, I like Smith Jr. as a high-upside TE2 this season that could be paired nicely with another late-round selection at the position.

If you have a feel-good story that you would like to share for an opportunity to be featured in an upcoming edition of “Start, Sit & Seth,” please reach out.

And for more fantasy football and uplifting content, you can find me on Twitter @Between_SethFF.

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