2017 Fantasy Football: The Best Sleepers to Target in Drafts (Updated!)

By John Leinweber
Aug. 17, 2017

Quarterbacks

With the start of the NFL season just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking of which Quarterback sleepers you will target. I know you’ve heard before that Quarterback is the deepest position in fantasy, and it truly is. In current mock drafts, you can draft great fantasy players like Kirk Cousins, Jameis Winston, or Marcus Mariota in the last few rounds. Even though big name players like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Andrew Luck are all very appealing and will have strong seasons, it’s not worth reaching for them in drafts. Just look at Kirk Cousins, who was the fifth best Quarterback in fantasy last season, continue to be underrated on draft day. Even though these Quarterbacks might not be the best at getting wins in the NFL, their fantasy points will be incredibly valuable this season.

Now with all of the free agent moves and draft picks, it’s important to reevaluate which are the best Quarterbacks to pursue. One theme you’ll notice among many of these Quarterbacks is youth, with Stafford being the oldest at age 29. The older Quarterbacks not named Tom Brady and Drew Brees were disappointing last season. These older quarterbacks that I’m avoiding here in 2017 are Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Carson Palmer, and Philip Rivers. Look to youth this season to put up tons of passing attempts in offenses with some great weapons. Below are my Quarterback sleepers for 2017.

Ben Roethlisberger

After last season, I really didn’t think Big Ben would be some I’d consider targeting. The home-road splits for Roethlisberger last season were atrocious, and killed some fantasy teams. However, since he’s going as the 14th Quarterback off the board, this lower level investment is intriguing me. I wouldn’t take Big Ben as my sole QB, but if I can pair him with someone going a round or two before like Derek Carr or Marcus Mariota, I feel like I’ll have great production out of that position. Big Ben would be an automatic start at home, and an automatic sit at home. If you want Big Ben, you need to plan for his home-road splits and injury risk.

Carson Wentz

The second year product for Philly has gotten a lot of new toys to play with this offseason. Philadelphia had a poor receiving and running back corp, both of which have been upgraded. With Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith now in town to bolster this poor receiving corp, Wentz should have an easier time. LeGarrette Blount will also help take pressure off the offense, by churning for yards and helping in the red zone. Look for Wentz to continue to take strong strides here in 2017.

Philip Rivers

One of the biggest surprises in fantasy ADP right now is that Rivers is the 19th QB, and is being taken after DeShaun Watson, Eli Manning, and Carson Wentz. His ADP is so low because of his high number of interceptions in 2016, but he didn’t have a lot of weapons last season. The Chargers are getting back a healthy Keenan Allen, Melvin Gordon, and a first round pick in Mike Williams. Along with both of their dynamic tight ends and a top 20 wide receiver in Tyrell Williams, Rivers will have a full arsenal of dynamic weapons to use. Even though he will be a borderline QB1/2, he shouldn’t be going as the 19th Quarterback. Feel very confident in taking him as a backup, or even a starter in deeper leagues.

Carson Palmer

Last year was a rough year for the Cardinals, and a whole lot went wrong for this offense. This team lost many offensive lineman early, which made life tough for Carson Palmer. I don’t think Palmer will get back to his 2015 level, but something in the middle from that and last year shouldn’t be crazy. This offense still has David Johnson, a healthy Larry Fitzgerald, and numerous deep threats at the receiver position. I like Palmer to be a solid bye week fill in, and a second QB to roster in the last couple rounds.

Andy Dalton

Even though Andy Dalton continues to be an unsexy option, he continues to produce at the Quarterback position. The biggest concern to me looks to be the Bengals’ offensive line, who lost two elite players in free agency. However, 2017 should bring back a healthy A.J. Green, Giovani Bernard, and Tyler Eifert, to go along with first round speedster John Ross. All these weapons on a team that doesn’t look likely to make the playoffs will provide great fantasy value throughout the season.

Running Backs

With the immense numbers of options at the running back position, we need to nail down our ideal running back sleepers. It’s no secret that running back has become a tougher position to nail down in recent years. A vast majority of offenses utilize a committee of running backs, and even though it’s good for offenses, it’s not good for fantasy players. There are only a few running back situations where the snaps are dominated by one player, and these are often in the cases of elite backs who will be drafted early. This year more than ever, we will all have drafts where we jump at receivers first, and miss out on a strong RB1 or even RB2. This list is to help those who are looking for depth at the position, and need sleepers to target. It’s still early, and training camps and the preseason will still help to decide a lot. Below are my early running back sleepers to target here in 2017.

Mike Gillislee

Even after posting excellent numbers as a backup to LeSean McCoy last season with Buffalo, Gillislee will now be the touchdown vulture in New England. Since the Patriots didn’t want to resign LeGarrette Blount, they got Gillislee for two years and 6.4 million dollars. Last season, Gillislee posted 577 yards on 101 rushing attempts and eight touchdowns. Even though New England has always been a mess when it comes to running backs in fantasy, the roles seemed to stabilize last season. With Gillislee plugging in right into Blount’s role, he is a good bet to get a large share of goal-line work on one of the best offenses in the league.

Ameer Abdullah

Abdullah is one of my few players I’ve been targeting who’s ADP has actually been rising. He is now a ninth round pick in most drafts, which is great value for the breakout candidate. Jim Caldwell and the Lions want to give Abdullah the ability to close to a bellcow back, he just needs to stay healthy. The third year produce has underrated receiving abilities and finally has an improved offensive line to block for him. Abdullah is one of the last running backs you can find here with the ability to have 200 rushing attempts.

Terrance West

With Kenneth Dixon out for the season, the doors now open for West to be the main runner in the Baltimore offense. Even though Baltimore is not a run first offense by any means, West should still get pretty close to 200 rushing attempts, along with all the goal line work, thanks to Kyle Juszczyk leaving in free agency. West will be one of the last running backs to draft that will have an open path to 200 rushing attempts on your draft board, so feel confident in drafting him for his volume.

Duke Johnson Jr.

In PPR leagues, Duke Johnson should be a great value pick in the tenth or eleventh round of drafts. Cleveland has announced that he won’t be rushing as much as last season, but instead will be lining up in the slot. This will help him catch more passes than last season because of a higher usage rate, while still running close routes to help out their poor Quarterbacks. Johnson is a great flex option to have in the later rounds in PPR scoring.

Doug Martin/Jacquizz Rodgers

My love for Jacquizz Rodgers has been well documented in my writing this season. He will start for the first three games, and have a role similar to what DeAngelo Williams did last season. From week four on, we can’t be sure who will start, even though Doug Martin has the big contract. However, you can get them both after the tenth round for a very cheap price. Coach Dirk Koetter loves to run the ball, and all their weapons should keep the running game open.

Thomas Rawls

Even though I’ve planned on avoiding the Seattle backfield, the reports on Rawls running with the ones has been intriguing. If Rawls ends up winning the starting job over Lacy and can get 15 touches a game, that’s a win in the fourteenth round. We all know this offensive line is subpar at best, but there’s always a chance Rawls returns to his 2015 form. You’re taking a shot here with Rawls in a crowded backfield, but that’s what draft picks in the fourteenth round are.

Jeremy Hill

Another shot in the dark in a crowded backfield, Hill looked good as the starter in the preseason opener. The roles for Bengals running backs have been discussed at length by fantasy experts, but Cincinnati might not do the smart thing here. The smart thing to do is for them to give Joe Mixon a full workload and let Hill ride the bench. However, Hill will likely be used as the goal line back, and could retain his starting role if Marvin Lewis is loyal to him. This is definitely a shot worth taking in the last few rounds on one of the few run-first offenses in the league.

Wide Receivers

Wide Receiver is without a doubt the deepest position in fantasy this season. The amount of talent in the middle rounds is outstanding, and there are a lot of deep fliers worth taking as well. Because this position is so deep, the only receivers I’ll be writing about are later round targets. All of these receivers have solid upside on your bench, and can produce great value. Here are my favorite receivers in the late rounds.

Tyrell Williams

The 18th best best receiver in fantasy last season, Williams’ value has shot up, moving him up to the 10th round. To have the second wide receiver in the Chargers’ offense at this point in the draft is definitely worth it. If Keenan Allen can’t stay healthy again, Williams will be in line for a ton of work. Even if Allen stays healthy, Williams should still be a top 35 receiver, with top 25 potential.

Adam Thielen

Thielen looked great starting across from Diggs last season in Minnesota. A lot of things went wrong with this offense last season, but now they will have a full season of Pat Shurmur. A healthy offensive line and drafting Dalvin Cook will help open up this whole offense. I’m not betting on Treadwell cutting into the offensive target share very much, which will help Thielen have another productive season with an easy schedule.

John Brown

If John Brown can finally stay healthy this season, he will be a big sleeper in standard scoring. Brown is one of the fast receivers in the game, and is an excellent deep threat. Head Coach Bruce Arians loves to take deep shots, and Brown will be a main recipient of this. He will also be the WR2 in this offense, which will give Brown lots of opportunity in Arizona.

Rishard Matthews

I wrote about Matthews in my unappreciated studs article, as he is still listed as the WR1 in Tennessee’s depth chart. Matthews was a good red zone target and deep ball pass catcher for Mariota last season. Even though there is obviously more competition in that wide receiver room, don’t sleep on Matthews this season.

Jordan Matthews

For whatever reason, Matthews was losing his grab on the slot receiver role in Philly after being the best receiver in town last season. With him now traded to Buffalo, he’ll have a strong role in this offense. Matthews will be in line for the most targets unless Zay Jones breaks out into one of the best receivers we’ve seen in a long time. With a real shot at eighty receptions, and going in the twelfth round, I like Jordan Matthews to outplay his ADP.

Tedd Ginn Jr.

With Brandin Cooks gone in New Orleans, the Saints brought in another speedy downfield threat in Ted Ginn Jr. The Saints’ plan is to use Ginn and Thomas as the X and Z receivers, with Willie Snead staying in the slot. We know Ginn isn’t going to be a PPR monster, but he has a ton of value in standard leagues. Brees will be looking to throw for 5,000 yards again, and there is plenty of yardage up for grabs in this offense. Look for Ted Ginn to get his fair share of deep threats, and be a great sleeper.

Kenny Golladay/Marvin Jones

Two Lions receivers that are going in the thirteenth round or later, both Golladay and Jones have high ceilings. They will be on the field a lot this season in a pass-heavy offense. Even though all the hype is around Golladay after his last preseason game, both receivers have lots of upside at this point in the draft.

Zay Jones

The Bills have traded their best receiver in Sammy Watkins, and have brought in two slot receivers to pair with Zay Jones. This will help ensure that Jones will stay on the field consistently, and will play a big role in opening up this offense. This lack of options gives Jones a great opportunity, probably the best of all rookie receivers.

Tight End

Tight End isn’t exactly a deep position, but it’s one that is recommended to wait on. If you decide to load up on running backs and receivers early, there are still plenty of worthy tight ends to target. Since touchdowns can be pretty fluky, it’s best to target target share in a respective offense. It’s also important to look at upside and situation, to spot who could be a breakout candidate at the position. Below are my tight end sleepers here for 2017.

Hunter Henry

If you’re looking to wait on tight end, Henry is one of the best players to target. I know there are a lot of mouths to feed in this Chargers offense, but Henry is worth the targets on his team. It wouldn’t be the craziest thing ever if the Chargers sustained some injuries to their offense this year. I think after Antonio Gates gets the record, he will be phased out to where Henry is the main tight end. Even though eight touchdowns might be a little tough, I think Henry can get close while catching more passes.

Jack Doyle

My favorite tight end sleeper since Dwayne Allen was traded, Doyle looks to be a main fixture of this offense. Doyle gained Luck’s trust last season, and now should be the only tight end with fantasy relevance. With a lack of receiving talent behind T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief, Doyle should be the number three receiving target in this offense. Even if Luck happens to miss a game or two, I’m not worried about Doyle still being productive.

Cameron Brate

I know a lot of experts are scared off by the two tight ends in Tampa Bay, but I’m not worried about Brate. He and Jameis Winston really developed a connection last season, and is a consistent red zone target for Winston. I know Howard will be a fixture in this offense, but Brate will be the primary pass catcher.

Austin Hooper

Another great sleeper tight end is Austin Hooper, who really started to come on last season. With Jacob Tamme now gone, Hooper will be the main tight end in this offense. He will consistently be on the field in one of the best offenses in the league that can spread the ball out like no other. This gives Hooper great fantasy value as a tight end in the last round or two.

Jesse James

Another deep sleeper at the position is Jesse James, who had some relevant fantasy weeks last season. With Ladarius Green now gone, James will be the main tight end in this offense. All of the other threats in this offense should open up lanes for James pretty frequently. This makes James a deep sleeper in PPR formats to target.

Defenses and Special Teams

Even though defenses are one of the last positions to address, they alone can help you win weeks. We all know the elite defenses in fantasy, and I strongly believe they are worth taking. However, last year I played in a 12 team league with two defense starting spots, so I figured an article like this might be helpful. Whether you’re at the end of a snake draft and get one of the last picks on defense, or are in an auction draft with no money left at the end, this article is for you.

Now even though defenses like Denver, Minnesota, Kansas City, New England, and Seattle are still the elite options, there are many other defenses that warrant draft consideration as back ups. I personally like the start with two defenses, unless I get an elite defense. I will rotate through defenses based on matchups and injuries, to get the most out of the position. These defenses below are all smart waiver additions, or very late round picks to jump on. Don’t forget all these options at defense on draft day.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Even though Jacksonville played some great defense last season, Blake Bortles and their offense played so poorly that the defense never got the credit they deserved. The Jaguars ranked in the top ten in both pass defense and run defense in 2016. Now they’ve signed even more talent, like Calais Campbell and A.J. Bouye, and are getting a healthy Dante Fowler jr. back. As long as Blake Bortles keeps the turnovers down a bit from last season, this defense could very well be top five.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans are definitely more of a sleeper option here in 2016, but their strides on defense can’t go unnoticed. Even though the Titans’ pass defense struggled last season, their run defense did pretty well. After drafting Adoree Jackson and signing Logan Ryan in free agency, this should be an improved defensive unit. Even though I think this defense is still a year away from being a fantasy top ten defense, the strides are clear, and will be worthy of consideration in deeper leagues.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens always are in position to play good defense, and are consistently a top special teams unit in this league. Even though the defense has changed a bit with Elvis Dumerville heading to San Francisco, they’ve added Tony Jefferson and Morris Clayborne to solidify their secondary. Even though they might not be the sexiest defensive choice, this unit will get the job done in fantasy.

Los Angeles Chargers

The last few years have just been tragic for the Chargers considering how many injuries they’ve suffered. Last year they lost both starting corner, multiple linebackers, and lineman on defense for much of the season. And yet the defense still ranked tenth in fantasy last season. With the skill in their secondary between Jason Verrett and Casey Heyward, this defense should continue to take the ball away. Look for the Chargers to be a great sleeper defense or waiver add here in 2016.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Even though the offense is clearly the main unit in Pittsburgh, the defense has been making good strides last season. Pittsburgh only allowed 327 points last season, but what hurt was only one defensive or special teams touchdown. I just can’t see this number being this low again, and their defense still forced 23 turnovers. The Steelers is another good sleeper pick to play each matchup with, especially in the AFC North.