As my NFL free agency series winds to a close this week – don’t forget to check out the running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends – it’s time to finish strong with some shiny diamonds in the rough. Which signings went completely under the radar? Who could break out in a major way in our fantasy football universe? Let’s roll up our sleeves, get down in the dirt and dig in.
Samaje Perine, RB, Broncos: Sean Payton has wasted no time making some savvy moves in Denver. Perine has been in the shadows of fantasy football, playing behind solid Joe Mixon in Cincinnati, but his opportunities could increase with the Broncos this season. RB1 Javonte Williams is returning from a torn ACL, so there’s no logical reason for Denver to overwork him this upcoming season. That leaves mix-and-match opportunities for Perine, the type of running back who capitalizes when he gets his chances. Perine is a very good two-way back – a productive pass catcher out of the backfield – and I have a feeling he’s going to be one of the top three or four handcuffs in the league this year.
Mike Boone, RB, Texans: Boone can be a bruiser when he gets downhill, and now he has a change of scenery in Houston with brand-new head coach DeMeco Ryans. RB1 Dameon Pierce is currently recovering from an ankle injury but should be plenty fine once the season gets underway. Still, similar to Denver’s situation with Javonte – if you are Houston, why overwork Pierce who is one of the young cornerstones of your offense? That opens up opportunities for Boone, who could potentially be Jamaal Williams-like in the red zone. You just have to give Boone his chances and get out of his way. Let the kid rumble.
Boston Scott, RB, Eagles: Scott re-signed with Philly, but the surrounding situation is entirely different now – RB1 Miles Sanders packed his bags for Carolina. That puts Scott in a three-headed monster situation with Rashaad Penny and Kenneth Gainwell. Those two bring more fantasy upside in theory, but we are talkin’ about deep sleepers in this piece today! A hypothetical scenario could arise where Scott – who has always been a very underrated rusher, in general – becomes the most productive running back in Philly on the stat sheet. He’s a pro’s pro who simply gets the job done when called upon.
D’Ernest Johnson, RB, Jaguars: Johnson is one of those backs who jumps off the screen at you. He’s bouncy and fresh, having not taken a lot of carries behind Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in Cleveland. Playing behind young Travis Etienne in Jacksonville – a kid who has never quite carried the load yet – there will be opportunities for Johnson to jump in and impress. He’s a very good, pure natural rusher who gets downhill in a hurry. If he ever got a full workload… watch out.
Deandre Carter, WR, Raiders: I would have liked Carter even better as a sleeper if he picked a better landing spot. Whenever Keenan Allen and Mike Williams were down with injuries with the Chargers, Carter would step in and make good things happen. He’s a shifty wide receiver who is difficult to cover in one-on-one situations. However, Las Vegas is crowded with Davante Adams, Jakobi Meyers, and Hunter Renfrow at the wide receiver position. Injuries would have to occur in order for Carter to showcase his true potential with the Raiders.
Braxton Berrios, WR, Dolphins: It’s not so hard when Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle are on the outside, right? Mike McDaniel is a good, young head coach, and he’ll find tricky ways to utilize Berrios in motion. Tua Tagovailoa likes short, quick throws, so Berrios is a match for him in theory. We’re talkin’ deep, deep sleepers here, but Berrios could hold some value in full-point PPR formats.
Noah Brown, WR, Texans: Veteran Robert Woods might be washed, so the door could be wide open for wide receiver production in Houston. Remember, Brandin Cooks is a Dallas Cowboy now, so Brown should have plenty of opportunities playing with CJ Stroud or Bryce Young (depending on how the NFL Draft shakes out). Brown is a good athlete with better technical skills than people realize. He’s probably my favorite WR sleeper out of this particular free agent class.
Scotty Miller, WR, Falcons: Shifty slot men can always do damage in PPR if they land in the right situation. Hard to say if this is that situation for Miller, but he won’t be forgotten as often in Atlanta as he was in Tampa. Desmond Ridder isn’t a longball quarterback, so he might find some chemistry with Miller in the midrange. We’ll have to wait and see how things shake out from a tactical standpoint.
Irv Smith, TE, Bengals: Oh man, I hate to write this one! It feels like Irv Smith is a fantasy sleeper every single season, but this time things might be different in Cincinnati. Obviously, he’ll have the great Joe Burrow under center, with stars Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins on the outside. TE1 Hayden Hurst is now out of the way in Carolina, so the door is ajar for Smith to finally make his mark on the NFL. This time around, he’s definitely worth the late-round flier.
I’ll see ya right back here next week!
John Frascella is a published sports author who has been covering the NFL for 19 years. Follow him on Twitter @LegendSports7 for all things fantasy football, baseball and basketball throughout the year.