Fantasy Sports are contests of collective decision making. People love personal stories about “Sleepers” where a player comes out of nowhere and conquers the world. Look, some of that goes on but exponentially more important is talent and opportunity. Those are the two ingredients.

I am not trying to turn the world upside down here people. You all know it makes sense. For years people raved about the Denver Broncos and Mike Shanahan “producing” running backs. In reality their emphasis on Offensive Line play created a system in which they could plug most any NFL running back in he would be successful.

What makes predicting “Sleepers” difficult is that you are primarily wagering on the unknowns that create or hinder opportunity.  There is a Double Secret Sleeper Formula. Here it is:

Sleeper Rating = Amount of Talent (Individual + Team Support) + Opportunity

Wow. Pretty amazing, huh?  (Sarcasm). Quantifying the unquantifiable.

I am not going to sit here and analyze every single player in the league. I have to allot time in my day to post stuff on Facebook with my friends from college about how cool we used to be.  What I am going to do is unearth the players that, in my opinion, are “Sleepers” relative to their ADP & Overall rankings.

But I already did my draft. This is stuuuupid. I can’t use any of this information. (that’s you being a close-minded negative Nancy). Well you know what you can do? You can target the undervalued dudes in trades now.

Individual Talent

Your best guesstimation of a player’s athletic ability and skill set. If you don’t have a guesstimation, find one somewhere.

Measure it on a scale of 1 to 5

Team Opportunity

All the factors that cultivate/hinder the success of players at the position you’re measuring. If you’re looking at a QB this would be Offensive Line play, quality of the running game, and quality of the receiving corps. For Running Backs it’s mostly the quality of the Offensive Line (a threatening passing game helps because it keeps the Safeties out of the box). This goes back to what I was talking about with the Broncos and the Running Backs they had for years. You knew it didn’t matter who they plugged in; anyone would have success.

Measure it on a scale of 1 to 5

Note: Remember that Individual and Team Opportunity get added together to create a total score out of 10.So when you see the “first number” in parenthesis that will be what I think the total combined talent is. Essentially it’s a measure of explosiveness and that players potential to put up huge numbers if he gets an opportunity. But the opportunity counts as much as total talent because without opportunity talent doesn’t matter.

+ Opportunity

Measure it on a scale of 1 to 10

First thing you’ll notice is that it’s twice as valuable as the talent/skill related factors. This is because if a guy is going to get a ton of touches/targets the odds of him putting up big numbers are a lot higher. Less talented players that get a chance to play are more valuable than really talented players who will sit the bench. Opportunity is everything in football.

What we need to look at here primarily is how many players are ahead of him on the depth chart and what the makeup of these players are. Ideally we have a player who is clearly the next in line behind an aging back with skills set to diminish and a lot of injury risk. Of course there will be a few guys who are slated as starters already and you should target those players HEAVILY.

I am advocating the use of the “Sleeper Rating” formula because as stupid as it may seem it gives us a way to measure something other people consider subjective. From here on out when I talk about Sleepers I’ll be trying to attach all these subjective numbers to them.

So if I say:

Cedric Benson, 15 (6+9) that means I think his talent (individual and team support) is only 6 but his opportunity is 9 since he’s the feature back.

That gives you a way of picking up the types of Sleepers that fit your roster. Got a shallow team? Prefer a guy with a little less potential but a greater chance to get touches? Then emphasize the second number.

Got a deep team? Prefer a guy with a huge ceiling who may not see the field much (without injuries to players ahead of him) but will be huge if he does? Then emphasize the first number.

Let’s look at another player, just for fun:

LeSean McCoy, 14 (9+5). Very explosive player, dynamic offense, great line in front of him. If Westbrook gets hurt McCoy could be an absolute monster. Think- Second round value. His Sleeper Rating is only 2 less than Benson’s yet they’re entirely different players. But the way it’s outlined you can look quickly and understand why.

Look, I get it. This might be a little over the top. But it’s the best way I have found to target and sort my Sleepers. The rosters on my fantasy teams are not full of all the same Sleepers; they are slightly different based on scoring settings, the depth of talent at respective positions, etc. Yours should be too.

So now you have a system if that’s what you’re into. The last thing I want to talk about is my “Three Tier Method” and then I’ll give you a few Sleepers in each Tier to target.

Tier your Sleepers based on Acquisition Cost. In other words, “what would I have to give up to get this player?” If you have not drafted yet this method could help you a lot. If you have drafted no worries; just start thinking about deals you can put together.

Tier I Sleepers are well known highly ranked starters that you think are under-valued. You’ll have to give up something good in trade to get them.

Tier II Sleepers have a role in their Offense (3rd Down/Short Yardage/Pass Receiving Back, 2nd/3rd Wide Receiver, etc). These are players that were drafted in the mid to late rounds. You’ll have to give up something decent in trade to get them.

Tier III Sleepers are everybody’s favorite. These are the players drafted either extremely late or not at all. You can get them in trades as throw-ins or pick them up on the Wire for free.

I highly recommend Tiering your Sleepers. Most people fall in love with Tier III Sleepers and ignore the guys in Tier I and Tier II that they can trade for. Don’t do that. Get guys you think are undervalued. Get a whole team full of them.

Here are a few of my Sleepers from each Tier:

Tier I

Marques Colston- 18 (9+9) — Not getting enough respect. If we apply our formula to the top two three receivers (Fitz, Andre Johnson, Moss) they come out as 20’s (10+10). The rest of the receivers, being drafted a half to full round ahead of Colston are not more likely to put up big numbers than he is. Dude was hurt a lot of last year. When he came back the Offense was already developed and he was productive but did not get a lot of Red Zone Targets. This guy has a very high ceiling. Respect!

Philip Rivers- 18 (9+9) — He’s not a Sleeper!!!! Look this Tier of players are undervalued, remember? Rivers is being drafted behind Aaron Rodgers a lot of the time. I don’t understand it. This guy is poised to put up huge numbers and has tremendous matchups for the Fantasy Playoff season (foreshadowing- I have written a column on this that will post early next week).

DeSean Jackson- 17 (8+9) — It’s too bad that DeSean Jackson isn’t very tall. It takes the “fade route” targeting away from him which would probably be worth another 3 TD’s per year. Think about last year. He had 60+ catches, 900+ yards and was the #1 receiver by default. The Eagles have had the whole offseason to scheme him as the main guy. He’s going to get a ton of Bubble and Wide Receiver screens, plus the typical routes, plus he’s their primary deep threat. I see 80 catches, 1,050 yards, 6 TD’s minimum. It could be a lot bigger than that. How big? 100 catches, 1250 yards, 10 TD’s big. My guess is somewhere in the middle.

Eddie Royal- 16 (7+9) – Josh McDaniel’s has tipped his hand about Eddie Royal and you should be paying attention. Especially for PPR. Royal is going to be the main target in that Offense. Bubble and Wide Receiver Screens out the whazoo. That’s in addition to all the traditional targets he’s going to get. If Marshall gets traded Royal could put up enormous numbers in that system. Think: Andre Johnson.

Anthony Gonzalez- 16 (7+9) — Peyton’s going to have more control over that offense in Indianapolis. We could see a lot of footballs in the air. Defenses are keying in on Reggie Wayne now and Gonzo is the #2. The only variable I’m not certain about is what’s going to happen with the Red Zone Targets. For receptions and yards I see big things for him either way.

Tier II

Cedric Benson- 15 (6+9) — I don’t think he’s very good but if that offense is decent (they have a good chance to be) Benson could be a solid producer.

Ray Rice 15- (8+7) — Great skill set both running and receiving. The clear #1 guy there now. McClain might snake some of his goal line touches but that doesn’t scare me. What scares me is if my mom ever figures out how to text message. This has happened to several friends of mine. Total game changer.

Darren Sproles-  15 (9+6) – The Chargers “Franchised” him. Teams don’t put out that kind of money for a guy they’re going to sit. He has a lot more value in PPR than Standard. LT looks healthy which will inhibit him breaking out but if it happens and Sproles gets a chance to start- huge numbers.

Ahmad Bradshaw- 14 (9+5) — Brandon Jacobs is just such a physical back. It’s fun to watch but so hard for him to stay healthy. Either way Bradshaw’s going to see an upgrade in touches with Ward gone. In passing situations he’ll almost exclusively be “the guy” and when he does run the ball it’ll be behind the best O-Line in NFL.

LeSean McCoy- 14 (9+5) — This kid is explosive. He’s a great player to get for Keeper Leagues. He is to Westbrook what Sproles is to Tomlinson. The Eagles will split touches this year more than they ever have with Westbrook and McCoy will be the recipient of that.

Percy Harvin- 15 (8+7) — I don’t own him in any leagues. That is a huge mistake on my part. I’m going to try and trade for him if I can. Start with the obviously impressive skill set and athletic ability. Next there’s the fact that Favre has targeted him a lot in the Preseason and all their other Wide Receivers are awful. To cap it all off, dude is the Wildcat Quarterback. I don’t think three MIT grads could calculate the ceiling on this guy.

Tier III

Correll Buckhalter- 14 (7+7) — He’s the starter in Denver. Moreno’s coming off injury but even so isn’t Buckhalter worth a look? He’s a high character, high work ethic player who has always done well when he’s gotten an opportunity. Tim Hightower has managed to fight off Beanie, maybe Correll can stave off Knowshon. I’ll pay to find out.

Josh Morgan- 14 (6+8) — They really like him in San Francisco. Kid looks like he’s got skills and the targets will definitely be there. Crabtree’s really alienating himself there from having much opportunity if/when he signs because he’s so far behind the curve of the Offense. I see Morgan remaining the #1 all season.

Darrius Heyward-Bey- 14 (6+8) — Chaz Shilens was going to be the main man in Oakland. He’s hurt and that leaves Heyward-Bey as the default #1. Look I know it was the biggest reach ever for the Raiders taking him #7, followed by a ridiculously over-paid contract. But dudes got wheels and they’re going to want to show them off.

Justin Gage- 13 (5+8) — Not explosive but he’s “the guy” in Tennessee. They brought in Nate Washington but he’s banged up now. Gage had some nice catches in the preseason. In Deep Leagues I’d rather have him going than a 3 rd WR on any team.

Jamaal Charles- 11 (7+4) — How bad are the Chiefs? Really bad. They just fired their Offensive Coordinator. It’s a disaster. Larry Johnson’s an injury waiting to happen. Charles has a nice skill set including receiving. If he gets a chance that O-Line won’t give him much room but I’m owning him in every league I can.

James Davis- 11 (7+4) — I was big on Jerome Harrison coming in to this season. But Davis has solidified the #2 spot in Cleveland and could be the #1 if Jamaal Lewis gets cut (which there are rumors of). I am drafting Davis late in every single draft and picking him up off waivers in EVERY SINGLE LEAGUE. Do it NOW.

Most readers of this site are astute Fantasy owners. None of the names on this list are going to shock you. But I believe that developing systems will help give you some perspective when trying to quantify undervalued players.

Quick shout out to the Tau House editors; Dr. Deckle, Black Jeeves, Funmata, and the Eradicator for your valuable ideas and input.

  1. Joe Blow says:

    Like the article.

    Who would you like on your bench more, J. Morgan or K. Britt?

  2. Drew says:

    how deep are you at WR? i think Britt has more upside so I’d like him if he was a true “stasher” and not someone i’d need to play in case he doesn’t materialize. but if you might need to fill someone in i’d go with Morgan

  3. Dad says:

    @Drew: Helpful article.

    I’m in an league where you can only hold 5 RB’s which i’m not sure is normal, so i’d have to drop ricky williams for davis. Do it?

  4. Drew says:

    I don’t like that rule. I wish you had someone worse than Ricky but yes, I’d still do it. We’ll find out today if Lewis gets cut or not but if you wait for the news to break someone else will have already acted on it.

  5. stumanji says:

    Nice post. I hear you on Royal. I missed out on him in my draft, but am thinking about trying to target him via trade. 12 team league, with .7 PPR. I’m currently starting Megatron and TJ Housh, but after that I’m very thin at WR (Coles, Steve Smith NYG are my only bench WRs).

    What do you think of Coles(drafted in 10th rd)+Fred Jackson(9th rd) for Royal (7th rd)? Royal owner has Lynch.

  6. Drew says:

    @stumanji: Thanks! That trade is going to be very uneven in a few weeks but I actually think you can pull it off right now. It’s nice that you can offer him Jackson. Sometimes people overvalue handcuffs, hopefully this guy is one of them.

  7. Trevor says:

    Just traded James Davis for Anthony Gonzo in a $ league! And finally some love for Gage. I own him in every league possible and hes gonna pay dividends.

  8. Colin says:

    Good call on Davis. Lewis is done.

  9. danimal35 says:

    I picked up Chris Henry (CIN-WR) late as a sleeper/bench guy and somebody just dropped Josh Morgan…do I make the switch?…Justin Gage is still available too

  10. danimal35 says:

    @Colin: is that being reported…I haven’t seen it anywhere

  11. Drew says:

    @danimal35: how deep are you @ WR? are you going to need one of these guys to play much or just looking to stash the guy w/ the most upside?

  12. danimal35 says:

    we have a really small bench so I only have Derrick Mason, Chris Henry, Donald Brown on the bench with Reggie Bush and Desean Jackson at the two flex positions in a PPR league

  13. Drew says:

    @danimal35: that is tough. Chris Henry’s one of several guys I thought about putting in the column. It’s just tough because you can’t list everyone. I think he’s got a huge amount of upside. I’d like to own him or Josh Morgan at this point. This might sound a little crazy but I’d almost consider dropping Mason (or maybe you can trade him) instead. Go with your gut, though.

  14. Doc

    Doc says:

    @danimal35: No, Lewis made the cut, but I still think Davis will cut into his carries and eventually take over.

    @danimal35: Henry and Morgan are very close. Henry is a TD machine, but Morgan is the #1 receiver. I’m higher on Morgan right now. Mason is guaranteed 1,000 yards and 5+ TD’s this year.

  15. Corey says:

    Boldin for Thomas. who wins?

    for RB I have Addia, MJD, Mendenhall,Hightower, Norwood, Fargas, Caddilac Williams

    and for WR I have Boldin, Wayne, Lee Evans and Laverneous coles.

  16. Corey says:

    I forgot to say I get Thomas and that it is Thomas Jones. My bad

  17. Drew says:

    @Corey: Boldin side wins. It looks like you’re pretty well balanced w/ RB’s & WR’s. If you trade Boldin you’ll be very thin @ WR. I’d look to dump Coles on somebody. He’s basically the #3 receiver out there in Cincinnatti.

  18. Corey says:

    @ Drew: Thanks. I took a gamble on a few RBs but I bought into the pickem and hope one turns good strategy.

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  20. paulzone says:

    1st pick in 10 team non ppr league (4 pts for passing tds). How’d i do?

    qb: warner/cutler
    rb: AP/addai/rice/bradshaw/stewart
    wr: jennings/white/a gonz/hester/s.smith (ny)
    te: shiancoe
    def: patriots
    k: carney

    thoughts? weaknesses? trades?

  21. danimal35 says:

    @Doc: ya that’s why I was asking…i guess it doesn’t really matter what i do…and if we are talking bench spots I would rather have the ‘ole reliable’ Mason sitting there…I’m not big on security blankets but he is an alright one to have…All that said, I was real high on Morgan last year, drafted him in every league….and nothin’…hurt and productionless…he has actually done nothing in this league beside show some dreaded “potential” so we may be wise to temper our expectations…SF is going to run a lot and they don’t have the second coming of Namath throwing the ball.

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