10 Fantasy Football Deep Sleepers To Draft On Underdog Fantasy

Jun 12th 2024

Hayden Winks

There are different definitions for "sleepers" in fantasy football. For well-adjusted people, that could be the WR48 in average draft position (ADP). For the sickos reading a column about fantasy football sleepers in June, we need to dig deep. And for me, I want to dig even deeper than that. The goal in today's column is to create a short list of sleeper candidates that have a path to impactful upside in half PPR best ball while also being drafted under 50% of the time. Based on previous research, the sweet spot has been players with an Underdog Fantasy ADP between 205.0 and 214.9 because once players are only drafted 1% of the time, they very largely do nothing. In other words...

We want to scroll TF down, then scroll back up.

WR87 Darius Slayton (ADP: 206.3)

He has an $8.1M cap hit and has the ability to play X receiver, where Z/slot Jalin Hyatt and slot-only Wan'Dale Robinson can't play. The offense will revolve around moving Malik Nabers around the field, but Slayton will see some downfield opportunities again and he's been solid on them in recent years. He's had +20% and +40% fantasy points over expected despite playing in some truly unwatchable offenses. From Week 11 on last year, Slayton had WR13, WR36, WR16, WR8, and WR16 finishes. Just having three of those would be a win this late in drafts.

QB31 Bo Nix (ADP: 208.6)

I was one of the few who gave Nix a 1st-round grade ahead of the NFL Draft because he is a quick (smart) decision-maker who can also extend plays with his under-appreciated athleticism. It's a great stylistic pairing with Sean Payton, who is likely going to give Nix the entire season to start. If given an entire season, it'll be hard for Nix to not luck into some random top-12 QB weeks (even Bryce Young did so twice last year), especially if we consider how much rushing Nix did in college. Nix ran for 20 TDs in 27 Oregon contests, averaging 27.5 rushing yards per game including the negatives for sacks. That's a lot of fantasy production on the ground, not to mention his 300 passing yards per game. The narrative around Nix has approached meme level with most reaching the same conclusion that he's an auto-bust. Is that likely? Sure. Does Nix have paths to a fantasy profile too? I'd argue so.

TE27 Mike Gesicki (ADP: 208.8)

He may not be good. He may only be on a $2.5M contract. But he's at least attached to Joe Burrow and the Bengals, who are projected for the 6th-most points in 2024 per the betting markets. Back in 2022 with a healthy Joe Burrow, Hayden Hurst had two top-10 TE weeks despite missing some time and also not being a difference maker. In 2021, CJ Uzomah had not one but two TE1 overall finishes as Burrow's tight end.

WR90 Odell Beckham (ADP: 210.9)

The Ravens slow-played his return from injury and never made him a full-time player during his age-31 season, but Odell was quietly decent on a per-route basis. He was the WR30 in composite score versus man coverage and would've performed better if not missed by Lamar Jackson on a few downfield opportunities. The numbers tell that same story. OBJ was only in the 53rd percentile in first downs per route, yet was in the 81st percentile in PFF grade and in the 86th percentile in yards per route. The Dolphins also rotate their WRs to keep them fresh, but I'm taking Odell more seriously than others as a Round 17-18 dart throw. There's at least contingent upside if something ever happened to Tyreek Hill or Jaylen Waddle.

WR93 Kalif Raymond (ADP: 212.1)

The Lions are fully expecting Jameson Williams (who is mostly a one-trick pony) to be thrust into 2-WR sets this year, but the Lions will need another receiver to step up in 3-WR sets and potentially in 2-WR sets if Jamo proves unready. Raymond, at times, has flashed some interesting things. He was in the 48th percentile among all receivers in yards per route against man coverage last year and finished the year with a shockingly-high 2.1 yards per route average on all of his routes. Raymond was at 1.9 YPRR in 2022, too. He's a quick underneath option with Amon-Ra contingent upside and has been productive enough to project for 3-WR sets in Week 1. When Jared Goff was asked about Raymond, he said, "It's been invaluable (to have him). I can trust him any time he's in there at receiver at any spot and I know he's an electric returner, but he's done a great job at everything and I'm appreciative to have him on our team."

QB32 Russell Wilson (ADP: 212.5)

The Steelers didn't wait long to sign Russell Wilson in the offseason, then waited a very long time to trade a Day 3 pick for Justin Fields. That alone is a sign of who is the projected starter. Since then, the front office and coaching staff have routinely said it's Wilson's job to lose, and the beat reporters have suggested the same thing after watching OTAs and mini camp. Like many players, Russ's 2023 tape has been memed to death. He's obviously not the same player he was, nor will he ever be, but Russ is still a top-25 NFL starter to me. His deep ball is still above average and is a scheme fit with an under-center play-action offense, and Russ can still move around more than others. Fields would be a fun story if he took over late in the year (you have permission to draft him in Round 18 in these huge best ball tournaments), but the Steelers are projected for 8.5 wins and likely will be in the NFL Playoffs mix when the fantasy playoffs start. If forced to lay odds, I'd say Wilson is benched for non-health reasons only 25% of the time this year. That's a worthwhile risk if it means I can add correlation to my George Pickens and Pat Freiermuth teams. Russ had weekly finishes of QB3, QB7, QB9, QB11, QB11, and QB12 in last year's train wreck season.

WR95 Greg Dortch (ADP: 212.8)

The streets are fitting him for a gold jacket, and I understand why. Dortch is too small for outside reps, but he is frisky in 3-WR sets, especially next to physical WRs and TEs. That's exactly the Cardinals formula on paper with Marvin Harrison Jr. (X), Michael Wilson or Zay Jones (Z), and Trey McBride (TE) towering over Dortch underneath. Last year, Dortch was in the 83rd percentile in composite score vs. man coverage. Wilson was at 19th percentile. Current Falcon Rondale Moore, 16th percentile. If you want to prioritize Dortch in the last round of best ball tournaments, then this is statistical evidence to continue doing so. Worse case, we'll have fun tweeting about how good Dortch is.

RB67 Will Shipley (ADP: 213.5)

His primary competition for insurance touches behind Saquon Barkley is Kenneth Gainwell, who was dead last out of 52 qualifiers in PFF grade last season. Shipley has mini Ekeler vibes as an undersized RB who specializes as a receiver but has experience in goal line situations:

TE32 Colby Parkinson (ADP: 213.9)

Tyler Higbee will start on PUP after tearing his ACL and MCL in the NFL Playoffs, and it's unclear if the Rams are just totally done with him already. They drafted Davis Allen and played him down the stretch, but Allen (6'5"/245 with a 4.84 forty) was more of an in-line TE (76% snaps) than a true receiving threat (2.3 aDOT). This offseason, the Rams gave Colby Parkinson (6'7"/252 with a 4.77 forty) a 2-year contract with $15M in practical guarantees. That's starter money. He was buried in a 3-TE rotation with the Seahawks previously, but Parkinson has the deep sleeper profile I love. He had a 19% receiving share as a true junior at Stanford, then played in the slot or out wide on 46% of his Seahawks' snaps last year. Parkinson could be a full-time player for the first time of his career, and Matthew Stafford still looked really good when healthy last season. There is a path to 600 yards and 6 TDs here.

RB68 Audric Estime (ADP: 214.2)

Sean Payton seems to love "his guys" more than most coaches, which is why he's brought in 4 different RBs since taking the job three offseasons ago. Most notably, Payton wasn't around for the Javonte Williams selection and has only seen him put up -20% fantasy points over expected in 2023 after he returned from his multi-ligament knee tear. If Javonte is never the same or gets injured, the Broncos will need a between-tackles rusher. Enter 4th-round rookie Audric Estime, who is a 20-year-old early-declare from Notre Dame with plenty of on-field production. Estime is thicc with the upside for goal-line touchdowns if given the opportunity. I'm not convinced August cut-candidate Samaje Perine or 185-pound gadget back Jaleel McLaughlin are necessarily competing for this specific role, even if they are useful in other areas.