The DEEPEST Fantasy Football Sleepers of 2023

May 17th 2023

Hayden Winks

Everyone has a different definition of "sleeper", but we'll loosen that definition in August. Today's sleepers are for the sickos that are reading best ball content in mid-May.

Let's use some historical data and game theory to find today's "sleeper" cut off point.

The chart below shows how often players are drafted based on their average ADP in Best Ball Mania II. Players with an ADP inside the top-168 (Round 14) will be drafted at or close to 100% of the time, but that drops to 0-25% for players outside the top-192 (Round 16). Of course, drafted rate has really mattered in DFS for uniqueness purposes, but it's hard to do that in best ball tournaments. In my opinion, the easiest way to add uniqueness is to be good at finding DEEP sleepers. And no, being overweight on a Round 15 RB isn't unique.

Fantasy Football RB Sleepers

Because RB production is largely a product of the offense, all we need to have with these deep RB sleepers is a path to valuable volume. I think size is a near requirement, especially in half PPR where we score TDs not catch Charmin Soft dumpoffs in garbage time. Being on good offenses is good for TDs I hear, too.

Browns RB Jerome Ford (ADP: 206.0)

Kareem Hunt remains unsigned, probably because he's a little washed and has an off-field past. Ford was a Day 3 rookie last year, but the coaching staff has talked him up this offseason and (more importantly) has put their money where their mouth is. It's Nick Chubb in a Full Chubb role, then Ford, then UCLA Bruin special teamer Demetric Felton on the depth chart. If something happens to Chubb, Ford has 5'10/210 size with 4.46 speed and a 20-TD final college season. The Browns have more upside than given credit for right now.

Vikings RB DeWayne McBride (ADP: 213.3)

Minnesota would save $9M against the cap with a Dalvin Cook post-June 1st release, and ESPN's Adam Schefter and Dianna Russini have both hinted that could happen. If so, Alexander Mattison (on a 2-year, $7M contract) would be the RB1 with a competition brewing between McBride and Ty Chandler. Both were Day 3 picks, but Chandler was a 24-year-old rookie last year with one year of decent production, while McBride was a 21-year-old early declare with three stud years of college production. I think McBride can play, so I'll stack my odds on McBride keeping Chandler in a special teams or practice squad role.

Ravens RB Gus Edwards (ADP: 198.1)

He only had 87 carries last year coming off a torn ACL, but Gus Bus had another 5.0 YPC season. This year, he's clearly the RB2 in Baltimore on a sturdy $4.6M contract and shouldn't have major restrictions. More importantly, Lamar Jackson and this offense looks pretty fun again, while JK Dobbins feels quite uncertain. Dobbins had a far more serious multi-ligament knee tear that had multiple setbacks in 2022, and he had some spouts with the coaching staff on how he was used. There's plenty of downside risk for Dobbins, where Edwards would be the beneficiary. He'd be a weekly RB2 as a starter.

Rams RB Zach Evans (ADP: 204.9)

It was an injury-based disaster in LA last year, but the OL, Matthew Stafford, and Copper Kupp are all back. Adding to the potential offensive rebound is a way-worse Rams defense post-Jalen Ramsey. Evans would need Cam Akers to miss time or get back in the dog house to pay off. If that happens, I think Evans would be the early-down RB, while 2022 Day 3 rookie Kyren Williams hangs around on passing downs as a stud blocker. Evans himself was a Day 3 pick, too, but his talent is one of a Day 2 prospect. He was a 5-star recruit who has underperformed for reasons that aren't on field. He has the body type and athleticism to handle a big workload.

Bengals RB Trayveon Williams (ADP: 215.0)

People forget how dominant he was in the SEC, totaling 2,038 yards and 19 TDs as a junior before declaring. He's been stuck behind Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine (both solid) in Cincy, but the Bengals re-signed Williams to a $1.1M contract and talked him up this offseason. More importantly, they didn't add much competition in the draft, only spending a 5th-rounder on Chase Brown (ADP: 166.6). Williams and Chris Evans both play special teams as returners, while Brown has only played 72 special teams snaps in his last four seasons. Whoever can pass protect best has the upper hand as Mixon's passing-down complement. At least Williams has a low-drafted rate right now.

Raiders RB Zamir White (ADP: 215.1)

Josh Jacobs was proof that this offense under coach Josh McDaniels can support a stud fantasy RB. If he misses time, it'd be a battle between 2022 4th-rounder White, 30-year-old scat back Ameer Abdullah, and 33-year-old special teamer Brandon Bolden. White was a dawg in college (literally) and has the size (6'0/215) to be the bellcow Jacobs was.

Cowboys RB Malik Davis (ADP: 215.5)

Tony Pollard coming off a January broken ankle. Ronald Jones on $350k guaranteed. Day 3 rookie Duece Vaughn (who might've been drafted because his dad is literally a Cowboys scout). And Davis. That's it. What can go wrong??? Davis is reportedly well liked by this coaching staff and at least has the size (5'10/207) to be in the mix for double digit touches. He has 10 carries and 2 receptions in his lone game (Week 17) as the Cowboys' RB2 last year.

Fantasy Football WR Sleepers

I think we overthink our deepest WR sleepers. Sort by playing time and cap hits, then let big play and/or TD variance takeover in this wild best ball format. While our competition tries to hit on the 5th-round rookie WRs here, we'll just take the starting veteran in a mid offense.

Patriots WR DeVante Parker (ADP: 214.5)

He's making $6.0M in his age-30 season, and it can't get worse in New England, right? RIGHT? The rest of the WR room doesn't have Parker's X-WR traits, so he should remain in the starting lineup. If you want to bet against Matt Patricia as an NFL play caller, then draft some Parker late. The Patriots' top WR gets drafted later than any other team's WR1 on Underdog Fantasy. That's a sign that someone will out-perform ADP.

Hopefully Free Agent WR Corey Davis (ADP: 213.6)

He's averaged 52.3 yards per game since 2018, breaking the 40-yard mark in every year. Nothing crazy, but Davis is a starting-level receiver who can hang in valuable 2-WR sets because he does the dirty work, including blocking. Davis needs to get out of New York to have a better path to a few spiked weeks, but he'll comfortably the best WR if he's released or put on the trade block. Davis is 28 years old and on a $11M contract.

Bears WR Chase Claypool (ADP: 195.1)

Chicago traded the 32nd overall pick for him, so there must be some belief here. Claypool will be a 3-WR set starter (possible in 2-WR sets, too), which is better than some WRs being taken ahead of him. He also has the athleticism for big plays as a better in best ball dart throw in an offense that is very likely to throw 25-125 more times this year. I don't think Cole Kmet or Darnell Mooney are that good either, so Claypool is my favorite Justin Fields stacking partner until D.J. Moore's ADP chills out.

Lions WR Josh Reynolds (ADP: 215.7)

Gross, I know. But he's making more money this year ($4.0M) than 33-year-old Marvin Jones ($3.0M). Reynolds will be a 3-WR set starter while Jameson Williams serves his 6-game suspension, and very easily could remain in the Lions' starting lineup the entire year. In my opinion, Jones is quite cooked. If something were to happen to ARSB, Reynolds has some upside. People forget that he had games of 8, 10, and 10 targets last year. Ex-Rams GM Brad Holmes made Reynolds a priority last offseason.

Bucs WR Russell Gage (ADP: 215.6)

He's in the middle of a 2-year, $20M guaranteed contract. Has it been bad? Yes. Will that continue? Yes. But things could open up if Chris Godwin and/or Mike Evans get traded when the Bucs are out of contention by the midseason point. There have also been rumors of putting Godwin outside more, inevitably putting Gage back into his more natural slot position.

Fantasy Football TE Sleepers

I love late round TEs because I value elite QBs more, must have 4 good WRs early, and like the elite upside of early RBs. That's why I wrote this banger of a column on TE deep sleepers already.

Packers TE Luke Musgrave (ADP: 213.7)

I'm very intrigued. He's not loved by the fantasy streets because limited college production due to injuries, but Musgrave has the size, athleticism, draft capital, and weak target competition that can lead to fantasy breakouts. He has 86th percentile height and 55th percentile weight, while still showcasing a 93rd percentile ten-yard split, 90th percentile broad jump, and 60th percentile three cone. The Packers used the 43rd overall pick on him, following that up with the 79th overall pick on Tucker Kraft. That'll be his primary competition for snaps because Josiah Deguara (6'2/238) is small role TE only. Both Musgrave and Kraft lined up inline on 58% of their college snaps and have nearly identical body types. This is a pure skill based competition, with Musgrave as a big favorite due to draft capital. On a very small sample last year, Musgrave happened to flash a 3.4 yards per route run average.

Patriots TE Hunter Henry (ADP: 214.1)

First off, Henry has the second highest cap hit ($15.5M) of any TE in 2023. Gesicki is only at $4.5M. That's a hint!!! Henry only ran 25 routes per game last year because the Patriots offense was unwatchable under Matt Patricia, but he did at least run a route on 64% of 1-TE set dropbacks and 81% of 2-TE set dropbacks. Both of those are right at the thresholds I look for. Meanwhile, Gesicki was at 55% and 59% respectively last year. Henry won't lose many snaps to Gesicki because he's a much better blocker, and if the Patriots use more 2-TE sets this year, Henry still will be out in the route against relatively poor pass-catchers. I like Henry straight up, especially while cheaply adding some Patriots as a bet against the pencil ear god.

Panthers TE Hayden Hurst (ADP: 194.0)

He's an average talent, but Hurst signed a decent 3-year, $22M contract with $13M guaranteed to be the Panthers' unquestioned starter. In Cincy last year, Hurst ran a route on a strong 92% of his passing snaps. He has the size to stay into block or line up inline (52%), but the NFL seems to like his receiving skills more than we do in fantasy. His backups (Ian Thomas and Tommy Tremble) are cheap blocking types, so Hurst likely sees more volume than expected, meaning he has easy paths to TE2 value even if he's pretty much closed off from TE1 production unless Bryce Young is truly him. Hurst is totally fine in the last rounds.

Cowboys TE Jake Ferguson (ADP: 210.4)

He has a massive range of outcomes, but he has the size (6'5/255), receiving chops, and offense to give him top-15 fantasy TE paths. Buried behind Dalton Schultz last year, Ferguson was used as an inline blocker while Schultz ran more routes in 2-TE sets. I'm willing to throw out Ferguson's worrisome 28% pass-blocking rate from his rookie season, as he was subbed in for traditional blocking looks in 2-TE sets last year. The 4th-rounder flashed some skills as a low-volume receiver in college and as a rookie; Ferguson's 1.8 yards per route run and 75.2 PFF receiving grade are very solid. Behind him, 2nd-round rookie Luke Schoonmaker is viewed as a blocking type with 48th percentile adjusted college production per my metrics. If Ferguson is in a version of the Schultz role, he will be running more routes while Schoonmaker slides into this blocking-heavy TE2 role. I'm in on Ferguson.

Jets TE Tyler Conklin (ADP: 196.8)

He's quietly in the middle of a 3-year, $20M contract. He also quietly ran 29 routes per game, so with Aaron Rodgers upgrading the passing numbers of the offense, I'm optimistic Conklin can be a TE2 as a last-round best ball pick. He won't fully make a difference until his mediocre 87% route rate and way-too-high 60% inline rate improves, however. This is a small win, small loss selection. I'll mix him in when game stacking the Jets.

Chiefs TE Noah Gray (ADP: 215.9)

This is the same thought process as Isaiah Likely (ADP: 207.0), but with the Chiefs. Gray is in the final year of his rookie deal behind a 34-year-old Kelce, who has completely blocked him from 1-TE set participation. When the Chiefs are in 2-TE sets, Gray at least runs a route on 67% of dropbacks. If something happens to Kelce this year, Gray likely goes from 17 to near 30 routes per game in an offense led by Patrick Mahomes. In large field best ball tournaments, you can go worse than adding Gray as a dart throw TE3.