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2022 Fantasy Football Sleepers Up and Down the Draft Board

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Michael Dolan

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“Sleeper” is everyone’s favorite buzzword in fantasy football. Yet despite the popularity of the word, there’s no universal definition that clearly defines what exactly a sleeper is. Some consider the term synonymous with a breakout, and any player poised to exceed their ADP by a few rounds is deserving of the title. Meanwhile, other hardcore managers believe that a player only meets the sleeper criteria if half your league asks “who?” after you make the selection on draft night.

 

Today, I want to appeal to everyone’s definition of a sleeper, so I listed five players who meet varying definitions of the term and labeled them with a different sleeper status. The names at the top of this list are more common and won’t meet everyone’s criteria, but as you continue scrolling down the page, the names listed become so uncommon that even the harshest sleeper critics will approve of their status on this list.

The 15 Minute Cat Nap: J.K. Dobbins, RB, Baltimore Ravens

J.K. Dobbins isn’t necessarily a sleeper as much as he’s a player who is being slept on. Yes, he’s coming off a major knee injury, but he suffered that injury a full year ago, has already been activated off the PUP list, and appears eager to get back out on the field ASAP.

Dobbins has only played one NFL season, but during that year he flashed elite potential as evidenced by his 6.0 yards per carry on 134 attempts. That 6.0 mark would have ranked second among running backs with at least 100 attempts last year (Rashaad Penny averaged 6.3), and in the high-powered Ravens rushing attack, it’s not unreasonable to expect another highly efficient season in 2022. 

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The Ravens led the league in rush yards in two of the past three seasons, and they may have made it three straight were it not for all their injuries last year. This is a team that emphasizes running the ball well, and with Dobbins slated to be their lead back in 2022, he should have no problem accumulating fantasy points in bunches. Even if Baltimore eases Dobbins back into the game plan following his injury, he’s more than capable of making up for a slow start with league-winning upside in the back half of the season. He currently has an ADP of 55, and I can guarantee you won’t be getting that sort of a discount when you’re drafting again in 2023.

Dozing Off on a Sunday Afternoon: Jerick McKinnon, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

While seventh-round rookie Isiah Pacheco has been garnering all the hype in the Chiefs’ running back room this offseason, it’s important to remember Jerick McKinnon was the team’s best weapon out of the backfield in last year’s playoffs. In Kansas City’s three playoff games, McKinnon accumulated 150 rushing yards and added another 165 through the air. Considering he didn’t hit either of those marks over the course of the entire regular season (just 62 rushing yards and 102 receiving), his playoff breakout was a bit of a surprise, but it could be something for the Chiefs to build on in 2022.

It’s highly unlikely McKinnon steps into a workhorse role anytime soon, but last year’s postseason run proved that he’s capable of adding value in the Chiefs’ high-powered offense. Given all the turnover Kansas City experienced this past offseason, no one really knows what their offense is going to look like in 2022. While that uncertainty may be intimidating early on in drafts, it provides opportunities to find extreme value in the later rounds. Given his current ADP of 223, I’ll gladly take a late-round flier on McKinnon with the hope he secures a role as Kansas City’s pass-catching back and/or change-of-pace option. There’s a world where McKinnon is this year’s version of Cordarrelle Patterson – a 30-year-old back who carves out a hybrid role in an unproven backfield – and provides fantasy value all season long. 

 

8 Hours of REM Sleep: Alec Pierce, WR, Indianapolis Colts

Colts’ second-round receiver Alec Pierce has been one of the many rookies garnering buzz out of training camp and the preseason. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 211 pounds, Pierce fits the criteria to be labeled a “size/speed freak” after clocking in at 4.41 seconds on his 40 at the combine, but it’s not just the physical traits that make Pierce an exciting fantasy option though. The rookie has already shown an impressive ability to get open against NFL corners, and the drumbeat in Indianapolis indicates it won’t be long before Pierce locks down the No. 2 receiver role alongside Michael Pittman.

While the Colts are an offense that’s centered around Jonathan Taylor and the ground game, new quarterback Matt Ryan has shown an ability to support multiple fantasy relevant wide receivers. Everyone loves Pittman this year due to his combination of talent and opportunity, but Indy needs other players to step up and demand targets in the passing game as well. The door is wide open for Pierce to carve out a solid role in this offense, and he already looks like a player poised to return value at his current ADP of just 188.

Sleeping in on the weekend: Donald Parham, TE, Los Angeles Chargers

Everyone wants a piece of the Chargers offense, and Donald Parham might just be the cheapest potential contributor from that group. Through two NFL seasons, Parham has accumulated an uninspiring 349 yards on 30 catches, but 6 of those catches went for touchdowns. The 6-8 tight end has yet to carve out a role as a full-time player (on the field for just 33% of snaps last year), but he’s established himself as a weapon in the red zone due to his massive catch radius that garnered LeBron James comparisons from one of his teammates.

In order for Parham to become a sleeper worthy of cracking your starting lineup, he’ll need to demand a higher snap share in the LA offense. The Chargers brought in Gerald Everett to replace Jared Cook as their TE1 this year, but Everett is by no means a world beater — it wouldn’t take that much for Parham to eventually supplant him on the depth chart. Parham’s already the better receiving weapon, but if he wants to see more snaps than the 28-year-old veteran, he’ll need to prove that he’s a capable enough blocker – something he’s been working on this offseason. If the offseason work he put in bumps his snap share up to 50 or 60%, it could provide Parham with enough touchdown upside to make him a viable option for fantasy managers who prefer to wait on the tight end position.

 

Hibernation: Jordan Mason, RB, San Francisco 49ers

Trying to forecast production in the 49ers backfield oftentimes feels like a game of roulette. Fantasy managers who spent an early pick on Trey Sermon last year know the downside of this gamble all too well, but those who snagged Elijah Mitchell on the waiver wire know that obtaining the right player in this backfield can return immense value. Entering 2022, Mitchell is viewed as the incumbent starter, but if there’s one thing we know about 49ers’ head coach Kyle Shanahan, it’s that he’ll feed the hot hand regardless of what the depth chart said entering the week.

This year, Mitchell is going 63rd overall in drafts, and the next 49ers’ back off the board is rookie third-rounder Tyrion Davis-Price (184th). The No. 2 role in the San Francisco backfield appears to be up for grabs, and one player who’s impressed in the preseason and thrown his hat in the ring is undrafted rookie Jordan Mason. So far this preseason, Mason has shown an impressive ability to run with power and decisiveness – two traits that Shanahan covets in his backs – and if he continues to impress and earns the No. 2 spot in this backfield, he’s all but guaranteed to return value given the low cost it’ll take to acquire him.

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