Sleepers are my joint. It's a by-product of studying tape in as much depth as I do. But the term "Sleeper" isn't just the unknown or lesser-known name. There are mid-range sleepers — the player whose potential value should be far higher than the current perception.
Peyton Manning's second year with the Broncos was a perfect example. So was betting on Tom Brady making a run at Manning's record-breaking season last year.
As I told readers before the 2019 season in that iteration of this piece, "[Patrick] Mahomes is more mature than most portray him...If you want a great fantasy season, you can't write off stacking the Chiefs' offense because it's too risky...Believe in greatness before the label-givers do their job. They're always the last to recognize it.
This was also true of my recommendations of Lamar Jackson, Nick Chubb, A.J. Brown, and Justin Jefferson before each broke out — against the grain of the consensus thought in terms of talent, scheme fit, and upside.
As I said, sleepers are my joint. We all have our share of misses, but there's a reason I'm still writing these columns after all these years, selling draft publications, and doing podcasts — and it's not my sparkling personality.
I'll be doing more of that here, but I decided to wait until most drafts were over so I could create a team of players to monitor that most didn't draft. After all, these are the truest sleepers in what's becoming a sleepless society.
Most of the All-Gut Check Team will be on your waiver wire for the first 3-5 weeks of the season. As a proponent of making preseason waiver lists of players to monitor, the more you know about players before they earn an opportunity to emerge, the more time you can devote to creating a worthwhile plan to acquire them when they earn that shot.
Here's my list of sleepers for the 2022 All-Gut Check Fantasy Team: A squad of underrated and lesser-known options who may have your competition laughing now but congratulate you later.
QB Skylar Thompson, Miami
Throwing your way to the top of the preseason leaderboard as a passer doesn't bode well for future success as a franchise starter. Since 2007, the long list of passers atop the preseason leaderboard is filled with backups or journeymen starters.
- Sage Rosenfels
- Bruce Gradkowski
- Brett Hundley
- Reid Sinnett
- Tim Boyle
- E.J. Manuel
- Kyle Sloter
- Steven Morris
- Tom Savage
- Scott Tolzien
- Ryan Nassib
- Austin Davis
- Charlie Whitehurst
- Case Keenum
- Jacoby Brissett
- Kyle Orton
- Bryan Hoyer
- Nick Foles
- Jimmy Garoppolo
Good thing the film is more revealing and Thompson's college film reveals a quarterback that the league, scouts, and much of the media have been caught snoozing. The reasons for what could one day become a collective nap of epic proportions have to do with the system of valuing prospects, especially quarterbacks.
Although we have reasons to treat it this way for fantasy purposes, the NFL Draft is not predictive of talent. NFL teams are predictable about reinforcing their beliefs in their draft capital when players compete for roles.
We know that NFL management does not value a player solely on their football talent. The following criteria collectively have equal, if not significantly greater weight, than football talent:
- Favorable Combine/Pro Day Metrics
- Quality of College Program
- Prototypical Physical Measurements
- Off-Field Behavior
- Injury History/Health
- Number of Years as a Starter
These nine factors carry weight—often appropriately so. However, there's a great deal of inherent variation with scouting reports when it comes to how individuals and teams not only define and weigh the value of film performance but also these other nine factors. It's why teams passed over some of the great players in the game.
Not so. Draft capital dictates the degree of initial financial investment and in all but exceptional cases, NFL management dictates that the most expensive investments earn every opportunity to contribute early. Most NFL coaches have to get permission from their front office to have an open competition for a starting role between players with low and high draft capital. Doug Marrone asking the Jaguars' permission to allow James Robinson to compete with Leonard Fournette was not an exceptional circumstance.
Players with low draft capital earn far fewer reps in meaningful practice moments and it reinforces an existing confirmation bias based on dollar amounts invested into players. A player with strong draft capital can make multiple mistakes during a series of reps and the decision makers will provide patient rationalizations ("he'll figure it out in time") compared to a player with weaker draft capital making one similar mistake out of far fewer reps ("see, we knew he wasn't that good.").
This is the hill Skylar Thompson had to climb this offseason to force the Dolphins to keep him on its depth chart. Thompson was a top recruit at his position but he played in a Kansas State offense that wasn't a high-octane passing game if judging by the number of attempts. Thompson played in the same run-heavy, play-action variant of the West Coast Offense as Trey Lance.
Thompson also got hurt during his career and didn't play with top prospects in his receiving corps. Despite his film and Next Gen stats having some eye-catching material, K-State's second-tier Division-I program, his lack of top production, and injury, made him an also-ran in this draft class.
Senior Bowl Director Jim Nagy was on a K-State radio show around this time last summer on the heels of Thompson turning the heads of scouts and coaches at the Manning Camp. Nagy told the hosts that multiple people told him that Thompson was the notable performer and his arm was much better than they anticipated.
When asked what Thompson would have to do to earn a Senior Bowl invitation, Nagy essentially stated that production would be the key. Production can be indicative of good film, but good film can be independent of top production. Good scouting is valuing the process ahead of the results.
Although it appears that the Shrine Game is trying to compete with the Senior Bowl for the top prospects and not settle for being an all-star game for the fringe options, the event hasn't earned this status (yet) and Thompson's invitation was another layer of confirmation of his low draft capital.
Thompson's low-error, highly productive summer as a passer, decision-maker, and coordinator of alignments impressed Mike McDaniels enough to force Miami to keep him. When a team keeps a player with a low or non-existent draft capital, it often means the team sees that player as a capable reserve who could earn a contributing role off the bench as a long-term part of the team.
"Long-term" is relative when talking about the NFL.
However, when a team makes room for a quarterback — a position where the depth chart allotment is typically minimal — it's a weightier statement about what the team sees in Thompson.
Don't expect Thompson to leapfrog Teddy Bridgewater on the depth chart if the Dolphins are a competitive team and Tua Tagovailoa suffers an injury or falters. If Miami is out of contention, that's a different matter and it will be a perfect time for them to evaluate Thompson in a similar manner the Texans evaluated Davis Mills last year, or the Bengals checked out Ryan Finley a few years earlier.
I'm a believer in Thompson's talent. He was the RSP's No.1 pre-draft quarterback and his grade was significantly higher than his peers. Even so, I cautioned subscribers to understand the weight of draft capital.
Thompson's odds of earning playing time and becoming as good as my scouting report suggests have climbed from "almost nil" to "improbable," between May and August. As hefty of a leap that is odds-wise, it's still not at a point where he's worth serious consideration for all but deep dynasty rosters.
It is at a point where Thompson's potential for an opportunity is worth monitoring in all formats. Although far fewer civilians are sleeping on him as deeply as they were in May, you will likely get Thompson on the cheap if there's a fateful intersection between your need for a reserve quarterback and the rookie's opportunity to play
If it's an extended opportunity, I believe Thompson can become one of the significant anomalies of draft history.
If you want to listen to Russ Lande and I talk about these dynamics with talent and fit, preseason and free agency, and the impact of draft capital on players and coaches, this new episode of RSP Scout Talk is a must-listen.
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