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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 players 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 two years ago.
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 2023 All-Gut Check Fantasy Team: A squad of underrated and lesser-known options who may have your competition laughing now but congratulate you later.
The order of these 30 players is by their ADP (highest to lowest). Many of them don't even have an ADP.
Shallow Bench Leagues
I never play in leagues with fewer than 20 roster spots, but for the large percentage of you who do, here's my list of players who you should have high on your Waiver-Wire Rolodex entering the season if they are free agents in your format.
RB Tyjae Spears, Titans: If you read this column regularly or subscribe to the Rookie Scouting Portfolio, Spears was always a player to at least monitor closely in even the shallowest of formats. I shared the RSP's pre-draft scouting report with Footballguys subscribers in April, showing you why his style of play has similarities to Chiefs' great, Jamaal Charles.
Spears has performed well enough this summer that it wouldn't be a shocker if he earns a role in the offense and his playing time cuts into Derrick Henry's workload just enough to diminish Henry's ceiling as a top-five running back. If Spears remains healthy, Henry could be posting fantasy RB2 production based on fewer opportunities.
If this sounds nutty, look at the makeup of the Titans' offense. Henry, Ryan Tannehill, and DeAndre Hopkins are aging veterans Tennessee acquired to give this squad one more year of contention before going into a full rebuild. If the team can give Henry fewer touches throughout the year, they can have a fresher King during the playoffs. Spears has the skills to do that and if Henry gets hurt, Spears has fantasy RB1 talent — "RB1" as in a top-12 back in 12-team formats.
That said, with a better line and a year under his belt, Spears might one day have No.1 overall RB potential if everything falls right for a Titans' rebuild.
WR Jalin Hyatt, Giants: We all understand that New York's primary offensive transportation will be the Daniel Jones to Darren Waller train. One of the reasons is the team's receiving corps that lacks foundational players.
Darius Slayton is working on refining the fine points of his game with receiver trainer Drew Lieberman, who recently shored up Evan Engram's game during his 2022 contract year in Jacksonville. Slayton could continue growing into a player who fits this bill, but no one is sold on it happening yet and in a year, he could be the next Chris Conley-Demarcus Robinson journeyman of the league.
Wan'Dale Robinson is a scatback with some receiving skills, but likely the Isaiah McKenzie of this iteration of Brian Daboll's offense. Sterling Shepard has a high deductible with his health insurance. Isaiah Hodgins can catch and run double moves but he's not explosive enough to work unprotected on the outside outside the red zone. The Giants discussed using Parris Campbell as a running back this summer. Campbell has the limited game of a gadget with a health insurance deductible as high as Shepard.
Hyatt earned his draft capital with his speed, but there were enough moments with his film at Tennessee that one could see the potential for him to become a multidimensional receiving weapon beyond the narrow role the Volunteers used him. We've also seen glimmers of this potential in the preseason.
It's conceivable Hyatt will be one of the three most productive receiving threats in New York by year's end.
RB Jerome Ford, Browns: Nick Chubb has low-key potential to become the next 2,000-yard rusher if the Browns load up the wagon and give the NFL's best pure runner the touches he deserves at least for one year of his already excellent career. If Ford can't stay healthy, that may happen.
While Ford isn't as creative of a runner as Hunt or Chubb, he attacks creases with confidence and finishes strong for his size. If you remember Cadillac Williams during his rookie year in Tampa Bay, Ford has that kind of style —nifty but not artistically elusive. Ford was a high school wide receiver and he tracks and attacks the ball well.
Once Ford returns from his hamstring injury, I anticipate that he'll begin the year in a limited version of the Kareem Hunt role and have a shot to grow it into a full-fledged Hunt role. Pretty good return on investment if that happens. Really good, if the unthinkable (please don't make me say it) happens.
WR Alec Pierce, Colts: I love how our staff has Anthony Richardson as a top-12 fantasy producer at the quarterback position, but Pierce is the consensus WR67 with only Michael Pittman as the only top-36 (barely) option in the passing game. It's as if they believe Richardson is going to run for 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns to help generate that fantasy value.
I'm exaggerating, but not greatly. I probably value Richardson's passing potential as much or more than most in the fantasy and/or draft analyst space. I also don't value Richardson as highly as my peers this year because as good of a runner he is, I understand that Richardson is a great pocket player and will look to pass more than the Tebow-Newton template being slapped on him.
That said, I have Pierce ranked as WR51. Significantly higher than my peers, but not like I'm telling you he's going to be a starter this year. That's because I'm more cautious about Richardson's first year despite having a sky-high belief in his long-term development.
If Richardson meets or exceeds my peers' expectations, it will have more to do with his arm than they are crediting. It means there will be more receivers than Pittman earning fantasy value. Pierce is one of the two most likely options.
He's the primary deep threat for Richardson and he's arguably the best overall route runner of the two outside options. I have a feeling that once Richardson gets past the mistakes of his inexperience and it begins to click, he's going to elevate this offense at warp speed. I don't know if it will happen this year, but it's worth knowing who will be involved in case it does.
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