How deep? I’m talking Adele level Rolling in the Deep. Actually, even deeper. These sleepers could even be considered Sum 41 level of potentially being In Too Deep.
Yes, welcome to that time of year where us analysts like to breakdown our opinions and try to work out which of the late round picks could potentially be a serviceable piece on your fantasy teams. Two years ago saw Alvin Kamara win titles for owners when being picked up in the latter rounds and last year was Phillip Lindsey’s turn. Tip of the cap to any analysts who went deep to pick him out as a deep sleeper for 2018.
So which players are worth monitoring this off-season and worth either a late round flyer in re-draft leagues or picking up as a taxi squad member/final bench spot in your dynasty leagues? Take a look at these candidates that could be on fantasy radars at some point this season:
Dylan Cantrell – Wide Receiver, Los Angeles Chargers
From a pure talent standpoint, Cantrell was one of the best possession receivers coming out of the 2018 draft and a great under the radar pickup in the 6th round by the Chargers. Unfortunately for him, he fell into a busy depth chart of talented receivers mixed in with a leg injury he sustained during preseason meant he subsequently found himself on the Chargers practice squad for the most of last season before being promoted to the first team roster for the final two weeks.
But after a less than impressive season from Travis Benjamin (186 rec yards and 1 TD) tied in with the loss of Tyrell WIlliams in the free agency, there are definitely productive receiving spots up for grabs in one of the most high powered offenses in the league.
In his last 2 seasons playing for Texas Tech, Cantrell bagged 129 receptions for 1,491 yards and 15 combined touchdowns, but it’s not the stats that blow me away. After watching his highlight tape coming out of college, it is apparent that he possesses an elite set of hands and can make the most difficult catches look easy.
A fair comparison to make for Cantrell would be Vikings star receiver Adam Thielen, not just from a talent standpoint, but from a situational one too. Thielen was a guy very much in the background of the depth chart in Minnesota before being given a chance 2 years after being picked up as a UDFA and has since become one of the leagues best, and most reliable receivers.
We know Mike Williams has tremendous red-zone upside and Keenan Allen is currently one of the best possession receivers in the league, but we also know that these are the type of receiver that Philip Rivers likes to target the most. Considering Allen hasn’t had the cleanest of injury slates and the aforementioned Travis Benjamin regressing in his career, Cantrell could be in a prime spot to gain a bigger role in 2019 and could develop into a “Thielen-type” player over the next couple of seasons.
Deon Yelder – Tight End, Kansas City Chiefs
Another under the radar player coming into the league at the beginning of last season as a UDFA was Deon Yelder. Hailing from Western Kentucky, it’s no surprise that he wasn’t picked up in the draft, but how often do we see talented players go ignored on draft day just because they went to a small school?
He was the star of Western Kentucky during his senior year after producing 688 receiving yards from 52 receptions and as a result managed to earn a place in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and a call up to the Senior Bowl where he caught a touchdown.
He started the 2018 season on the New Orleans Saints practice squad before being released in October, but was picked up immediately the next day by the Chiefs in a bid to strengthen the tight end depth chart behind superstar Travis Kelce and was promoted to the first team towards the end of the season, albeit mainly for special team duties.
As with the majority of tight ends coming into the NFL – it almost always takes at least a season for players to get acclimated into the position as it is one of the most versatile positions and therefore hardest to learn in all of football.
With a full year of pro status under his belt and learning from one of the best that’s ever done it in Travis Kelce, Yelder could be primed to step his performances up a notch or two. Tie this is with the uncertainty of what is happening within the offense in Kansas City – the unknown ramifications of Tyreek Hill’s personal issues and the loss of Kareem Hunt in 2018, receiving roles could be up for grabs at Arrowhead this season.
Rookie receiver Mecole Hardman comes with a lot of buzz in tow and will likely see his fair share of targets, but with question marks looming over the rest of the receiving corps, Yelder could be a candidate to share a healthy workload with fellow tight end Kelce and potentially produce fantasy relevant numbers, especially as part of an air raid offense led by the super talented gunslinger, Patrick Mahomes.
Should Kelce go down with an injury too, Yelder ticks a lot of boxes to be a sure fire replacement and a hot commodity pick-up of the waiver wires. Beat the rush, grab him early and stash him away.
Chris Conley – Wide Receiver, Jacksonville Jaguars
I know Chris Conley hasn’t exactly moved mountains in his time in the NFL so far, but he hasn’t been terrible either. He played out his rookie contract in Kansas City and managed to finish his four years there with 1,238 yards with 6 touchdowns.
It was always going to be an up-hill battle for the former Georgia receiver in Kansas with the emergence of Tyreek Hill and stalwart Travis Kelce always demanding the first reads. Still, he was able to prevail to some degree last season and took advantage of the 52 targets thrown his way by season MVP Patrick Mahomes converting 5 of those for touchdowns.
It’s his new situation which intrigues me the most. Jacksonville does not have a nailed on WR1 heading into training camp which means it will be a case of “who can impress Nick Foles the most” to see who will win the battle to become the go-to guy.
Dede Westbrook seems to be the favorite among analysts to be the main target, but hasn’t really proved that he can bring superiority to the receiving ranks on the Jag’s depth chart in the two seasons he’s spent in Northern Florida (1,056 receiving yards with 6 TDs).
It’s a similar story for Marqise Lee, he too hasn’t proved he can be the front-runner for the job despite a few eye-catching moments over the last 4 seasons, and of course, is coming back off an ACL tear that cut short his 2018 campaign. Last years’ second round pick D.J Chark barely saw the field last season so is somewhat of an unknown quantity whilst the ‘breakout of Keelan Cole’ in 2017 was about as short-lived as an AAF season.
One thing that attracted Conley to Jacksonville was the long term signing of Nick Foles. The two have previously been teammates during Foles’ stint with the Chiefs in 2016. This could end up being a determining factor for building chemistry and winning camp battles early on in the pre-season process.
In short, Chris Conley has about as much chance as any of these other receivers of being Foles’ main target in 2019. But who knows, the step up in performance after a fairly successful final season in KC may well have been the spark to ignite the fire.
If he’s able to turn heads at training camp and re-kindle a ‘bromance’ with Foles’, the former superbowl MVP certainly has the ability to sustain at least one solid WR2/Flex option in fantasy. Out of all of the receivers vying for that spot, Conley also has speed (4.35 40 dash time at his combine) which is a weapon that the other receivers in Duval may lack, and may well put him a stride ahead of the others in the pecking order.
Darren Waller – Tight End, Oakland Raiders
The tight end position in Oakland is polarizing. From barely using the position in 2016, to steadily making it a fringe pick for fantasy rosters in 2017, to completely blowing it out of the water with 1,111 yards and 10 TD’s going to the position in 2018.
So does Derek Carr like targeting tight ends, or was Jared Cook’s performances last season (896 yards, 6 TDs) an outlier for the position? Well, just in case it wasn’t, you might want to consider adding Darren Waller to your fantasy rosters.
Waller started off his NFL career when drafted by the Baltimore Ravens as a wide-receiver in the 2015 draft. He was a practice squad member for the majority of his rookie campaign but switched to tight end in the 2016 off-season to join what has since become the ‘tight end circus’ in Baltimore.
Waller doesn’t come without question marks though. Unfortunately he has a history of suspensions from the league for abusing it’s alcohol and drug policies. He missed the entirety of the 2017 season for a year spent in rehab along before being picked up by the Raiders mid-way through last season where he made brief appearances in the last 4 games.
The off-season training camp in Oakland is buzzing around Waller though after he claims that those dark days are well and truly behind him as he focuses solely on his career as a pro. Coach Gruden, Offensive Coordinator Greg Olsen and Derek Carr have all been singing his praises through OTA’s making Waller a perfect deep sleeper candidate.
In an interview after a recent training camp session he certainly sounded like he is confident with stepping up to have a bigger role in the offense and cited he’s been getting help with blocking duties and also mentioned learning from Cook last year.
The most impressive weapon in his arsenal is his speed. At 6’6 and 255 lbs, Waller is a physical specimen and makes it hard to believe that he recorded a 4.45 40 time at his combine in 2015. Speaking to reporters during OTA’s, Carr was quick to mentioned how impressed he is with Waller’s athleticism stating “I’m really excited about him, Darren Waller is super, super-fast, if I’m being real. And he works his tail off.”
If Waller is indeed all he his cracked up to be and the buzz around Oakland is real, he could be in prime position to soak up some of the 101 targets or 896 yards that Jared Cook has left behind and could be a very nice add for your fantasy teams in a position where after the top tier, anyone can step up to fantasy relevance. Particularly coming from the receiving background that he does, this should automatically boost his fantasy stock.
by Rob Grimwood – @FFBritBaller
Thanks for reading this article, make sure you check back with us next week where I will be discussing 4 other deep deeep sleepers that need to be monitored this off-season in Part 2 of this mini-series.