“Sleeper” is a complicated and often misused word spout ceaselessly in fantasy. Anyone who tells you Jimmy Garoppolo qualifies is a run-of-the-mill Captain Obvious who deserves decisive ridicule. For this exercise, we’re focused on UNDERVALUED options available outside the position’s top-12, according to ADP.
Brad: PATRICK MAHOMES (127.6 ADP, QB16). “Rollin’ with Mahomies” is sure to be a popular fantasy football team name this season, and for good reason. Before Deshaun Watson morphed into Thanos and shattered all defenders into a million pixelated pieces, Mahomes sat atop dynasty and keeper-league wish lists. The Texas Tech product was my favorite passer among last year’s draft class. He’s athletic, mobile, fires the ball accurately all over the field and features a Brett Favre-like Howitzer. Unlike other Red Raider alums before him, he’s far from a system-only quarterback. The kid owns major star qualities. His Week 17 audition against the Broncos (8.1 YPA, 62.9 completion percentage) was merely an appetizer.
Placed onto a silver platter, Mahomes is sure to serve up delectable fantasy results. With Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Kareem Hunt as primary weapons, the QB is surrounded by speed, versatility and reliability. KC’s expected woeful execution on defense only increases the likelihood the sophomore surpasses 500 attempts. Knowing Mahomes’ skill set, I seriously doubt Andy Reid pigeon holes him into a conservative approach previously instituted with Alex Smith. Negative game scripts will force him to exercise his arm. Streak connections to blazers Hill and Watkins will be frequent. His interception tally could easily climb into the 15-18 range, but his opportunistic wheels will offset any mistakes.
Roughly 4,100 passing yards with 27 total touchdowns (three rushing TDs) and 300-plus rushing yards make up my fearless forecast. Not too shabby for a guy going around pick No. 128 overall. He’s my QB11, and that’s probably too bearish.
Dalton: BLAKE BORTLES (164.90 ADP, QB23). He obviously has his limitations, and this is more for the 2QB league crowd here, but Bortles remains underrated in fantasy terms. He’s been a top-13 QB each of the past three years, as his rushing ability helps counter his poor YPA. The Jaguars still plan on winning with defense, but it’s safe to expect some regression from the league’s top ranked unit last season, and the team employs one of the bigger injury risks at running back, so Jacksonville is likely to throw more in 2018.
After averaging 29.3 pass attempts over the first half of last season, Bortles averaged 36.1 over the final eight games, and he should be more comfortable and given even more responsibility in an offense in which he finally has some continuity. The Jags have also put together a nice set of weapons in Marqise Lee, Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Bortles was given a $54 million extension during the offseason, so he’s got a long leash, and there’s every reason to expect the best season yet from the 26-year-old, who’s essentially free at draft tables right now.
Liz: TYROD TAYLOR (206 ADP, QB28). One year removed from top-ten production, Taylor is the Browns’ starting quarterback. And while the Baker Bandwagon is turnt, HC Hue Jackson has been adamant about starting the vet under center. They may field Mayfield at some point, but the more polished prospect should manage to stave off the upstart through mid-November.
Last year, in an offense that called the second fewest passing plays in the league, and with a rookie working as his No. 1 WR, Taylor managed a true completion percentage of nearly 69 percent. He also completed over 38 percent of pressured throws (#12). Clearly, the 28-year-old is an efficient passer. He just needs weapons and opportunities. Luckily, he’ll get both in Cleveland.
Plus, Taylor’s got wheels, which are the real fuel to his fantasy fire. A top-three rusher for three consecutive seasons, the Virginia Tech alum has run for over 550 yards in two of his last three campaigns and has scored at least 4 rushing TDs in each season since 2015. Operating behind an improved offensive line and with not one, but potentially three, studs in the backfield, there should be plenty of lanes to exploit. Which is also what value-minded fantasy fanatics will do when they nab a top-fifteen QB in the fourteenth round of twelve-team exercises.
Scott: MARCUS MARIOTA (127 ADP, QB15). It’s a little ghoulish that we, as a fantasy community, actually celebrate when mediocre coaching staffs turn over. I don’t take any pride in that. I know these men have families and livelihoods; I wish them happiness and prosperity in their next act.
And yet on the other side, I can’t wait to see Marcus Mariota with some modern coaching.
The 2017 Titans flushed away the oldest coaching staff in the NFL. The new regime includes first-time head coach Mike Vrabel (a former linebacker with the Patriots, defensive guy) and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. The LaFleur hire could be something special — he’s worked with many offensive designers we know by heart (Mike and Kyle Shanahan; Sean McVay). The last two teams LaFleur coached with were pinball machines: the 2016 Falcons (Matt Ryan’s MVP year) and last year’s Cinderella Rams.
Even if we can’t say LaFleur is a sure thing, positive regression should fuel a Mariota comeback. After logging touchdown rates of 5.1 and 5.8 percent his first two seasons, he crashed to 2.9 percent last year. No talented player gets that low without a lot of bad luck. Mariota’s supporting cast should be a positive, especially if second-year WR Corey Davis steps up as expected. And Mariota is handy as a scrambler, averaging 304 rushing yards and three ground TDs per season.
Mariota climbed to QB12 in his second season, despite missing a game. This could be the year Mariota crashes the Top 10 for good — and in some platforms, you can land him outside the Top 20 at the (admittedly) stacked quarterback position. It’s a buyer’s market, friends. Have fun in the discount rack.
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