7 Fantasy Football Sleepers for Week 1
Sleeper is an ambiguous term. I'm defining anyone on less than half of Yahoo! rosters as a sleeper in the interest of providing clarity. Typically, I'll aim to feature players on fewer than 40 percent of rosters. However, this provides me some wiggle room.
Don't worry, deep-league gamers, this piece is intended to help folks in leagues of all sizes. With that in mind, I'm following my predecessor's lead, including honorable mentions. If the featured players are already rostered in your league, the honorable mentions should provide you with players to consider filling in for an injured starter or player on bye on your roster -- or for whatever other reason you're diving into the free-agent pool for a sleeper.
While it should go without saying, the featured players at each position are my favorite sleepers for the given week. The honorable mentions are listed in descending order of the percentage of rosters they're on.
Zach Wilson (18%) - The New York Jets selected Wilson with the second pick in this year's draft, hoping he'll be their franchise quarterback. They didn't just draft him and hope for the best, though. They also added Corey Davis and Keelan Cole in free agency to bolster the receiver room and selected Elijah Moore in the second round to add another potentially dynamic receiver to the mix.
Wilson dazzled with the Brigham Young Cougars, passing for 3,692 yards, 33 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, and completing 73.5 percent of his passes as a junior last year, per Sports Reference. Further, he adds some value using his legs. He also excelled in the preseason. According to Pro Football Focus, Wilson earned their sixth-highest passing grade. Of course, the preseason isn't the be-all-end-all, but Wilson's play encourages he could hit the ground running in a middle-of-the-pack matchup against the Carolina Panthers.
The numberFire projections peg Wilson as QB20 in Week 1. That's reasonable. However, if you're already reliant on the waiver wire for a quarterback, Wilson's appealing for his season-long ceiling outcome, which exceeds that of some of the other widely available options ranked ahead of him.
Ty'Son Williams (29%) - J.K. Dobbins' season-ending injury cleared the way for Williams to make the Baltimore Ravens and possibly claim a meaningful role in the rushing attack behind Gus Edwards. Another season-ending injury to the backfield, this time befalling Justice Hill, further clears the way. Coincidentally, Edwards provides hope for Williams thriving in Baltimore's run-heavy attack as a former undrafted free agent as well.
Speaking of Baltimore's run-heavy attack, according to Sharp Football Stats, with a scoring margin between trailing by seven and leading by seven, their 55 percent run rate led the way in 2021 by a whopping four percent. In addition, it was 12 percent above the league average.
The matchup and betting info are favorable for Baltimore's opener, too. The Las Vegas Raiders rank as the second-worst run defense in the Power Rankings. As for the betting info, the Ravens are the seventh-biggest favorites, laying 4.5 points to the Raiders. Also, their implied total of 27.75 points is the third-highest mark in Week 1.
Edwards should be viewed as the lead back. Still, Baltimore's utilized a committee approach spearheaded by electric runner Lamar Jackson at quarterback, and a 60/40 split of running back carries is within Williams' realistic range of outcomes. He has possible staying power beyond this week. Gamers should prioritize adding him.
Giovani Bernard (31%) - Bernard doesn't profile as a workhorse back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, he's clearly their top pass-catching option in the backfield. That's proven a fruitful role in Tom Brady-led offenses in seasons past, with players such as Dion Lewis, James White, and even Rex Burkhead carving out fantasy value in point-per-reception (PPR) formats.
Tampa Bay's offense is loaded, and there's only one ball to go around. Still, this may be a week in which Bernard can excel facing the Dallas Cowboys. Dan Quinn is their new defensive coordinator, and as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, they routinely yielded receptions to running backs. In fact, according to Pro Football Reference, they ceded the most receptions to running backs four straight seasons from 2015 through 2018.
Brady's not shy about taking what's given to him, so he could take some easy shots to Bernard. The pass-catching back's a matchup-driven sleeper whose outlook is enhanced by being tied to the week's highest implied total of 29.75 points. Of course, he's not the most likely player to score a touchdown for the Bucs. Still, there could be many to go around.
Cole Beasley (45%) - Beasley finished as WR21 in full-point PPR scoring during the fantasy season (Week 1 through Week 16), per Fantasy Pros. The slot wideout was consistently an integral part of the Buffalo Bills offense, catching three or more passes in 13 of 15 games.
The team's added Emmanuel Sanders in free agency to offset the loss of John Brown, and second-year receiver Gabriel Davis could ascend to a more prominent role after a promising rookie season. Regardless, Beasley has a rapport with Josh Allen, and Buffalo's pass-happy attack can support multiple receivers.
Parris Campbell (11%) - Injuries have derailed Campbell's first two years in the NFL. He returns to a receiving corps in desperate need of breakouts. Michael Pittman Jr. is the best bet to emerge as the team's top receiver. However, there's room for others to step up, too, namely in the wake of T.Y. Hilton's injury.
Campbell's armed with draft capital attached to him, getting snagged in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He also boasts eye-popping measurables, ranking in the 97th percentile in speed score and burst score, and the 100th percentile in 40-yard dash time, per Player Profiler.
The third-year receiver's explosiveness could produce fantasy-relevant results in a plus matchup against the Seattle Seahawks. Seattle checks in as the fifth-worst pass defense in the team Power Rankings. Further, they coughed up the most receptions and second-most receiving yards to wide receivers last season.
He ranks as WR57, directly behind Pittman, in full-point PPR formats, per the numberFire projection algorithm. I'm a touch more optimistic, viewing him as a top-50 option.
DeSean Jackson (3%) - If you're looking for a higher-floor option, I suggest selecting Russell Gage from the honorable mentions below. D-Jax is a volatile, boom-or-bust option. It remains to be seen how much the 34-year-old receiver has left in the tank after injuries limited him to five games last season and eight over the last two years combined.
When he wasn't injured, he averaged roughly 3 receptions and 50 receiving yards per game. That's not too shabby. His elite speed and vertical abilities should theoretically mesh well with new quarterback Matthew Stafford's strong arm. Further, he could excel in a 2018 Brandin Cooks-lite role in head coach Sean McVay's offense. In the first five games of that season, when Cooks, Cooper Kupp, and Robert Woods were all healthy, Cooks led the group with 452 receiving yards, per StatHead.
Zach Ertz (31%) - I covered three streaming options at tight end earlier in the week, and you can check that piece out here. Ertz and Juwan Johnson -- in the honorable mentions below -- are a couple more options.
Ertz likely isn't even the best tight end on the Philadelphia Eagles. However, that didn't stop Jalen Hurts from hucking the pigskin his way last year. As a rookie, Hurts attempted 148 passes, directing a team-high 24 Ertz's way. He was admittedly inefficient. Still, targets are targets, and volume is king.
Joshua Shepardson is not a FanDuel employee. In addition to providing DFS gameplay advice, Joshua Shepardson also participates in DFS contests on FanDuel using his personal account, username bchad50. While the strategies and player selections recommended in his articles are his/her personal views, he/she may deploy different strategies and player selections when entering contests with his/her personal account. The views expressed in his/her articles are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of FanDuel.