5 Fantasy Football Draft Sleepers (2023)
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5 Fantasy Football Draft Sleepers (2023)

May 27, 2024

Exit light, enter night. The NFL season is inevitably approaching like sunrise, and fantasy managers are in the thick of the obscurity of draft season. Wide receivers are en vogue this year, as zero (and hero) running back draft strategies belie their previously contrarian edge.

The top 36 WRs in average draft position (ADP) in point-per-reception (PPR) leagues each have a fan club and more than a few strands of evidence that they can produce incredible fantasy numbers in 2023.

What is left after that is a droning horde of equally talented pass catchers, perhaps bearing the brunt of baggage or brandishing scarlet flags.

The league winners come from the obsidian depths, where light does not reach, and hype quickly dozes off like Dad in his easy chair. Talent doesn’t sleep. Through detractors or distraction, we must identify and select the right sleeper WRs to experience the sunshine of glory. Deep breath; with these players, we rise from the pressurized shadows.

Most of you aren’t too young to remember when Derek Carr was a legitimate MVP candidate, thanks to a big slot receiver they coined as a tight end. Michael Thomas isn’t as beefy or athletic as Darren Waller, but he makes up for it with incredible savvy and one of the most illustrious route-running toolboxes in the history of football. By all accounts, the artist disparagingly as “Slant Boy” is as healthy as ever in training camp.

It was only a few years ago when Thomas caught the most passes in NFL history. That part of him is still there. The difference now is that Chris Olave is earning all the hype for fantasy while MT is still hitchhiking through fantasy rosters. For him to pay off at WR42, he only needs to stay on the field. If that is the case, he is being drafted below his floor.

An honorable mention goes to first-round rookie Zay Flowers here, but he’s earning a lot of hype this preseason and sports a quickly ascending ADP. Forgotten in all of this is 2021 first round pick Rashod Bateman. The former Minnesota Golden Gopher has the prototypical size for an outside receiver in the NFL, compared to the diminutive Flowers, but has the blazing speed and technical ability to boot.

As is the case with Thomas, Bateman’s ADP has health-related panic built in. Fantasy managers are hypersensitive to being burned by injuries, and their judgment of a player’s talent is easily clouded by missed game action. Bateman figures to be a dominant contributor in Baltimore’s new free-flowing offense under Todd Monken but only goes as WR55.

It’s amazing that we give so much credit to the intelligence and efficacy of NFL coaches and coordinators when so many of them are fired every year for completely flubbing. Only the Jets know why Elijah Moore and Mike LaFleur couldn’t see eye to eye last season. The coach used his position of power to render one of the most dominant rookie receivers from the 2021 season completely useless in fantasy. Anyone with All-22 and decent corrected vision could see that Moore was still outstanding when given permission to step on the field, only to be missed by amateurish QB play and promptly yanked again.

Moore is marked safe this year and is off-leash in the Dawg Pound. Cleveland and coach Kevin Stefansky now have some nasty weaponry in the receiving corps around their embattled franchise QB Deshaun Watson. The combination of Kareem Hunt‘s departure and Jerome Ford‘s injury has also prompted them to deploy the playmaker from Ole Miss out of the backfield. At WR51, Elijah is one of my favorite bets to be a Renaissance man in 2023.

A great many football analysts are vastly downplaying the catastrophic void left by Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. Jordan Love has gigantic shoes to fill, and he hasn’t even shown he can put his own socks on at this level. Leave it to the abhorrent Packers front office to invest in WR through the draft the moment Rodgers got on the plane to New Jersey after a decade of neglect. Jayden Reed is the one receiver in Green Bay who I can picture getting open quickly for Love in this offense.

Christian Watson is a field-stretching freak athlete but maddeningly inconsistent. Romeo Doubs is a fine player, especially for how late he was selected in last year’s draft, but not many would expect him to start on more than a handful of other teams. Reed is the starting slot from day one, pairing sharp route running with ideal size and physicality. He is a smash pick at WR 74.

WR60 is 17 spots better than Collins’ best result in two years at the NFL level. He is still going too late in fantasy drafts. The 6-foot-4 X-receiver for the rebuilding Texans has a lot of talent still to be utilized, with incoming top pick CJ Stroud at the helm. The Michigan receiver stands alone as the receiver with a fighting chance against man and press coverage, where he was in the 64th and 74th percentile, respectively, according to Reception Perception.

He is also a giant among a corps of smaller, shifty WRs like rookie Tank Dell. Collins was WR77 last season in only 10 games, making him WR53 in fantasy points per game (excluding Week 18). Davis Mills was pretty awful last season and especially struggled to place throws along the boundary where Nico can thrive. A starting X with an accurate and fearless passer is definitely worth a dart throw toward the very end of your draft.

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WR Sleepers (2023 Fantasy Football)Michael Thomas (NO)Rashod Bateman (BAL)Elijah Moore (CLE)Jayden Reed (GB)Nico Collins (HOU)More Players to Target & AvoidPremium)Premium)Premium)(Premium)(Premium)SubscribeApple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsStitcherSoundCloudiHeartRadioMike FanelliDerek BrownMatt BarbatoEric Hund PT, DPT