10 sleepers to consider in your Week 1 lineup
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Just like season-long fantasy football, a weekly fantasy sports victory often relies on “sleepers.” It’s one of the main paths to separating from the group and establishing a winning lineup.
For the sake of this column, we will define “sleeper” as either an underpriced asset or one that is likely to be overlooked. After all, it is Week 1. Outside of using last season as a barometer for popularity, the amount of data at our disposal is limited.
QB Sam Darnold – CAR $5,600 vs. NYJ
Let’s start off with a major risk-reward play this isn’t necessarily going to be ignored. Sam Darnold will probably be a bit popular because of his low price tag and the storyline of him returning to face his former team in his first start with the Carolina Panthers. Still, that same price tag that will draw some attention to him is exactly why I am looking at him for an Opening Day roster. We can use two quarterbacks in our OwnersBox linueps, and getting a potentially big game at $5,600 is too important to pass up without consideration. Of course, the same scoring system that allows for the use of Darnold with others also negates points for interceptions thrown. That has been a problem in the past — and the Jets’ defense is expected to be better in ’21 under new head coach Robert Sallah — but Carolina has committed to Darnold and will need to let him throw in order to win. He also has superstar Christian McCaffrey serving as a makeshift wide receiver out of the backfield, and that will help inflate some of Darnold’s numbers.
QB Daniel Jones – NYG $5,600 vs. DEN
One of my actual QB1 possibilities for Week 1, Daniel Jones carries the same turnover risk as the aforementioned Darnold — even more actually because of Jones’ fumbling problems in the past — but has tremendous upside for his popularity. Especially with a matchup against Denver — which WFS players will perceive as difficult — Jones should be thoroughly under-owned. Don’t forget that he is athletic enough to make plays with his legs and has a bevy of weapons at his disposal for arguably the first time in his career. The expected return of running back Saquon Barkley should also provide cheap fantasy points via passing yards Barkley accumulates with his endless targets.
RB James Robinson – JAX $5,800 at HOU
Like Darnold, James Robinson won’t necessarily fly under the radar in Week 1, nor is he particularly inexpensive. Instead, he appears on this list because of his price tag relative to other running backs and his newfound situation — which is now an extreme value because of recent events. Travis Etienne was presumably going to lead the Jacksonville Jaguars’ backfield in touches — if not split them directly with Robinson — but Etienne’s season-ending injury forces the game plan back onto Robinson’s shoulders. It’s no different than what we saw last year, with the exception that Robinson isn’t priced like a lead back. We should take advantage of that disconnect.
RB Sony Michel – LAR $4,300 vs. CHI
In a late preseason move, Sony Michel was traded to the Los Angeles Rams and now slides into the high-powered offense perfectly in time for Week 1. Unfortunately for those of us trying to pinpoint Michel’s ultimate role, we won’t be able to pinpoint Michel’s ultimate role. It’s a predicament. But it’s not a costly one, and that’s the key. The Rams clearly felt that they needed to add someone at the running back position after losing Cam Akers for the year, and Michel is experienced enough to be an impact player right away. As long as he isn’t third on the running back depth chart for Opening Day, he should get enough touches to warrant his low price tag — especially if Los Angeles is leading late against the Bears.
RB Trey Sermon – SF $4,300 at DET
One of the “dark horse sleepers” growing in popularity over the season-long fantasy football community is rookie running back Trey Sermon. That same popularity may not translate over to WFS, though. This is because Sermon landed in an ideal situation in terms of his team running the football — the San Francisco 49ers ranked 14th and 2nd in rush attempts over the last two years — but it isn’t likely that he gets a high workload immediately. At his low price, I want to take the risk that he eventually gets carries against a Lions team that doesn’t inspire confidence. This is the perfect setup for San Francisco leading late, running the ball to wind the clock, and a backup running back — Sermon — reaping the rewards.
RB Chubba Hubbard – CAR $4,000 vs. NYJ
Chubba Hubbard has less of a direct route to touches than the aforementioned Sermon, but he carries a low price and a high ceiling thanks to his explosive nature out of the backfield. Hubbard will see the field in an effort to keep starting running back Christian McCaffrey rested, but the name value of McCaffrey alone will direct WFS players’ focus elsewhere. After all, McCaffrey is the highest-priced player on the slate — including quarterbacks. Hubbard obviously lacks the track record and volume, but he presents an avenue for exposure to the Carolina Panthers’ offense in Week 1 at a fraction of the price and ownership percentage of McCaffrey.
WR DeVonta Smith – PHI $4,300 at ATL
DeVonta Smith is the perfect example of “talent” leading the way, even though his situation is less-than-perfect. Smith is a rookie wide receiver on a team with a run-first quarterback under center. Granted, that same quarterback threw to him in college when the two were at the University of Alabama together, but it’s difficult to quantify how that will translate to the National Football League. Instead, the support for Smith is simply that he might be the most talented wide receiver on the roster, and throwing the ball is a necessity. With veteran Travis Fulgham — the Philadelphia Eagles’ leading wide receiver from last year — waived recently, the door is open for Smith to make an immediate mark.
WR Parris Campbell – IND $4,000 vs. SEA
In the introduction to this column, I defined a “sleeper” as a player who fits into either category of underpriced or overlooked. It’s possible that wide receiver Parris Campbell is both. Injuries have marred the early part of Campbell’s career, but the potential for breakout remains intact. The real key is that the Indianapolis Colts are either starting an injured Carson Wentz or rookie Jacob Eason under center against Seattle. That’s not exactly a recipe for success. It will almost certainly turn people away from the Colts’ passing game, but it’s where I’d want to focus my attention. If Seattle is able to dominate its fortuitous situation, then Indianapolis will be forced to throw. As ineffective as the Colts’ passing attack might be in Week 1, it opens the door to volume for the team’s wide receivers. With T.Y. Hilton out, Campbell now has a larger piece of said volume.
WR Gabriel Davis – BUF $3,900 vs. PIT
While Parris Campbell should go overlooked, Gabriel Davis will not. The football-watching world is infatuated with the Buffalo Bills’ offense, and Davis serves as an inexpensive path to whatever Buffalo can do in Week 1. The reality is that, despite how popular he may be, he is also too inexpensive to ignore. He offers tremendous salary relief and is in the odd position to capitalize on a difficult matchup. The Bills will face the Steelers on Opening Day, and Pittsburgh’s defense has been extremely solid over the last few years. That actually leads to the Steelers focusing their attention at the front of Buffalo’s depth chart, which gives Davis the chance to shine.
WR Nico Collins – HOU $3,100 vs. JAX
The least expensive — and last player — on this list is quite possibly my favorite. Nico Collins. Who? Exactly. The Houston Texans are uttlerly devoid of offensive talent, but that provides plenty of opportunities for those who would have been buried in a more complete team’s depth chart. Rookie Nico Collins is arguably no worse than the second option for the Texans, and he stands to benefit from his team’s dire situation. Houston is an underdog at home against Jacksonville on Opening Day and, if the game plays out as the numbers suggest, then the Texans will need to throw to keep pace. Collins can easily surpass his value with such a low salary.
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