How to Spot a Sleeper in Fantasy Football

by Daniel Johnson
How to Spot a Sleeper in Fantasy Football

How to Spot a Sleeper in Fantasy Football: the big question, right? And who can blame us for being so inquisitive. We're just a bunch of 19th-century prospectors trying our best to strike gold in them there hills. Pan-handling the late-round silt until we find that gorgeous nugget that could well win us our fantasy leagues.

In one of my previous Draft Kit articles, How to Identify Fantasy Football Breakout Players, I differentiated (and thus defined) sleeper candidates from breakout candidates. As a reminder:

"Sleepers should be deep, and somewhat unknown. They exist, after all, in slumber, no? They should have barely proven anything to us, statistically and situationally. Sleepers, simply, should be way more off-the-radar than breakout candidates are."

That quality of having been previously dormant is precisely the context in which we'll approach sleeper candidates in our drafts.

So, by what methods can we be most efficient and successful at catching league-winning lightning in a bottle?

How to Spot a Sleeper in Fantasy Football

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Not all rookies are sleepers. Not all sleepers are rookies. But because of their positioning on depth charts during OTAs and training camps, it's very often the case that rookie sleepers will emerge in the months leading up to the regular season.

In 2022, there are some rookies who are obviously not sleepers: Breece Hall and Drake London come to mind, here. Their ADPs are far too lofty to consider them dormant to the average fantasy manager headed into the season. Not to mention, their positions on the team's depth chart are all but solidified because of the circumstances surrounding them on their respective offenses.

It's crucial that we familiarize ourselves with the rookies looking to establish themselves in good offenses. Think about Isiah Pacheco this year: seventh-round rookie running back for the Chiefs. His ADP is currently in the 200s. He's currently third on the depth chart behind Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Ronald Jones. But there's legitimate buzz surrounding him in training camp, now. Still, the lower a rookie starts on his team's depth chart, the more under-the-radar he flies in drafts.

Don't forget to pay attention to college history metrics when it comes to rookies. I love stats like target-share percentiles, college YPC percentiles, etc. Usually, if a player can dominate in college ball, he's worth paying a little attention to in NFL training camp.

Statistics don't tell the whole story, though. This is where paying attention to team beat writers during training camp can come in handy.

Beat Writers/Campspeak

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Maybe it's the writer in me, but I will always recommend you familiarize yourself with the good journalism surrounding training camps.

Daily camp digests/reports are the closest thing we've got to concrete impressions about players carving out roles for themselves in their teams' offenses. It's precisely this sort of information that you can weaponize against your fellow leaguemates. And while information overload is certainly a very real possibility this time of year, information is always leverage.

Now, okay. We all know that training camp darlings don't necessarily end up being fantasy superstars, or even fantasy sleepers. Only a fraction do. We know that campspeak and coachspeak, while different from each other, are languages we need to translate. Excitement, hype, and buzz surrounding certain players can muddle their value, and prove to be fool's gold.

But the very nature of drafting a sleeper is investing in a question mark based on its potential ceiling. And no one of us sees the potential ceilings of players, year-in-and-year-out, before the beat writers do.

So why not attune yourself to the boots-on-the-ground reporters who are the first of us to get so excited about these players? They bear witness, first hand, to these athletes in training camp. It's fine to be skeptical. But you don't find sleepers by being closed-minded. Keep those ears open.

Some of this year's training camp darlings include: Jahan Dotson, Tyler Allgeier, Travis Etienne, George Pickens, and Ashton Dulin.

Listen to the Experts Who Get Paid to Do This

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Flat-out, I think this is probably what's helped me achieve Fantasy success the most. What with the popularity of the sport still in boom-mode, there are literally thousands of people and resources out there who make a living as Fantasy Football Analysts/Experts.

I'd never go so far as to say that even 10% of them know what they're doing. There's a lot of noise and chatter you'll have to filter out. Make sure you get good at that.

My recommendation: Stick with the analysts and experts who've made calls that have led to your personal Fantasy success. Consider them your inner circle of trust. Turn on Twitter notifications for them, listen to their podcasts, subscribe to their YouTube channels.

They won't always be right, of course. Writing an article on how to spot a sleeper, frankly, feels a little futile, because there's no surefire way to do it. Again, most of us are just panhandling in the river bed, hoping to find a gold nugget.

Because, ultimately, sleepers are gambles. There's a fair amount of "go with your gut" when it comes to drafting them. Analysts and experts naturally exude confidence when it comes to the players they're most excited about; it's their job to make us feel confident in them. But there's always an element of risk.

Regardless, you'll feel more armed if you've got an inner circle of experts and analysts you mostly trust.

Some of My Favorite 2022 Sleepers

A brief list for you that I've curated based on the above methodologies:

  • Tyler Allgeier, RB, Atlanta Falcons
  • Kenneth Gainwell, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
  • Jahan Dotson, WR, Washington Commanders
  • George Pickens, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
  • Isiah Pacheco, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
  • Ashton Dulin, WR, Indianapolis Colts
  • Treylon Burks, WR, Tennessee Titans
  • DJ Chark, WR, Detroit Lions
  • Skyy Moore, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

Happy panhandling!

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