We've done it. We've made it through the long, dark night of the offseason. You've drafted more fantasy teams than you can count. Probably more fantasy teams than you reasonably have time to manage. You're excited about what's to come. There's no way you can lose. Now it's time to look over your lineups just one more time and ...
Maybe it's an unexpected injury. Maybe it's a player you have soured on since you drafted him in July or early August. Whatever the reason, you have a slot in your lineup that you need to fill. But with whom? That's where I come in.
Welcome to the 2023 edition of the fantasy sleepers column. Every week, I'll run through some players who could unexpectedly put together big games to help your squad to victory. If you're lucky, they might be on your waiver wire. If you're forward thinking, you might already have them on your roster.
I'll give you the best logic I can for why these players might belong in your lineup and tell you what their upside is for the week. If there's ever a place to get weird, it's here. So ... let's get weird.
A punnier, hackier writer than myself would make some sort automotive-themed joke when talking about the new Saints quarterback. Maybe that he was revving his engine for a new season. Or that New Orleans was ready to take its new signal-caller for a spin. But I’d never do that to you, dear reader. Nope. Not me. Nuh-uh.
What I will tell you is that Carr was a competent QB2 who offered a few spike weeks last season. Especially in games with higher passing volume. One of those games was against the Tennessee Titans in Week 3. Carr had a season-high 44 attempts in that game. He finished with 303 yards, two touchdowns and 20.8 fantasy points. This week, he faces the Titans essentially with only Jamaal Williams in the backfield. He does, however, have an interesting cadre of pass-catchers -- highlighted by Chris Olave.
Don’t be surprised if offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael puts a lot on Carr’s shoulders this week. The overall fantasy ceiling isn’t super high. But in deeper leagues or lineups where you can start multiple quarterbacks, Carr should be ready to roll. (Sorry, not sorry.)
As the preseason rolled along, I started to believe that a Russell Resurrection was possible. It had less to do with Wilson himself and more to do with Sean Payton. The coach was able to squeeze every drop of productivity out of an aging Drew Brees in New Orleans. Wilson still has more to offer than what we saw from Brees in his final seasons.
It also helps that Denver gets a forgiving defensive opponent in Week 1. The Raiders allowed eight different top-eight quarterback finishes last season. Overall, Las Vegas gave up the fourth-most fantasy points per game to the position. More reason for optimism is Wilson’s finish to 2022. From Weeks 14 to 18, DangerRuss posted 21.7 points per game -- fourth most among QBs. Maybe Russ isn’t cooked after all.
This could be the first chance to see if Wilson can relive past fantasy glories. He isn’t the runner he once was, which will limit his overall ceiling. But if he can take advantage of a soft secondary, he has the chance to be a low-end QB1 to start the season.
Fantasy managers weren’t exactly watching Tampa Bay’s quarterback competition with bated breath. Baker Mayfield versus Kyle Trask isn’t appointment viewing. In the end, the veteran won the job. How long he holds on to it remains to be seen. But for now, Bucs backers will try to believe in Baker.
For this week, at least, fantasy managers in dire straits might be able to put their trust in Mayfield as well. The reason is strictly volume. The Vikings were a top-10 scoring offense last season. Even with Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen departing, Minnesota should once again put up big offensive numbers. That means Tampa Bay might need to throw the ball to keep things close.
That could work out well. The Vikings' pass defense was shredded in 2022. Unless they’re able to show major improvement immediately, the Bucs' passing game could get off to a quick start in 2023. Nonetheless, Mayfield should only be started in two-quarterback formats. Even then, only if you’re really not enamored with any of your other choices.
It might be hard to call a team’s starting running back a sleeper. Especially on a team with postseason aspirations. But when we’ve talked about this Dolphins-Chargers game, the focus has been on the respective passing games. When you have two high-level quarterbacks surrounded by deep groups of pass-catchers, it’s easy to give the rushers short shrift.
But there’s a reason we shouldn’t dismiss Mostert this week. The first is the lack of backfield threats behind him. Jeff Wilson Jr. is on injured reserve and will miss at least the first four weeks of the season. Next up is rookie De'Von Achane. In the long term, Achane could carve out a nice role in the offense. In Week 1, it seems fair to believe Mike McDaniel and the Dolphins won’t ask too much of the first-year back.
The next reason is the Chargers' run defense. It’s been ungood in recent years. The Bolts have finished in the bottom half of the league against the run for four straight seasons. It might be tempting to get into an aerial battle with Los Angeles. That’s what happened last season when Miami ran the ball just 19 teams in a loss to the Chargers. It would be wise not to repeat that mistake. That should give Mostert high-end RB2 potential in Week 1.
I’ve gone back and forth on the Commanders' running backs all offseason. At first, I thought Antonio Gibson was primed for the long-awaited breakout. Then I believed Brian Robinson was ready to make the leap in Year 2. Finally, I pivoted back to Gibson because of his pass-catching prowess in Eric Bieniemy’s offense.
While I still think Gibson is worth a start this week, Robinson shouldn’t be overlooked. If the Cardinals are down as bad as many people predict, they’re going to find themselves trailing frequently. More importantly, they’re going to find themselves trailing late in games. That bodes well for Robinson. In games where the Commanders were within seven points in the final five minutes, Robinson had 56 rush attempts compared to 36 for Gibson last season.
Look for Gibson to do a lot of work earlier in the game -- especially through the air -- while Robinson handles the short-yardage and goal-line opportunities. If Washington takes a lead late into the game, look for Robinson to run up numbers trying to close out the clock. He has RB2 upside this week.
Cam Akers and the Rams had an on-again, off-again relationship last season. At one point, the team turned to Kyren Williams as a potential answer in the backfield. That didn’t work as planned and Akers eventually regained the RB1 role. But that doesn't mean Los Angeles is giving up on the Williams experiment.
Quite the contrary. The reports out of Rams camp were that Williams looked impressive. The bigger proof that he could have a role in the offense lies in how many offensive snaps he played during the preseason: zero. Sean McVay felt he didn’t need to see anything from Williams during the exhibition season. High praise indeed.
In Week 1, Los Angeles will need to be creative with its offense in light of Cooper Kupp’s hamstring injury. In the passing game, that likely means increased reliance on Tyler Higbee. It could also mean some target opportunities for Williams. He played 76 passing snaps last year. He ran a route on 72 of them. Akers has never been much of an asset in the passing game. That job could fall to his understudy. If so, he could be a deeper league flex option with low-end RB3 appeal in Week 1.
The Giants' passing game doesn’t fill me with warm fuzzies. Daniel Jones had a career year last season but was just mid as a passer. And that might be close to his ceiling. Adding Darren Waller was a nice touch. But surrounding him with a collection of undersized slot receivers isn’t going to fire up fantasy managers looking for WR help.
Enter Jalin Hyatt. Big Blue spent a third-round pick on the speedster from Tennessee with the intention of using him to stretch the field. Hyatt’s big-play ability was on display in the preseason when he caught a 33-yard touchdown pass from Tyrod Taylor. That long speed could be enough to separate him -- literally and figuratively -- from everyone else in New York’s receiver room.
It could also be crucial this week against the Cowboys. If the Giants are going to stay in the game, hitting chunk plays through the air will be essential. Over the course of the season, Hyatt’s home run ability could frequently manifest itself as a lot of strikeouts. But in deep leagues that allow you to start four (or more) receivers, Hyatt has low-end WR3 upside.
The Vikings were a high-scoring offense in 2022. If you don’t believe me, look it up. Or just scroll up to the Baker Mayfield section of this piece where I mentioned it previously. Your choice. But that doesn’t always mean every pass-catcher in an offense will eat. Kirk Cousins has done a good job of sustaining a pair of wide receivers during his tenure in Minnesota. On paper, those two receivers this year will be Justin Jefferson and Jordan Addison.
Yes, dear reader, neither of those names are K.J. Osborn. But there is a path for Osborn succeeding in Week 1 against Tampa Bay. That path is from the slot. That’s where Osborn lined up 46 percent of the time in 2022. It’s also where receivers gave the Bucs' defense trouble last year. Tampa allowed the fourth-most passing yards and fifth-most passing touchdowns when quarterbacks targeted slot receivers.
Jefferson is going to get his. Addison could make a nice opening impression. But Osborn should have a chance to earn targets in what could be a high-scoring contest. He has WR3 potential for lineups that can start four or more receivers.
Tight end has been a sore spot in fantasy for years. That’s not likely to change in 2023. Outside of the top seven or eight players at the position, managers are forced to play matchups every week. Or even worse, divine which players might luck into a touchdown. Fortunately, Everett falls into the former category this week.
If you’re looking to stream tight ends, it always helps to find games that have the potential to be high scoring. This one qualifies. The other benefit is that Miami struggled against fantasy tight ends last year. The Dolphins surrendered the third-most catches, fourth-most touchdowns and fourth-most fantasy points per game to the position.
Expect the Dolphins to play a lot of two-deep safeties to prevent the Chargers from taking deep shots. That should open up things underneath for Everett to work. The veteran’s week-to-week target share could be a frustration. But this is a week that managers can have a measure of confidence in starting him. Think of Everett as a low-end TE1 this week.
When we find a defense that is consistently bad against a certain position, we target it week after week in fantasy. Last year, the Cardinals were consistently bad against tight ends. They gave up more catches and touchdowns to the position than any other defense. Only the Seahawks allowed more fantasy points per game.
Did I mention that the Cardinals appear to be in rebuilding mode? Because ... yeah. Those are enough reasons to consider giving Logan Thomas a spin in your lineup. If that’s not enough, can I interest you in an early-season revenge game? Thomas was a fourth-round pick of the Cards back in 2014. He spent a year with the team before being released and signed by the Dolphins.
If you’re a manager who is finding slim pickings on the waiver wire at tight end, Thomas could be the Sunday surprise to boost your Week 1 chances.
When you’re looking for a defense to stream, the easiest method is to attack offenses that are likely to struggle. Fantasy enthusiasts might be intrigued by Colts rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson. But there’s not much else that should make you excited about Indy’s offense.
The running back room is going to be a committee likely led by Zack Moss, if he's able to return from a broken arm on Sunday. While Richardson offers plenty of rushing upside, my expectations for his production as a passer are low, and any issues in that area will negatively impact players like Michael Pittman Jr. and Alec Pierce. If the Jaguars score and push the Colts into a pass-heavy game script, Jacksonville can force the young quarterback to make mistakes.
The Jags are available on plenty of waiver wires and could be a boon for anyone streaming the position in Week 1.
Marcas Grant is a fantasy analyst for NFL.com and a man who just wants to sit down and watch the latest episode of Ahsoka. Send him what's on your streaming list or fantasy football questions @MarcasG or TikTok at marcasgrant.