As we draw closer to the start of the 2016 NFL season, fantasy football sleepers are all the rage among American football aficionados. Everyone knows who to take in the early rounds of a fantasy football draft, so identifying and selecting potential sleepers is one of the ideal ways to gain an edge against the competition.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the top five sleepers at wide receiver as we speak (in no particular order).
Tajae Sharpe – Tennessee Titans
Following the trade of Dorial Green-Beckham to the Philadelphia Eagles, rookie Tajae Sharpe is beginning to appear as if he has a chance to be the the No. 1 wide receiver for the Tennessee Titans in 2016.
The 21-year-old out of UMass was taken in the fifth-round in the 2016 NFL Draft, but likely would have garnered far more respect had he played for a bigger program. As Matt Harmon of NFL.com recently pointed out, Sharpe is one of the most experienced route runners of the 2016 rookie class and is capable of excelling at anything and everything NFL wide receivers are asked to do.
Titans QB Marcus Mariota projects to take a huge step forward in his second NFL campaign and will have no trouble getting his top skill players the ball on short, intermediate, and deep routes. Thus, you can expect him to utilize Tajae in multiple ways.
Considering Sharpe isn’t on the radar of the average fantasy football enthusiast as we speak, he projects to be a late-round steal and should be targeted in all settings.
Marvin Jones – Detroit Lions
With Calvin Johnson retired, the Detroit Lions have around 150 targets to redistribute in 2016. While many fantasy football drafters will automatically turn to Golden Tate since they are more familiar with his career, Marvin Jones carries tremendous upside and must not be overlooked.
In 2013, Jones tallied 51 receptions for 712 yards and a remarkable 10 TDs for the Cincinnati Bengals. Sadly, he missed the entire 2014 campaign with a devastating ankle injury. During his 2015 return, Marvin failed to replicate the touchdown production of 2013 with just four, but did finish with 65 receptions and 816 yards — both career highs.
As Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press reported, Jones, the Lions biggest offseason investment, firmly believes he’s headed for a monster campaign playing with veteran gunslinger Matthew Stafford.
“Yeah, definitely,” Jones said after the Lions’ 30-14 preseason loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday. “Like I said from the beginning, the potential is out of this world for this offense and the players that we have. We have so many players that can do different things, do the same things and just add that element that we need to drive down the field to make those big plays and be successful.”
Tate is ranked as the No. 23 wide receiver, according to the FantasyPros consensus rankings, while Marvin lands at No. 36. Thus, it’s clear Jones has the potential to be a steal as he could easily out-perform his teammate this season.
Terrelle Pryor – Cleveland Browns
Former Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor projects to be one of the most interesting fantasy football sleepers in 2016. Not long ago, Pryor realized he needed to switch positions to stay in the NFL, and has worked incredibly hard over the past few years in order to develop into an adequate wide receiver.
Now with the Cleveland Browns and relishing the opportunity to blossom into a true wide receiver, Terrelle’s developing a solid rapport with QB Robert Griffin III, who is undergoing a reclamation project of his own with his new team.
In the video above, Griffin found Pryor for a 50-yard touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons in Cleveland’s second preseason game. Terrelle’s size makes him an excellent deep target for Griffin, who has always been a much better downfield passer than he’s ever received credit for. Thus, don’t be surprised if you see a lot of this from the duo in 2016.
Mohamed Sanu – Atlanta Falcons
Early in Julio Jones’ career, he and Roddy White flourished together with Matt Ryan under center for the Atlanta Falcons. However, over the past two seasons as White’s skills were diminishing, Ryan was forced to rely far too heavily on Jones and Atlanta’s offense suffered as a result.
Mohamed Sanu was signed over the offseason in efforts to help alleviate Ryan’s dependency on Julio. Obviously, Jones will still be targeted well over 150 times in 2016, but Sanu has an opportunity to take advantage of the fact that Julio spends a plenitude of time in double coverage.
After making a name for himself with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2014 (56 receptions, 790 yards, five TDs), Mohamed disappointed in 2015 tallying just 33 receptions for 394 yards and zero trips to paydirt. Thus, many fantasy football drafters still hold some bias toward Sanu and if you do as well, I’m here to tell you today that you must let go of that hurt.
Put simply, Mohamed couldn’t be in a better position to obliterate value in the later rounds and should be targeted as a sleeper, particularly in standard leagues.
Steve Smith – Baltimore Ravens
Had Steve Smith not suffered a torn Achilles in 2015, perhaps he’d be retired currently as that was indeed his intention. But Smith is back with the Baltimore Ravens in 2016 as he wanted to go out on his own terms, and the grizzled veteran appears to be primed for a monster campaign at 37-years-old.
In Steve’s first and only full season playing with Joe Flacco in 2014, he tallied 79 receptions for 1,065 yards and six TDs. Smith was performing at a similar — if not higher — level last season prior to the injury, as in seven games he compiled 46 receptions for 670 yards and three TDs.
While I understand Kamar Aiken has emerged as a solid second option, Breshad Perriman might finally be healthy this season and Mike Wallace is now in town as an additional deep threat, it will still be absolutely shocking to me if Steve fails to produce in 2016. Flacco and Smith have an incredible rapport and that won’t change even if Smith lost a step or two over the offseason.
[Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images]