Fantasy football: Deep sleepers for 2019

Sam Darnold looks to take things up a notch in year two. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Fantasy football leagues aren't generally won on draft day.

This is a sport that changes quickly and dramatically, and league champions tend to find that the roster that wins them their final game looks quite different from the one that began their seasonal quest. In fact, my past research shows that a good 30% of your roster will completely change over between the draft and Week 17.

As 10- and 12-team leagues will typically only draft 140 or 168 non-kicker-or-defense skill-position players, there will be plenty of valuable commodities who sneak entirely through said drafts. The waiver wire is an essential part of your talent-gathering process throughout the year, so always be prepared to pounce.

In order to help you as the year progresses, I've identified eight "deep sleepers" -- players who by all accounts won't be drafted in the aforementioned standard leagues, but have a good chance of contributing sometime during 2019. They're handy names to jot down for a variety of reasons:

  • In 16-team leagues or deeper, they're worthwhile final-round picks.

  • Familiarizing yourself with them today keeps you prepared to pounce the moment they move into more prominent roles.

  • They're useful pickups at any given moment you have a free roster spot available to speculate. Remember, never waste a bench spot, in any week, in any league.

To be clear upfront, these are deep sleepers, meaning that you are not going to find Jimmy Garoppolo, Rashaad Penny or Keke Coutee on this list (though I do like all three). Those are all much more publicized players being selected in more than 20% of ESPN leagues. This list takes the sleepers exercise a step further, though it does come with the price of a much greater likelihood of player failure.

A final note: I try not to populate this list with drafted rookies, for whom there is a glut of available information. My picks tend to be more experienced types for whom information -- at least current information -- is lacking, or undrafted rookies who haven't received much publicity.

Damarea Crockett, RB, Houston Texans: A name that generated some chatter after the Texans' unexpected decision to release D'Onta Foreman on Aug. 4, Crockett still has a path to fantasy relevance in the team's backfield despite the subsequent acquisition of Duke Johnson Jr. four days later. Remember, coach Bill O'Brien said at the time he sought a pass-catching back, so the path to the role as Lamar Miller's primary backup on first and second downs remains presumably wide open. Crockett, part of a four-man race for the part, was an undrafted free agent out of Missouri who battled injuries -- shoulder in 2017, ankle in 2018 -- that cut both of his final two college seasons short, ultimately dropping him into a committee arrangement with Larry Rountree III last season. Crockett's strong pro day helped him latch on with the Texans, and his training camp performance thus far -- including a goal-line touchdown conversion in the preseason opener -- has given him better-than-even odds of making the roster. Considering Miller's lackluster production to this point in his Texans career, opportunity could present itself in the team's backfield sometime in 2019.

Sam Darnold, QB, New York Jets: In an era where young quarterbacks increasingly seem to be grabbing our attention in fantasy, Darnold has generated little buzz entering this, his second NFL season. He's currently going outside the top 20 quarterbacks, despite having concluded his rookie campaign with a strong four-game December stretch averaging 16.2 fantasy points with the league's best qualified Total QBR (79.3). Darnold has also adapted well to new coach Adam Gase's more up-tempo offense than the ones Gase employed in Miami, and the Jets brought in one of the league's best pass-catching running backs in Le'Veon Bell as well as an underrated slot receiver in Jamison Crowder to help the quarterback's cause. What's more, Darnold has looked good in back-to-back preseason games, providing a glimmer of hope that the player we saw last December is the one we'll see this September. Darnold is a great two-quarterback-league stash, and he has the talent to be one of the most popular early-season pickups if things shake out properly.

Brian Hill, RB, Atlanta Falcons: Amongst the Falcons' contenders for the primary backup role behind Devonta Freeman, Hill has probably received the least attention, with Ito Smith widely regarded the de facto backup and rookie Qadree Ollison the presumed favorite for short-yardage work. Hill brings the requisite size for the latter, though, and he even outperformed Smith in the Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 1. Should anything happen to Freeman, Hill would be more than capable of handling the "big back" portion of any committee, one that would give him a decent share of touchdown potential. Atlanta's backup-role race is one of the more important ones to track this preseason, and Hill is well worth a stash in 14-team leagues or deeper.

Jakobi Meyers, WR, New England Patriots: An undrafted rookie out of North Carolina State, Meyers has drawn raves for his practice performances early in training camp, and he's already 12-of-14 catching his targets for 151 yards and two touchdowns in two preseason games. Though he failed to impress at the combine and lacks the size one would prefer from a receiver, he has shown remarkably good chemistry with Tom Brady thus far and might yet carve out a fourth or fifth wide receiver role on the team's season-opening roster. Meyers will probably slip beneath the radar in most leagues after the reinstatement of Josh Gordon from the suspended list, but Gordon's own history struggling to stay on the field as well as Julian Edelman's injury history does present an in-season opportunity for some of the unknowns further down the depth chart.

Trey Quinn, WR, Washington Redskins: "Mr. Irrelevant" from the 2018 NFL draft -- that moniker traditionally applied to the final selection of a draft -- Quinn picked up a pair of starts as the fill-in for injured Crowder in Weeks 11-12, totaling nine catches on 10 targets for 75 yards and one touchdown. With Crowder now gone, the slot receiver role is wide open for this second-year receiver, whose 114 receptions in his final college season in 2017 led the nation. Quinn generated plenty of positive chatter throughout the offseason, and while a thumb issue has cost him time early in training camp, he's still shaping up as a favorite to start for the Redskins. He'll be passed over in many drafts due to the team's shaky quarterback picture, but could emerge as an underrated PPR option relatively quickly.

Darren Waller, TE, Oakland Raiders: The departure of Jared Cook to New Orleans during the offseason vacated 104 targets -- the largest total vacated by a single player -- and among the team's remaining options at the position, Waller has the best combination of speed and size to absorb a hefty percentage of them. Signed off the Baltimore Ravens' practice squad last November, Waller caught all six targets he saw for 75 yards in the Raiders' final three games of 2018. He's a converted wide receiver who is entering only his second full season at the tight end position, but all reports throughout the offseason were positive about both his development and expected role with the team. Waller has battled a shoulder issue early in training camp, which will probably keep his ADP outside the top 25 at the position, but he's a name to track in the early weeks.

Justin Watson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A top-five SPARQ performer from the 2018 wide receiver class, Watson is one of the many Buccaneers with a wide-open path to a huge bump in targets following the team's offseason departures of Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson. With the team's slot receiver role vacant, it's every bit as possible that Watson will see significant time there as the Buccaneers will shift Chris Godwin into the role while rotating other wideouts on the outside. Watson tallied at least 1,000 receiving yards in each of his three seasons at Penn, illustrating his potential if granted the expanded opportunity.

Preston Williams, WR, Miami Dolphins: A sizable (6-foot-5, 218 pounds) yet speedy undrafted rookie out of Colorado State, Williams' range of outcomes might be the widest of anyone on the list. He finished fourth in the nation in receiving yards (1,345) in 2018, but that came in his only full college season, as surgery for a torn ACL in 2014, a transfer from Tennessee and a suspension for a 2017 domestic violence arrest cost him significant time. The latter ultimately cost him an invite to the NFL combine, and Williams' performance at his pro day was poor, to say the least. Williams' character concerns caused teams to pass him up during the NFL draft, and they represent the significant downside he faces. Throughout the offseason, though, he has been the talk of the team's wide receivers, making big plays and looking like the kind of prospect who might've fetched a second- or third-round draft grade if not for said concerns. Williams' preseason performance to date even illustrates his boom/bust potential: He caught 4 of 5 passes for 97 yards in the Aug. 8 opener, then went 1-of-6 for seven yards while committing costly drops in this past Friday's game. He'll be a player to track in September in standard leagues, but in anything deeper, he'd be a worthwhile flier behind a roster of otherwise stable, reliable wide receivers.