Last week was a tough one for sleepers, though it was good to see guys like Geno Smith, Breece Hall and Hayden Hurst come through. Now only if you were smart enough or brave enough to start them. Full disclosure: I left Hurst sitting on my bench in favor of George Kittle.
This week, it feels like there are some stronger options out there. Unfortunately, some of these opportunities have come from other players getting injured. Alas, such is life in the NFL. We try to make the best of it. Let's go through some names.
Tannehill might be creeping his way out of sleeper territory and into fringe QB1 status. He’s been the QB13 over the past couple of weeks and has totaled 18 or more fantasy points in two of Tennessee’s first four games. At his peak, Tannehill has always been a matchup-based quarterback, but fantasy managers were understandably concerned about a receiving corps made up of a journeyman returning from a serious injury and a slew of unproven options. Yet all he’s done is outscore Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford through the first four weeks.
Next up is a contest against the Commanders, who have had little command against opposing quarterbacks. Since limiting Trevor Lawrence to fewer than 12 points in the season opener, the next three signal-callers have had top-13 weekly finishes. The worst of them was Cooper Rush and his (still respectable) 17.62 points in Week 4. Tennessee doesn’t have what anyone would consider a fearsome group of pass catchers, but Tannehill has made it work with guys like Kyle Philips and Chig Okonkwo while also integrating Derrick Henry (12% target share!) into the mix. Fantasy QB streamers unite!
After hitting on a few sleepers last week, think of this as my heat check. If it works, I’ll sit back with a wry smile like Thanos at the end of Avengers: Infinity War. If it goes sour, well, I'll just disavow all knowledge of ever having written this. This all begins with one of 2022’s newly established theorems -- start everyone against the Detroit Lions defense. While we have marveled at the Lions having the NFL’s top scoring offense, we’ve been equally aghast at Detroit sporting the league’s worst defense. It goes a long way toward explaining the 1-3 start.
That alone might not be enough to sell you on Zappe. Neither will his forgettable 99 passing yards from last week. But what should pique your interest is that he took over on short notice after Brian Hoyer left with a head injury and made the Patriots offense look decent -- not something we were able to say during the first few weeks with Mac Jones at the helm. With not much tape out on Zappe and potentially a full week to get coached up by Bill Belichick’s staff, there’s potential here. Let’s not pretend Zappe is appropriate for anything more than two-QB leagues. But with other fringe QBs like Daniel Jones, Matt Ryan and Baker Mayfield having bad matchups, the Patriots rookie could be worth a look.
Fantasy managers have not gotten the expected returns from Etienne through the first month of the season. Entering Week 5, he’s the RB40. Some of Etienne’s underperformance is owed to James Robinson’s seemingly miraculous recovery from Achilles surgery and the stilted usage rates that have followed. Week 5 brings a ray of hope in the form of the Houston Texans. The Texans have the league’s 31st-ranked run defense, having been trampled by Jonathan Taylor and Khalil Herbert. But that’s more of an argument in favor of Robinson this week.
Where Etienne could prosper is catching the football. The passing-down work has been split more evenly in Jacksonville than anticipated, but Etienne has been the more productive player. He also compares favorably in a lot of ways to Austin Ekeler and Nyheim Hines -- two players who have done work as receivers against the Texans. Etienne has posted a deeper route depth, larger yards per target and more air yards than the other two. If that level of opportunity continues this week, Etienne could be in line for his biggest week of the season.
First things first, Javonte Williams losing his season to an injury sucks. We’re all hoping for the best for his recovery and his return next year. Nevertheless, the season moves forward and so do we. Next up in the rotation for the Broncos is Boone -- he who was perpetually roadblocked in Minnesota for years. On Sunday, he got the first shot after Williams went down. Whether that was by design or due to Melvin Gordon’s ball security issues remains to be seen. Regardless, Boone ended the day with more snaps and targets than Gordon.
I’d expect that gap to close in Week 5 and wouldn’t be surprised if Gordon ended up leading in snap share. But Boone will be here to stay. There is the small matter of Latavius Murray being signed from the Saints' practice squad. Until further notice, treat this as an insurance policy. As for Boone, he should see a fair number of touches and targets against a Colts defense that has given up the sixth-most receiving yards to running backs and will be without its best player (Shaquille Leonard) this week.
It’s easy for us to fall into certain narratives and not actually look at the reality of a situation. For instance, I’ve always believed that Singletary is a good player. I just never felt like the Bills were giving him a chance to truly be a lead back. After all, James Cook was a buzzy draft pick this year while Zack Moss continues to hang around. But the reality is that Singletary is getting the usage of a top-level running back. Shout out to Dwain McFarland for digging into the numbers here.
Yes, Singletary (or any Bills back) will have to contend with Josh Allen taking a lot of opportunities. But right now, there is only one rusher actually getting consistent work for Buffalo. It’s everything we want -- a high-usage back in a good offense. Oh, and Singletary gets to face a Steelers defense that has given up a lot of yards to running backs both through the air and on the ground. At worst, Singletary is a flex this week, but could earn RB2 consideration.
Fantasy managers who drafted Moore this season are smashing the panic button right now. Despite leading all Jets receivers in snaps and routes run, he’s fourth on the team in target share. Mostly, he’s just out there getting his steps in on a weekly basis. Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur says Moore’s time will come. Well, there’s no time like the present.
The Jets have been one of the league’s pass-happiest teams. That’s not a surprise since they’ve trailed as much as nearly any other team in the NFL. Zach Wilson might not be quite the volume shooter that Joe Flacco was, but he’s more willing to push the ball downfield. It’s good news for Moore, who saw his biggest yards per route run number in Wilson’s return. What’s also good news is a Dolphins defense that has been victimized down the left side of the field where Moore runs most of his routes. It’s been a rough start, but this could be the week that reminds you why you drafted Moore.
All hail the return of Bobby Trees! Woods got off to a predictably slow start after returning from an ACL tear and joining a new offense. After posting five catches for 52 yards in his first two games, he’s come back with eight receptions for 115 yards and a score in his next two. No one is going to confuse the Titans' passing game for the Chargers', Bills' or Lions' (!!!) but what it lacks in volume, it makes up for in, well ... not much really. At least Ryan Tannehill seems to have found a new favorite target over the past two weeks.
Just in time! Up next is a Commanders defense that has struggled in coverage all year long. Each week in 2022, Washington has allowed a receiver to collect at least 100 receiving yards and/or a touchdown. All of those wideouts have posted top-20 weekly finishes -- three of them ended up in the top eight. Woods profiles as a season-long WR3, but the potential for a high-end WR2 finish exists in Week 5.
In full disclosure, I nearly put Taysom Hill in this spot, but after a second look at the snaps he’s played and the touches he’s had, the gymnastics needed to put Hill in this column would have been too much for even Simone Biles. But there’s an easy pivot to Johnson! You might be surprised to learn he’s fourth on the team in target share. I certainly was. That’s a good thing.
Also a good thing (for Johnson, at least) is that the Seahawks defense has been bad generally but particularly bad against tight ends. No team has given up more receiving yards to the position than Seattle. Johnson might not post enormous numbers, but the bar to be a viable streaming tight end is low. It feels within reach for Johnson this week.
What would a sleepers column be without a deep dive. I mean, besides Bailey Zappe. So ... hello, Saubert. I write this with a heavy heart because I was big on Albert Okwuegbunam before the season, but have had to give up on that dream because Russell Wilson won’t let him join in any reindeer games.
That’s not 100 percent true. Albert O has a larger target share than Saubert but his 32 air yards on 10 targets are ungood. With both players sitting around the same spot in the passing pecking order, I’ll take my shot on the guy picking up yardage in larger chunks.
It was not my intention to have such a Bronco-heavy column this week. But that speaks to the level of disappointment that has been the Colts this season. The Broncos have been a top-10 fantasy defense, mostly on the strength of their Week 3 matchup against the 49ers.
But this is a defense that gets sacks. And the Colts are an offense that gives up sacks. Add to it that Matt Ryan hasn’t been the best at protecting the football and he’s coming into the week without one of his top weapons in the wake of Jonathan Taylor being ruled out. Denver is in position to keep itself ranked among fantasy’s finest stop units.