The All Post-Hype Sleeper Team – QB and RBs
In fantasy football circles, we use a lot of different lingo to get our point across. We have become so immersed in the subject that we often forget that not everyone who plays this beloved game also studies the fantasy glossary. Some people won’t understand when you tell them you’ve got a PPR league flier who can be a flex and not just a handcuff. They just want to hear that Lance Dunbar is the player to pick in the final rounds. And that’s ok.
For the more obsessive players like myself, we know all the terms already and have moved on to creating new ones. One of my more recent favorite terms is “post-hype sleeper”. Unlike your traditional sleeper or hyped player, a post-hype sleeper is a player who accumulated massive hype last season, failed to live up to his inflated ADP, and now enters this season with a better fantasy outlook due to role, supporting cast, and/or a coaching change.
Most owners who were let down by one of these players become gun-shy and often leave them off of their draft boards altogether. In turn, their ADP stays reasonable, and an opportunity presents itself for those owners who are willing to separate the past season from the upcoming one.
In 2013, championship teams often consisted of several post-hype sleepers like DeMarco Murray and Antonio Brown, among others.
In this series, I attempted to put together the ideal post-hype sleeper starting lineup. This will be part one of a two-part piece, and I will make my selections for my quarterback and running backs. In the follow up, you will see my selections at wide receiver and tight end.
Don’t expect to find guys like Robert Griffin III on the team, because he has already logged a plus season back in 2012, and the term that best suits him is bounce-back. Justin Hunter and DeAndre Hopkins certainly have a lot of talent and upside, but they can’t make this piece either because they were never truly hyped.
And remember, do your best to consider all the factors when evaluating a player. Sometimes, it’s too easy to fall into the hype trap. I’m not proud of it, but three of the players on my 2014 post-hype list were also on one of my 2013 rosters.
*All ADP data comes from fantasyfootballcalcuatlor.com and is pulled from just fewer than 1,000 mock drafts during each time frame.
Quarterback – Colin Kaepernick
Last season, I thought I was getting a steal when I paid around the same for Kaepernick as Ben Roethlisberger and less than Tony Romo and Andrew Luck. I got caught up in the hype. According to data pulled from 992 mock drafts during the final week before the 2013 season, he was the sixth quarterback going off the board with an ADP of 63rd overall. Kaepernick finished as just the 14th-highest scoring quarterback—according to data that was pulled from Fantasy Pros because they eliminate the meaningless Week 17 games from their totals.
Now is not the time to give up on a prospect with elite arm talent and athleticism, who also gets the luxury of being coached by Jim Harbaugh. Accuracy issues plagued Kaepernick as he finished in the bottom fourth of our accuracy percentage at 69.3 percent—what a quarterback’s completion percentage would look like if you factor in dropped passes, spikes, and throw aways. In his second year as a full-time starter with Harbaugh at the helm, this number should improve. Either way, Kaepernick is the type of player who can make up for missed throws with chunk yardage plays and runs.
The real factor that held Kapernick back was volume. His 504 dropbacks in 2013 were just the 20th-most of all quarterbacks, and 11 quarterbacks had at least 100 dropbacks or 20 percent more than Kaepernick. That number is likely to increase.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman mentioned that the 49ers could pass more in 2014. Roman pointed to the previously alluded fact that Kaepernick understands the game more in his second full year starting, but also pointed to his improved weapons on offense. The 49ers added veteran Stevie Johnson to the mix, and although he struggled while playing through a nagging injury, he averaged a 79/1,041/7.67 line in the three seasons prior to 2013. More importantly, his favorite target Michael Crabtree is fully healthy to enter the season.
Aside from his improved weaponry, the 49ers’ defense should take a step back, which will lead to less blowout wins and more reason to throw the ball. Two of their best front seven guys, Navorro Bowman and Aldon Smith, are set to miss multiple games due to injury and suspension, respectively. They also lost two core members of their secondary to free agency when Donte Whitner and Tarrel Brown walked. Whitner’s replacement, Antoine Bethea, earned considerably worse marks than Whitner across the board, particularly in pass coverage where his (-4.9) grade compared to Whitner’s (+10.7).
Kaepernick has the talent, supporting cast, and an improving situation to become a classic post-hype sleeper.
Running Back 1 – CJ Spiller
If you drafted Spiller in 2013, you might want to blame us , his pesky ankle injury, or the Bills coaching staff. Stick to the latter two. After all, it was Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett who told us that he planned to feed Spiller the ball until he throws up. Instead, partly due to injury, Spiller actually received 15 less touches in 2013 and finished with just 235 combined rushes and receptions.
Spiller clearly didn’t perform up to par with his 2012 numbers, but that doesn’t mean you should throw away what he was able to accomplish when healthy. In 2012, Spiller lapped the field in our elusive rating statistic by forcing 53 missed tackles on just 207 carries and 13 missed tackles on just 43 receptions. For comparion’s sake, his 94.6 elusive rating was almost 50 percent better than the 2013 leader and also the best of all-time dating back to when PFF started measuring it in 2007.
Despite playing through a nagging ankle injury for all but four games, Spiller averaged 4.6 yards per carry while finishing in the top 15 in elusive rating, forcing 32 missed tackles on 202 carries and 7 missed tackles on 33 receptions.
His role is likely to grow in 2014. Spiller feels no lingering effects from last year’s injury, and he is already standing out in OTAs. According to Bills reporter Chris Brown, the coaches seem eager to expand his usage. As my colleague Pat Thorman mentioned, Spiller averaged nearly 19 touches last season in the four games before hurting his ankle, which projects to 300 in a full season.
In addition, the Bills added 6-foor-7, 322 pound offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandijo at No. 34 overall in the 2014 NFL Draft. At just 20 years of age, some believe that he is more of a project. From my pre-draft evaluation, I saw a tackle who flashed dominance, particularly in the run game, on numerous occasions. He is already splitting first-team reps at right tackle with Erik Pears. Pears struggled in the run game last season, finishing with the third-worst grade of all offensive tackles (-15.2). If Kouandijo can win the job in training camp, this should also provide a boost for Spiller.
The Bills run a unique up-tempo offense that focuses on the run, and they led the league in rushing attempts in 2013. With Sammy Watkins added to the arsenal, the offense should stand a better chance at maintaining drives which would lead to more rushing attempts. Also, Watkins will do a better job of drawing safety coverage than any wide receiver the Bills had in 2013.
With talent, age, role, and supporting cast on his side, Spiller projects as a prime post-hype sleeper.
Running Back 2 – Lamar Miller
Many fantasy writers including one of best in the business, Evan Silva, made strong cases for Miller last offseason. The buzz built up and led to an incredible jump in his ADP from 11.03 in the beginning of February to 3.09 at beginning of September. Miller turned out to be an overhyped bust after not securing the lead back role, and running behind the league’s fourth-worst run blocking unit (-67.4) while playing for a coaching staff the passed the ball nearly 60 percent of their snaps.
The good news is that the Dolphins made a strong effort to improve their offensive line. Through free agency and the draft, they added new starters at left tackle, right guard, and right tackle. Left tackle Branden Albert is not known for his run blocking, but his skill-set projects as a nice fit for the new offensive scheme. Right guard Shelley Smith could turn out to be one of the shrewdest offseason additions as he graded out as PFF’s fourth-best run blocking guard (+12.3) in 2013 despite playing just 371 snaps. Right tackle Ja’Wuan James was a surprise first-round pick to some, but from my evaluation, he was the third-most NFL-ready offensive tackle in the draft. At center they have Mike Pouncey, who finished 2013 as our 13th-best center despite playing alongside some of the worst starting linemen in the league. Lastly, at left guard two younger talents in Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner will battle it out. It’s not inconceivable to believe that the Dolphins will have the most improved offensive line in 2014.
Equally or more important than the improvement on the offensive line is the change in offensive coordinator and scheme. I spent last week going over how underrated offensive schemes can be in predicting fantasy success. The Dolphins ditched one of 2013’s most inconsistent and inefficient offensive coordinator in Mike Sherman, and brought in Bill Lazor, the former Eagles quarterbacks coach. The Dolphins hired Lazor to bring in his own version of Chip Kelly’s offense, without straying too far away from it. That simply means more plays with a faster pace and a larger focus on the run game. Lazor’s offense has already drawn rave reviews from Ryan Tannehill, Mike Wallace, and Brian Hartline.
Tannehill expressed confidence in the run game, pointing to the system’s ability to create running lanes inside by spreading the field. We saw this on display all last season with the Eagles.
Miller’s role in the offense is still to be determined, but before you give Knowshon Moreno the edge, remember that the Dolphins didn’t invest much in Moreno in free agency—he signed a one-year, $3 million deal. Moreno began the offseason getting first-team reps, but has since fallen on the depth chart after showing up out of shape. Miller has taken his place and he is receiving the majority of first-team reps.
Miller is the most talented back on the roster, and his specific skill-set is best fit for Lazor’s spread offense. Miller’s advantage does not come from making yards out of nothing, as he forced a meager 23 missed tackles on 203 combined touches in 2013 and just 7 on a combined 57 touches in 2012. In Lazor’s offense, there will be open field lanes created that test a running back’s speed and breakaway ability. This is where Miller can put 4.40 flat speed on display. In 2013, 26.9 percent of Miller’s total rushing yards came on just 7 of his 177 rushing attempts.
With an improved offensive line and scheme, Miller has a great chance to finally breakout in 2014.
If you want to know any of my other evaluations on skill position players, continue the conversation, or yell at me for something I missed, you can find me on Twitter @DanSchneier_NFL. You can also add me to your network on Google+ to find all of my past material.
Editor’s Note: Be sure to check out our new Mock and Companion Draft Tool! Utilizing our updated player projections, run a quick mock draft and see where this year’s crop of free agents are coming off the board in early fantasy football drafts.