You may not believe this, you don't have to believe this, but it's 100% true: I have had a secret sleeper list since February.
This isn't new for me. I do this every year. That's how much time and effort I take to consider my favorite sleepers for our Fantasy teams every season.
Names get put on the list, then something happens and they come off the list. Like if a player gets added competition, or if I just get cold feet or a bad vibe about a team. And then sometimes something good happens, like I get a tip from someone to consider or reconsider a player. It's good to know people.
But the absolute genesis of every single sleeper pick I make is watching the players play. Alfred Morris in 2012? Watched him play. Darren Waller in 2019? Watched him play. Even guys who gave us a hot start and nothing else (Kenny Golladay in 2017, Jonnu Smith in 2020, Isaiah McKenzie in 2022) were rooted in film review before crunching stats, making calls and testing the gut.
And then there's one more thing: I get picky. One player is above the rest as the guy I love the most as my Fantasy Sleeper of the Summer. One. Any others I list I also like, but I try not to name more than five., and I'd argue they turned out to be anywhere from useful-at-times to real-good-starters.
Some of you are absolute sickos for Fantasy Football and may not deem the names listed below as legit sleepers. That's OK because I'm doing something new this year. For those of you in deeper leagues or with deeper knowledge bases, I have a complete list of deep sleepers waiting for you over at SportsLine. These are all players with an Average Draft Position (ADP) of 150 or later on CBS Sports. These are massively deep sleepers, complete with one running back at the head of the list.
For everyone else who's not quite as addicted to Fantasy Football as I am, the sleepers listed below have a full-PPR ADP of 120th or later as of Aug. 30 on three of the four source sites: CBS, FantasyPros, ESPN and Yahoo.
And the one who's listed first is the one I'm targeting in every single one of my drafts.
Dave's Sleeper of the Summer
Two years ago the Steelers spent a first-round pick on Najee Harris, a pedigreed rusher who could work any down and distance. But between injuries and inefficient play, Harris has devolved into a volume- and touchdown-needy Fantasy RB.
Enter Warren, who was given spurts of playing time as a rookie in 2022 but has impressed in Steelers camp and in preseason games this summer. He's not as physical as Harris, but he does have some lower-body strength that gives him some power both as a runner and as a pass blocker. More importantly, he's faster than Harris and just as versatile.
- 2022: Warren had better rushing metrics than Harris in yards per carry, yards before and after contact, negative run rate, explosive play rate, and avoided tackle rate.
- 2022: Warren had better receiving metrics than Harris in yards per catch, catch rate, targets per route run rate, yards per target, explosive play rate and avoided tackle rate on receptions.
All that's to simply say that he's been more efficient when he has the ball compared to Harris. The context, naturally, is that Harris had 208 more touches than Warren including a 13-2 edge in touches inside the 5-yard line.
But expect the touches to be much closer in 2023. We've already seen evidence of that this preseason: Warren was on the field for 43% of Pittsburgh's first-team snaps with Kenny Pickett; Harris picked up the other 57%. But of the 13 run plays the Steelers called with Pickett, Warren played six snaps to Harris' 7. There was a larger disparity in pass plays (Warren 6, Harris 9), which kind of doesn't make sense since Warren is viewed as the better passing-downs back.
And as you might expect, Warren blew Harris away in every major metric this preseason.
The other factor that's significant is the Steelers seemingly becoming more trusting in Pickett making plays instead of sort of hiding Pickett like they did last year. With the then-rookie on the grass, the Steelers had a pass rate of 54.7%. League average was 56.7% and 15 teams threw higher than 58% of the time. If the Steelers coaches believe Pickett is who to rally around, that bodes well for the better pass-catcher coming out of the backfield.
And here's one more wrinkle: The Steelers' first two games are against projected tough run defenses in San Francisco and Cleveland. Both matchups should present opportunities for Warren (and, to be fair, Harris) to make plays through the air instead of cramming it between the tackles for two yards at a time. After those games it's the Raiders and Texans, two easier matchups.
So a Fantasy manager could quite simply take Warren with a late pick, see how he's used in the first four weeks and then decide whether he's worth banking on or not. Even in a timeshare with Harris, Warren should have a good floor of 10 PPR points (he notched that five times last season and scored at least 9 PPR points in three of five games when he played at least 40% of the snaps). Just be patient and commit to keeping him on your roster until Week 5 at the earliest.
But once the Steelers realize Harris isn't as explosive as Warren, they'll make a switch and give Warren a majority of touches. If they paid attention this preseason, they probably already have.
ADP: CBS 123 | FantasyPros 163 | ESPN 153 | Yahoo 127
I'd draft him: After 85th overall
Fantasy Football Draft Kit
Your ultimate football draft guide
Dominate your Fantasy Football draft with our free printable Draft Kit, which gives you must-have top-200 rankings for PPR, half-PPR and non-PPR leagues, plus see the top ranked players at every position. Get average draft position data for every ranked player to help strategize before Draft Day, and keep track of your roster with our lineup builder for both snake and salary cap formats.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox.
There was an error processing your subscription.
The Sleeper WR of the Summer
Perhaps the most improved wide receiver this summer, Doubs has shown out with incredible speed and physicality at the catch point this preseason. His route-running is sharper and more consistent, his hands aren't a problem and he seems to be playing with much more confidence.
There aren't many great numbers from last year with Doubs -- he averaged 11 PPR points per game in his first seven before an injury and Christian Watson's breakout made him the invisible man. But this preseason he's seen a 21.1% target per route run rate and turned four looks from Love into four catches, 73 yards and a touchdown with an unheard-of 3.84 yards per route run over 19 routes.
I'm banking on the player Doubs has turned into, not the player Doubs was as a wide-eyed rookie. I wouldn't even be mad using him as a WR3 to begin the year.
ADP: CBS 130 | FantasyPros 174 | ESPN 167 | Yahoo 128
I'd draft him: Before 90th overall
The first-ever two-time Sleeper of the Summer
It was love at first snap: Moore lined up at running back on the Browns first preseason play this summer, motioned out of the backfield and went into the slot before catching a short out route from Deshaun Watson. On the very next play he was again in the backfield and took a handoff to the left edge for 18 yards! He later lined up again in the backfield on a red-zone snap, then did it again two preseason games later against the Chiefs.
These hints suggest that Moore will be more than just a slot receiver for the Browns -- he might also be their low-rent version of Deebo Samuel: A slashing, speedy YAC target who keeps defenses off-balance from play to play.
Furthermore, the sense out of Cleveland is that the Browns will lean into their passing game more than ever before under Kevin Stefanski. That makes sense given the financial commitment they've made to Watson. So if they're throwing more, and if they're utilizing Moore in a fun new way, then it only makes sense that he sees a significant chunk of the targets ... on top of whatever he gets as a ball-carrier.
Long-time readers know Moore is a former Sleeper of the Summer. That was back when he was a Jets rookie and he flubbed his first few targets before suffering a concussion and fading out of the offense until late October. Then he scored 9, 12, 27, 13, 29, 8 and 19 PPR points over his final seven games -- concrete evidence that when given an opportunity he was capable of putting up good stats with quality consistency. I believe he can be this good again, making him an unreal bargain in Fantasy drafts.
ADP: CBS 129 | FantasyPros 151 | ESPN 146 | Yahoo 119
I'd draft him: Before 100th overall
Fantasy Football Today Newsletter
Know What Your Friends Don't
Get tips, advice and news to win your league - all from the FFT podcast team.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox.
There was an error processing your subscription.
The other RB Sleeper
If you don't want/miss out on Warren, Johnson's the next-best sleeper -- albeit one that will require more patience.
Weeks after the NFL Draft, Bears coach Matt Eberflus described, if not hinted at, Johnson as "the young guy in there that might make a move" when discussing his running backs. That was back during June minicamps when Johnson barely played any practice reps with the starters.
Since then, Johnson's made moves. He had a number of flashy tackle-busting runs against the Titans backups while lining up across the formation, then was mixed in with the Bears' starters the very next practice. Johnson continued to show off his burst, cuts and power to finish runs against the Colts in the second preseason game. We then saw Johnson finally mix in a tiny bit with the first-team offense on two third-down plays against the Bills, running routes both times and lining up wide once. He followed that up with a nice dose of work against backups.
The good news is that he gives the Bears a young blend of power and agility at running back. The bad news is that the Bears enter the regular season with Khalil Herbert installed as the starter, and while he doesn't pack the same kind of punch as Johnson, he is definitely faster. Herbert should be locked in as the primary back for Chicago until/unless he struggles.
But there's also a scenario where Johnson works as a 1B option behind Herbert and the duo work as a thunder-and-lightning combo much like Herbert had with David Montgomery last season. That duo produced at least one 10-plus PPR running back in seven of their first 10 games together. Given Chicago's offensive line upgrades and the baked-in efficiency that playing with a running quarterback like Justin Fields provides, the case could be made that the frequency of good production from both backs rises in 2023.
Further, it should be remembered that Johnson is the new kid on the team. That's good and bad -- good because the current coaching staff scouted him, drafted him, and in the case of Eberflus predicted that he'd get more involved; bad because the current coaching staff may not be motivated to put him on the field a lot right away. Veteran D'Onta Foreman, who this coaching staff also signed, could mix in.
That's where the patience comes in for Fantasy managers. At the first sign of inefficiency or sloppy play from Herbert (and maybe Foreman), expect Johnson to get a shot at more playing time. He's already built for short-yardage success and has the chops to catch passes -- an opportunity to add carries to that would turn him into a must-start Fantasy running back. Pretty easy to grab him and then wait for great things to happen. Just. Be. Patient.
ADP: CBS 137 | FantasyPros 195 | ESPN 167 | Yahoo 129
I'd draft him: Before 110th overall
Two more sleepers, because I love you
Nico Collins, WR, Texans: I can't quite expect Collins to evolve into a must-start top-24 type of receiver, but he's got a shot to crack the top-30. Given his size, Collins surprised on film this preseason with his change-of-direction and even his long speed against non-elite cornerbacks. The Texans offense will be an adventure, but Collins is already coming off a year where he averaged 6.6 targets per game as the No. 2 option. Now he's likely Houston's No. 1 target-getter in a much-improved offense with a better quarterback in C.J. Stroud. He's great for the bench to start the season. I'd draft him: Just before 110th overall
Kenneth Gainwell, RB, Eagles: Last postseason no Eagles rusher played as many snaps or had as many routes run as Gainwell, and he was terrific with them, averaging 4.6 yards per run with a 20.7% explosive run rate. He got the starters' treatment this preseason (eight snaps) and figures to remain involved as at least the two-minute offense. His paths to Fantasy greatness include Rashaad Penny or D'Andre Swift missing playing time, something that's happened every year for both of these RBs. Pairing Gainwell with Swift makes a ton of sense, but carrying only Gainwell on your bench also is a good lotto-ticket bet. I'd draft him: Just before 110th overall