By: Alexander Amir
Winning your fantasy football league requires a combination of smart free agent pickups, savvy drafting, and of course, a healthy dose of luck. There is one big thing you can do though to mitigate luck, and that is look for sleepers. Sleepers are guys that are overlooked in the draft process and give you an opportunity to take high upside at great value. The QB class is particularly deep this season, so let’s take a look at some high level signal callers you can pick up in the later rounds.
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Speaking of luck, you may need some for Andy to come back healthy and play a full season. He only played 7 games in 2015 due to a shoulder injury and a lacerated kidney, and played through almost the entire 2016 season with a fraying labrum on that same shoulder. After undergoing surgery to fix the issue at the end of 2016, Luck was questionable for the entire 2017 season but never ended up playing a game. His status for this season was still in doubt until recently, when he finally began throwing a couple weeks ago. The team will definitely limit his reps in practice, but he should come back healthy for next season.
All that being said, Luck is a fantasy force when he’s on the field. He ranked #9 amongst QBs in his rookie season and hasn’t finished worse than 4th in the three full seasons since. I wouldn’t say that Luck is injury prone necessarily, as his ailments have been consequences of an atrocious offensive line and a poorly handled shoulder situation. This offseason, the Colts drafted consensus top lineman Quenton Nelson and signed Matt Slauson and Austin Howard for the right side of the line. This will likely be Luck’s best offensive line he’s ever had in the pros. He’s currently being drafted as the #12 QB, so you have the opportunity to get a top 5 QB at excellent value.
Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
The entire Atlanta offense took a major step back last season from 2016, ranking just 15th in team offense after finishing 1st in 2016. Accordingly, Matt Ryan finished as the 15th ranked QB, while he was being drafted as the #4 QB in 2017 after finishing as the 2nd best QB in fantasy in 2016 and winning the NFL MVP. This steep decline could be attributed to a number of factors, particularly to the team’s transition to Steve Sarkisian as offensive coordinator. After running the 5th most plays of any team in 2016, the Falcons plummeted to 25th in that category a year later.
But I have faith that the Falcons will rebound. The Atlanta offense didn’t click until its second year under offensive guru Kyle Shanahan either. Sometimes it takes growing pains to adjust to a new coach, but there is too much talent on the offense for them not to bounce back. They signed guard Andy Levitre, who will bolster the offensive line and give Matt Ryan more time in the pocket, and they drafted dynamic Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley to pair with Julio Jones. One of the biggest problems Ryan had was getting the ball to Jones in the red zone, as the receiver had only 3 touchdowns last season, 2 of which came in one game. It wasn’t for a lack of targets though, as Julio was ranked 15th in targets inside the 20 and 5th in the end zone. There’s bound to be a positive regression to the mean. Ridley will without a doubt open up the field and give Ryan more options, and hopefully take some eyes off of Julio. Ryan is currently being drafted as the #13 QB, so you’ll be getting him at tremendous value. Be confident in drafting Ryan as your top QB this season.
Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
Mariota has under-performed thus far in his career, both in real life and in fantasy. He did have a productive second year in the league, finishing as the 12th best fantasy QB, but that was sandwiched between two down years, the most recent of which saw Mariota throw for just 13 touchdowns with 15 interceptions. However, much of this poor production can and should be attributed to the offensive system he was in. Former head coach Mike Mularkey ran a slow, cumbersome, “smashmouth” type of offense, which seriously mitigated Mariota’s impact on the game. They ran 3 wide receiver sets less frequently than all but one team, and they were in the bottom 4 of total plays over the whole season. Additionally, Mariota’s Supporting Cast Efficiency, which measures the production of his running backs, receivers, and tight ends, was ranked 27th in the league, meaning he had one of the least efficient talent groups around him.
Luckily, this year the team underwent a bit of a makeover. Mularkey is gone, and offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur will be calling the plays instead. LaFleur was the OC for the Rams last season, the team that had the best offense in the league. 81% of their plays were with 3 receiver sets, by far the most in the league, and they were 4th in the league with red zone pass attempts with 88. To top it off, the Titans will get receivers Corey Davis and Tajae Sharpe back for a full season. I expect Tennessee’s offense and Mariota’s stats to both truly transform, and forthe QB to far outplay his QB19 draft position.