Tajae Sharpe & 4 Other Rookie Sleepers to Target in 2016 Fantasy Football Drafts

Tajae Sharpe & 4 Other Rookie Sleepers to Target in 2016 Fantasy Football Drafts

By Kevin Zatloukal (4for4 Contributor), last updated Sep 12, 2016

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Kevin is a Ph.D. computer scientist. His doctoral work at MIT was focused on quantum algorithms. During the fantasy offseason, he teaches computer science at the University of Washington, his alma mater.

Follow Kevin on Twitter: @kczat.

After the NFL draft, we surveyed the new class or rookie running backs and wide receivers to see which were most likely to become startable players during their first few years in the league. Now that depth charts are starting to settle into their final shape to start the season, it's time to look over these rookies a second time and see which ones can help out our fantasy teams this season.

Our focus in this article will be on sleepers, available in the very late rounds of drafts. While Ezekiel Elliot is obviously primed for a big year, it's worth remembering that very few rookies put up startable numbers, so avoiding rookies in the early-to-middle rounds of the drafts is often a sensible approach. In this article, however, we'll only talk about rookies available in the 12th round and later, which means that there is very little to lose if they disappoint.


Wide Receivers

Tajae Sharpe, TEN

While I picked up Tajae Sharpe in a couple of rookie drafts, I must admit that I was not holding out much hope. Draft pick remains the most reliable predictor of future NFL success, and Sharpe was not taken until the fifth round. The reason he ended up on my roster was that his college production was the second best in this WR class, behind only Boyd.

Sharpe's opportunity also did not look great with recent free agent signing Rishard Matthews, former second-round pick Dorial Green-Beckham, and Kendall Wright all firmly in front of him on the depth chart. Now that Green-Beckham has been traded to the Eagles, however, Sharpe's path to starter status has opened up. The coaching staff has continued to praise him throughout the preseason. In fact, the trade decision may say nearly as much about their confidence in Sharpe as it does about their lack of it in Green-Beckham. Like Boyd and Fuller, we now have Sharpe as the WR2 on the depth chart, behind only Matthews.

While TE Delanie Walker will likely see a large volume of targets, there is no stud WR1 in front of Sharpe on depth chart, so his upside is potentially the highest of these three. His most likely outcome is also possibly better than the other two, as we currently have him ranked the highest in our projections. Combining those expectations and upside with the fact that he is actually the cheapest of the three at the moment makes Sharpe probably the most enticing rookie sleeper in the draft.


Will Fuller, HOU

Fuller was one of my main targets in dynasty rookie drafts. While Fuller was not highly ranked by some draft analysts, the Texans liked him enough to take him with their first round pick (21st overall), making him the second WR off the board, even before players like the highly-touted Laquon Treadwell. That high draft pick alone would have made him likely to be a successful WR in the league, but in fact, Fuller's college production was also better than Treadwell's -- at least according to all the metrics that I trust.

Based on the preseason, Fuller appears to be solid favorite to start as the Texans' WR2 opposite DeAndre Hopkins. (In contrast, Treadwell has yet to move past even Charles Johnson on the Vikings depth chart.) Fuller has looked good in the preseason so far, including a nice touchdown.

While Hopkins will undoubtedly see the lion's share of targets, the Texans were a pass-heavy team last season (matching the Colts in overall pass attempts) and do not have a fantasy-relevant TE, so it would not be out of the question for their WR2 to sneak into the top-36 at the position if the offense starts to click.


Tyler Boyd, CIN

Boyd was my number-one WR prospect in this rookie class. While he slipped into the second round of the draft, his career college production was substantially ahead of the receivers taken in front of him. Overall, I estimated his odds of being a startable player in this first three seasons as comparable to Amari Cooper and Kevin White from last year's draft class.

Like Fuller, Boyd has a good chance of being the WR2 on his team to start the season, especially if Brandon LaFell's hand injury negatively impacts his play. Also like Fuller, Boyd will play opposite a dominant WR1 in A.J. Green, who will see a big share of the targets. On the other hand, the normally dominant Tyler Eifert appears likely to be sidelined from his injury at the start of the season, leaving more targets up for grabs.

Compared to Fuller, I think Boyd is the more talented player. However, the Bengals had a below-average passing volume last year, and with Eifert returning from injury soon, Boyd's situation does not seem as ideal. Overall, we have the two players ranked similarly in our projections.

Continue reading for two rookie running backs to consider late in drafts.

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Filed Under: Preseason, 2016

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