The NFL draft is over and players are running around in shorts during OTA’s and rookie camps. Already several players stand out likely to be sleepers this season and as such merit watching closely once training camp opens and preseason games begin. You could argue that any rookie is a potential sleeper since we simply do not know how they will play in the NFL yet. Players on new teams also bear extra watching.
This list will change (and maybe significantly) once the camps open and we get a better look at the crop of players for 2015.
Eli Manning (NYG) – Manning ended ranked 9th best in most fantasy scoring and many are naturally reticent to draft him since he’s had a history of fading in the later months and not meeting expectations. But he ended 2014 with a career best 4410 passing yards and his schedule is better in 2015. Odell Beckham had a dramatic effect on Manning’s stats obviously and could be just as good or even better with a full season this year.
Derek Carr (OAK) – As a rookie he was the 20th best quarterback and now he learns a new offense by Bill Musgrave who last coached quarterbacks for the Eagles. Carr would already be expected to improve and the Raiders added the top rookie wideout (Amari Cooper) and Michael Crabtree to vastly upgrade what had long been a mediocre crew of receivers. The needle is pointing up for Carr this season.
Marcus Mariota (TEN) – Obviously he’ll need to show up in training camp and preseason games and he was the second quarterback drafted this year. Worth watching though since he has a seemingly stocked set of wideouts with Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter, Dorial Green-Beckham and Harry Douglas. What makes him intriguing as a rookie is that his three years as a starter in Oregon saw him rush for over 700 yards every season and he just rushed in 15 touchdowns in 2014. His rushing ability is what could make him relevant this year.
Melvin Gordon (SD) – Gordon is going to be a very hot property and is probably more likely to end up over-hyped than a sleeper so be aware. Gordon fell into a great situation in San DIego where he’ll become the primary back. He’s a workhorse type who ran for 2587 yards for Wisconsin last year on 343 carries but he only ran 298 times in his three previous seasons. He’s not coming in with bald tires by any means. Gordon is cut from the same cloth as stud running backs of the past.
Latavius Murray (OAK) – He takes over the starter spot in Oakland and and only scored twice last year as an undrafted rookie. But he has only Trent Richardson as competition. And he showed enough in the final five games of 2014 to keep the Raiders from drafting any backs and he has better speed than any other Raider runner. He’s a definite watch this summer since he’s been going deeply in drafts so far and yet he will be a full-time primary back.
Charles Simms (TB) – .The Buccaneers changed head coaches to Lovie Smith in 2014 and they used their 3.05 to make Simms be the fourth back drafted that year. But he lost out on most of his rookie season with an ankle injury. The team has clearly soured on Doug Martin and intends on making Simms become the featured back. The Bucs offense should see improvement this year with the top rookie quarterback (who doesn’t run much) and what should be a decent to good passing game.
C.J. Spiller (NO) – This has a lot of promise if only in reception point leagues. Mark Ingram has finally turned into a solid primary running back but the Saints want to rely more on their backfield this year. Spiller was brought in to supply more of a “Reggie Bush” role and the two running backs are almost the exact same size. The Saints threw 132 completions to their running backs in 2014 and Spillers looks to supply most of that this year – if he can remain healthy.
Jay Ajayi (MIA) – He tumbled in the NFL draft on fears that he knee would not hold up for many years. But Ajayi had a talent level that should have seen him go in the second or third round instead of the 5.13. He is as versatile as any rookie draft and not only ran for 1823 yards for Boise State last year, he also had 50 receptions and a total of 32 touchdowns. Lamar Miller enters the year as the primary back but Ajayi could make for an interesting situation in training camp.
T.J. Yeldon (JAC) – While any rookie back could be a sleeper the chances are better here. A new offense is being installed by Greg Olsen (last was OAK offensive coordinator). The Jaguars already proved that Toby Gerhart was never supposed to be more than a backup and that Denard Robinson cannot hold up to heavy use. Yeldon comes in with the most talent since a younger Maurice Jones-Drew played there. His career may not span 14 years but his rookie season could be a nice surprise.
Devante Parker (MIA) – The 1.14 pick by the Dolphins walks into a very nice situation. Mike Wallace is gone after scoring ten touchdowns last season and Ryan Tannehill is improving every year. Both Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills are the speed merchants that will stretch the field and the 6’3″ Parker can become the possession receiver. Parker should become a red zone target and scored a school record 33 career receiving touchdowns at Louisville.
Amari Cooper (OAK) – The first wideout drafted is always of interest and this year Cooper was the 1.04 pick by the Raiders looking for immediate help with the best receiver in the NFL draft. Cooper catches a break in that he doesn’t end up with a team that has a poor offense which led to the high draft pick. Derek Carr proved a great draft pick last year and their connection should be a major feature of the offense for many seasons to come. He comes into the NFL with as much pedigree as any wideout in many years.
Sammy Watkins (BUF) – Don’t forget that Watkins was the 1.04 pick in 2014 as the top drafted wideout and he missed a 1000 yard season by just 18 yards while playing with EJ Manuel and Kyle Orton for quarterbacks. The Bills have a new offense with Chan Gailey and added Matt Cassel and LeSean McCoy. Watkins is in a nice spot for another step up this year.
Martavis Bryant (PIT) – The 4.18 pick by the Steelers in 2014, even as a rookie the 6’4″ Bryant caught eight touchdowns, averaged 21.1 yards per catch and did not play until week seven. He is a big, fast and perfect complement to Antonio Brown who commands most of the defense’s attention. Since his stats from last year are only half year, he’ll fly under the radar on too many draft boards.
Nelson Aglohor (PHI) – The 1.20 pick in the draft has much more than a first round grade going for him this year. The Eagles let Jeremy Maclin walk in free agency and tabbed Aglohor as his replacement. The two are nearly identical physically and there is precious little competition for the ball in Philadelphia. Aglohor should start from day one in a system that threw for over 4500 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2014 and replaces a wideout who ended with 85-1318-10 last season.
Dorial Green-Beckham (TEN) – Another rookie that must be watched is this physical freak from Missouri. He not only stands 6’5″ and 237 pounds but runs a 4.5/40. He’s occasionally been a problem child in college which is why he fell to the 2.40 pick. But he has undeniable talent that could show up with Marcus Mariota learning the offense as well. A huge target moving downfield could be just what Mariota needs.
Brandin Cooks (NO) – Maybe the Saints really will throw less this year and look to balance the offense more. That still won’t mean that Cooks is in store for anything besides a big second year and what could be surprisingly good. Cooks already was on a pace for 85 catches for 880 yards as a rookie last year before missing the final six games because of a thumb injury. He’s already worked out with Drew Brees in the offseason and is in line to be the clear #1 receiver for one of the elite NFL quarterbacks.
Zach Ertz (PHI) – He showed a nice progression in his second season when he ended with 58-702-3 last year. He figures to become a far bigger part of the offense and will even get work in the slot. Ertz is 6’5″ and 250 pounds – classic size for a receiving tight end and in an offense that is seeking to use him more. He flirted with the top 12 last year and should be firmly worthy of a fantasy start for 2015.
Josh Hill (NO) – While no one expects him to become a 1:1 replacement for the departed Jimmy Graham, Hill has big upside this year. He only had 14 catches last season while in Graham’s shadow and yet still caught five touchdowns. He’s a definite one to track in preseason games and HC Sean Payton has already glowed about the fourth year tight end. It is possible he could get the hype of filling in for Graham but he has no real name in fantasy so far.
Austin Sefarian-Jenkins (TB) – The 2.06 pick last year by the Buccaneers suffered various injuries including a back issue that landed him on injured reserve. But he’s healthy again and was drafted expressly to be a receiving tight end who should find plenty of room to work with defenses worrying about Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. ASJ is expected to become a featured part of the offense and have a significant jump in production this year.