Some sleeper candidates we know, some we don’t. It can be hard to identify who a true sleeper is. But don’t worry — fantasy football analyst Dalton Del Don is here to do the hard work for you. He sifted through every NFL roster heading into the 2023 season to key on underrated players with big upside and explains why you should consider drafting them with your final picks.
Arizona Cardinals: Keaontay Ingram
James Conner has never played a full season and has missed multiple games every season of his career but one. He’s also 28 years old. Ingram, meanwhile, is easily the most athletic back on Arizona’s depth chart and should have no problem securing Arizona’s RB2 role.
Atlanta Falcons: Desmond Ridder
Ridder struggled with accuracy as a rookie but was an immediate upgrade over Marcus Mariota. Ridder should improve in Year 2, and he’ll benefit from playing indoors and throwing to emerging pass catchers Drake London and Kyle Pitts.
London had one of the best seasons ever by a player his age, and Pitts is ready to explode. The Falcons also have a strong offensive line and added electric receiving back Bijan Robinson early in the draft.
Yet, Ridder is going after Baker Mayfield and Jimmy Garoppolo in Yahoo drafts.
Baltimore Ravens: Rashod Bateman
Bateman was quietly impressive when not injured last season. Questions remain regarding his health, but there’s upside if his foot issues are behind him. Bateman has thrived with Lamar Jackson and could easily emerge as Baltimore’s WR1 this season in an offense sure to pass more in 2023.
Bateman is going 30+ picks after George Pickens in Yahoo drafts.
Buffalo Bills: Gabe Davis
Davis was a fantasy bust last season, but he played through a high-ankle sprain and has a much lower ADP now despite Buffalo bringing in little target competition. In fact, the addition of rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid could prove huge for Davis, who’s excelled in two-WR sets. Davis led all receivers in unrealized air yards last season, and drops aren’t sticky (or meaningful). In an awesome offensive environment that includes the desire for Josh Allen to run less in 2023, Davis remains in a terrific fantasy situation.
Carolina Panthers: Hayden Hurst
Hurst was paid and should get a real opportunity in Frank Reich’s tight end-friendly offense in Carolina. While the narrative of rookie quarterbacks targeting tight ends is more of a myth, Bryce Young appears like a perfect fit for Hurst. The Panthers also have one of the thinnest WR groups in the league.
Chicago Bears: Khalil Herbert
Herbert has no ties to the new regime in Chicago and has questions regarding his receiving ability and his pass protection. Rookie Roschon Johnson will absolutely provide competition for playing time, but Herbert finished first in rush yards over expectation last season. He was one of three backs to rank top-five in RYOE and rush yards after contact, along with Derrick Henry and Nick Chubb (maybe you’ve heard of them?).
For what it’s worth, Herbert also played extensively with the first team during Chicago’s preseason debut. David Montgomery is gone, and the Bears’ offense should be much better in 2023 with an improved offensive line, Justin Fields’ continued development and the addition of DJ Moore. Herbert has a wide range of fantasy outcomes.
Cincinnati Bengals: Chase Brown
Samaje Perine is gone, while Joe Mixon looked in serious decline last season and could be suspended in 2023. Brown has strong workout metrics and flashed receiving ability during his debut. Chris Evans will act as the team’s passing-down back, but Brown has real fantasy upside as Cincinnati’s RB2.
Cleveland Browns: Elijah Moore
Moore was a fantasy disaster in New York last season but impressed as a rookie. He still flashed as a route runner last year and had one of the best college seasons ever by a receiver. His ability to break tackles could result in a big role in Cleveland, where he’ll benefit from being away from Zach Wilson.
Dallas Cowboys: Jake Ferguson
With Dalton Schultz in Houston and rookie Luke Schoonmaker slowed by a foot injury, Ferguson should be Dallas’ TE1 this season. It’s a role that helped Schultz finish as a top-12 fantasy tight end last year, and contrary to popular belief, the Cowboys might be more pass-heavy with Mike McCarthy calling plays. Ferguson ranked top-five among tight ends in YPRR and missed tackles forced as a rookie and enters 2023 as a strong late-round TE flier.
Deuce Vaughn is also a fantasy sleeper in Dallas.
Denver Broncos: Marvin Mims Jr.
Sean Payton traded up to use his first draft pick with the Broncos to take Mims, who lost target competition with Tim Patrick and KJ Hamler getting injured. Payton is one of the league’s best play-callers, and Russell Wilson looks poised to bounce back. Mims is a rookie who’ll require patience, but he was arguably the most underrated player in the draft and could be a fantasy difference-maker in the second half.
Detroit Lions: Sam LaPorta
I won’t step on Andy Behrens’ toes here, but LaPorta can break tackles and should immediately be a part of a strong Detroit offense with a ton of vacated targets. Tight end is typically the slowest transition for rookies, but he was already seeing first-team snaps even before Shane Zylstra suffered a season-ending injury.
Green Bay Packers: Luke Musgrave
Musgrave is looking at immediate targets as Green Bay’s TE1 on a Packers team with a young (and possibly thin) receiving group as well. Musgrave is highly athletic and has reportedly been one of the fastest players in Packers camp. The rookie is developing a great rapport with new QB Jordan Love and goes undrafted in many fantasy leagues.
Houston Texans: Tank Dell
Dell jumped out during his preseason debut, commanding targets while pulling down a circus catch. The Texans will see far better quarterback play this season after drafting C.J. Stroud, and the team’s WR1 role remains up for grabs (350+ vacated targets). I’m high on Nico Collins, but Dell has become a deeper sleeper.
Indianapolis Colts: Anthony Richardson
Richardson enters with fewer than 400 career college pass attempts but has immediate fantasy upside (and floor) given his rushing ability. AR is an athlete the QB position has never seen before. While raw as a passer, Richardson doesn’t take sacks, has a strong arm and should thrive playing for Shane Steichen. He also gets to play indoors and with a solid pass-catching group (Michael Pittman Jr. is a future star who’s better than his stats indicate).
Richardson’s ECR is simply way too low.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Tank Bigsby
Bigsby has opened eyes throughout camp, and he might immediately replace Travis Etienne on passing downs and in short-yardage situations. Etienne is a real threat to rush for 2,000 yards but has struggled in those areas. Whether Bigsby has standalone value remains to be seen (Etienne has star potential), but he’d have a ton of fantasy juice should injuries strike.
Kansas City Chiefs: Justyn Ross
Ross was historically productive in college and an elite prospect before suffering an injury. He looks healthy this preseason, and Kansas City’s WR depth chart remains wide open. Kadarius Toney is a bad route runner who saw just eight snaps in the Super Bowl (while healthy) and is already injured again. Travis Kelce will turn 34 years old this season.
On the other hand, Ross’ QB, Patrick Mahomes, might be the best player in NFL history (and has one of the best offensive coaches on his side as well). Ross has serious fantasy upside should he emerge as KC’s lead receiver; it was a fluke last season when Mahomes threw for 5,250 yards yet no KC WR reached 950 receiving yards. Put differently, Mahomes (the GOAT) finished as fantasy’s QB1, yet no KC WR finished in the top-36!
Las Vegas Raiders: Zamir White
White has elite speed and is the clear backup RB in Las Vegas. Josh Jacobs is still more likely to play than sit, but he’s missing all summer work, and history has been unkind to running backs the following year after leading the league in touches. There are multiple paths to White seeing real touches in 2023.
Los Angeles Chargers: Donald Parham
Parham is finally healthy and could become a big part of Kellen Moore’s new offense in Los Angeles. Gerald Everett remains in L.A. , but Parham looks like the team’s future tight end moving forward. With a healthy Justin Herbert throwing to him, Parham is going to be a popular fantasy add at some point in 2023.
Los Angeles Rams: Tyler Higbee
Higbee will be L.A.’s No. 2 option in the passing game (and he could be even more active until Cooper Kupp gets back to full strength). He quietly saw strong usage before offensive line injuries hit last year, and he plays indoors with a much healthier Matthew Stafford.
Miami Dolphins: De’Von Achane
Achane is dealing with a shoulder injury and may enter the season as Miami’s RB3/4, but his path to a bigger role got easier with Dalvin Cook signing in New York. Jeff Wilson Jr. is already injured this preseason, has averaged eight missed games over the past three seasons and has never reached 130 carries during his career. Raheem Mostert is 31 years old, has been even more injury prone than Wilson and just set a career-high with 181 carries.
Minnesota Vikings: Ty Chandler
Minnesota’s backup RB is wide open with Dalvin Cook gone and Alexander Mattison set to take over the lead role. Chandler became the favorite after “jumping out” during Minnesota’s first preseason game, while rookie DeWayne McBride has struggled. Chandler has good speed and after-contact and receiving ability as well. It remains to be seen whether Mattison can hold up over the first full workload of his career, and the Vikings’ offense should remain productive.
New England Patriots: Hunter Henry
While New England’s receivers figure to be in a frustrating rotation for fantasy managers this year, Henry has been a camp standout. The Patriots’ offense should be far improved with a new coordinator this season too. Mike Gesicki also recently suffered a dislocated shoulder, putting his Week 1 availability in question.
New Orleans Saints: Rashid Shaheed
Shaheed is currently sidelined by a groin injury but is expected to be ready for Week 1. Chris Olave is New Orleans’ clear alpha, but the team has question marks surrounding the rest of the pass catchers (including the RBs). Michael Thomas is 31 and has averaged 13 missed games over the past three seasons. Meanwhile, new QB Derek Carr appears to have prepared for 2023 differently than 2022.
Enter Shaheed, who quietly impressed last year when the rookie’s adjusted YPRR would’ve ranked top-five had he qualified. The Saints get to play 12 dome games in 2023, so Shaheed is a fantasy sleeper worth targeting.
New York Giants: Daniel Jones
Jones is a very good runner who had the fifth-most rushing yards among QBs last season (and the fifth-most designed carries). He had just four fewer carries and only 54 fewer rushing yards than Josh Allen. Jones also had an NFL-high 81.1% adjusted completion rate. He could really break out in Year 2 in Brian Daboll’s system while greatly benefiting from Darren Waller’s addition. Jones has thrown mostly to scrubs throughout his career, but the Giants enter 2023 with a much improved pass-catching group. Rookie speedster Jalin Hyatt has really impressed early on, and Jones is an underrated deep thrower who’s looked sharp in camp.
New York Jets: Corey Davis
Garrett Wilson is New York’s clear WR1, but Allen Lazard was brought in more for his blocking and relationship with Aaron Rodgers than his receiving ability. The Jets have a thin tight ends room, and Elijah Moore is also gone. Newcomer Mecole Hardman has never earned a target share greater than 13.1% during any season in his career, whereas Davis has quietly been one of the league’s most underrated target earners. With the best QB he’s ever had throwing to him during his career on an offense that led the league in passing yards without Zach Wilson last season, Davis is a fantasy sleeper who’s free at drafts.
Philadelphia Eagles: Rashaad Penny
Penny has an extensive injury history and likely carries more risk than most running backs, but he also has “league-winning” fantasy upside in his range of outcomes. Penny had one of the best collegiate seasons of all time, totaling 2,383 yards from scrimmage with 25 touchdowns over 13 games during his final year at San Diego State. He’s the NFL’s all-time leader in yards per carry (minimum 300 rushes) — ahead of Bo Jackson and Jamaal Charles. Penny just turned 27 years old (and has low career mileage), excels in yards after contact and may break charts in Philadelphia’s system. He’s outproduced Derrick Henry when given 12+ carries in a game during his career.
Penny now joins a highly successful Eagles offense that lost Miles Sanders to free agency and sports one of the league’s best lines. Jalen Hurts will steal touchdowns, but Sanders had the fourth-most red-zone rushes and scored 11 touchdowns last year in this role. Penny hasn’t been used heavily in the passing game, but Hurts targeted RBs at one of the league’s lowest rates last season. He’ll have to fight D’Andre Swift and Kenneth Gainwell for touches, but Penny still has fantasy upside.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Kenny Pickett
The jury remains out on Pickett, but he’s in a good situation to show real growth in Year 2. Pittsburgh frustratingly brought back OC Matt Canada, but at least the Steelers had an encouraging finish to 2022, ranking third in yards per drive after the team’s Week 9 bye. Pickett gets to throw to premier route-runner Diontae Johnson, and George Pickens looks poised to break out in 2023. Pat Freiermuth is one of the best young pass-catching tight ends as well. Pickett can also run a little, so he’s a Superflex target.
Jaylen Warren is emerging as a fantasy sleeper in a big way as well.
San Francisco 49ers: Brock Purdy
Purdy is in the world’s best system and just posted the best passer rating ever by a rookie, leading the league in touchdown passes after taking over SF’s starting role. He was “Mr. Irrelevant” despite breaking out typically when future stars do.
It’s clear Kyle Shanahan is sold on Purdy as his guy, and it’s hard to argue with the results. Purdy looks healthy after elbow surgery, and he’ll put up QB1 fantasy stats thanks to his system and the chance to throw to Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle and Christian McCaffrey.
Seattle Seahawks: Jaxon Smith-Njigba
When he was last healthy, Smith-Njigba averaged a mere 192 yards and put up a truly historical 2021 college season, when he accumulated 32% of Ohio State’s receiving yardage despite sharing the field with Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave (he also produced 347 yards and three scores in a bowl game they missed). JSN’s three-cone time was the same as Christian McCaffrey’s, which should play well in the same role Seattle’s OC Shane Waldron utilized Cooper Kupp in Los Angeles.
JSN worked almost exclusively out of the slot in college, and Tyler Lockett should have no problem playing more outside, where his yards per route run has increased compared to the slot. Smith-Njigba has put up monster stats while sharing the field with two other elite WRs in college — now just imagine if injuries hit DK Metcalf or Lockett.
This is your next superstar at the position.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans
Evans had the third-most air yards and the eighth-most expected fantasy points per game among pass catchers last season, ahead of Travis Kelce and CeeDee Lamb. He’s approaching 30 years old, but Evans scored 27 touchdowns over the previous two seasons before suffering in last year’s dysfunctional Bucs offense.
Obviously, going from Tom Brady to Baker Mayfield is a major downgrade for Tampa Bay, but the GOAT loved to check down and limited Evans’ target share.
Tampa Bay projects to be one of the worst teams in football, which could lead to a ton of targets and garbage stats for Evans, who’s routinely produced big numbers with questionable quarterbacks throughout his career; he averaged more AY/A with Josh McCown and Ryan Fitzpatrick than he did with Brady. No other player has ever had more than seven consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons, yet Evans has started his career with nine straight.
Tennessee Titans: Chigoziem Okonkwo
Okonkwo led all tight ends in yards per route run and was second in targets per route run last season. It should be noted these are small samples, and head coach Mike Vrabel recently stated that Okonkwo needs to block better. Playing time is not guaranteed. The addition of DeAndre Hopkins also lowers his target ceiling.
That said, it’s clear Ryan Tannehill is expected to start throughout 2023 (in fact, Malik Willis might be ahead of Will Levis on Tennessee’s depth chart). Moreover, Treylon Burks recently suffered a sprained LCL, so Chig could be looking at increased opportunities early in the season.
Tyjae Spears is another sleeper in Tennessee.
Washington Commanders: Sam Howell
Howell had a college profile that typically gets drafted much higher, and he appears ready to take over Washington’s QB1 job. He’ll admittedly have to deal with one of the league’s shakiest offensive lines, but Howell also gets to throw to one of the league’s best WR duos in Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson. Howell can also run, with systems projecting roughly 40 rushing yards per game — equivalent to a passing touchdown in fantasy scoring. He’s a perfect Superflex target.