The NFL season is finally here and with it comes another fun-filled year of fantasy football! Drafts are over, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to be complacent. Skillful fantasy owners are always on the prowl for key talent, and there are plenty of players on the waiver wire who have the potential to be difference makers this season.
Here are five must-have deep sleepers for the 2022 fantasy season!
WR Treylon Burks (WR46, 115th overall)
Evaluating rookie wide receivers is a fun exercise as there are a lot of different factors that come into play. Obviously, you want a talented player, which applies to the 2022 18th overall pick, Treylon Burks. Next, you want a quality quarterback. Ryan Tannehill has played considerably better since transitioning to Tennessee and even helped WR A.J. Brown put up over 1,000 yards receiving his rookie season in 2020. And speaking of Brown, a trade to the Philadelphia Eagles (for the pick they used to select Burks) has vacated a lot of receiving targets along with one-year teammate Julio Jones who is now playing for Tampa Bay.
This leaves newcomers Robert Woods and Burks to be the meat and potato of the Titans' passing game. Woods is a very underrated route runner who will get his work as long as he can stay healthy, but he’ll also draw the opposing team’s top corner each week. This leaves a great opportunity for Burks to show off his playmaking ability.
TE Irv Smith Jr. (TE15, 137th overall)
Finding the perfect sleeper tight end is a little bit art and a little bit science as there are usually a handful of factors that cause their sneakiness. Tight ends don’t typically hit the ground running in the NFL, and it’s hard to gradually improve without people noticing, but that appears to be what’s happened to Minnesota’s Irv Smith Jr. His first two seasons found him playing second fiddle to veteran Kyle Rudolph, but that didn’t stop the youngster from matching him in production. When Rudolph left in free agency last year, Smith was primed for a breakout season last year, but a torn meniscus on his right knee required surgery that ended his 2021 season before it began.
Smith returns to a Vikings team with some new offensive firepower on their coaching staff. The Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator from a year ago, Kevin O’Connell, is now Minnesota’s head coach. He also brings Wes Phillips with him as his new OC after spending last season as the Rams' passing game coordinator. Factor in Smith’s athleticism combined with absolutely zero competition at tight end (backup TE Johnny Mundt is a blocking tight end), and this could be a breakout season for this former Alabama star.
QB Jamesis Winston (QB19, 148th overall)
Did you know that Jameis Winston threw for over 5,100 yards during his last season in Tampa Bay? Of course, it helps when you have two great receivers to throw to, which he did in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
The Saints had one of the worst receiving groups in the league last year as their leading WR, Marquez Callaway, only had 698 yards in 2021, but things are quite different now. For starters, they get veteran Michael Thomas back in the fold. Injuries have kept him out of action for most of the past two years, including missing the entire 2021 season, but the last time he played a full season (2019), he put up 1,725 yards receiving. It’s hard to know exactly what type of player the Saints are getting now.
Thomas will be joined in New Orleans by five-time Pro Bowler Jarvis Landry and Ohio State star rookie Chis Olave. Throw on a viable fourth receiver in Callaway and suddenly you have a very potent assortment of weapons for Winston. He is likely still to make his fair share of mistakes, but the overall volume potential in this offense has some nice appeal.
RB Brian Robinson Jr, Washington Commanders (RB54, 177th overall)
The rookie running back was in line to take over the starting job from short-lived fantasy stud Antonio Gibson before he was shot twice in an attempted robbery. The good news is Robinson is recovering nicely after surgery to his lower body, but early reports are he could return as soon as Week 5 after he’s eligible to come off the reserve/non-football list.
Every year there are rookie running backs who overtake the incumbent at some point in the season and lead their owners to fantasy championships. Before his injury, Robinson was viewed as one of those guys, but after the incident, he’s been written off. There is certainly some risk involved as it’s not completely clear if and when he’ll return to full strength, but when it happens, it should mean good things for fantasy owners. The coaching staff had Gibson returning kicks, so that should tell you everything you need to know about how they viewed their running back situation prior to Robinson’s injury.
DEF/ST Miami Dolphins (DEF12, 212th overall)
The Dolphins' defense is one of the best-kept secrets in fantasy football as they are constantly overlooked despite coming out in 2020. Since Josh Boyer took over as defensive coordinator, Miami’s defense has steadily improved after giving up a league-worst 494 points in 2019. The Dolphins' defense finished as the fourth best fantasy defense in 2020 and moved to third best last year. One of the reasons for this is that their defense gets it done across the board. Last year they had 48 sacks (fifth-best), and 13 fumble recoveries (fourth-best). And it doesn’t hurt that they take full advantage of those takeaways as they had five defensive touchdowns last year, trailing the lead-leading Cowboys by just one.
The Dolphins' defense may be lacking big-name stars but they have to pass rushers like Emmanuel Ogbah and Melvin Ingram, and a quality secondary comprised of cornerbacks Xavien Howard, Byron Jones, and safety Jevon Holland. They are just a collectively good group. And it’s always nice to get the New York Jets on your schedule twice a year, plus they’ll get some great weekly matchups against the Houston Texans, Chicago Bears, and Detroit Lions. Sleep on them again if you wish, but this is a sneaky-good defense.