Sleepers and BLEEP!-ers: Analyzing the biggest upsides and risks

Dalvin Cook

Every team roster is constructed a little differently. Sometimes a team will carry big-named players with big-time contracts. Other times teams will carry cheaper players whom they hope will break out and bring a great return on investment.

In this article we’ll look at players from each team who could cash in lottery tickets or who could flame out big time and cause much consternation among the team’s fan base.

NOTE: for the purposes of this article, we’ll be using “sleeper” to refer to a low-contract player with high upside; not necessarily a player nobody is expecting to be good.

Australia Blue Heelers

Sleeper: Chris Olave, WR/NO — At three years, $3.6 million, Olave has one of the most attractive contracts in the DFL. He has WR1 upside, although most likely will finish in WR2 territory given his situation. He likely will flash intermittent WR1 weeks, making the Blue Heelers a dangerous team on a week-to-week basis.

BLEEP!-er: Kadarius Toney, WR/KC — It would be overkill to keep punching Jonathan Taylor and Rashod Bateman at this point, so we’ll point the finger at Toney. Although he’s not extremely expensive, his time is starting to run out to prove himself. He’s entering the third year of his career, which is one of the most common breakout years for receivers, thus he is not yet in bust territory. But he’s already had one team give up on him, he hasn’t played more than 10 games in a season yet, and his highest output has been 39 catches for 420 yards. That $4.7 million over the next 3 years will loom large if he doesn’t make an impact this year. 

Bolivia Llamas

Sleeper: Ken Walker, RB/SEA — Ironically, the same guy who is fraught with uncertainty and whose stock is really low right now just might be the key to a winning season for the Llamas. Bolivia can’t go into the season counting on Walker to be their number one running back, and if they really wanted to solidify their backfield, they would go after two starters and relegate Walker to FLEX. At which point, if Pete Carroll pulls a Chris Carson/Rashaad Penny and starts the older back over the newbie (or if Zach Charbonnet pulls a Penny and gets hurt all the time), maybe Walker fulfills the promise he showed last year.

BLEEP!-er: Stefon Diggs, WR/BUF — I feel that out of necessity Diggs is placed here. He has been a model of consistency, finishing in the Top 7 in each of the last three seasons, and the Top 4 in two of those years. He continues to be the best wide receiver in a high-powered offense. The trouble could be if someone runs up his price in the Auction and then his costly salary prohibits the Llamas from addressing other needs. And of course, the higher a player’s salary is, the less room for error he has.

Colombia Capybaras

Sleeper: Tua Tagovailoa, QB/MIA — The obvious choice here is Tony Pollard, who is signed for two more years at $2.5 million. If he can repeat what he did last year while splitting time with Ezekiel Elliott — whether he improves his numbers as the workhorse or not — he already will be a big bargain. But for the purposes of this exercise, we’re going with Tua here. The Capybaras won the championship without a good quarterback. That’s the testament to the rest of their roster construction. Tua finished as QB15 on the season, but when he was healthy, he averaged QB1 numbers. With the Capybaras’ championship roster mostly intact, a healthy Tua could make them all the better. This, of course, presumes they don’t try to sign a better quarterback this offseason, which is certainly a possibility. If nothing else, having a strong backup is good for business. 

BLEEP!-er: Tee Higgins, WR/CIN — Higgins could be a No. 1 wideout on a lot of teams, but he is currently relegated to a No. 2. It helps that he plays for an explosive passing offense, though. Higgins finished as WR18 last year, and with his current tag price he is the ninth-highest paid receiver in the league. To live up to that contract will require his best season yet as a pro, leaving him very little wiggle room to offer a good ROI.

Greece Trojans

Sleeper: Marquise Brown, WR/ARI — Brown could just as easily be on the BLEEP!-er list given his elevated contract, his propensity to get hurt, and playing for a team in Arizona that could be the worst in football this year. But then that also explains why he could be a sleeper. If he stays healthy, he’ll receive the biggest bulk of targets and he has the explosive playmaking ability to offer the Trojans good FLEX appeal, at the very least.

BLEEP!-er: Lamar Jackson, QB/BAL — Take your pick! There are a few players on Greece’s roster that could make the front office shift uncomfortably in their seats. Christian McCaffrey is almost guaranteed to sign for more than $20 million when it’s all said and done. He comes with some injury risk but is a difference-maker when he plays. Najee Harris is trying to rebound from a subpar season. Dalton Schultz has left a very good offense for one of the league’s worst. But the honor goes to Lamar Jackson, who has not been the same player he was in his breakout 2019 season, and yet is the current highest-paid quarterback in the DFL.

Ireland Shamrocks

Sleeper: Rhamondre Stevenson, RB/NE — By the pure definition of a sleeper, there are some worthwhile candidates for the Shamrocks. Romeo Doubs could steal a large portion of targets, Rondale Moore should have increased opportunity this year. But in terms of biggest chance to break open the season at a low cost, Stevenson fits the bill. While the running back committee approach is always a concern, Stevenson did break out and post RB1 numbers last year. Should he do it again, the Shamrocks will be in good shape.

BLEEP!-er: Dalvin Cook, RB/FA — As of press time, Cook is still without a team and his large salary will be a concern unless he lands a role as the featured back in an offense. There are a few of those featured roles available throughout the league, but as it gets closer to camp and he remains unsigned, the more pressure he’ll be under to return fair production for his cost.

Italy Emperors

Sleeper: Nico Collins, WR/HOU — Now in his third season in the league, Collins has the opportunity to step up and fill the void in an offense missing a lot of capable playmakers. He’s likely to play in a low-volume offense, so there’s not a high likelihood that he posts starter numbers. But even capable FLEX stats would be a boost for this rebuilding team.

BLEEP!-er: Kyle Pitts, TE/ATL — Take your pick of highly-priced players on this team, but the onus is once again on third-year tight end Kyle Pitts to step up and earn his hefty paycheck. A season-ending injury derailed an already disappointing season last year. But if he comes back healthy, anything short of TE1 numbers is a big failure, and there’s a decent shot he struggles again in a run-heavy offense.

Kazakhstan’s Very Nice Team

Sleeper: Calvin Ridley, WR/JAX — Ridley finds himself in a very ideal situation. He hasn’t played football in a year and a half but none of it was because of physical health. As long as he hasn’t gotten fat and slow or forgotten how to play football, he’s primed for a nice comeback season. He has a good quarterback throwing to him and a very cheap contract for the Very Nice Team.

BLEEP!-er: Deebo Samuel, WR/SF — Take your pick of receivers in either A.J. Brown or Deebo Samuel. Both are north of $18 million for this season so both need to have tremendous output this year to justify their bloated salaries. We’ll lay off Brown for a moment because he did put up mid-TE1 numbers last year. Samuel, meanwhile, fell off the map after his breakout 2021 season, finishing as WR38 last year. That can’t happen again or else the ‘Stans will suffer because of it.

Papua New Guinea

Sleeper: Garrett Wilson, WR/NYJ — There are a lot of intriguing possibilities here for the Pigs, particularly in the running back room. But Wilson has the chance to be a WR1 at just a fraction of the cost of some other studs at the position. He has three years remaining at $4.8 million and if his stats match his talent, the Pigs will be in great financial shape moving forward.

BLEEP!-er: Davante Adams, WR/LV — J.K. Dobbins is one possibility for this role, but there’s also a world that exists where Dobbins returns great ROI, presuming he can finally stay healthy. Adams is an aging receiver playing for an offense that could very well go down the toilet this season, depending on the quarterback play. Adams proved last year that he could survive a quarterback change. But going from Rodgers to Carr might not have been as bad as going from Carr to Garoppolo (or whoever might be taking Week 1 snaps if Jimmy G is not ready).

Peru Gurus

Sleeper: Treylon Burks, WR/TEN — Burks has a chance at a second-year breakout if he can stay healthy and in shape. There’s some uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position in Tennessee, but there’s no such question about who the number one receiver in this offense is. Should the Titans pass the ball at least a moderate amount this year, Burks will benefit and could offer a nice ROI for what the Gurus signed him for.

BLEEP!-er: Travis Etienne, RB/JAX — I think we’ve picked on Jerry Jeudy enough throughout his young career. The other high-priced player who is put on notice is Etienne. After missing his entire rookie year with an injury, Etienne put up mid-RB2 numbers last year. Now you might say, that’s not too bad. And it won’t be too bad if there are running backs available who get signed for more than Etienne is being paid. But for some reason, there’s a lot of buzz surrounding Etienne’s role and whether he’s being funneled to a more complementary role with rookie Tank Bigsby pushing him for touches. Unless Etienne can put up low-end RB1 numbers at best, or high-end RB2 numbers at worst, he’ll be taking some cap space away from other needed prospects.

Saint Kitts & Nevis Shockers

Sleeper: DeAndre Hopkins, WR/FA — Where’s he going to go? What’s his role going to end up being? Does he still have anything left in the tank? In his limited time playing last year, he proved he still did, even averaging a per-game score in the Top 10. If his landing spot is ideal and he still has game, this could be a major piece to the puzzle for the Shockers this year.

BLEEP!-er: Kareem Hunt, RB/FA — His salary is not too detrimental, making him more of a blip (a blip-bleeper?) in the grand scheme of things. Still, his best role — post-woman-kicking — was as a complementary and pass-catching back with the Browns. It’s hard to see him getting more of a role than that wherever he might wind up. If he ends up being a small role player — or worse, not playing at all — his $3 million salary will have been better spent elsewhere. A lot of sleepers and valuable role players have been signed for less.

Sint Maarten Savages

Sleeper: Brandon Aiyuk, WR/SF — Sint Maarten actually has quite a few sleeper candidates on their roster, which made this one a difficult choice to make. Running backs Khalil Herbert and Dameon Pierce could be the lead backs in their offenses — or they could wind up sharing committee work. Receiver Jahan Dotson could be poised for a breakout second year and John Metchie might provide some surprise value after missing all of last year. Aiyuk has the best potential to make the biggest difference, though. He finished as WR15 last year, but will Deebo eat into his production this year?

BLEEP!-er: Elijah Mitchell, RB/SF — The easy choice here would have been Cooper Kupp as his $24.3 million salary is currently second-highest in the league. Even though he set the league on fire two years ago and was on pace to do it again last year, health and age have to be somewhat a concern. But Mitchell is the focus here. After a promising rookie year, Mitchell was almost non-existent last year and then got some competition in the form of Christian McCaffrey. If he comes back healthy, is he just a backup? Will he be part of a rotation that cuts into CMC’s work? If not, his $6.5 million salary looms large. 

South Africa Ballstrikers

Sleeper: Tyler Higbee, TE/LAR — It’s hard to find the kind of sleeper we’re looking for with this particular focus, so we’re going to look at the same player who was a pleasant surprise last year. Higbee had a great 2022, finishing as TE6. If he can finish anywhere near last year’s production at the league minimum salary, he’ll afford a cap-strapped Ballstrikers team the flexibility to focus their attention elsewhere. 

BLEEP!-er: Javonte Williams, RB/DEN — The Ballstrikers are only on the hook for $10 million of Williams’ $16 million contract, which could be a decent deal if the running back returns from his serious knee injury and produces even moderately good numbers. The risk here is that Williams doesn’t return fully healthy and only produces backup-like output while rotating in with other healthy backs on the roster.