Sleeper- Jake Butt, TE
It was just two years ago that Butt was the consensus #1 TE in college football. Then came the ACL injury. In the final game of his senior season at Michigan, one unfortunate tackle after a 16-yard reception had Jake Butt plummeting on the draft boards. It wasn’t until the 5th round, pick 145, that someone took a chance on the tight end.
John Elway is known for his risks. Some have worked out quite well, such as Peyton Manning. Some, not so much (Paxton Lynch, Tim Tebow). But it seemed to Elway that two torn ACL’s wasn’t enough to pass up on a guy with 1,646 yards and 11 touchdowns in college.
Butt now finds himself healthy, on a team with a new quarterback, and an absolute scarcity of tight ends. He sits on the depth chart behind only Jeff Heuerman, a tight end who failed to surpass even 200 yards last season. While Keenum gets comfortable with his receivers, he’ll love to have a safety valve, and Butt may be the answer. Along with his proficient blocking, he’s demonstrated extreme athleticism and great route running. He finds himself in a position full of opportunities, and could have a big role in Denver’s 2018 offense.
Honorable Mention: Su’a Cravens, Royce Freeman
Bust- Emmanuel Sanders, WR
While you could argue that Sanders has already “busted”, with his disappointing 2017 campaign (12G, 555 Yards, 2TD), I think he’s still regarded as a legitimate #2 option across the league. While the Broncos last season was ridden with injury and QB problems, I don’t think we will ever see the same Emmanuel Sanders production as his 2014-2016 seasons.
I really like Case Keenum. I think despite all of the doubters, he is a very legitimate quarterback who thrives in the right system. However, if the ‘13 Texans and Jeff Fisher’s Rams weren’t good fits for Keenum, I’m not sure how Denver will work out. Outside of Paradis and Leary it’s a very mediocre line, with a giant hole at running back. Keenum won’t have the freedom to throw like he could in Minnesota. In other words, I don’t think Sanders will have as many opportunities as he needs to really produce.
On top of this, 2nd-round pick out of SMU, WR Cortland Sutton, along with the previously mentioned Jake Butt, ought to take away some touches from the 31-year-old Sanders. I think it’s safe to say with all these factors that Sanders’ best days are behind him.
Honorable Mention- Case Keenum, Demaryius Thomas
Kansas City Chiefs
Sleeper- Reggie Ragland, MLB
The Bills gave Reggie Ragland approximately 0 minutes of on-field play before they shipped him off to Kansas City for a 2019 fourth (yes, fourth!) round pick. Right away, Ragland showed why he was a former SEC Player of the Year at Alabama, playing lights out when given the opportunity in his first year with the Chiefs.
With 4x Pro-Bowl MLB Derrick Johnson out of the picture, Ragland will have all the playing time he deserves. Although he’s quite young, Ragland is smart enough to be the quarterback of his esteemed defense. He ran a very complex 3-4 scheme at Alabama, and has proved he’s got the brain to grasp any concept.
Ragland may not have incredible pass coverage skills, but he’s incredibly athletic, has great shed techniques, and always seems to be in the right place at the right time. If Ragland can stay healthy, he has the potential to live up to the great linebackers in Chiefs history.
Honorable Mention: Tanoh Kpassagnon, Dee Gordon
Bust- Kareem Hunt, RB
Kareem Hunt came in with a bang last year, putting up 256 all-purpose yards, along with the 3 touchdowns to defeat the defending champs in one of the best games of the season. He continued to dazzle for the next couple weeks, becoming not only a coveted fantasy star, but leading the league in rushing for the entire season.
While Hunt’s entrance into his NFL career was incredible, teams began to figure him out. After Week 6, Hunt only surpassed 100 yards rushing twice against two very weak run defenses (LAC, OAK), and received for over 51 yards in just one game. In fact, Hunt produced more fantasy points (117) in Weeks 1-6 than he did the entire rest of the season. (112)
This happens with rookies in a lot of sports, the classic sophomore slump. A very talented rookie bursts onto the scene strong, but teams quickly figure him out, and his 2nd season is much worse than his first. Sometimes rookies adapt and bounce back (Todd Gurley), and sometimes they don’t (Doug Martin).
I think Hunt will eventually turn out to be an effective back in the NFL, but I do think teams will surprise him a bit next year. With the inconsistencies he showed last season, along with the loss of a lot of talent on his team on both sides of the ball, I think a sophomore slump is in store for Kareem Hunt.
Honorable Mention: Sammy Watkins, Justin Houston
Los Angeles Chargers
Sleeper- Austin Ekeler, RB
Coming into the 2017 season, there obviously wasn’t a lot of talk about undrafted RB out of Western State Colorado Austin Ekeler, but he proved that small school guys can compete in the big leagues.
Ekeler wasn’t the star of his offense, nor did he have a starting role. But between the flashy runs by starting RB Melvin Gordon and the Philip River bombs was Austin Ekeler, making the most out of every touch he got.
Now, his stats certainly weren’t jaw-dropping, (260 Yards, 2TDs rushing/279 yards, 3TDs receiving), and they probably won’t be, as long as he’s behind Gordon. However, with every touch, Ekeler showed great hands, quick, low cuts and out-of-this-world toughness. Not to mention he is a far better blocker than Gordon.
The Chargers began to use Ekeler a lot more near the end of the season, and he could be an easy guy for defenses to forget about, on an LA offense with so many weapons. Austin Ekeler certainly won’t have the touches to put up ridiculous numbers, but he will get more than he got last year. Ekeler’s ability along with Gordon’s susceptibility to injury make Ekeler a name to remember for this coming season.
Honorable Mention: Dan Feeney, Desmond King
Bust- Mike Pouncey, C
Mike Pouncey has been a very solid center his whole career and proved to be the rock for the Dolphins line since his rookie season. However, as the NFL has proven time after time, injuries can change a player. Pouncey was able to play 16 games in 2017 for the first time since 2012, but he came back a different player. His pass blocking was still there, but Pouncey’s run blocking just hasn’t really returned to him.
Pouncey finally made the switch to Los Angeles, after asking to get released by Miami, he is now on a 2 year/$15 million dollar deal, and there’s a lot of pressure on him to be the fix to Los Angeles’ age-old problem, the offensive line.
Maybe all Pouncey needed was a change of scene, but if he stays on the current trend he’s on, he won’t be the Pro-Bowl center he once was.
Honorable Mention: None
Sleeper- Tahir Whitehead, MLB
Completely overshadowed by big names like Darius Slay and Ezekiel Ansah, Tahir Whitehead was the behind-the-scenes force of the Detroit Lions defense in 2017. Although left on the market for a while, Whitehead was able to find a new home with a nice $19,000,000 contract in Oakland.
While former DPOY Khalil Mack will handle the pass rush, it will mostly be on Whitehead to really control the run for a weak Oakland defense. Former MLB Navorro Bowman was able to play this role pretty well last year, but Whitehead will need to prove that he can be one of the best inside run stoppers in the NFL.
Whitehead has racked up 242 combined tackles in his last two seasons, and while his athleticism and man coverage lack, he may be one of the smartest LB’s in the NFL, he’s quick to read plays and shed blocks, and he should really bolster up the Oakland D.
I’m sure Tahir Whitehead won’t get the love he deserves, after all, few run stoppers do. However, if Oakland suddenly becomes a solid team against the run, I’m sure that credit will be due to Whitehead.
Honorable Mention: Seth Roberts
Bust- Jordy Nelson
I’ve never been huge on Jordy Nelson. I’ve always thought he’s more or less been a product of Rodgers, and I think that really showed last year. (Nelson averaged just 18.2 YPG in the 9 games without Rodgers last year.)
Nelson, the 33-year-old receiver, still has great hands and route running but has lost a majority of his speed. In 2018, he’s a solid safety valve at best. With weapons like Cook, Cooper, and Roberts, Carr has no reason to target Nelson on anything other than short and quick routes.
Nelson has been one of the most productive receivers of this decade, however, without a Hall of Fame quarterback, he hasn’t proven too much. He could bounce back if Carr plays like he did in 2016, but it looks like Nelson’s glory days are far behind him.
Honorable Mention: Marshawn Lynch