We continue our annual 32-part Summer Sleeper series where DLF scribes identify a lightly-touted player on each NFL roster who may be worthy of your consideration. Our subjects all have varying levels of “sleeperness,” but each merits a bit of in-depth discussion here in the Premium Content section.
To help everybody along, we are going to be categorizing our sleepers under one of three headings:
- Super Deep Sleepers – Players who aren’t roster-worthy in 12-team leagues, but are still worth keeping an eye on.
- Deep Sleepers – An end of the roster player who is more often than not on the waiver wire in 12-team leagues.
- Sleeper – A likely rostered player who makes for a good trade target. Their startup ADP puts them out of the top-175 or so.
Because we aren’t going give you the likes of mainstream sleepers like Allen Robinson or C.J. Anderson, most of these players will undoubtedly fizzle. All we are asking is for you to keep an open mind and perhaps be willing to make room for one of these players on your bench. You never know when the next Alfred Morris is going to spring up. Feel free to add your own thoughts about our choice for the designated sleeper, or nominate one of your own in the comments below.
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Tampa Bay is one of those teams which just always seems to get a shrug when you talk about them because they aren’t any good. They were always an odd fit in the old NFC Central and while they are more at home in the NFC South, they just don’t excite too many people. They seem to always be below average with an occasional year where they manage a winning record against a weak schedule. Yes, I know they won a Super Bowl, but we are talking about a team with a total of 11 winning seasons in the history of their franchise! They went over a decade never topping six wins. That is the past and the management hopes to make it a distant memory even though they have failed to top four wins in three of the last four years.
How are they going to turn things around? The plan seems to be starting from scratch. Lovie Smith and friends are in town now, and they seem to be set on continuing the youth movement in Tampa. There are players in their first few years in the league all over the offense like Jameis Winston, Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Toss in the running back combo of Doug Martin and Charles Sims and you have players in their early to middle twenties who can grow together. If they can mesh well together and keep themselves out of trouble (Jameis, I’m looking at you!), the young Bucs could actually turn into a team which is fun to watch over the next few years! I wouldn’t go running to Vegas to put down a Super Bowl bet or anything since only Evans seems to be an almost sure thing at this point, but they are more exciting than just about anything else Tampa has had in years!
The building of the offense isn’t quite done though. I mentioned most of them are unproven as of yet. You also probably notice I only mentioned one receiver in that list. Yes, Vincent Jackson is there and an extremely good player to pair with Evans, but Jackson is 32 years old and his game was built around his speed. Receivers who build their game around speed don’t last much past 32, so someone needs to step up as the future opposite from Evans.
Kenny Bell, WR TB
I think the Bucs are making a very intentional choice to go with a youth movement on offense. They are trying to build a core group for the future and create chemistry among them so they can break free of their history of losing. They are going to get a pass from their fans this year if they have another below .500 season assuming they are building for the future with youth. It is why I think Kenny Bell is going to see the field in three wide receiver sets by mid-season over a veteran like Louis Murphy.
Bell isn’t going to supplant Jackson in two wide receiver sets. Even at this point in his career, Jackson is still more talented than the rookie Bell. Plus, the Bucs aren’t going to be paying Jackson almost 10 million this season to be a part time receiver. He is signed through the 2016 season, but the guaranteed money is now gone, which means if he continues to slow down and someone else, like Bell, steps up Jackson could become a cap casualty next offseason. So even though it seems like things are locked in with Evans and Jackson for the next few years, it isn’t quite as concrete as some think. New offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter had a similar situation last year in Atlanta with an aging Roddy White. White would often slide inside to the slot in three wide receiver sets, meaning Bell’s athletic ability and speed could be put on display on the outside in three wide sets.
Speaking of Bell’s ability, he had one of the best combines of this year’s wide receiver class. He is a little lean at only about 200 pounds for his 6’1” frame, but he is fast and explosive as evidenced by his 4.42 second time in the 40 yard dash and 41.5” vertical jump. As a Big 10 guy, I was able to see Bell play several games over his college career and while the athletic ability definitely flashed, I was even more impressed with how he played the game. He seemed to be fearless when going after the ball and very rarely backed down from anyone. He did whatever he needed to do to make the play and showed determination you can’t teach. I think with that attitude he is going to be an instant favorite of the coaching staff and his teammates.
I don’t think Bell will be very productive in 2015 for several reasons. He’s going to need to beat out the veteran Murphy for the third wide receiver role. He is also going to be a ways down the pecking order for a rookie quarterback. Winston will be able to keep Evans’ value alive and maybe even Jackson, but there isn’t going to be a third receiver who will be productive in fantasy leagues. So why am I listing him as my sleeper? I think by this time next year Jackson will be cut, Bell will be locked in as the starter upside Evans, and Winston will be on his way to being a solid NFL starter. Bell’s value is going to take a huge leap in the next few months, so he is someone to grab now and stash for the future. He’s my second favorite later round rookie from this year’s draft class only behind Chris Conley. If you wait until next offseason, you’re going to end up paying way more for him, so grab him now!