We begin 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, 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 Willie Snead 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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The Cincinnati Bengals were already deep at wide receiver heading into the NFL draft (AJ Green, Tyler Boyd, Brandon LaFell) before they invested a first round pick in the position (John Ross.) Any rookie wide receiver landing on the Bengals with a later draft pick would certainly not be a popular pick in rookie drafts. Despite this, I’m here to tell you that fourth round pick Josh Malone should be on your radar and is worthy of bench spot in deep leagues.
Josh Malone, WR CIN
Category: Super Deep Sleeper
Every year, there are rookies who dynasty owners covet early on in the off-season, but see a dramatic drop in value after the NFL draft due to an unexpectedly low draft position or a poor landing spot. Like all late round flyers, these fallers are not likely to provide fantasy value, but the occasional breakout (like Stefon Diggs) reminds us that there was a good reason we liked those players in the first place. Malone was one of my favorite pre-draft sleepers, but after a poor landing spot he fell dramatically in rookie draft ADP. He was only drafted in two out of ten DLF June rookie mocks, at the 4.03 and 4.12.
With that drop, Malone is likely on your league’s waiver wire. What separates him from the rest of the pool? Well, that’s a difficult question, because the pool will be different in each league. So I will compare him to other rookie wide receivers, since they should be available to almost everyone in some capacity (via draft or waivers.)
When examining any wide receiver prospect, we want high production at a young age. More specifically, Peter Howard previously wrote about end-of-bench stashes and noted that market share remains one factor we should consider when evaluating potential end-of-bench breakouts. (Note: Peter’s article focuses on UDFAs, but I believe the principle applies here as well.)
Image courtesy of Peter Howard (@pahowdy)
Josh Malone doesn’t reach the “hit” thresholds for career/final season market share, which is cause for concern, but those averages do not account for age. For that, we can use the Phenom Index, a number that accounts for both final year market share yards and age. He accounted for 31% of his team’s receiving yards in his age 20 season, giving him the fourth highest Phenom Index of all drafted wide receivers. He was only bested by Curtis Samuel, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Zay Jones. That’s some impressive company! This high level of age-adjusted production is likely why Malone’s ADP was high enough pre-NFL draft to put him on rosters in most leagues.
Josh Malone was drafted 128th overall in the fourth round by the Bengals. This draft position was not a surprise, but what was shocking was the plethora of receivers expected to go lower in the draft that ended up being drafted in the third round (like Kenny Golladay and Chad Williams.) We know that high draft capital is a strong indicator of fantasy success, thus almost all of the wide receivers drafted in the top 36 of rookie drafts were drafted in the NFL third round or higher. In most years, some receivers with low draft capital would sneak into the top 36, but there’s simply no room this season.
Lucky for us, this pushes fourth round wide receivers into the “deep sleeper” category when they otherwise wouldn’t be! Malone’s 128th fourth round spot looks downright early by comparison to other receivers going undrafted in dynasty. His draft position is only seven spots behind Joe Williams, who is currently going in the second round in rookie drafts. And Isaiah Ford, a seventh round NFL pick, is going in the third round in rookie drafts. That’s an inefficiency we can exploit. I’ve made a list of all rookie wide receivers drafted by an NFL team and drafted at least once in June DLF rookie mocks with an ADP outside the top 36. Basically, this is a list of the top waiver wire rookie wide receivers:
(Phenom Index from Rotoviz’s Jon Moore)
Malone has the highest Phenom Index (by a long shot) and the third highest draft capital of these nine players. He represents the best mix of draft capital and age-adjusted production among these rookie wide receivers.
It’s about time we addressed the elephant in the room: The Bengals depth at wide receiver. This is the main reason Josh Malone’s ADP dropped so far after the NFL draft. The Bengals’ receiver depth chart already features a stud in Green and two high draft capital players in Ross and Boyd, not to mention tight end Tyler Eifert. The Bengals have not produced more than two fantasy-relevant wide receivers in the same season since Dalton and Green entered the league in 2011. If he can somehow manage to snag the WR2 spot, there’s precedent for production. Since 2011, the Bengals have featured at least one wide receiver besides Green to break 700 yards in all but one season. It’s not likely, but all it takes is an injury and/or a rookie bust in order for opportunity to arise. Furthermore, Malone enters the NFL at only 21 years old, and Patrick Kerrane at Rotoviz recently showed that 20-21 year old rookie wide receivers are among the best bets to return value over a one to two year window. Even if he doesn’t produce this season, all it takes is one or both of Ross/Boyd underperforming to make Malone a strong candidate to gain value after the season is over.
The landing spot is troublesome, but you’re not going to find guys with great situations and high draft capital up for grabs on the waiver wire. When looking for players to monitor on the wire, it’s a matter of finding players that have the highest likelihood of fantasy success despite the obvious downsides. Josh Malone’s age-adjusted college production and draft capital are superior to other likely available rookie wide receivers. Barring veterans players of value on the wire, he fits the bill as the most intriguing “free” receiver flyer for me this offseason. In leagues with deeper rosters I’d grab him off waivers and consider him in the fourth round if the rookie draft hasn’t occurred yet. In leagues without deep rosters, I’ll be watching him closely. The most likely scenario is that he stays buried on the depth chart for a while, but be ready to strike in the event of an injury or massive underperformance by Boyd and/or Ross.
- 2018 Summer Sleeper: New York Jets - July 29, 2018
- 2018 Summer Sleeper: Pittsburgh Steelers - July 24, 2018
- 2018 Rookie Profile: Michael Gallup, WR Colorado State - April 21, 2018