In our annual 32-part Summer Sleeper series, 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 to 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 Adam Thielen 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.
The Los Angeles Chargers tied for third in yards per play (5.9) last season, and they should have one of the league’s better offenses in 2018. Yet, outside of Keenan Allen and Melvin Gordon, the Bolts don’t have another player in the top 75 of our July ADP.
The next two Chargers, per ADP, are Mike Williams (78th overall) and Hunter Henry (85th). Henry is out for the year with a torn ACL, and the jury is still out on Williams after a shaky and injury-plagued rookie campaign. There no other Chargers in the top 150.
I’d said all that to say this — there’s opportunity up for grabs in this offense.
You can make a good case for both Austin Ekeler and Tyrell Williams as buy-low options right now, especially Williams, who was the standard-league WR13 in 2016. But in the spirit of sleepers, let’s set our sights elsewhere and peep an intriguing rookie who may have landed in an ideal spot for his skill set.
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JUSTIN JACKSON, RB
Category: Deep Sleeper
Jackson was taken in the seventh round with the 251st pick out of Northwestern. For most seventh-round picks, they face an uphill battle to just make the team. While Jackson’s roster spot is far from assured, he ended up in a favorable spot as the Chargers have only Ekeler behind lead back Gordon. In all, the Bolts are one of only two teams (Giants being the other) with just two backs on their roster who have an NFL carry to their name.
The sweet landing spot alone makes Jackson’s someone to monitor, but his college resume is pretty darn impressive. Jackson quietly had a really good college career, rushing for at least 1,000 yards in all four seasons while showing good skills in the passing game.
There are a few things to get excited about here.
For one, playing in a power conference and breaking the century mark in four straight years is one heck of an accomplishment. The only other Big Ten back to do it is Ron Dayne. While the huge college workload could be made out to be a negative, it can just as easily be spun into a positive as it shows Jackson — who is 6 foot, 199 pounds — can take a pounding and keep ticking.
In addition to the dope traditional stats, Jackson’s market share numbers are really solid. In his final college season, he accounted for a shade more than 53 percent of Northwestern’s rushing attempts and nearly 16 percent of their receptions.
He also posted good numbers at the Combine, showing elite quickness and burst. Per MockDraftable, he ranked in the 85th percentile or better in vertical jump (89th percentile), three-cone drill (85th), 20-yard shuttle (93rd) and 60-yard shuttle (96th). His top comparable is Christian McCaffrey.
Jackson’s ability to be a factor through the air meshes well with what the Chargers need. Los Angeles is lacking playmakers in the passing game, especially after losing Hunter Henry, although, in the immediate future, Jackson has a difficult path to getting meaningful volume.
Gordon is clearly the top dog in the Chargers’ backfield, and he’s proven he can handle a massive workload. In 2017, he saw 284 rushes and 53 catches, accounting for 67.78 percent of Los Angeles’ rushing attempts and 13.55 percent of the team’s targets. After Gordon, Ekeler showed well in limited action last year as a rookie, gaining 5.5 yards per run on 47 carries while adding 27 catches, 279 yards, and three scores as a receiver, so he’ll be a factor.
While it would likely take a Gordon injury for Jackson to have a meaningful fantasy impact in 2018, Jackson is a nice long-term play. If the Chargers want to ease Gordon’s burden at some point — whether that be this upcoming year or down the line, particularly if they sign Gordon to a hefty second contract — Jackson’s receiving prowess and athletic ability could make him a dynamic change-of-pace option in the passing game.
At a minimum, Jackson is a name to know as a player whose skills and talent could gel perfectly with his landing spot, which is a pretty good one.