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 Pittsburgh Steelers concentrate their offense through Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and JuJu Smith-Schuster, who combined for almost 75% of the team’s total yardage last season. Despite this, there are two Steelers who come to mind as sleepers.
One is Jaylen Samuels, a rookie currently listed as a running back who could also get snaps receiver or even tight end. Ryan Finley has already written a fine rookie profile on Samuels, who could see significant snaps at running back if Bell were to become injured. I endorse Samuels as a great sleeper target, especially if he has tight end eligibility in your league. Who doesn’t want to start a running back at tight end?
Since Ryan already covered the high-ceiling rookie, I will be focusing on another player: A tight end who broke out in the playoffs last season looking to carry some momentum into 2018…
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Vance McDonald, TE
Let’s get the negatives out of the way: Vance McDonald is 28 years old and has yet to consistently produce at the NFL level. His ceiling is not very high given the presence of other talented pass catchers on the team. The Steelers historically don’t produce many fantasy-relevant pass catchers at tight end. Despite these issues, I will provide evidence that McDonald stands a decent chance at being productive during the following season and perhaps beyond.
In McDonald’s age 20, 21 and 22 college seasons, he posted a receiving yard market share of 15.6%, 22.5% and 15.3% respectively. These are impressive numbers for a college tight end. His Combine was equally impressive, as he boasted a 97th-percentile bench press and 72nd-percentile 40-yard dash.
Along with age and college production, these two drills have been demonstrated to be especially important for projecting tight end production in the NFL. The 49ers thought highly enough of McDonald to draft him in the second round at 55th overall. Draft capital and college statistics matter less as a player ages, but it’s still worth noting that McDonald had a promising start.
Coming In Hot
During the only playoff game the Steelers played last year versus the Jacksonville Jaguars, Vance McDonald brought home ten receptions for 112 yards on a whopping 16 targets. The only other tight end since 1999 to see 16 or more targets during a playoff game was Jordan Reed. Even if we were to include the regular season, only 15 other tight ends have accomplished the same feat since 1999, and the list is a who’s who of great tight ends of the last 20 years.
It’s likely the Jaguars stellar corners forced the Steelers to target the tight end more often than they otherwise would have. Not only is it encouraging that McDonald was the tight end who got the targets, he was also able to look good doing so.
It would be foolish to arrive at a strong conclusion based on a single game sample size. We see a slow but steady increase in targets as the season went on, as Jesse James was phased out in favor of our sleeper. If we remove McDonald’s first four games, all of which he did not record a catch in, we are left with seven games. This is still a small sample but is the best we can get, as this was his first season with the Steelers. A 16 game extrapolation gives 55 receptions for 686 yards and 2.3 touchdowns.
Even if the reception and yardage total is a tad optimistic, the touchdown total should see positive regression. If we reduce receptions and receiving yards slightly increase touchdowns, then McDonald would be mid to low-end TE2 for fantasy purposes. While that seems low, there remains the possibility that he continues to see targets similar to his last four games. That could put him in the low-end TE1 range.
Vance McDonald’s July ADP is 180 overall, making him the 28th tight end off the board. I believe this pricing to be his floor, as he should provide a solid backup tight end for your roster. He could even become a solid starting fantasy tight end if things go right.
We should try to acquire players priced close to their floor even if their ceiling isn’t very high, especially when there’s very little risk in the form of low ADP. This kind of pickup via trade or waivers is not likely to win you your league, but they are the kinds of pickups that savvy owners make.
Does a small sample size hot finish to last season and an impressive college profile for a five-year veteran outweigh the negatives? Since his price is so cheap, I think it’s worth a shot in case the positives win out.
A quick glance at the 2018 rookie class shows that McDonald’s ADP lines up with the late third round of rookie drafts. In one league, I traded the 3.09 for 50% of our league’s waiver budget, a strategy I outlined here. I used some of those funds to secure McDonald, who is currently a free agent, when waivers open up. Aside from a few late round favorites of mine (like the aforementioned Jaylen Samuels) I’d rather have McDonald than a late third rounder given the relatively shallow rookie class.
- 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