Lil Jon and Robert Downey Jr.: The Keys to Fantasy Football Glory August 16, 2016  |  Chris Manni


One of the hot topics every August is who you should target for fantasy football sleepers. I define sleepers as players who have yet to have their breakout performance or their stock is down due to recent performance issues. I put sleepers in two categories: “Lil Jon Breakouts” and “Robert Downey Jr. Reemerging Stars.” Please, let me explain.

No matter what we look like now we all start as cute, moldable humans, then turn into pubescent, awkward monsters before developing into our best self. Heck, look at Jonathan Mortimer Smith in high school.


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What a stud! Who knew THAT kid would “blossom” into the mega star Lil Jon? The point is, it happens, maybe not to that effect, to all of us. Football players are no different. The exceptions come into the league and tear it up from day one. Most need development, coaching, opportunity, and trust before they grow into their most productive version. My nominees for the 2016 Lil Jon Breakout of the Year are:


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Marcus Mariota – (Ranked QB#12, ADP QB#20)

There are two major reasons I project Mariota to breakout in 2016.

  • After Mike Mularkey replaced Ken Whisenhunt, Mariota’s game logs read as follows:

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I have two key observations here:

  1. From Week 9 through Week 14, Mariota averaged 20 fantasy points per game. (Week 15 – 17 are excluded due to injury)
  2. His performance was quite predictable. When playing against bad defenses (NO, JAC, OAK), he averaged 25.7 fantasy points per game. When playing good defenses (CAR, NYJ), he only averaged 8.5.
  • Mularkey’s intentions to install an “exotic smash-mouth” offense relates to how the late 1990s-early 2000s Steelers used Kordell Stewart. Kordell Stewart’s rushing numbers from 1997 to 2001 were:

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This shows that Mularkey will likely take the reins off Mariota to run. The five year average represents more than 70 fantasy points of rushing production. I’m buying into that upside.



Donte Moncrief (Ranked WR#19, ADP WR#26)

I’m buying low on the Colts offense this year. Their 2015 couldn’t have been much worse, their defense hasn’t improved much, and the gifted Moncrief showed real ability to hit pay dirt last year. In the games that Luck played last season, Moncrief scored a TD in five of those seven games. He is 6’2, 222 pounds and runs a 4.35 40 yard dash. Big, fast, explosive, and from what I’ve heard from the Greg Cosell film study reviews, a legitimate playmaker who runs great routes. I feel he could be this year’s “Allen Robinson” level breakout. I want to be more bullish on Moncrief but I tapped the breaks because of Hilton’s presence and Luck’s lackluster 2015 play.


Dwayne Allen (Ranked TE#10, ADP TE#15)

This has everything to do with OC Rob Chudzinski. If you don’t know Chud, he was a TE, he loves TEs, and I love his TEs. Here are his TEs’ performances since 2005.

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There are some outstanding players on this list. The argument can made that these players are superior to Allen and therefore, the comparison is irrelevant. That may be a fair view but merely taking the average targets over the last eleven years, Allen is projected for 105 targets. His previous high was 66. Furthermore, the Colts clearly prioritized Allen by giving him a large extension and letting Coby Fleener walk this offseason. Therefore, I’m willing to gamble on Allen in the 14th if I don’t get a top five TE in the middle rounds. If he goes undrafted, he should remain a priority pickup if his target totals start reaching 7-8 per game.



My second sleeper category is the “Robert Downey Jr. Reemerging Star” group.


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This group has proven production, fell on hard times, but will get off the scrap heap and produce again. This group is undervalued because their recent production has left us feeling let down and a bit bitter. This group isn’t as flashy as the other group but if we get past our recency bias, we can take advantage of these potential bounce back performances. My nominees for the 2016 Robert Downey Jr. Reemerging Star of the Year are:


Ryan Tannehill (Ranked QB#14, ADP QB#21)

There are three reasons I believe Tannehill will outperform his ADP.

  • Adam Gase, who has a proven track record of improving quarterback play, was hired in Miami to get Tannehill to perform like the 2014 version, rather than the 2015.
  • Gase and OC Clyde Christensen will look to increase the tempo and volume of offensive plays. Simply stated, more plays create more opportunities.
  • Tannehill has already performed at a low-end QB1 level in 2014. Now he has a much improved supporting cast which includes big, athletic options in DeVante Parker and Leonte Carroo to help with his deep ball accuracy concerns.

With a QB friendly coach, system, and weapons, there is no reason Tannehill can’t return or even outperform his 2014 season as a low-end QB1.


Frank Gore (Ranked RB#15, ADP RB#29)

Gore has no competition for work in a projected high paced three wide set offense. The Colts WR speed will likely have defenses playing nickel with two safeties high. This should leave Gore with favorable personnel to run against. Additionally, Gore’s skill set allows his to stay on the field in all situations and thus projects approximately 275 touches. RBs with that projected workload need to be prioritized since there are only a handful of them. Even at the age of 33, Gore’s 2015 game tape shows there is something left in the tank. I view him as a RB3 with solid RB2 upside.



Torrey Smith (Ranked WR#25, ADP WR#43)

I have a few numbers for you to consider.

61 – Smith’s 2015 target total

132 – The average number of targets the top WR received in Chip Kelly’s offenses from 2013-2015

12.7 – The average fantasy football rank of those WRs

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 12.23.20 PM

In rare cases, it is this simple. I’m looking to grab Smith as a WR4 with WR2 upside.


Projection Process

As with any projection or forecast, I believe it is important to “show your work” so your audience understands your thought process and can challenge your findings. The process I take every year to find my sleepers are as follows.


Step One: Create your own rankings

I take a “bottom up” approach where I create projections for each player for every league I enter according to the league settings. This process allows me to analyze historical statistics and update them with the ever changing information for the upcoming season. Understandably, not everyone is the stat projection nerd that I am. So, if you don’t have the time, patience, or simply would prefer to use fantasy experts’ projections and rankings, FantasyPros is a great website to find various opinions in one place. Either way, I recommend modifying your rankings to fit your expectations.



Step Two: Compare rankings to current ADPs

Once I have my rankings, I compare them to current ADPs either on FantasyPros, Fantasy Football Calculator, or your league’s website. This helps me evaluate the current market trends. If I truly believe a player will outperform general expectations, it is important to know where they are being drafted so I know when to target them. If you feel that a player has WR2 upside but is being drafted in the 10th round, I know that I shouldn’t draft that player in the 6th because the competition is unlikely to consider that player at that time.


Step Three: Explore major variances/Challenge your assumptions

Lastly, I dig into any major variances and test my assumptions. If I can justify my assumptions, I keep them. If I can’t, I make adjustments. Once I feel fully comfortable with my rankings, I know that I have a trusted draft board to use. This helps keep you cool and calm when the chaos begins.


In Conclusion

As with anything in life and fantasy football, we analyze the information we have to make the most educated decision. Everyone has their own opinions and preferences so I encourage you to follow the roadmap outlined above to determine your own groups of “Lil Jon” and “Robert Downey Jr.” players. Then you will find your inner “Iron Man” and scream “All I do is win

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