While jockeying for position in the early round of rookie drafts allows dynasty fantasy football managers to get the premier players, snagging a few deep sleepers either in the draft or as UDFAs is an easy way to add upside with little to no risk. As the summer heat is turned up on rookies taking part in their individual camps, here are some 2022 deeper rookie sleepers to target for dynasty fantasy leagues.
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Dynasty rookie sleepers: RB, WR, and TE
Given the lack of investment required, one of the things I do with every team is offloading veteran players unlikely to ever make a significant impact on their teams and take dart throws on players in either the last round or after the rookie drafts.
If even one hits, it was a win as the player was acquired for little to nothing. If they start to generate some buzz midseason, you always have the option to trade them for future capital if you feel it is a flash in the pan.
RB Jashaun Corbin, New York Giants
Saquon Barkley is one of the most polarizing players for dynasty fantasy football. Can he be the player we once saw, or have injuries zapped the prime of his career? Personally, I don’t consider Barkley injury-prone. He’s just been unlucky. Sometimes that just happens. In 2019, a rather severe ankle sprain occurred after a play was over when he stepped on a Cowboy defender’s foot. Then in 2020, Barkley suffered a torn ACL. That’s not being injury-prone; that’s crummy luck.
Yet, what would the Giants do if Barkley went down in 2022? Who is the next man up? Heck, who is the RB2 on the team? This is a question I ask when looking for deeper sleepers. If you can find a path to opportunity, you also find potential value.
Who is standing in Corbin’s way in New York?
That is where Jashaun Corbin comes into play. A UDFA from Florida State, he is squarely in the mix for the No. 2 spot behind Barkley. The Giants have four other RBs under contract behind Barkley: Matt Breida, Antonio Williams, Gary Brightwell, and Corbin. Breida, signed in the offseason, has been under 300 yards the last two years and is on his third team in three years. Williams hasn’t appeared in a game since 2020, while Brightwell has never taken a carry at running back.
Despite playing behind a poor FSU offensive line that even Cam Akers struggled behind, Corbin was effective. As a part of a one-two punch with QB Jordan Travis in 2021, Corbin recorded 887 rushing yards and seven TDs on 143 carries while adding 144 yards and one score on 25 receptions. In 2021, he was second in the ACC with 6.2 yards per carry.
With only one year to evaluate him due to a transfer from Texas A&M and a torn hamstring in 2019, which hampered his 2020 season, Corbin has his work cut out. But that is also why he is a value. Corbin has just as good of a chance as anyone on this roster to be the No. 2 and can be acquired with your final pick or after the draft as a UDFA. He is one of my favorite deeper rookie sleepers to target in 2022 for dynasty.
RB Tyler Badie, Baltimore Ravens
In 2021, Doak Walker Award winner Kenneth Walker III tied for the NCAA lead in 10+ yard runs with 46. The running back he tied with was none other than Missouri’s Tyler Badie.
A smaller back in stature (5’8″ and 197 pounds), Badie’s impact was massive for the Tigers. Taking over as the lead back after Larry Roundtree departed, Badie was a first-team All-SEC member, second-team All-American, rushed for 1,604 yards (third in the nation), and led the Tigers with 54 receptions. With nearly 2,000 total yards and 18 TDs in 12 starts, Badie’s sixth-round selection helped cap off a sensational draft for the Ravens.
A team known for using multiple backs, Badie won’t be competing with J.K. Dobbins or Gus Edwards as primary rushers but could seamlessly slide in as the passing back for Lamar Jackson. I am not even sure if Mike Davis or Justice Hill will make the 53-man roster.
Going outside the top 40 in most rookie drafts, Badie is an inexpensive option for managers looking to bolster their RB depth while adding sneaky PPR upside. Should Dobbins or Edwards get off to slow starts after missing all of 2021, don’t be surprised if Badie is on the field more than expected in 2022.
RB Snoop Conner, Jacksonville Jaguars
Doug Pederson has shown us he prefers to use a committee in the backfield. Why should we believe this all of a sudden will change in Jacksonville? Travis Etienne is a favorite breakout after missing his rookie season due to a foot injury but is unproven. James Robinson, one of the best UDFAs in recent history, is also returning from a season-ending injury of his own (Achilles). After those two, it is Ryquell Armstead, Mekhi Sargent, Nathan Cottrell, and Conner.
At 5’10” and 222 pounds, Conner can bring some thump between the tackles but has enough speed to hit the second level (4.59 40-yard dash). If Etienne, who is valued for his receiving skills rather than his power in crowded boxes, struggles when things get tight, Conner could work his way into a red-zone role.
Conner is best in a complementary role which is where he finds himself in Jacksonville. Going outside the top 20 RBs in most drafts, Conner is a 2022 rookie sleeper worth rostering as he could have midseason value that may be flipped into a future 2023 pick to the right managers.
RB Abram Smith, New Orleans Saints
This one still makes me scratch my head. Look at the New Orleans Saints backfield. Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, and Tony Jones Jr. In 2021, Jones was unable to latch on to a key role and could struggle to make it out of camp. Kamara is facing a likely suspension, leaving a 32-year-old Ingram to be either No. 2 or No. 1 if Kamara misses time. Even when Kamara is on the field, do they want to give him 23.6 opportunities a game with 18.5 of those on the ground? I don’t think so.
Abram Smith, a converted LB, somehow went undrafted despite tying for fourth in the FBS with a school record of 1,601 rushing yards and leading the team with 12 rushing touchdowns on 257 carries. As you would expect from a former linebacker, Smith relished contact. He said so himself back in May.
“I just love imposing my will. Dropping a shoulder on a (defensive back) or a linebacker … it really didn’t matter to me. I can make people miss, but I feel more comfortable when I’m running somebody over.”
If Kamara is indeed suspended, Smith will be splitting reps with Ingram, and it will not surprise me if he looks good doing so. As someone you can acquire for next to nothing, Smith is an excellent deeper rookie sleeper at RB for 2022.
WR, Isaiah Weston, Cleveland Browns
During this offseason, the entire dynasty and NFL community seemed to be infatuated with Christian Watson’s metrics. And I get it. I was one of those people. However, he was not the only FCS receiver to put up silly testing numbers. Take a look at Northern Iowa WR Isaiah Weston.
Coming in at 6’3 1/2″ and 214 pounds, Weston recorded a 32 1/2″ arm span and 9 1/2″ hands. In testing, he laid down a 4.42 40-yard dash, 20 reps on the bench (which is impressive for his arm length), 40″ in the vert, and 135″ in the broad jump. Side by side, he stacks up with the 6’4″ and 208-pound Watson. During his testing, Watson measured in with 32 1/2″ arms and 10 1/8″ hands, ran a 4.36 40, and jumped 38.5″ in the vert and 136″ in the broad.
By no means should testing numbers be the be-all-end-all. But it helps separate some players based on size and percentiles, which carry their own hit rates. In 2021, Weston had 37 receptions for 883 yards and five TDs. These don’t wow you, but in half of his games in 2021 (six), Weston had at least one reception of 40 yards or more, showcasing his vertical ability.
He tracks the ball well down the field and has skills that the Browns can work with to further his development. NIU even manufactured him some touches at the line of scrimmage. Amari Cooper is the WR1, but the pecking order behind him is a bit murky with David Bell, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Anthony Schwartz, and Jakeem Grant. I’ll stash Weston based on size, which cannot be taught. Keep a close eye on camp reports as Weston could impress the Browns this Summer, making now the time to invest.
WR, Danny Gray, San Francisco 49ers
Danny Gray was a 2021 first-team All-AAC standout who caught 49 passes for 803 yards and nine touchdowns. Once one of the top JUCO prospects in the country coming out of Blinn College, Gray was selected at pick No. 105 by the 49ers.
The 6’0″ and 186-pound receiver is lightning in a bottle with his blistering 4.33 40-yard dash backing up his 8.5 yards after the catch per reception, which ranked fifth in class. Gray also recorded a 19% target and 24% air yards share for the SMU Mustangs. He fits perfectly into a 49ers offense that prioritizes getting playmakers in space. Still, Gray brings a verticality to his game which could propel the Day 3 pick into the WR3/4 range for San Francisco.
With Trey Lance and his Howitzer ready and waiting for the keys to be handed over, this could be a duo to watch. With questions surrounding the future of Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk not far removed from Kyle Shanahan’s dog house, add Gray to the shortlist of 2022 rookie deep sleepers to target in dynasty.
WR Justyn Ross, Kansas City Chiefs
Is this cheating? Yeah, probably, but I do what I want. Justyn Ross is one of the most talented receivers in this entire class. Yet he went undrafted and even through the main wave of UDFA signings after the draft. Why? Because there is a concern surrounding Ross’ surgically repaired spine, which kept him out of the entire 2020 season.
As a freshman, he led the Clemson Tigers in receiving without even starting a game, catching 46 passes for 1,000 yards (21.7 per rec.) and nine TDs. In 2019, Ross was named an honorable mention All-ACC selection after a sensational season with a 66-865-8 receiving line. Even in a poor 2021 offense led by a struggling D.J. Uiagalelei, Ross hauled in 46 receptions (20.2% reception share) for 514 yards and three TDs while improving his route running.
If he stays healthy and returns to his 2018/2019 form, he will be lethal as Ross excels in a vertical-style offense. I think Patrick Mahomes is pretty good at that, right? Ross has all the makings of a solid receiver with silky footwork and an uncanny awareness on the sidelines, plus a penchant for converting jump balls for big plays. Sure, he is not a “sleeper” to many, but he is going later in drafts than he should. I have no quals going above ADP to acquire him, knowing the potential value if things break right for Ross.
WR Erik Ezukanma, Miami Dolphins
When you talk about the big-bodied receivers in this class, Erik Ezukanma deserves to be mentioned. At 6’2″, 209 pounds, the Texas Tech WR is an impressive athlete who demonstrated the ability to not only high point the ball but be a threat after the catch, especially with his propensity to absorb a hit and stay upright.
He needs refinement in his route tree, but that can be said about 95% of incoming rookies. A two-time All-Big 12 honoree, Ezukanma caught 138 passes for 2,165 yards and 15 touchdowns in Lubbock. He won’t blow anyone away with his speed, but he will rack up yards after the catch.
Everyone is looking for the next Deebo Samuel. Especially in Miami, where Mike McDaniel is now the head coach after leaving the 49ers. By no means am I saying Ezukanma is the next one, but his ability to run through tackles like Samuel is uncanny.
Selected with pick No. 125 in the fourth round, the Dolphins have a plan for Ezukanma, especially after you find out that WR coach Wes Welker was the one who went to the Texas A&M Pro Day and pounded the table for him to be selected by Miami.
“Wes (Welker) worked him out, went there, and he was on Mike (McDaniel) from Day 1 about getting a Red Raider receiver in here,” said Dolphins GM Chris Grier. “We dealt with Wes all spring talking him up.”
Ezukanma has a steep hill to climb and is behind Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, and Cedrick Wilson Jr. at receiver. Yet, given the draft capital and praise from his position coach, as a deep rookie sleeper, I’ll target Ezukanma in 2022 for a potential role down the line.
TE Daniel Bellinger, New York Giants
A fourth-round pick by the Giants (No. 112), Daniel Bellinger is expected to be in the mix as a rookie. That’s something you rarely hear for a tight end, given the development time needed to learn the position. However, with Evan Engram now in Jacksonville and Kyle Rudolph still a free agent, Bellinger only needs to beat out Ricky Seals-Jones.
Bellinger likely will not create a ton of mismatches, but he has the size (6’5″ and 253 pounds), length (32 1/5″ arms), and athleticism (4.63 40-yard dash and 34.5″ vert) to be a chain mover or red-zone target. New head coach Brian Daboll comes from the Bills, where TEs were integral in the red zone. Just look at Dawson Knox’s surge in recent years. If Bellinger can establish himself in the rotation, he could be a sneaky TE addition to your dynasty roster as a deeper sleeper in 2022.
TE Cade Otton, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If you are not acquainted with Cade Otton yet, get ready because he is someone you will hear brought up relatively often as the season approaches. Following Rob Gronkowski’s retirement (again), Cameron Brate is the TE1 for Tampa Bay. O.J. Howard is now in Buffalo, leaving Otton as second on the depth chart. But will it stay this way?
If Otton can pick up the Buccaneers’ offense on the fly, Tom Brady could have himself a new target. Otton is a smooth pass catcher who caught 91 of 124 targets for 1,026 yards and nine scores in his collegiate career. He is not a great blocker, which could hamper his chances of being an every-down starter.
Otton missed four games as a senior, two of which were due to an ankle injury. That injury also prevented him from testing at the combine and the Washington Pro Day. Therefore, his testing metrics are a question mark. However, if the former first-team All-Pac-12 TE can hit the ground running, the opportunity is there, either in 2022 or 2023. If he is still on waivers, change that and add Otton to your dynasty roster as he is one of the better deep TE rookie sleepers in 2022.