What Is a Sleeper in Fantasy Football?

What are sleeper picks in fantasy football, and why should fantasy managers care about finding them in their fantasy drafts?

The term “sleeper” has been around since the beginning of fantasy football. Every year, you can find countless articles and X threads on everyone’s favorite sleeper picks.

For those new to fantasy football, though, this may be one of those words they’ve seen a bunch, but don’t really know what it means. What are sleeper picks, and why do they matter in fantasy drafts?

What Is a Sleeper in Fantasy Football, and Why Should You Care About Them?

Let’s start with the most basic of definitions. A sleeper is a player that is, well, being “slept on.” It’s a player going later in fantasy drafts that you believe either should be going earlier or is capable of returning value well above his price.

It’s always easier to see something in practice to truly understand it. The best way to fully grasp what a sleeper pick looks like is to look back at previous fantasy drafts.

Obviously, if this is your first year playing, you can’t really do that. But you can definitely search for mock drafts from the previous year. You may notice that in the second half of fantasy drafts, more than half of those players weren’t particularly productive.

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You can expect around 75% of players drafted in the back half of drafts to be dropped by midseason. But amidst the countless misses, you will notice some major hits.

You will notice players that put up seasons far better than their draft position would suggest they should. Those are the players we’re looking to draft. Those are the sleepers we want to find.

Even if you avoid drafting a single droppable player, you can’t win your league that way. Fantasy leagues are won by having players that perform levels above what they’re projected to do. If you’re not taking those players, rest assured someone else is. And that’s who will likely win your league.

Finding Sleepers

Everything starts with ADP (average draft position). Don’t let anyone tell you “ADP doesn’t matter.” On the contrary, ADP is everything when it comes to fantasy football drafts.

Now, that doesn’t mean you need to never deviate from ADP, but you do need to always be cognizant of where players should be drafted. That’s how you know whether a player is a value.

Eventually, you will acquire the requisite knowledge to spot sleepers on your own. Until then, the most important thing is getting your information from trustworthy sources.

There will be countless articles telling you who to draft as sleepers, but that doesn’t mean these players actually are. For instance, if you read an article talking about a fifth-round pick as a sleeper, you might want to question the validity of that claim.

Players can be undervalued in any round. You definitely want to draft players in the fifth round who are capable of returning third-round value. However, those players are not sleepers.

A sleeper, by definition, is a player going in the late rounds. I wouldn’t consider a player a sleeper until at least Round 7, while true sleepers don’t get selected until the double-digit rounds.

If the majority of your league is still drafting players that need to start, you’re probably not at the point in the draft where sleepers exist.

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Even after you’re ready to do this yourself, it never hurts to see what other people think. I’ve been playing fantasy football for over 20 years. I don’t need to know what other people think, but it can be genuinely helpful to get other perspectives.

There are so many smart fantasy analysts out there. Never get complacent and think you know everything. I’m not afraid to admit that someone else presented an argument for a player I hadn’t considered. It only helps me get better.

Sleepers in Modern Fantasy Football

Back in the day (which, for me, is the mid-2000s), genuine sleepers existed. There were players I could draft that my fellow league-mates legitimately did not know existed or knew very little about. In modern fantasy football, it’s become far more difficult to draft true sleepers.

Fantasy football exploded in popularity during the 2010s. With it came an exponential increase in knowledge and the accessibility of information. This is why finding sources you trust is so important.

If you peruse the hundreds of fantasy football websites out there and the thousands of Twitter accounts for fantasy analysts, you will find arguments for and against literally every single player.

You will find someone supporting just about every late-round pick as a sleeper. Naturally, this makes it difficult to find true sleepers, because no matter how obscure the player may be, someone has probably written about him.

While this makes it difficult for sleepers to stay under the radar, there’s a silver lining in there. When you actually find a player or two no one’s really talking about, the benefit is compounded because all the other fake sleepers will have seen their ADPs rise…but not your guy.

Every season, there are multiple players taken late in drafts that far exceed expectations. The sleepers are out there. You just need to know where to look to find them.

With the fantasy football season behind us, why not start preparing for your rookie drafts with our dynasty rookie rankings? Additionally, as you look to improve your team heading into 2024, our dynasty trade calculator can help you find the perfect deal to boost your championship chances.

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