By James Koh
Special to Yahoo Sports
If you’re here because you’ve followed me on this crazy journey, you all are the Red to my Andy Dufresne. No matter how far I go, you’re always willing to come a little further. I appreciate y’all for that.
But as we embark on this maiden voyage of Koh Knows, just know that I feel like I’ve spent my entire adult life getting right here to Yahoo Sports and I couldn’t be happier to be teaming up with some of my own personal favorite fantasy analysts.
What you’re going to get are some Next Gen Stats, some bad takes and, if you’re lucky, mayyyyybe one solid joke per column.
Alright, with that, let’s talk sleepers
I know Brad Evans is firmly of the thought that “Sleepers” don’t exist anymore. And there’s something to that, but my idea of a sleeper is simply a lesser-known player that is going somewhere past pick-75 or so but could deliver top-20-ish positional value.
So if you’re getting top-25 running back value back on your ninth-round pick, or say, top-30 WR production from your 12th-round pass catcher, I think it’s fair to say that you hit on your sleeper.
Using some aforementioned Next Gen Stats, here are three players I believe have the potential to outperform their current draft prices.
John Brown, Uncle Rico and the Buffalo Bills
The camp reports surrounding Brown have been glowing but what gets me excited are the volume stats that he could potentially gobble up with Josh Allen aka Uncle Rico continually attempting to throw the football over mountains, testing the limits of his deep balls.
Zay Jones of all people led Buffalo receivers in targets, yards, and touchdowns in 2018, posting a 102/652/7 slash line.
Brown is an upgrade from Jones, so it’s a reasonable expectation for the former Raven/Cardinal to eclipse the 100-target threshold as well.
But if we’re talking volume stats, targets are only half the picture. Air yards are equally important and not discussed nearly enough.
If you’re unfamiliar, here’s an explainer of this stat and its importance. But basically, just know that targets are predictive of receptions where air yards are predictive of big plays.
We know eight or more targets per game are great for a receiver; similarly, you’d like your WR1 to see north of 90 air yards per game. Anything over 110 air yards per game is fantastic.
Per Next Gen Stats, Brown averaged 98.8 air yards per game last year with a Ravens team that ran a similar run-heavy offense to what we’re anticipating from Buffalo.
As laid out, six to seven targets per game with 90-110 air yards per contest easily makes Brown a top-25 wide receiver in terms of pure volume.
Brown is a no-brainer draft pick after Round 10 and one that is currently going around the 13th round in 12-team PPR mocks.
(NOTE: For all you Robert Foster truthers, reports indicate John Brown and Cole Beasley are getting a ton of first-team snaps. Foster, meanwhile, is reportedly fighting for reps and may potentially form a mid-tier receiver Voltron alongside Zay Jones and Andre Roberts.)
Donte Moncrief and Air Yards
In Pittsburgh, gone is Antonio Brown, taking with him the fourth-most targets (168) and the fifth-most air yards (1,182) to Oakland.
So who fills this massive volume vacuum? Well, we know JuJu Smith-Schuster should see somewhat of an elevated role, but this passing offense is so prolific (5,008 passing yards, 689 pass attempts in 2018), there is a strong chance another stud could emerge.
Moncrief could be that dude.
Standing at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, this man is a straight-up beast athlete. At the combine, he flashed a 4.40 40-time while also exploding skyward with a 39.5-inch vert. He is a rare combination of size and speed.
Given that, it’s not surprising that Moncrief has been a certifiable deep threat his entire career. Over his last three seasons, he’s averaged about 12.6 air yards per target. That’s in line with other notable X receivers:
Moncrief’s three-year average works out to about 12.6 air yards per target. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the 26-year-old receiver averaged about 6.5 targets and 80-ish air yards per game in 2019. That level of volume puts him in the WR2 mix and his touchdown upside could make him a WR3/FLEX play darling.
Currently going around pick-120, Moncrief is an excellent sleeper to snatch up in the double-digit rounds.
Royce Freeman Stacks Up
No, Brad wasn’t the only fantasy analyst to whiff on Royce Freeman last year. I was big on the Oregon product as well but neither of us could possibly have anticipated the emergence of the 5-foot-8 undrafted dynamo known as Phillip Lindsay.
Freeman saw double-digit carries in just five total games. He was non-existent in the pass game as well, seeing 20 targets in 14 games.
Speaking of, because the team seldom threw him the ball, it seemed to tip play calling. If Freeman was coming in, it was likely a run play.
It helps explain why defenses stacked the box (eight or more defenders) on a whopping 36.14 percent of his carries last year. This was the second-highest rate among qualified running backs, per Next Gen Stats.
Lindsay, by comparison, ran against stacked boxes on just 14.06 percent of his runs, the 14th lowest rate in 2018.
Now, despite the never-ending waves of defenders in front him, Freeman averaged a very respectable 4.0 yards per carry, giving me hope for a revamped 2019.
With Vic Fangio, the Broncos have a tough, defensive-minded head coach, so you figure the team will stay committed to running the ball. I mean, come on, defenses and the run game go together like hot sauce and fried chicken.
Perhaps more exciting is the fact that new offensive coordinator, Rich Scangarello, is a Kyle Shanahan-disciple, having worked with him in both Atlanta and the last couple years in San Francisco as the team’s quarterbacks coach.
Expect Scangarello and Fangio to mask offensive play-calling better, meaning potentially more receptions for Freeman and almost assuredly fewer stacked boxes.
Make no mistake: This should remain a split backfield with Lindsay, but considering the price — a top-100 selection — you could do significantly worse for a running back that could push 25 receptions, 900 total yards with 6-7 total touchdowns.
Other running backs in Freeman’s range include Ronald Jones, Kareem Hunt, Jordan Howard, and LeSean McCoy. All present significantly lower floors, with only Hunt potentially offering higher upside should something happen to Nick Chubb — and only if you can stomach Hunt’s eight-game suspension anchoring your bench.
James Koh is a fantasy football analyst and an award-winning journalist. He’s probably wrong, but you never know. Follow him on Twitter @JamesDKoh.