This season I’m giving you 10 sleepers. And by sleeper I mean: a player previously unrecognized as a fantasy contributor in 10 team leagues with 16 roster spots. What does that mean? It means I won’t be giving you sleepers like Ryan Grant, Ronnie Brown, Darren McFadden, DeSean Jackson, Devin Hester, Zach Miller, and Matt Cassel – all of which are certainly being undervalued, yes, but all are getting drafted in every single league, some as starters, and many of which either broke out last season, are still very new to the NFL, or have seen success in the past. These are not sleepers, these are undervalued players – the difference is grand. Sleepers, like I mentioned before, are previously unknown performers that could very well break onto the scene like Maurice Jones Drew a few years ago, DeSean Jackson early last year, Marques Colston before that, Pierre Thomas last season, Brandon Jacobs a few years back, and even Matt Cassel and Tyler Thigpen last year. Undrafted players, players out of the 160 list. What is the 160 list? That is the players drafted (on average) in the Top 160 players. Yahoo Fantasy Football keeps track, which is nice, because now I can be sure not to put one of the Top 160 drafted players in my sleeper list.
I’m also dumping the idea of write-ups on all the popular sleepers this season like Earl Bennett (Jay Cutler’s college #1), Mike Walker (the uber-talented and oft-injured 3rd year WR), Pierre Garcon (Peyton’s personal favorite for the #3 role), Shonn Greene (a rookie beast in Jet-land) and Hakeem Nicks (Plaxico’s rookie replacement?).
These are guys I haven’t seen listed as sleepers. I’m picking them out to surprise.
These 10 sleepers will go undrafted in most leagues, but at least half of these 10 will finish the season as a valuable force in fantasy football – so if your league is deep, or you want to take a chance on upside, reach for one of these freebies. Let the games begin!
(And by the way, all these players were selected prior to pre-season action)
Chaz is going to be the top receiver in Oakland. That will, at the very least, make him ownable in most fantasy leagues. He isn’t going to set the world on fire like Lance Moore did early last year, but the Raider WR will catch a fair share of bombs from JaMarcus Russell as every defense in the league puts 8 in the box trying to halt that rushing attack. And why would they give much attention to a guy like Chaz? His name is Chaz. That being said, he’s got tons of speed, solid hands, and has proven the most polished receiver this off season. Zach Miller may be Russell’s favorite target, and he’ll probably be the top fantasy pass catcher in Oakland, but Chaz will be the top receiver in Oak town, and that will make him an asset this season. (60 receptions, 820 yards, 4 TDs)
After an injury filled 2008 (for just about everyone playing in Seattle) the Hawks are ready to turn their fortunes around, gather behind new head coach Jim Mora, and put up points in 2009. Nate Burleson is going to play a huge role in that master plan. Burleson is the most dynamic of all the Seahawk receivers, and that includes big money free agent T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Burleson has always done a lot with his touches, and already he’s being listed ahead of Seattle’s former number one, Deion Branch. That puts Nate and his lime green gloves opposite Housh in what should be a very solid receiving corps in Sea Town. Burleson will benefit from attention paid to Housh, Jim Mora’s love for the play action pass, and defenses focusing in on the run game. Nate is rarely getting drafted in leagues owned by a tiny little percentile of the public, but he’s a starter on a team with a good offense and accurate quarterback. I don’t get it. Seems like a no-brainer to me. (68 receptions, 900 yards, 7 TDs)
To be fair, I’ve always loved the way James Jones plays the game. He’s a beast. He’s a poor-man’s Anquan Boldin – he goes over the middle and takes on tacklers as if he’s hitting them. There have been stories praising his off-season work, his impressive play in camp, and his head coach’s promises to get him more involved. Not a bad turn-around for a guy who basically lost the #3 job to Jordy Nelson last season. On a team full of solid receiving options I thin Jones will have his best season yet. He’s still just a #3, but here’s a guy that could blow up if an injury derails either Donald Driver or Greg Jennings’ this season. There aren’t a lot of #3’s that could come in off the bench and produce like top options, but I believe Jones can do that. Not only that, but he’s a big time red-zone threat and will likely produce enough to be owned in fantasy leagues even without an injury to one of the top guys in GB. Solid now, huge upside. (55 receptions, 640 yards, 6 TDs)
I also liked Laurent when he was a Falcon, but for some reason they dumped the guy and stuck with Michael Jenkins opposite Roddy White. That’s okay, because now Laurent will have a chance to be the receiving red-zone option in St. Louis. Sure, I know what you’re saying, 12 trips to the red-zone all season doesn’t allow for any receiver to be called a red-zone threat. But I think the Rams will be better offensively this season. Not hard to improve on last year, a year in which I thought they were the worst team in football. (Maybe not record-wise, thanks to Detroit – the worst team ever, the Rams slipped by without much mocking from the gallery – but they were BAD) Donnie Avery may be the #1 guy, but Robinson had a clear lead on the #2 job, and Avery going down for a possible 6 week absence only gives Robinson more of a chance to cuddle up to Marc Bulger. And as much as Marc’s been hit, he could use a go-to guy. Robinson is in a great situation for targets, and his talent should prove enough to make him an own-able asset this season. (60 receptions, 700 yards, 5 TDs)
I don’t know why, but I have yet to find a reason to be in love with Cedric Benson as a starting running back, even if it is in Cincinnati. Even so, Benson will never be a burner, never be a game breaking presence that can score anytime he touches the ball. I’m rooting for the guy, yes, but he’ll be a bruiser at the very best, struggling through the bumps and bruises to get 4 yards a carry on a good day. That’s where Bernard Scott comes in. Scott is a burner – both in life and on the football field. The guy has had his fair share of troubles, no doubt about that, which is why the immensely talented runner found himself in Division II, which is why he found himself drafted at the end of the 2nd day, which is why nobody gives him much of a shot to succeed. But look into his game, listen to what his teammates say about him, watch him run, and you’ll start to believe. Some will say that he’s sure to become just another Cincinnati Jail-Bird, but I don’t see it. I see a kid that is going to run into success. His speed and vision had him throwing out college touchdown totals that LenDale White would be proud of. On a team that could use a talented game breaker in the back field, Scott looks to be in line for some nice touches this year. (500 yards rushing, 45 receptions, 400 yards receiving, 6 total touchdowns)
Jamal Lewis is one of three things: either he’s lying on his birth certificate, his legs are twice his actual age, or he’s been in the league for half his adult life. All point to trouble staying healthy this season. Lewis has been a beast. He’s surprised, disappointed, and surprised again – and there’s really no telling what he does this year in an offense that looks anything but impressive, stuck right in the middle of a very tough division with two of the greatest defensive teams the NFL has. But he’s 29 going on 40 and unless he sipped from the golden goblet of youth this off-season, a full load is something he’s terribly unlikely to carry. That leaves room for a talented youngster in Cleveland. And while I’ve always like James Harrison, the former WSU Cougar hasn’t been all that impressive over his career. That leaves room for a bulldozer from Clemson to get some looks in Cleveland’s backfield. The Browns have a solid offensive line, which could be just the thing James Davis needs to succeed. Two years ago, at Clemson, Davis was a beast. People looked at him as a first day pick because of his size, athleticism, and speed. Last year, he struggled behind a mediocre offensive line and lost some of his luster. But word is he’s been great in camp, and I’ve always liked his style. Given a chance, he could be a steal for fantasy owners. (600 yards, 6 TDs – but he could be a second half stud, so pay attention)
Daunte has been big time before, but face it, he’s of the sleeper quality here. He hasn’t had a successful year in quite some time, and he’s just not getting drafted at all. Everyone has given up on Culpepper, everyone besides me. So yeah, I’ll be the guy to tell you “Draft this guy as your back-up instead of Chad Pennington, one of the rookies, or Jake Delhomme.” I may have not ranked him high, but he’s moving up my list. He’s got a great young running back in Kevin Smith. He has one of the most talented receivers I’ve ever seen. The Lions drafted a top-flight TE with great hands in Brandon Petitgrew. Sure, the Lions also drafted Matthew Stafford 1st overall, but I’m willing to bet Culpepper gets the starting job in Detroit, and I’m thinking he pulls a Drew Brees and keeps the job. Pep was an absolute stud for a couple years in Minnesota. Then it rained, and when it rains some guys get drenched, and Pep was one of those guys. But you can’t tell me he lost all his talent. Well you can, but I won’t believe you. Not until I get a chance to see him fail. I picked him last night in one of my drafts, he’s my back-up, and worst case scenario – he’ll be relegated to back-up duties and I’ll drop him, but I only wasted a 14th round pick on the guy anyway. I’ll pick up some other QB and hope he can keep my bye week warm when my starter goes down. On the upside, Pep gets to run a talented group of young players in Detroit, and breaks the 20 TD mark for the first time in a long time. I’ll take my chances. (3400 yards, 22 TDs, 240 rushing yards, 2 TDs)
Everyone picked this cat to beat out Kevin Walter last season, but injuries and the fact that Walter is better than your average white guy sent Jones to the showers. But he’s still very talented, and lots of hard work, effort, and commitment has him rocking summer camps. Jones has the talent to be a #2, and you never know, he might get his chance. Andre Johnson hasn’t been the beacon of health in his short career, and Jones could be his fill in. Right off the bat I see Jones getting in and making things happen as a #3, and I’m telling you, his upside is better. I’m not projecting great numbers from Jones, but if he puts it all together, and gets a chance somewhere down the line, he could put up these kinds of totals in 6 or 7 weeks. Might be worth a chance in deep leagues. (40 receptions, 550 yards, 4 TDs)
I may be looking in the past here, where I saw a great running back with speed, size, and super vision coming out of Minnesota. I thought he’d be perfect for Mike Shanahan’s scheme in Denver, but he got drafted by the Patriots, a team looking for a guy to replace the aging Corey Dillon. It’s been a few years since then, and still, Maroney’s best season for the Patriots was in back-up duty to Dillon. But the talent is there. He’s gone through lots of injuries and had his psyche hurt a few times. He, undoubtedly, has the most upside of any Patriot back right now. Sammy Morris has been successful, Fred Taylor has had one of the more successful careers amongst all RBs, and Maroney has just been a bust so far. But I’m telling you, a very late pick for a talented back in an offense that will likely run the ball more than in years past has a good ring to it. The upside is grand. The downside is a waiver wire move. He’s worth the risk. (1000 yards, 8 TDs)
As much as I’m hoping Julius Jones is allowed to run the ball 20 times a game this season, nobody has really given him that opportunity, ever. TJ Ducket? – come one, get serious here. That leaves Justin Forsett, a guy that might just get the Warrick Dunn role in a Seahawks backfield that Jim Mora is trying to figure out. Jones will get a couple games to show he can be the man, and his 4.4 yards a carry last season makes him a nice sleeper candidate as well (but he’s ranked too high to make my sleeper list) so why not throw out Forsett’s name. Because even though he’s listed as the #3, he’ll certainly hold more value than T.J. Duckett. Keep an eye on Forsett, draft him as a last round sleeper in deep leagues, and as soon as Jones has some trouble, or even sooner than that, he might get a chance to be more than just a change of pace back, and Forsett might be an absolute steal for you. (600 rushing yards, 400 receiving yards, 4 TDs)