When making out a list of fantasy football sleepers, it’s always hard to define what the term “sleeper” means. Some fantasy owners might only mean someone you draft in the last few rounds who contributes or who you can start every week, while others are looking for something better defined as “value picks”. In this case, people searching for a sleeper pick is looking for players who’ll outperform their average draft position, and “deep sleepers” become what the purist fantasy football owner would consider a sleeper selection. This latter definition is the position most fantasy football magazines take.
Take the quarterback position, for example. The NFL only has 32 of these jobs, and most QBs are pretty well hyped, at least in their home market. It’s hard to say any of these players are really sleepers, because we all know who these guys are. But you’ll find a number of quarterbacks every year who aren’t highly touted at the start of the season, but who perform well above their draft status. Take a look at Josh Freeman last year. Any serious NFL fan knew who Josh Freeman was, but he wasn’t considered much of a fantasy option during fantasy drafts. At a position that doesn’t have many sleepers, I’d call him a sleeper for 2010.
So I’ll post some players who aren’t highly touted right now, or whom you might have forgotten since the 2011 NFL Draft. Then I’ll post value picks. Finally, I’ll post a list of handcuff running backs I feel it’s essential fantasy owners to have on their team (if they have the starter). Along the way, I’ll post comments on select players. Many of those without comments have detailed writeups on their 2011 position pages, so to read more about these choices, go to Quarterbacks 2011, Running Back 2011, Wide Receiver 2011, Tight End 2011, and Defense 2011 pages found along the right side of this page.
Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals – The only rookie to consider for redraft leagues, unless you think Cam Newton completely turns around the 1-15 Carolina Panthers this year. I don’t.
Colin Kaepernick, QB, San Francisco 49ers – Eventually, the Niners will remember they have Alex Smith at quarterback and probably give this kid a shot.
Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee Titans – Keep an eye on Matt Hasselbeck’s back. He’s still a solid quarterback when healthy, but that’s not nearly as often as it once was.
Colt McCoy, QB, Cleveland Browns – Remember the Browns beat the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots in back-to-back weeks in 2010 with Colt McCoy at quarterback. The kid appears to be a winner.
Kevin Kolb, QB, Arizona Cardinals
Donovon McNabb, QB, Minnesota Vikings
Matt Hasselback, QB, Tennessee Titans
Daniel Thomas, RB, Miami Dolphins
Roy Helu, RB, Washington Redskins
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks – He’s had a year in the system and there’s not a whole lot of competition for carries. If you want someone drafted outside the Top 25 or 30 running backs drafted who could perform 10-15 spots higher, Marshawn Lynch is about as good of a pick as any. The Seahawks brought in Robert Gallery (primarily a run blocker) and Zach Miller (a good run-blocking tight end) from the Raiders, so Lynch’s blocking up front should improve somewhat. Draft Marshawn Lynch when things get ugly at the running back position, not when you’ll have to rely on this pick.
Michael Bush, RB, Oakland Raiders – Michael Bush has been waiting in the wings for years, and in 2010 Bush finally showed he’s an NFL runner capable of big stats. Bush only produced if Darren McFadden, a breakout player in 2010, gets injured. That remains a possibility. Darren McFadden is tall and thin (for the position), runs upright, and is going to take his share of hits. I still compare McFadden most to Robert Smith of the Minnesota Vikings years ago and, like Smith, he’s probably going to have injury issues much of his career as an every-down back. That means a talented backup behind him is always worth drafting.
Ryan Williams, RB, Arizona Cardinals
Beanie Wells, RB, Arizona Cardinals – Eventually, Ken Whisenhunt is going to find a running back to rely on. With Kevin Kolb in town and after having lost Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston in the last calendar year, the Cards are set to emphasize the run more than in the past to protect their new future at QB. Beanie Wells has gotten rave reviews for his conditioning and offseason workouts, possibly motivated by the drafting of Ryan Williams. I’m saying either Chris Wells or Ryan Williams has solid fantasy stats this year. Choose accordingly. My suggested strategy is to let Wells go off the board (assuming he’s drafted first) and then take Williams as an upside pick in the middle rounds, but if Wells slips into the 6th round or later, take him as a value pick.
Bernard Scott, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
Ben Tate, RB, Houston Texans
Ricky Williams, RB, Baltimore Ravens – If an injury happens to Ray Rice, Ricky Williams suddenly becomes the starting running back on one of the league’s contenders. Keep that in mind in the late rounds of draft day.
Knowshon Moreno, RB, Denver Broncos – Knowshon Moreno has been mostly a disappointment in his young NFL career, but Moreno had his moments in his 2nd season. Now along comes John Fox. From Stephen Davis to Deangelo Williams to Jonathan Stewart, John Fox is known for feeding the ball to running backs. And unlike in Carolina, Knowshon doesn’t have that natural competition for carries. While Fox could find someone on the roster to split carries and create a platoon running back situation, his history in Carolina doesn’t dictate that’s going to be the case. Remember how he rode Stephen Davis. While I assume John Fox may have learned a lesson from Davis’s quick wear-out, that doesn’t mean he has the horses to implement an RBBC or platoon in 2011. For one year, he may ride Knowshon Moreno, which means he’s a sleeper option in a redraft league.
Demarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Lonyae Miller, RB, Dallas Cowboys – 230 pounds and getting praise by the coaches. Only consider Miller if Tashard Choice gets waived or traded, as certain rumors in Dallas suggest. If Tashard Choice is still on the roster at the end of camp and Felix Jones and Demarco Murray are relatively healthy, disregard this advice, because Miller will go to the practice squad.
Brandon Jacobs, RB, New York Giants – Brandon Jacobs once was a true fantasy sleeper. Then Jacobs was a solid starting RB, and then a disappointing runner drafted in the high rounds. Now he’s back to a sleeper selection. Ahmad Bradshaw took over the starting spot last year and looked excellent, but it’s still up in the air (as of this writing) whether Bradshaw returns to the Giants or re-signs with someone else. That means there’s a chance Brandon Jacobs suddenly becomes the Giants’ starting RB again, running behind one of the best offensive lines in football. Keep an eye on this developing situation and draft accordingly.
Andre Roberts, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Lance Moore, WR, New Orleans Saints
Nate Burleson, WR, Detroit Lions
Steve Breaston, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
Jordan Shipley, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Kevin Ogletree, WR, Dallas Cowboys
AJ Brown, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Greg Little, WR, Cleveland Browns
John Baldwin, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
Titus Young, WR, Detroit Lions
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense/Special Teams
Dallas Cowboys Defense/Special Teams
Houston Texans Defense/Special Teams
Sleepers Who Aren’t Sleepers – Value Picks
The following list of players aren’t what I’d call sleepers, but they are guys I expect to outperform where they’re drafted. Since that’s what fantasy owners are often looking for when searching for sleepers (value or bargain picks), I wanted a short list of these.
Percy Harvin, WR, Minnesota Vikings – Santana Moss rejuvenated his career last year with Donovon McNabb in Washington. Sidney Rice is gone to Seattle. Both of those facts tell me Percy Harvin should have a lot of value this year. Remember, this is his 3rd season, when receivers often break-out. Also, Harvin changed treatments for his migraine issues and claims they are a thing of the past–or at least a lot more manageable.
Visanthe Shiancoe, TE, Minnesota Vikings - It’s the same thinking here. McNabb and Brent Celek were huge two years ago. McNabb got Chris Cooley back in the mix last year, after an injury-plagued 2009. Donovon McNabb always threw to his tight ends in Philly (perhaps because the receivers sucked early in his years), so he knows how to check down to the big guy. Shiancoe is one of the better tight ends McNabb has had access to, so expect him to rely heavily on Shiancoe.
Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers
Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys
Matt Schaub, QB, Houston Texans
Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions – It’s a good year for QBs named “Matt” in the NFL–what can I say?
Josh Freeman, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens
LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas Diego Chargers
Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers
Shonn Greene, RB, New York Jets
LaGarrette Blount, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans
Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions
Roddy White, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
Mike Williams, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Kenny Britt, WR, Tennessee Titans - Watch his legal issues to make sure he doesn’t miss significant time.
Lance Kendricks, TE, St. Louis Rams (deep sleeper)
John Phillips, TE, Dallas Cowboys (deep sleeper)
Dallas Clark/Jacob Tamme
Top Value Picks in Fantasy Drafts
Again, these are not sleepers by any means, but they are players I think will outperform their draft status. If they happen to be mid-1st rounders, that means I think they could perform like a Top 3 pick. If they are going in the 3rd round of drafts, then I think they could perform like a 1st or 2nd round value. I think you get the point.
Top Handcuff Running Backs
Javon Ringer, RB, Tennesse Titans – You’re crazy this year if you have Chris Johnson and don’t handcuff him to Javon Ringer. If you draft CJ, make certain you draft Ringer when the backup runners start to fly off the board in the 7th, 8th, and 9th rounds. It might be a useless pick, but several reasons exist why you need this insurance policy: heavy workload and long holdout chief among them.
Mike Tolbert, RB, San Diego Chargers – Don’t be fooled by Tolbert’s stats from 2010. The Chargers are devoted to Ryan Mathews and, injuries asise, Tolbert’s fantasy role shouuld be greatly diminished. Only draft Mike Tolbert anywhere near the top of the draft as a handcuff for Mathews, or if you have absolutely no faith Mathews stays healthy.
James Starks, RB, Green Bay Packers - It’s starting to look like a real RBBC is developing here.
Tashard Choice, RB, Dallas Cowboys – I’m not as certain about this one as at the start of training camp (less than 2 weeks ago). The current Cowboys coaching staff (Jason Garrett) just doens’t like Choice and there are rumors he’ll be shopped at the end of camp. Stories are starting to surface he might be waived outright in lieu of Lonyae Miller and Phillip Tanner, who are each getting talked up. Pay special attention to “Lonyae Miller”. The point being, Felix Jones is often injured. Demarco Murray was often-injured in college and came into camp nursing an injury–and hasn’t got on the field yet. Whoever the Cowboys #3 running back is at the end of camp, you need to circle on your list, because he has a significant chance of contributing somewhere down the line this year. You might have to be patient, but someone like Lonyae Miller could be a deep, deep sleeper.
Isaac Redman, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers