Houdini's definition of sleeper: When I speak of sleepers, I am looking for players that have a chance to produce major numbers for you, despite their perceived value in most national publications.
Houdini's Sleepers v02
Sleepers…wow I really can’t impress how important it is to grab a sleeper. When I speak of sleepers, I am looking for players that have a chance to produce major numbers for you, despite their perceived value in most national publications. Sleepers can take many forms, from a player who underperformed the previous year to a player that is just never on people’s radar until it is too late because they are overpaying for the previous year’s statistics. This is my list of sleepers for this season.
The quarterback position is one that has gotten stronger and stronger over the last 4 years, and with the return of Peyton Manning the field just got even better. The quarterback position, in my opinion is one that you can and should wait to pick. Last year, I and Pyromaniac.com were all over Matthew Stafford and he was the 10th to 11th QB off the boards in most leagues and performed as the 4th best Fantasy QB on the season. This season there will be no value with Stafford as he projects to go in the 2nd round in most drafts. Think about the depth at this position: Rodgers, Brady, Brees, Stafford, E. Manning, Romo, P. Manning and Cam Newton. The quarterback position has become what the running back position was 15 years ago when every team had a main back and there was no RBBC. Even after those 8 quarterbacks I think there are 4 real good sleepers at the position this year, which is why I will wait to draft a quarterback with no need to overpay.
Matt Ryan – Matt Ryan jumps off the page to me as a perfect sleeper for this season. He is the example of the player who just gets overlooked. Last season was dominated by huge performances at the quarterback position and Ryan posted some nice numbers with 4,177 yards passing, 29 TD’s and 12 INT’s, but compared to Brady, Rodgers and Brees, those numbers are under the radar. Now consider that Julio Jones, an ultimate game-breaker, is entering his second season and is healthy and showing everyone in the preseason that he is going to make his mark this season. Ryan also has the benefit of arguably the best hands in the game with Roddy White. White and a healthy Jones will give Ryan weapons that will fit in well the more pass oriented offense of new OC Dirk Koetter. Then you have to factor in that Michael Turner has another year on him and looks like a candidate to have a major drop off in production, which would mean that the Falcons may rely more on their passing attack and Ryan will be the benefactor. I expect Ryan to improve on last year’s stats and I am projecting 4,500 yards, 35 TD and 15 INT. He will be on the board late for you especially since he is not a running quarterback, but look at his weapons and look for a steal after the big names are gone.
Philip Rivers – Philip Rivers was the 5th quarterback taken in most drafts last year, and that was where the experts thought the tier ended. Rivers had a tough year with the interceptions and threw 20 last year. He did manager to throw 27 TD and threw for 4,624 yards, not too bad. Everyone is going to say with Vincent Jackson gone his numbers will go down. Really? With Jackson in and out of the lineup Rivers has thrown for over 4,000 yards 4 years in a row and the last two over 4,500 yards. Then you need to look at those interceptions and decide if that is going to happen again, or if it was an anomaly. I believe the latter is more accurate when you look at Rivers’ history. Rivers threw 33 INT over the previous 3 seasons total and I expect him to be in the 10-13 range this year. Rivers is also going to get a lot more opportunities to throw at the beginning of the season with the injury to Ryan Matthews. Rivers is a competitor and he is the happiest guy that he has a healthy Antonio Gates to throw the ball to. No one will be taking Rivers early this year, especially the people he burned last year, but that means he is a great sleeper value as he could still be on the board as the 10th or 11th QB.
Jay Cutler – Cutler has been a fantasy disappointment ever since he left Denver. The Bears paid a lot to get Cutler and have done nothing to give him weapons to take advantage of his strengths, until now. Cutler is getting reunited with his good friend Brandon “two faces” Marshall along with his QB coach from Denver, Jeremy Bates. Then the Bears gave Cutler more help through the draft with 6’ 3” 216 pound Alshon Jeffery. Cutler threw for over 4,500 yards in Denver and will have the chance to do that this year in Chicago. Cutler is a more polished quarterback, since he spent so much time learning and running for his life in Chicago, and finally has receivers to complement his talent. Forte is a great receiver out of the backfield and Devin Hester is finally going to be used more sparingly and effectively. Cutler is being viewed as the 12-14th best QB and he legitimately has a chance to be a top 10 fantasy QB by the end of this season.
The running back position is one that is very top heavy and then there are a lot of guys that all look the same on paper. Here are a few guys that will not be drafted as starters for teams, but could be before the season is over.
Doug Martin – Martin was selected in the first round by the Buccaneers in the first round this year with the expectation that he would be able to step in and be a factor right away. The competition in front of him, LeGarrette Blount, does not have the confidence of the front office or coaching staff, or they would not have drafted Martin in the first round. Blount has a history of fumbling and that will lose you a job faster than anything else as a running back. Martin has carried to main workload in the preseason and looks like he will be the one who gets the most opportunities on a run heavy team.
Daniel Thomas – Daniel Thomas was hampered by a hamstring injury for most of his rookie season. He was supposed to be lead back in the offense, but when he went down Reggie Bush stepped up. Bush is going to be the reason that Thomas drops in your drafts. Let everyone else overpay for Bush and you can sneak in late and take Thomas who should finish with better stats at the end of the year. Reggie Bush has proved one thing in his NFL career; he cannot carry the ball inside the tackles. Thomas is a bigger back who looks for contact and delivers punishment to those that tackle him. Bush is not going to see as many carries this year because Thomas is the load back in this offense as well as the goal line back. When Thomas was at his most healthy in weeks 2 and 3 last year he posted 202 yards on 41 carries for 4.9 yards per attempt. As long as he is healthy he will be a great sleeper this year.
Stevan Ridley – Ridley is going to be given the chance to be the starter for the New England Patriots with the departure of “The Law Firm”. The competition will come in the form of Shane Vereen, but Vereen is dealing with a foot injury and Ridley has taken advantage in the preseason and will be the starter for the Pats. Ridley is going to be used as both a rusher and a receiver as was evidenced by his performance in the Patriots 3rd preseason game where he had 16 rushes for 87 yards with a TD and 3 receptions for 17 yards in three quarters. With all the weapons around him, Ridley should be able to find some big holes in the defense. Ridley has a chance to impact the fantasy world this season.
With the NFL becoming a passing league there have become fewer and fewer sure fire number one receivers, but it also means there is a lot more depth at the position than ever before and there are some good sleepers . A key to winning your league will be getting quality receivers at the WR3 and WR4 for flex weeks especially if they have the potential to score like a WR2.
Robert Meachem – Robert Meachem is on the move this year from the Saints to the Chargers which I believe will prove to be a great move for him. Meachem has all the talent in the world and can make great catches and has very good speed. He was mired in a very crowded receiving corps in New Orleans and had a hard time getting targets, which will not be a problem in San Diego with the departure of Vincent Jackson. There is also no competition for the starting spot with the injury to Vincent Brown in the preseason. Meachem is going to have to learn to be more of an every down player and though he has the tendency to take off a few plays I think having Philip Rivers in his ear should help correct that problem. Look for Meachem to take a huge step this year with more opportunities and a value if he slips into the 6th round or beyond.
Torrey Smith – Torrey Smith showed everyone last year that he is a home run threat with his straight up the field speed. As a rookie he finished with 50 receptions for 841 yards and 16.8 yards per catch average. Smith is the dynamic receiver on the Ravens and will continue to pressure defenses this year, but I expect him to have better chemistry with Flacco and having Ray Rice will always allow for big plays in the play action game. If you are in a league that rewards for longer TD’s you will want to be targeting Smith. Smith only had 2 games last year where he posted more than 100 yards receiving but in those 2 weeks he had 11 catches for 317 yards and 4 TD. As he develops you can expect more 100 yard games and he should finish with 70 receptions for 1000+ yards this year.
Brandon LaFell – Brandon LaFell is entering his third season this year and has the opportunity to make the classic jump as a third year receiver. LaFell is going to be under the radar as most people will be focusing on Steve Smith after his resurgence last season. Lafell increased his numbers significantly from his rookie season and finished with 36 catches for 613 yards and 3 TD’s. LaFell had an impressive 17 yards per catch average on the season but only posted one 100 yard receiving game. LaFell should slip in most drafts because those numbers don’t jump out at you, but let’s consider the situation he is in this year. Cam Newton will be entering his second season and should be a better passer this season. Steve Smith is the one who is going to draw the double coverage leaving LaFell and his speed one on one in most cases. I expect him to be available past round 10 in most drafts and that would be a steal if he finishes as I project with a 1,000 yards and around 60 receptions.
Pierre Garcon – Garcon has slipped in some drafts and if he does he will be a steal for you. Garcon has never had a 1,000 yard receiving season, even with a healthy Peyton Manning , which is why there are many non believers in Garcon with rookie RG III throwing him the pill. The fact is Garcon has loads of talent and has proved in his career he can make the most ridiculous catches look easy, but has also dropped the easy ones. The latter point could be why he did not see as many targets from Peyton. Garcon is clearly the best receiver in Washington and RG III will look to him early and often (think of Steve Smith and Cam Newton last season). Garcon will make an impact in both standard and PPR leagues and he should have no problem surpassing the 1,000 yard mark and setting career highs across the board.
At the tight end position this season I feel it is very similar to the quarterback situation as there is more depth at this position than ever before. Gronkowski and Graham are well ahead at the top, but if you miss on one of them don’t worry and feel like you need to jump and grab the next tight end as there will be some good talent available late, and if you don’t get one of the top ones, I would wait until later and grab two tight ends back to back in rounds 9 and 10. Here are some of the tight ends that make me feel confident in that strategy.
Brandon Pettigrew – Brandon Pettigrew finished outside the top 10 of scoring for tight ends even though he had 83 receptions on the season. Being part of the Lions offense that spreads defenses gives him many opportunities to make plays. The disappointment last season was that he only mustered 777 yards on those 83 receptions with his longest play going for 27 yards. He is a big bodied tight end, but he does not have the game breaking ability of Graham or Gronkowski, but he should become a bigger weapon as the Lions continue to spread defenses out and having Stafford at quarterback is a plus. Megatron presents an issue as he does steal red zone opportunities as he rightly should, but Pettigrew should be able to improve on his numbers from last season. Pettigrew should continue to see a lot of short targets to take pressure off the running backs who are constantly injured and who will most likely be without Jahvid Best for the entire season.
Jared Cook – Jared Cook may be the tight end that I am most excited about this season. Cook made a huge jump last year when you look at his season totals compared to 2010, although it was not felt in fantasy as he did most of his damage in the last 3 weeks of the season. Those 3 weeks are what has me so interested in grabbing him this year. In those 3 games he had 21 receptions for 335 yards and a TD. Cook was able to raise his yards per catch average for the third year in a row and finished the season with 15.5 yards per catch average. Cook will be helped by the return of Kenny Britt who should draw the double coverage and leave Cook alone against linebackers. Cook has the potential to become a 1,000 yard receiver and top 65 receptions next year.
Jermaine Gresham – Jermaine Gresham is entering his third season and has had at least 52 receptions in each season. Gresham was a very consistent tight end last season as he had 4 or more catches in 9 of the 14 games he played in last year. He never had a huge game as he has yet to have a 100 yard receiving game. That said he is part of a young and up and coming offense and with Andy Dalton and AJ Green entering their second seasons there is hope in Cincinnati. Gresham needs to improve on his yards per catch average which was 10.6 last season but he should get more opportunities this season. Gresham should become a bigger part of the offense as they need to help draws attention away from AJ Green and Gresham should be the major benefactor.
Fred Davis – Davis was another under the radar last season and scored like and a demon, but he still may slip in fantasy drafts this season. Davis had career highs with 59 receptions for 796 yards and 3 TD in only 12 games played. RG III will give him better quarterback play than he had last season with Rex Grossman and John Beck. Davis is falling behind names like Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten and he has a chance to be closer to Antonio Gates in stats by the end of the season. If you wait on a tight end Davis is a great option. You would like to see more TD production, but the Redskins are a completely different offense this season and Davis should see more opportunities in the redzone.