What is a sleeper in fantasy football? Quite simply, it’s any player who outperforms expectations. FFToolbox.com defines a sleeper in their glossary section as:
A draft term for a NFL player that an owner believes is going to have a breakout season. These are usually players who are not rookies, but they can be. For the most part they are not well known NFL players. For example, Edgerrin James would not have been a sleeper for the 1999 season, because many people knew he was going to have a good to very good season. However, Kurt Warner would have been because very few people expected much performance from him, yet he was the leading player in most leagues in 1999. Usually sleepers are drafted in the middle to late rounds of a draft.
On our very own Vikings squad, several players are "sleeper" candidates: Kyle Rudolph, Christian Ponder and maybe even Jerome Simpson. None of those players are expected to finish in the top 10 at their respective positions, and none of them should be drafted as starters in fantasy football. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have potential. The expectation is for Ponder to improve upon last year, but not even crack the Top 20. But what if he improves a lot more than people think? Is it worth it to take the risk to draft Ponder on the hope that he exceeds expectations? Well, if you draft him late enough as a backup with upside potential, then yes!
It’s with that in mind that I’ve decided to identify a few players at each position as sleepers in fantasy football that you can consider targeting in your fantasy drafts. This is my last "Fantasy Football Analysis" article this summer, so for anyone that has read them all, thank you! I hope they’ve been informative, and as fun to read as they have been to write. So, read-on after the jump for my 2012 fantasy sleeper picks.
If you review my Cumulative Rankings post, you’ll find a list of the Top 20 QBs. There’s one guy on that list that I personally think is ranked way too low, and therefore has sleeper potential: Carson Palmer. Palmer is ranked 18th on the list, below guys like Jay Cutler, Andy Dalton and Josh Freeman. He came out of retirement last year in a blockbuster trade between the Raiders and the Bengals, and late in the year he actually had a pretty decent 1/3 season with Oakland. The Raiders are stocked with fast, young receivers, and if Matthew Berry of ESPN fame is to be believed when he said:
From Nov. 6, which was the first game that Palmer started for the Raiders last season, he was top-10 in the NFL in passing attempts, completions, completion percentage, yards and yards per attempt. In fact, he was first in pass plays of more than 25 yards. And 11th in touchdowns. New offensive coordinator Gregg Knapp loves short passes and crossing routes and, luckily, Palmer has two burners in Moore and Heyward-Bey, along with a hopefully healthy Darren McFadden. Palmer could pad those yardage totals without throwing as many of those interception-making deep passes that he loves.
…then I like Palmer to significantly beat his 18th ranking. I would take him ahead of Dalton, Freeman, RGIII and even Jay Cutler. Carson Palmer is a really good backup QB option with starter upside and makes for a great sleeper pick.
Of the QBs NOT on the Top 20 ranking, I’d take a look at the following guys as sleepers:
-Andrew Luck : Could he actually have a better fantasy season as a rookie than Cam Newton did last year?
-Christian Ponder: After one preseason game, are we ready to drink the purple kool-aid and trust the coaches and players when they tell us he has dramatically improved?
-Alex Smith: Even though he’s actually 28 years old, it’s the first time he’s had a 2nd year and offseason with the same head coach and offensive coordinator. Could he progress like a younger version of himself should have, and has he hit his ceiling yet?
Starting with the Cumulative Top 25 RB list, there is one name on there that most view as a #2 running back (or even just a flex-play), but that I think could have sleeper potential and turn out points like a #1 running back: Benjarvus Green-Ellis. The Law Firm (as he is called by us fantasy aficionados), was let go by New England in free agency, and picked up by Cincinnati when they let Cedric Benson go. He is ranked 22nd on the list, which is way too low IMO. If you remember my RB analysis post from earlier in the summer, you’ll remember that last year, Cedric Benson was actually tied for 5th place for most carries among running backs last year. Even though Benson wasn’t very effective as a runner , they kept giving him the ball and the Bengals were a "running team" having the 10th most rushing attempts in the NFL last season. Sure Dalton and Green are expected to take a step forward in their sophomore seasons (thereby improving the Bengals passing attack), but their coaching staff is still largely the same, and there isn’t anybody else to challenge Green-Ellis for carries aside from Benard Scott, who was never a threat to Benson in the 3 years both were in Cincy together.
Of the running backs NOT on the Top 25 list, I’d look at the following guys as sleepers:
C.J. Spiller: He showed at the end of 2012 he could carry the load, but will he cut into Fred Jackson’s carries, and can F-Jax stay healthy?
Kevin Smith: He’ll be the starter during the first two weeks, and if he shows enough, will he be able to retain his status as starter when Mikel Leshoure comes back from suspension?
Donald Brown: Now in his 3rd year, he’s the starter in Indy, and who else will compete with him now that Joseph Addai is gone?
Mike Goodson: He replaces the departed Michael Bush. Will Goodson have a similar role as Bush, and can McFadden actually stay on the field all year?
Again, looking at the Cumulative Top 25 WR ranking, there are two names (which I’ve highlighted before) that I think will outperform expectations: Brandon Lloyd and Percy Harvin. Lloyd is ranked 22nd and Harvin is ranked 17th, both behind guys like Dez Bryant, Marques Colston and Mike Wallace. I’ve mentioned plenty about Lloyd before, but it bears repeating. Lloyd is once again reunited with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, and now has Tom Brady throwing him the ball. He has been productive in fantasy when McDaniels is his OC, and that was with some pretty bad QBs (Tebow, Orton, Bradford). Yes Wes Welker is around, but if Randy Moss 2007 is Lloyd's ceiling (18 pts/game) and Deion Branch 2010 is his floor (8 pts/game), then I’ll gladly take the upside. Lloyd has averaged 13.1 and 8.4 fantasy points per game the past two seasons. So, even if he is a shadow of Moss and averages, let’s say 10 points/game, that would put him in the conversation for Top 10 in most seasons.
As for Harvin, I like what Matthew Berry had to say:
Call me nutty, but you know what I like? Crazy-fast wideouts who get to have the ball in their hands a lot. Once Christian Ponder took over in Week 7, Harvin lead all wide receivers in offensive touches, with 100. Second-most was Wes Welker ... with 74! Harvin finished the year as the eighth-best fantasy wide receiver and yet is going outside the top 20, well behind the other big "breakout" guys from last season, Victor Cruz and Jordy Nelson.
I think that Harvin will be one of Ponder’s go-to guys, and our offense isn’t dramatically different now than it was at the end of 2011. We have a different TE make-up, and a re-tooled O-Line, but the skill positions are largely the same, save a swap of Berrian for Simpson. Oh, and we still have Musgrave running the show with Ponder, Peterson and Percy. I think Harvin could have at least as good a fantasy year as 2011, if not better, especially if he is utilized as a running back like he was at the end of the year in 2011.
After that, here are a few other sleepers that weren’t on the initial Top 25 List:
-Eric Decker: Will it be Decker or Thomas that Manning favors?
-Robert Meachem: Can this free agent signing replace Vincent Jackson?
-Pierre Garcon: Santana Moss seems to have lost a step. Will RGIII turn to Garcon?
-Denarius Moore: He has elite speed and turned in some monster fantasy games last year. Will Palmer make him his go-to guy?
-Titus Young: Will teams let Young (or maybe Pettigrew) run free as they focus on stopping Megatron?
-Brandon LaFell: He showed some promise as a rookie, but now Legedu Naanee is gone in Carolina. If Steve Smith loses a step, maybe LaFell will make the sophomore jump with Newton?
-Keshawn Martin: He’s currently #3 in Houston, but if Andre Johnson misses time, can Kevin Walter hold down the fort alone?
-Any St. Louis Receiver (Quick, Amendola, Givens, Alexander, Salas): Who will become Sam Bradford’s favorite target?
-Kendall Wright: With Kenny Britt unlikely to start in 2012 (or maybe the rest of the season), after Nate Washington, Wright is the guy.
-Leonard Hankerson/Josh Morgan: Sure Moss and Garcon are there, but one of these two has a good shot for some fantasy action with RGIII as well.
In looking over the Cumulative Top 20 Tight Ends, our very own Kyle Rudolph stands out to me as the biggest sleeper. He’s ranked 18th on the list, but he will surely exceed that ranking by season’s end. As DN user curvespace said in the first Preseason Game open thread,
"Rudolph's hands are made of velvet and kitten dreams."
He just doesn’t drop the ball much, and he is poised for a break-out year as Ponder’s security blanket. He has the size and the hands to be a match-up problem for defensive coordinators too. And with Shiancoe and Kleinsasser gone, and an oft-injured John Carlson as his only competition, the sky is the limit IMO.
There aren’t too many options outside the Top 20, but here are a few names to hold onto as sleepers, especially as you watch the waiver wire:
It’s been a blast sharing my fantasy analysis with everybody this off-season, so thanks for reading. And for those of you in Purpledork’s fantasy league, try not to use all this info against me. :P