A starting Lineup of Fantasy Sleepers

While doing research…. OK, while obsessing over fantasy football, the most common question I’m asked, and I see asked to others is…. “Who are the best sleepers?”

That’s a very tough question.  Lets start by defining sleepers, a few definitions of what a sleeper is:

  1. Somebody who should go in the 14th round that you take a flyer on in the 13th expecting a possible break out year.
  2. A completely unknown player, perhaps the two of you went to high school together, and so you pick him up knowing no one else will.
  3. A formerly fantasy relevant player that you expect to have a come back year.
  4. Finally, A player that has been written off, and thus you are able to draft at below market value (MJD this year, sure its the second round but still a sleeper pick for a #1 quality running back).

All of the above can technically be called sleepers, the basic point of the term is to describe a player that will produce higher than players drafted ahead of him, thus getting good value for your pick.  Each year the NFL Preseason is a buzz with players that should be sleepers, last year the big guy was Danny Amendola in St. Louis, players that have over performed in the 3rd and 4th quarters of meaningless games and because of that are expected to perform the same way when the season starts.  Problem with that is they are no longer playing against no name defenses with little experience or talent. 

(Why Preseason Football Rocks)

For the sake of this article, I’m going to focus on players that you can take with the very last pick in the draft, pick 160 in ten team leagues, that I believe can still produce at a resonable level.  I’ve arranged my starting lineup of sleepers (calm down, I’m not recommending you start any of these guys week 1 and obviously not this line up.  Please kindly follow my premise)

 QB: Tim TebowNew York Jets – WHAT!, that’s right, Tim Tebow.  Mark Sanchez has not looked good at all this off-season, and although Tebow can not throw the ball all that well, he can run, and run hard.  The Jets, if Tebow starts, have the perfect collection of Wide Receivers to match Tebows strengths.  Denver had a hard time using Tebow as a passer because they wanted him to throw it like he did at Florida, with big down-field throws to open up running lanes.  What the Jets will be able to do is quick short passes with agile receivers, this will move linebackers and safeties to the outside of the field, opening up running lanes for Shonn Green and Tebow up the middle.  Its not a traditional NFL offense, but its what will work with the players they have, and I think Rex Ryan knows it, and that is why the Jets are keeping their Wildcat formations so close to the Vest.

RB: Ronnie Hillman – Denver Broncos – The number one rushing team in the league last year was the Denver Broncos.  Yes a lot of that did come from the previously mentioned Tim Tebow, however the line has not changed and can still maul up front in run blocking.  Willis McGahee will be the primary 1st and 2nd down back, but Hillman has game.  Ronnie Hillman has speed, great hands, above average vision and most importantly a lot of heart.  He will make an excellent 3rd down back, and with McGahee’s injury concerns, Hillman makes for an excellent handcuff pick.

RB: LaMichael James – San Francisco 49ers – With the injury concerns to Frank Gore, the age of Brandon Jacobs, the un-realized talent of Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon, James may just have a chance to make some big plays.  LaMichael James came out of Oregon with the label of a “third down back” and nothing more, but people did not see his power while running in Eugene.  James has great hands, exceptional vision and a ton of heart.  His skill set is not that of an every down back, but I can see the 49ers using him in a similar way to how New Orleans uses Darren Sproles, both in the back field and lined up out wide.  He will be put in a lot of motioning formations to get him open in space and he knows how to make people miss.

WR: Jordan Shipley – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Shipley made my list of possible sleepers last season, and his preseason looked great, however he tore his ACL in his left knee in week 2 last season.  Shipley is healthy now and in a place where he can make plays.  Tampa Bay has opened up their offense and added a quality number one receiver in Vincent Jackson, and a in shape and healthy Mike Williams on the other side, leaves the slot open for Shipley to slide in.  Shipley is a crisp route runner with superb hands and a insatiable hunger to compete.  If, and its a big if, Josh Freeman can regain his accuracy from 2010, Shipley could be in position to catch 75 balls, 800 yards, and 9 Touch Downs.

WR: Mohamed Sanu – Cincinnati Bengals – Last year the Bengals 2nd best receiver tore his ACL in his left knee (look up), because of that the Bengals added depth at Wide Receiver in the draft.  Sanu comes in as easily the second most talented receiver in the Bengals locker room, a big, physical receiver with tremendous hands and an excellent work ethic, Sanu should slide nicely into the slot for the Bengals.  He does not have great speed, but has excellent body control, wing span, and hands.  Sanu’s prospects as an outside receiver are questionable because of his lack of top end speed, but the excellent body control and ability to adjust to the ball in the air reminds me a lot of former Panthers and Bears receiver Muhsin Muhammad, and I think in time he will put up 70 catch, 1,000 yard seasons, but this year, I’ve got Sanu at 50 receptions, 650 yards and 7 Touch Downs.

TE: Kellen Davis – Chicago Bears – The Bears have developed a high power offense this offseason.  They added Brandon Marshall to stretch the field, and resigned Matt Forte to control the ground game, the Bears are going to get yardage.  Now when the get strapped down in the opponents red zone and teams are rolling double coverage to Marshall, that leaves 6 foot 7 inch, 267 pound Kellen Davis in the middle of the field for the scores.  Davis is more than just a brick wall of a human being, he’s got wheels, he ran a sub 4.6 forty at the Combine and has been working on his route tree all offseason.  When Cutler can’t get the ball deep to Marshall, Hester, or new rookie Alshon Jeffery, Kellen Davis is going to be a viable option as a check down.

Flex: Kyle RudolphMinnesota Vikings – Alright, this should not really be considered a sleeper, but he is currently being drafted in just under 10% of fantasy football leagues.  Rudolph has a wing span like a California Condor and his hands maybe the second best for a tight end in the NFL (Tony Gonzalez, you’re old but you still got hands).  Rudolph will be one of two legitimate targets in Minnesota with Percy Harvin being the only other man to throw to.  The talk that John Carlson will take away targets may be true, but Carlson is a 20-to-20 Tight End, meaning he does his damage in the middle of the field, Rudolph will vulture up the red zone attempts, and I project him at a staggering 11 TD’s this year.

Def: Kansas City Chiefs – You normally do not see sleeper Defenses, however the Chiefs are undrafted in nearly every league I look at, and I’m sorry this unit has talent.  They have a ball control offense that will chew up clock like a puppy with your favorite shoe, and a difference maker healthy in the secondary in Safety Eric Berry.  Add to that strong cover corners in Brandon Flowers and Stanford Routt, They have a strong front 7 that may get stronger if first round pick Donatari Poe can get his act together (mentioned on draft day it was too high a pick, but what do i know).

So there you have it, Working the Wire’s sleeper starters.  Again these players are not to be started week one, some may not need to be added to the roster till mid season, but these 8 fantasy players should be able to help you this season.  Keep them on your radar for next year, players like Sanu, Davis and Rudolph may have a fantasy impact for years to come.

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