By Bryan Knowles
It’s fantasy football draft time? Are you ready? Here’s a list of ten possible sleepers for you to look out for, ranging from a very light snooze to a deep and true slumber, for you to look at. I’ve tried to cover the possible gamut for the term ‘sleeper’, from second rounders I’d take in the first, all the way to the undrafted players I’d take a flyer on. They’re listed in order of their ranking on Yahoo!, going down.
WR Wes Welker, New England (25th on Yahoo!)
Hard to call someone going at the end of the second round a true sleeper, but this isn’t any wide receiver. He’s actually seventh on Yahoo’s lists – seventh! Nothing against the Victor Cruzes or Brandon Marshalls of the world, but there’s not a receiver on earth more consistent than Welker. What, is Brandon Lloyd going to take away his targets? Is he going to be disgruntled due to the whole contract problems he had in the offseason, and drop more passes? Please. If I’m picking at the end of the first round, I’m taking Welker, and laughing my way to the bank. Especially if I’m in a PPR league.
RB Shonn Greene, New York Jets (91st on Yahoo)
Let’s be clear – Shonn Greene is never going to be an elite running back in the NFL. He’s gotten better each year, but he’s kind of reached a plateau. That being said, he’s the clear alpha back in the backfield now, with LaDanian Tomlinson’s retirement, and Joe McKnight isn’t going to be taking too many of his carries away. The Jets will be getting offense from somewhere this season, and I don’t see a more valuable target anywhere than Greene. When you start getting down to the fourth or fifth rounds, Greene will start looking like a good RB2 option.
RBs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, New England Patriots (116th and 232nd on Yahoo)
If I knew what Bill Belichick was going to do, I’d be a richer man than I am now. The Patriots look to have one of those dreaded running back by committees that have decimated the star fantasy running backs – in 2002, nine of the top ten players in fantasy football were running backs, and last year, it was down to just three. The Patriots don’t run it that often, but when they do, they were a top-5 rushing offense last year, and people have to do so much to stop the passing game that rushing lanes often open themselves. Vereen is faster, but Ridley looks to get more carries. If you’re in the midpoint of your draft, you could do worse than taking a flyer on one of these two talented backs. I’d put my money on Ridley, but again, Belichick.
QB Matt Cassel, Kansas City Chiefs (141st on Yahoo)
I understand you might be wary of him after a somewhat sub-par 2011, when he was injured, but I see Cassel having a small bounce back season. He’s still throwing to Dwayne Bowe, after all, and Steve Breaston and Jonathan Baldwin could give him a decent selection of weapons. You’re not taking Cassel to be QB1 this late in the draft, so take him, stash him on your bench, and watch. If your starter has a bye in week 6 – Brees? Newton? – pay close attention, because Cassel gets the Buccaneers that week. That might be enough to put him over the top for you.
RB Ryan Williams, Arizona Cardinals (182nd on Yahoo)
Williams ruptured his patella tendon last preseason, was held up as an example of why we need to shrink the preseason, and was promptly forgotten about. He’s currently going in the 14th round in ESPN drafts, and is unowned in nearly 65% of them. This is insane. Williams is explosive and shifty – a poor man’s Cadillac Williams, right down to the bum knees. Beanie Wells isn’t a paragon of health – expect Williams to get the starting job, one way or another, by week 6 at the latest. A starting running back in the 14th round? That sounds like a steal at half the price. This guy’s my top sleeper, regardless of position.
QB Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings (258th on Yahoo)
Again, you’re not drafting Ponder to be your QB1. He did show some promise last year, though, and the Vikings have tried to add some talent around him. If Adrian Peterson misses significant time, Ponder’s going to be left out to dry, but in the middle of the season, he gets to play back to back to back games versus Arizona (week 7), Tampa Bay (week 8), and Seattle (week 9), which aren’t exactly the murderer’s row of defenses. If you’re going for a Tom Brady, a Matt Ryan, or a Michael Vick as your quarterback of choice, Ponder could be a decent late round bye fill in – and who knows, maybe this is the year he puts it all together.
WR Andre Caldwell, Denver Broncos (297th on Yahoo)
When you’re getting down this low, your choice is usually between drafting a kicker or entertaining a “what if” scenario. What if Peyton Manning comes back entirely healthy? What if he’s just as good as he was in 2010 or, AFC West forbid, the year off actually gets him back to 2008 or 2009 form. Manning spreads the ball around to everyone – and a crafty veteran like Caldwell would be the benefit as Peyton’s #3 receiver. Or you could draft Graham Gano. I know which pick feels more exciting.
WR Donald Jones, Buffalo Bills (NR on Yahoo)
These last two players aren’t getting drafted generally speaking, so they’re something you can wait until the last round for. If they don’t pan out, then they’re easily forgettable and replaceable. If they do pan out, you’ve got a huge steal on your hands. Jones is a starting receiver in the NFL. That’s more than a lot of other receivers can say – and if Ryan Fitzpatrick can look like he did in the first half of 2011, Jones’s numbers could be worth a lot more than a last round pick. Not too much more, though, so don’t go crazy – but a starting receiver this late would be a huge boon.
TE Lance Kendricks, St. Louis (NR on Yahoo)
Story time. I took Lance Kendricks in two separate fantasy leagues last year as a rookie, thinking he’d be one of the next very good tight ends – I took him in both regular leagues and keeper leagues. Well, along with the rest of the Rams, Kendricks fell flat on his face. But if Sam Bradford can show some of the promise he showed as a rookie, someone’s got to catch the ball, right?
…and that’s how I ended up drafting Kendricksagain in two fantasy leagues. Live and learn, right? Or not.
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