Fantasy Football Sleepers
Fantasy Football Sleeper Picks
Fellow owners in my fantasy football league and I have argued the definition of "fantasy football sleepers" in a fantasy football draft. Some would argue that a fantasy football sleeper is someone who no one expects to have a breakout year. Others would argue that a fantasy sleeper is a player all the fantasy football magazines and fantasy experts pick as their "fantasy football sleeper picks". Still others, given the unlikelihood of hitting on a pick in rounds 11 through 20 of fantasy football drafts, have argued that a fantasy football sleeper is any valuable player taken in the bottom half of a draft. In the end, maybe fantasy football sleeper picks are any draft picks that outperform where they were drafted.
However you want to define the term fantasy football sleeper, adding one or two of these players to your fantasy football roster is the difference in contending for the playoffs and winning your fantasy football league title every year. A true fantasy football sleeper gives a boost to your starting lineup and gives you an edge over your opponents, because it's like you had another 1st through 4th round pick in the draft. Fantasy football sleepers are a huge edge throughout the season.
Recent Fantasy Football Sleepers
In 2008, perhaps the biggest sleeper pick was Matt Forte. Once again, Matt Forte was drafted in the 6th or 7th round of most drafts. Because he was a starting NFL running back, some might argue Matt Forte wasn't a sleeper. But since Forte was an unheralded rookie playing behind what was considered a bad Chicago Bears offensive line (and still appears to be) and because Forte was on an offense with Kyle Orton and a bunch of no-name receivers, the fact that Matt Forte did well enough in fantasy football 2008 that he is a Top 5 overall pick in fantasy football 2009 drafts make him a classic fantasy football sleeper pick. Quite simply, people who took a flier on Matt Forte in the 7th round last year had a huge advantage over their fantasy opponents last year. It was like they were playing with two #1 draft picks.
In 2007, Greg Jennings and Brandon Marshall were fantasy football sleepers. In the case of both receivers, the rookie Greg Jennings and the 2nd year Brandon Marshall were definite sleeper picks. Both were taken in the second half of draft and both were no-brainer starters in just about any format. Once again, the teams who drafted Greg Jennings and Brandon Marshall in 2007 got a huge boost.
To a lesser extent, DeSean Jackson was a fantasy football sleeper pick last year. In my dynasty league, you get to keep a fantasy football player in perpetuity in the round they were drafted, and one league owner drafted DeSean Jackson in the 36th round (yes, 36th and final round) of the draft. That means he gets to keep DeSean Jackson as a 36th rounder for the next ten years, I'm guessing. That's a fantasy football sleeper pick, at least in that format. (By the way, I know I'm going to hate DeSean Jackson for that very reason.)
2009 Fantasy Football Sleeper Picks
Picking fantasy football sleepers for 2009 is about as difficult of a thing to do as anything in fantasy football, because foresight isn't nearly as clear as hindsight. Still, I'll take a stab at making a fantasy football sleepers list, for those who are looking for big production in the second half of their fantasy football draft - or in fantasy football free agency.
Fantasy Football Sleepers - Running Backs
Ray Rice - RB - Baltimore Ravens - This is one of those borderline sleeper picks, because Ray Rice was the most talked-about running back in the preseason. By the time many fantasy drafts came around, Ray Rice was going in the late-5th to 6th rounds. Still, there was one league that I saw Willis McGahee go before Rice, and I snatched him. (Yeah, kind of a lame league, I'll admit, but it's tradition.)
Ray Rice had a brilliant offseason and he beat out Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain as the Ravens starting runner. The Ravens are run-happy, so that's a good thing for Ray Rice owners. The Ravens' 2008 2nd round pick had a couple of good games last year replacing McGahee, then got hurt himself, opening the way for McClain. Now, McClain is the fullback and McGahee is the backup. Downgrade Ray Rice in leagues where you don't get points for receptions, because he's going to lose touchdowns to McGahee and McClain.
Bernard Scott - RB - Cincinnati Bengals - Bernard Scott qualifies as a fantasy football sleeper in any format. He's the primary backup to Cedric Benson as the Cincinnati Bengals running back. Now, Cedric Benson has never been consistently productive, and he's always been injury prone. I also expect to see the Bengals give some young guys a look, once they inevitably fall out of playoff contention. Cedric Benson should be one of the easiest running backs to beat out in the NFL, and he's just as likely to get hurt. Bernard Scott is rough around the edges right now, but he has more speed than Benson and the Bengals are likely to want to get that speed on the field at some point.
Michael Bennett - RB - San Diego Chargers - The Chargers kept Michael Bennett on their roster this year "in case Tomlinson got hurt". Well, Ladainian Tomlinson didn't make it one quarter before he injured his foot. After all the carries, it just looks like LT's body is shot. That leaves the 5'6" Darren Sproles. Sproles will be the primary ball carrier when Tomlinson is injured, but Darren Sproles is way too small to be the every down guy in San Diego. The Chargers know that, and that's why they kept a veteran like Michael Bennett. It may be midseason, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Michael Bennett get on the field for the high-powered Chargers Offense. He'll be rested and ready to go, while the defenses will be worn down. For all I've said, though, only stash Michael Bennett on your roster in really deep leagues, though.
Glen Coffee - RB - San Francisco 49ers - This is another one who got talked up, but Frank Gore's backup looked good in preseason. Frank Gore has shown durability in recent years, but Gore carries have somewhat been limited by the fact the Niners have stunk for years. That necessarily means Frank Gore hasn't had to carry the ball 25 times a game. In 2009, it looks like 49ers might be much-improved, having already knocked off the defending NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals. That means Frank Gore will have to be spelled, and his surgically-repaired knees might wear out. If that's the case, Glen Coffee could become the starter on a playoff contending team.
Fantasy Football Sleepers - Wide Receivers
Laurent Robinson - WR - St. Louis Rams - Laurent Robinson wore out his welcome with the Atlanta Falcons because he was injured most of his two seasons there. But the kid showed talent when he could stay on the field. Now, Laurent Robinson is in his third year in the NFL, and he's the starter in St. Louis opposite Donnie Avery. The Rams are going to be throwing it all year, so Laurent Robinson could get all kinds of trash fantasy football production.
Louis Murphy - WR - Oakland Raiders - The speedy Oakland Raiders rookie receiver has frankly looked a lot better than the Raiders' other speedy rookie receiver, Darrius Heyward-Bey. Louis Murphy has been described by Tom Cable as one of the Raiders' big play threats, and Murphy has shown Cable to be right in limited action. Once again, the Raiders should be playing from behind most of the year, so Louis Murphy could get some nice production. If Louis Murphy doesn't, the next receiver will.
Chaz Schilens - WR - Oakland Raiders - Chaz Schilens has one of the best names in fantasy football, and he's a 6'4", 225 lb virtual tight end at the receiver position. Before he broke his foot in preseason, Schilens was catching everything thrown to him and was installed as the Raiders #1 receiver. He won't return until weeks 3 or 4, but that's just enough time for all the other owners in your league to forget Chaz Schilens exists. Grab him off the waiver wire and you might have an NFL #1 receiver on your hands.
Legedu Naanee - WR - San Diego Chargers - Yeah, another crazy name. Legedu Naanee was big #11 on the field the other night for the San Diego Chargers. Norv Turner has said he's going to mix more receivers into the Chargers big passing game in 2009 and the 3rd year receiver from Boise State looks to be the guy he's talking about. Let's face it, for all the talk about Chris Chambers over the year, Chambers has never really been a consistent performer. On the other side of 30, Chris Chambers is not going to improve. Eventually, someone like the 6'2", 220 lb Legedu Naanee could step forward and take his spot across from Vincent Jackson - who himself is more of a big play guy.
Mario Manningham - WR - New York Giants - Someone is going to have to step forward and become the Eli Manning's new favorite target and it might as well be the Giants former 3rd round pick out of Michigan. Mario Manningham had the biggest Week 1 of any Giants receiver, and that should give Eli Manning more confidence in the kid. Hakeem Nicks is the most talented receiver on the Giants roster, but he's injured for the first month of the season. By that time, Eli Manning and Mario Manningham could have established a rapport.
Fantasy Football Sleepers - Field Goal Kickers
I won't spend too much time on this one, but if you're looking for good field goal kickers for your fantasy football team, there are some guys to look at. Garrett Hartley will be the New Orleans Saints kicker when he returns from suspension after Week 4. Hartley was solid last year kicking for the vaunted Saints offense, though Drew Brees & Company score too many touchdowns for Hartley to be dominant.
Lawrence Tynes is a good fantasy kicker you can get cheap, because he was hurt most of last year. John Carney filled in for Tynes and was the 3rd overall kicker in most formats. With Lawrence Tynes the undisputed kicker in New York now, he should slide into a Top 5 role among the kickers.
Finally, Steve Hauschka is the new field goal kicker for the Baltimore Ravens, replacing longtime Ravens kicker, Matt Stover. Hauschka actually did some kicking for Baltimore last year as their long-range kicker, and he once booted a 54 yard field goal. So Hauschka is a kicker playing for a team that moves the ball down the field, but isn't so high-powered that they always score touchdowns - and Steve Hauschka's a long-range specialist. That should translate into a nice fantasy football season for Steve Hauschka.
Fantasy Football Sleepers - Quarterbacks
Because quarterbacks get so much attention in the NFL, it's hard to call many of them sleepers. Just about any starting quarterback in the NFL is going to get talked up. Unless you view 2nd year QB Joe Flacco a sleeper - and he got his team to the AFC Championship Game last year - I don't know of a starter who I would call a fantasy football sleeper. Maybe Mark Sanchez, but the entire free world gets New York City football players rammed down their throats, so the secret's out on Mark Sanchez. Here's a couple you might stash on your bench, if you're looking for backups who might step forward this season.
Chad Henne - QB - Miami Dolphins - Chad Pennington had an awful 2009 preseason. The Miami Dolphins offense had an awful preseason. It carried over into Week 1 of the NFL regular season for both Pennington and the Dolphins-O. Meanwhile, Chad Henne is being talked about as a Bill Parcells-Tony Sparano type player. He's tough-minded and come from a working class background. Chad Henne is being groomed to be the Dolphins quarterback of the future, and if Chad Pennington continues to struggle, the future could be soon.
Matt Leinart - QB - Arizona Cardinals - Matthew Leinart's career in the desert is supposed to be over, but Matt Leinart was said to have put together the second-best preseason of any NFL quarterback (2nd to Aaron Rodgers). Kurt Warner looked old in Week 1, and he is old by NFL standards. Whether it's through age or injury - and Kurt Warner once had the injury-prone tag - it's possible Matt Leinart eventually is called on to run the Arizona Cardinals Offense. And if he's finally learned his lesson and become the kind of NFL quarterback the Cards wanted him to be, Matt Leinart will have the best receiving corps in the NFL: Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston.
See also: Fantasy Basketball Sleepers