These guys are largely undervalued in redraft leagues. I define sleepers as players drafted after round 6 who can give top 10-20 production. If you are looking for some late round value, target these guys.
2012 All Sleeper Team: This team highlights my favorite sleepers at the positional players, if I had to draft a team of all sleepers these are who I would take. I won’t waste your time with Kickers and defenses, take one of each at the end of the draft.
QB: Christian Ponder
RB: Rashad Jennings, Jonathan Dwyer
WR: Leonard Hankerson, Jerome Simpson (after his suspension)
Flex (WR/RB): Brandon LaFell
TE: Greg Olsen
Josh Freeman: The addition of Carl Nicks at left guard is perhaps the most underrated signing of the fantasy season. As one of the top, if not the best Left Guard in the league he solidifies a nice offensive line for both freeman and his backs. The addition of Vincent Jackson caught more attention, but Nicks was the best free agent available. Vincent Jackson also bolsters an underrated receiving corps and boosts the value of Mike Williams. Both Freeman and Williams were fantasy darlings two years ago, but the fantasy community has such a short term memory that they forget how talented they were.
Williams is the perfect complement to Vincent Jackson, who will prevent defenses from triple teaming Williams as they did last year. Preston Parker is a speedy slot receiver who has underrated hands and runs crisp routes. Add sure handed Dallas Clark to the mix and you have a corps that can stretch the defense and allow Freeman to feast on whoever gets single coverage. Their defense, while improved, still won’t stop the other powerful offenses in the NFC south. Expect them to have to air it out more often than not to stay in games.
Sam Bradford: The former Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2010 had a poor 2011 season marked by a high ankle sprain. Jeff Fisher has made it a point to instill some nastiness into a porous offensive line, which can only get better. I suspect Bradford will not take nearly as many 5-7 step drops as he did under Josh McDaniels, who seemed to forget he didn’t have the New England o-line protecting Bradford. While the loss of Brandon Lloyd means this team has no game breaking receiver, Bradford did more with less his rookie season.
Steve Smith, now two years removed from knee surgery, is sure handed and runs crisp routes. Danny Amendola is a great slot receiver and if Lance Kendricks can catch a few more than he dropped last year he could be a top 15 tight end. Add Steven Jackson to the mix and Sam Bradford should be able to at least match his rookie output. Don’t be fooled by the fact that Fisher wants to run, this defense won’t be stopping anyone.
Christian Ponder: While my broner for Sam Bradford started earlier this offseason, Christian Ponder is a very tantalizing option. He likely won’t be drafted by many experts, but he has better weapons than a ton of the guys taken as QB2’s. During the preseason he has looked decisive and accurate. His deep ball was always underrated but his tangibles are why the Vikings drafted him.
When you look at his weapons he has Percy Harvin, a top 20 receiver by most “experts” and a top 10 by some. He is a great option and can take any play to the house. He also has Kyle Rudolph, a player who’s physical tools are similar to Rob Gronkowski. If Greg Olsen is over-drafted in my drafts, I am targeting Kyle Rudolph. The guy has breakout season written all over him. Leslie Frazier used the term “fishing net” to describe Rudolph’s hands. He has been one of Ponders favorite target and is a legitimate TE1. Lastly, Jerome Simpson, this well-known player loves getting high on and off the field. While he will miss 3 games I love Simpson as a gamebreaker. He has the size, speed and athleticism to play possession receiver and stretch the field. The arrow is pointing up for Christian Ponder.
Alex Smith: A former first round pick, Smith finally has plenty of weapons to throw to. Michael Crabtree is a sure-handed possession receiver, Mario Manningham has great speed and hands, Randy Moss is Randy Moss and Vernon Davis is a beast. Defenses will key in on their running game out of respect for their o-line and Frank Gore, giving Alex Smith a chance to prove himself. He took a step forward last year under Harbaugh. This year, I think he takes a leap and is in the top 15 or better this year. Not bad for a QB2 you can get late.
Leonard Hankerson: My favorite sleeper this year, Hankerson has elite speed (4.40 official combine, 4.34 as his fastest), size (6’2”), nice vertical and the biggest hands of any WR in the league (10.5”). Don’t over draft him as Garcon will get every chance to be the receiver they paid him to. However, I have my doubts that Garcon will ever become an elite receiver in the NFL. He (Garcon) doesn’t have good size and he lacks the hands to be a reliable down-field threat. While his ability to catch may have changed this season, I have my doubts. Peyton Manning never trusted him, and I think that Hankerson will get his chance to become RG III’s favorite target at some point this season.
Brandon LaFell: LaFell lacks elite speed, but he has nice height and isn’t afraid to go up for a jump ball or run over the middle. He is the perfect complement to speedster Steve Smith. Already the clear cut WR2 on his team, he will likely face single coverage a majority of the season as teams have to not only defend proven vets Steve Smith and Greg Olsen, but also account for Cam Newton’s running abilities.
Titus Young: The sure handed speedster from Boise state had a decent rookie season. Enter year two where he is likely on the radar of many fantasy owners. Calvin Johnson will always demand double coverage, even triple coverage at times. This will leave an inferior cornerback in one-one coverage against Titus Young. Given his work ethic, I assume Young runs pretty good routes this year. Either way, he is on a pass first offense and has a good rapport with Matt Stafford. Look for this young man to put up top 20-30 numbers, but don’t be surprised if he performs better than that.
Mike Williams: As a rookie, Mike Williams was a fantasy stud. Defenses caught on and double covered him, exposing him for what he is, a Z receiver. He doesn’t have the speed to stretch the defense or bust bracket coverage. However, Vincent Jackson will be demanding constant double coverage so all the attention Williams demanded last season will go to Jackson. Expect Williams to feast on constant single coverage as defenses key in on Jackson and to a lesser degree Dallas Clark.
Jerome Simpson: Already a known commodity, Simpson’s on the field and off the field antics have made him a bit of a celebrity. Facing a 3 game suspension, Simpson presents incredible value as a late round flyer or preseason free agent add (if you botch your draft). If it weren’t for his suspension, Simpson is a legit WR2. I love him as a WR4/5 on a team with a pretty good receiving corps, since you have to bench him for 3-4 weeks (unless your league has an IR, in which case I highly recommend drafting him with a late round flyer, putting him in IR and grabbing a free agent). The report from Vikings camp is that he has great chemistry with Christian Ponder. If it weren’t for his suspension, he would likely be drafted as a top 30 WR2.
Jonathan Dwyer: I am not a fan of Isaac Redman, from what I have seen of him he is nothing more than backup material. Dwyer however, just always seems to shine when he is given the ball. He also spent his offseason working out at the performance facility studs like MOJO frequent and showed up to camp in the best shape he has ever been in. I am targeting him in every league I can, hoping he can break out in a big way. When you take into account the time that Dwyer has missed due to hip/groin injuries, Dwyer should be getting his chance sooner rather than later.
Rashad Jennings: The Jags new owner recently commented that the “train was leaving” on Maurice Jones-Drew. They paid him handsomely and feel his lockout is completely unwarranted. Rashad Jennings has been quiet the entire time, but he has looked like a beast this offseason. You can look up the numbers if you want to but he passes the eye test. He is late round value and should MOJO sit out the season or stumble out of the gates, expect Jennings to get his. One last tidbit, MOJO has failed to meet the new coaching staff, meaning Jennings has a better handle of the playbook. I suspect that they will give Jennings more carries to reward him for his hard work. Either way he is a great RB4 with upside.
LeGarrette Blount: The new regime in Tampa Bay clearly favors Doug Martin, but it is hard to ignore Blount as a pure runner. He runs with speed power and ridiculous athleticism. I think there is a time share in Tampa Bay, and both backs make for good RB2’s
Bilal Powell: I hate Shonn Greene and Joe McKnight. Both are slow plodders with no playmaking capabilities. Behind a questionable o-line, neither has ever impressed me. Powell has already usurped Mcknight as the third down back and has looked like “the best back on the field” in New York. While I am generally avoiding the Jets like the plague, Powell can be had in the second to last round to provide RB depth. I always think that talent wins out eventually and its apparent that Powell is the best back in New York (Jets)
Evan Royster: (Disclaimer: Shannahan Back) I won’t recommend anyone draft a Mike Shannahan back, however Evan Royster can be drafted late in the draft and presents very little risk. He likely has 0 competition for carries early in the season as Helu and Hightower are still recovering from injuries.
I don’t think Hightower can challenge for the featured role following an ACL, he simply wasn’t talented enough before the injury. Helu is battling two bad Achilles tendons already and Shannahan doesn’t trust him. No one deeper in the depth chart can pick up the blitz. To me Evan Royster is the back to own in Washington, if there is one to be owned. Just be warned, Shannahan is the devil and will do everything in his power to rustle your jimmies.
Shane Vareen: (Disclaimer: Bellicheck Back) Again I can’t recommend drafting a Bellicheck back, he is as fickle as Shannahan with RB’s. That being said, Ridley’s ball control problems have started popping back up during practice, if there is anything Bellicheck hates more than fantasy football owners, it’s turnovers. He’s worth a late round flyer if you run out of options.
Kyle Rudolph: As anyone reading my articles knows I love Kyle Rudolph. He has the size and speed to become this years Gronk. He also has an underrated QB who has looked outstanding this preseason. When you factor in their division and porous pass defense, the Vikings are going to be throwing a lot this year. Rudolph has been his favorite option this preseason and anytime the words “fishing net” is used to describe the hands of a player, I pay attention. Sure handed tight ends are the flavor of the week in the NFL these days and Rudolph is a match-up nightmare. He is TE1 production that can be had in the latter rounds of your redraft.
Jordan Cameron: The former USC Trojan started as a wide receiver after transferring from BYU to pursue football. As a former basketball player he follows the mold of Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham. Basketball players turned tight end appear to be soft handed as all 3 seem to catch everything thrown their way. As a former wideout, he runs crisp routes and can handle any safety or linebacker with his size and finesse. The Browns are phasing out Ben Watson and Evan Moore is falling out of the favor of the coaching staff. Cameron’s 42 yard catch from the lowly Colt McCoy was plays of the week worthy.
While his rookie QB Brandon Weedon doesn’t get much praise, he is a strong armed QB with great accuracy. I feel Weedon’s pro experience in baseball gives him a leg up on most rookie QB’s. He might not be drafted in many leagues, but if Kyle Rudolph and Greg Olsen are gone when I draft my TE I will draft Cameron in a heartbeat.
Greg Olsen: He may be last on my list but he will (and should) be drafted before the other two tight ends. Coach Ron Rivera recently stated that Greg Olsen can easily match Gronk and Graham in terms of production. You should take advantage of the fact that fantasy football owners have the worst short term memory, Olsen was a stud for the bears. With a better QB in Cam Newton and no competition for targets from Jeremy Shockey I think Greg Olsen could easily make the top 10 and even break into the top 5 at his position