Even if you are a knowledgeable football fan, playing fantasy football can be frustrating and challenging. Unforeseen injuries, diminishing veterans, and blossoming stars can make or break anyone’s draft, regardless of their expertise. It’s gambling, and that means nothing is ever for sure.
But, that doesn’t mean that we can’t at least try to make educated guesses and speculate based on our knowledge. In this week’s s Fantasy Report, I will attempt to use some of my insight and expertise to help you identify some value where others might not see it. Finding these sleeper players can sometimes be more of a source of pride for fantasy experts than drafting the obvious favorites.
The following players aren’t sleepers in the sense that they will come out of nowhere, but they are sleepers in the sense that the other players in your league will sleep on these players …
Let’s go position by position:
Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
I know what you’re thinking. Peyton Manning, a sleeper? Believe it or not, there has been much negativity surrounding his expectations – four neck surgeries, a new offense and coach, new receivers, age, and a twenty month layoff between meaningful throws. My question is, so what? This is Peyton Manning, third all time in touchdowns, yard and completions, behind only Favre and Marino. Manning has never thrown for less than 26 touchdown and 3,700 yards. He has thrown for 4,000 yards every season since 2006.
Need more reason to draft Manning? The Broncos were ranked first last year in rushing with 164.5 yards per game. Manning has never had a running game of that caliber in Indianapolis. The potential for play action passes will be enormous. Moreover, the offense of Mike McCoy and John Fox is not a terrible one, evidenced by the noodle-armed Tim Tebow throwing 15 touchdowns last season, despite not starting some games.
Finally, let’s look at the receiving corps. Demaryius Thomas is about to break out as a top receiver, and Eric Decker has potential as an Austin Collie type of player. Manning often uses players like this very well. Add in tight ends Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme, as well as second year tight end Cornelius Ingram and rookie Virgil Green, and Manning has what appears to be a young offense with much potential in the passing game to go along with a solid run game.
Bottom line: Don’t sleep on Manning. He will flourish in his new role as the face of the Denver Broncos.
And, by the way, Manning will be playing with a chip on his shoulder. This makes him very dangerous.
Running Back Sleeper
Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants
Ahmad Bradshaw had an average season last year when you look at the numbers – 659 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. However, if you watched the Giants as much as I did, you have a sense of how good Ahmad Bradshaw really is. He is a trucking running back with great power. He runs hard every play, and many of his runs kept the Giants close or ahead when the games were on the line during their magical run to the title. Bradshaw dealt with poor offensive line play, and had to share carries with Brandon Jacobs, who has departed for San Francisco.
This year will be much different. Bradshaw will have a super-athletic stud of running back in David Wilson nipping at has heels as motivation. Competition like this usually propels running backs. An example of this would be Curtis Martin’s recent admission that competition with backs such as Lamont Jordan fanned the flame of his competitiveness and made him great. This is different from sharing carries with Jacobs, who was a close friend to Bradshaw.
Also, look for the Giants offensive line to be vastly improved in the run game. There is no way Tom Coughlin allows his team to have a poor rush offense again. Look for Bradshaw to come out of the gate strong. However, due to his tendency for foot injuries, be sure to draft Wilson as a handcuff.
Wide Receiver Sleeper
Eric Decker, Denver Broncos
This is simple. Last year, with Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton at the helm, Eric Decker caught 44 balls for over 600 yards and eight touchdowns, with nine catches of over 20 yards and two catches of over 40 yards. Now, let’s subtract Tim Tebow from the equation and add Peyton Manning. Verdict? Draft him early. Remember how valuable Austin Collie was before Peyton was injured? Decker is better.
I wish there was more to say, but this one is pretty simple. Unless something goes drastically wrong with Peyton Manning’s health, Decker is looking at a career year.
Tight End Sleeper
Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
Let’s face it – many of us were wrong on Cam Newton. The guy can play. He ran for 14 touchdowns. He can sling the rock hard. He is intelligent, and seems to get “it” when it comes to being a successful NFL quarterback.
The formula is simple; Newton makes everyone on the field better. In his sophomore season, look for Newton better utilize his tight end as a safety valve in place of taking off for a run.
Last season, Olsen caught six passes of 20 yards or more, and two passes of 40+. Newton found him 45 times for five touchdowns. Look for Olsen’s numbers to increase dramatically. Jeremy Shockey is no longer with the team. Olsen looks like he will be an important cog in the offensive wheel for many years in Carolina.
Newton should look at Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees to see how they utilize their tight ends. The best quarterbacks use them often, and if Newton’s 2011 season was any indication, he will be one of the best.
My first gut instinct here was the Arizona Cardinals. Why? Well, none of their defensive stats as a team from last season standout. They are pretty much middle of the pack in most categories. My judgment was solely based on what I saw of the Arizona Cardinals as they played the NFC East, which it the division I follow, because I am a Giants fan. I saw the Cardinals man-handle the Giants on the line of scrimmage the entire game, only succumbing in the end to another Eli Manning 4th quarter miracle. I witnessed them beat the Eagles down as well.
However, as is my customary procedure, I browsed around to see what the experts were saying before I made a decision. I do this because I do not like to be redundant or unoriginal. I pride myself on seeing what others can’t, and it seems as if the Cardinals are not just on my mind. If you do decide to go this route, the great thing about drafting this defense is A: you can get them cheap and probably in the last round, and B: Patrick Peterson. ‘Nuff said.
So, we move on to my second gut instinct. The New York Giants. Now, I know what you’re thinking, this guy is a homer. Just hear me out.
Last season the Giant defense was miserable. For instance, they allowed a pathetic 60 plays of 20 yards or more, second only to the Miami Dolphins. They allowed the fourth most yards in the league at just over 4,000, and a horrific 400 points to opposing offenses.
The only two categories the Giants did well in were sacks and interceptions. This may have been their saving grace. But, this season, I can guarantee that outside of the sacks and picks, the Giant defense will be vastly improved in other areas. Here’s why:
Prince Amukamara and Terrell Thomas being on the field will be huge. T2 is the Giants’ best defensive back, and Amukamara has huge upside. This also allows Antrel Rolle to return to his natural position at safety.
Add in to the mix a healthy Marvin Austin, a healthy Keith Rivers, and no free agent losses outside of Jonathan Goff, plus another training camp under Perry Fewell, and I see the potential for a monster year. Do I even have to mention to defensive ends?
Bottom Line: You should be able to get this defense late based on last year’s performance. However, many knuckleheads who don’t look at the numbers may be prompted to draft Big Blue based on their defensive ends. You may need to grab theme earlier than you want to.
Weekly Fantasy Report Part 2: Players to Avoid
QB: Carson Palmer
Word from Peter King is that Palmer has never been as excited for a season before. Don’t be fooled into thinking a change of scenery is the answer for Carson Palmer to kick-start his stalled career. Palmer has never been great, and we can question his passion for the game knowing that he almost chose to retire rather than play for the Bengals.
The Raiders are even more of a hapless organization than the Bengals. Palmer will continue to struggle with a poor offensive line, no-name receivers, a tough division, and an organization that breeds failure. The frustrations of years’ past will only be amplified by his time in Oakland.
Last year, Palmer threw for a meager 13 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He has not thrown for more than 28 touchdowns since 2005. Moreover, Palmer is 32 years old and not very mobile. Expect a season of interception, a poor completion percentage, and sacks galore.
QB: Robert Griffin III
Don’t get me wrong, RG3 will have his share of breathtaking plays this season. I am sure he will be a thorn in the side of every opposing defense, but that doesn’t mean he will be a good fantasy player.
RG3 will face the Giants, Eagles and Cowboys two times each this year. For a rookie, that is an extremely daunting task. Constant pressure and a miserable offensive line (that’s the word so far in camp) will lead to many sacks and injury nicks. Don’t expect Griffin to be healthy for every game. He will also be playing the NFC North, another division of stifling defenses. Rookies struggle, especially behind porous offensive lines and suspect running games. Tim Hightower and Roy Helu don’t exactly instill confidence in a change this season.
Cam Newton is a rarity. His rookie season was historic. The horizon does not look as bright for Griffin. He will dazzle, but fall short as a fantasy player in 2012. The Redskins simply do not have enough around him yet. But I emphasize yet. The Redskins will be very good in the near future.
WR: Randy Moss
Last season Alex Smith threw for a mere 17 touchdowns. Six of those touchdowns went to his TE Vernon Davis. Smith is known for under-using his wide receivers, as well as for a lack of arm strength. Add to this the fact that Smith has never thrown for more than 18 touchdowns in his career, and this information alone should steer you away from San Francisco Wide Receivers (as well as Alex Smith).
Factor is Moss’s age (35), his penchant for unhappiness and quitting on plays, and his unwillingness to go over the middle, and it becomes clear that Moss’s much talked about resurgence is typical media hyperbole. Moss will be nothing more than a red-zone jump-ball threat, much like Plaxico Burress was last year for the Jets.
WR: Vincent Jackson
Vincent Jackson is a pretty great receiver when he is healthy. His last two full seasons resulted in nine touchdowns, more than 60 receptions and over 1,100 yards.
So why avoid him?
It’s simple. Jackson used to have Philip Rivers throwing to him. He also had Antonio Gates on the field to take a substantial amount of pressure off. Now Jackson finds himself at the end of Josh Freeman’s passes. Josh Freeman isn’t very good. Neither are the Buccaneers offensive personnel.
The Bucs added Doug Martin, who may or may not be an upgrade from LeGarrette Blount (indications point to Martin being the starter so far in camp), but this was not enough. Who is going to take pressure off of Jackson? Arrelious Benn? An over-the-hill Dallas Clark?
I have faith in Greg Schiano. I believe he will be very successful in the NFL, but this won’t be the year. The Bucs also did a great thing in pilfering Mike Sullivan from the Giants. But working with Eli Manning will be much different than working with Freeman. Look for Jackson to struggle with frustration as the season progresses and Freeman becomes more and more inadequate.
RB: Adrian Peterson
Let’s start with the obvious. Peterson tore his ACL and MCL in the last game of the season. As we saw today the Giants’ Terrell Thomas and the Redskins’ Jon Goff, it takes a great amount of time to truly come back from a torn knee ligament. Add to this the fact that knee ligaments tend to tear much more easily the second time and we are looking at a significant injury risk should Peterson suit up at some point. Don’t even waste a flier on him in the later rounds in the hopes of getting a steal. He won’t and shouldn’t suit up until December at the earliest. Even if he does come back, the team is going nowhere, so why rush it?
And even if Peterson was healthy, this year would have big bust potential. Having Christian Ponder at the help means defenses will be keying on stopping the running game. Factor in a migraine-prone Percy Harvin, a 28th ranked passing attack, and a quarterback with 54 percent completion, and it becomes clear that Vikings management will want Peterson to take his time in returning.
RB: Stevan Ridley
Early word out of Patriots’ Camp is that Ridley is working with the first team. With the departure of Ben-Jarvis Green-Ellis, the spot is wide open for competition right now. Don’t fall for it. Even if Ridley wins the starting job, you would do well to avoid drafting him. Before we get to Ridley, we have to consider the offense he plays in. The need for a stud running back is a thing of the past. The Patriots, Packers, and Saints are glaring examples of how the passing game is far more important than having an Adrian Peterson or Maurice Jones-Drew.
Ridley will not be a featured part of the Patriots’ offense, nor will any running back. That’s Tom Brady’s job. Ridley will share carries with Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead, making for a very poor chance of fantasy relevance. And then there’s the fact that Ridley isn’t very good. He looked very pedestrian last season when he did touch the ball.